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Online content from Vol. 6 no. 2 (2002)

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Go to Darrel Moellendorf's lead article

Go to Christopher Bertram's reply to Moellendorf

Saladin Meckled-Garcia
is Rubin Research Fellow in Human Rights at the School of Public Policy, University College, London and a member of the Imprints editorial committee. He is engaged in research on the ethical foundations of human rights, as well as the policy consequences of adopting different views of these foundations.

Symposium on the War in Afghanistan:

International Justice, Human Rights and Security After 11th September

Saladin Meckled-Garcia


S there any connection between injustices in the world order and the destruction of innocent lives in the heartland of its largest military power? There should be unease in answering this question, not only because tracing an easy route from global injustice to planes flying into the World Trade Centre is morally shallow, but also because the easy route is not the only one. Those supporting the US offensive in Afghanistan, and consequently US actions there, have ridiculed the simple linking of injustice and atrocity to make us more comfortable about the war. The atrocity was committed by people with odious views and intentions, no such views can be the result of prior actions by the US, the argument goes, and even if they were, this does not obliterate the fact that they are wrong and wicked. Fail, then, to support the war because of an assessment of prior US foreign policy and you fall into grievous, even immoral, error. Fail to support the war, and you fail to support justice, in the form of justified retribution against the murderers of September 11th. Oppose the war because of sensitivity to the complex causes behind it, we are told, and you either support the attacker’s fanatical intentions, or at the very least excuse their actions by maintaining ‘the Al-Qaeda death squads were trying to utter a cry for help for the woes of the world.’[1] Instead we are urged to focus on the immorality of the act, and the just war to be won.

My aim here is twofold. Firstly, I want to dissent from this easy dichotomy by sketching a view on the 11th September events that neither simplistically links genuine grievances to the atrocity, nor falls into the obscuring, and ultimately unhelpful, language of good and evil, or liberty versus the oppressive ideals of the perpetrators. Instead, I argue, placing the attacks in the historical and social context of US foreign policy will show that retaliatory military responses will only underline the causes of these events rather than addressing them.

On the evidence, the 11th September attack was indeed instigated by intolerant, fanatical, and militarily inclined religious groups. More interesting is why these groups exist, why they have the support they do, and why (of all the ‘liberal’ places in the world) the United States has been a regular target. No adequate explanation of these facts lies in simple attributions of bad thought, religious backwardness, or for that matter their target’s liberal constitution. ‘Us good, them bad’ analyses are damagingly simplistic precisely because their absolutist terms obscure complicated causes.[2] If only irrational evil is at work, then expunging such a cause by whatever means seems a reasonable course of action. Accepting different causes opens the way for considering alternative responses.

Radical Islam’s success, confidence and appeal should be understood against a background of successive defeats and betrayals of secular alternatives in the middle-east. The theocratic reflex has not always been a significant force, and is not the natural result of prejudice or ignorance. On the contrary, the most significant regional political movements of the twentieth century were not motivated by religious ideals. A highly secular government of national liberation in Iran was deposed by a corrupt US-backed regime. The revolution which overthrew that regime was only eventually hijacked by Khomeini and his clerics.[3] A wider national liberation movement was pursued by the pan-Arabist (not pan-Islamist) presidency of Nasser in Egypt.[4] The Palestinian campaign for national liberation encompassed Muslims, Christians and leftists alike, and whilst Lebanon suffered deep conflicts between its religious communities, no significant movement with religious ideals (as opposed to localised community interests) emerged before Israel’s incursion in 1982, and subsequent US actions there.[5] The US sponsored Baath party coup that toppled Kassem in Iraq, was also pan-Arabist, and Syria’s ruling elite, though coming from a religious minority, had no religious programme.[6] In Afghanistan itself the pro-Soviet secular regime of Najibullah was undermined and then defeated by the Islamist Mujahedeen movement, itself financed by the US and its allies in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Radical Islam has grown on the back of failure, corruption, repression and, crucially, external destabilisation of the very movements offering secular answers to the region’s problems. Islamic ‘resurgence’ movements unite programmes of regional liberation with ‘purist’ claims of religious identity, both in rhetoric and action. Radical principles give expression, and offer solution, to grievances, which include humiliation by Israeli, and US interventions in the Middle East.[7] Local tyrants who prioritise alliance with US political and economic interests higher than the local population’s, are attacked as the enemy within.[8] To this is added great resentment at the presence of the US military bases in the region, a continual reminder of overwhelming external coercion at the service of those the US favours.[9] A reminder too of the bombing by the US in Lebanon, Libya, Iraq and Sudan, often with frightful consequences for the civilian population.[10] At the same time victory against the Shah in Iran, defeat of Russia in Afghanistan, devastating strikes against the US marines in Beirut, expulsion of Israel from south Lebanon, street-level support for Palestinian aspirations, and actions in Bosnia and Chechnya, have given radical Islam serious credentials. US intervention has also empowered these groups. ‘Afghani’ insurgents were trained, armed and aided by the US in a successful provocation of Russia into what would become ‘its Vietnam War’.[11] These same insurgents, have gone on to destabilise Egypt, Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Pakistan and Kashmir.[12]

