Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hospitals, churches but no wiretaps, just death

If irony isn't dead in the Bush administration is in a Persistent Vegetative State, so one isn't surprised to find the following defense of Bush's wiretapping of American citizens:
"This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner," he told reporters. "These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings, and churches."(Reuters via AmericaBlog)
I am certain those aren't the American citizens being wiretapped. Blowing up weddings and churches [do mosques count?]" by US citizens does occur, of course. We do it from the air:
Despite widespread Iraqi casualties, household interview data do not show evidence of widespread wrongdoing on the part of individual soldiers on the ground. To the contrary, only three of 61 incidents (5%) involved coalition soldiers (all reported to be American. . . ) killing Iraqis with small arms fire. . . The remaining 58 killings (all attributed to US forces by interviewees) were caused by helicopter gunships, rockets, or other forms of aerial weaponry. (my emphasis) (post in Effect Measure)
WaPo makes the same point:
U.S. Marine airstrikes targeting insurgents sheltering in Iraqi residential neighborhoods are killing civilians as well as guerrillas along the Euphrates River in far western Iraq, according to Iraqi townspeople and officials and the U.S. military.

Just how many civilians have been killed is strongly disputed by the Marines and, some critics say, too little investigated. But townspeople, tribal leaders, medical workers and accounts from witnesses at the sites of clashes, at hospitals and at graveyards indicated that scores of noncombatants were killed last month in fighting, including airstrikes, in the opening stages of a 17-day U.S.-Iraqi offensive in Anbar province. (Washington Post)
Friday, October 8, 2004 Posted: 1:02 PM EDT (1702 GMT) An airstrike killed 14 people and wounded 16 during a wedding party, according to hospital officials in the unstable city of Falluja, but the U.S. military said its planes had targeted a terrorist safe house.

An emergency room doctor said the strike killed the groom and wounded several women and children.

The U.S.-led coalition statement had reported an airstrike at 1:15 a.m. on a safe house in northwest Falluja where terrorist leaders linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were meeting.

People are still searching for bodies underneath the rubble of the house, neighbors told a CNN journalist in the city.

The city's hospital said it received the dead and wounded from the wedding party around 2 a.m. (6 p.m. ET). (CNN)
Or this:
BAGHDAD, May 24 (Reuters) - New video footage showing Iraqis singing and dancing at a desert wedding raised more questions on Monday about a U.S. air strike last week that killed about 40 people.

The U.S. military insisted most of the dead were foreign guerrilla fighters who had slipped over the nearby Syrian border. Local people say the Americans massacred wedding guests.

"We still don't believe that there was a wedding or a wedding party going on when we hit in the early hours of the morning," a senior military official said, adding that daylight scenes on film might be of a wedding held there the day before.

Associated Press Television News said it obtained the footage from a survivor of the strike early on May 19.

The U.S. military says troops found no signs of a wedding in the wreckage left at the remote hamlet of Mogr al-Deeb. But a spokesman, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, conceded on Saturday that six women were killed in the strike and a celebration may have been taking place: "Bad people have parties too," he said. (Iraq Today)
Coalition forces fired upon a mosque compound in Fallujah that officials said was a safe haven for enemy fighters on Wednesday as U.S. Marines continued their advance into northern areas of the city.

Marines waged a six-hour battle around the mosque with militants holed up inside before a Cobra helicopter fired a Hellfire missile at the base of its minaret and an F-16 dropped a bomb, said Marine Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne.

There is no report of civilian casualties, the military said, disputing earlier witness accounts that as many as 40 people died. (FoxNews)
Commuter trains? OK. We have no reports of US military forces bombing commuter trains.

But the weddings, mosques and trains aren't really the point. The deadliness of aerial bombardment is. As everyone familiar with anti-insurgency warfare knows, civilian deaths are inevitable when bombs are loosed through the air. It is as sure as the civilian casualties that come when insurgents attack police stations or symbols of the US occupation, like hotels. The insurgents may not be aiming for civilians but they know they will hit and kill innocent people. So does the US military. No matter how much they may "regret" the loss of innocent life, to them it is necessary but unfortunate collateral damage. As it no doubt is to the insurgents.

Here is the problem in all its terrible ambiguity:
The number of airstrikes carried out each month by U.S. aircraft rose almost fivefold this year, from roughly 25 in January to 120 in November, according to a tally provided by the military. Accounts by residents, officials and witnesses in Anbar and the Marines themselves make clear that Iraqi civilians are frequently caught in the attacks.

On Nov. 7, the third day of the offensive, witnesses watched from the roof of a public building in Husaybah as U.S. warplanes struck homes in the town's Kamaliyat neighborhood. After fires ignited by the fighting had died down, witnesses observed residents removing the bodies of what neighbors said was a family -- mother, father, 14-year-old girl, 11-year-old boy and 5-year-old boy -- from the rubble of one house.

Survivors said insurgents had been firing mortars from yards in the neighborhood just before the airstrikes. Residents pleaded with the guerrillas to leave for fear of drawing attacks on the families, they said, but were told by the fighters that they had no other space from which to attack.

Near the town of Qaim one day last month, a man who identified himself only as Abdul Aziz said a separate U.S. airstrike killed his grown daughter, Aesha. Four armed men were also found in the rubble of her house, he said.

"I don't blame the Americans. I blame Zarqawi and his group, who were using my daughter's house as a shelter," said Abdul Aziz, referring to Abu Musab Zarqawi, leader of the foreign-dominated group al Qaeda in Iraq.

Abdul Aziz spoke beside his daughter's newly dug grave, in a cemetery established for the 80 to 90 civilians who Anbar officials said were killed in the first weeks of the offensive. Several dozen new graves were evident, and residents said more than 40 victims of the fighting were to be buried that day alone. Witnesses saw only 11, all wrapped in blankets for burial. Residents said two of the 11 were women.

Abdul Aziz's grandsons ascribed blame for their mother's death more pointedly. "She was killed in the bombing by the Americans," said Ali, 9, the oldest of three brothers. (WaPo)
That last sentence, however one ascribes blame or motive, is the bare truth: "She was killed in the bombing by the Americans." Predictable in every sense of the word. As predictable as the loss of innocent life in an insurgent attack in a crowded city. But on a bigger scale and even more impersonal. And if the reason is oil or geopolitics (as many of us believe), how morally defensible?

Obviously a rhetorical question.