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Sunday, May 10, 2009


Hiding behind civilians

In a not-unexpected development, the U.S. is now blaming the Taliban for the deaths of up to 147 Afghan civilian. They seem to be retreating from their earlier claim that some of the civilians were actually killed by the Taliban, and admitting that it was U.S. bombs that did the damage, so now, echoing the Israeli explanation for the murder of hundreds of civilians in Gaza, they've gone to that old standby - the Taliban were "hiding behind civilians."

This is nonsense on two different levels. The first is the idea that the U.S. forces were actually targeting "Taliban," rather than just two Afghan villages. The U.S. admits to making 13 passes (with an unspecified number of aircraft) over the two villages. Sorry, when you make that many passes, you aren't targeting one or two specific houses where you think (or even know) that "Taliban" are hiding; you're targeting the village itself.

But even more importantly, there's the entire concept. The U.S. claims that the Taliban herded all the villagers into a house, and then fired at Afghan government forces from that house. We have no reason to assume that's true, but just for sake of argument assume that it is. What does it mean that the U.S. dropped bombs on houses without knowing who was inside? If an escaped, sentenced-to-death serial killer escapes from prison and runs into your house, and fires at police from the window, do you acknowledge the right of the government to drop bombs on your house, without having any idea whether you or the other members of your family are home, to "take out" that killer? Somehow, I seriously doubt it. Afghan lives (and Iraqi lives and Palestinian lives and everywhere else this scenario repeats itself) are cheap though. Certainly not worth one one-hundredth of an American (or Israeli) life.

We do have to give American forces credit, though. Although they're as quick to accuse their enemies of "hiding behind civilians" as the Israelis, at least they haven't (as far as we know) made hiding behind civilians a routine practice of their own, as the Israelis have (here's the latest on that subject).

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