Posts Tagged ‘collateral damage’

… this is what bombing children looks like …

Whoever is doing the bombing. And certainly the first piece of film is of a Syrian Army barrel bomb being dropped on a school or hospital. And the genesis of this piece of film is uncertain. It could be IS. It could be the FSA. It could be independent. It could be propaganda by one side or the other, or it could simply be a desperate plea for sanity.

But it doesn’t really matter. This is about the children. Whichever side they’re on. The pictures aren’t fake.

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Let’s make it stop.

Let’s stop supplying the combatants with arms, while we try and “pick winners”. Let us make our effort to create peace dialogues not war victories. And above all, let’s stop dropping bombs on civilians.Whoever we are.
And the civilians are everywhere.

civilianThere is a truth, an unavoidable elephant-in-the-room truth, a glaring shining searchlight of truth, that the leaders of the world are choosing to ignore as they rage against IS/ISIL/Daesh and the collected nasties of Iraq and Syria.

And it is this.

We are fully aware that Daesh are hiding among the civilian population. They are hiding there not to deter attacks on themselves, but because they want large numbers of civilian casualties from the current and the upcoming bombing campaign to help to establish their credibility in their current ownership of their nascent caliphate, and also to attract recruits to buttress those casualties they have taken.

This is also true: it is entirely impossible to use pin-point attacks against Daesh. Cross-hairs on grainy black and white video on the nightly news of laser-guided weaponry only tell half the story. Sure, we can neatly attack specific buildings. What we cannot know for sure is who is inside them. The most “guided” bomb is still indiscriminate. Just ask the four women driving out to the fields to tend their vegetables near Raqqa who were blown to smithereens because they had covered their faces against dust and heat, so the fighter pilot thought they were fighters as he unloaded onto them.

As we are already seeing, the more we attack those we oppose, the more we will inevitably slaughter those we are claiming to defend. Some in the civilian population in Raqqa are pleading with the UK, for example, not to join strikes against Syria. They will fail. The politicians are not listening to anyone but themselves.

This is also true. Thanks to the disgraceful realpolitik calculations of Putin and others, the Russian bombing campaign against Daesh forces fighting Assad in Syria has already morphed into a wider assault on the entire rebel force, and not just Daesh. Larger numbers of casualties among whatever civilian population is still trapped in Syria have been taking place already, and further deaths are inevitable.

This is the truth no one cares to state. The more we attack Syria and Iraq to dislodge Daesh, the more civilians will die, possibly in their tens of thousands. Men, women, children. Entirely innocent of any crime.

And it gets worse. If we put boots on the ground as well, which would require a massive troop commitment or none at all to be a success, we will drastically radicalise the entire local population who will resent our occupying force more than they even resent the lunatics in charge of them now.

This is the truth. Our Middle East policy is a complete and utter failure and has been for decades. As soon as a ready and willing market in modern armaments became freely available to anyone prepared to buy them – often from us – the situation changed radically. We turned playing with a tinderbox into running around inside a permanently roaring brushfire.

Our bureaucrats and politicians should never try to decide between one tyrant and another based on inadequate information and half-assumptions. We were wrong to support Assad’s father as “sort of” non-religious bulwark against the lunatics around him. The result was a brutal civil war in Lebanon, apart from anything else, and one that could well be repeated. We were wrong to support the Shah for so long that when he was replaced it was inevitably with the worst possible band of brigands. We were wrong to initially support Saddam as a bulwark against Iran. We were wrong to then invade Iraq in pursuit of oil security and to punish Saddam for his adventure in Kuwait. We were wrong to attack Libya. We were wrong to allow Eqypt to slide into a worse fascist dictatorship than it was before.

Any opportunity presented by the Arab Spring was squandered.

syria photo

Now, once again, we stand at a crossroads. The West and Russia simply should not be lumbering around the Middle East like blinded, enraged giants.

Here’s the ultimate truth. Only the Sunnis and Shias can sort out their problems, and until they get serious about doing so anything we do will merely exacerbate the situation, make ourselves more hated, invite more attacks on our own countries, and slaughter innocents who cannot understand what they ever did wrong. Don’t believe me? Count the bodies the length and breadth of Yemen. Thanks Saudi Arabia. Our lock-step ally. (Well, for today, at least.)

