With war comes death. Most typically thought of are militant casualties and desperately avoided are civilian casualties but as war continues to evolve into a more messy form of itself, especially in the Middle East, civilian casualties are majorly on the rise since the start of this particular war.
A story NPR recently aired can be quoted, saying, “At a time when civilian casualties in general are on the rise, the deadliest single attack in Yemen since the conflict began in March occurred Monday near the western port city of Mokha. At least 130 civilians were killed, mostly women and children, says Hassan Boucenine, Yemen country director for Doctors Without Borders.”
“The bombing by U.S. forces of a Doctors without Borders hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz, which left at least 22 people dead, has caused outrage and raised questions around the world.” said CNN on the topic of a fairly recent bombing in Afghanistan.
With this bombing, the UN has stated that a full investigation will take place on the events that tragically unfolded. The question is whether or not the action taken, mistaken or not, was a full-fledged war crime under the Geneva Convention. International humanitarian law, as laid out most explicitly in the Geneva Convention, states that civilian populations, prisoners of war, and medical facilities will be treated fairly and not fired upon. There are any number of stories from either World War when hospital boats were raided, searched for weapons, and then left alone. Many American boats would provide medical attention to German prisoners.
With these most recent events, new questions are being asked whether the United States’ actions constitute as a war crime or not.
“Dworkin says he believes that in this case, the United States would not be found guilty of committing a war crime because although armies are forbidden from conducting indiscriminate attacks, “the laws do recognize that mistakes happen in the fog of war.” CNN continues.
But when it comes down to the continuing perpetration of civilian death and mistaken attacks, can the “fog of war” be the scapegoat every time?
The US isn’t the only one responsible for attacks that resulted in civilian death. Russia has been surrounded in a cloud recently in its ongoing war with the rebel group ISIS and their backing of Assad.
The Lebanon Daily Star recently ran a short story about a Russian milestone in their air campaign against ISIS. “Russia’s air force hit 86 “terrorist” targets in Syria in the past 24 hours, the defense ministry said Tuesday, in the highest one-day tally since it launched its bombing campaign on September 30.” But the US and the UN alike are questioning the Russian intent behind these bombings.
Generally, the powers of the world are all backing different groups hoping to help them defeat ISIS and its counterparts. Russia is backing the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. While he may have the best chances to defeat and drive back the rising ISIS threat in the Middle East, Assad is also guilty of a number of crimes himself. The BBC ran an article in 2013 saying “In July 2012, the Syrian government implicitly admitted what had long been suspected by experts in the field of chemical weapons proliferation – that Syria had stocks of chemical weapons.” and there were many suspected locations of usage near the Syrian borders.
The US opinion of Assad is not overwhelmingly positive. President Obama made a statement along the lines of agreeing to help remove him from power. “… the United States is willing to work with Russia and Iran to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.” Which ultimately ends up ironic because of the Russian involvement in the conflict thus far.
What can be done? Air campaigns and strikes in general save the time and risk of sending ground missions in, but obviously result in many more civilian casualties than would be present. Are these deaths worth it?
“Whatever really happened in Kunduz, a city in Northern Afghanistan, the deaths are tragic, and they come on the heels of 15 years of U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in which thousands of civilians have been accidentally killed in lawful military operations.” Newsweek said recently in reference to the recent hospital bombing.
While the US has put in massive efforts to establish a system for reconciling wartime tragedies like this, one issue is the lack of such systems elsewhere. Newsweek went on to say “This year alone, thousands of civilians have been killed by militaries and other armed groups who make no effort to account for and avoid civilian deaths or worse yet actually target civilians as a strategy. Leaving aside international pariahs like Bashar al Assad who use crude and inherently indiscriminate weapons such as barrel bombs in residential neighborhoods killing tens of thousands, civilians are also harmed by governments allied with the US, like Turkey in the Kurdish region, and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, whose bombing of Yemen this year has led to more than 2,000 civilian deaths since March.”
If we continue to move along this trajectory, one of reconciliation and attempted compensation for the mistakes made during wartime, put the effort into having other countries join the effort, finding new ways to identify civilian and non-civilian targets, and continue to evolve even our methods of doing s
o, we ultimately save more than we kill.
Newsweek finally said “So what’s important now is that the U.S. recognize in this incident an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to protecting civilians. It can’t undo what’s happened, but it can proceed with a public investigation and a strong and appropriate response. Currently, two investigations are underway, by NATO and the U.S., with promises to make findings public”