Friday, January 20, 2006

Terrorist Deaths Do Not Justify Pakistani Bombing

As of this moment, Pakistani intelligence has confirmed that some of the foreign militants killed in the CIA air strike on Damadola, Pakistan included an al Qaeda explosives and chemical weapons expert and a relative of Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahri.

Officials in Pakistan say that Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, a suspected al Qaeda master bomb maker with a $5 million bounty on his head and Abdul Rehman al-Maghribi, a Moroccan and relative of al-Zawahri, were believed killed in the attack last week.

The bombing also killed 18 civilians, including at least five children.

The news that the air strikes may have killed some al Qaeda members has caused many conservatives to jump for joy and claim vindication in the face of people like me, who maintained initially that the bombing was wrong in its entirety. I've even seen some normally-sensible liberal bloggers suggest that ringing up some terrorist body-count numbers changes the complexion of this story and somehow mitigates the taking of innocent lives.

What's a bunch of Pakistani peasants killed if it serves U.S. interests, right?

They're all wrong and they all miss the point in using such an oversimplified, ends-justifies-the-means rationale.

What if the United States hypothetically got both Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri in the Pakistani bombing? Does that make it acceptable that five young children were incinerated in the process? And just what right does the U.S. have to kill innocent people in another country to satisfy our need for justice and retribution?

Of course, when you express a viewpoint like this, you run the risk of being called a terrorist lover and worse, but I will continue to raise serious questions about my country making life-or-death determinations on another nation's civilians to suit our needs.

And where does it stop? I don't think I've met an American of any political stripe who wouldn't pull the trigger themselves to see Osama bin Laden dead, so let's just stipulate for the record that we all hate this guy. But what if we could confirm that, at some precise hour, bin Laden would be dining at the Kabul Burger King, but knew that a strike guaranteed to kill him would also murder at least 100 Afghan children? Would we do it? Would the loss of other people's children be considered appropriate to satiate our national pain and rage? While it's a grotesque scenario, many people today seem to be answering that question affirmatively.

What too many talking heads, bloggers and pundits will put forth over the next couple of days is the notion that we gotta do what we gotta do, implying that America has the inherent right to put a price tag we deem reasonable on the lives of others.

We don't, of course, and, while I understand that there are no easy answers to situations like this, I know in my gut that the U.S. arbitrarily passing death sentences on innocent people to satisfy our own policy goals doesn't pass the moral and ethical smell test.

But, there's also no question that, if our intelligence was really that good – and it appears that it was indeed – we needed to act and do something to nab or kill these guys. I just don't accept that blowing the hell out of this village was the only way to accomplish that. We have incredibly skilled Special Forces troops and I'm convinced that some diplomacy with Pakistan could have earned permission to go in more surgically and get the bad guys without so much collateral loss of life.

To my fellow Veterans who will write to me and gently (or harshly) explain the number of ground troops and the untenable extent of planning that would be required for such a mission, I say this: Bull. Our military people train constantly for something like this and would jump at the chance to quickly mobilize and attempt to grab such high-yield targets.

And don't even bother telling me we don't have the manpower on the Afghan-Pakistani border to perform a mission like that. We're supposed to be fighting a war on terror, aren't we? I think there's about 150,000 troops in Iraq right now who would love the opportunity to go after some of the people who actually attacked our country.

Finally, as I said in my original piece on this subject, I can't get around the feeling that Americans somehow believe we have the right to commit actions against other countries that we would consider acts of war if done to us.

If, for example, the Mexican government decided to firebomb a city block in El Paso with the justification that they had to do it to kill their version of Osama bin Laden, I can guarantee that the average American would not be understanding and forgiving.

And I would bet that such a strike yielding a successful terrorist kill for them would bring Americans about as much comfort as the Pakistani people must be feeling right now.