Thursday, October 20, 2005

NYT: PsyOps reportedly orders troops to burn two Afghans

There's important data in this entry. Before we get into it, PsyOps reportedly order troops to burn two bodies. This should be the lead of the story (see editorial note in this entry). It's not. Before we provide the excerpt from this (Martha, Eli, Joan and Rachel picked it as this morning's spotlight article in the Times), I want to be very clear on that because the administration has a tendency to let the troops play fall guy while the people in charge never face consequences.

The Pentagon announced Wednesday night that the Army had started a criminal investigation into allegations that American soldiers in Afghanistan had burned the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters and then used the charred and smoking corpses in a propaganda campaign against the insurgents.
The events were shown on an Australian television program, broadcast there on Wednesday night, depicting what is described as an American psychological operations team broadcasting taunts over a loudspeaker toward a village thought to be harboring Taliban fighters and sympathizers, according to a transcript of the program. It was posted on the Web site of the Special Broadcasting Service, An American soldier, an Afghan soldier, and two Taliban had just been killed in fighting there, the transcript of the program said.

The above is from Eric Schmitt's "Army Examining an Account of Abuse of 2 Dead Taliban" in this morning's New York Times. The Times is still trying to figure out the computer age (as a member noted when a story on Lyndie England provided a link, via Lynddie's last name, to England). They offer a link today but it's not the one you need (it takes you to Dateline's main page). Here's the one you need for the episode in question.

Here's an excerpt from the report the article refers to (the reporter utilized the footage of photojournalist Stephen Dupont whom the Times credits, however the report is done by John Martinkus, whom the Times fails to credit):

[Martinkus]: Eventually two of the villagers are bound and questioned before the troops leave to camp nearby. The next morning, anti-Taliban propaganda messages are read out over the loudspeakers.
LOUDSPEAKERS (Translation): When you look at them, these men, they are the servants of Pakistan and slaves to the Punjabis.
SOLDIER: Tell them to stop right there. Hey, John, tell them to stop right there. Tell him to stop. Bus! Bus, bus, bus. Tell him we're going to come to them.

Two civilians wounded in the previous night's attack are brought in seeking treatment.
SOLDIER: Is this one of the guys that was wounded last night? Can you bring my aid bag over, somebody? It's sitting right on the top of my truck.
MAN (Translation): I was providing for my children. I was working. In the afternoon, before sunset.

MAN 2 (Translation): The evening prayer wasn't finished. That's when he was shot.
SOLDIER (Translation): Which side? Did the Americans shoot him?
MAN 2 (Translation): Yes, it was the Americans. He never thought the Americans would shoot civilians. They didn't differentiate between enemy and civilians.
SOLDIER: That definitely looks like our work, huh? Looks like shrapnel wounds.
The man's son is also hurt, cut by shrapnel. The soldiers admit they're responsible for the injuries but no-one seems too concerned.
SOLDIER: It looks like the bullet actually cut and grazed him. It doesn't feel like the bullet is in.
Civilian casualties in this war are common when the only way to distinguish the enemy from the population is whether they are shooting at you or not.
SOLDIER: It doesn't actually feel too bad. It's OK, just got to look at his leg, OK?
A helicopter is later called in to evacuate them to the base hospital. The troops head back to the village of Gonbaz trying to find the endlessly elusive enemy. There's nothing subtle about their approach. The soldiers terrify this old man in the mosque.
SOLDIER: Tell him I'm sorry about the way we came in, but I called to see if there was anyone there, you know.
Interrogations continue in an attempt to find those in the village who are associated with the militants.
SOLDIER: That's OK. If you can give us that information, we can actually reward you. If you can give us that information, you will be doing a lot to help the people around here who are innocent and shouldn’t be arrested. Because I am trying to do what I can right now, to find the bad guys because we don't want to end up having to punish everyone.
VILLAGER (Translation): I have no knowledge of the Taliban themselves. I do not know the person who reports to the Taliban in this village or who from the Taliban side is asking about the Americans.
SOLDIER: I just have one more question for him. You just tell him, that it's really important that you help me, 'cause I'll say it again. What my commander wants to do with all the forces in this whole area is round up everyone in this town since no-one is helping us and nobody is turning over the people in this village who actually are part of the attack. So I'm gonna be leaving in about five minutes this is going to be your last chance to try to help yourself.
At the top of the hills above the village the soldiers have taken the tactics of psychological warfare to a grotesque and disturbing extreme. US soldiers have set fire to the bodies of the two Taliban killed the night before. The burning of the corpses and the fact that they've been laid out facing Mecca is a deliberate desecration of Muslim beliefs.
SOLDIER: Wow, look at the blood coming out of the mouth on that one, f**king straight death metal.
PsyOps specialist Sergeant Jim Baker then broadcast an inflammatory message over the loudspeakers in order to taunt and bait the enemy.
SGT JIM BAKER Attention, Taliban, you are all cowardly dogs. You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to come down and retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be.
SOLDIER 2: The first message we sent was - Attention, Mullah Tahir, Mullah Sadar, Mullah Kairadullah, Mullah Abdullah Khan and other Taliban, we know who you are. Your time in Afghanistan is short. You attack and run away like women. You call yourself Talibs but you are a disgrace to the Muslim religion and you bring shame upon your family. Come and fight like men instead of the cowardly dogs you are. And the second one. Attention Mullah Tahiir and other Taliban fighters, we have you surrounded, there is no way for you to escape. Come down from the mountains now and you will not be harmed. We will give you food and cold water. If you persist and stay in the mountains it will become your graveyard.
The soldiers say they're burning the bodies for hygiene purposes but out here, far away from the village, this appears to make no sense. These soldiers have clearly been trained to denigrate and enrage Muslims. Such blatant disrespect for the corpses of their enemy is a breach of the Geneva Convention. It also heightens the perception of local people that the Americans are just as barbarous as the Taliban say they are. Australian troops operate out of the same army base and in the eyes of the locals, as members of the same coalition, there is no distinction between American and Australian forces. This is what happened in Afghanistan the last time American soldiers were accused of mocking Islam. In May this year, reports that the Koran had been desecrated in Guantanamo Bay sparked unrest in the eastern city of Jalalabad. Rioters forced the foreign aid community to flee and destroyed their offices and vehicles. Now I'm on my way to that same city, Jalalabad, home to Afghanistan's deeply conservative Pashtun majority. Parliamentary elections are due to be held here soon - the first in 36 years - and foreign aid workers have again left the city, fearing a repeat of the violence. I want to find out more about how the ongoing war is affecting Afghanistan's fragile democracy. Strangely enough, I come across an Afghan-Australian, Dr Farooq Mirranay, running for election in Jalalabad. He's returned after 17 years of exile to help rebuild his country. At a campaign rally, he attacks the tribal warlords who remain the real powerbrokers here.
DR FAROOQ MIRRANAY SPEECH (Translation): These people have been unfaithful to Afghanistan. Their mission is to change the direction of the democracy. They want to make a mess of our good and proper election process and to give it a bad name.
In the vacuum following the fall of the Taliban, many warlords are trying to use this election to consolidate their power.