Articulating the deeply felt injustice at US prioritisation of its national interests over the lives, welfare and rights, of non-US citizens, allows Islamist movements to recruit countless educated middle class young men and from poorer sectors, just as nationalist movements did in the past. Bin Laden’s declared aims are testimony to this ‘liberationist’ edge: removal of what he takes to be corrupt regimes which rule the Arabian peninsula, use of the region’s oil reserves for the local population, removal of the ‘infidel’ from the holy places (i.e., US military bases), ending the suffering of the Iraqi population of bombing and sanctions and the injustices suffered by the Palestinians at the hands of Israel.[13]

Against this background, repressing these groups militarily compounds the causes of September 11th rather than addressing them. Military action only serves to reassert an international order which, with some justification, is seen to embody selectivity and double standards. In an order based on the right of the strong, rather than justice and impartiality, and in lieu of alternatives, movements for radical religious renewal will proliferate and seek mileage from confrontations with the leading power in this order. Thus, applauding the acts that lead to the partial liberation of Afghans would seem desperately short-sighted. Whilst positive, these effects are ‘collateral’, given that liberation was not the motive of the war, nor its declared aim, nor the priority of those prosecuting it, and not obviously the reason support was given to the Afghan military allies,[14] or the US friendly interim government.[15] A wider analysis of the war places such gains in a worrying context.

Principles of just war

Darrel Moellendorf’s valuable article in this symposium makes, I believe, two mistakes. Firstly, his assessment of the US response to the 11th September attacks uncritically employs a distinction between just recourse to war (jus ad bellum) and the conduct of war (jus in bello), and secondly he claims it is problematic and misguided to employ considerations of motivation in assessing the act of military intervention itself. The recourse to, vs. conduct of, war distinction, whilst sometimes useful, is not strictly sustainable even if we were to limit the former to just cause. The question, of ‘just cause to what?’ refers us to the appropriate pursuit of a goal, given its aims. The aimed at discernible goal changes with different means employed to pursue it. Thus ‘achieving peace’ by bombing civilians would characterise a different aim than seeking peace by opposing an invading army. This is a different, and wider, question than proportionality of response. It is rather about characterising a response. Thus, an aim which cannot be, or is not likely to be, pursued appropriately by the relevant agent is not a just aim. The further question of motivation is important because knowing the aims and purposes behind an action will help us to better characterise that action, including the form of its pursuit and irrespective of the descriptions offered by the agent. The Third Reich had many virtuous characterisations for its aims in the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, in fact the excuse was to protect a German minority from persecution—putatively a just cause, yet in the light of prior actions the intention was clearly not virtuous. Motivation also relates to a further question: who is in a legitimate position to judge just cause, and pursue a course of action?[16]

For Aquinas just war required just cause, legitimate authority and just intention, on the part of the agent.[17] Legitimate authority is crucial to a judgement of the action in Afghanistan. It is plausible to assert that, in international relations, authority cannot come from the policy processes, democratic or otherwise, which take place within one nation. For an action, and who undertakes it, may have repercussions for all states. I will argue that, in the case of Afghanistan, the aims of the action were impugned by the form of action (the aim as a whole) and by the agent. The action was flawed because it contributed to an order in which disparities and selectivity at the service of self interest is the working norm, and the agent is the current chief promoter of an order which significantly contributed to the causes of the 11th September events. I am assuming here that an order in which humanitarian abuse is punished or ignored (or protected) depending on the interests it serves, is an unjust order. In that judgement the authority of the agent matters. Accountability of institutions and agencies is as important for international justice as it is for local justice. Yet it does not exist at the international level, and is certainly not present with respect to the action in Afghanistan. The US as the principal world agent, I will show, is not subject or accountable to any non-national institutions, nor to the substance of impartial principles of international conduct. Yet, whilst serving its national interests, it dramatically influences the lives of other communities with actions, including war, over which they have no say.