These are the truths. We all know them to be true. But we smother the truth with our anger at the hatred of us that we do not understand, but also with verbiage and slogans and posturing.

Tell these truths to anyone and everyone who will listen, and shout them in defiance at those who will not.

It is going to get worse before it gets better. How much worse depends on each and every one of us.

 


Kindergarnered

Stephen Yolland is a Melbourne poet and author/editor of Wellthisiswhatithink. You can find his book of poetry here. The book is also available as a download from lulu.com.

He would appreciate it if you could share this poem by linking to this blog post in any way you can.

Deep, deep concerns about the wisdom of this course of action - the least the powers that be could do is show us the evidence.

Deep, deep concerns about the wisdom of this course of action – the least the powers that be could do is show us the evidence.

With his “red line” commitment, and the likely imminent bombing of Syria, Obama may have committed the worst blunder of what has in many ways been a Presidency mired in lost opportunities and disappointment.

When all’s said and done, it was never likely that Obama’s incumbency would reach the height of expectation generated by his first election victory.

And the economic crisis he had to deal with – and which he handled with some aplomb despite the criticism of an ornery Congress and the rabid right in America – dominated his first term.

Yet as we go along, there were also worrying signs that Obama lacks any genuine understanding of his role as a centre-left reformer on vital civil liberties issues.

He didn’t close Guantanamo as he promised to – but why? Was there ever any real doubt that Guantanamo inmates could be housed humanely and safely in America? No.

Just one of the many blight's on Obama's record as a small "d" democrat,

Just one of the many blights on Obama’s record as a small “d” democrat.

After years of incarceration, he has not released Guantanamo inmates who have been shown by any reasonable standard, including the opinion of the Administration, to be innocent of any crime. And trials of those considered guilty seem endlessly delayed.

Guilty as hell they might be, but justice delayed is justice denied, no matter who the defendant is.

He has not intervened to pardon whistleblower Bradley Manning, a principled if somewhat naive young person who many consider a hero.

He has argued it is acceptable for the Administration to kill US citizens without trial, via drone strikes, even within the USA’s borders if necessary. (You can’t even lock people up without trial, but you can execute them, apparently.)

For all his posturing, he has failed to act effectively on gun control.

He has done nothing to persuade states to drop the death penalty, nor has he intervened in cases where it is patently obvious that the soon-to-be-executed prisoner is innocent.

Troy Davis, just one of many executions against which there was serious disquiet, where Obama could have intervened, but didn't.

Troy Davis, just one of many executions against which there was serious disquiet, where Obama could have intervened, but didn’t.

He has continued – indeed, increased – drone strikes in countries nominally allied to the USA, despite their counter-productive effect on local opinion.

And now, faced with worldwide concern that we might be about to slip into a morass from which our exit is entirely uncertain, he seems determined to bomb the hell out of Damascus.

Current plans involve nearly 200 cruise missiles being dropped on the poor, benighted citizens of that beleaguered city.

(And that doesn’t count the payload of war planes that were yesterday landing at a rate of one every minute in Malta, according to one correspondent we have.)

One of our more popular t-shirts. You might check out this one, and others, at http://www.cafepress.com/yolly/7059992

One of our more popular t-shirts. You might check out this one, and others, at http://www.cafepress.com/yolly/7059992

Large scale civilian casualties will be brushed off by everyone as “sad but inevitable” except, of course, by the vast majority of the Arab and mid-East populace, already instinctive opponents of America, who will become, without doubt, angrier at the US and the West than ever, whatever they think of Assad.

Meanwhile, rumours continue to swirl unabated that the gas attack in the city was nothing to do with the regime, and could even have been an appalling accident from stocks held by rebel forces.

The US claims to have evidence of rockets being prepared with gas by the regime, but as this article argues, then why on earth not release that evidence?

We also have previous evidence that Syrian rebels have used gas themselves.

