Saturday, October 3, 2015

Thoughts on Oregon Shooting


The world is bleeding with blood, or so it seems. The sad fact is: the victims of this orgy of violence around the globe, often times, have no clue as to why they are getting killed or maimed.
Friday morning was supposed to be an ordinary day for the students at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, USA. They got up like they do every day -- ready for class, ready to learn, ready to engage with teachers and fellow students, and ready for home work. But in an instant, their worlds were shattered by bullets – not by some outsider, but by one of their very own, a fellow student - Chris Harper Mercer - who was enrolled in English and theatre classes.
According to the Oregon Attorney General, as many as 13 people were killed and 20 were wounded at the college. Apparently, Mercer later killed himself. We are told that he was against organized religion and was fond of the Irish Republican Army. He served in the U.S. Army from November to December of 2008 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, but was "discharged for failing to meet the minimum administrative standards," the Pentagon said.
If Mercer was a Muslim the western media would have been abuzz with terrorism. But since he was not, and thanks God for that, his horrendous crime is viewed just as any other mass shooting and nothing more.
On the other side of the globe, in the war-ravaged Afghanistan, life has lost its meaning for more than three decades since the Soviet (Russian) occupation of the country in the late 1970s. While the Russians were eventually kicked out after the decade-long war with the local Mujahedeen, funded mostly by the USA and Saudi Arabia, the toll of the war was too high. Estimates of Afghan civilian deaths vary from one to two million. As a result of Russia’s criminal scorched-earth policy, some 5–10 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and Iran, almost a third of the prewar population of the country, and another 2 million were internally displaced within the country. In the 1980s, half of all refugees in the world were Afghan. Irrigation systems, crucial to agriculture in Afghanistan's arid climate, were destroyed by aerial bombing and strafing by Soviet forces. In its unfathomed savagery, before they left, the Russian forces laid mines in fields and roads. As a result, along with fatalities were 1.2 million Afghans that were disabled and another 3 million maimed or wounded (primarily noncombatants).  
With the defeat of the Russians, the power came in the hands of the former rebel leaders who, being abandoned by their former sponsors, fought amongst themselves for power grab in a civil war that was to last for another five years, only to pave the way for the Pakistan-backed Taliban to take control and bring some semblance of peace in the war-torn country.
Then came 9/11 and the rest is history!
Almost 14 years have passed by since George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan in 2001 killing tens of thousands but the bleeding of the Afghans has not stopped. They are not safe anywhere, and not even in schools and hospitals run by international NGOs.
Last Saturday night was one such moment for the patients and staffers of an MSF- (Doctors Without Borders) run hospital in the northern city of Kunduz. Nearly a week ago, last Monday the city was overtaken by the Taliban, surprising the USA and her allies. The latter forces have been firing and, as usual, killing mostly unarmed civilians. Shockingly, even though the MSF has already shared its GPS coordinates with the USA and Afghanistan forces, its hospital facility was not spared.
In a pre-dawn strike, an AC-130 warplane carried out sustained fire against a Doctors Without Borders-run hospital on the outskirts of the Taliban-held city of Kunduz, killing 16 including 9 staffers and three children. Doctors Without Borders is demanding clarification on what happened, noting the US airstrikes “continued for more than 30 minutes after American and Afghan military officials in Kabul and Washington were first informed by MSF that its hospital was struck.” The hospital’s location had also been reported to everyone before the bombing started. “MSF wishes to clarify that all parties to the conflict, including in Kabul and Washington, were clearly informed of the precise location (GPS Coordinates) of the MSF facilities in Kunduz, including the hospital, guesthouse, office and an outreach stabilization unit in Chardara northwest of Kunduz,” the charity added.
Though Doctors Without Borders reported 16 dead and 37 injured as a preliminary toll, they added that 30 other people are unaccounted for, meaning the tolls will almost certainly rise in the hours to come. At least five of the staff members are in critical condition. One local resident told the Washington Post there had been up to 35 airstrikes in the area over the past five days.
