Saturday, January 21, 2006

FROM MUNICH TO DAMADOLA

Item 1. In a December, 2005 article "Up in the Air" in The New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/051205fa_fact), journalist Seymour Hersh discussed the future of the US war in Iraq. Based on extensive interviews with government/pentagon and other sources, Hersh described how US ground troops would be withdrawn starting in 2006, and US air strikes would be increased. These air strikes, aimed at targets identified by US or Iraqi ground sources, would be carried out by both manned and un-manned aircraft.

Item 2. The Steven Spielberg film "Munich" is a chilling look at the part of the spy game focused on assassination, in this case the Israeli retaliations targeting leaders of the Black September group who were responsible for planning the abduction and murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. This is a purposely brutal film that raises a number of important questions about government policy that are very relevant to the "war on terrorism" being waged today. Assassination is not as straight forward as it might seem, we find in the film. How do we know who the "enemy" really is? What do we do about innocent people killed along with the target? Is our cause more just than theirs? How are the agents of other governments, including our "friends" involved, and for what political reasons? Do our retaliatory actions result in more retaliations by the enemy? And in the end, does the elimination of enemy individuals do any good, or are they merely replaced by others who are as bad or worse, and their deaths result in more recruits to their cause?

Item 3. On January 13, 2006, the U.S. CIA, using an un-manned aircraft, destroyed one or more houses in the village of Damadola, Pakistan. The target was Ayman al-Zavahiri, the number 2 leader of al-Qaida. Initial reports were that no al-Qaida were killed, but that members of a family, including women and children, were the victims. A confusing series of news reports followed:

January 18 - 4 or 5 "foreign militants" were killed in the raid (source: the provincial government)
January 19 - 2 senior members of Al Qaeda and the son-in-law of al-Zawahiri were killed (source: two Pakistani officials)
January 20 - there is "no tangible evidence" that al-Qaida operatives were killed (source: the Prime Minister of Pakistan)

The CIA has no comment. Other US officials, however, were trotted out and had things to say:

"We apologize, but I can't tell you that we wouldn't do the same thing again. We have to do what we think is necessary to take out al-Qaida, particularly the top operatives." (Sen. John McCain)

"It's a regrettable situation, but what else are we supposed to do?" (Sen. Evan Bayh)

In other words, we'll just keep doing what we do, and if innocent people are in the way, we'll apologize, say it's regrettable, and that's that!

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This is not a new issue; clandestine operations to eliminate specific "targets" have gone on throughout history. But that doesn't make it right. Just as it can be argued (and is, by many experts) that torture is not an effective interrogation method, so can it be argued (and it is) that assassination is not an effective method to fight terrorism.

And what constitutes "terrorism" anyway? If the U.S. drops bombs on a village and kills a bunch of civilians, thus terrorizing the local population, does this fit the definition? Now before you jump all over me on this one, try googling "define terrorism." Spend a few minutes reading a variety of cites - and I'm sure you'll see, as I did, that the definition of terrorism depends on who is defining it.

I hope this posting is food for thought. Do we, citizens of the United States, support state-sponsored assassination? Is it OK to drop bombs on villages, in our name, and brush off the deaths of innocent people with simple platitudes and shoulder shrugs? Will we easily condone the continuation of the Bush war in Iraq as an air war, in which bombs and missles are dropped/flown into houses because someone thinks an evil-doer might be inside?

Think about it.

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