We have the persistent assertion that neo-cons have been planning to use Syria as just one more stepping stone to Mid-East hegemony, and that current alarums are just part of a long-range plan to hop into Syria on the way to Iran, as disclosed by retired general Wesley Clarke, presumably to depose the theocratic Islamic regime and grab the Iranian oilfields at the same time.

The fog generated by the secret state also makes it completely impossible to discern what was really going on when the Daily Mail first printed, then retracted as libellous (paying damages), an article about a British defence contractor revealing plans for a false flag gas attack on Syria.

So now, on the brink of war, we have the Obama government refusing to release all the facts that it is showing to members of Congress.

We can only ask “Why?”

If the case against the Assad regime stacks up, then the world – especially those in the mid East – need to know it before any action takes place. So does the UN, whether or not the Security Council can be persuaded to unanimity. (Extremely unlikely.) Because after Damascus is reduced to a smoking ruin will be too late to save the West’s credibility if it acts prematurely, or without irrefutable evidence.

And forgive us, but politicians reassuring us that the evidence is irrefutable just doesn’t cut it any more.

The continual accusation that something murky is going on will bedevil Obama unless this whole situation is conducted with total transparency. Memories of the “sexed up” dossier that led to the bloody war in Iraq (casualties 500,000 and counting) are still raw and fresh.

If he cares less about his legacy, Obama would do well to observe how Bush’s and Blair’s reputations have been forever trashed by that event. The tags “aggressors” and “war criminals” will follow them to their grave and beyond.

Why not simply release all the evidence, publicly. Why? That's what you have to tell us.

Why not simply release all the evidence, publicly. Why? That’s what you have to tell us.

As far as Wellthisiswhatithink is concerned, one piece of commonsense reasoning stands out for us above all others, fundamentally requiring an answer.

Obama had issued his red line warning. Why, in the name of all that is sensible, would Assad risk bringing down the wrath of Nato on his head by flinging chemical weapons at a relatively unimportant residential suburb, knowing full well what the response would be?

The war in Syria is a stalemate, his regime has suffered some losses but also some gains, and there is no evidence his personal grip on power was threatened. Why would this turkey vote for Christmas?

On the other hand, if a rogue Syrian officer wanted to aid the rebel cause, then what better way than to launch an attack which was guaranteed to provoke the West’s intervention, and possibly tip the scales emphatically in the rebel’s direction, something they seem unable to achieve for themselves?

As we contemplate the utter and ultimately murderous failure of diplomacy, we feel constrained to point out that the West – and all the other players like Russia – had a simple solution to the Syrian conflict available on the 23rd December 2011, while casualties were still horrific but minimal (just over 6,000), and before another civilian population had been utterly torn apart and traumatised.

Instead of standing back and doing nothing except chucking verbal rocks, Putin could be part of the solution. Nu-uh. Not so far.

Instead of standing back and doing nothing except chucking verbal rocks, Putin could be part of the solution. Nu-uh. Not so far.

We offered it in an article that explained patiently that there cannot be a solution to the Syrian crisis unless the leaders of the Baa’thist regime are offered a safe haven somewhere (either Russia or Iran, in all likelihood) and also pointed that we would need to keep the bulk of the civil administration in place even after a handover to the Syrian opposition, in order to prevent a complete breakdown in civil society as occurred in Iraq. And, of course, to prevent handing over power to the appalling al-Qaeda forces that were swarming into the conflict on the rebel side.

Now, thanks either to the complete ineptitude of Western politicians, or due to some hazy conspiracy the details of which we cannot clearly discern, we have the ultimate disaster on our hands.

One hundred thousand men, women and children who are NOT combatants are dead, and countless others injured.

Assad is weakened but has no way out.

The Opposition is in thrall to murderous savages that cut the heads off innocent people with pocket knives and shoot soldiers captured on the battlefront.

And we are about to waste hundreds of millions of dollars that we don’t have “taking out” Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles which, in reality, means taking out civilian neighbourhoods with yet more horrendous losses while the Syrian Government squirrel any WMDs they do have deep underground where they can’t be found, let alone bombed.

