Indifference to the Sanctity of Life
by Jacob G. Hornberger
While it’s too soon to know what motivated that Aurora, Colorado, shooter to kill and maim all those people, one thing seems clear: Whatever his motive was, it wasn’t personally directed toward the victims. It seems as though he didn’t care who he shot, who he killed, who he maimed. The shooter just had no regard for the sanctity of innocent life.
He’s not the only one, however. For the past 11 years, the U.S. government, operating through its military and intelligence forces, has had the same indifference to the sanctity of human life displayed by that killer in Aurora, Colorado.
Consider Iraq, for instance. The U.S. government killed and maimed untold numbers of Iraqis in its 2003 invasion of the country. We don’t know the exact number because the military refused to keep count. The only deaths that were counted were those of Americans.
The U.S. government justified the invasion by claiming, falsely, that Iraq was about to unleash weapons of mass destruction onto the United States. The invasion, U.S. officials said, was all about self-defense — the right of a nation to defend itself from an imminent military attack.
Americans should have been suspicious from the beginning. After all, the U.S. government had enforced a brutal regime of sanctions against Iraq for some 11 years with the aim of ousting Saddam Hussein from power and replacing him with a pro-U.S. regime. During that time, U.S. officials had displayed a shocking indifference to the sanctity of human life.
Year after year, the sanctions were impoverishing Iraqi families (just as sanctions are doing to the Iranian people today). Even worse, they were contributing to a rising death toll among Iraqi children, especially since the sanctions were preventing the repair of the water and sewage treatment plants that the U.S. military had intentionally destroyed during the Persian Gulf War, after the Pentagon had come up with a report showing that this would help spread infections and illnesses within the Iraqi people.
While it’s not clear exactly how many Iraqi children died because of the sanctions, estimates range in the hundreds of thousands. But the number of deaths didn’t matter. It could have been hundreds, thousands, or millions. U.S. officials just didn’t care. What mattered was the political goal of the sanctions: regime change in which Saddam Hussein was replaced by a pro-U.S. regime.
The federal mindset of callousness and indifference to Iraqi life was perfectly reflected by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright’s infamous answer to “Sixty Minutes” when she was asked about the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions. She didn’t challenge the number. She simply said that the deaths were “worth it.”
It was a callous statement but it showed how U.S. officials perceived the value of human life in Iraq, in this case the lives of Iraqi children.
What happened after those scary WMDs fail to materialize? Was there remorse? Was there regret? Was there repentance? Was there an apology for the mistake? Was there an accounting of all the wrongful deaths from the invasion?
No, because the invasion was never about an imminent WMD attack. That was simply the fake and false excuse that was used to make the troops feel okay about killing and maiming the Iraqi people as part of the invasion.
Instead, once the WMDs didn’t show up, the troops remained in Iraq for another 10 years, killing and maiming people the entire time, including people who were doing nothing worse than just trying to evict a wrongful invader and occupier from their land.
How did U.S. officials justify their killing of Iraqis after the WMDs failed to materialize? Their rationale for continued killings became “spreading democracy.” It was now considered okay to kill any number of Iraqis to bring democracy to their land.
In fact, there was never an upward limit on the number of Iraqis who could be killed and maimed for the sake of democracy. Any number of deaths was considered okay.
Throughout all that time, U.S. officials exhorted Americans to pray for the troops but no one was ever asked to pray for the victims of the troops. The victims and the number of victims were irrelevant.
In fact, if any American tried to help out the Iraqi people and Iraqi children with medicines or other assistance, he was criminally prosecuted by the U.S. government, incarcerated, and fined.
Do you recall Abu Ghraib, where the CIA and the military jailed Iraqis, tortured them, abused them, raped them, and executed them? It’s easy to forget that every one of those Iraqis were innocent — innocent in the sense that none of them had been planning to attack the United States and innocent in the sense that none of them had participated in the 9/11 attacks. They were all simply victims of a wrongful and illegal invasion and occupation of their country.
That mindset of indifference to the sanctity of human life in Iraq has been no different in Afghanistan. Initially alleging that the invasion of that country involved an effort to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and the members of Al Qaeda for orchestrating the 9/11 attacks, the 11 years of occupation have turned into a horrific bloodbath of death and destruction for countless Afghan citizens who had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.
Think about it: 11 years of killing, with no restraints on killing and the number of deaths whatsoever. How many Afghan people have been killed? We don’t know because, again, the U.S. military doesn’t keep count. It just doesn’t matter. What we do know is that the dead have included brides, grooms, children, women, and men who had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.
It doesn’t matter. Oh sure, it’s unfortunate and regrettable, as U.S. officials always proclaim, but it’s all charged as part of doing business in an 11-year occupation of the country, an occupation that, we are repeatedly told, is necessary to “defend our freedoms” here at home.
Meanwhile, notwithstanding the constant death and destruction in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere over the past 11 years, and now more deaths in Latin America with a renewed effort in the drug war, life just goes on normally for us here at home. We attend our sports events, where the troops are celebrated, and we attend church on Sunday, where we pray for the troops for “defending our freedoms.” But who cares about all the victims? Who prays for them?
Every month we hear about the drone assassinations being conducted in Pakistan, Yemen, and who knows where else. We don’t know who the victims are. We don’t know why they’ve been killed. We don’t know what evidence there is to justify their killing. It’s all secret. It’s part of “national security.” We’re just told that they’re terrorists. Sure, there are innocent bystanders who also get killed. We don’t know who they are but their deaths are always considered as necessary collateral damage.
Think about Anwar al-Awlaki’s son, an American teenager. They just shot a missile at him, killing him and others who were hanging out with him. No big deal. It just happens. What had he done to deserve to be assassinated? Who knows? Who cares? It’s just one more death in America’s endless cycle of killing, death, and maiming.
The culture of death and the indifference to the sanctity of human life manifested in Aurora, Colorado, is nothing new. The U.S. government has made them an inherent part of daily American life.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.
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