U.S. Media "Discovers" the Real, "Old" News
by Marc W. Herold
POSTED FEBRUARY 17, 2002 --
Something both very interesting and revealing has recently occurred. The American mainstream media has "discovered" the civilian casualties in Afghanistan caused by the U.S. bombing campaign. The signal of this discovery was given by Ellen Knickmeyer of the Associated Press, who recently filed a dispatch headlined, "U.S. Attack Killed Children, Afghan Survivors Say."
For more than two months -- beginning with a radio interview on December 10th with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now -- I have been writing and speaking about the heavy civilian casualties caused by U.S. bombing attacks. But unlike the American mainstream press, I have argued that these innocent victims were primarily killed by particular U.S. bombing strategies, not by mistakes. The current media stories, however, still invoke the notion of bombing "errors," and more recently, faulty intelligence.
What is revealing is that all these recently-discovered attacks which killed Afghan civilians were actually accurately reported weeks and in some instances months ago. But those reports emanated from sources other than traditional U.S. corporate media sources and, hence, were not trusted by the rest of the U.S. mainstream media.
Three incidents fully illustrate the catch-up nature of mainstream reporting of civilian casualties caused by U.S. bombing in Afghanistan. [For a fourth, see my An Average Day: 65 Afghan Civilians Killed by U.S Bombs on December 20th at : http://www.cursor.org/stories/ontarget.htm ] .
The Associated Press -- which unfortunately is now in the forefront of those now minimizing civilian casualties1 -- "discovered" the October 21 Tarin Kot bombing attack on February 13th. Ellen Knickmeyer described how U.S. planes "fired at a tractor carrying women and children fleeing the October 21 attack in and around Tarin Kot...at least a dozen children were reported killed." Survivors said 21 of their family members were killed, 17 of them children. The newly appointed pro-Karzai governor of Uruzgan predictably offered lower figures.
The initial bombing of the village was followed by an attack upon a tractor pulling a trailer filled with terrified civilians, a fact also reported by numerous media outlets, including by Agence France-Presse from Quetta, Richard Lloyd Parry of the British daily The Independent, and the Pakistani Dawn daily newspaper on October 24-25th, amongst many others. I reported2 20-32 civilians perishing in those two attacks.
Until now the American mainstream media has virtually ignored this news.
The second incident recently discovered by the mainstream press in the United States is the November 16th bombing of a madrassa school and mosque in the city of Khost, and a few hours later the attack upon the home of Maulvi Sirajuddin [Paktia Province]. The incident was first reported in the U.S. by John Burns of the New York Times on February 2nd, but Reuters and Behroz Khan of the Pakistani Jang newspaper, The News, had described the bombing on November 18-19th, nine weeks earlier!3 Burns mentions how he U.S. attack killed Maulvi Sirajuddin's wife, nine young grandchildren and 10 other innocent people. Hours earlier a mosque-madrassa in Khost had been bombed.
Of course, nine weeks before that - on November 18th - a Reuters dispatch from Islamabad had reported that:
"The target of the U.S. bombing raid was Taliban Tribal affairs Minister, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose home and religious seminary, or madrassa, were attacked late on Friday, the private Pakistan- based Afghan Islamic Press said, quoting its sources in Afghanistan...among the dead were 34 students killed in the seminary...also killed in Friday night's raids were 19 members of one family in a village Zani Kheil, 10 kms. south of Khost, when a bomb hit killing women and children. Nine other people of the same village were also killed..."
Behroz Khan, a reporter for the Pakistan daily The News, made a similar account on November 19th . My database lists 34 killed in Khost and 28 in Zani Kheil, and mentions sources from India, Pakistan, and Reuters. The students in the madrassa were gathered as they were saying their evening prayers.
But alas, again, these reports would not be believed by the American mainstream press until nine weeks later. Pakistani sources and in particular, the Afghan Islamic Press, got it right just days after the bombing attack. A month later, the bombing attack upon the convoy of elders traveling to the Karzai inauguration ceremony was also first accurately reported upon by sources outside the United States.
