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A Personal Commentary

Reported from Kabul
March 6, 2005.

There was no waffling about George Bush's shotgun visit to Afghanistan last week. Bush sneaked into Afghanistan at midnight. In Kabul, the capital, they rolled out the red carpet. Mr. Bush pulled the proper strings and an animated President Karzai praised his puppeteers. It's curious that George Bush didn't treat Mr. Karzai to one of his characteristic Christian prayer breakfasts. Mr. Bush choppered back and saluted his toy soldiers at the Bagram Air Force Base before departing, a few hours after arrival.

I was in Kabul that day. I saw some black helicopters, but I was not told about the President's visit. My schedule for the day was packed, but I'd have made time to meet with President Bush, and tell him what I - a redneck American with deep roots in rural New England - think about his project in Afghanistan.

Instead I began my day with a man whose freak show ruined my breakfast. Pictures of babies just born, but mutated, deformed, appendage-less or extra-appendaged: legs sticking out where they don't belong, extra arms, that kind of thing. A doctor in the maternity ward at a city hospital has been documenting the birth defects from uranium-based weaponry used by the US in Afghanistan. She snapped the photos before the babies were - Inshallah - disposed of. I think Mr. Bush ought to see these babies. I think every American ought to see these. Gives new meaning to the term "nuclear family."

Not coincidentally, my first call for the day was Kabul's Emergency Hospital. The doctors gave me a shotgun tour of women and children landmine victims. A doctor enlightened me by sharing that landmines are designed to mutilate, not kill, so that the maimed victims will burden the family. I think the contracts to clear landmines should be taken away from Dyncorp, a military-intelligence company close to Mr. Bush - and one that is in the business of landmines - because I understand Dyncorp milks US taxpayers by prolonging the mine-clearing operations. And there is the question of mutilating children. I would like to tell Mr. Bush what I think about this.

Over lunch I interviewed some locals lucky enough to get a job on the inside of the US war-machine. Not everyone has a story about Afghan civilians being tortured at Bagram air base. One told me about his buddy being decapitated. Some have stories about Afghan women picked up by helicopters in rural villages and then taken to Bagram air base for the sexual entertainment of US soldiers, and then killed. Such reports are unconfirmed, but the US military project here is, well, unaccountable, isn't it. Reporting unsubstantiated rumors is the price you pay for a foreign policy of unaccountability - you know, torture, permanent warfare, UAVs, soldiers running over innocent civilians on the city streets and never stopping, that kind of thing. Does Mr. Bush care what I think about impunity?

My afternoon tea was spent with some of 250 Afghan families staving off hunger and cold in bombed out shells of cement buildings on the outskirts of Kabul. I got the red-carpet treatment to, but I couldn't tell if it was dye or blood. I fell in love with four year-old Soman. She's one of eleven children in a family that CARE International and the UNHCR have semantically dismissed. Indeed, no one wants them. Across the hall from Soman's air-conditioned hovel the room was decorated with piles of shit, spaced remarkably neatly, wall-to-wall. At night, turns out, it is too far, too cold, too dark, and too dangerous for families like Soman's to travel three floor to the open-air toilets outside the building. Four children have already fallen through the open stairwells and crashed on cement three stories down, and that was during the daylight hours. These are not "refugees," the spokesman for UNHCR told me, with some suggestion that they want a free lunch. Maybe he should talk to them. Frankly, I think they deserve a free lunch. I also think CARE International's relationship with Lockheed Martin is, well, incestuous.

I would like to tell the President of the United States - my country - what I think about these things.

I can predict exactly what he'd say: "I don't give a damn what you think."

And so as I fly out of Afghanistan the situation is, quite literally, hit or miss. Parts of the country remain high-risk or no-go zones. There are armed gangs robbing people even in the "safe" areas. Afghan civilians not prone to "terrorism" are becoming "Taliban" to fight unaccountable occupation soldiers that sneak around and kick down doors in the middles of nights.

The women's situation is better than it was in the Taliban era, many say, but little improved: the self-immolation of women in Herat is their solution to a no-win situation. George Bush might do well to think about no-win situations, and start shifting US taxpayer monies from coercive private enterprises to cooperative public programs for the common wealth.

US Soldiers are still dying, and the numbers are minimized to put a happy face on it all. The heroin trade appears to be blooming, and people say that recent western programs pumping millions of dollars into poppy eradication actually helped the poppy farmers by clearing their already harvested poppy fields. The farmers have seen nothing of the international funds dispersed to help them, but Japan and the US have dumped chemical fertilizers on Afghanistan, and the farmers to their surprise got these for free, but the government has come back to demand payment. The millions of dollars pumped into disarmament and demobilization programs and Bechtel Corporation's involvement here are other scandals in the making. And the warlords, well, they come and go from Afghanistan, now don't they.

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© keith is an INDEPENDENT freelance journalist and investigator entirely dependent on individual donations and voluntary contributions. He has lived under the poverty line for over a decade, and he has continues to work as a volunteer for three non-profit humanitarian organizations. Without your support, he cannot continue to do this important and insightful work.

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