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Terror, Trauma and the Endless Afghan War

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Posted on Mar 14, 2012

By Amy Goodman

We may never know what drove a U.S. Army staff sergeant to head out into the Afghan night and allegedly murder at least 16 civilians in their homes, among them nine children and three women. The massacre near Belambai, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, has shocked the world and intensified the calls for an end to the longest war in U.S. history. The attack has been called tragic, which it surely is. But when Afghans attack U.S. forces, they are called “terrorists.” That is, perhaps, the inconsistency at the core of U.S. policy, that democracy can be delivered through the barrel of a gun, that terrorism can be fought by terrorizing a nation.

“I did it,” the alleged mass murderer said as he returned to the forward operating base outside Kandahar, that southern city called the “heartland of the Taliban.” He is said to have left the base at 3 a.m. and walked to three nearby homes, methodically killing those inside. One farmer, Abdul Samad, was away at the time. His wife, four sons, and four daughters were killed. Some of the victims had been stabbed, some set on fire. Samad told The New York Times, “Our government told us to come back to the village, and then they let the Americans kill us.”

The massacre follows massive protests against the U.S. military’s burning of copies of the Quran, which followed the video showing U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Afghans. Two years earlier, the notorious “kill team” of U.S. soldiers that murdered Afghan civilians for sport, posing for gruesome photos with the corpses and cutting off fingers and other body parts as trophies, also was based near Kandahar.

In response, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta rolled out a string of cliches, reminding us that “war is hell.” Panetta visited Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province, near Kandahar, this week on a previously scheduled trip that coincidentally fell days after the massacre. The 200 Marines invited to hear him speak were forced to leave their weapons outside the tent. NBC News reported that such instructions were “highly unusual,” as Marines are said to always have weapons on hand in a war zone. Earlier, upon his arrival, a stolen truck raced across the landing strip toward his plane, and the driver leapt out of the cab, on fire, in an apparent attack.

The violence doesn’t just happen in the war zone. Back in the U.S., the wounds of war are manifesting in increasingly cruel ways.

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The 38-year-old staff sergeant who allegedly committed the massacre was from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), a sprawling military facility near Tacoma, Wash., that has been described by Stars and Stripes newspaper as “the most troubled base in the military” and, more recently, as “on the brink.” 2011 marked a record for soldier suicides there. The base also was the home for the “kill team.”

The Seattle Times reported earlier this month that 285 patients at JBLM’s Madigan Army Medical Center had their post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses inexplicably reversed by a forensic psychiatric screening team. The reversals are now under investigation due to concerns they were partly motivated by a desire to avoid paying those who qualify for medical benefits.

Kevin Baker was also a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Lewis. After two deployments to Iraq, he refused a third after being denied a PTSD diagnosis. He began organizing to bring the troops home. He told me: “If a soldier is wounded on a battlefield in combat, and they’re bleeding to death, and an officer orders that person to not receive medical attention, costing that servicemember their life, that officer would be found guilty of dereliction of duty and possibly murder. But when that happens in the U.S., when that happens for soldiers that are going to seek help, and officers are ordering not a clear diagnosis for PTSD and essentially denying them that metaphoric tourniquet, real psychological help, and the soldier ends up suffering internally to the point of taking their own life or somebody else’s life, then these officers and this military and the Pentagon has to be held responsible for these atrocities.”

While too late to save Abdul Samad’s family, Baker’s group, March Forward!—along with Iraq Veterans Against the War’s “Operation Recovery,” which seeks to ban the deployment of troops already suffering from PTSD—may well help end the disastrous, terrorizing occupation of Afghanistan.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,000 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

© 2012 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate


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By balkas, March 17, 2012 at 5:58 am Link to this comment

moonraven, yes.
endless war for soldiers only or mostly—thrills for tennis, golf, football,
basketball, obama, romney, hollywood, tv, fans—roughly 93% of US pop.
i would just add that even US soldiers are victimized by the fans seeking ever
greater thrills, profits, etc.
soldiers are mentally crippled by clergy, politicians, teachers, pundits, MSM,
academia, plutocrats, et al.
and once dehumanized, one can expect that they’d do crimes against all of us.
may goddevil forgive them!
i am not so sure IT shld forgive some of those thrill seekers like obama, bush,
romney, clinton, church leaders, et al.
it’s up to IT—not up to me. i am at the moment searching for my own thrills: in
my fantasy basement, where else.

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moonraven's avatar

By moonraven, March 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm Link to this comment

RenZo:  I agree.

The media in the US—and Amy Goodman is part of that—are engaged in their usual knee-jerk pity the victimizer bullshit coverup.

This guy is a genocidal goon.

he was produced by the genocidal government of Gringolandia to carry out the same policies that have been inplace since before the U.S. existed as a nation:  KILL NON-WHITES FOR THEIR LAND AND RESOURCES, and if nothing is being produced, just kill them for the hell of it.

Millions of Mai Lais were produced in response to Che Guevaras taunt about hundreds of Vietnams.

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By RenZo, March 16, 2012 at 12:46 pm Link to this comment

@ B. McGuire, March 15 at 10:07 pm

“The US did NOT go to Afghanistan to
‘deliver democracy’ or to ‘fight
terrorism’.”

For as much as we known, we went to
AfghaPakIranistan so that we could protect
the poppy growers to grow poppies in peace,
because the Taliban would definitely have
wiped them out. Or maybe it was to have
forward bases surrounding the rich oil
fields. Or for the minerals ‘discovered’ in
API-istan. Or to check the Chinese. Or to
build a pipeline. Or maybe just to keep
giving money to the war industry whose best
friends run this “Republic”. Et et et etc.
We will never known. I am not even sure who
made the decision to invade, although W
read his cue cards as planned and claimed
the decision.

