Everyone wants you to do it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization. Your mother. Even Popeye. It’s good for preventing everything from the common cold to Covid-19. And it only takes about 20 seconds.
Washing with soap and water will remove germs and prevent their spread. It’s incredibly effective. But soap and water have their limitations. There are some things they just won’t wash away.
Recently, Matthieu Aikins and his colleagues at the New York Times reported on a U.S. drone strike aimed at an ISIS-K suicide bomber that instead killed Zemari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group, and nine other people, six of them under 11 years old. “Neighbors and an Afghan health official confirmed that bodies of children were removed from the site,” wrote Aikins. “They said the blast had shredded most of the victims; fragments of human remains were seen inside and around the compound the next day by a reporter, including blood and flesh splattered on interior walls and ceilings.”
You can try to wash away “blood and flesh splattered on interior walls and ceilings” with soap and water. You can try using bleach. Cleaning gore off walls and ceilings is tough enough, but getting blood off your hands is infinitely more difficult.
As an American whose tax dollars went into buying that MQ-9 Reaper drone and the missile it fired, I can attest that no amount of scrubbing has removed Zemari Ahmadi’s blood from my hands. It’s going to be there forever. Nor has my hand-washing routine wiped clean the blood of his three children, Zamir, 20, Faisal, 16, and Farzad, 10; Ahmadi’s cousin Naser, 30; the children of Ahmadi’s brother Romal: Arwin, 7, Benyamin, 6, and Hayat, 2; and two 3-year-old girls, Malika and Somaya.
Today, TomDispatch regular Kelly Denton-Borhaug, an expert on violence and religion, delves deep into the complex questions that surround morality, accountability, and America’s last 20 years of war. What happens to a people when violence is done in their name? What does it do to the soul of a nation and the souls of its citizens? And ultimately, who is to blame?
Washing your hands might save you from Covid-19, but it can’t wipe away violence done in your name. Conflicts may end, but complicity remains.
President Biden formally announced the end of the Afghan War, while at the same time threatening future violence. “We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan,” he said. “We have what’s called over-the-horizon capabilities… We’ve shown that capacity just in the last week. We struck ISIS-K remotely, days after they murdered 13 of our service members and dozens of innocent Afghans.”
ISIS-K had, indeed, slain “innocent Afghans” in a prior bombing. But Biden had killed innocent Afghans, too. The strike he referenced is the one that killed Zemari Ahmadi and all those children. Soap and water won’t change that. It’s a stain on America’s soul that neither Joe Biden nor I can wash away. Nick Turse
Accountability and the War of Terror
As a religious studies professor, I know a parable when I see one. Consider the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the final events in this country's war in Afghanistan as just such a parable taken directly from the history of our moment.
The heart-wrenching last days of that war amounted to a cautionary tale about the nature of violence and the difficulty Americans have honestly facing their own version of it. As chaos descended on Kabul, and as the Biden administration's efforts to evacuate as many Afghans and Americans as possible were stretched to the limit, one more paroxysm of senseless violence took center stage.Read More