Tuesday, January 17, 2006

No Way to Make Bombing of Pakistani Village Right

Pakistan's ruling party got together yesterday and demanded an apology for a CIA airstrike that was designed to get Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, but instead killed at least 17 Pakistani civilians, including five children.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q condemned the U.S. airstrike on the tiny village of Damadola, near the Afghan border. America was apparently targeting al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahri and talk of the bad guy's death was the focal point of national news going into the weekend.

It now looks like al-Zawahri wasn't even in the neighborhood.

Although the U.S. government has not publicly acknowledged any responsibility for the attack, intelligence officials in Washington with knowledge of the operation said it was aimed at Zawahri and said they believed drone aircraft armed with missiles were used.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the Pakistani streets to protest and we Americans once again find ourselves in the position of looking little better than bin Laden himself and seemingly intent on making the world hate us more each day.

What makes this even more insane, is that this was an attack launched on the soil of our biggest supporter in the area and a country where the majority of the population already opposes Pakistan's involvement with U.S. anti-terror efforts in the region.

"They should try to work to improve their image," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Monday of U.S. activities. He also said that the U.S. has now “also created problems for this [Pakistani] government.”

There's the understatement of the new year.

I can feel the right-wing hate e-mails sailing toward my inbox already and especially with my statement above, where I question how much better than bin Laden we're looking to much of the world at this point.

But I'm going to have to stand by that one.

Osama bin Laden, with the help of George W. Bush, has already succeeded in turning America into a scared country, willing to trash the civil liberties on which our nation was founded in the interest of gaining the illusion of safety. How much does bin Laden really win if in our manic efforts to catch terrorists, we begin behaving like terrorists ourselves?

Not an apt comparison, you say?

One man in Damadola, Shah Zaman, lost all three of his children, two young sons and a daughter, in the bombing, which took out three homes, hundreds of yards apart and left craters 10 feet deep. Think about that one for a moment: three young children. And they are not presumably in a war zone -- unless we suddenly decided to declare hostilities with Pakistan as well over the weekend -- so the hawks among us can't even smirk and claim that "bad things happen in war."

Which means this attack is very much the same as Mexico blasting some houses in El Paso and killing 18 Americans to catch some guys on their most-wanted list. Yeah, I'm sure we would be real cool with that, wouldn't we?

Let's be clear: I want Osama bin Laden and his crew of murderers as much as anyone. I live in New York, knew people who died in the World Trade Center and – once military, always military – I join most Veterans in a fervent desire to see bin Laden caught and, if necessary, killed in the process. I also understand that as part of our agreement with Pakistan, U.S. troops based in Afghanistan are not allowed to cross the border in efforts to catch the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Frustrating to be sure, but no justification for us killing innocent children in a country that has only supported our efforts – unless, that is, you're cruel enough to buy the rationale that being the biggest kid on the block gives you the right to kill anyone you want, with no permission required. And what if Team Bush had decided to do the unthinkable (for them) and actually used diplomacy with our Pakistani allies before this attack? We might have gotten permission to send in Special Forces in a case like this, versus haphazardly dropping explosives on a rural village full of innocents.

I love my country, but that doesn't mean we're never mistaken or misguided. In this case, we are just flat-out wrong. Five little kids -- three from one family -- who were probably playing outside in their poverty-stricken hamlet on Friday morning, were incinerated by my country on Friday night.

And there's just no way in the world I can make that right.