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Dear Elga and List, <Unfortunately puppet NGOs, such as HRW, are rarely challenged. But a critical look at their records and motives might make people less gullible.> In 1991, Middle East Watch published a report “Needless Deaths in the Gulf War” in which it assessed the Gulf War. Norman Finkelstein challenged that report in a very critical article "Watching Rights, Wrongly". I am posting this article here, with permission from Mr. Finkelstein. I must apologize for the missing footnotes, but that should not affect the value of the article. Best HZ ----------------------------------------- Watching Rights, Wrongly Norman Finkelstein "Who will guard the guardians?" -- Juvenal Middle East Watch's Needless Deaths in the Gulf War is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the Gulf "war" in light of the laws of armed conflict. To be sure, MEW understands the scope of its mandate to include only civilian casualties and damage done to civilian objects. The reader will have to look elsewhere for a legal assessment of military casualties (and the damage wrought on the natural environment). We do learn, however, that the "allied coalition" suffered "mercifully few" casualties. MEW does not editorialize on or, for that matter, even allude to the Iraqi soldiers killed. The report's assessment generally conforms with the picture presented by the mainstream media. It will also undoubtedly sit well with the Bush/Clinton Administration and the Pentagon. The "allied" bombing campaign, we are told, was "in many if not most respects… consistent with [its] stated intent to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties." At worst, the laws of war "appear" to have been violated only in "some instances." Iraq's missile attacks, by contrast, are repeatedly scored as "flatly violat[ing]", and "serious" and "blatant" violations of "humanitarian law". These conclusions, even if valid, would still require two crucial caveats. In the first place, they no more prove the virtue of the "allied coalition" than they do the iniquity of the Iraqi regime. Given the vast preponderance of force at the disposal of the "allies", they were never -- in the words of MEW--"driven by urgent military imperatives to take steps that might have imposed greater risk on civilians." Contrariwise, Iraq's recourse to terrorism was the predictable –if deplorable- reaction of an absurdly outclassed belligerent. Second, these conclusions are strictly relative to the total force brought to bear by each of the two sides. For example, MEW puts the number of Iraqi civilian casualties of the US-led offensive between 2,500 and 3,000. Combined Israeli and Saudi civilian casualties of the Scud missile attacks, by contrast, are put in the low teens. I will have much more to say about these figures, and civilian damage generally, further on. For the moment, however, I would want to stress that, even by MEW's reckoning, the "allies" were, by a wide margin, the principal absolute violator of humanitarian law. This fact is easily missed, especially given MEW's wildly skewed depiction of Iraq as a full-fledged, if less-than-exactly matched, belligerent in the Gulf "war", a point to which I will also return presently. Yet one of MEW's central contentions is plainly invalid. It is not true that the "allied coalition" generally adhered to the laws of war during the Gulf conflict. At any rate, the evidence presented in Needless Deaths does not sustain such a conclusion. Rather, judging by the material MEW assembles, one is forced to conclude that US violations of humanitarian law were staggering in breadth as well as depth. I want to argue that MEW reaches its own apologetic conclusions by applying to the "allies" and Iraq a double standard. Specifically, in the two basic areas of humanitarian law examined by MEW --"means and methods of attacks" and "objects attacked"—Iraq is held to an unusually stringent standard and the "allied coalition" to an unusually lax one. Indeed I will argue that a double standard permeates virtually every facet of the report. "Means and methods of attack" refers, iner alia, to the scheduling of attacks and the types of weapons deployed. Both the "allied coalition" and Iraq, for instance, are faulted for attacking targets at times of day that tended to maximize civilian casualties. Here I want to focus, however, on the matter of weaponry used. MEW observes that humanitarian law prohibits the deployment of weapons that "do not have the technological capability to distinguish between civilian objects and military targets in populated civilian areas". Accordingly, it condemns Iraq's use of the highly inaccurate Scud missile against urban areas in Israel and Saudi Arabia. Iraq was not alone in deploying indiscriminate weapons in urban areas, however. For, contrary to official (and mainstream media) pretenses, precision-guided or "smart" bombs accounted for only 7,400 tons (or 8.8 percent) of the approximately 84,200 tons of ordnance dropped by the "allies" on Iraq and Kuwait. "Dumb" bombs, which had an accuracy rate of only 25 percent, thus accounted for fully 76,000 tons (or more than 90 percent) of the ordnance used. Furthermore, MEW observes that "some of these precision munitions reportedly were used against Iraqi military targets in the Kuwaiti theatre of operations, away from any civilian population, leaving an even smaller percentage for use in populated areas." MEW deems a "key" and "critical" question "what percent of the total number of targets located in proximity to civilian areas were executed with dumb bombs?". It goes on to say that "in the absence of additional information from the Pentagon on this subject, it is impossible to assess the allies' compliance with the laws of war