Should the U.S. also suppress evidence of civilian deaths in Afghanistan?

Reports of civilian deaths inflame anti-American sentiment at least as much as torture photos.

By Glenn Greenwald

Published June 12, 2009 11:13AM (EDT)

Something that has happened repeatedly in Afghanistan over the last eight years happened yet again this week:

After U.S. Strike, Dispute Over Afghan Deaths

KABUL, Afghanistan — Sharply conflicting reports on an American airstrike this week continued to trickle out Friday from American military and Afghan officials as to whether the attack killed civilians.

The airstrike in Ghor Province in western Afghanistan Tuesday had targeted a local Taliban militant, Mullah Mustafa, but instead killed 10 civilians and 12 insurgents, according to Sayed Iqbal Munib, the governor of Ghor Province.

But American officials Friday said the strike killed up to 16 militants and no civilians.

I obviously don't know what the truth is about this latest incident, but let's assume just for the sake of argument that -- as has been true so many times before -- it is the claim of local Afghan officials, rather than the U.S. military, that is accurate, and Afghan civilians, once again, really were killed by our airstrike. 

Using the standard that is now so accepted across the political spectrum in Washington -- information that will inflame anti-American sentiment should be suppressed rather than disclosed so at to not endanger our troops -- isn't it better if we just cover-up, rather than learn the truth about, the civilian deaths we caused in Afghanistan?  After all, news reports of dead Afghan women and children at the hands of American bombs obviously inflame anti-American sentiment and Endanger Our Troops at least as much as the disclosure of some additional torture photos would.  By the prevailing reasoning of Washington, shouldn't we want our government to hide the truth about what we did -- lest anti-American anger and the risk of attack on Our Troops increase?  Isn't that the noble anti-transparency principle we're now endorsing?

The people who are killed by the airstrikes are just as dead.  Thus, there's no value in transparency for its own sake.  What's the point of our knowing as citizens the truth about what happened and learning the evidence that proves it?  All that would do is put our Troops in danger.  Here's one argument in favor of releasing the torture photos that the President yesterday vowed he would keep suppressed using every means at his disposal -- even if he loses in court for a third time, this time in the Supreme Court:

Amrit Singh, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union said the photos portrayed abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq in places other than Abu Ghraib prison, the Iraq jail made infamous in 2004 by photographs of abuse there, and would therefore show that abuse was “not aberrational but systemic.”

The Bush-defending Right continues to insist, and huge numbers of American continue to believe, that the brutal abuses of Abu Ghraib were isolated and aberrational, the rogue crimes of a few low-level soldiers who were punished.  These photos would prove that to be a lie.  But no matter.  For exactly that reason -- because they would expose the horrible truth of what we actually did -- these photos must be suppressed in the name of containing anti-American anger.  Why should that reasoning be confined to suppression of the photos?  Shouldn't it extend to information that is far more likely to inflame anti-American hatred, such as what we are really doing in Afghanistan?  Isn't it best if the truth is just kept from us and the government suppresses it all so that we don't look bad in the eyes of the world?  Isn't that obviously where this mentality leads -- and is already leading?

Along those lines, I'd like to ask you to subject yourself to six minutes of video -- embedded below -- from Bill O'Reilly's show last night, in which O'Reilly, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham jointly praise Barack Obama for suppressing these torture photos, and viciously attack House Democratic leaders as Far Leftist radicals who don't care about the lives of the troops.

On one level, it's worth watching for the pure spectacle of seeing these individuals self-righteously parade around as defenders of the lives of The Troops who desperately want to avoid inflaming anti-American sentiment -- when these are the very same people who sent more than 4,000 American troops to their deaths in Iraq for a completely unnecessary war and, even more so, cheered on policies -- from torture to Guantanamo to the invasion itself -- that, as even General Petraeus, John McCain and numerous other military officials point out, sent anti-American sentiment to the highest levels ever.  Now, suddenly, these very same people pretend to be so concerned about the lives of Troops and not doing anything to increase anger towards the U.S. 

But even more important, perhaps seeing the arguments in favor of the suppression of these photos come out of the mouths of these individuals, rather than from Obama officials, will enable some people to see how bankrupt, manipulative and incoherent the arguments actually are:

Glenn Greenwald

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