Magazine article The New American

Indiscriminate Warfare: Although Combat Frequently Results in Unintended Civilian Casualties, the Collateral Damage in Our "War on Terrorism" Shows Insufficient Concern for the Innocent. (Morality of War)

Magazine article The New American

Indiscriminate Warfare: Although Combat Frequently Results in Unintended Civilian Casualties, the Collateral Damage in Our "War on Terrorism" Shows Insufficient Concern for the Innocent. (Morality of War)

Article excerpt

Within hours of the terrorist attack upon our country, President George W. Bush promised that hose responsible for that atrocity would be brought to justice. He also warned, "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." This warning was directed primarily at the Taliban regime then controlling Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden had set up his base and training camps.

Under what the Constitution refers to as he "law of nations," a government sheltering and supporting terrorists is implicated in their despicable acts. But using military force to root out bin Laden and his minions faced both practical and moral obstacles. As the September 24th issue of Newsweek noted, bin Laden's terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan presented a very challenging target. "If the goal is to coerce the Taliban into handing him over, the prospects are ... bleak," reported the journal. "Afghanistan's shattered rural economy has almost no targets vulnerable to airstrikes, which would mainly make a lot of rubble jump."

Within the Afghan "rubble" could be found many innocent noncombatants who, unlike bin Laden's terrorist cadres, couldn't protect themselves from airstrikes. The most accessible Afghan targets for military action were a few scattered training camps, cities, and villages, as well as the Tora Bora cave complex. However, those targets were located either within, or in proximity to, civilian population centers, making it difficult at best for a military campaign against Afghanistan to comply with the "Just War" principle of "discrimination" between belligerents and noncombatants.

Compounding this difficulty was the logistical challenge of conducting missile strikes and bombing attacks against land-locked targets from thousands of miles away, and the use of the Northern Alliance -- a motley assortment of tribal warriors -- as ground-based surrogates for the U.S.-led assault.

According to the Bush administration and much of the major media, the military campaign against the Taliban and bin Laden's Afghan network was entirely successful and miraculously free of "collateral damage" to innocent civilians. But bin Laden and his top leaders are still at large, and substantial numbers of Taliban fighters continue to put up armed resistance across the Afghan countryside. This suggests that declaring victory is premature.

Furthermore, there is ample cause to believe that the bombing campaign, which employed some of the largest non-nuclear bombs in the U.S. arsenal, was hardly the antiseptic exercise that the Bush administration insists. In fact, official statements from administration officials, especially Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, indicate that discriminating between combatants and civilians was not a compelling priority.

Of course, civilian casualties tragically occur in any war, even those fought responsibly on behalf of the most righteous causes. With thousands of Americans dead from murderous attacks on our nation, a military response against those who perpetrated those attacks is entirely appropriate -- assuming that it is carried out morally and under the proper authority.

The previous article illustrated that the war on Afghanistan has not been carried out in harmony with the Just War concept of "war decision law," requiring that the proper public authority (in our case, the U.S. Congress) must make the decision to commit a nation to war. We must now examine whether the campaign satisfies the "war conduct law" of the Just War doctrine.

Who's Responsible?

"We did not start this war," observed Secretary Rumsfeld at a Defense Department news briefing. "So understand, responsibility for every single casualty in this war, whether they're innocent Afghans or innocent Americans, rests at the feet of the AlQaeda and the Taliban."

Rumsfeld's statement is impossible to reconcile with the "war conduct law," under which those who fight just defensive wars are morally responsible for avoidable civilian deaths. …

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