The US Embassy in Kabul expressed “condolences” but did not apologize for the attack, while both the UN Mission to Afghanistan and the Red Cross condemned the strikes, saying it was unacceptable to undermine humanitarian organizations in the warzone.
This is not the first time the US has come under fire for its actions against hospitals in Afghanistan, though it is by far the biggest such incidents. Back in 2009 there were a pair of incidents, including one in which US ground troops attacked a hospital, forcing their way in, and tying up the staff before smashing up the place. That hospital was run by the charity group the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan.
As I have noted drone attacks by the USA and her allies continue to kill thousands of innocent civilians from Pakistan to North-eastern parts of Africa. No civilian is safe in these killing fields. Now Russia has joined the fray to bolster the Syrian Nusayri regime of the war-criminal Bashar al-Assad. Putin’s bombs are being dropped on Syrian civilians, as have US bombs, already terrorized by Assad’s war machines.
And no government wants to take the blame for such civilian casualties. The word ‘apology’ seems an alien word for our modern-day warlords – from Kabul to Damascus to Moscow to Washington DC.
Faisal bin Ali Jaber of Yemen filed a lawsuit in the USA in June to establish that the 29 August 2012 drone strike that killed his brother-in-law and nephew was unlawful. He already had reason to believe his family was collateral damage of US drone strikes in Yemen, the open secret of US counter-terrorism. He had received a cash payment of $100,000 in sequential bills from a Yemeni official. Since the money didn’t come with any acknowledgement that the strike even occurred, let alone an apology, Jaber visited Washington in November 2013. He came to recognize that in his case, justice was not realistic. The most he could hope for from the American government that killed his family in a drone strike was an apology, much as the families of two wrongfully killed westerners received from Barack Obama.
On Monday, Jaber’s lawyers at the human-rights group Reprieve wrote to the Obama administration with a new offer. Jaber would settle his case, attorney Cori Crider wrote to Barack Obama, in exchange for ‘an apology and an explanation as to why a strike that killed two innocent civilians was authorized’.
But on Wednesday, the Justice Department tacitly rejected the offer. Instead, it argued to Judge Ellen Huvelle that the drone strike – or, as they put it, the ‘alleged operation’ – was beyond her power to scrutinize.
Commenting on the Justice Department’s rejection, Jaber’s attorney Crider said, “Sorry really does seem to be the hardest word.” “It is appalling that Faisal was deemed worthy of meetings in Washington DC with White House and National Security Council officials, but that the US is trying its level best to avoid apologizing, and to block his quest for justice by kicking him out of the courts,” Crider added. “There is no good reason that the president stood up in front of the world with the Lo Porto and Weinstein families to say sorry for the US’s tragic mistake, but can’t do so for a Yemeni man.”
Well, Muslim life has been cheaper since at least the days of George Bush when nearly a million Iraqi civilians - who had nothing to do with 9/11 - were wantonly killed or pulverized by his armed forces! Hiding under the cloak of ‘collateral’ casualties has become a fashion for all such war criminals. Even a wedding party – whether held in the tribal areas of Pakistan or Afghanistan, or in Yemen - party is not safe from such mass murderers. Not even safe are the school boys and girls studying in their schools or playing in their school yards or beaches.
This brings me to the Oregon shooting case. Anneliese Davis, the Oregon Chapter Leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America writes, "I'm going to be blunt: Our kids go to college to learn. Not to be shot. Mass shootings are tragic by definition. But when they touch a college community -- a place of learning that's supposed to be safe -- they are that much more devastating. Today's tragedy marks the 45th school shooting in our country this year, averaging more than one per week. You and I both know it's time for our lawmakers to stop telling students and teachers to stand up to gunmen -- just so they themselves don't have to stand up to the gun lobby.”


America needs gun control to minimize such regular occurrences that kill innocent people. But the measure alone will not be sufficient. America must learn to walk the talk.

A society that is oblivious of the drone attacks on unarmed civilians and condones such war crimes at its highest level and is unwilling to apologize for such will have its chickens come home to roost. There is no escape from such a rude awakening.


 

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