Bombing Afghanistan Because We Can

Words (excluding footnotes): 838
Date: October, 2001 (updated 1/28/2002)

My, how brave we Americans are.

We pummel a defenseless country from miles in the sky, immune from harm while we dispatch death below.

We kill hundreds of innocents to assuage our own pain.

We expose millions to the risk of starvation, but feel no remorse.

We create untold numbers of refugees and consider it just one of the costs--not ours, of course--of the "war on terrorism."

Our conduct in Afghanistan would shame any moral people, but what passes for morality in America has never recognized the sacred worth of human life when it's not our own, and especially when it's an impoverished nation of dark-skinned people in a distant part of the world.

We wrap ourselves in our flags, immerse ourselves in patriotic songs, cluck knowingly that on Sept. 11 everything changed.

Yet our behavior demonstrates that nothing has changed.

Again we ravage a country and call it justice.

Again we surrender to the intoxicating but deadly confluence of unbridled power and narcissistic self-absorption.

Again we kill.

And, plumbing the very depths of human depravity, some Americans condemn news coverage of the carnage as pro-Taliban propaganda.[1]

The inevitable death and destruction visited upon innocents by warfare is morally justified only if no less harmful means will bring about the desired results.

And innocents have died. Early in the bombing, on the night of October 22, between 25 and 35 civilians were killed by U.S. bombing of Chowkar-Karez, 25 miles north of Kandahar, according to Human Rights Watch.[2]

Bombing in Khanabad killed more than 100 unarmed civilians in the last two weeks of November, according to the British newspaper The Independent. Relentlessly bombing heavily populated residential areas, we destroyed whole suburbs. One man, Juma Khan, lost 15 family members.[3]

At least that many civilians were killed in the Nov. 30 bombing of Kama Ado, according to townspeople. Since then, civilian deaths have mounted as the U.S. continues its intense bombardment of the Kandahar and Tora Bora areas.[4]

Yet the U.S. never attempted to determine the long-term efficacy of the multitude of nonmilitary techniques now being applied to disrupt al-Qaida. Perhaps this combination of intense diplomatic pressure on nations friendly to al-Qaida, closure of financial institutions and channels necessary to al-Qaida, and sustained police investigations of al-Qaida cells in western countries would have been sufficient to eliminate al-Qaida as a threat.

If those measures were not successful, perhaps we could have sent ground troops into Afghanistan in a limited military operation in order to destroy al-Qaida bases and attempt to capture its leaders.

But because this would have resulted in U.S. casualties, Washington decided to inflict devastating bombing on that scarred nation, forcing its people, rather than our troops, to suffer the consequences of war.

Our sole basis for targeting the Taliban--its "harboring" of al-Qaida--is preposterous when Washington has harbored and trained so many terrorists itself.

If a country's "harboring" a terrorist who attacked another nation renders the country liable to military retaliation by the nation attacked, does America's acquiescence in the decades-long presence of anti-Castro militants give Cuba the legal right to take out Miami?

Recall the parallel provided by the October 6, 1976, mid-air bombing of Cubana Airlines flight 455 that killed all 73 people aboard. The presumed masterminds, Cuban exiles Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, have both worked for the CIA.

Bosch was later jailed for entering the U.S. illegally. Washington takes its opposition to terrorism so seriously that the first President Bush pardoned Bosch as a political favor to son Jeb.

And Bush the younger has nominated Bosch's visa sponsor, Otto Reich, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.[5]

Just like bin Laden, Bosch denied involvement in the bombing while nonetheless approving of it.

His pious declaration? "You have to fight violence with violence. At times you cannot avoid hurting innocent people."[6]

Meanwhile, Posada later confessed to instigating about a dozen bombings of Havana tourist spots in 1997, including one that killed an Italian tourist.[7]

It's true that the Taliban ran an oppressive regime. It's also irrelevant, as governmental oppression does not entitle the international community to intervene, short of genocidal circumstances such as in Yugoslavia with Slobodan Milosevic.

And surely that oppressiveness was not the trigger for the U.S. action, as Washington has a long history of fondness for savage military dictatorships.

But the Bush Administration prefers to paint with the broadest possible brush. The Taliban, bin Laden, al-Qaida--they're all the same, we're told. All evil-doers who, according to Don Rumsfeld, deserve to die.

Rumsfeld's comments take this unjust war to its natural conclusion: Assume the power to decide who's a bad guy, and kill 'em all.

