on international law

I’m wondering just what exactly international law is. Of course there is the Geneva Convention, but when was the last time (was there ever a time?) when anyone respected it and worked diligently not to violate it? I haven’t been following the American media much these days–don’t have the energy as there is too much to be outraged about right here in Palestine. But I’m wondering, just a little bit, what exactly people are saying about the U.S. “war on terror” now reaching into Pakistan. I mean, sure, Barack Obama made it very clear last year that he was more than willing to bomb Pakistan because somehow in his universe I suppose a few thousand American lives are far more important than any Iraqi, Palestinian, Lebanese, Afghan, or Pakastani lives:

The Illinois senator warned Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf that he must do more to shut down terrorist operations in his country and evict foreign fighters under an Obama presidency, or Pakistan will risk a U.S. troop invasion and losing hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid.

“Let me make this clear,” Obama said in a speech prepared for delivery at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.”

This is what a democrat says in the U.S. And here is what a republican does:

September 4rd: The war in Afghanistan spilled over on to Pakistani territory for the first time yesterday when heavily armed commandos, believed to be US Special Forces, landed by helicopter and attacked three houses in a village close to a known Taliban and al-Qaida stronghold.

The surprise attack on Jala Khel was launched in early morning darkness and killed between seven and 20 people, according to a range of reports from the remote Angoor Adda region of South Waziristan. The village is situated less than one mile from the Afghan border.

Local residents were quoted as saying that most of the dead were civilians and included women and children. It was not known whether any Taliban or al-Qaida militants or western forces were among the dead.

September 5th: US forces in Afghanistan were today continuing to launch attacks on alleged militants across the border in Pakistan.

The strikes have been maintained despite vigorous complaints from Islamabad over a US special forces ground raid in which at least 15 villagers died on Wednesday.

Pakistani security officials said a drone aircraft was seen near Gurwak village, in the North Waziristan region of the tribal areas. Missiles were fired at a house, killing five alleged militants.

Major Murad Khan, an army spokesman, confirmed the explosion and said officials were investigating.

The US has used drones over Pakistani territory in the past, but Wednesday’s incursion was the first time ground troops had crossed the border for an operation.

September 8th: An American drone plane bombed the house and madrasa of a Taliban commander in north-west Pakistan today, killing 16 people including four women and two children, a Pakistani intelligence official said.

The 10 others were mainly Taliban fighters from Pakistan and Afghanistan, the official said.

The properties belonged to Jalauddin Haqqani, said to be an old friend of the al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden.

American raids have been targeting militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

A local resident, Abdur Rahim, said he saw nine bodies removed from the destroyed houses. One of the Taliban, Rehman Uddin, said 20 people were killed and 18 injured.

Doctors said between 15 and 20 wounded people were taken to hospital, most of them women and children.

It’s interesting that for months, maybe even over the past year, we have heard a lot from U.S. activist, “leftist” circles about organizing against an impending war against Iran. While, of course, I support this, I don’t know why there is no such group formed to stop the war in Pakistan. Why is there no “Stop War on Pakistan” organization in the U.S.? Is it that Americans don’t know? Is that they don’t care? Is it that they continue to be duped by the U.S. equation that Muslim = terrorist?

It’s strange, too, how there have been all sorts of articles in the media about an impending U.S.-Israeli war against Iran (sometimes talked about as a joint operation, sometimes solo, always in some sort of cahoots). This one from the Israeli historian (Benny Morris) who acknowledges that Palestinians were ethnically cleansed, but thinks it was an excellent idea:

ISRAEL will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months — and the leaders in Washington and even Tehran should hope that the attack will be successful enough to cause at least a significant delay in the Iranian production schedule, if not complete destruction, of that country’s nuclear program. Because if the attack fails, the Middle East will almost certainly face a nuclear war — either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb.

Ostensibly this is about Iran’s so-called nuclear weapons program. Why is it exactly that no one bombs the U.S. for its nuclear weapons program, nuclear weapons that have been used on its own citizens in the 1950s Nevada desert as well on Japanese civilians during World War II? Why is it exactly that Israel is allowed to build its nuclear weapons program, which by the way is now leaking and harming Palestinians living in Khalil and southern West Bank villages? Why is the world like this? Really, I am so tired of living in this Alice in Wonderland world where everything is upsidedown and backwards. A reminder on the Zionist state’s nuclear weapons:

1. Mordechai Vanunu’s website (the Moroccan Israeli Jew-turned-Christian who blew the whistle on this big secret)

2. Israel’s silent nuclear attack revealed

3. How Britain helped Israel make the bomb

4. President Carter: Israel has 150 nuclear weapons

Of course we don’t make these connections, don’t take note of these tragic ironies in the U.S. It never really matters unless Americans are killed, or Israelis. There’s actually a really interesting novel I’m reading now by David Bernans called North of 9/11 which actually does the work of connecting all of these issues: namely, U.S. war crimes against civilian populations in Chile, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, you name it. All of this is done by connecting various characters in Montreal, Canada, and many of these characters are based on real people like my friend Laith. Many of the events are real–locally and globally–and it can actually be a good history lesson for many people who seven years later still whine, “why do they hate us?”

