In the war fever being ramped up against Syria, there is broad public indignation over the massacre of more than 100 civilians in the town of Houla in May. Would that the U.S. diplomatic corps and the commercial press were equally outraged over their own military’s atrocities.
While details of the Syrian massacre are unclear and still subject to dispute, Canada, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Australia, Germany, Spain, and the United States have expelled Syrian diplomats in protest. The State Department called the rampage “despicable” and complained about a regime that could “connive in or organize” such a thing. But that same department was silent on the U.S. killing 4 years ago of just as many Afghan civilians, including 60 children, in Azizabad. A draft UN Security Council press statement did comment on the August 22, 2008 bombing that member nations “strongly deplore the fact that this is not the first incident of this kind” and that “the killing and maiming of civilians is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.” However, the crime wasn’t decried as a “massacre” by our foreign office which finds it easier to denounce indiscriminate attacks when the enemy du jour stands accused.
U.S. envoys weren’t thrown out of capital cities when Afghan villagers reported that between 70 and 100 civilians—including women and children—were killed May 5, 2009 by a U.S. raid against Bala Baluk. Our Foreign Service officers stayed comfy in their posts later that year when U.S. jets killed 99 Afghans when they bombed a pair of hijacked fuel tankers September 4.
U.S. ambassadors weren’t dismissed from Paris or Rome when U.S. jets attacked a wedding party on November 4, 2008 in Kandahar Province, killing up to 90 people and wounding 28. In July of that year, the U.S bombed another wedding party in Nangarhar leaving 47 civilians dead, including the bride. On July 4, 22 civilians were blown up when U.S. helicopters rocketed 2 vehicles in Nuristan.
I suppose it’s not too late for civilized governments around the world to suspend relations with the United States to protest the killing of as many as 170 civilians that died under the U.S.-led bombing of Helmand Province in June 2007 or the 21 civilians that were killed in the same area on May 9.
In October 2004, Human Rights Watch estimated that 100,000 Iraqis had been killed since the U.S. bombing and invasion started in 2003. The State Department neglected to condemn this mass destruction of civilians and the Pentagon responded to the report with an announcement that it did not keep a tally of civilian deaths.
The Security Council might have issued some mild censure when its own investigators confirmed in October 2001 that U.S. warplanes had destroyed a hospital in Western Afghanistan—a blatant violation, since hospital roofs are clearly identified.
Of course, U.S.bombardments of legally protected populations and civilian objects are always “accidental,” like when the Pentagon said its missiles had “mistakenly” killed nine civilians south of Baghdad on February 4, 2008. The same apologists regularly declare without irony that the U.S. Air Force is the finest and best equipped in the world.
Some will say the Syrian murders are far worse than “unavoidable wartime errors” because the government there is said to have attacked its own people. They will have to forgive the scoffing coming from descendants of enslaved African Americans, Native North American Indians, interned Japanese Americans, and the civilian victims of our human radiation experiments and nuclear bomb testing.
John LaForge is on the staff of Nukewatch and edits its Quarterly newsletter.