October 25, 2014
Military strikes and so-called collateral damage and the possibility of drone missiles against ISIS targets
Dear Senators Leahy and Sanders and Congressman Welch:
I write to ask you to consider the following view regarding our foreign policy that perhaps you already agree with, in which case I would hope to support those views and hope that you can influence the White House in the manner in which you do that.
Now that the U.S. is engaged in another military action, I would like to ask our esteemed Congressional delegation once again to urge the White House to resist the use of drone missiles and other actions that put civilians at risk. As the easier, more obvious ISIS targets are hit, remaining targets will be increasingly difficult to kill, which will make us turn to the less precise tactics such as drones missiles.
In my efforts to find legal justification for the inadvertent, but never-the-less not so improbable tragedy, of killing civilians during military strikes that take place in populated cities or towns, I am frustrated at the lack of good, clear international law in this area. While terrorist organizations are committed to operating outside of international convention and law, it behooves the U.S. and NATO to always do the opposite. The United Nation’s report that 75% of civilian casualties in Afghanistan were at the hands of the Taliban and other terrorists groups, does not mean that we need to get down in the hole that they are in.
Indeed, I would think this ratio, 3:1 meaningless to the Afghans since NATO’s strikes are so much more spectacular, come from foreigners who don’t even speak the language, that collateral damage from our strikes are never to be forgotten or forgiven.
The 1977 Protocol I and II of the 1949 Geneva Convention set the highest standard yet when it eliminated reference to “military necessity”, which had allowed for the bombing of civilians in the previous conventions and treaties. Unfortunately, the United States, while signatory to Protocol I and II, never ratified it.
I suppose it could be argued that the recent neighborhood bombings in Afghanistan could be allowed under Protocol I and II. However, the U.S. bombings of vital civilian infrastructure in Baghdad, while not directly or immediately killing civilians, were not allowed by Protocol I and II as death of thousands of civilians was virtually a certainty. While still not ratified, the U.S. claims to abide by Protocol I and II. In a campaign as large as this one with ISIS, the likelihood of civilian casualties is great enough to make our commitment to Protocol I and II rather hollow.
Whether technically within the protocols and treaties or not, a question that always comes to my mind when we read of another deadly collateral damage mishap, most recently in Afghanistan, is how unimaginable it is for this to happen in the U.S. or Western Europe. We don’t bomb neighborhoods in the U.S. in order to apprehend/kill criminals or even terrorists/military combatants. When the police or FBI are hunting down the worst serial killer, they don’t bomb the neighborhood or even the building where he might be. They do what they need to, to get him without harming anyone else.
There is something wrong with a system and body of national and international law that (rightfully) does not provide for legal assassinations but does allow for the killing of innocent civilians if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. We cannot depend on international law until it is advanced and signed and ratified by all relevant countries. We can only depend on our innate sense to always protect civilians. And we should do this in ALL other countries with the same vigor that we do here. When we learn that a wanted high-level terrorist is in New York, London or Paris, do we bomb the building he is in?? Of course not. Lets stop our double standard.
The killing of civilians in Afghanistan was clearly why our support in that country wained. The celebratory welcome and gratitude the liberating Allied Forces received as they entered the German occupied countries in 1945 is sadly missing in the military actions of the last 50 years. I believe lack of care for civilian casualties is the major reason for this.
Rep. Curt McCormack, Burlington