For starters, I’ll tell you why “they” (should I say “we”) hate “us” (maybe me). Let’s look at what Americans call “counter insurgency” and “collateral damage.” Just a few weeks ago the U.S. bombed a village in which it killed 90 civilians, though that is not how the U.S. sees it:

AZIZABAD, Afghanistan — To the villagers here, there is no doubt what happened in an American airstrike on Aug. 22: more than 90 civilians, the majority of them women and children, were killed.

The Afghan government, human rights and intelligence officials, independent witnesses and a United Nations investigation back up their account, pointing to dozens of freshly dug graves, lists of the dead, and cellphone videos and other images showing bodies of women and children laid out in the village mosque.

Cellphone images seen by this reporter show at least 11 dead children, some apparently with blast and concussion injuries, among some 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the village mosque. Ten days after the airstrikes, villagers dug up the last victim from the rubble, a baby just a few months old. Their shock and grief is still palpable.

For two weeks, the United States military has insisted that only 5 to 7 civilians, and 30 to 35 militants, were killed in what it says was a successful operation against the Taliban: a Special Operations ground mission backed up by American air support. But on Sunday, Gen. David D. McKiernan, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, requested that a general be sent from Central Command to review the American military investigation in light of “emerging evidence.”

A report that was released from Human Rights Watch last month details this as a pattern, as a practice–bombing civilians and bombing indiscriminitely. This is something we are now watching unfold in Pakistan, too. Here is an excerpt from their press release, and you may click here to read their full report, “Troops in Contact”:

The report documents how insurgent forces have contributed to the civilian toll from airstrikes by deploying their forces in populated villages, at times with the specific intent to shield their forces from counterattack, a serious violation of the laws of war. Human Rights Watch found several instances where Taliban forces purposefully used civilians as shields to deter US and NATO attacks.

In 2006, at least 929 Afghan civilians were killed in fighting related to the armed conflict. Of those, at least 699 died during Taliban attacks (including suicide bombings and other bombings unlawfully targeting civilians) and at least 230 died during US or NATO attacks. Of the latter, 116 were killed by US or NATO airstrikes. In 2007, at least 1,633 Afghan civilians were killed in fighting related to the armed conflict. Of those, some 950 died during attacks by the various insurgent forces, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda. At least 321 were killed by US or NATO airstrikes. Thus, civilian deaths from US and NATO airstrikes nearly tripled from 2006 to 2007.

In the first seven months of 2008, at least 540 Afghan civilians were killed in fighting related to the armed conflict. Of those, at least 367 died during attacks by the various insurgent forces and 173 died during US or NATO attacks. At least 119 were killed by US or NATO airstrikes. For all periods cited, Human Rights Watch uses the most conservative figures available.

Human Rights Watch criticized the poor response by US officials when civilian deaths occur. Prior to conducting investigations into airstrikes causing civilian loss, US officials often immediately deny responsibility for civilian deaths or place all blame on the Taliban. US investigations conducted have been unilateral, ponderous, and lacking in transparency, undercutting rather than improving relations with local populations and the Afghan government. A faulty condolence payment system has not provided timely and adequate compensation to assist civilians harmed by US actions.

“The US needs to end the mistakes that are killing so many civilians,” said Adams. “The US must also take responsibility, including by providing timely compensation, when its airstrikes kill Afghan civilians. While Taliban shielding is a factor in some civilian deaths, the US shouldn’t use this as an excuse when it could have taken better precautions. It is, after all, its bombs that are doing the killing.”

Finally, a few terrific articles that I haven’t had time to write about this last week, but are worth taking a look at:

Going on an Imperial Bender: How the U.S. Garrisons the Planet and Doesn’t Even Notice (thanks Rania!)

West Bank struggles for water

Report: UN to demand Israel pay Lebanon $1 billion (mish ma’aoul Rania!)

‘Al-Qaida intifada could make Hamas look like child’s play’

29 Palestinian refugees to be resettled in Iceland

Obama: Kill terrorists, but give prisoners rights (perfect example of how Americans just do not get human rights)

Back to school, tear gas and rubber-coated bullets

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