The Dogs Are Eating Them Now by Graeme Smith

The subtitle of this book is Our War in Afghanistan and it is revealing and very sad and, of course, difficult to read. It will, however, increase your awareness of what has happened in Afghanistan. The jacket of the book explains that Graeme “Smith devoted more time to southern Afghanistan than any other Western journalist between 2005 and 2011, and his book offers a candid and critical look at the Taliban’s rising influence and the West’s continued miscalculations.”

Dogs are Eating Them NowAlso from the jacket: “The Dogs Are Eating Them Now” is a raw, uncensored account of the war in Afghanistan from a brilliant young reporter with unmatched compassion and a rare ability to cut through the noise and se the broader reality.”

In his introduction Smith does not claim qualifications to speak about the entire country and explains that the southern region “does serve as a useful case study. It’s where the war became most intense; it’s where policymakers focused much of their attention; it’s where the policy most obviously went wrong. The world needs to understand what happened and draw lessons from this debacle – and the only way of reaching those conclusions is by visceral immersion.” The latter is what Graeme Smith did.

The title is taken from something Smith experienced and, in his words, “that still bothers me”. It was a story “passed along from a reconnaissance unit prowling ahead of the front lines at night. The soldiers usually found no trace of their enemies except blood trails disappearing into the undergrowth, because the insurgents were efficient at removing their dead and observing the Muslim custom of a quick burial. But in the chaos of Operation Medusa, some of the bodies were left behind. One night a Canadian reconnaissance platoon decided to use Taliban corpses as bait, dragging them out from the leafy cover of the farmland and marking them with infrared glow sticks. The soldiers hid themselves and waited for the insurgents to collect heir dead. Hours ticked by, with the troops poised to fire – but nobody fell for the trap. The stench of death attracted wild dogs, which spent the night ripping  chunks off the bodies while the Canadians watched through their gun scopes.”

There is much in Smith’s book that refers to the AIHRC (Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission) and it can be researched on the internet starting here.

Smith writes: “I keep a souvenir that reminds me of my worst days in Afghanistan. It’s a ballpoint pen, decorated with copper wire threaded into a pattern of beads. Somebody spent many hours making the cheap writing instrument into a work of art, and there’s something pathetic about the scuffed plastic and its glittering enclosure. You cannot touch this object without feeling the poverty of the craftsman. A prisoner gave me this pen during our investigation of conditions in Afghan detention facilities in the spring of 2007. That was the season when I began to seriously doubt the nobility of the war.”

In the above investigations of conditions, Smith had a breakthrough when he got inside Sarpoza prison in Kandahar. He had interviewed former detainees but many had been afraid to speak. He paid the warden three Mag-Lights  to get into the national-security wing to which he made several visits over a period of weeks. Prisoners there made souvenirs such as the pen described above. A majority of the men interviewed had been captured by Canadian troops and some were taken by US special forces or Afghan security forces. Smith was particularly interested in the nationality of detainees since he was working for a Canadian newspaper. After awhile he began to hear the stories of “beatings, whippings, starvation, choking and electrocution”. Smith was confident that when NATO countries learned that their Afghan allies were torturing prisoners they would not be pleased. His translator thought he was being naive.

On April 23rd, 2007 when Smith`s report was published, the Canadian defence minister, Gordon O’Connor, “stood up in parliament and declared that the AIHRC monitoring was enough. Smith wrote another story to inform the public that the reassurances were empty because “the AIHRC was not allowed into the Kandahar intelligence prison.”

“On April 25, Canada’s prime minister responded to questions about whether AIHRC monitoring was sufficient.  Part of his reply was as follows: “military leaders in Afghanistan are constantly in contact with their counterparts and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. So far, they have not indicated to us that they have encountered these problems.”

Check out this award winning journalist’s book if you are serious about knowing some of what’s happening and/or has happened.  Smith won an Emmy in 2009 for  video that recorded the opinions of Taliban fighters. Read more about Graeme Smith here.

You might also want to check out Melissa Fung’s Under an Afghan Sky: A Memoir of Captivity.