in this respect." To be sure, circumstantial evidence more than suggest that, in cities like Basra (where the "allies" were less constrained by potentially adverse publicity since few reporters ventured outside Baghdad), the use of indiscriminate weaponry was widespread indeed. In any event, MEW's overall conclusion that the "allies" generally adhered to the laws of war would, in light of the above admission, appear to be very premature at best. One further observation is in order. There is evidently no objective measure to judge whether or not a weapon is "discriminate." MEW effectively uses state-of-the-art weaponry as its standard. But such a measure bars all but the most technologically advanced powers from engaging targets in urban areas. Thus, MEW even condemns Iraq for a Scud attack that struck a legitimate military site in Saudi Arabia's capital city of Riyadh, since "the direct hit does not alter the indiscriminate nature of the weapon used." In effect, the weaker party to the conflict is placed at yet a further –nay, an impossible- disadvantage. MEW does not acknowledge such a bias in its interpretation of humanitarian law, however, it pretends to apply an objective and neutral standard. Finally, in extenuation of the "allied coalition's" extensive recourse to indiscriminate weapons, MEW notes that "cost and availability" were "factors in the preference for dumb bombs." No such concession is granted in the case of Iraq, however, where it would seem to apply with considerably greater force. The laws of war also put definite limits on legitimate targets of attack. They proscribe the targeting of civilians and civilian objects to achieve a political objective. No object indispensable for the sustenance of the civilian population can be targeted. An object qualifies as a legitimate target only if it contributes effectively to the enemy's military action and its destruction offers a definite military advantage. Where attacks on legitimate military targets unavoidably involve the loss of civilian life and/or damage to civilian objects, humanitarian law requires that the hard done not be excessive relative to the military objective. On the other hand, no attack on a legitimate military target can justify extensive civilian losses and damages. Accordingly, MEW condemns Iraq for directing missiles at Israeli and Saudi civilian targets "with a deliberate desire to cause as much civilian damage and suffering as possible" and "terrorize the civilian population." One "purpose of Iraq's attacks", according to MEW, "was unquestionably to goad Israeli forces into actively joining the conflict and, thereby, split the Arab members of the coalition". It thereby "flatly violate[d]" the humanitarian law prohibition on targeting civilians to achieve a political objective. Consider now the US and its "allies." They are taken to task (if perhaps in more cautious language) for targeting civilian vehicles on highways in Iraq and the destruction of a post office and bus station here and a residential dwelling and bank there (cf. esp. chapter 5, "The View from the Ground: Eyewitness Accounts of Civilian Casualties and damage"). It is apparently on the basis of these incidents (and the Ameriyya air raid shelter which left 200-300 civilians dead; cf. 128-47) that MEW computed Iraqi civilian deaths at between 2,500-3,000 and concluded that the "allied coalition" adhered – save in "some instances" – to the laws of war. Yet, reprehensible as these violations of humanitarian law were, they paled beside the methodical and intentional devastation of Iraq's critical civilian infrastructure and the concomitant (and predictable) massive destruction of civilian life. MEW does document these colossal violations of the laws of war but, inexplicably, ignores them in the report's central conclusions. In effect, MEW disregards the major human rights crimes and focuses instead on relatively minor infractions of humanitarian law. The result is a near-total whitewash of the US administration and the Pentagon. The "allied" assault wrought, in the now famous words of the United Nation's mission that visited Iraq in March 1991, near-apocalyptic results upon the economic infrastructure of what had been, until January 1991, a rather highly urbanized and mechanized society. Now, most means of modern life support have been destroyed or rendered tenuous. Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology. Food, agricultural and water-treatment facilities were destroyed, in violation of the laws of war which protect objects necessary for the survival of the civilian population. Crucially, the Iraqi electricity generating system was crippled. By the end of the war only two of Iraq's 20 electrical plants were functioning, generating less than four percent of the pre-war output. This destruction had –in MEW's words – "devastating" consequences for the civilian population, since Iraq was "reliant on electrical power for essential services such as water purification and distribution, sewage removal and treatment, the operation of hospitals and medical laboratories, and agricultural production." True, the Iraqi electrical system was an integrated grid; but it still did not constitute a legitimate military target. In the first place, MEW argues persuasively that the electrical plants probably did not contribute effectively to Iraq's military action and their destruction probably did not offer a definite military advantage to the "allies". A second and decisive consideration is that no object can be targeted if its destruction would result in the massive loss of life. And, to judge by the evidence cited by MEW, the human misery caused by the devastation of Iraq's civilian infrastructure was massive indeed. A UNICEF representative in Iraq noted in late May that