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Monday, January 16, 2006


Deliberate intent

It seems that a US missile strike carried out by an unmanned drone has killed 18 people. I use such cautious language as ‘it seems’ as to state it definitively is controversial, though I recognise that my choice of words might endorse the sort of ambiguity used to defend the murderous policies of the US. Nevertheless, as best we know, 18 people have been killed. None of these people were the target of the missile; Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Some might say that, as the missile was not intended to kill these 18 people, only a different person who, it turned out, was not there, to describe this action as ‘murderous’ is simply wrong. Or more, that I am guilty of ‘moral equivalence’; that denouncing US forces as murderous is somehow a statement to the effect that US forces are morally identical to an al-Qaeda terrorist. This is, plainly, not what I am writing, and such a meaning can only be inferred by a reader with a world view of absolutes, where, as al-Qaeda are utterly bad, no action taken in combating them can possibly be other than good. Such a world view is both relentlessly partisan and totalitarian. And mindlessly stupid. But regardless, explore the blogosphere and you will find it unselfconsciously pumped forth by people who style themselves as defenders of freedom.

The actions of the US are, in this instance, murderous. Just as with the policy used in Iraq, where houses, and homes, are destroyed by overwhelming firepower when a suspected insurgent is suspected of taking refuge inside, this involves a political and military calculation. Please note the two uses of the word suspected in the previous sentence; this is a reflection of the degree of uncertainty that is accepted when committing military force to a path of action that will, almost certainly, result in civilian casualties. The people who made the decision to fire the missile in Pakistan knew, at least as certainly as anything can be known in conflict, that their actions would cause civilian deaths. They knew this to a higher degree of certainty than they knew that they would cause the death of al-Zawahiri. They accepted this and deliberately proceeded down a course of action that resulted in these civilian deaths.

Now, some have argued that the US does not make the killing of civilians the purpose of its military action. As we shall see, some justifications for this action suggest that not all supporters of the US-led War on Terror seem to think this is important. But first, what group does make the killing of civilians the purpose of its military action. The answer to this question is; only serial killers and genocideers. This does not, automatically, include terrorists, even those who target civilians in their attacks. Terrorist actions, like all military(-like) actions, have a political goal. In the case of, say, the IRA, this goal was a united Ireland. Outside of a tiny minority of truly swivel-eyed loons, the killing of British civilians was a means to this end. The US missile strike in Pakistan was an attempt to assassinate a ‘leader’ of al-Qaeda, and the killing of innocent civilians was an integral part of the means chosen to pursue this end. It is not so easy to paint a difference between those who intentionally kill civilians in the pursuit of political goals, and those who deliberately kill civilians in the pursuit of political goals. The US action, quite clearly, falls into the latter camp.

Some have attempted to justify the action by arguing that, given that some people in northern Pakistan have given refuge to al-Qeada members in the past, and that some might be sympathise with the goals of al-Qeada, this strike will work to ensure that people think twice before 'associating' with al-Qeada again. Regardless of a discussion of the morality of providing hospitality to al-Qaeda members in rural Pakistan, this line of reasoning is patently a justification for terrorism, and an argument that dissolves any division between the US deliberately killing civilians as opposed to it intentionally killing civilians. It is the application of military force to terrorise a population into obedience. In fact, this goes some way beyond ‘normal’ terrorism. A bomb delivered by the IRA or al-Qeada requires huge organisational commitment. These cannot be delivered ‘at will’. The terror they impart depends on illusion; in truth they are weak groups that cannot strike anywhere, anytime. A US missile strike, in comparison, is capable of being far more terrifying, as they can be delivered almost anywhere in the world at the organisational commitment of only a tiny fraction of US military resources. Thus, they are repeatable ad terreo, a demonstration of the genuine power by the terrorising forces.

Others arguments have blamed the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, for providing faulty intelligence designed to undermine Musharraf. The tension between Musharraf and the ISI must be known to US military planners, as must the intimacy of the ISI and radical Islamist groups. If, knowing this, these planners proceed to launch missiles into houses on the chance that their unreliable and disreputable allies are feeding them genuine, copper-bottomed intelligence, then their deliberate acceptance of civilian casualties in the pursuit of political ends is not diminished. It grows further. The planners are more murderous, not less.

