Wednesday, September 16, 2009

War, Civilians, HRW and Hypocrisy

Loise at CiF Watch in her recent column about Antony Lerman has a link to a fascinating report on 60 Minutes from 2007. The video report is here, the text is here.

It's a report about American bombing in Afghanistan. It focuses on a case where American bombs killed 9 civilians while missing their intended target. No one in the report denies the facts.

The villagers tell how they hate the Americans, and think they're worse than the Soviets. You can see their perspective. The American airforce colonel who commands the hi-tech control center from which all air strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan are directed tells about the major efforts his experts make to limit innocent casualties, including aborting most potential attacks for fear of hitting civilians. He comes across as sincere, and I have no doubt he's telling the truth. Afghanistani President Karzai tells that he understands the Americans have no intention of killing civilians, and he's convinced that when they do so it is always by mistake; yet he insists the American way of waging war is totally counterproductive. He has me convinced. (The report was in 2007, and this year the Americans have begun making a strong effort to reduce civilian casualties - with limited success, if the stories of this week are any indication).

So far, so banal. War is hell, and it's complicated hell, and sometimes the alternatives are far worse, and you have to work unceasingly on making it a bit less hellish, and you'll never fully succeed. I've covered this ground umpteen times, and you've got my message already. The true gem-aspect of the report is when they talk to Marc Garlasco.

Yes, that Marc Garlasco. He of Human Rights Watch; he of the Nazi memorabilia fetish. The Marc Garlasco who worked for the Pentagon until 2003.

Well, apparently he wasn't merely an employee of the Pentagon, the one who distributed tea to all the more important folks. He was one of the top experts who determined who got bombed from the air and under what conditions. If we believe him - and I don't see why not to - the Americans have (or at any rate, had) a scale of acceptable collateral damage: 29 dead civilians for one important enemy is acceptable; for 30 or more you need authorization from the Secretary of Defense or even the President.

These are of course estimates. It might happen that an attack would be undertaken with the expectation of 25 dead civilians, but then something would go awry and there would be 50; things like that can happen at war.

So the 60-minutes fellow, Scott Pelley, asks Garlasco how many such attacks he set in motion, and what were the resulting numbers. 50 attacks, says Garlasco. How many targets achieved? None. None of the top Iraqis were actually killed. How many Iraqi civilains died in the attacks you set in motion? "A couple of hundred civilians at least", says Garlasco.

Not 213, say, or 304. Garlasco has no accurate number, and anyway, it's only numbers for him, not people. Pelley looks shocked, so Garlasco defends himself and the military he was part of:
"I don't think people really appreciate the gymnastics that the U.S. military
goes through in order to make sure that they're not killing civilians," Garlasco
points out."If so much care is being taken why are so many civilians getting
killed?" Pelley asks."Because the Taliban are violating international law,” says
Garlasco, “and because the U.S. just doesn't have enough troops on the ground.
You have the Taliban shielding in people's homes. And you have this small number
of troops on the ground. And sometimes the only thing they can do is drop

As I've said repeatedly, I think the American war in Afghanistan is just, and I think the Germans are hypocrites for participating only on the edge and only where it's percieved (falsely) to be safe. I also think no-one in ISAF is thinking enough about keeping civilian casualties to their utmost minimum, though General McChrystal seems to be trying, and this is important. I've also repeatedly said the American (and UK, and German, and other) public is not thinking this through to the degree I think they should be, and nothing remotely like what we do in our wars.

Having said all that, I've never seen a degree of hypocrisy as extreme at that of Marc Garlaso, he who pontificates for HRW on Israel. It is truly breathtaking.


Anonymous said...


Didn't you once write something like that if the cause is perceived as just, it doesn't matter (to supporters) how callously the war is waged, and if the cause is perceived as injust, it doesn't matter (to opposers) how carefully the war is waged?


Anonymous said...

Two other interesting facts about Garlasco's work. Take a look at the 2003 HRW report he co-authored ("Off Target"), on the conduct of the US war in Iraq. Among other things, he discusses at length the 50 attacks he personally recommended while at the Pentagon, but, as far as I could tell, **does this without mentioning his personal involvement in planning them**. Seems very problematic, to say the least.

Also take a look at the "recommendations" in his reports on the US/Nato versus his "recommendations" in his Israel reports. Despite the fact that they discuss very similar issues and dilemmas, his tone vis-a-vis the US is much, much softer. When it comes to Israel, he talks of severe violations of international law, and the need for prosecutions. When it comes to the US, he takes care to note how careful the US military is to prevent civilian casualties, and merely calls upon the army to reevaluate certain procedures, etc. Hmmmm, I wonder: If the US were to prosecute individuals responsible for disproportionate civilian casualties the way he wants Israel to, what would that mean for him personally?

Morey Altman said...

I'm speechless.

Not a problem, though. I can still blog. ;)

Anonymous said...

Mr. Lozowick,
just noticed has a typo in the listing of Israels Existenzkampf. therefore their "google" doens't find it (Israles)

Anonymous said...

As expected.

AKUS said...

The text version of the CBS video leaves out the most critical part of Garlasco's comments on camera which describe his involvement in the selection of targets:

"But he says none of the targets on the list were actually killed. Instead, he says, 'a couple of hundred civilians at least' were killed."".

No Goldstone commission for Garlasco!! The casual killing of "at least" 200 civilians will not be investigated - because this time they can't pin it on Israel.