Since Paula Loyd (36 years old) was set on fire by an Afghan Taliban man, Abdul Salam, on November 4, 2008, there has been a considerable outpouring of messages of grief and condolences for Loyd online, in the United States particularly. Another member of the U.S. Army Human Terrain Team to which Loyd belonged, a military contractor named Don Michael Ayala of New Orleans, executed Salam by firing a gun into his head, once he had already been captured, subdued and restrained. According to an indictment filed in a U.S. court (Ayala was removed from Afghanistan and is now out on bail), the execution happened about 10 minutes after the attack on Loyd, once Ayala heard that she had suffered severe burns to most of her body. Once that news came to light, condolences and prayers for Loyd were joined in multiple online forums by extreme expressions of hatred and revenge from commentators, most of whom were far removed from the situation. At present, among the things we do not know are:
- the actual content of the exchange between Loyd and Salam;
- Ayala’s reasons for taking the law into his own hands;
- and, of course, Salam’s side of the story.
- Ayala is a hero, and a defense fund should be set up to help him with his legal battle;
- Loyd’s attacker is a representative of the savages that populate Afghanistan;
- Perhaps the root of the problem lies in the Muslim religion, given that the “attacker” was a man, the “attacked” a woman, and there were rumours spread in the media that she may have been “immodest” in appearance; and,
- Afghans are worse than mere savages, they are animals, and they invite invasion, domination, and perhaps outright extermination;
The last theme is a fundamentally racist one — these are not humans, they are inferior — and it promotes genocide. This is an image of Western opinion that favours the arguments of Osama Bin Laden the most. The third theme is an ethnocentric one, but one that also leaves out the central mediating factor between Loyd and Salam — the invasion and occupation: the problem is with his religion, something ethereal, abstract and metaphysical, appropriate to a defective and unbalanced mind, and not related to the fact that Loyd is a foreigner working on behalf of foreign domination of people like Salam. Moreover, Salam was inherently incapable of understanding his own domination, and thus was left only to express extreme indignation against a woman…because his religion supposedly told him to act that way. The second theme is an ethnocentric and evolutionist one — and thus far we have a fairly predictable and representative range of imperialist opinion that manifests in virtually all such situations over the past five centuries of (Greater) European expansion. The first theme is very interesting as well. What is not entirely predictable is the response to it, and the source of the response, as we shall see in a moment.
The first theme is the good guys and bad guys theme, familiar to anyone exposed to American “cowboys and Indians” movies. Ayala is the avenger in white, Loyd an innocent white female, and Salam the dastardly Indian scalper. One blog framed her this way: “Taliban set woman on fire for crime of social science research,” afterwards adding, “Am I the only one that wants to give Don Ayala a medal?” (see comments on those posts here and here). Ayala is thus cast as performing an honourable service to his nation, and Loyd is cast as a meek woman who only wanted to study. She is the victim, the female victim.
Who is Paula Loyd?
According to an introduction to her at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in June of 2006, Paula Loyd was then a Civil Military Officer at the UN mission to Afghanistan. Staff Sergeant Paula Loyd also served in the U.S. Army Reserve. (Suddenly, the dividing line between civilian and military becomes rather blurred.) In fact, Loyd had been in Afghanistan years before the Human Terrain System was even instituted. In her words, there was some confusion on the part of locals as to whether she was a man or a woman, and local norms were not applied to her as an outsider (countering the notion that she was attacked, according to the stereotyping accounts, for being a woman who dared to step out of line with tradition):
”Sometimes I’ll be talking to the men in a village and they’ll turn to the interpreter and say, ‘Is that a man or a woman?’ But I haven’t had any problems with them. They’ve all been very nice,” Loyd said….Loyd said Afghans do not expect their societal norms to apply to her because she is not from their culture. ”So the fact that I’m a woman doesn’t mean I need to be in a burka and they can’t deal with me. They take me for who I am, they accept me for who I am. And they’re willing to work with me,” she said. (source)
What is especially interesting, and now timely, are Loyd’s comments on military contractors (these were simply called mercenaries until 2003), people such as Don Ayala, her alleged avenger. We do not know what she might think of them at present, but in 2006 she had some especially sober remarks to make in a presentation that was otherwise very positive and optimistic about that the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.
In case the reader could not access the video, this a transcript of the exchange:
— that the PRTs [Provincial Reconstruction Teams] in Iraq, the Pentagon has just reluctantly agreed, as I understand it, to provide security for them. There still is a lot of question feeling, as I also understand that a lot of that, however, may fall to contractors who also do a lot of other security jobs in Iraq. My question is how do they fit in the equation. You talk about the sensitivity, particularly of different kinds of military units. How do contractors fit into that equation, which were playing, as I understand, an enormous role? Thanks very much.
Well, that’s actually a very good question, because you’re right, that’s another very large component that we can’t ignore. A lot of my complaints also come about contractors. You know, sometimes there are certain contractors that are providing security for different projects, who are rearming previously disarmed militias. You know, there are contractors who have terrible reputations for driving worse than the military forces. So I think that if we also don’t address the issue of contractors and what they’re doing, and hold them accountable for some of their actions, then again, it’s not going to help us win the war, at least in Afghanistan.
While some are appalled by the arrest and trial of Don Ayala, it is interesting to hear what Loyd had to say about the excesses of contractors (mercenaries) and how they impact on the U.S. campaign — not that the success of that campaign is in any way a goal valued by this blog. It does not sound as if she was ready to recommend medals for contractors or ask fellow citizens to set up defense funds on their behalf. In the meantime, Ayala has been indicted under the “Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act” — the meaning that is lost by such a masking is that this was an extrajudicial execution of a civilian prisoner, by all means a war crime, and far more than a mere jurisdictional matter.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai today criticized the U.S.’ “Provincial Reconstruction Teams” (PRTs) as constituting what is effectively a parallel government, a minimalist statement of the situation. Karzai also complained about “private security forces” forming a parallel structure to Afghan security forces. Thousands of Afghans with criminal backgrounds have been employed by these foreign mercenary agencies. A “senior NATO official” told the Associated Press that there are 40,000 such mercenaries in Afghanistan today, larger than the number of U.S. uniformed troops. (source)
For more current articles on the Human Terrain System, see:
“Human Terrain System: Murder Charges, Paranoia, General Sacked,” by John Stanton, The Seoul Times, Thursday, November 27, 2008
and a slightly differing version with added information,
Past articles by John Stanton can be found on this blog, on cryptome.info, on Pravda, and The Seoul Times. The above constitute the seventh in a series of articles by Stanton.