The Third Woman

[Trigger Warning for violence]

Yesterday's New York Times reports that the United States military has admitted killing three Afghan women during a special operations mission:
KABUL, Afghanistan — After initially denying involvement or any cover-up in the deaths of three Afghan women during a badly bungled American Special Operations assault in February, the American-led military command in Kabul admitted late on Sunday that its forces had, in fact, killed the women during the nighttime raid.

The admission immediately raised questions about what really happened during the Feb. 12 operation — and what falsehoods followed — including a new report that Special Operations forces dug bullets out of the bodies of the women to hide the nature of their deaths.
A NATO official also said Sunday that an Afghan-led team of investigators had found signs of evidence tampering at the scene, including the removal of bullets from walls near where the women were killed. On Monday, however, a senior NATO official denied that any tampering had occurred.

So they are caught in a lie, and NATO officials continue to shift the story around, searching for a workable level of deceit.

I read more and more closely as the article progresses. A few paragraphs later, Richard A. Oppel writes,

NATO military officials had already admitted killing two innocent civilians — a district prosecutor and a local police chief — during the raid, on a home near Gardez in southeastern Afghanistan. The two men were shot to death when they came out of their home, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, to investigate.

Three women also died that night at the same home: One was a pregnant mother of 10 and another was a pregnant mother of six. NATO military officials had suggested that the women were actually stabbed to death — or had died by some other means — hours before the raid, an explanation that implied that family members or others at the home might have killed them.

Oppel identifies the men by their professional roles and two of the women by their reproductive status (a pregnant mother of 10 and a pregnant mother of six). What about the third woman—was she not pregnant enough to merit any specific mention of who she was? Please note that I don’t blame Oppel; I think he’s working with the information he has. I notice, though, that his words perfectly sum up women’s roles and most societies' attitudes towards us.

We know that when you have war, there will be war crimes, and the cover-ups that follow. What really strikes me about this particular case is NATO military officials' reliance on cultural narratives about misogynistic Afghans to inform their cover-up. They expect us to find it credible that the families of these three women stabbed them to death at home on the day of a party celebrating the birth of a child. Indeed, they expect us to find that more credible than the idea that the women died in the same special ops raid that killed the men. I can practically hear the hand-waving: "oh, you know those people—they mistreat their women. That's why we have to liberate them, and why you, little lady, should be grateful you are safe in the West!"

Nobody killed the three women just because they were women; it was not a crime of misogyny. But the cover-up relied in part on misogyny (their families must have done it! Happens all the time!), and on the denial of misogyny (we'd never kill innocent pregnant women—they must have done it).

The society that ducks, points fingers, and cries "but they're worse!"; the society that claims to be "liberating" women from tyranny even as it makes life less safe for them, is in deep denial of its own misogyny. And that denial is part of what allows such a society to be convinced of its own heroism. That conviction leads to statements like this:
The investigators, the official said, “alluded to the fact that bullets were missing but did not discuss anything specific to that. Nothing pointed conclusively to the fact that our guys were the ones who tampered with the scene.”

Our guys. Couldn't have been our guys. If crimes were committed, it must have been them.

There is a lot more in this article, of course, and I invite you to read the whole thing and discuss it.

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