As the new Australian Prime minister Tony Abbott presciently remarked a few days ago, our choice in Syria is really between “baddies and baddies”.

Not exactly the brightest intellectual star in the political sky, for once Abbott's common touch pitched it about right.

Not exactly the brightest intellectual star in the political sky, for once Abbott’s common touch pitched it about right.

He was criticised for dismissing the conflict so colloquially, but frankly we think he deserves to be applauded for putting it so simply. We may well be about to intervene on behalf of one baddie, when the other baddie is at least as bad, if not worse.

And we do not refer, of course, to the principled, secular and democratic Syrian opposition that has bravely argued for regime change for a generation, but for the lunatics who would hijack their cause in the chaos.

And we are not even allowed to see the evidence for the upcoming attack. We repeat: why?

So much for democracy. So much for humanity. So much for truth and justice. Meanwhile, let’s feed the population bread and circuses – a steady diet of game shows, reality TV and talent quests, with some sport thrown in – let us anaesthetise our sensibilities to the hideous nature of what is about to happen – while the real powers behind the throne seemingly effortlessly manoeuvre public opinion in a relentless search for power, personal wealth and to justify corporate greed.

Frankly, always more of a fan of the cock-up theory of public administration (that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) we are actually beginning to sense that the shadow state is more real than any of us beyond the wildest conspiracy theorists ever truly imagined.

And we are also so very grateful that we do not live in a country with major oil fields.

His administration decided that it was better to let gas attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war against Iran. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted. How times change, huh?

Declassified CIA reports reveal that his administration decided that it was better to let gas attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war against Iran. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted. How times change, huh?

Last but by no means least: how do you like the hypocrisy of flattening Syria for theoretically using chemical weapons – although we are not allowed to see the proof – that actually might well have made their way to Assad via Saddam Hussein, that were originally cheerfully supplied to him by America, to chuck at Iranian troops in the Iraq-Iran war?

That’s when Saddam was still our good ol’ buddy, remember. Before he got a bit uppity.

Those weapons – which the dictator was actively urged to use by America backed up by American supplied intelligence – killed tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of people.

But that’d be wrong, right?

Sorry, my brain hurts.

On the day that Australia and Afghanistan struggle with the official confirmation that Aussie troops in Oruzgan province shot and killed two shepherds aged 8 and 7, mistaking them for insurgent who had been firing at them, this fascinating piece of reportage from William Salaetan at slate.com a few days ago argues that, far from the indiscriminate slaughterer of innocent civilians that they are often painted to be, controversial unmanned drones in fact kill fewer civilians than conventional weaponry such as bombs. We comment at the end of the article.

Article begins:

An American Predator drone fires a missile.

An American Predator drone fires a missile.

UN: Drones killed more Afghan civilians in 2012,” says the Associated Press headline. The article begins: “The number of U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan jumped 72 percent in 2012, killing at least 16 civilians in a sharp increase from the previous year.”

The message seems clear: More Afghans are dying, because drones kill civilians.

Wrong. Drones kill fewer civilians, as a percentage of total fatalities, than any other military weapon. They’re the worst form of warfare in the history of the world, except for all the others.

Start with that U.N. report. Afghan civilian casualties caused by the United States and its allies didn’t go up last year. They fell 46 percent. Specifically, civilian casualties from “aerial attacks” fell 42 percent. Why? Look at the incident featured in the U.N. report (Page 31) as an example of sloppy targeting. “I heard the bombing at approximately 4:00 am,” says an eyewitness. “After we found the dead and injured girls, the jet planes attacked us with heavy machine guns and another woman was killed.”

Jet planes. Machine guns. Bombing. Drones aren’t the problem. Bombs are the problem.

Look at last year’s tally of air missions in Afghanistan. Drone strikes went way up. According to the U.N. report, drones released 212 more weapons over Afghanistan in 2012 than they did in 2011. Meanwhile, manned airstrikes went down. Result? Fifteen more civilians died in drone strikes, and 124 fewer died in manned aircraft operations. That’s a net saving of 109 lives.