The ‘pattern’: US foreign policy strategy

Here I propose a thesis to be tested in the following sections. It is in the light of its veracity that intervention in Afghanistan should be judged. The thesis is that the overriding ‘pattern’ of US foreign policy interventions is one of serving national interests and, where these call for it, the interests of allies. In doing so, US foreign policy has not paid heed to nor recognised just principles of international law, humanitarian rules of engagement, or, for that matter, any other external constraint. All military actions, then, should be assessed against a background where the world’s largest military and economic power, freely pursues this policy pattern.

The chief contrast in international relations crystallised by the 11th September events is between humanitarianism and security.[18] Security has been prevailingly prioritised, be it in domestic or foreign policy, and at the expense of civil and human rights.[19] The military action in Afghanistan is itself presented as a security measure: uprooting the organisations and personnel that threaten US, and world, security. But the security versus humanitarianism contrast is only a more exacerbated expression of the balance of US national interests versus other constraints on foreign policy. The ostensive policy rationale may change, but the foreign policy pattern has remained constant across many administrations. This is to further national interests directly or by supporting a local ally, militarily or otherwise, whatever their humanitarian record. This policy does not distinguish between states and insurgency movements. Thus the support for the contras in Nicaragua, mujahedeen in Afghanistan and Bosnia, and collaboration with the KLA in Kosovo, is consistent with support for Israel and Saudi Arabia. The policy is theorised in the Weinberger Doctrine on military intervention.[20] The first principle of this doctrine is simply to only commit troops when it serves the national interest or the interest of an ally. The modification, in practice, of this doctrine has been to minimise engagement of US troops proper through employment of safer options such as high altitude bombing, whilst working with allies, or local proxies, on the ground.

It is a classic feature of US military aid and assistance that constraints of a humanitarian nature on a military ally and its forces are, at best, cosmetic. One significant current example of this is US involvement and financing of the activities of the Colombian military forces. Ample evidence exists that these forces, being backed by the US in what is presented as a campaign against drugs, collaborate with, finance and arm, paramilitary groups involved in gross human rights violations.[21] Yet the US has provided the Colombian military with over $1 billion over the last two years and $60 million this May.

It is hard to see how priority for human rights or humanitarianism, means US alliance, trade with and armament of Saudi Arabia.[22] Still less official silence over Suharto’s invasion and massacres in East Timor, or whilst pro-Indonesian militias continued to commit atrocities there.[23] This priority does not fit with continued use of US military technology, or aid, by Israel to subject a civilian population in Palestine.[24] It does not sit easily with support and military aid for Turkey, responsible for the past and present cruel oppression of its Kurdish population, at the expense of fundamental human rights.[25] Nor can priority for humanitarian concerns mean virtual silence over massive, and ongoing, crimes against humanity committed by Russia in Chechnya, including a war which left 30,000 people dead.[26] The pattern asserted, then, is of punishing abuses of enemies only and ignoring those of friends, even across the life of one regime, Iraq being the perfect example.[27]

International law and impartiality

A just international order is one with impartiality in the application of principles, be they principles of security or of humanitarianism. However, in many key respects the US has been unwilling to abide by any external authority, failed to accept international justice can be superior to its national interests, ignored the authority of principles it itself applies in justifying its foreign porol. That is, a refusal to accept any external legal order as binding, however impeccable its moral and legal operational principles. The US administration originally signed up to the International Criminal Court, which would try war crimes and crimes against humanity, but refused to ratify it without assurances, essentially that US personnel would not be within the courts jurisdiction.[28] Yet, in spite of increasing assurances of the pedigree of the court, the new administration has not only refused to ratify it, but also saw a law passed forbidding co-operation with the court, and then moved to withdraw even the limited approval it had originally given.[29] Clearly, the US favours ad hoc courts, such as the Hague tribunal currently trying war crimes in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Given that such tribunals have to be approved by the UN security council, are therefore subject to US veto, have NATO acting as a de facto police force, and providing funds, it is unlikely that any US personnel or allies could ever come to trial in one of them. Add to this that the tribunal only now, long after Kosovo has left the public eye, begins considering indicting members of the Kosovo Liberation Army for ethnic cleansing and war crimes in Kosovo. This is in spite of their attacks on Serbs and Roma, creating a refugee crisis among these communities, and numerous complaints from NGOs.[30] More importantly, consider any charges against NATO powers such as the bombing of a civilian television station, and resulting civilian deaths are ruled out of the tribunal’s jurisdiction.[31]

