Which is the “civilised world”?
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd)s article from The Daily Star
This article has been animated by a comment of Sean Spicer, the constantly self-destructing White House press secretary. And that was related to Syrian President Assad's alleged use of sarin gas on April 4, 2017 on his own people. He had said, “The rest of the civilised world stands strong with the United States in condemning these acts.” That particular comment followed the US attack on a Syrian airbase as a retaliation of the chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun City which killed 102 and injured 405 people. We are told that the pictures of children writhing in agony after the chemical attack had moved President Trump enough to wheel 180 degrees from his earlier expressed policy of not behaving as the world's policeman to launch a short crisp attack on the Syrian airbase from where the attack was launched.
Trump's action, according to the US President himself, was meant to convey a message, which was that the use of a prohibited weapon would not go unpunished nor would the deaths of the innocent civilians caused by the attack. One cannot contest the intrinsic moral strength of the argument. No civilian deaths can be condoned, least of all by the 'civilised world'.
And that is what begs the question. What exactly is the 'civilised world' that Spicer is talking about? Is it the one that is carrying out the verdict of the judge, jury and executioner - the US government - through the pervasive use of drones in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, to pick off Taliban, al-Qaeda and IS leadership, killing innumerable harmless people including a large number of women and children whose deaths are written off unabashedly as collateral damage? How come the perpetrators of these deaths are never called, but continue to dictate an extremely distorted world order? Or the ones that bomb hospitals and escape with the excuse that it was an error of judgment on the part of the pilot? Who is a part of the 'civilised world' the White House press secretary is referring to? And what if that 'civilised world' uses prohibited weapons and indulges in bombings that kill innocent civilians?
To jog our memory, on October 3, 2015 a United States Air Force gunship attacked a trauma centre operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. Reportedly, at least 42 people were killed and over 30 were injured. And that in spite of the MSF having notified the warring parties of the hospital's location. The MSF thinks that the airstrike was deliberate—amounting to a breach of international humanitarian law and a war crime. The US military disagrees saying it happened in an environment of war forgetting that even in war targeting civilians is a crime.
The expressed reason for the airstrike by the US military was to defend US forces on the ground, having been requested by Afghan forces who had come under Taliban fire. The irony of it is that while the US Force Commander in Afghanistan admitted that the attack was a mistake, the cockpit recordings revealed that the gunship crew had questioned the legality of the strike which gives the lie to the claim that the attack was a mistake. The US got off with a mere apology and a promise of 'condolence payment', whatever that means.
Most recently, in March this year, a US drone attack killed around 200 civilians in a mosque in Mosul. The US command in Iraq, which has acknowledged carrying out a strike against militants in the area, had said, “If we did it, and I'd say there's at least a fair chance that we did, it was an unintentional accident of war.” So the lives of 200 innocent people are written off as casualties of “accidents of war.” And the casualty figure in this bombing is a good deal more than that caused by the sarin gas attack.
The US is known also to have used prohibited munitions like the cluster bomb and depleted uranium weapons, the latter most recently in 2015 in Syria against the IS. The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, the Geneva Conventions of 1925 and 1949 and the Nuremberg Charter of 1945 have affirmed five categories of acts that are prohibited under international law. The use of cluster bombs is prohibited under two categories while the use of depleted uranium weapons is prohibited under all five categories.
Reportedly, there has been a spike in civilian deaths by US bombings since Trump took office. The British-based NGO Airwars, that monitors strikes in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, found that nearly 1,800 people were allegedly killed by US-led coalition airstrikes last month alone.
Would it be wrong to draw an equivalence between these two instances of killings, notwithstanding the fact that those occurred under different sets of circumstances? How is it that only one is held to account and punished? No deaths can be condoned, whether inflicted by 'uncivilised' or 'civilised' worlds.
Our intention is not to justify al-Qaeda's or IS' or Assad's despicable deeds which must be suppressed, but to restate the double standards that is applied in dealing with issues of similar nature.
Are deaths by US bombing of lesser impact than those caused by the IS or al-Qaeda or Assad? What Assad is allegedly doing through the use of banned substances the 'civilised world' is doing with 'legal' munitions. Both cause death. But we shall never know which is the less painful. Alas! The dead cannot speak.