A few days ago I came across an article that was a “remember when this happened” piece about a group of American soldiers who faked combat situations in order to kill Afghanis (some of them teens) for sport. My initial thought was, “wow, are people still surprised by this?” At this point it dawned on me that I’m desensitized to the news, and this kind of horrible event no longer even phases me.
But with that said, these kinds of events are not only tragic for the victims, but also for the military as a whole. Whether or not we (you, I, anyone) believe in the causes of the war or support the idea of a military, the men and women who serve in armed forces do a tough job and get thrown into the worst kind of situations. In many cases like that of these murderers, the terrible, despicable minority sully the uniform worn with honor by the entire group.
Moving away from this event however, there are some days when a controversy like a few dead civilians is the last thing on the minds of the leaders of the war on terror. This is arguably the most media-covered war in history, and as such, the scandals and problems with the conflict, that could have been swept under the carpet in the past, are projected into the public eye like never before. Here is our list of the ten most notorious scandals that have rocked the world from the War on Terror.
10. The Pat Tillman Controversy
For those who either aren’t sports fans or missed the hundreds of news specials about this guy (not to mention the documentary and other media) Pat Tillman was an NFL safety who left football to serve with the U.S. Army Rangers after 9/11. Already considered “tough as nails” on the field, Tillman was revered as a hero for leaving professional sports to serve his country.
He was killed in 2004. Originally his officers reported his death as having taken place during an ambush, but it became clear after further investigation by some media outlets and Tillman’s family, that he was killed by friendly fire. His chain of command tried to cover up the true circumstances of his death in order to not embarrass themselves and the Army.
9. 9/11 Itself
While examining problems, scandals and controversies surrounding the War on Terror, it is impossible not to discuss the event that led to the entire operation: September 11, 2001. There are several reasons this event is controversial including the conspiracy theory that it was an inside job, to the alleged incompetence on the part of many in the intelligence community who failed to stop the attack.
The conspiracy theory argues that in short, the United States wanted an excuse to start wars in the Middle East and decided that murdering 3,000 of their own was a good idea for such an excuse. They flew planes into buildings and a field, framed some Middle Easterners for the crime and within months, boots were on the ground. Supporters of this theory cite multiple facts to support their thesis, including the idea that the WTC towers were designed to withstand plane attacks and the fact that the towers that fell seemed to do so as if they were part of a controlled demolition.
Even many of those who think that the government didn’t plan the 9/11 attacks argue that it occurred because of horrendous incompetence among former President Bush’s aides along with the intelligence community.
I hope you didn’t think I would only focus on events from Bush’s Presidency here. No, Obama’s administration has contributed about as many heinous crimes and laughable policies to the war effort as his predecessor. Drones have been around for a while now, including during the Bush years, but their use has skyrocketed during Obama’s time in office.
The basic problem with drones is that they are being used with increasing frequency and are, in effect, a careless weapon in many ways. The one perk of using drone warfare is that it can keep American soldiers out of harms way. If there is a hypothetical enemy encampment that would require an assault force of say, a full company, to wipe out, a drone or two could do the job with no potential loss of friendly life.
On the other hand, any armed drone is carrying a solid payload, and none of their munitions are precise enough to kill on single target, more often than not, many people are killed along with the “VIP” being targeted, usually women and children are reported as being among them. This in turn leads to the belief that instead of being “liberators”, the United States is using futuristic machines to wipe out the general population, and in turn, may well create as many terrorists as it vaporizes.
One of the most serious controversies that President Bush had to deal with during his time in charge of the War on Terror had to do with private military companies operating in their war zones. Blackwater (known as Academi these days) was the biggest name, but others, including Triple Canopy, became notorious after a few incidents that made their presence known.
The controversy around the use of contractors (both of the military and civilian type) took many forms. Some were upset that they made significantly more than regular soldiers, others were concerned with the actual costs of paying for their services (in terms of tax dollars that could be allocated to more soldiers), while others simply objected to their presence in conflict because of reports that they operated outside of the law or the idea that they fought for money rather than for the country’s interests.
Some of the most well-known instances of contractor related fiascos included two of them being killed, mutilated and hung from a bridge in Fallujah, Iraq, a Blackwater member killing the head of security for a high ranking Iraqi official (while extremely drunk) and of course, the infamous video depicting a group of contractors picking off Iraqis from a rooftop. Most were likely armed but one of the men exclaiming “It’s like a turkey shoot” rubbed some people the wrong way.