There are other arguments, some springing from American exceptionalism, some plain old racist, but I have dealt with the most reasonable cases in defence of this action. I will not bother with either of these, if only because a challenge to either of these essentially unreasonable points of view is futile; if brown people are worth less than others, then discussion of paths of action that produce their deaths take on a whole different light, one that it is impossible for even soft-egalitarians to engage with; and if America is exceptional, then its actions are utterly incomparable to those of other nations and groups and thus reasonable discussion of its actions are pointless.

After all that seriousness, now for something completely different; a humorous observation on the storm raging over George Galloway. New Labour is basing much of its Galloway-bashing propaganda on the fact that he was not in Parliament at the time of a debate over the proposed Crossrail link that will, it is suggested, have a negative effect on the lives of his constituents. But; [1] the debate Galloway missed was a select committee debate to which he was never able to be a participant, and [2] the powers that are determining the route of Crossrail are those of a New Labour government.

Over at Lenin’s Tomb, Dylan writes:

“So New Labour says GG is irresponsible because he isn't around to stop them from hurting his constituents... that’s beautiful. It reminds me of Sideshow Bob’s campaign ad on The Simpsons: “Mayor Quimby even released Sideshow Bob – a man twice convicted of attempted murder. Can you trust a man like Mayor Quimby? Vote Sideshow Bob for mayor.”

If you are going to smear, smear well. This is something that the opponents of Galloway never seem to manage, though they do try very hard. I mean, forged documents? You have to go back to Arthur Scargill to find the a similarly uniform, and similarly false, media smear campaign. It is interesting to note that, in The Enemy Within by Seamus Milne, Galloway is quoted as saying, as soon as the Scargill smears began, that those would prove to be false. And they did.

A previous post on deliberate killing.

[At the recommendation of TimP in the comments I have tried to correct some typos in this post.]

To be fair, I think there was a vote in the commons:
Crossrail Bill [Instruction No. 2] — 12 Jan 2006 — Division No. 123
but I don't think GG's presence would have made much of a difference either way:
The Aye-voters won by 390 to 0
How does your hand-wringing fit into Britian's actions in WWII? Certainly not all the people bombed by the British in Germany were Nazis? Innocent German women and children were cut down by errant bombs.

A hypothetical: a British plane dropped a bomb load dropped onto a airplane parts factory but 20 nearby German civilians died? Are they justified? What if the British didn't and those parts were used in a new German airplane which dropped a bomb on London killing 50 British civilians. Then would Britian have been justified in dropping the bomb on the factory?

Obviously if Britian never retaliated for fear of killing civilians, then you would be speaking German today.

In a war, how do you know what could happen if you pass up an opportunity? One cannot say for sure (in our hypothetical) that that if the German factory wasn't bombed, then a new plane would kill 50 British. So can you effectively defeat an enemy with absolutely never killing a civilian or performing an action which might? No. So surrender is the only option.

If you are too worried about possibly killing a civilian then you should surrender to radical Islam and convert to being a Muslim today.

The US's killing of civilians is not intentional nor deliberate, but a casualty of war. You cannot compare the deaths of these 18 versus the suicide bomb at the wedding in Jordan late last year.
No, I didn't say; do not take action that might kill civilians. I said; it is disengenous in the extreme to suggest that these deaths are not deliberate, as in, the results from actions taken after deliberation. The US commanders knew that this attack would kill civilians. This was known with far greater certainty than that the attack would kill a terrorist. Whether it is a justifiable attack is a different question.

In this case I would say; no. We are not in a state of 'total war' as we were in 1939-1945. We are not facing an existential threat, as we were in 1939-1945.

"In a war, how do you know what could happen if you pass up an opportunity?" Yes, and this reasoning is a justification for bombing everywhere, on the barest scrap of information with no thought to the civilian casualties. After all, we didn't do it deliberately, right?
Andrew, my own thoughts followed exactly the same reasoning as yours on the US missile strike and their implications. It's been a wonderful relief to find them publicly stated by someone else, when this fairly straightforward reasoning has apparently escaped the professional commentariat.

