Sorry is not enough

Who exactly is the terrorist here you might ask

Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Zemarai Ahmadi asked one of his sons to park the car when he got home from running errands and the boy and some of his siblings and cousins all jumped in as well because what’s more fun than that when you are young. Being trusted to do something so adult. He wanted his sons to practice driving and parking because they were hoping to leave Kabul for America soon his brother Aimal told Al Jazeera.

Do you remember the first time your parents or your uncle or someone let you sit on their lap to hold the steering wheel or to maybe even drive the car yourself around an empty parking lot or driveway or wherever? I do it was about as good as it got as a kid. The joy of it. So then our American missile obliterated the car killing seven children and three adults.

Neighbors who witnessed the strike “described human flesh stuck to the walls. Bones fallen into the bushes. Walls stained red with blood. Shattered glass everywhere.”

A neighbour said of one of the boys: “We only found his legs.”

Hellfire missiles. Reaper drones. The names we give that shit always sounds so badass.

At the time Gen Mark Milley chairman of the joint chiefs of staff called the August 29 massacre a “righteous strike” and explained that Ahmadi was a suspected terrorist transporting explosive materials. It wasn’t enough that we turned this man’s family into bone and blood against the wall we also had to smear his by all accounts good name in the process as well. Ahmadi worked for an aid group called Nutrition and Education International that distributed food to locals. The explosives he was believed to be transporting that day were actually large jugs of water.

So who exactly is the terrorist here you might ask. For twenty years we’ve argued it’s still him you see because by the very nature of dying at the business end of one of our fucking missiles people like him are reverse-engineered into the bad guys.

What choice did we have besides a few more deaths on the way out the door here right? After all the day before there was a horrific attack on the Kabul airport in which a couple hundred people were killed including ones that actually count and so we of course had to kill others in return in a fucked up symbolic bookending of the entire Afghanistan operation altogether. We lashed out with violence at people who had nothing to do with a terrible attack on us elsewhere simply because we wanted to project strength no matter how many innocents we killed along the way.

A month after the attack the U.S. military is now saying they are very sorry.

“I offer my deepest condolences to surviving family members of those who were killed, including Mr Ahmadi, and to the staff of Nutrition and Education International, Mr Ahmadi’s employer,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

“We apologize, and we will endeavor to learn from this horrible mistake.”

Posting a screenshot of a notes app apology to Twitter: Uh so guys uh my bad here.

“That is not enough for us to say sorry,” Emal Ahmadi told the AP. His three year old daughter was killed in the strike.

“The U.S.A. should find the person who did this,” he said.

How could we narrow it down to just one?

I am reminded of course of Samar Hassan whose family in Iraq we also destroyed for nothing which I wrote about in here a couple years ago.

“What would sorry do?” she said regarding her family’s killers. “They’re gone. Is sorry going to bring them back? No, it won’t. That’s it. It’s done.”

Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? For most of us it’s probably something relatively minor. Perhaps hurting someone you love or causing some sort of genuine accident in which a person was only somewhat injured. Maybe a big fuck up at work. Maybe a stupid but ultimately trivial fight. That sort of shit nonetheless haunts you for years or maybe as long you live right? You close your eyes at night and can feel the harm as if it were fresh.

Can you imagine how many families like this we’ve pummeled over the past twenty years since 9/11? I don’t think there will ever be a reliable and full accounting of the true scale.

Some findings from the Costs of War project at Brown University.

  • As of April 2021, more than 71,000 Afghan and Pakistani civilians are estimated to have died as a direct result of the war.
  • The United States military in 2017 relaxed its rules of engagement for airstrikes in Afghanistan, which resulted in a massive increase in civilian casualties.
  • The CIA has armed and funded Afghan militia groups who have been implicated in grave human rights abuses and killings of civilians.
  • Afghan land is contaminated with unexploded ordnance, which kills and injures tens of thousands of Afghans, especially children, as they travel and go about their daily chores.
  • The war has exacerbated the effects of poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation, lack of access to health care, and environmental degradation on Afghans’ health.

That’s without even getting to the civilians killed in Iraq which they estimate to be around 200,000 which also seems low as they admit.

“The actual number of civilians killed by direct and indirect war violence is unknown but likely much higher.”

The only reason we’re even apologizing for this particular “errant strike” in the first place is because the U.S. news media was actually paying attention to our violence for once and that was only because so many of them were pissed off the war was finally ending. This attack was also impossible to ignore in part because it happened in the dense city and not in the rural areas of the country where most of our missiles typically engulf innocents in shrapnel and flame to very little American fanfare.

I’m reminded of how the advent of smartphones has enabled us to record the many many previously undocumented instances of police violence against people here at home. How many fucking times has something like this strike happened without us even acknowledging it? It’s been just a constant churning factory of death spinning like a mill wheel on a river of blood in the background as we all go about our days certain we will ourselves encounter zero American missiles.

“What makes this tragedy different from so many others during the war in Afghanistan is that because of public attention, the U.S. military has been forced to investigate and apologize, and is exploring making amends,” Hina Shamsi director of the ACLU’s National Security Project said.

“The United States’ record on lethal strikes is generally a refusal to acknowledge families’ devastating losses, weak or non-existent investigations, and no amends whatsoever, even when the evidence of wrongdoing is staring us in the face,” she said.

Brian Castner of Amnesty International’s crisis response program struck a similar note.

“It should be noted that the US military was only forced to admit to its failure in this strike because of the current global scrutiny on Afghanistan,” he said. “Many similar strikes in Syria, Iraq, and Somalia have happened out of the spotlight, and the U.S. continues to deny responsibility while devastated families suffer in silence.”

What would you do if your entire family were destroyed over a whoopsie missile fired from a robot in the sky that you never even saw coming and that no one can offer a good explanation for in the first place?

Imagine blaming the people we’ve terrorized for wanting us gone after so many deaths for so long? Imagine castigating them for turning around and joining up with our “enemy” and labeling them terrorists for it? What would you do?

Despite promises to investigate what happened and look into it and so on I have no confidence that anything will change as a result of this do you? We’re probably firing missiles somewhere where the cameras aren’t watching as we speak.

It’s likely some ex gratia payments as they’re called will be made to the surviving family here if any of them manage to go on. How much would be fair for ten members of your family? What amount would it take for you to say ah ok that seems about right you’ve got a deal there America?

It’s not as if we even shell out that much on the rare occasions when we do buy out victims it turns out. We paid around only $2 million in condolence payments between 2015-2020. Reporting on Pentagon data the Washington Post wrote last year that “the amount of condolence offerings has fluctuated in recent years, peaking in 2016 with nearly 300 payments totaling $1.4 million. Individual sums have varied dramatically, ranging from $131 to $40,000.”

$1.4 million divided by 300 is less than $5,000.

“The Pentagon has made amends payments to civilians for decades, since at least the Korean War, but they have generally been distributed in an ad hoc manner, varying significantly between conflicts and incidents,” they wrote.

“It has typically been difficult for civilians to seek out such payments.”

You think? To whom could the average Afghan civilian even think to go to apply for redress? Should they have flagged down a passing American convey to plead their case? How long after their fury and grief directed at any American soldier they encountered would it have become an excuse to imagine them a threat?

At whom then should they scream for their justice? The empty sky? At least there’s a chance then one of our drones might be passing by overhead recording them while they cry out.

Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images