The get-out is already being set up by the U.S. military and its political outriders in Washington. 38-year old Staff Sergeant Robert Bates, alleged to have murdered 16 Afghan civilians -- among them 9 children and 3 women -- in a group of small villages in the Panjawii district of Kandahar last Sunday, is being transmogrified from mass murderer into victim in a process as cynical as it is racist in its denial of respect for the victims, their families, and their culture. Rather than acting out of the underlying racist and dehumanizing attitude that is common in soldiers engaged in colonial occupations towards those being colonised, Bates was traumatized, tired, had just witnessed one of his buddy's legs being blown off the previous day, was suffering marital problems, snapped, has an outstanding military record, and on and on.
The excuses have flowed via the media almost as fast as the aircraft that flew him out of Afghanistan to the safety of Fort Leavenworth in Kansas via a stopover in Kuwait, where according to reports he's being kept in solitary confinement, whatever that means. It is hard to believe that Robert Bates' solitary confinement will be anything like solitary confinement as it is understood by Bradley Manning, a U.S. soldier who did not murder 16 innocent civilians in their beds but whose crime in the eyes of the U.S. military and government in revealing classified information is deemed far more grievous, given what we know of his treatment.
The speed with which Staff Sergeant Bates was spirited out of Afghanistan should of course come as no surprise. The very idea that an American soldier would be allowed to be tried by mere Afghans for slaughtering mere Afghans is laughable. After all, why else bother drafting an implicitly racist military regulations as the Status of Forces Agreement if it doesn't allow for the slaughter of women and children of an inferior race and ethnicity when one of our boys 'snaps' due to the pressures of spreading democracy and freedom to an ungrateful populace? Questions remain over whether or not Bates acted alone, with Afghan President Hamad Karzai making it known that he believes he did not, doing so after meeting with the villagers and family members of the victims. The circumstantial evidence supporting the accusation that it was the work of more than one soldier is pretty strong. Some of the bodies were burned to try and hide the evidence, and two of the houses involved are located a mile apart.
This is no one-off incident. It continues a pattern of crimes and atrocities that have punctuated the occupation of Afghanistan from the moment U.S. and British troops entered the country over a decade ago. This year alone, just three months in, pictures revealing U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Afghan resistance fighters in January were followed by the burning of copies of the Quran by U.S. soldiers at Bagram airbase a month later. This latest atrocity brings the tally to three in as many months. The strong inference in light of these must be that the continuing presence in Afghanistan of 90,000 U.S. soldiers and military personnel has gone way past the point of being sustainable, and that the moral degeneration of the troops themselves is self evident.
Colonialism and colonial military operations exist on a foundation of racism and the dehumanization of the people being colonized. If it had been an Afghan who'd slaughtered 16 U.S. soldiers in one fell swoop, much less civilians, he would already be suffering, if not dead. There would be no comfortable pre-trial detention, no media campaign to mitigate the incident, and no army of lawyers and psychologists deployed in his defence. He'd be toast.
The soldiers serving in Afghanistan, U.S. and British, are the product of the ignorance and racism imbibed not just from military indoctrination but also social conditioning when it comes to the prevailing nationalism and exceptionalism that describes Western cultural values. There can be no doubt that the strain, fear, pressure and stresses suffered by soldiers serving in places where they are not welcome and subject to the constant threat of being killed or maimed takes a massive toll. But the common thread when it comes to the atrocities that result is that the victims are only accorded a minor role in the ensuing fall out, as if their lives and deaths are of less importance than the priority of defending the reputation of the troops and military forces involved.
Thus we've been regaled this past week with the sight of Barack Obama and David Cameron engaged in a public effusion of mutual admiration, attending basketball games and eating hamburgers together like a couple of rich pen pals from school meeting up for the first time. "The men and women of our armed forces are doing a great job and we salute their courage" is the public message from both leaders. "We are determined to stay the course until the mission is completed. Our condolences go the families of those killed recently." It's the same old bullshit spoken in the same old voice of insincerity and indifference to the lives of those forced to bear the brunt of policies dreamt up and initiated in the comfort of state rooms by those cocooned from the consequences.
The history of atrocities committed in a series of colonial and imperialist wars undertaken since the end of World War II is proof of the depravity of the West in its determination to maintain its hegemonic relationship with the developing world and those cultures deemed inferior. The charge sheet is irrefutable: My Lai, Bloody Sunday, Sabra and Chatila, Haditha, Gaza, and now Panjawii in Afghanistan.
If this is Western civilization, what does barbarism look like?