Silence On Civilian Deaths & Casualties Is Deafening
November 24, 2001
The U.S. media has carried
sporadic reports of
"accidental" bombings where civilians have been killed, but has
ignored many other incidents reported in the foreign press. Moreover,
there has been no systematic investigation by the press of the entire
bombing campaign in Afghanistan to determine and evaluate the overall extent
of civilian deaths and injuries caused directly by U.S. bombs and missiles
(the number of starvation deaths caused indirectly by the chaotic conditions
resulting from the bombing campaign will never be known).
The Bush administration
claims there have been few civilian casualties, but has not provided any
details, has not made available their figures on the total number of
civilian dead and injured.
Instead, the administration
officials have complained
about the reporting of civilian casualties by Al Jazeera, the independent
Arab news network based in Qatar. Again, if the Bush administration
has counter-evidence that the Al Jazeera reports are false, let
administration officials present it. Instead, Colin Powell tried to
convince the emir of Qatar to muzzle the station, and a U.S missile
destroyed the Kabul office of Al Jazeera, an attack the U.S. says was
accidental, but which Al Jazeera claimed was deliberate.
The U.S. media seem fully
capable of investigating and reporting on the intricacies of Northern
Alliance infighting: we'll read that a Northern Alliance official
offended the nephew of a tribal chieftain, which led to complications in a
nearby village when the cousin of the chieftain... you get the idea.
Details ad infinitum about this, but self-censorship about civilian
Echoes of Past Media
Self-censorship on Civilian Deaths
The situation is reminiscent
of mass media coverage of U.S. intervention in Central America in the
1980's. U.S. and foreign human rights organizations screamed as loud
as they could about torture and mass murder being committed by forces
supported by the United States, such as the Salvadoran and Guatemalan
governments, and the contra terrorists in Nicaragua. Yet by and large,
the media ignored these atrocities.
Then decades later,
institutions such as The New York Times would report that, hey, a
mass grave was found in this village, and a massacre did occur
back then. But the newspaper could have found the mass grave and
reported on it just as easily back then.
The Media Must Report Now
on Civilian Casualties
Since the Bush administration
has repeatedly stated that the war in Afghanistan is just the first phase in
a military campaign to destroy terrorist networks around the world, it is
especially incumbent upon the U.S. mass media to undertake now the
type of systematic investigations which can establish clearly whether the
warfare methods adopted by the Bush administration are or are not killing
innocent men, women and children in a manner that could easily be avoided by
a change in tactics, for example, bombing only from low altitudes, and
relying more on ground
troops who can actually see whom they are firing upon.
Such an investigation is
needed right now to influence policy for the immediately upcoming additional
military actions; we don't need ex post facto exposés a decade from
Latest estimates are that the
United States lost about 4200 innocent people in the horrific September 11
terrorist attacks. The United States has 11 times the population of
Afghanistan. So if more than 381 Afghans have been killed by U.S.
bombs and missiles, Afghanistan would have suffered, proportionally, a
greater loss than the U.S. did on September 11. And of course,
Afghanistan is a terribly poor nation, beleaguered by hunger and incipient
famine, so it has far less capacity to rebound from the destruction wrought
upon it than do we.
The mass media, at least some
of them, need to prove that they are more than mouthpieces reading aloud or
printing the latest Bush administration press release.
[UPDATE: study shows over 3500 bombing deaths!]