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Afghani massacre at the hands of US military despicable, seen primarily as PR problem by US media

March 12, 2012

On Sunday, it was reported that a US soldier killed 16 Afghan civilians in Southern Afghanistan.

The massacre has resulted in more Afghan protests against the US/NATO occupation, despite the lack of attention to this critical issue in the US.

US government responses are framing the massacre as an anomaly and that the US military does not commit these kinds of atrocities as a matter of policy. However, Kathy Kelly, interviewed this morning on Democracy Now!, stated:

I think that the United States and military officials would like to characterize the massacre as exceptional, sort of one bad apple. But I think it actually encapsulates what the United States presence in Afghanistan has been all about. Unprovoked and uncaused attacks have been waged by the United States against Afghan civilians. It isn’t as though this was one deplorable act. This soldier was assigned to a Joint Special Operations Force base, and the Joint Special Operations Forces have been engaging in the night raids on an average of 10 per night, sometimes as many as 40 per night, all across Afghanistan and killing civilians steadily. And combine that with the drone surveillance and the helicopter—combat helicopter attacks that have killed civilians. Just in Kapisa three days earlier, four civilians were killed. This, of course, has fueled a long-simmering rage across Afghanistan, where 400 people are displaced every single day by the war and the fighting.”

Public Relations Problem not human rights issue

Despite the horrendous act of violence by the US military against Afghani civilians on Sunday, the major US news media is not reporting this incident as a war crime, but as a public relations disaster.

The national media watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting posted an excellent media analysis today that once again demonstrates how the major news media in this country has essentially taken a favorable position on the decade long US occupation of Afghanistan. Here is part of that analysis:

The front-page headline at USA Today (3/12/12) read, “Killings Threaten Afghan Mission.” The story warned that the allegations “threaten to test U.S. strategy to end the conflict.” In the New York Times (3/12/12), the massacre was seen as “igniting fears of a new wave of anti-American hostility.” The paper went on to portray occupation forces as victims:

The possibility of a violent reaction to the killings added to a feeling of siege here among Western personnel. Officials described growing concern over a cascade of missteps and offenses that has cast doubt on the ability of NATO personnel to carry out their mission and has left troops and trainers increasingly vulnerable to violence by Afghans seeking revenge.

The fact that the massacres occurred two days after a NATO helicopter strike killed four civilians was “adding to the sense of concern.”

Another Times piece (3/12/12) began with this:

The outrage from the back-to-back episodes of the Koran burning and the killing on Sunday of at least 16 Afghan civilians imperils what the Obama administration once saw as an orderly plan for 2012.

That sounds as if “outrage” is the most serious problem–the reaction to the actions, not the actions themselves.

Treating the killing of civilians as chiefly a PR problem is not a new phenomenon. As FAIR noted (“The Bad PR of Dead Civilians,” 5/11/09), the news that dozens were killed in NATO airstrikes brought headlines like “Civilian Deaths Imperil Support for Afghan War” (New York Times, 5/7/09), “Claim of Afghan Civilian Deaths Clouds U.S. Talks” (Wall Street Journal, 5/7/09) and “Afghan Civilian Deaths Present U.S. With Strategic Problem” (Washington Post, 5/8/09).

This same kind of reaction was reported on MLive today, with the reporter taking attention away from the 16 civilian deaths and giving voice to a GVSU professor and Michigan Senator Carl Levin, both of whom support the US occupation in Afghanistan. Levin, even went as far as to say the killing of 16 Afghani civilians by the US military will put US soldiers at risk.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2012 2:39 pm

    I wrote an article for Yahoo! as soon as the story broke. Reference to U.S. soldier shooter was removed from title. Word “children” was removed. The word “shootings” was changed to “shooting.” This massacre is being glossed over.

  2. March 13, 2012 2:54 pm

    Thanks for sharing this.

  3. March 13, 2012 3:50 pm

    You’re welcome. Thanks for reading. I should have added fathers in my article. That photo on this post is truly agonizing.

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