War in Afghanistan Triggers Skirmishes in the Press

U.S. Response Is Too Much, Say Some; Others Disagree

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WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 20, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The U.S.-led military strikes in Afghanistan are drawing lots of flak -- from the press.



Newspapers and magazines at home and abroad have weighed in on the debate over the military action. Complicating the debate is the lack of independent data on the effects of the bombing campaign. While civilian casualties seemed to be limited, protest marches were held in London, Berlin and Assisi, Italy, last weekend.

Even before the military campaign got under way, not all were convinced that the use of force could be justified. In an interview published Sept. 29 by the Irish Times, Father Patrick Hannon, professor of moral theology at St Patrick´s College, Maynooth, expressed serious concerns about the taking of innocent life.

"I think that killing anyone that is innocent is wrong, whether the intention is merely to kill what might be considered combatants or not," the priest said. "If it is foreseeable that innocent people will be killed, it is wrong."

Father Hannon said it would be "seriously immoral" if the U.S. forces were to undertake bombing of the type employed in the war against Iraq, or in ex-Yugoslavia two years ago.

In fact, he took a very strict view on civilian casualties, stating, "Whatever is done ought to be worked out in such a way that there is not the death of innocent civilians."

Is bombing the answer?

Once the bombing commenced, a number of criticisms were leveled against the United States. Imran Khan, former Test cricketer and now leader of the Tehreek Insaaf party in Pakistan, favors bringing the terrorists to trial before an international tribunal instead of relying on military action.

Khan, writing in The Guardian newspaper of London on Oct. 12, argued that the use of force only plays into the hands of the extremists since it contributes to creating "a feeling of injustice which breeds the anger and hatred needed to produce someone desperate enough to kill himself for his cause."

Khan also expressed fear that the bombings will severely disrupt life in Afghanistan. This, combined with the onset of winter, could lead to severe hardship for many people who have nothing to do with Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he stated.

As well, Khan fears that the U.S.-led intervention will destabilize Pakistan and that "the protests that have erupted all over Pakistan that could take the country toward anarchy and chaos." In a worst-case scenario, this could lead to the formation of anti-American extremist governments in Pakistan and other neighboring countries, who in turn could be the source of further aid to terrorists.

Another critical voice came from Spain. Jaime Pastor, a university professor of political science, argued that the terrorists should be dealt with by the judicial system. In the Oct. 14 edition of the newspaper El Mundo, Pastor opined that the recent resolutions of the U.N. Security Council and NATO do not constitute a sufficient authorization for the action now being taken by the United States.

Moreover, Pastor noted, the military intervention is augmenting the level of instability in a region where a number of countries possess nuclear weapons. The professor also expressed concern that the campaign by the United States against terrorism is a threat to civil liberties and the freedom of expression.

In the States, meanwhile, author Barbara Kingfisher wrote in the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 14 that the food aid being dropped by the U.S. planes is no solution to the hunger in Afghanistan, and that efforts to distribute aid by other means are being disrupted by the attacks.

The article expressed a somewhat utopian desire that the United States could "get along with a military budget the size of Iceland´s." Kingfisher also affirmed, "The World Court and the entire Muslim world stand ready to judge Osama bin Laden and his accessories. If we were to put a few billion dollars into food, health care and education instead of bombs, you can bet we´d win over enough friends to find out where he´s hiding."

Apart from these, and other numerous opinion articles criticizing the United States, some world leaders have also expressed concern. In a declaration published Oct. 15, the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, commented, "In times of military action, every effort must be made to protect the lives and integrity of the civilian population within Afghanistan as well as of those Afghan and other humanitarian workers still operating in the country." Annan urged all the parties in the conflict to "take all possible precautions to minimize civilian casualties."

And the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, called for a suspension of attacks against Afghanistan in order to allow humanitarian aid to reach the population before the onset of winter. "We have a window of opportunity between now and 15 November, and we must have access to provide food supplies and shelter for the frightened, desperate people," said Robinson, according to the U.N. Wire on Oct. 15.

Criticism has also come from the Islamic world. Last Sunday, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared that no country has the right to attack another country, or seek to cleanse blood with blood. BBC reported her remarks made during a visit to a mosque Oct. 14.

In her address, Megawati said: "Whoever commits terror must be punished." However, she also stipulated, "It is unacceptable that someone, a group or even a government -- with the reason that they are searching for perpetrators -- attack a people or another country for whatever reason."

Saudi Arabia has also intervened in the debate. According to The Times newspaper of London on Oct. 16, Prince Nayef, the Saudi Interior Minister, said that the kingdom opposed terrorism, but did not approve of the U.S. response. "We wish that the United States had been able to flush out the terrorists in Afghanistan without resorting to the current action ... because this is killing innocent people," he said. "This in no way means that we are not willing to confront terrorism."

The U.S. defended

Many articles have supported the U.S. actions. Writing in the Oct. 13 issue of The Tablet, a publication not noted for its pro-American views, Michael Quinlan, former permanent undersecretary at the Ministry of Defense in London, considered that the world community does not yet have a system of criminal justice capable of bringing to justice the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Quinlan judged that, according to the traditional natural-law principles governing the use of force by the state, the actions taken so far by the United States and Great Britain are justified.

This position was shared by Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and a noted expert in natural-law theory.

In an interview published Oct. 15 by National Review Online, George stated, "Our leaders are, in my judgment, morally obligated to use as much force as necessary, subject to the principles of just warfare, to protect innocent Americans and other potential victims of terrorism. It would be an injustice for them to fail to employ the necessary force."

The debate will likely intensify as the war drags on. What no one -- save for terrorists -- could oppose, is the Pope´s repeated pleas for prayers for peace.