(On a more pedantic note, your normal high standard of sub-editing seems to have slipped somewhat with this post? The clarity of thought is what matters of course, but I always feel that typos make an argument less compelling to those predisposed to disagree. Perhaps I am overly pessimistic about people’s capacity to find excuses for avoiding the argument.)
When the US invaded Fallujah, they gave a chance for civilians to leave. (which negates your US doesn't mind killing civilians theory). However, reports later surfaced that Zarqawi quietly slipped out of Fallujah with the so-called civilians. The price of being overly nice has been the further deaths of innocent caused by attacks planned and orchestrated by Zarqawi. We may have prevented 100 civilian casualties, but allowed 500.

As for the low likelihood of killing him: If you assess that Zawahiri is likely to kill 500 people in attacks in the next years and you have a 20% chance of killing him, with possible civilian casualities up to 20 if you don't, is it worth it? Statistically speaking 5 attacks would kill him, also killing 100 civilians, but you saved a net of 400 lives.

Look what happens when you don't do anything. We've seen what happened with Chamberlain and then again with the minor terrorist attacks in the 90s. Weak responses led to more death and destruction. It's not easy to play statistics games, but the end goal is to save lives.
"which negates your US doesn't mind killing civilians theory"

I didn't say that the US doesn't mind killing civilians. I said that the US is willing to deliberately kill civilians when it suits their political goals. A simple point that it is pointless to avoid.

As for Fallujah, just what are you saying? That the US ought not to have 'let' the civilians leave?

'Weak' responses might lead to more death and destruction. 'Strong' responses, as I imagine you define them, by definition lead to more death and destruction.

The bare facts of this case are. The US was willing to certainly kill a number of civilians in order to possibly kill Zawahiri. Regardless of whether the actions are right, and the use of speculative 'statistics', which lends an illusion of hard fact to the most rabid of imaginings, if this sacrifice was right then it ought be right regardless of the nationality, race or class of the innocent victims. I find it hard to imagine that the US would sacrifice the lives of its own citizens, or the citizens of other Western nations in this way.
News reports ( now say that a top Al-Qaeda bomb maker was killed in the strike. Now is it justified?
TC, you appear to have missed the point of my post. I made no comment on whether this attack was justified. I said that it was the deliberate murder of civilians, as this was a nerar certain consequence, a far more certain consequence than the death of any terrorist. This remains regardless of who else was killed in the attack.

Further, as our dicussion has moved on, you have failed to address the apparent expendability of Pakistani civilians. I suggest that you know full well that citizens of any Western nation, and certainly not any white, English-speaking people, would be regarded in such a way.

This is the way of imperialism, mind. A necessity, moreover.

There is so much patent propganda from multiple sources that I am disinclined to have much of an opnion since there is a lack of good data.

One reason I am disinclinded to belive new reports is this post from Buuce Ralston's Flit. Bruce is a jounalist and a Canadian Reserve officer, specilizes in debunking, and usually has his facts right. (Bruce is not fan of US GWOT policy)
"I said that it was the deliberate murder of civilians, as this was a near certain consequence" <--- Back to my Britian in WWII analogy. Civilian deaths in British bombing were a certain consequence.

Besides, who were these "civilians" anyway? The missle probably hit just one building. Aljeezera even reports that 4 jihadists bought the farm. So who were the other 14? Where they just hanging out? Did they not know who the 4 were?

Pakistani life isn't expendible but during a war harboring the enemy may have consequences.

But you see, we are not at war. In World War II Britain was fighting against the industrial power of a rival state with the potential to conquer and subjugate Britain.

This is not anywhere close to a comparable situation. Attempts to use justifications for blowing civilians to peices that attempt to use the circumstances of WWII as 'illustrative' are either misguided or deliberately misleading.

Further, unless you are a fan of genocidal (keep killin' 'em as they join up) or terrorist (shock an' awe 'em into submission) strategies to combat al-Qeada, then you need to win 'hearts and minds'. These are not won by killing civilians, and nor can any friend or freedom and democracy argue for censorship of the crimes of the US and the UK.
But, we, the US are at war. We attacked the Taliban regime in a response to 9/11. If some of those forces ran and hid into the mountains on the Pakistan border, the US could go after them. (I am sure we had Pakistan's permission).

States cannot be allowed to train jihadists, send them on overseas missions and then pretend they are innocent.
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