Death of a tall man

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Feb 12 07:07:04 MST 2002

Washington Post

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 12, 2002; Page A01

At the top of the agenda when the White House public relations "war room"
convened for its morning meeting on Afghanistan yesterday were media
reports that apparently innocent Afghan prisoners had been beaten by their
U.S. military captors.

Two responses were discussed: first, making sure that a full internal
investigation of the beating report was conducted by the Pentagon; and
second, reminding anyone who asked that a captured al Qaeda training manual
had instructed those held prisoner to tell journalists that they had been

The Afghan war, so easy to understand in its early, black and white days,
when President Bush proclaimed that the world could be neatly divided into
us and them, has lately taken on shades of gray.

On top of a string of nagging reports of mis-targeted bombs and dead
civilians, two of the Pentagon's recent biggest triumphs -- the killing of
21 terrorists and capture of 27 more in a commando raid north of Kandahar,
and last weekend's launch of a Hellfire missile at a tall man who might
have been Osama bin Laden -- appear instead to have been tragedies.

With an urgent mission to ferret out an enemy capable of hiding easily
among U.S. friends, mistakes would seem inevitable. "To say the conditions
in Afghanistan are confusing is an understatement," Pentagon spokeswoman
Victoria Clarke said yesterday in a rare public display of frustration.
"And it's impossible to say these people are on this side and these people
are on the other side. People are on multiple sides, and they switch sides."

The U.S. military, accustomed to being the undisputed good guys in this
conflict, has grown defensive over reports of possible errors. The response
of the administration, reflected in yesterday's "war room" meeting, has
been to defer to ever-ongoing investigations, while suggesting that
seemingly innocuous villagers may, in fact, be terrorists.

It is almost as if the administration fears that any admission of
fallibility will cause overwhelming public support for the war at home to
collapse -- and for key partners abroad to withdraw their backing.


Louis Proyect
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