It was almost closing time when the siege began at a small Wells Fargo Bank branch in a suburb of San Diego, and it was a nightmare. The three gunmen entered with the intent to rob, but as they herded the 18 customers and bank employees toward a back room, they were spotted by a pedestrian outside who promptly called emergency services. Within minutes, police cars were pulling up, the bank was surrounded, and backup was being called in from neighboring communities. The gunmen promptly barricaded themselves inside with their hostages, includingwomen and small children, and refused to let anyone leave.
The police called on the gunmen to surrender, but before negotiations could even begin, shots were fired from within the bank, wounding a police officer. The events that followed - now known to everyone, thanks to 24/7 news coverage - shocked the nation. Declaring the bank robbers `terrorist suspects`, the police requested air support from the Pentagon and, soon after, an F-15 from Vandenberg Air Force Base dropped two GBU-38 bombs on the bank, leaving the building a pile of rubble.
All three gunmen died. Initially, a Pentagon spokesman, who took over messaging from the local police, insisted that `the incident` had ended `successfully` and that all the dead were `suspected terrorists`. The Pentagon press office issued a statement on other casualties, noting only that `while conducting a follow-on assessment, the security force discovered two women who had sustained non-life-threatening injuries. The security force provided medical assistance and transported both women to a local medical facility for treatment`. It added that it was sending an `assessment team` to the site to investigate reports that others had died as well.
Of course, as Americans quickly learned, the dead actually included five women, seven children, and a visiting lawyer from Los Angeles. The aftermath was covered in staggering detail. Relatives of the dead besieged city hall, bitterly complaining about the attack and the deaths of their loved ones. At a news conference the next morning, while scenes of rescuers digging in the rubble were still being flashed across the country, President Barack Obama said: `Such acts are simply unacceptable. They cannot be tolerated.` In response to a question, he added: `Nothing can justify any air strike which causes harm to the lives and property of civilians.`
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, immediately flew to San Diego to meet with family members of the dead and offer apologies. Heads rolled in the local police department and in the Pentagon. Congress called for hearings as well as a Justice Department investigation of possible criminality, and quickly passed a bill offering millions of dollars to the grieving relatives as `solace`. San Diego began raising money
for a memorial to the group already dubbed the Wells Fargo 18.
One week later, at the exact moment of the bombing, church bells rang throughout the San Diego area and Congress observed a minute of silence in honor of the dead.
The meaning of `precision`
It couldn`t have been more dramatic and, as you know perfectly well, it couldn`t have happened - not in the US, anyway. But just over a week ago, an analogous `incident` did happen in Afghanistan and it passed largely unnoticed in the United States
. A group of Taliban insurgents reportedly entered a house in a village in Logar province, south of Kabul, where a wedding ceremony either was or would be in progress. US and Afghan forces surrounded the house, where 18 members of a single extended family had gathered for the celebration. When firing broke out (or a grenade was thrown) and both US and Afghan troops were reportedly wounded, they did indeed call in a jet, which dropped a 500-pound (225-kilogram) bomb, obliterating the residence and everyone inside, including up to nine children.
This was neither an unheard-of mistake nor an aberration in America`s Afghan war. In late December 2001, according to reports, a B-52 and two B-1B bombers, using precision-guided weapons, wiped out 110 of 112 wedding revelers in a small Afghan village. Over the decade-plus that followed, US air power, piloted and drone, has been wiping out Afghans (as well as Pakistan
is and, until relatively recently, Iraqis) in a similar fashion - usually in or near their homes, sometimes in striking numbers, always on the assumption that there are bad guys among them.
For more than a decade, incident after incident, any one of which, in the US, would have shaken Americans to their core, led to `investigations` that went nowhere, punishments to no one, rare apologies, and on occasion, the offering of modest `solatium` payments to grieving survivors and relatives. For such events, of course, 24/7 coverage, like future memorials, was out of the question.
Cumulatively, they indicate one thing: that, for Americans, the value of an Afghan life (or more often Afghan lives) obliterated in the backlands of the planet, thousands of kilometers from home, is next to nil and of no meaning whatsoever. Such deaths are just so much unavoidable `collateral damage` from the American way of war - from the post-September 2001 approach we have agreed is crucial to make ourselves `safe` from terrorists.
By now, Afghans (and Pakistanis in tribal areas across the border) surely know the rules of the road of the American war: there is no sanctity in public or private rites. While funerals have been hit repeatedly and at least one baby-naming ceremony was taken out as well, weddings have been the rites of choice for obliteration for reasons the US Air Force has, as far as we know, never taken a moment to consider, no less explain. Tomdispatch counted five weddings blown away (one in Iraq and four in Afghanistan) by mid-2008, and another from that year not reported until 2009. The latest incident is at least the seventh that has managed, however modestly, to make the news in the US, but there is no way of knowing what other damage to wedding parties in rural Afghanistan has gone uncounted.
Imagine the uproar in the United States if a jet took out a wedding party. Just consider the attention given every time some mad gunman shoots up a post office, a college campus, or simply an off-campus party, if you want to get an idea. You might think then that, given the US record of wedding carnage in Afghanistan, which undoubtedly represents some kind of modern wedding-crasher record, there might have been a front-page story, or simply a story, somewhere, anywhere, indicating the repetitive nature of such events.
READ MORE IN