Our Terrorists

by Stephen Gowans

November 12, 2001


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Pentagon admits to deliberately attacking civilians

Despite repeated assurances that it isn't targeting civilians in its bombing campaign against Afghanistan, the Pentagon has admitted that it has deliberately attacked Afghan civilians. And Britain, Washington's junior partner in the war, admits that it is also targeting the civilian population.

On October 22, US warplanes attacked the remote Afghan farming village of Chowkar-Karez, 60 kilometers north of Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold. The Taliban says between 90 and 100 civilians were killed.

The Pentagon acknowledges civilians were killed, but says the Taliban's estimates are too high.

Asked why a sortie had been flown against a remote farming village, the Pentagon told CNN that Chowkar-Karez was a fully legitimate target because it is a nest of Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathizers.

According to the Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail, a Pentagon official told CNN that, "The people there are dead because we wanted them dead."

No accident, no blunder.

US officials don't usually admit to deliberately targeting civilians. Killing civilians intentionally, even enemy sympathizers, is a war crime.

Article 13 of Protocol II additional to the Geneva Convention provides that: The civilian population ... as well as individual civilians shall not be the object of attack.

And now there's evidence that Washington's junior partner, Britain, may also be committing war crimes.

According to Britain's Chief of Defense Staff, Admiral Michael Boyce, the war on Afghanistan is aimed at ratcheting up civilian misery in hopes that Afghans will oust the Taliban. "The squeeze will carry on until the people of the country themselves recognize that this is going to go on until they get the leadership changed," Admiral Boyce told reporters.

It's clear that what squeezing has been done so far has caused considerable misery. In addition to those injured and killed in the bombing -- the death toll could be a high as 1,500 -- as many as 1.5 million Afghans are on the move, according to the UN, fleeing the bombing.

And aid agencies say up to 7.5 million face starvation, as bombing disrupts the humanitarian food relief efforts needed to alleviate the effects of decades of civil war and one of the worst droughts in the country's history.

Washington has used a similar strategy of targeting civilian populations in other campaigns.

US Air Force Lt. General Michael Short told The Washington Post in the spring of 1999 that the strategy behind NATO's 78-day air war against Yugoslavia was to make the civilian population so miserable it would oust Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Short said,

"If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, 'Hey, Slobo, what's this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?'"

And during the Gulf War, Washington targeted Iraqi civilian infrastructure, knowing that the destruction of water sanitation and purification systems would cause untold suffering, and therefore would pressure Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Thomas Nagy, a business professor at George Washington University, says that Washington knowingly violated Article 54 of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits any country from undermining "objects indispensable to the survival of (another country's) civilian population," including drinking water installations and supplies. Writing in the September 2001 issue of The Progressive, Nagy cites recently declassified documents that show the United States was aware of the civilian health consequences of destroying Iraq's drinking water and sanitation systems in the Gulf War, and knew that sanctions would prevent the Iraqi government from repairing the degraded facilities. Coalition forces bombed Iraq's eight multi-purpose dams, destroying flood control systems, irrigation, municipal and industrial water storage, and hydroelectric power. Major pumping stations were targeted, and municipal water and sewage facilities were destroyed.

In a sign that US forces many be following the same tactic in Afghanistan, The Times of India reported on November 1 that US warplanes had bombed Afghanistan's biggest dam and power station, cutting off electricity to Kandahar and Lashkarga.

CNN has told its anchors to "balance" coverage of civilian casualties in Afghanistan with reminders that "the Pentagon has repeatedly stressed that it is trying to minimize civilian casualties in Afghanistan." This was in response to growing concern that Washington is starting to lose the media war, as it becomes clear that the war is causing a humanitarian catastrophe, one in which the largest victims are the Afghan people, already victimized by the Taliban.

But despite the Pentagon's admission that it has deliberately targeted civilians, CNN continues to point to the Pentagon's less than honest assurances that it is taking pains to minimize civilian deaths. With an admission that civilians "are dead because we wanted them dead," and that the displaced and hungry of Afghanistan will "continue to be squeezed," it's hard to reconcile the Anglo-American axis's actions and words with the claim that the Pentagon is taking pains to safeguard civilian lives. On the contrary, civilian casualties, displacement, and misery, are being used as a tool in the pursuit of Washington's political goals.

The Globe and Mail says that witnesses to the attack on Chowkar-Karez claim there were no Taliban soldiers in the village on the night of the attack, which came shortly after midnight on October 22. Villagers fleeing the bombing were fired upon by AC-130 Spectre gunships, low flying Hercules aircraft equipped with cannons, witnesses say.

The attack shares many features with the NATO attack on the Serb village of Varvarin, during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. In that attack, a NATO warplane swooped down on a bridge filled with civilians, milling about casually on a Sunday afternoon. The attack, which killed 16, was one of a number condemned by Human Rights Watch for having no obvious military purpose. Witnesses say rescuers who had rushed to the scene of the attack to carry the wounded away were killed when the warplane returned for a second attack.

Marcus Gee, a columnist for The Globe and Mail, pointed out that, "NATO commanders talked openly of bringing the war home to the Serbian public in hopes they would turn against Mr. Milosevic." Varvarin was one such incident, he said.

Writing about US foreign policy in his "Cops of the World," 1960's songwriter Phil Ochs detailed Washington's transgression against dozens of other countries, from bombing, to dumping "the reds in a pile," to broken treaties, to installing "a leader you can't elect." Arriving at the last in a long line of US outrages, Ochs writes, "We've done it before, so why all the shock?"

From Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to the gunning down of Korean civilians at No-Gun Ri, the slaughter of Vietnamese civilians at Mai Lai and Thanh Phong, to the bombing of Varvarin and Serb Radio-Television, an obvious war crime whose sole and admitted purpose was to stop the Milosevic government from challenging NATO propaganda, Washington never lets a trifle like civilian causalities get in the way.

If you define terrorism in a politically neutral way as an attack on civilians for political purposes, one which aims to put pressure on a disliked government, then Washington is one of the world's -- indeed, one of history's -- most ardent practitioners. The attack on Chowkar-Karez, a deliberate slaughter of civilians for the crime of sympathizing with a group Washington wants to depose, is just one in a long list of Washington's terrorist attacks.

And all, it is said, in a monstrous inversion of reality, to combat terrorism.



       Stephen Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Stephen Gowans 2001. All rights reserved.

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Published November 12, 2001
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