"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons." Bertrand Russell

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Just War

Or a conscious act to murder

[cross posted over at Indymedia.ie]

Five years on since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the wars that precipitated from that act are now discussed in frustratingly candid terms. While the thousands of American deaths are fittingly remembered as avoidable tragedies, the military responses, claiming the lives of many more innocent people, are described as 'mistakes' and 'necessities'.

A legitimate response to terror

In a recent RTE Questions & Answers discussion all but the token 'left of centre' panelist described the war in Afghanistan in much the same way, a necessary response to an act of terror, which has resulted in a more favourable situation in the region. The removal of the Taliban was, though not the principal goal of the conflict, a welcome result. [1]

Noel Whelan and Stephen Collins, Political Correspondent with The Irish Times, laid out the fundamentals of the war as they see them. Noel commented that the war was a 'necessary issue that had to be dealt with', Mr. Collins reinforced the point stating that the 'Americans were right to go in... they have improved the lives of people in the long term... they were attacked by Al Qaeda and were entitled to respond.'

The principle point the panelists wished to bring across was that while one could criticise the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan was an act beyond reproach. It was a legitimate response to an act of aggression.

A media so detached from reality

In a lecture held by the Technology and Culture Forum of MIT in 2001 Noam Chomsky addressed the idea of a 'Just War' in Afghanistan. [2]

He was asked whether Richard Falk's (who incidentally also opposed the Iraq war [3]) October 2001 article in the Nation [4] provided a valid justification for the Afghan conflict. The article read: “The war in Afghanistan against apocalyptic terrorism qualifies in my understanding as the first truly just war since World War II...The perpetrators of the September 11 attack cannot be reliably neutralized by nonviolent or diplomatic means; a response that includes military action is essential to diminish the threat of repetition, to inflict punishment and to restore a sense of security at home and abroad.“

Chomsky's answer was quite simple, “if you can't find out who did it you can't punish anyone... [you] certainly can't do it by aiming activities against hundreds of thousands of people who had nothing to do with it.”

Many of these people, Chomsky noted, were in need of basic food supplies prior to the attack. These supplies were then severely hampered by US bombing:

“After the first week of bombing, the New York Times reported on a back page inside a column on something else, that by the arithmetic of the United Nations there will soon be 7.5 million Afghans in acute need of even a loaf of bread and there are only a few weeks left before the harsh winter will make deliveries to many areas totally impossible, continuing to quote, but with bombs falling the delivery rate is down to half of what is needed. Casual comment. Which tells us that Western civilization is anticipating the slaughter of, well do the arithmetic, 3-4 million people or something like that.”

Taking into account what we knew before the invasion, including what we could predict would happen, the invasion of Afghanistan amounts to a conscious act to murder.

With reference to the fact the US was 'requesting' the Taliban hand over Bin Laden, Chomsky proposes that the Taliban were probably quite sincere their request for evidence before any handover. A letter to the New York Times in October 2001 [5] made the same point; “If NATO has ''clear and compelling proof'' of Mr. Bin Laden's involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks, why doesn't it just hand that evidence over to the Taliban so that they can give their people a legitimate reason for surrendering him?”

This is all quite irrelevant though. The purpose of the war was to capture those found responsible for the attack of 9/11. If we assume that the Taliban were protecting Osama bin Laden, we must also accept that it was the Taliban, a regime unpopular with it's people, were the ones protecting him, not the Afghan people. In contributing to the starvation of thousands of people and the bombing of many others it is obvious that it was the victims of the Taliban who were attacked, not Bin Laden.

A more favourable situation

The Senlis Council published a report on Afghanistan's current situation paints a bleak picture:

“After five years of intensive international involvement in Afghanistan, the country remains ravaged by severe poverty and the spreading starvation of the rural and urban poor. Despite promises from the US-led international community guaranteeing to provide the resources and assistance necessary for its reconstruction and development needs, Afghanistan's people are starving to death. Afghanistan continues to rank at the bottom of most poverty indicators, and the situation of women and children is particularly grave. One in four children born in Afghanistan cannot expect to live beyond the age of five and certain provinces of the country lay claim to the worst maternal mortality rates ever recorded in the world.

...[t]hose who do not want to turn to the Taliban are forced to do so in order to survive and support their families.

Taliban now control southern Afghanistan. Since 2001, the day-to-day security of ordinary Afghan people has deteriorated markedly. Despite the concerted focus on military and security issues in the country, the Taliban are tightening their grip on the southern half of Afghanistan. In addition to their current de facto military control of entire towns, districts, and neighbourhoods in the provinces capitals, the Taliban have psychological control over nearly half of Afghanistan. A doctor in Kandahar City reported that parents are no longer sending their daughters to school, women only rarely venture outdoors, and even then only when wearing a full burka." [6]

A tragedy of errors

The Independent [7] reported earlier this month: “The Senlis Council claimed that the campaign by British forces against the Taliban had inflicted lawlessness, misery and starvation on the Afghan people.

Thousands of villagers fleeing the fighting and a continuing drought, as well as farmers who have lost their livelihood with the eradication of the opium crop, were suffering dreadful conditions in refugee camps.

In a separate intervention, the influential International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) said that a vital opportunity was lost when the West failed to carry out adequate reconstruction work after the 2001 war.”

While the Times hears the opinion of someone 'on the ground':

“The former aide-de-camp to the commander of the British taskforce in southern Afghanistan has described the campaign in Helmand province as a textbook case of how to screw up a counter-insurgency.

'We're now scattered in a shallow meaningless way across northern towns where the only way for the troops to survive is to increase the level of violence so more people get killed. It's pretty shocking and not something I want to be part of.'” [8]

The Media's Role

RTE's summary of the 'Removal of the Taliban':

"It was suspected that the hardline Islamic regime in Afghanistan, the Taliban, was sheltering Bin Laden and his followers. US President George W Bush issued the ultimatum that the Taliban must either hand over Bin Laden and other suspects immediately or "share in their fate". This did not happen." [9]

Note there is no reference to the Taliban's offer to hand over Bin Laden.

"The US and Britain began air strikes on Afghanistan on 7 October, knowing that bombing alone would not overthrow the ruling Taliban regime."

Note no mention of the other 'repercussions' to bombing.

And then follows the typical account of a media approved conflict. All told through the prisim of truth that is Donald Rumsfeld. Shockingly, there is no reference to the civllian death toll since US intervention in this summary. It is not even alluded to. It seems an efficient journalist must make no association between 'benevolent' military machines and civilian casualties. In fact, it would appear from this distilled version of events the only people to die as a result of this invasion were those killed in 2002's earthquake.

Based on this account of the war there is little wonder why five years on RTE's idea of balance is as skewed as it is. A balance that offers 'debate' on a war that claimed thousands of lives with not one dissenting voice.

Whatever the 'blunders' and lack of forethought those behind the Afghan conflict are guilty of, there remains one elementary truism. The humanitarian situation was well known and the risks clearly identified prior to the attack on Afghanistan. The dangers posed to the Afghan people were considered and the bombing was sanctioned.

The death of thousands of Afghans was not accidental, it was inevitable. But this is not an acceptable truth in the studios of licensed liberal discourse.

1. http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/0911/qanda.html
2. http://web.mit.edu/tac/past/2001-2002/index.html
3. http://www.transnational.org/forum/meet/2002/
4. http://www.thenation.com/doc/20011029/falk
5. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?
6. http://www.senliscouncil.net/modules/publications
7. http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article
8. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087
9. http://www.rte.ie/news/features/oneyearon/