Tuesday, October 25, 2011

VAU Afgh 101: Attacks Against Civilians

This is part of a series of eight "virtual teachins" on U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan.

The crime of Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians is described on the website for Mike Haas' book, George W. Bush, War Criminal? The Bush Administration’s Liability for 269 War Crimes. Here, we will look at the specific legal basis for charging perpetrators as war criminals for Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians, and list sources reporting relevant U.S. actions in Afghanistan.

Viewers of this page are strongly encouraged to contribute comments and additional sources in the comments section!

If the American public knew the nature of the crimes that its government was committing in Afghanistan, could it possibly sit still and not force an end to the war, and the removal of U.S. military, intelligence, and contractors from Afghanistan?

The crime of Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians is described on the website for Mike Haas' book, George W. Bush, War Criminal? The Bush Administration’s Liability for 269 War Crimes. The basis is Geneva Conventions Protocol 1, 1977, "relating to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts," specifically Art. 51(4).

In my view, the important point for ordinary American citizens to understand is that a state of warfare does not give the warring parties the right to harm civilians. We may be confused by the fact that the U.S. has famously engaged in war against civilians without being tried for war crimes - particularly in the fire bombing of Tokyo and the use of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It should be remembered that Curtis LeMay, the author of those campaigns, remarked, "If we lose, we'll be tried as war criminals." Willfully harming civilians constitutes a war crime.

A listing of atrocities against civilians in Afghanistan is provided at the Voices for Creative Non-Violence website. The most recent is from August, 2011: "Another NATO air strike has killed a number of civilians today in the Logar Province. The attack, which took place shortly after midnight, came after a clash between NATO troops on the ground and Taliban in the Baraki Barak District, and left six civilians dead. This latest attack came after the firefight with Taliban but was termed a “retaliation” attack. That the attack retaliated against a civilian home and killed an entire family appears to them only a minor detail." (See also report at Antiwar.com.)

It's instructive to scroll to the bottom of the page and start with the first account recorded by VCNV (from April 2009, obviously far from the first such occurence of violence against civilians in Afghanistan!): "U.S. forces were positioned on the rooftop opposite the home of Brigadier Artillery officer Awal Khan. In a night raid, U.S. forces burst into Awal Khan’s home. Awal Khan was away from home. His family members ran to the rooftop, believing that robbers had entered the home. When they emerged on their rooftop, U.S. forces on the opposite roof opened fire, killing Awal Khan’s wife, his brother, his 17 year-old daughter Nadia, and his fifteen year-old son, Aimal and his infant son, born just a week earlier."

Now ask, "Does this occurrence constitute a war crime, or just a sad mistake?"

Then read the next one up the page, from May 2009: "Mainstream media reports estimate that between 86 and 140 people, mostly children, died in a US air attack. According to Reuters, only 22 of the victims were adult males."

Ask again, "Does this occurrence -- particularly taken in combination with the previous occurence(s) -- constitute a war crime, or just a sad mistake?"

Now read the next one ... and the next ... and the next ....

How many occurrences does it take before you are sure that the U.S. is engaging in a pattern of war crimes?

ISAF Data show night raids by U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) killed over 1,500 Afghan civilians in 10 months during 2010 and early 2011.

Related posts

A September 5, 2013, U.S. drone strike in Pakistan killed six people - including Sangeen Zadran -- a "senior militant commander" who was "implicated in a long-running kidnapping drama involving an American soldier."

(See September 5 in Pakistan: Another Day, Another Drone Killing)

With drones, people become just dots. "Bugs." People who no longer count as people . . . .

(See Drone Victims: Just Dots? Just Dirt? )

A new U.N. report makes it clear that the U.S. has to report fully on all its drone attacks.

(See 2014: The Year of Transparency (for U.S. Drone Use)?)


Return to the main VAU Afghanistan 101 page.

Photo credit: The Ugly Truth


1 comment:

  1. From Ken in Worchester, MA, who traveled to Afghanistan as a Voices for Creative Non-Violence volunteer this year:

    Where Do You Stand?

    Well known activist and cofounder of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Kathy Kelly, is fond of observing, “Where you stand determines what you see.” The soldiers on the rooftop across from officer Khan’s home probably did not see the killing of those emerging onto the rooftop adjacent to their position as indiscriminate attacks on civilian noncombatants. Mr. Khan’s neighbors, though, probably saw those same killings in an entirely different light.

    Most often, soldiers are caught in the middle. On one side are the senior officers who issue orders; on the other, those intimately affected by these commands. Aside from incidents – and there may be many more than have appeared in press reports – such as the well-documented “Kill Team” murders in the south of Afghanistan, where those in question knew they were operating outside the bounds of all military and moral law, most soldiers are not privy to the reasons behind the orders they are issued. And they are taught not to ask those reasons.

    Outrages such as those carried out by members of the “Kill Team” or by US soldiers at My Lai are correctly labeled as attacks against an indeterminate citizenry. This can’t be said of the soldiers who killed officer Khan’s family, no matter the horrific the nature of those killings. If any soldier on that rooftop questioned the morality of what he was told to do, he was obligated to refuse to fire his gun. Apparently none of them did.

    Whether an attack can be labeled “indiscriminate” rests in large part on the intent of those ordering, and in some cases carrying out, the assault. In the instance of the NATO helicopter gunners who killed nine children gathering firewood in the mountains near their village in eastern Afghanistan early in March (www.vcnv.org/incalculable), the only people who know for a certainty whether the attack was indiscriminate violence against the innocent or a decision to fire on what they thought was a group of insurgents are the soldiers themselves. All the rest of us can do is guess.

    Whether there indeed are indiscriminate acts of violence committed during any war no one has to ask. Violence such as this is everywhere, in our homes, on the streets, or on the battlefield. One thing is for certain, though. Attacks such as these can never be attributed to “battle fatigue” or a few “bad apples” who somehow found their way into the military. There is no scientific way of determining who is going to perpetrate such killings. The only way to eliminate them is to eschew war as a way of solving conflicts. That won’t be just a start; it will mark an end as well.

    For further information on indiscriminate acts of violence toward civilians, please visit www.vcnv.org