The liberal media is normalising war crimes

10 December 2020
Simone White

At what point do the calculated, macabre, executions of innocent human beings perpetrated by the Australian defence force in Afghanistan, provoke the outrage of the liberal media? At what stage in the reporting of the ritualistic slitting of 14-year-old children’s throats, severing of people’s hands, beer guzzling out of the prosthetic legs of the dead, or shooting handcuffed and fleeing civilians in the back for sport, summon some deep reckoning by the Australian liberal press, about the truth of war and what Australia’s military attack on Afghanistan has really been about?

When will the liberal media in Australia give the same level of care to humanising the Afghans who have suffered atrocities at the hands of Australian soldiers as they do to humanising those soldiers? When will Afghans have the chance to speak about their PTSD, their nightmares, their mental health, their broken lives, after the Australian SAS and military came to their country and blew it and them to bits? When will they invite the parents of two children whose throats were carved open by SAS soldiers and whose bodies were then bagged and dumped into a river, into the oh-so-genial newsrooms of the ABC, where journalists politely question ex-SAS soldiers about why it’s a travesty that their mass murdering buddies will have their medals of honour stripped from them for butchering children?

The liberal press eschew the raw anger, the very impolite rage, or eviscerating pain or hatred of Afghans towards Australian troops, because the liberal press just like the rest of the mainstream media in Australia fall in behind the wars waged by the western powers in Afghanistan and Iraq, like they do all imperialist wars that Australia is involved in. From the ABC to SBS and the Guardian, the establishment liberal press wheeled out the big-gun journalists to report on the deranged killing spree of SAS soldiers in Afghanistan. But who amongst them railed against it, who burned with rage at the spurious basis on which Australian troops were sent there in the first place? Which ones agonised, and poured out their so-called bleeding hearts about the innocent slain, or the suffering families left behind? Now is the time for hearts to genuinely bleed. None are.

Just as the liberal media co-created a decades long campaign of vile Islamophobia with their good-muslim, bad-muslim brand of racism to justify Australia’s military interventions in Afghanistan and the Middle East, so too now they spin the usual lies about war. Like caricatures of themselves, they’ve lined up the standard routine of justifications vying with each only over who can “nuance” the same banal, racist, pro-war apologies the best. A common refrain is that the SAS’s abominations are an anomaly in an otherwise noble and honourable history of upstanding behaviour by Australian troops at war. The whole framework of war, imperialism, illegal occupations and invasions is accepted, and therefore all the racist assumptions that underpin them—after that it’s just a downhill run into a sewage dump of liberal excuses for monstrosities. The 60-page section of the Brereton Report cataloguing the history of Australian war crimes from the Boer War to the first Gulf War is apparently of no relevance to those who want to insist there is not a systematic problem, but one of “bad apples”.

Almost universally, articles detailing the SAS’s horrors are accompanied by a series of phone numbers for services that defence force personnel can call to get mental health support. The magnitude of indifference to the suffering of Afghans—the actual victims—is breathtaking, and echoes the very attitudes and logic of the soldiers who treated Afghans like they were sub-human. They don’t matter, fuck them. The supposedly so enlightened liberal press happily report Jacquie Lambie’s claims that veteran suicides are “one of Australia’s most pressing problems”, but don’t think to promote the same sort of compassion for Afghans who have been used as target practice for these same troops.

At its heart, the liberal media in Australia accepts the logic of capitalism and its workings. It doesn’t seriously challenge it, and provides explicit and implicit justification for the necessary ugliness of the system—including, when necessary, war crimes. The Afghan and other refugees being brutalised in Australian detention centres right now could tell you that—if anyone bothered to ask them—since the liberal press has contributed to their suffering by failing to properly discredit government lies and scapegoating of refugees.

You can dig deep into the trove of liberal reporting about the monstrous and entirely typical actions of the Australian defence force in Afghanistan and you’ll struggle to find the levels of empathy and outrage commensurate with the barbarity of the crimes. And forget any sort of honest explanation for why these events occurred beyond the most superficial platitudes. Or any responsibility taking for the media having failed to challenge the justifications for war in the first place. Ultimately, the media lines up behind power, whatever is done in its name.

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