The other day, a little-reported (thus far), but disturbing story came out of the fighting in Afghanistan.
A suicide bombing against a military convoy took place in the eastern Nangahar provice. In the aftermath, U.S. troops fired on what is reported to be civilians, killing three. The army states that they were in turn shot at by militants. In all, eight Afghans were killed and 34 were wounded. One American solider was injured.
Here's the thing: that's not the disturbing story. It's the sad, tragic story. But the disturbing story is something different.
The disturbing story is that two Associated Press journalists say American soldiers deleted their photos and those of other cameramen at the scene.
An AP story by Amir Shah, tells of their photographer Rahmat Gul who was taking pictures of the fighting's aftermath:
"The same soldier who took my camera came again and deleted my photos," Gul said. "The soldier was very angry." Later, Gul notes that the soldier raised his fist as if he were going to hit him, though didn't.
Another reporter there, Khanwali Kamran, for the Afghan channel Ariana Television, said that U.S. soldiers also deleted his footage, as well. And they added quaint words of advice:
"They warned me that if it is aired ... then, 'You will face problems,."
The "problems" were made more clear to Taqiullah Taqi, a reporter for Afghanistan's largest television station, Tolo TV. "According to the translator," Taqi explained, "they said, 'Delete them, or we will delete you,."
It goes on. A cameraman for AP Television News - who didn't want his name used out of fear for his safety (hey, how's that for sending a message to the world in the name of America!) - said that a soldier and translator "ordered us not to move" and deleted his footage, as well.
There are many apparent issues at play here.
First, the attack on the Americans was terrible.
So too was all the fighting afterwards.
And the thing is, if that had been the story, people would understand it. If the soldiers did fire on civilians, people would at least understand such a reaction in the middle of an attack. It would be tragic, unacceptable, hopefully dealt with, but people would understand that hell comes as part of war.
And if the soldiers' actions turned out to be justified, then the story is all the more understandable. Moreover, it wouldn't be a story, it would be another tragic event in this whole tragic series of events.
But by turning on journalists, confiscating their work, destroying it and threatening them with death...to the point of some hiding their names for safety - then you have taken the very reason we're supposedly there and in Iraq, and destroyed it with the photos.
We're supposed to be in those two countries to bring democracy and blessed American freedom. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom from want. Freedom of the press. Those sort of cuddly things.
Freedom of the press. It's one of the most sacred of American tenets. We fought a Revolutionary War for such freedoms. We're supposedly fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for such freedoms...and here are the very American troops, the representative of America in the eyes of the peoples of those lands, literally destroying it.
Forget for a moment that this event may not get reported in the U.S. in any meaningful way. Let's even say it doesn't. Does anyone truly think it won't get reported in...oh, hmmm...Afghanistan?? Where it matters.
Remember, this is not a story about some little backwoods rumor that got uncovered. This is a story about What Happened to Reporters. And not just any, but reporters from two Afghanistan television channels - one of which was The Largest Television Channel in Afghanistan.
Does anyone truly think those channels will not report what was done to their very own reporters covering a war in the midst of their country?
(Hint: their job title is "reporter.")
If you think it won't, you're wrong. And if you know it will get reported, and it will, widely, how do think this message will play to a country where are soldiers in their villages, saying they're bringing democracy and freedom. If you lived there, would you a) believe them? And b) want that democracy and freedom?
Of course, the actions of a few soldiers cannot be blamed on an Administration thousands of miles away. Those few will likely be the ones punished. Just as the few minor participants in the Abu Ghraib tragedy were the only ones punished.
And this isn't the "fault" of the Bush Administration.
But - when you're running a war 70% of Americans say is wrong, when you've started a war based on demonstrable lies, when you can't define your course, when you remove generals for speaking truth, when you have an Administration that has awarded Medals of Freedom for incompetence and allowed for torture and let its tragedies get swept under the rug -
- what other disturbing result can you expect?