Even on substantive issues of principle, the US operates an exception to the rule norm. Continued sanctions and military actions against Iraq are premised on its failure to allow in weapons inspectors. Specifically Iraq failed to give inspectors access to any place at any time, including all government buildings, archives, presidential residences, and the military unit responsible for the security of the president. This was the crucial sticking point for the US, and the basis for proposed future military action. Yet the US Senate passed an act implementing the ‘Chemical Weapons Convention’ into US law in 1997, with a significant amendment.[32] This stipulates that the president of the United States can deny requests to inspect ‘any facilities in the United States’ he deems to pose a threat to the national security interests of the country.[33] The military drive against Iraq, regardless of the current humanitarian disaster being suffered by its civilian population has even led to undermining the work of the organisation set up by the Chemical Weapons Convention itself, with the US leading a move to oust its president for attempting to bring Iraq into the fold.[34]

US spearheaded sanctions have degraded the civil, social, and health infrastructure of Iraq to the degree that the country suffers an ongoing ‘humanitarian crisis’ (according to UNICEF and the WHO) especially with respect to infant mortality.[35] The Iraqi population’s condition is far worse than that before sanctions, ten years ago.[36] No significant evidence exists that the lack of aid or existing medical resources in Iraq are due to distribution of available aid, in fact evidence is to the contrary.[37] Thus the unproved excuse that a larger part of the blame for those dying in Iraq lies with Saddam Hussein, rings quite hollow. Especially when we consider (a) the disproportionate nature of the sanctions, (b) the fact that international law has not been observed on these matters,[38] and (c) that the reason for the sanctions (failure to comply with UN weapons inspectors from UNSCOM) can plausibly be seen as a pretext when one considers that UNSCOM was accused by one of its own members of complicity in espionage for the US, and in provocations leading to its pulling out from Iraq.[39]

A further good indicator of US attitudes to international justice is the sheer number of times it has either been in a minority (often a minority of one or two), in the UN General Assembly, or has vetoed ethically important resolutions on the Security Council. It is the highest vetoer of Security Council resolutions from 1956 to the present, vetoing condemnations of Apartheid South Africa, calls for recognition of human rights in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, a resolution condemning attacks on the Nicaraguan embassy in Panama during a US offensive there, and even a resolution calling on all states to observe international law. The US followed this up with a vote against a general assembly resolution, again calling for states to observe and comply with international law, which it ignored after losing 93-2 (supported solely by Israel).

The conduct of war

The United States is a prominent user of cluster bombs and has refused to sign the anti-personnel mines convention. Nor is its humanitarian record good in the prosecution of war. There is the now, but belatedly, known massacre of fleeing Iraqi soldiers and civilians on the road to Basra,[40] its attack on Nicaraguan diplomatic buildings and personnel when it invaded Panama, its ignoring the ruling of the International Court of Justice (World Court) that the US employed unlawful use of force and contravened the principle of non-intervention against Nicaragua, its killing of large numbers of civilians in Somalia, and the repeated vetoing of resolutions calling for UN observers in Palestine,[41] just to mention a few examples. Its intervention in Somalia involved extra-judicial killings, where a US gun ship killed 54 tribal leaders holding a meeting on 13th July 1993. US troops also killed 200 civilians who turned on them, enraged by effects of fighting in Mogadishu on the 9th September, and a further 300 on the 3rd October.[42]

If human rights are to have any moral significance whatsoever, then in calculations of humanitarian loss it is wrong to put the interests of one’s own citizens over the human rights of others. To be sure, governments have special duties to their own citizens, but these duties are circumscribed by anyone’s and everyone’s human rights. In this light the decision to employ a well-worn tactic, of high altitude air bombardment with powerful ordnance, whilst sponsoring a proxy militia on the ground, with no humanitarian restraints, as the US did in Afghanistan, is not conscionable. It is aimed not at minimising risk of casualties, but at minimising risk of US casualties, at the expense of higher human cost on the ground. Furthermore, the fact that the US government itself refuses to compile lists of Afghan civilian casualties also speaks against attributing to it any humanitarian concern.[43]

US actions over Kosovo, held up as an exemplary intervention, do not bode well for the immediate consequences in Afghanistan. NATO bombed from high altitude using cluster bombs and depleted uranium tipped missiles in Serbia, hitting clinics, hospitals, schools, refugee camps, a prison, civilian buses, a passenger train crossing a bridge, apartment blocks, a state television station, and a chemical plant which then released deadly poisonous chemicals into the atmosphere and river courses, all with horrific consequences for men, women, children, the elderly and the infirm.[44]

‘Humanitarian intervention’

The NATO action in Kosovo is also presented as exemplary humanitarianism, an exception to the pattern described above. However, careful scrutiny of the events leading up to the NATO bombing, the action itself, and the consequences, shows this pattern assert here too. The government in Belgrade was involved in negotiations, which had led to interim agreements over partial autonomy for Kosovo and the presence of observers. Yet the talks were presented as scuppered by Belgrade’s intransigence, the crisis in the Kosovo portrayed as genocidal, and the only solution offered was bombing.

The demands placed upon the Milosevic regime before the US decided end talks and pursue a bombing campaign reveal a different pattern. The regime was not only to remove all state security from Kosovo, relinquishing the province, but also to permit unlimited entry, movement and stationing of NATO troops throughout all Yugoslavia, with free use of all infrastructure and complete immunity for those troops from prosecution for any action.[45] Furthermore, astonishingly, the agreement contains a requirement that the ‘economy of Kosovo shall function in accordance with free market principles.’[46] A provision ‘second guessing’, to say the least, democratic decisions by the population. Both conditions are provocative, whilst no other, intermediate, offer presented by NATO, and military intervention the stated price of failure accept it. The subsequent bombing was sold as averting genocidal ethnic cleansing taking place in Kosovo. However, whilst atrocious crimes had taken place on the part of the Serbian security forces, the most significant fact is that the indictment against Milosevic could not be brought for genocide or even conspiracy to commit genocide in Kosovo.[47] Germany’s foreign office and regional Administrative Court documents from that time are more telling. They show that, whilst publicly declaring the Yugoslav government to have, and be carrying out, genocidal intentions, this leading member of NATO privately believed nothing of the sort.[48] What is clear is that the bombing led to intensified attacks on Kosovan-Albanians precipitating their forced expulsion by Serb forces.[49] The cost of the bombing action did not stop there. At least 500 Serbian civilians were killed in NATO bombing raids, some of these by cluster bombs.[50] The KLA, notorious for their criminality, got a free hand to engage in ethnic cleansing of their own causing a refugee crisis of Serbians and Roma, and went on to try to destabilise Macedonia.[51] This is all capped by current political conditions in Kosovo: a de facto a protectorate, with executive orders issued by a UN Special Representative, with ultimate veto powers over any initiative, including democratic elections and the actions of any elected government in the region.[52] Those elections that have taken place have been very carefully patrolled, with every ministry having one UN representative overseeing their work, and with powers of veto. The international presence in Kosovo has extra-judicial powers and immunities, which rule out any accountability for actions on their part.[53] Clearly ‘humanitarianism’ here does not include full democratic self-rule.

Compare this to recent events in Palestine. Prima facie evidence of human rights abuses and war crimes atrocities by the Israeli Defence Forces in the refugee camp of Jenin, and all over the West Bank, is abundant. Yet the US administration called Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, ‘a man of peace’, and strengthened its commitment to arm and finance Israel.[54] Human rights organisations, the UN, and governments have joined in deploring IDF actions, which destroyed homes and killed civilians.[55] The IDF denied access to ambulances, medical workers and the press, for 11 days, and then to a United Nations Commission of Inquiry, approved by the UN Security Council. Among the reasons given for refusal, was that the commission would do things ‘such as interrogating soldiers and officers who took part in the fighting,’ when ‘No country in the world would agree to such a thing.’[56] In spite of these actions, carried out all over the West Bank, causing a significant death toll and destroying civilian infrastructure, no similar concerns were expressed by the US leadership, and no question was raised about its relationship with Israel, which was strengthened by a supportive resolution in congress.[57] The death toll at Jenin alone is currently set at 52, including the old, women and children, and the infirm, yet the trigger for the hard stance against Milosevic on Kosovo was the killing of 45 men in Racak by Serb forces. The urgency in the Kosovo case, and the lack of it in the Palestinian one, would seem best explained by the strategic aims identified above as ‘the pattern’. In one case the US seeks to militarily defeat an administration seen as unfriendly and unyielding on excessive demands, in the other it turns a blind eye to war crimes committed by an ally. The US foreign policy pattern I have described, then, emerges even in ‘humanitarian’ cases.