On Monday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai banned his security forces from requesting NATO airstrikes in residential areas. Why? Because a week ago, an airstrike killed 10 civilians. What kind of airstrike? Bombs.

The My Lai massacre in Vietnam. As in most cases in that and other conflicts, bullets and bombs inflicted the majority of civilian casualties.

The My Lai massacre in Vietnam. As in most cases in that and other conflicts, bullets and bombs inflicted the majority of civilian casualties.

In war after war, it’s the same gruesome story: crude weapons, dead innocents.

In World War II, civilian deaths, as a percentage of total war fatalities, were estimated at 40 to 67 percent.

In Korea, they were reckoned at 70 percent.

In Vietnam, by some calculations, one civilian died for every two enemy combatants we exterminated.

In the Persian Gulf War, despite initial claims of a vast Iraqi death toll, we may have killed only one or two Iraqi soldiers for every dead Iraqi civilian.

In Kosovo, a postwar commission found that NATO’s bombing campaign killed about 500 Serbian civilians, almost matching the 600 enemy soldiers who died in action.

In Afghanistan, the civilian death toll from 2001 to 2011 has been ballparked at anywhere from 60 to 150 percent of the Taliban body count.

In Iraq, more than 120,000 civilians have been killed since the 2003 invasion. That’s more than five times the number of fatalities among insurgents and soldiers of Saddam Hussein’s regime. (Wellthisiswhatithink considers the likely figure to be nearer 500,00 civilian casualties due to all causes, as we revealed in our article “The Dead and Not So Dead In Iraq. However only a tiny percentage of those deaths could be attributed to drones.)

 Why so many noncombatant deaths? Study the record. In Vietnam, aerial bombing killed more than 50,000 North Vietnamese civilians by 1969. Each year of that war, the least discriminate weapons – bombs, shells, mines, mortars – caused more civilian injuries than guns and grenades.
We know all about the atomic attackjs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Far worse was the "firestorm" attack on Tokyo using incendiary bombs. The Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that 87,793 people died in the raid, 40,918 were injured, and 1,008,005 people lost their homes. Robert Rhodes, estimating the dead at more than 100,000 men, women and children, suggested that probably a million more were injured and another million were left homeless. American planners estimated the areas attacked to be 84.7 percent residential.

We know all about the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Far worse (and virtually forgotten) was the “firestorm” attack on Tokyo using incendiary bombs. The Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that 87,793 people died in the raid, 40,918 were injured, and 1,008,005 people lost their homes. Historian Robert Rhodes, estimating the dead at more than 100,000 men, women and children, suggested that probably a million more were injured and another million were left homeless. American planners estimated the areas attacked to be 84.7 percent residential.

In Kosovo, the munitions were more precise, and NATO tried to be careful.

But according to a postwar report by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, NATO’s insistence on flying its planes no lower than 15,000 feet—a rule adopted “to minimize the risk of casualties to itself”—“may have meant the target could not be verified with the naked eye.” In Afghanistan, a 2008 report by Human Rights Watch found that “civilian casualties rarely occur during planned airstrikes on suspected Taliban targets.”

Instead, “High civilian loss of life during airstrikes has almost always occurred during the fluid, rapid-response strikes, often carried out in support of ground troops after they came under insurgent attack.”

Drones can overcome these problems.

You can fly them low without fear of losing your life. You can study your target carefully instead of reacting in the heat of the moment. You can watch and guide the missiles all the way down.

Even the substitution of missiles for bombs saves lives. Look at the data from Iraq: in incidents that claimed civilian lives, the weapon with the highest body count per incident was suicide bombing. The second most deadly weapon was aerial bombing by coalition forces.

By comparison, missile strikes killed fewer than half as many civilians per error.

How do drones measure up? Three organizations have tracked their performance in Pakistan. Since 2006, Long War Journal says the drones have killed 150 civilians, compared to some 2,500 members of al-Qaida or the Taliban. That’s a civilian casualty rate of 6 percent. From 2010 to 2012, LWJ counts 48 civilian and about 1,500 Taliban/al-Qaida fatalities. That’s a rate of 3 percent.

