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U.S. Media 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 casualties.

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 now.

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!]

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

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