The last incident, though I could analyze dozens of others in similar vein, is that of the CIA missile strike on Wednesday night, February 6th, upon a group of men congregated in the Zhawar village area. During the subsequent four days, the American mainstream press uncritically presented the official U.S. interpretation: A sophisticated new drone plane had successfully fired a missile at three "tall men in long robes" who were al Qaeda leaders regrouping in their old stomping grounds, the bases in the Zhawar area.
Cracks began to appear in the story on Monday, February 11th, when Doug Struck of the Washington Post filed a dispatch which raised doubts about the "official version."4 Struck suggested that the three persons hit by the Hellfire missile were peasants. The following day, he elaborated, giving names and noting that the three were poor peasants out scavenging metal, in the words of one man's uncle:
"They knew there were air strikes there a few days before, so they knew they could find scrap metal...they knew there was a risk, but they had to feed their families."
Four days earlier Behroz Khan of the Jang daily (Pakistan), had written a story headlined, "US Missile Attack in Khost Kills 3 Civilians." Khan quoted a local tribal leader from Khost who said,
"Three persons, all civilians, have been confirmed dead in Zhawar village on Wednesday night. All the victims belonged to the Gurbuz tribe and had no links either with the Taliban or Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda organisation."
This only became a "truth" here in the U.S. after being blessed by the "independent verification" provided by the U.S. mainstream media itself.
Finally, let us see what the official Pentagon response has been to the killing of these 85-97 innocent Afghan civilians in three separate bombing attacks -- two in the Khost region and one in Uruzgan province.
On the Tarin Kot attack: Major Ralph Mills of Central Command said :
"It was a good strike…..we had precision-guided missiles that we used on a Taliban leadership compound, command and control compound in Tarin Kot….we watched the imagery and we know that it hit the target that we were hoping to hit. All weapons were accounted for."5
On the bombing of the mosque, madrassa and residence around the city of Khost: The Pentagon admitted a "guidance malfunction" with a 500 lb, laser-guided bomb.
On the CIA Hellfire missile attack: As reported by Doug Struck, the Pentagon, while keeping U.S. news reporters out of the Zhawar village area at gunpoint, reported the Hellfire as having been correctly fired based upon the observation of three men, one of whom was tall, and who was being treated deferentially, which apparently, in the Pentagon's mind, gave rise to speculation that he was bin Laden. Additional "intelligence" provided had come from the 17-year-old son of a local faction commander known to be working closely with the Americans.
The pattern described above illustrates what has generally been the quality of U.S. mainstream news reporting about civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Bombing incidents simply are not news, until sanctioned by the A.P. or some equivalent institution. Maybe now we can rejoice that, finally, major American dailies have discovered the real old news.
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1 See Laura King, "Review: Afghan Civilian Deaths Lower," AP Asia [February 11, 2002]. An exception to my characterization was the terrific reporting done from Kabul by Kathy Gannon, whose reports I have relied upon.
3 John F. Burns, "Villagers Add to Reports of Raids Gone Astray," New York Times [February 2, 2002]; Reuters [Islamabad, November 18, 2002] and Behroz Khan, "Taliban Split Over Pullout From Kunduz," The News [Jang] [November 19, 2001]. Also, "Civilian Bombing Carnage Mounts," The Times of India [November 19, 2001].
4 Doug Struck, "Casualties of U.S Miscalculations," Washington Post [February 11, 2002] and "Men Hit in U.S Missile Strike Were Scavengers," Washington Post [February 12, 2002]. Behroz Khan, U.S Missile Attack on Khost Kills 3 Civilians," The News [Jang] [February 8, 2002].
5 From Ellen Knickmeyer, "U.S Attack Killed Children, Afghan Survivors Say," The Nando Times [February 13, 2002].
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Coming in January from Freedom Voices Press & City Lights Publishers: