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The US Has No Rules for Cluster Bombs

Bombing Without Regrets

by DAVE LINDORFF

Here’s a headline you won’t see in your local paper:

"U.S. Accused of Using Cluster Weapons Against Civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan"

We all saw the headline about the State Department investigating Israel’s use of US-made cluster weapons in Lebanon, because they had been dropping these deadly and indiscriminate munitions in civilian areas of southern Lebanon, with the prospect of killing large numbers of non-combatants including children. This allegedly violated restrictions placed by the U.S. on how the weapons could be used by the Israeli Defense Force.

It turns out, though, that there are no such restrictions on how these same munitions can be–and are being–used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

According to a number of sources including military documents and reports from organizations like Human Rights Watch, the U.S., which has refused to sign an international treaty that outlaws cluster weapons, does not even restrict the use of cluster weapons in urban or populated areas. Army and Air force generals have blocked efforts to ban cluster weapons where there are large numbers of civilians present, claiming such a restriction would just lead enemy combatants to locate themselves among civilians.

Well, duh!

Their argument could pretty much be used to oppose restrictions on any kind of weapon in civilian areas. And guess what? That pretty much is the way the U.S. wages war: The hell with civilians! If they happen to be in the way when we drop our bombs, so much the worse for them.

In fact, back in early 2003, when the Australian government agreed to send some troops to join Bush’s "Coalition of the Willing" in Iraq, it first had first to assure the troops and the people of Australia that Australian soldiers would not participate in American actions that involved the laying of mines or the use of cluster weapons.

Shock and Awe, the initial aerial bombardment of Baghdad and other cities of Iraq at the start of the U.S. invasion, reportedly led to tens of thousands of civilian casualties, and one reason was the heavy and indiscriminate use of cluster weapons, which disperse hundreds of little fragmentation bombs over a wide area, many of which explode when a person disturbs them. The Christian Science Monitor, which investigated civilian deaths in the first year of the Iraq War, found that the U.S. was killing Iraqi civilians at the astonishing rate of 30 for every enemy fighter. That’s a civilian slaughter that would have made even Hitler’s SS envious. One reason for this high "collateral damage" kill rate was almost certainly the use of cluster weapons, some of which spread hundreds of their little bomblets over a 20-acre area, with between 5-30 percent of these secondary weapons failing to explode on impact.

There are a number of reports suggesting that the U.S. used cluster weapons extensively later on in carpet bombings that preceded assaults on Al-Qiam, Ramadi, Tal Afar and of course Fallujah, all cities where the civilian casualties were horrific.

So where is the outcry against this criminal U.S. use of cluster weapons? Most Americans don’t even know about it. The media have largely blacked the story out. The Pentagon won’t talk about it. When Agence France Presse back in April 2003 ran photos of US cluster weapons stockpiled for use in Iraq, no major media outlet in the US picked them up. The only report on cluster weapons at the time in Amnerica came from CNN reporter Peter Arnett. But of course, the Iraqis and the Afghanis know all about it.

It seems particularly inappropriate for the U.S. to be using such munitions in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, where we are supposedly there to help the people of the country against alleged "terrorist" forces within their borders. Killing the people of the country you are "helping" would seem to be operating at cross-purposes. But it does explain why every time there is some "mistake" reported, where the U.S. bombs a wedding or an innocent town square, the death toll is so astoundingly high.

It also helps explain why the resistance forces in both countries seem to keep getting stronger, even as we keep killing them at a prodigious rate. Cluster weapons, besides killing lots of civilians, also inevitably make lots of enemies.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book is "The Case for Impeachment",
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@yahoo.com