(ANTIMEDIA Op-ed) While millions of Americans throw temper tantrums over professional athletes exercising their freedom to kneel during a song — or, in the eyes of the outraged, to disrespect the military — a new report reveals that same military bombed a school and a crowded marketplace in March, killing dozens of civilians. The report was released Sunday, a day after Trump ignited the NFL hysteria.
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According to the report published by Human Rights Watch, titled “All Feasible Precautions?: Civilian Casualties in Anti-ISIS Coalition Airstrikes in Syria,” on March 30, the U.S.-led military coalition killed over eighty civilians in airstrikes on the towns of Tabqa and Mansourah, both located outside Raqqa, which had been an ISIS stronghold.
Airstrikes increased earlier this year amid the U.S. government’s mission to permanently topple ISIS, but civilian casualties have also skyrocketed, calling into the question the tactics of the American-led effort.
The report summarizes:
“In the two deadliest attacks, the US-led coalition struck a school and a market killing at least 84 civilians. Although ISIS fighters were also at these sites, the high civilian death toll raises concerns that military forces of the US-led coalition failed to take necessary precautions to avoid and minimize civilian casualties, a requirement under international humanitarian law.”
A local activist in Tabqa provided the names of over 140 civilians he said were killed in the strikes, “including 38 women and 58 children, whom he says were killed in airstrikes in Tabqa town alone between March 19 and May 10, when SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] captured the town.” HRW was able to confirm 84.
The human rights organization noted that the damage extended beyond the loss of life, citing “significant destruction of civilian property and infrastructure, as Human Rights Watch observed on the ground, and residents said that strikes that killed civilians instilled fear and pushed many to flee, adding to Syria’s displaced population.”
The Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF), established by the U.S. military’s Central Command, acknowledged that the Mansourah attack did take place, claiming they were targeting an ISIS “intelligence headquarters and weapons storage facility.” But as HRW notes, “aircraft struck a school housing displaced people in Mansourah on March 20 and a market and a bakery in Tabqa on March 22.”
Often, the same people outraged over disrespect toward the U.S. flag, anthem, and military are the same people who rationalize the murder of civilians with their tax dollars by claiming terrorists might have been scattered among the innocent.
Yet according to the new report, “aircraft struck a school housing displaced people in Mansourah on March 20 and a market and a bakery in Tabqa on March 22.” HRW also explained that while “the victims named in this report had no affiliation with ISIS…even people affiliated with ISIS could be civilians. Family members of ISIS fighters and members who carry out exclusively administrative or other non-combat functions are also considered civilians under international humanitarian law and may not be targeted unless and only for as long as they are directly participating in hostilities.”
Tragically, this instance is not isolated — the U.S. military has an extensive history of killing civilians in the name of fighting terrorism, as well as carrying out far more intentional atrocities. In 2015, the U.S. military bombed a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, where Doctors Without Borders was treating civilians. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. military claimed terrorists were taking refuge in the hospital, though this claim was disputed.
Chelsea Manning’s leaked footage showed U.S. troops targeting unarmed civilians, including Iraqi Reuters staffers, and the military has also hit weddings and funerals with drone strikes. U.S. officials also advise the Saudis’ criminal assault on Yemen.
Yet the U.S. military’s careless attitude toward civilian life is not limited to the Middle East.
The My-Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968 saw U.S. troops kill hundreds of Vietnamese civilians. As the University of Houston has summarized, U.S. soldiers went to My Lai searching for Viet Cong, only to slaughter hundreds of villagers, many of them children and the elderly:
“The unit met no resistance in My Lai, which had about 700 inhabitants. Indeed, they saw no males of fighting age. They only found villagers eating breakfast. Nevertheless, over the next three hours they killed as many as 504 Vietnamese civilians. Some were lined up in a drainage ditch before being shot. The dead civilians included fifty age 3 or younger, 69 between 4 and 7, and 27 in their 70s or 80s.
The mass killing was ultimately covered up before a handful of troops were tried.“In addition, Vietnamese women were raped; other civilians were clubbed and stabbed. Some victims were mutilated with the signature ‘C Company’ carved into the chest. One soldier would testify later, ‘I cut their throats, cut off their hands, cut out their tongues, scalped them. I did it. A lot of people were doing it and I just followed. I lost all sense of direction.’”
Only one U.S. lieutenant was convicted of any crimes, and his life sentence was reduced to three-and-a-half years on house arrest. Similar instances of wanton murder in Vietnam have also emerged. In North Korea, the U.S. military killed off nearly 20% of the country’s civilian population during the Korean War.
While many Americans join the military with the best of intentions, the reality is that the U.S. war machine is far more committed to ensuring profits for powerful defense contractors than actually “defending freedom,” and in the perpetual decades of war that have unfolded as a result of this blood incentive, innumerable innocent people who never aggressed against the U.S. have died.
Even American citizens have been made victims of the U.S. military.
Take, for example, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen suspected of terrorism — not charged with it — who was drone-bombed during the Obama administration without ever receiving a trial. His son, sixteen-year-old Abdulrahman, was also drone bombed, and just this year, his younger sister, only eight years old, was also murdered in a U.S. attack.
Ironically, the NFL players kneeling during the anthem are protesting increasingly militarized U.S. cops’ killings of unarmed people — some of whom might have been guilty but never received a trial because of the trigger-happy nature of U.S. authority. As flag worshippers shame athletes and other Americans (and veterans) who defend their right to protest, they refuse to acknowledge the tainted legacy of the U.S. military they so fervently demand everyone else respect.
As George Orwell wrote:
“The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”