Afghan protesters shout anti-US slogans during a demonstration in Jalalabad this week. Hundreds of angry university students took to the streets in the eastern city of Jalalabad over the US soldier accused of killing 16 villagers. Image Credit: Gulf News archive

There are two different narratives on the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, currently dominating headlines. American news outlets have bought into the lone soldier scenario, the poor decorated Iraq war hero who lost his mind when his buddy's leg was blown off the day before he went on his murderous rampage. The accent of their reporting lies in the combined effect of multiple tours of duty on a soldier's psyche as well as debate on whether or not US troops should pull out of Afghanistan before 2014.

US networks and newspapers attempt to tug at heartstrings, suggesting that Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a good guy with a clean record, might have been under the influence or suffering from marital problems. His lawyer maintains his client was upset at having to undergo a fourth tour. Perhaps, but when most of us are ‘upset' we don't go house-to-house exterminating strangers asleep in their beds as though they were rats.

News coming out of Afghanistan is slanted otherwise. The Afghan media contend the killings were not the work of one man, based on interviews with the victims' families and village elders. They're not squeamish when it comes to showing the bodies of tiny children and women — and neither are the Taliban whose websites display gruesome photographs for their own propaganda purposes.

President Hamid Karzai is incensed. He's made no secret of the fact that he doesn't believe the US government's story and has accused the US of stonewalling Afghan investigators. Pointing to people who had lost loved ones, he said, "They believe it's not possible for one person to do that. In one family, in four rooms people were killed, women and children were killed, and they were all brought together in one room and then put on fire. That one man cannot do."

Karzai has asked that American soldiers keep to their bases from now on and said he wanted the persons responsible to face the Afghan justice system. He also demanded an early US withdrawal date which irritated the White House. The problem is despite the purple fingertip shows, Karzai doesn't possess any real power. Predictably, Bales was swiftly spirited out of the country before he could be interviewed by Afghan investigators, an insult to the stricken families demanding justice.

It's about time that President Barack Obama quits trying to defend the indefensible. There are no credible excuses for grinning US soldiers to be proudly photographed urinating on their Afghan victims. And when US troops have been in country for more than 11 years burning copies of Quran was no mistake. Now his administration wants to dupe Afghans into believing Bales is a lunatic.

There have been far too many ‘mistakes' committed by the US in Afghanistan. Villages have been eradicated; wedding parties have been bombed; drone attacks have been indiscriminate. Thanks to such ‘mistakes' the US and its allies have lost the propaganda war. Desecrating corpses, incinerating copies of the Quran and slaughtering women and children hardly win hearts and minds.

The inescapable truth is that the invasion of Afghanistan has been a massive failure. The Bush administration tried to colour the exercise with US altruism promising to deliver a peaceful, free and democratic country sans Al Qaida and Taliban. Over a decade later, Al Qaida is flourishing in Iraq, Yemen and parts of Africa and the US is prepared to talk to the very same repressive Taliban they once demonised.

Civil war

Obama is desperate to paint Afghanistan as a win before the scheduled pull-out which cannot be done. The US and Nato armies are hated by most Afghans and when they finally go home they will leave behind them a country in the throes of civil war.

Editor-in-Chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi Abdel Bari Atwan has abandoned his usual softly-softly approach tailored for western networks , asking his fellow guests on BBC World's Dateline London whether they'd ever seen Muslims burning copies of the Bible. The Daily Telegraph's Janet Daley answered by bringing-up the September 11 attacks that killed approximately 3,000 as the work of Muslims.

While agreeing that September 11 was a terrible tragedy, Atwan pointed out that up to a 100,000 Afghans and up to a million Iraqis were robbed of their lives out of revenge for the death of 3,000. Daley and her co-panelists refuted that revenge had any part in those invasions. I'm on the fence with that one but it's evident that within the US Armed Forces there exists a culture of debasing and dehumanising Muslim populations and a thirst for revenge — and it's more than likely that revenge, not madness, spurred Bales to go on a killing spree (and whoever else might have been with him).

As the former 101st Airborne soldier Stephen Green — convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl in Iraq and killing her parents and sister — summed up this culture in a nutshell: "I don't think of Iraqis as humans".

If Obama is sincere with his apology, he should end American exceptionalism by handing over Bales to Afghan justice, ratifying the International Criminal Court in The Hague and giving Guantanamo Bay detainees acknowledged to be innocent of crimes a ticket home. But then again, he's got far more important matters on his mind like the presidential campaign.


Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at Some of the comments may be considered for publication.