In May 2014, The Huffington Post reported that five years of U.S. drone strikes have resulted in the deaths of 2,400 people, with about one third of those civilians (“The Toll of 5 Years of Drone Strikes: 2,400 Dead,” January 23, 2014). Simple addition would necessarily result in an increase of those numbers one year later. Half a world away, on Monday, January 5, the trial (the jury selection phase) of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will begin in Boston (despite a failed attempt to have the trial venue changed) for allegedly planting bombs, along with his late brother, Tamerlan, near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon that killed three and injured more than 260 people (“In Search of a Boston Jury to Try Marathon Suspect,” The New York Times, January 4, 2015).
Is there any difference between the murder of innocent people by drones thousands of miles away from the remote control centers in the U.S. and the calculated murder and injury of hundreds of people in a place near where the alleged perpetrators of the Marathon bombings lived, worked, and went to school?
I asked a Boston Marathon runner what she thought about the fate of the surviving Tsarnaev brother, Dzhokhar, and she was quick to respond. She said that while she was an opponent of the death penalty, in this case her emotions and attachment to the Marathon were so personal that she believed that Tsarnaev brother, Dzhokhar, should be executed by the government following his trial.
The justifications for the murder, torture, and injuring of civilians in times of war long predates the so-called War on Terror that began in earnest after the attacks of September 11, 2001. These justifications make a complete mockery of thousands of years of the development of the laws/rules of war that began with Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo, both seen as saints by the Catholic Church, and were refined after the mass murder of millions of civilians during World War II. That war saw the murder of civilians in fire bombings, atomic bombings and other aerial bombings, concentration camps, and in mass terror shootings of noncombatants for which the Nazi war machine was notorious. Concepts such as proportionality in war and the sanctity of civilian and innocent life were encoded in the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Conventions, the Nuremberg Principles, the Charter of the United Nations, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, and in the domestic, international, and military laws of a host of nations. However, those laws were dealt a near-fatal blow following the end of the Cold War. These rules of war governed when a nation could go to war and how war was to be waged. Over thirteen years of war in Afghanistan (when a police action could have apprehended Osama bin Laden and his fellow conspirators) would never have been justified by the rules of war. Attacking an entire nation(s), or civilians working in office towers would never meet the requirements of the rules of war.
Two comments made following the September 2001 attacks typified the “anything goes” mode of warfare now incorporated in every attack and counterattack by nations and individuals. According to the surviving Tsarnaev brother, Dzhokhar, “We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all.” The latter was left written in the boat in which the younger Tsarnaev hid until he was captured by the police. According to that line of thinking, an innocent child watching at finish line of the Boston Marathon has hurt all Muslims since he or she was part of a nation conducting the War on Terror.
When former U.S. President George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001, he stated that “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” According to that line of thinking, if a person took part in a wedding celebration that had been wrongly targeted by weaponized drones, then being swept up in this massive dragnet of targeting is perfectly legal and not in conflict with the established rules of war set forth in international and national laws. You are either with us or against us!
In Boston, in Syria, in the Palestinian territories, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Yemen, to name just a few nations and places, civilians have been relegated to the status of being “collateral damage” and not human beings deserving of the absolute protections of the rules of war during times of war!
The result of endless warfare is exactly how Mahatma Gandhi viewed the endless cycle of retribution: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.