And we arrive at the murderous ending to an assault that has caused such misery.

Ah, the sweet sight of Afghan bodies rotting in the open air.

What a glorious time to be an American.

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1. Samantha Bennett, "Information Is Key to Forming Worthy Opinions," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 14, 2001 (link); Elissa Papirno, "Courant Failed To Put Photo In Context," Hartford [CT] Courant, November 4, 2001; Elissa Papirno, "Whose Side Are You On, Courant?" Hartford [CT] Courant, October 30, 2001. The two columns from the Courant are no longer on their website, but I have saved copies.

2. "Afghanistan: New Civilian Deaths Due to U.S. Bombing," October 30 press release from Human Rights Watch. Available here.

3. Justin Huggler, "Legacy of Civilian Casualties in Ruins of Shattered Town," The Independent, November 27, 2001. Available here.

4. Kathy Gannon, "Residents Flee Kandahar Amid Bombing," Associated Press, December 1, 2001 ("A coalition bombing raid in eastern Afghanistan killed more than 100 people Friday, all of them civilians, witnesses and survivors said.").

Tim Weiner (writing from Jalalabad), "U.S. Bombs Strike 3 Villages And Reportedly Kill Scores," The New York Times, December 1, 2001 ("Two Afghan officials gave death tolls that added up to 70, and each said the toll was likely to climb."). Available here.

Chris Tomlinson (writing from Jalalabad), "Afghan Villagers Say 200 Killed," Associated Press, December 1, 2001.

"15 killed as US Mistakes Private Jeep for Military Vehicle: Victim," December 2, 2001, unsigned dispatch from Agence France-Presses.

"Bombing Around Bin Laden Hideout Said to Kill 58," December 3, 2001, unsigned Reuters dispatch from Jalalabad.

Megan K. Stack (writing from Jalalabad), "Bombs Reportedly Kill Taliban Foes," Los Angeles Times, December 2, 2001 ("Witnesses and survivors said more than 200 civilians lay dead in the rubble of broken hamlets.").

Tim Weiner (writing from Jalalabad), "Afghans Say Civilians Are Imperiled by U.S.," The New York Times, December 2, 2001 ("Afghan commanders say that four nearby villages were struck this weekend, leaving 80 or more people dead"). Available here.

Richard Lloyd Parry (writing from Jalalabad), "US Afghan Allies Were Bombed as They Slept," The Independent, December 3, 2001 ("Mujahedin commanders were already reeling from the attacks on Friday night and early Saturday, when US planes hit three villages, killing at least 70 - and perhaps as many as 300 - civilians in territory controlled by allies of the anti-terrorism coalition.") Available here.

Richard Lloyd Parry (writing from Jalalabad), "US Bombs Hit Wrong Target for Second Time in Two Days," The Independent, December 3, 2001 ("A senior mujahedin commander said US strikes killed more than 100 civilians around Agam, 25 miles south of Jalalabad, on top of at least 70 killed in air raids on Saturday night."). Available at here.

Robert Fisk (writing from Chaman), "The River of Victims Runs through Another War," The Independent, December 4, 2001 ("From all over the countryside, there come stories of villages crushed by American bombs; an entire hamlet destroyed by B-52s at Kili Sarnad, 50 dead near Tora Bora, eight civilians killed in cars bombed by US jets on the road to Kandahar, another 46 in Lashkargah, 12 more in Bibi Mahru."). Available at here.

Richard Lloyd Parry (writing from Jalalabad), "Civilians Abandon Homes after Hundreds Are Casualties of US Air Strikes on Villages," The Independent, December 5, 2001 ("Thousands of Afghans are abandoning their homes in the east of the country to escape United States air strikes on civilian villages that have killed hundreds of people."). Available at here.

5. Duncan Campbell, "Bush Appointee Linked to Terrorism: Diplomat Tied to Anti-Cuba Violence," The Guardian (London), November 28, 2001. Available here.

6. Available here, reproducing Appendix to Hearings before the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives, Ninety-fifth Congress, Second Session, Volume X: Anti-Castro Activities and Organizations, etc., March 1979, pages 89-93, which itself quotes "Caracas to Charge Bosch, Trio in Bombing of Cuban Airliner," Miami News, Aug. 23, 1978.

7. Gail Epstein Nieves, "Plots against Castro outlined," Miami Herald, January 13, 2001. Available here.

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