the "vicious circle" of poor hygiene, contaminated water and poor diet left about 100,000 Iraqi children under one year of age susceptible to diarrhea and dehydration. A Harvard Medical Team which visited Iraq at roughly the same time estimated that some 170,000 children under the age of five would die in the coming year from gastroenteritis, cholera, typhoid and malnutrition as a result of the "allied" assault – in particular, "the destruction of electrical generating plants.. and the consequent failure of water purification and sewage treatment systems." (It is one of the singular oddities of Needless Deaths that, in a report that is nothing if not tediously redundant—e.g., the same quotes are cited over and over again—the extraordinary UNICEF and Harvard figures are each mentioned only once and almost in passing. Next to them, incidentally, the 200-300 deaths resulting from the attack on the Ameriyya shelter – deemed by MEW the "most tragic" civilian disaster of the war and accordingly examined in minute detail—do not even amount to a blip on the screen). What is more, the human catastrophe was predictable. Indeed, it was premeditated. MEW reports that the "grave" repercussions for civilian health of targeting the power source for water, sewer, and refuse disposal facilities were documented in "meticulous detail" in the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of Germany and Japan during World War II. Thus, US military planners of the air war should have "readily anticipated" the calamity that ensued in Iraq. And it was anticipated, eagerly. The point was to inflict so much human torment that Saddam would be forced from power or placed at the mercies of the US. For example, MEW reports that "US Air Force officials involved in planning the war have indicated that one purpose of destroying the electrical system was to harm civilians and thus encourage them to overthrow Saddam Hussein." It cites one Air Force planner's statement to the Washington Post that the targeting of the plants was intended to send a message to the Iraqi people: "We're not going to tolerate Saddam Hussein or his regime. Fix that, and we'll fix your electricity." I do not see how the above passages from Needless Deaths can be reconciled with MEW's main conclusion. The most essential Iraqi civilian infrastructure was comprehensively destroyed. The predictable result was -- and continues to be-- massive destruction of Iraqi civilian life. The avowed purpose of this devastation of Iraqi civilians and civilian objects was to achieve the political objective of unseating Saddam or forcing him to comply with American dictat. In each instance, the "allies" were guilty of an egregious violation of humanitarian law. Indeed, consider MEW's observation that, " [i]nsofar as the civilian population is concerned, it makes little or no difference whether [a civilian facility] is attacked and destroyed, or is made inoperable by the destruction of the electrical plant supplying it power. In either case, civilians suffer the same effects – they are denied the use of a public utility indispensable for their survival." MEW thus conceded that the "allies" effectively bombed hospitals and sewage treatment and water purification plants, which are the kinds of war crimes that would have led to hanging at Nuremberg. Yet MEW concludes that the "allied" bombing campaign was "in many if not most respects… consistent with [its] stated intent to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties" and that the laws of war "appear" to have been violated only in "some instances." The same double standard that on the one hand indicts Iraq for "flatly violat[ing]"and "serious" and "blatant" violations of humanitarian law, and, on the other, condemns the "allies" merely for transgressions in "some instances" of it, informs every aspect of Needless Deaths. Here I will recount several typical examples: (1) MEW is not averse to divining the most malevolent motives behind Iraqi conduct during the Gulf "war". Thus the "obvious reason" of avoiding "allied" aerial surveillance does not, for MEW, sufficiently explain Iraq's decision to fire the Scuds at night. It darkly speculates that, since the targeted Israeli residential neighborhoods were most populated after dusk, Iraq "may also" have launched nighttime attacks to maximize casualties. Likewise, it speculates that the Scuds were aimed with "care" ("in particular") at Jewish civilians in Israel, since many missiles hit Tel Aviv but none the largely Arab populated municipality of Jafo one kilometer to the south. Yet, MEW then condemns the Scud as wildly inaccurate "since 50 percent of the missiles would not come within even one kilometer of the target." MEW also speculates in the case of the "allies" – but in the opposite direction. Thus it reports an "allied" attack on an "isolated" Bedouin encampment (the nearest highway was 60 miles, the nearest military installation 70 miles and the nearest town 100 miles away) that left 14 civilians dead. This would seem to have been a clear-cut case of an indiscriminate attack on Iraqi civilians. Not so. For – "although it is difficult to understand how it reasonably could be expected" that Iraqi mobile missile-launchers and accompanying vehicles "could travel easily over desert roads so distant from major highways" – MEW "assumes" that the attacking aircraft "were seeking to destroy concealed" Scuds in the Bedouin tents. Consider, finally Israel. MEW notes in passing that, in the case of each Scud missile that landed in the West Bank, Patriot missiles were "not fired." Such a remarkable coincidence verily begs for speculation. (Recall, incidentally, that, under international law, Israel, as the occupying power, is duty-bound to "take all the measures in its power" to "ensure as