The Times also refers to an interview with the photojournalist and quotes from it. Here's the excerpt that's most pertinent (excerpt from the interview, not the Times' summary of it)*:

GEORGE NEGUS: Do you think they understood the ramifications of what they're doing? The burning of the bodies, pointing towards Mecca and going to the trouble of reading to you in English the deliberately provocative stuff that they were shouting across the valley to the Taliban?
STEPHEN DUPONT: Look, I think the airborne unit that were responsible with the burning of the two Taliban soldiers weren't really thinking in that way. I think the psychological operations unit, who were responsible for the broadcast along with some other broadcasts to the Taliban, they're quite well aware of it. They're older guys. That's their job. They're PsyOps. They use it as a weapon. And the Americans are so frustrated. They're frustrated because they can't find the enemy. They're chasing shadows all the time.
GEORGE NEGUS: The guys burning the bodies probably did they think were doing it for reasons of hygiene that were mentioned in the story?
STEPHEN DUPONT: I believe that. That was the feeling I got as I climbed up the hill. As I got to the crest of the hill, they started burning the bodies. My initial reaction was, "My God, I've got to film this. This is really important stuff. It's my responsibility as a journalist to -
GEORGE NEGUS: The PsyOps had a different purpose?
STEPHEN DUPONT: I believe so. Niece guys - they said to me, "We've been told to burn the bodies, the bodies are have been here for 24 hours and they're starting to stink so, for hygiene purposes, this is what we've got to do." Later on, when I was down with the PsyOps operations people, they used that as a psychological warfare I guess you'd call it. They used the fact that the Taliban were burned facing west -
GEORGE NEGUS: They were deliberately setting out to humiliate the Taliban?
STEPHEN DUPONT: They deliberately wanted to incite that much anger from the Taliban so the Taliban could attack them.
GEORGE NEGUS: Smoke them out.
STEPHEN DUPONT: Smoke them out. They want the Taliban to fight them because they can't find them otherwise. It's a really crazy situation. And, you know, the fact that they're announcing these kind of, you know, sort of incredible statements, I think, says a lot about the war that's going on there. I mean, they really want to be attacked. That's the only way they can find them.
GEORGE NEGUS: They don't know where the enemy is, who the enemy is. It's like fighting a ghost.
STEPHEN DUPONT: Absolutely. We're talking about a place that really does look like the moon, look like some planet in outer space.
GEORGE NEGUS: In the context of things like Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Bagram and Fallujah, do you think there will be ramifications when this stuff gets to the world? The last time somebody desecrated the Koran in Guantanamo Bay they went off their faces in Afghanistan.
STEPHEN DUPONT: I think it's highly possible. I can't say for sure. I think it's strong enough, certainly, to send a clear message to Muslims around the world that this is, this is not good. This is a clear breach of Islam. And, you know, it's just another thing that's going to really anger the Islamic population.