The New America Foundation uses less charitable accounting methods. But even if you adopt NAF’s high-end estimate, the drones have killed 305 civilians, compared to some 1,500 to 2,700 militants, which puts the long-term civilian casualty rate at about 15 percent. NAF’s figures, like LWJ’s, imply that the rate has improved: From 2010 to 2012, NAF’s high-end civilian casualty tally is 90, and its midpoint estimate of dead militants is 1,410, yielding a civilian casualty rate of 6 percent.

The highest reckoning of noncombatant killings comes from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Since 2004, BIJ counts 473 to 893 civilian deaths, against a background of roughly 2,600 to 3,500 total killings. Using BIJ’s high-end estimates, if every fatality other than a civilian is a militant, the long-term civilian casualty rate is 35 percent. Using BIJ’s low-end estimates, the rate is 22 percent. But again, if you break down the data by year, they point to radical improvement. From 2010 to 2012, BIJ’s count of 172 civilian deaths, against a background of 1,616 total fatalities, yields a civilian casualty rate of 12 percent.

In Yemen, NAF says drones have killed 646 to 928 people, of which 623 to 860 were militants. If you assume that everyone not classified as a militant was a civilian, that’s a civilian casualty rate of 4 to 8 percent. LWJ’s Yemen numbers are less kind: it counts 35 civilian deaths and 274 enemy deaths in 2011 and 2012, yielding a rate of 13 percent. BIJ hasn’t tallied its Yemen data, but if you add up all the fatalities it counted as civilian in 2012, you get a civilian casualty rate of 10 to 11 percent. (For one strike last May, which several witnesses attributed to a plane, BIJ counts more noncombatant deaths than total deaths. If you don’t include those fatalities in the drone column, the civilian casualty rate for 2012 is just 7 percent.)

You can argue over which of these counting systems to believe. But the takeaway is obvious: Drones kill a lower ratio of civilians to combatants than we’ve seen in any recent war. Granted, many civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other such wars were killed by our enemies rather than by us. But that’s part of the equation. One reason to prefer drones is that when you send troops, fighting breaks out, and the longer the fighting goes on, the more innocent people die. Drones are like laparoscopic surgery: they minimize the entry wound and the risk of infection.

Over the years, I’ve shared many worries about the rise of drones: the illusion of withdrawal, the militarization of the CIA, the corruption of law, the evasion of congressional restraint, the risk of mission creep, and the proliferation of signature strikes. But civilian casualties? That’s not an argument against drones. It’s the best thing about them.

Wellthisiswhatithink believes we need to re-evaluate the drone programme. Its range, its usage, its timing, its command and control.

We are on record as saying it poisons civilians against what the West is trying to achieve, and is explicitly making the already fraught relationship between America and Pakistan, in particular, even worse than it already is. However debate on drone warfare should be based, as far as possible, on facts, not on emotion. If we are going to fight wars – a questionable decision in its own right – then we need to fight them with lowest possible impact on the civilian population, for all sorts of practical reasons, leave alone the moral ones. Recent history is, sadly, littered with examples of politicians deciding to deliberately target civilian populations, the direct opposite of their responsibility under the rules of war.

Coventry. Dresden. Nagasaki. Hiroshima. Tokyo. Hanoi. Sabra. Shatila. Srebrenica. Sarajevo. Aleppo.

It is a very sad list, is it not?

Man's deadliest killing machine, by far.

Man’s deadliest killing machine, by far.

Last but not least, in deciding how best – I will leave you to decide your own personal interpretation of “best” – to kill our fellow human beings, we should also constantly remind ourselves that bullets – fired by one person from one weapon – still kill more people in conflict zones than all other forms of ordnance put together.

Controlling the merchants of death who sell them indiscriminately to the highest bidder might be the most immediate and most “do-able” thing we can do to reduce casualties of all kinds. The first step is to make it clear to our political masters that we don’t want our countries involved in this bestial trade. Meanwhile, we would all do well to remember the simple arguments of Edwin Starr in his immortal “War”. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.