far as possible" the safety of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza). None is forthcoming, however. MEW simply reports with comment that the IDF "was said to be investigating" what happened. (2) Iraq is repeatedly condemned by MEW for "terrorism" against a civilian population because of the press releases filled with "utterly ghoulish language" that it issued after each Scud missile attack. I will leave it to one side the aptness of characterizing the ex post facto description of a missile attack – however "ghoulish" – as terrorism. The larger question is why MEW didn't also condemn the "allied coalition", which caused the massive destruction of civilian life to achieve a political objective, for "terrorism"? Rather, the worst MEW accuses it of in this regard is targeting "civilian morale." Earlier on, MEW observes: "Although technically there may be a distinction between morale and terror bombing, they are, in practice, treated the same. It has often been observed that what is morale bombing to the attacking force is terror bombing to the civilians who are targeted." Revealingly, in its assessment of Iraq ("terrorism"), MEW takes the perspective of the "civilians who are targeted", whereas in its assessment of the "allies" ("morale bombing"), it takes the perspective of the "attacking force." On a related matter, Iraqi press statements are typically dismissed by MEW as "an outpouring of rhetoric", "rhetorical bravado","propaganda", "bombast" "a flourish of characteristic rhetoric" etc., designed, inter alia, for the consumption of the "Arab masses." Yet, such charged language is never used to characterize "allied" press statements. The closest MEW comes is an occasional reference to "elaborately rehearsed military briefings" or the Bush Administration's "carefully constructed image of perfection" or a Pentagon report that "misleadingly reinforces the impression that…" Consider, however, the following typical quotations chosen at random from Needless Deaths: We are doing absolutely everything we possibly can in this campaign to avoid injuring or hurting or destroying innocent people. -- General Schwarzkopf, January 18 We're being very, very careful in our direction of attacks to avoid damage of any kind to civilian installations. -- General Schwarzkopf, January 27 I think I should point out right here that we never had any intention of destroying all of Iraqi electrical power. -- General Schwarzkopf, January 30 We are doing everything possible and with great success to minimize collateral damage. – President Bush, February 5 We are going to such great lengths to target military facilities and military installations and to not try to do any damage to civilian targets. – House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, February 11 Our pilots, I would stress, go to extraordinary lengths to try to avoid civilian damage. In most cases they've been very, very successful. – US Brig. General Richard Neal on the bombing of Basra, 11 February We know this to be a military command-and-control facility and targeted it for that reason… We targeted it, we bombed it very accurately, we bombed a building that had barbed wire around it, not an indication of a bomb shelter. We bombed a building that had a camouflage roof pained on it for whatever reason, again, [it] didn't look like a bomb shelter. –Lt. General Thomas Kelly of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the bombing of the Ameriyya air raid shelter, February 13 Each of these statements is flatly contradicted by the evidence compiled in Needless Deaths. Why, then, didn't MEW dismiss them as "propaganda", etc... designed for public consumption? Indeed, had MEW attended at all to the real meanings of words, it would not even have labeled them as "propaganda", etc., but simply as lies – and flagrant ones at that. (3) Not only does MEW refrain from plainly denouncing the Bush Administration lies, it sustains the Administration's central myth that what unfolded in the Gulf between 17 January and 28 February was a "war. Consider the statistics in the table. Military casualties: allied coalition/ 350 Iraq/70,000-115,000 Civilian casualties: allied coalition/14 Iraq/72,500-93,000 Damage to civilian objects: allied coalition/$50-150 million Iraq/ $20-200 billion Tonnage of ordnance dropped: allied coalition/84,200 Iraq/20 Notwithstanding this wildly imbalanced balance sheet, MEW manages to devote almost a third -- 100 pages —of its report findings on the Gulf "war" to the Iraqi missile attacks. The wonder is that it was able to fill all this space. It does so by, among other things, devoting page after page to the copious documentation of Scud attacks that caused "no casualties or damage." Indeed, one page is even given over to a Scud "attack" that apparently never happened! Had MEW been at equal pains to document the results of the 84,200 tons of ordnance dropped by the "allies", Needless Deaths would have filled out not several hundred but several hundred thousand pages. As it is, Needless Deaths perpetuates the central Bush Administration myth that Iraq was a full-fledged, if perhaps less-than-exactly matched, belligerent. The truth is that what unfolded in the Gulf between 17 January and 28 February was not all a "war" but, as several commentators have honestly observed, a "slaughter." Its core – the systematic destruction of Iraq's essential civilian infrastructure – was a "form of biological warfare, designed to ensure long-term suffering and death among civilians so that the US would be in a good position to attain its political goals for the region" (Noam Chomsky). One would not understand any of this reading Needless Deaths. __________________________________ Do you Yahoo!? Yahoo! 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