Duplicity, human rights don't go together

Updated: 2011-04-19 08:57

By Cesar Chelala (China Daily)

Twitter Facebook Myspace Yahoo! Linkedin Mixx

Every evening, at the end of PBS News Hour, one of the most respected news programs in the United States, one can see images of American soldiers killed the previous day. They usually are young men, generally between 20 and 25 years of age.

Even the most hardened person cannot but feel a pang of anguish looking at these young people whose lives have been cut short by an irrational war. And one can imagine how many vibrant lives have been lost and will be lost until the war in Afghanistan ends.

Awful as these losses are, we should consider another reality: images of some other soldiers degrading Afghan prisoners. The images tell us that the soldiers' lives have been compromised by war and, equally terrifyingly, war has changed them, too. It has made them lose that essential human value that makes us respect other people at their most basic level. And we suddenly have a vision of the essential evilness of war.

These thoughts came to mind after looking at three photographs released recently by the German newspaper, Der Spiegel. They are part of 4,000 photographs and videos taken by the soldiers, and were seized by US Army officers investigating the deaths of three unarmed Afghan civilians in 2010.

Twelve soldiers from the Bravo company unit of the Fifth Stryker Combat Brigade in Afghanistan's Kandahar province have been accused of committing serious crimes against Afghan civilians. The accused include Special Sergeant Jeremy Morlock, 22, and three other men who were allegedly following the orders of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, 25. They have been accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport and collecting their body parts - including a skull - as trophies. Morlock was sentenced to 24 years in prison at the end of last month.

The first photograph shows Morlock holding a naked corpse of an Afghan civilian, named Gul Mudin, by his hair and grinning proudly at the camera. The second photograph shows another soldier, Pfc. Andrew Holmes, holding the same corpse with one hand, again by the hair, while a cigarette dangles between the fingers of his other hand. The third photograph shows two Afghan civilians murdered by these soldiers. The victims' soiled clothes suggest that they were dragged by a vehicle and possibly tortured before being killed.

As reported by Afghans for Peace (AFP), an investigation showed that the military ignored the warnings of a soldier, Spc. Adam Winfield, whose father persistently tried to inform commanders of the atrocities only to be turned away. "They planned everything out. I knew about it I want to do something about it, but I don't have the courage ," wrote Adam Winfield.

Many critics have compared these events to the atrocities in Abu Ghraib in Iraq. But AFP has said that there is a difference: the Abu Ghraib incidents involved prisoners, the events in Afghanistan, including murder, took place publicly during the day.

In another incident described by Der Spiegel, the accused soldiers detained a religious teacher standing by the road and told him to kneel down in a ditch. When he did so, a soldier threw a grenade at him while another ordered that he be shot.

In the US, there is widespread concern over the treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of passing classified information to WikeLeaks. Juan E. Mendez, United Nations special rapporteur on Torture, said that his request for an unmonitored visit to Manning had been denied by the US Defense Department. In addition, 250 lawyers, professors and authors have written a letter to US President Barack Obama, saying that the conditions of Manning's confinement are "illegal and immoral."

The US has severely criticizes other countries on human rights. If a country wants the rest of the world to respect human rights, it is imperative that it uses the same criteria to judge itself, too. Only when that happens will we be able to say that an important human rights milestone has been reached.

The author is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights.


In the swim

Out of every 10 swimsuits in the world, seven are made in China.

Big spenders

Travelers spend more on shopping than food, hotels, other expenses

Rise in super rich

Rising property prices and a fast-growing economy have been the key drivers.

The beauty of body art
Waiting for drivers' seat
Teeing off to a bright future