It has been another bad week with massive abuses of internationally recognized laws and conventions of war.
A review of U.S. military activities in Afghanistan revealed that some 400 civilians have been killed in the past several months when their villages were bombarded during operations to hunt down remnants of al-Qaida and Taliban forces. U.S. soldiers, apparently, used wrong intelligence information and "by mistake" mass-murdered Afghan civilians, including many women and children.
A report by the International Helsinki Federation on Human Rights, published this week, accuses the Russian forces in Chechnya of randomly kidnapping and killing 50 to 80 young Chechens each month for the past six months of the conflict. The IHF added that the estimate was a conservative one.
This week, the Israeli military bombed a densely populated area in Gaza. A leading Hamas militant was killed along with 14 other Palestinians, nine of whom were children.
It seems there has been a total worldwide breakdown of the international laws governing the conduct of war. Leading world military powers are openly challenging the Geneva conventions (designed to protect noncombatants during armed conflict) that they signed and ratified. In all of the prime military conflict zones -- the Middle East, Afghanistan, the Caucasus -- laws and conventions are being ignored.
During the past two years, Israeli soldiers and policeman have killed some 2,000 Palestinians, several hundred of them children. There are no truly reliable figures for the number of innocent civilians murdered by Russian troops in Chechnya -- the estimates vary from conservative ones of tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. The figures for civilians killed recently by U.S. soldiers seems trivial in comparison. But the flagrant abuse of law and decency by the unchallenged world leader has increasingly become one of the main motives behind other, seemingly unrelated, atrocities.
Each time the U.S. military commits a war crime in Afghanistan, it claims it was: First a "mistake"; second that it is sorry it happened; and third that the terrorists are themselves to blame, since they use civilians as human shields.
In fact, it has been known for some time (as confirmed unofficially by high-ranking U.S. servicemen) that from the beginning of hostilities in Afghanistan last fall, the U.S. military has been bombing villages they believe to be harboring, feeding or helping in any way al-Qaida and Taliban fighters. This form of murderous collective punishment is a crime against humanity. But up to now, all substantive reports of ongoing war crimes committed by U.S. servicemen have been shoved aside by the Pentagon.
The apparent authorization for war crimes and the mass murder of innocent civilians by the U.S. government in far-off Afghanistan has instantly been taken up as an excuse by other, more serious, offenders. Israeli officials this week quoted President George W. Bush's statement that those harboring terrorists are a legitimate target, when they tried to defend the killing of children in Gaza.
|To Our Readers|
Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Email the Opinion Page Editor
Last weekend, during a summit with French President Jacques Chirac, President Vladimir Putin also cited U.S. killing of civilians in Afghanistan as an example that vindicated Russian actions in Chechnya. Furthermore, Putin said the "terrorists are themselves to blame for using civilians as shields." The world, led by the United States, is sinking deeper into inhumanity. An International Criminal Court is being established in The Hague to make the Geneva conventions real, by trying war criminals of all nations. But Washington is doing its best to undermine the ICC. With such a foe against it, it's a sure bet that the ICC will fail to reverse the tide of officially sponsored mass murder.
But there is still hope. War crimes do not lead to victory, instead they harden opposition and demoralize the offender's own troops. It was reported last week that a number of Israeli soldiers and armed settlers were arrested for selling arms and munitions to Palestinians -- just what their Russian counterparts have been doing for years in Chechnya.
The United States is getting bogged down in a guerrilla war in Afghanistan allied to some of the fighting factions, opposing others. Soon, U.S. soldiers will surely become involved in the lucrative heroin industry of Afghanistan as users and traffickers -- just as happened in Vietnam. Punishment will come to all offenders in the end. And, in fact, the ICC may be the most lenient option.
Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.