6. Abu Ghraib/Bagram Prison/Guantanamo Bay Scandals
Looking back through the lessons of history, the Japanese were notorious in World War Two for treating prisoners of war poorly. By poorly, I mean men were marched to their deaths and endured awful hardships. The stories from Vietnam era prison camps were little better, if at all. Even prior to these, the rules for the treatment of prisoners of war were laid out, but not every enemy follows such rules.
The prison scandals in the War on Terror are not as heinous as the indignities dealt by Vietnamese or Japanese enemies from decades prior, but the United States did itself no favors in terms of reputation when it came to prisoner treatment during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many think that they violated due process by holding certain prisoners for either no reason or dubious reasons. The biggest reason for these scandals however, has been the treatment of prisoners. Abu Ghraib was the most significant, and involved methods of torture (waterboarding, etc), along with humiliation tactics. While some soldiers were punished for their actions, these scandals still stand as a blemish on the record of the War on Terror.
5. Saddam Hussein’s Trial
Saddam Hussein was a pretty awful excuse for a dictator. Sure, Iraq actually fared well under his rule (subjective claim) but there was plenty of blood on his hands, whether you consider his own people murdering/kidnapping anyone who spoke against him, or even the notable gas attacks against the Kurdish population.
With all that said however, he was still protected by the rule of law. It isn’t a fringe opinion that the trial of Saddam Hussein was a dog and pony show. Actually, that may be an insult to both dogs and ponies. His trial was a sham and barely even resembled something a legitimate state would organize. His execution was much the same, and damaged the legitimacy of the entire procedure even further when someone with a camera phone was able to get grainy footage of the event.
4. Edward Snowden/NSA Spying/Patriot Act
These three topics all fall under the umbrella issue of state surveillance. The War on Terror has been instrumental in the progress of the United States government gradually clawing back the rights of its citizens. There are of course, those who are unconcerned by state spying and say “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” but it may be plausible that those people skipped over European history between 1930 and 1945 in their textbooks. Plenty of people are still furious about the Patriot Act and consider Edward Snowden a hero for confirming what many Americans already suspected.
3. The Cost
I’d like to say something like “the United States is up to its ears in debt” but that wouldn’t do the situation justice. I actually don’t have a metaphor. If we believe the measure of U.S. debt being roughly $18.2 trillion (give or take a fiver here or there), that equals about $56,250 per person, if the United States has a population of 320 million. That’s a staggering amount of debt.
While poor domestic spending born out of ignorant policies at the top of government is to blame for much of it, between four and six trillion of that (depending on which source you choose) is the War on Terror. That’s roughly a quarter to a third of that gnarly amount I wrote above.
2. Bowe Bergdahl
If it seems like I’ve been unfair to George W. Bush’s Presidential administration, don’t worry, I saved number two for one of Obama’s most recent blunders. For those of you who missed 2014 in the news, Bowe Bergdahl was a United States soldier who deserted his unit and was captured in Afghanistan.
He had become disillusioned with both the war and his fellow soldiers, who he considered arrogant and insulting toward their Afghani colleagues. He detailed the shame he felt for his involvement in the war to his parents in a couple of emails that made it into the public eye. On the one hand, we saw a man who obeyed his conscience and refused to continue to participate in a conflict he came to find pointless and despicable. On the other hand however, he signed on to do a job in which others depended on him, and he left them high and dry.
He was exchanged in May 2014 for five Taliban fighters who were being held in Guantanamo Bay. Many Americans saw/heard about this and exclaimed something to the effect of “did we just free five terrorists to get back a deserter?!” They have a point.
1. Civilian Deaths
Civilian deaths are a reality in any war, but the War on Terror sure seems to be taking out a lot of women, children and unarmed men who do not want to get involved. Sorry if this is a tad anti-climactic, but of all the things that have killed public opinion throughout this war, it has been the civilians caught in the crossfire.
Much like the cost, there is no accurate number. In fact, the numbers for dead civilians is as varied from a very optimistic “several thousand” to around two million. Between drone strikes, trigger happy or frightened soldiers, missiles with “pinpoint accuracy” that end up hitting residential areas, the list goes on and on, there is no shortage of hazards for non-combatants. Is this a scandal? It was at first, and it is any time a new massacre shows up on the media’s radar, but most people are just saying “thank God it’s not happening here”.