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By bluejeanne, March 16, 2012 at 7:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How ironic that now this un-named soldier has been whisked away to Kuwait and his already-named defense lawyer is probably awaiting his arrival in Washington State or Ft. Lewis Kentucky. 

The excuses are being perpetuated yet there is NO EXCUSE for this abhorant endless war mentality and the monsters it has created.

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By B. McGuire, March 15, 2012 at 11:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“That is, perhaps, the inconsistency at the core of U.S. policy, that democracy can be delivered through the barrel of a gun, that terrorism can be fought by terrorizing a nation.”

Why repeat the propaganda framework of the invaders?  The US did NOT go to Afghanistan to ‘deliver democracy’ or to ‘fight terrorism’.  No evidence for that EXCEPT what the invaders themselves have stated.  Why accept unquestionly the invaders propaganda?

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By rewiredhogdog, March 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm Link to this comment

I went through a similar situation when I returned to
America after my year in Vietnam. They tried to
deploy me for a second tour back to sunny Southeast
Asia when I had only nine months left on my
enlistment. But they needed me to sign on for the
three extra months. I refused and they just
hounded me. And they continue to hound me even after
my senator finally intervened and made the brass
rescind my second deployment.
It was rather ironic that the first sergeant of my
unit, who loved to lecture me and berate me on my
lack of patriotism, suddenly took an early retirement
soon after he got orders for Vietnam.
I was a medical corpsman, a non-combatant, but I had
had it after spending a year treating wounded
American grunts and Vietnamese civilians on the ward.
I wouldn’t wish war on my worst enemy.
This army sergeant, who committed this massacre, was
on his fourth tour and had already suffered a
traumatic brain injury from a previous tour of duty.
Why did the army doctors give him a clean bill of
health and downgraded the severity of his illness so
he could be cleared for another tour of duty?
I think the all-volunteer army, which is a historical
legacy from the anti-war protest movement of the
Vietnam War, is once again nearly broken. The brass
are now looking for warm bodies to fill the slots for
duty in the combat zone. This sergeant was a train
wreck waiting to happen, and it did with tragic
consequences for those Afghan civilians.
There should be an congressional investigation into
the dilemma facing the all-volunteer armed forces. We
send these young man and women off to war. Yet when
they return home with PTSD, the brass try to sweep
this problem under the carpet. These combat veterans
have been pushed to the limit with ten years of wars
in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
I’ve even read articles recently where they have
prescribed psychotropic drugs for combat veterans and
just sent them for another tour in the war zone. A
soldier, clearly suffering from PTSD and taking a
regime of psychotropic drugs, should not be allowed
to carry or handle a weapon.
But the brass really could care less. They are just
“punching their tickets,” as we used to say in
Vietnam. They are under pressure from their superiors
to have as many soldiers as possible to be combat
ready in their units. If they fall short of this
goal, their careers are in jeopardy.
The military is just another corporation with
uniforms and weapons,and it replicates the same rigid
hierarchy, ethos and pecking order of any other
corporation. But the brass really have found
themselves in a bind, because the all-volunteer armed
forces has much less personnel to deploy in these
wars.
Of course, the neo-cons and liberal hawks who were
beating their little tin drums for war never even
considered the consequences of their policies in
their rush to war. And it was all about the new high-
tech armed forces, a lean mean fighting machine. The
Rumsfeld doctrine writ large.
But wars are still won or lost with boots on the
ground. And the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are
clearly, even after only ten years, foreign policy
debacles that rival the Vietnam War.
Let’s worry about saving democracy in this country
before it is too late.
We crossed a Rubicon in the Mekong Delta and marched
into dark and uncharted territory. And even after
four decades we are still lost and deep in the jungle
of our delusions. America has never come to terms
with the defeat in Vietnam. That’s what this massacre
show to me after me experiences a a medical corpsman in Vietnam. The empire is imploding upon itself. And we are losing our basic rights due to process under law back home with the passage of the NDAA bill that President Obama recently signed into law.

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By balkas, March 15, 2012 at 8:34 am Link to this comment

it is endless war, but only for about 0001% of US pop. it is good peace
for at least 80% of american pop and little bit less peace for another 15%
of americans.
and this may or may not help explain why we see endless war. but i
ventured saying that, anyway.
hey, folks, hadn’t u yet noticed that in US you had only one war party and
not ever two.
not that having two war [or political] would have made difference in daily
living; however, saying it would sound more musical!

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RenZo's avatar

By RenZo, March 15, 2012 at 8:18 am Link to this comment

This article conflates the issue of one act
of terrorism (by one American soldier) with
the issue of PTSD incidence, prevalence,
and likely deliberate misdiagnosis on
American bases. The two issues might be
related, but the article could have been
clearer about the lack of factual (or
expert opinion) supporting their
relatedness. Just mixing the two
discussions seem to make them related.

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By California Ray, March 15, 2012 at 7:53 am Link to this comment

Drive your right-wing friends crazy! Tell them the massacre would not have
happened but for crazy gun control laws imposed on Afghanistan by Hillary
Clinton and Barack Obama. Explain that, “if Afghanistan had ‘open carry’ laws, we
wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Also, question the need for a trial of the
accused sergeant, since “under Obamalaw, Americans on foreign soil who are
suspected of terrorism may be summarily executed without due process.”

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