America’s litany of lethal lies

The latest US drone strike that obliterated a family in Afghanistan was no ‘mistake’. It was a heinous crime.

Aimal Ahmadi, stands next to the wreckage of the car of his brother, Zemari, who was killed, along with two adults and seven children, by a US drone strike in the Kwaja Burga neighbourhood of Kabul on September 18, 2021 [AFP/Hoshang Hashimi]

By now, they have been forgotten by everyone but the people who admired, cared for and loved them.

Zemari Ahmadi – a father, brother and son – was running his usual errands on August 29. For years, the veteran aid worker had spent much of his time and energy delivering food and canisters of water to make the grinding hardship so many Afghans endure less taxing.

That morning, like most days, Ahmadi, an electrical engineer by training, left the compound near Kabul airport where he lived with his four children, two brothers and a slew of nieces and nephews. Ahmadi carpooled. So, driving a white Toyota Corolla, he picked up a few colleagues on route to the headquarters of Nutrition and Education International – the California-based humanitarian group – where they unloaded some bags and containers. At noon, he made a brief visit to a police station. Later that day, Ahmadi used a hose to fill several jugs with water to ferry home. He arrived a few minutes before 5pm.

Then, in a happy family ritual, Ahmadi let one of his children hop into the driver’s seat to finish parking in the gated courtyard. A gaggle of excited children rushed to greet him and pack into the car. Meanwhile, a cousin helped unload the jugs of water.

Within moments, a “Hellfire” missile fired from a “Reaper” drone obliterated the Corolla and anyone nearby. The 10 dead included Ahmadi and three of his children, Zamir, 20, Faisal, 16, and Farzad, 13, as well as his cousin, Ahmad 30, and three of Ahmadi’s nephews, Arwin, seven, Benyamin, six, and Hayat, two and two three-year-old girls, Malika and Somaya.

At first, the US military insisted, with typical bravado, that its carefully planned attack – triggered by unimpeachable “intelligence” that warned of impending mayhem – was “a righteous” reply that rid the world of a terrorist implicated in the murderous assault days earlier on Afghans and American soldiers milling outside Kabul’s airport, waiting for flight out and far from the Taliban’s tentacles.

It was the first of a litany of lies.

The US had not avenged the barbarity committed by terrorists. It had, once again, massacred innocents.

Of course, after its lie had been exposed by the grieving family, other witnesses and sceptical reporters, a US soldier was compelled to apologise for America’s “horrible mistake”. And the cable TV personalities and their stable of serious-sounding pundits who had instantly applauded their country’s “righteous” retaliation, were now quick to agree that an “errant missile” launched by the US military had dismembered and incinerated 10 Afghan girls, boys and men in a tragic error.

That was a lie, too.

The slaughter of Ahmadi and the other Afghans in that tiny courtyard was not a “mistake”. Misspelling the word “mistake” is a mistake. What US soldiers and spies conspired to do to Ahmadi and his extended family was a heinous crime. It was a crime that the US military has – the incriminating record shows – committed often in Afghanistan and beyond. Only this time, America was forced, grudgingly, to acknowledge its guilt.

“Clearly, our intelligence was wrong on this particular white Toyota Corolla,” a US General said. “We thought this was a good lead. We were wrong.”

But US soldiers and spies know that being “wrong” rarely results in being arrested. Just like all the other soldiers and spies who have made lethal “mistake” after lethal “mistake” in Afghanistan and beyond, none of the architects and perpetrators of this latest US-engineered bloodbath will be held to account in or out of court.

Instead, America may offer the surviving family members a wad of cash as a fleeting and meaningless act of penance to absolve itself of the responsibility for the horror it unleashed via an “errant” missile on still more Afghans trying to survive, as best they can, the deprivations, struggles and indignities of war.

On predictable cue, Congress, the military and the “intelligence community” have promised to launch investigations and so-called “lessons learned” inquiries to try to find out what went wrong and prevent the carnage from happening again. Sure, they will.

“We need to understand exactly what went wrong and what that means in terms of the limits of what we are able to do,” a US congressman said.

This is yet another feeble lie.

US politicians, soldiers and spies have not “learned” and will never learn. America’s sordid, relentless history of killing civilians – many of them children – while waging its imperial wars is proof of that. Otherwise, America would have stopped making its calamitous catalogue of “horrible mistakes” long before another “Hellfire” missile destroyed another Afghan family in late August.

Here is the truth: the sprawling espionage-industrial complex that set its technological cross-hairs on Ahmadi – and tracked his movements before deciding that he was a “terrorist” who had to be summarily executed – is populated, for the most part, by plodding, pedestrian bureaucrats. The spies also know they enjoy immunity from the inhumane consequences of their manifest archive of negligence and ineptness.

The overarching conclusion I arrived at after devoting years studying and reporting on the secret, subterranean world of spies is that the popular impression of intelligence agencies as housing dogged people with impressive credentials, dedicated – with missionary zeal – to protecting America from “bad actors” is largely a myth.

It is, however, a stubborn, reassuring myth promoted by the television-savvy former spies and their close friends in academia and a bevvy of “think-tanks” hired as “consultants” by agreeable US news networks who invariably defend the interests and reputations of the powerful institutions they have faithfully worked for and with in a variety of lucrative capacities.

What the herd of cable-news-anointed “experts” are loath to share with their amenable hosts, let alone the networks’ fast-evaporating audiences, is that, like any bureaucracy, the vast, cob-web-like army of America’s spies is infected by myopia, boredom, laziness, careerism, petty, corrosive jealousies and an engrained inertia that have resulted in intelligence “debacle” after intelligence “debacle”.

Rather than finally address and confront this awkward, but demonstrable fact, the ubiquitous “experts” traffic in the easy, palpable lie that the killing of Zemari Ahmadi and seven children was an understandable, albeit sad, “mistake.”

When America’s soldiers and spies commit their next atrocity, the “experts” will offer up the same flippant excuses and the television hosts will nod in studied solemnity before moving on to the latest manufactured outrage like flitting butterflies.

The rest of us would do well to remember how and why Zamir, Faisal, Farzad, Ahmad, Arwin, Benyamin, Hayat, Malika, Somaya and Zemari were annihilated and the American soldiers and spies who, as always, got away with it.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.