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new york timescivilian casualties


Disturbing Hidden Assumptions In Otherwise Powerful New York Times Article About Civilian Casualties

December 18, 2001

In many respects, this New York Times article is what many of us had been waiting for, a hard-hitting, factually intense report on civilian bombing casualties.

The headline is strong: "In Village Where Civilians Died, Anger Cannot Be Buried."

The framing lead paragraphs seem powerful enough:

Perhaps someday there will be a reckoning for this tiny village of 15 houses, all of them obliterated into splintered wood and dust by American bombs. United States military officials might explain why 55 people died here.

But more likely, Madoo will not learn whether the bombs fell by mistake or on purpose, and the matter will be forgotten amid the larger consequences of war. It is left an anonymous hamlet with anonymous people buried in anonymous graves.

And certainly the recitation of facts is disturbing:

On Dec. 1, American planes attacked several villages near the mountainous redoubt of Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda fighters and perhaps even Osama bin Laden were presumed to be hiding...

The attack, the men said, came in four waves, the first being the killer. After that, the living ran into a gully that was left unmolested. The houses were small, the bombing precise. No structure escaped the thundering havoc. Fifteen houses, 15 ruins.

America's own anti-Taliban allies were horrified, claiming the targeting had been mistaken and that hundreds of innocents had been killed. It was "like a crime against humanity," said Hajji Muhammad Zaman, a military commander in the region.

The Pentagon said little in response other than that it was sure of its quarry.

So what's my problem with the article?  Haven't I been screaming since the beginning of the war, Where is the coverage of massive civilian casualties?

Look again more closely at the opening two paragraphs.  They have an artfully crafted tone of indignation and lament.  I wish I could write that well for my site.  And that's the problem.  This expression of indignation and lament wasn't written for my site, but for the most prestigious newspaper in the world.

If I see that victims are being forgotten, there's very little I can do about it other than post my indignation and lament here.  But The New York Times can do a heck of a lot more!  Those opening paragraphs assume the opposite.

Why does a foreign correspondent for a media powerhouse write that "Perhaps some day there will be a reckoning..."?  That "United States military officials might explain..."?  That "more likely, Madoo will not learn..."?

With all its prestige and access, the New York Times could force a "reckoning," extract an "explanation," enable Madoo to "learn" what happened.  Repeated requests to the Pentagon by The New York Times for explanations about what happened in Madoo -- not to mention in the scores of other locations where hundreds, if not thousands of civilians were killed by our airstrikes -- would eventually compel the Pentagon to speak.

I can't make the Pentagon talk about what really happened.  The poor villagers of Madoo cannot either.  But the New York Times can.

Perhaps I am wrong and the "newspaper of record" is exerting strong pressure behind the scenes for such information.

Perhaps I am also wrong and the publication is also investing the resources to conduct a systematic investigation of the entire bombing campaign in Afghanistan to determine the overall extent of civilian deaths and injuries caused directly by U.S. bombs.

If I am wrong on either count, upon seeing such critical and urgently needed information published in the New York Times, I will never have been happier to admit my mistake.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

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