How to get Afghan civilian casualties in the U.S. press

U.S. And Afghan Families Meet

by Laura Flanders

Published: Jan 24 2002

What does it take to get Afghan civilian casualties into the U.S. press? Well, Americans, it seems.

Four Americans who lost family members in the September 11 attacks, traveled to Afghanistan this week to meet with Afghans bereaved in the American bombing campaign. Their visit was organized by the San Francisco based organization Global Exchange.

The Global Exchange journey has produced some sadly singular reporting. After months of bombing -- which continues to this day -- the stories on the U.S. delegation actually brought U.S. readers and TV viewers some passionate portraits of those whom U.S. bombs have killed.

Thanks to the presence of a handful of Americans, a handful of Afghan casualties have been named, their stories told. When Rita Lasar, a 70-year-old retired small businesswoman from New York who lost her brother, Abe Zelmanowitz, at the World Trade Center, met with Amin Said in Kabul, who lost his brother and sister-in- law in the U.S. bombing, their meeting got feature attention in The New York Times:

"We didn't mean to hurt you the way we did, but now we have to help you," Lasar said as she entered the Said home, where new walls and windows had erased the bomb's destruction, wrote the Times.

Clasping her hands and drawing her into a sun-filled room of cushions and carpets, Said told Lasar: "He was your brother, but he was also my brother.  We are all brothers and sisters." So wrote the Times.

The New York Times report played up the tears and hand- clasping. It notably left out Lasar's rage. Lasar is described as having "deep misgivings about the continued American bombing of Afghanistan."  That's in the Times.  The British press describes Lasar this way: Furious.

And the British press quoted her, saying, "The ones who we hit with our bombs have nothing, literally nothing.  We met Abdul yesterday who lost five members of his family and his fruit and veg business.  And we met a young mum named Kall Kafer yesterday who lost eight of her relatives when they were hit.  And her 14-year-old boy has been left brain damaged.

"And what is the United States doing about it? I'll tell you," said Lazar. "Diddly squat. It's a national disgrace."  So reported the British Daily Mirror.

New York Times defenders will exclaim that the Mirror is a histrionic tabloid not fit to compare to the responsible U.S. "paper of record."  But it's the Mirror not the Times that includes some data -- according to an independent assessment, reported the Mirror, allied bombs have destroyed 60 houses in Kabul and killed over 4,000 innocent civilians across Afghanistan.

Human details like that gets no space in The New York Times "human interest" report.  Instead, the paper takes time to point out that, "Although some encounters seemed contrived . . . there were genuine moments."  At no point was Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Afghanistan that very same week described as in any way "contrived."

Rita Lasar's companions include Derrill Bodley, a 56- year-old professor of music.  Derrill lost his daughter, Deora, on United Airlines Flight 93; Eva Rupp, step- sister of Deora; and Kelly Campbell, a 29-year-old environmental campaign coordinator in Oakland, whose brother-in-law, 28-year-old Craig Amundson, was killed in the Pentagon attack.

Not familiar with those names? In a different media climate Americans would know them as least half as well as they know the name of John Walker Lindh.  After more than 100 days, U.S. bombs continue to rain down on Afghanistan.  The bombing is not achieving anything; it is not helping to catch Osama bin Laden or track down al-Qaeda terrorists.  Opposition is mounting internationally.

More attention to the bravery and compassion of people like Rita Lasar and the Afghans she and her companions met in Kabul could swell that opposition right here.

This is Laura Flanders for TomPaine.com. 

Laura Flanders is the host of Working Assets Radio, heard on KALW-FM in San Francisco, and author of Real Majority, Media Minority: The Cost of Sidelining Women in Reporting.