Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Indiscriminate slaughter from the air is a barbarism that must be abolished"

I find this piece from Simon Jenkins in the Guardian written in the context of the aerial bombardment of Gaza very very relevant to Sri Lanka's war in the North as well.

The tragedy in Gaza surely marks the time when the world declares air-launched bombs and long-distance shells to be illegal under the 1983 Geneva convention. They should be on a par with chemical munitions, white phosphorous, cluster bombs and delayed-action land mines. They pose a threat to non-combatants that should be intolerable even in the miserable context of war.

I can accept Israeli claims that they are not intentionally targeting civilians in Gaza - or the United Nations base set on fire yesterday. But the failure of their chosen armaments had the same effect. The civilian death toll is now put at 673, mostly women and children.

It is barely conceivable that the most accurate weapon of war, an infantryman, would deliberately enter a house and massacre unarmed women and children as they have their dinner. As a result, mercifully few do. When such cold-blooded murder is committed, from the 1968 My Lai killings in Vietnam to those now coming to light in Iraq, we are appalled, and inquiries, trials and disciplinary procedures follow.

Those killing from the air need have no sight of the carnage they unleash. They are placed at both a geographical and a moral distance, with a licence allowed no soldier on the ground. Whether they are dispatching free-fall bombs or GPS-guided missiles, tank shells or predator drones, Hamas's Qassam rockets or improvised explosive devices, they know they often miss their targets, but they launder any carnage as "collateral damage" and leave politicians to handle the backlash. The soldier shrugs and walks away, with no obligation to humanity beyond the occasional apology and a reference to the other side being just as bad.

If gas, landmines, chemical weapons and cluster munitions are now banned - a ban broadly obeyed by most civilised armies - why not aerial bombardment? Instead, bombing is becoming ever more prevalent. It precedes any operation, as a sort of overture, and eagerly takes part in each tactical twist. Counter-insurgency war, in Iraq and Afghanistan, has seen western armies take heavy casualties. But such is the political aversion to them that Israeli, American and British ground forces operate under strict "force protection" rules to minimise losses.

This has led to the reckless use of stand-off munitions, as regularly reported by embedded correspondents. Rather than employ infantry to clear an apparently hostile settlement, commanders call in air strikes and pound it to rubble. The Israelis have responded to the Hamas bombardment of their towns with a far heavier bombardment of Gaza. Both endanger civilians to a degree that cannot be other than criminal. That human shield tactics may be involved is no excuse: the law does not permit the killing of innocents in the hope of reaching the guilty.

Also see Jayantha Dhanapala: (I wonder whether he has the guts to see the same thing to the SL Govt)

the high number of civilian casualties in Gaza indicates once more that there is no such a thing as a clean, technological and aseptic warfare where civilians are spared and only combatants (soldiers or insurgents) are hit.

1 comment:

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