Afghanistan Massacre Underlines History of Dehumanizing Violence Conducted by U.S. Military

Early Sunday morning at approximately 3 a.m., an American soldier broke into three homes in Afghanistan and started a shooting rampage, leading to the murder of 16 people, nine of whom were children. The soldier has so far only been identified as a 38-year-old Army staff sergeant who has served three tours of duty in Iraq, and who is thought to have suffered a mental breakdown that preceded this attack. Following the shooting rampage of the innocent civilians, the attacker reportedly poured chemicals over the bodies of the deceased and burned them. This incident occurred at an area that was just outside the soldier’sU.S. base in Kandahar. 

Statements released since the incident by American government and military officials have included promises to hold the aggressor accountable underU.S. law, and that the shooting does not compromise NATO’s peace mission in Afghanistan.

There’s a pattern to be noted in the behavior of the U.S.military in the past decade in Afghanistanand Iraq, and it is one of dehumanizing of the civilians in both countries. The dehumanizing treatment of civilians that was exercised at the hand of the U.S. military abroad was not only portrayed in the violence and humiliations that the civilians were subjected to, but also by the persistent silence that the American government has practiced. Such incidents over the last decade violate the Geneva Conventions, which outline basic human rights for all individuals subjected to but not involved in a war, acting as prisoners of war, and performing aid worker. These rights stipulate humane treatment for all individuals in a conflict. The U.S. military has been a repeat offender against these principles year after year for their heinous and criminal behavior abroad, with very few Army personnel actually being reprimanded for their offenses.

More so, such dehumanizing acts by the U.S. military have erased all legitimacy for the U.S. in the eyes of citizens in the Middle East, with any restoration of this reputation likely impossible without serious legal action being undertaken by the U.S. to punish the accused and repair the damages.

Over the last decade, examples have included the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, the treatment of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib in 2004, and unprovoked attacks against civilians that were exposed by Wikileaks.

Since the 9/11 terror attacks, the U.S. has expanded its foreign and domestic policies in a way that, for all intensive purposes, has legalized violation of human rights on American and international soil as per the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations treaties, several of which prohibit torture and demand that all individuals have access to legal rights and the Geneva Conventions.

The earliest examples of a complete lack of respect for human rights were demonstrated in the way that the detainees in Guantanamo Bay were treated. Reports of insufferable living conditions, severe torture methods, and a lack of legal rights were reported by doctors, prisoners, and government agencies year after year with no changes, specifically during the Bush administration.

In January 2004, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal exploded after photos and videos of Iraqi prisoners being tortured and humiliated by American soldiers were released. President George W. Bush refused to reprimand then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the heaviest sentence that followed the incident was a 10-year imprisonment that was handed to only one of the several soldiers involved, Charles Graner, Jr., who had been labeled the ringleader.

On November 19, 2005, a group of Marines shot and killed 24 unarmed men, women, and children at close range in Haditha, Iraq. The attack was allegedly a retributive response to a roadside bomb that killed one fellow Marine. Eight Marines were initially charged for this murderous attack, with one subsequently being acquitted, and six having their charges dropped. Frank Wuterich — the only Marine who was convicted for this attack — recently received a general discharge from the Marines, consequently sparing him any imprisonment.

Starting in July of 2010, WikiLeaks released 90,000 U.S. military logs about the war in Afghanistan, revealing thousands of non-combatant civilian deaths at the hands of the coalition. In October of the same year, 400,000 Iraq War logs were released, similarly revealing the American military causing thousands of non-combatant civilian deaths, failing to report crimes that they witnessed, and handing captives to torturers.

What followed the release of these transgressions were not the convictions and indictments of thousands of U.S. and British army personnel, but rather of American soldier Bradley Manning, whose alleged involvement in the largest leak of U.S. classified information in history, could lead to a maximum sentence of life in military custody with no chance of parole if found guilty. 

It can always be argued that all wars involve civilian casualties and that this is an unfortunate aspect of war that cannot always be prevented. However, crimes have been supported by a U.S. government that has mostly done little to bring heavy-handed justice to its own military. The agenda of theU.S.military has rarely been this transparent: the onlyU.S.military personnel currently being convicted for life in prison is the one whose charges do not include a single murder. If no legal action is taken to hold the aggressors accountable for their crimes abroad, restoring global legitimacy to the American government and military will remain an impossible task.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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Selma Al-Samarrai

Recent McMaster University graduate with an Honours degree in Political Science and a minor in Psychology. Previous experiences include a 2-year employment as the Senior News Editor for McMaster's weekly student newspaper, The Silhouette and a writer for a technology blog. Interests include International Relations, Middle Eastern affairs and women's rights.

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