For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever. Amen (Matthew 6:13b)
On March 16, 1968, men serving with the Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, American Division, entered the Vietnamese village of My Lai. “This is what you’ve been waiting for — search and destroy — and you’ve got it,” said their superior officers. A short time later the killing began. When news of the atrocities surfaced, it sent shockwaves through the U.S. political establishment, the military’s chain of command, and an already divided American public.
My Lai is situated in the South Vietnamese district of Son My, a heavily mined area where the Vietcong were deeply entrenched. Numerous members of Charlie Company had been maimed or killed in the area during the preceding weeks. The agitated troops, under the command of Lt. William Calley entered the village poised for engagement with their elusive enemy. As the “search and destroy” mission unfolded, it soon degenerated into the massacre of over 300 apparently unarmed civilians including women, children, and the elderly. Calley ordered his men to enter the village firing, though there had been no report of opposing fire. According to eyewitness reports offered after the event, several old men were bayoneted, praying women and children were shot in the back of the head, and at least one girl was raped and then killed. For his part, Calley was said to have rounded up a group of the villagers, ordered them into a ditch, and mowed them down in a fury of machine gun fire.
As the gruesome details of My Lai reached the American public, serious questions arose concerning the conduct of American soldiers in Vietnam. A military commission investigating the massacre found widespread failures of leadership, discipline, and morale among the Army’s fighting units. Anti-war protestors denounced the act of war as being futile — the only thing to be gained was crippling grief and a tortured national psyche, a government tainted with defeat and the needless death of thousands: combatants, enemy soldiers, and civilians caught in the madness of war.
On March 12, 2002, in a small village west of the town of Al-Mahmudiyah, Iraq, a fourteen-year-old girl was raped and murdered by five US Army soldiers of the 502 Infantry Regiment. Abeer Qasim Hamza Janabi had been marked for this crime by the soldiers of this regiment, and the plan to rape her took place several days before the event. The 101st Airborne Division’s 502nd Infantry Regiment had been posted at the edge of the ‘Triangle of Death’ and had been losing one soldier per week. Plied with alcohol and a sense of invincibility, the five men from the unit at the Yusufiyah checkpoint entered the Janabi house, separated Abeer from her family, shot the parents and sister and raped Abeer. Private Steven Green shot Abeer in the head then burnt the lower part of her body. The fire spread to the rest of house, alerting the neighbors who found the family dead and Abeer’s body burnt from the stomache to her feet, her shirt flung over her head.
On May 16, 2006, before the crime was recognised, Green had been honourably discharged from the Army due to an “anti-social personality disorder”. On May 7, 2009, Green was found guilty by a federal court of rape and multiple counts of murder. While prosecutors sought the death penalty in this case, jurors failed to agree unanimously on that outcome. On September 4, 2009, Green was formally sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
On March 10, 2012, in the middle of the night, a US Army staff sergeant Robert Bales moved from house to house in Balandi and Alokzai villages, district Panjwai in Southern Afghanistan, opening fire on the residents and killing sixteen men, women and children, eleven from one family alone. Nine of the dead were children.
Twenty thousand Afghan civilians died as a result of US airstrikes in the first four months of the American presence. Twenty thousand more have died since 2001. President Obama has said that it is not going to get “any easier over the next few months.” It has not been easy for the Afghan people ever since the beginning of the US Imperial Project.
Beware of the Ides of March, Mr President.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2012.
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