Editorial Note:
*That's a judgement call and I'm making that call based on the continued nonsense of "a few bad apples" that allows enlisted to take the fall for the orders coming from above. Schmitt's article notes the PsyOps team but the on the record officials of the US military appear to refer to the troops on the field and not to the PsyOps team. The PsyOps team comes late in the paper's article and yet they come early in the interview that aired on Australian TV.

If the story gets traction, the spin will be "a few bad apples." In this case, the troops, and Dupont believes they were sincere, were ordered to burn the bodies for hygene. PsyOps was ordering the burning and PsyOps had their own reasons for that. Punishment needs to go to PsyOps and watch and see where the spin goes on this. Normally, on the spotlight entry, I put the title of the piece and the reporter or reporters name. I'm not putting Schmitt's name in the title because I don't want someone crusing the web to think Schmitt's making that allegation. Australia's Dateline does. I am. But Schmitt didn't. I doubt the Dixie Chicky efforts work as well at smearing, but I've done the title in the manner I have so that no casual visitor would get the impression that my belief is what Schmitt is reporting.

To me, that should be the thrust of today's article. It's a charge made by Dupont who was present. The record on past abuse is that lower level troops take the fall as though they acted on their own when other facts indicate that is not the case. So here we'll state upfront in the title that two bodies were burned at the orders of PsyOps. I think the Times should have as well. We'll also note "The Night Letter" since apparently only a few have read Jon Lee Anderson's piece.

Final note. Anyone remember a week ago when Joel Brinkley noted Condi Rice's visit to Afghanistan? From that article:

Insurgents fired three rockets into central Kabul on Wednesday morning, wounding two Afghans hours before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived here saying, "Afghanistan is inspiring the world with its march toward democracy."

Right now, Condi's probably preparing another one of her "No one could have known" speeches. (Example: "No one could have known that a few bad apples would burn dead bodies in violation of the Geneva Conventions and to humiliate Muslims.")

Zach e-mails to note Robert Parry's latest. Before we get to that, let's all take a moment to note that in his latest, Parry does the apparently unthinkable -- he mentions the Pike Report. Thank goodness someone does. The article's worth reading for a number of reasons (Zach says read in regards to last night's entry) but one of the many reasons is that we have a thinking journalist, a real journalist, who knows something other than yesterday's headlines. That needs to be noted.

From Robert Parry's "Rise of the 'Patriotic Journalist'" (Consortium News):

The apex for the "skeptical journalists" came in the mid-1970s when the press followed up exposure of Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal and disclosure of the Vietnam War's Pentagon Papers with revelations of CIA abuses, such as illegal spying on Americans and helping Chile’s army oust an elected government.
There were reasons for this new press aggressiveness. After some 57,000 U.S. soldiers had died in Vietnam during a long war fought for murky reasons, many reporters no longer gave the government the benefit of the doubt.
The press corps' new rallying cry was the public's right to know, even when the wrongdoing occurred in the secretive world of national security.
But this journalistic skepticism represented an affront to government officials who had long enjoyed a relatively free hand in the conduct of foreign policy. The Wise Men and the Old Boys -- the stewards of the post-World War II era -- now faced a harder time lining up public consensus behind any action.
This national security elite, including then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush, viewed the post-Vietnam journalism as a threat to America’s ability to strike at its perceived enemies around the world.
Yet, it was from these ruins of distrust -- the rubble of suspicion left behind by Watergate and Vietnam -- that the conservative-leaning national security elite began its climb back, eventually coming full circle, gaining effective control of what a more "patriotic" press would tell the people, before stumbling into another disastrous war in Iraq.
Pike Report
One early turning point in the switch from "skeptical" journalism to "patriotic" journalism occurred in 1976 with the blocking of Rep. Otis Pike's congressional report on CIA misdeeds. CIA Director Bush had lobbied behind the scenes to convince Congress that suppressing the report was important for national security.
But CBS news correspondent Daniel Schorr got hold of the full document and decided that he couldn't join in keeping the facts from the public. He leaked the report to the Village Voice -- and was fired by CBS amid charges of reckless journalism.

"The media's shift in attention from the report's charges to their premature disclosure was skillfully encouraged by the Executive Branch," wrote Kathryn Olmstead in her book on the media battles of the 1970s, Challenging the Secret Government.
"[Mitchell] Rogovin, the CIA's counsel, later admitted that the Executive Branch's 'concern' over the report's damage to national security was less than genuine," Olmstead wrote. But the Schorr case had laid down an important marker.
The counterattack against the "skeptical journalists" had begun.

[I always assume that everyone knows, members, someone's byline when we're speaking of them. In case that's not the case, note: "Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'"]

The e-mail address for this site is