Selectivity and justice

Moellendorf’s analysis tries to accommodate the above double standards critique. However, the status what purpose of his identification of double standards is left unclear. His three chosen tests for the justice of war are supplemented by the thought that if these tests are selectively employed then we have double standards. But no conclusion is drawn from this, and no conclusion about justice can be drawn from that understanding of double standards at all. To do so would be to add an extra test, to the three Moellendorf has already recommended as sufficient.

Selectivity, it should be stressed, does not, by itself, establish an action as unjust (as in selective acts of charity). The appropriate double standards, or selectivity, critique is that it indicates an unjust norm is being reinforced. Acting to enforce unjust norms may have some positive consequences, but the overall repercussions are negative. And it is here that Mollendorf’s criteria do not really take into account consequences. For he includes the consequences of the action on face value, and not their contribution to a wider norm. Punishing enemies and rewarding friends, through selective interventions employing the language of humanitarian concern, is one such norm. The humanitarian presentation, in this context, must be seen as purely instrumental, and indicates the likely form of action. It will reinforce a world order in which human rights abusers can expect immunity so long as they are careful about their alliances. A Bush spokesman recently underlined this norm by declaring the trade embargo on Cuba will continue because ‘trade with Cuba doesn’t benefit the people of Cuba. It’s used to prop up an oppressive regime.’[58] Nevertheless, undemocratic Saudi Arabia, oppressive Turkey, and the military dictatorship in Pakistan, are rewarded with arms sales and aid.

The war in Afghanistan

Given the international norms which the Afghan war reinforces, only one kind of justification can remain, and that is self-defence, but with respect for human rights. Yet, how the war could represent true self-defence, as opposed to retribution, is not clear. The aims were unclear, the way that a military action favouring one side of a civil war in a war torn region could prevent, as opposed to inspire, hijackings and attacks in the US is also unclear, and purely in defensive terms it is unconscionable and irresponsible. Destabilisation of the region could ensue, by pushing insurgents into Pakistan and vividly reasserting the norm of punishment and reward I have described above. To serve the military priorities, devastating humanitarian effects of the campaign were underplayed, or ignored, including the use of cluster bombs.[59] Aid reaching the country has been increased, but primarily as a strategic, and secondary, part of the military effort: securing a friendly local administration. It must, then, be judged as ‘collateral’ as civilian casualties are judged by the military. They must also be balanced against the loss of life resulting from the offensive. A huge catastrophe was predicted as a result of the war. Yet information on that front has significantly not been forthcoming, similarly with information on civilians killed by military actions, which according to reasonable estimates is high.[60] The US insisted that their action should not come under the auspices of the UN, and through the security council obtained full discretion in Afghanistan, in the name of ‘self-defence’, thereby contravening the UN charter.[61]

Politically, in line with ‘the pattern’, the US immediately chose a local ally, the Northern Alliance, on the ground ignoring completely their humanitarian record, and the likely consequences of giving them power, armaments and aid. The same warlords whose civil war paved the way for the Taliban, and who were responsible for massacres and mass rape, were once again invited to unite, with the US as power broker.[62] Relations with highly repressive and undemocratic regimes in the region have been strengthened, and criticism of these regimes, such as the dictatorship in Uzbekistan, muted. The norm of selective, unregulated, and unaccountable military action, serving aligned interests, has thus been reinforced, and underlined by the fact the action has been pursued with the rhetoric of extra-judicial killings.[63] With regular reports of fighting amongst the warlords in the interim coalition government all the signs are that once US troops leave, it will crumble into a renewed civil war, with civilians again the losers.


Declaring war on the forces behind the 11th September attacks should mean declaring war on the order that made those attacks possible and conceivable. The bombarding of yet another group into battlefield submission, and the extra-judicial killing of its leaders, certainly do not address these causes. The bombs only fall on current manifestations of those forces, along with innocent civilians, and reinforce unjust international norms. Both will have destabilising effects on local and wider regions, and have had terrible humanitarian consequences. The effects are already being felt as Islamists dangerously provoke nuclear-armed India in Kashmir, and nuclear-armed Pakistan is fearful of repressing them domestically. The solution is not, then, to look at what unaccountable military alliances can do. For these very reasons they do not have the authority to act. A just international order would address the principal causes. Often we are presented with crises for which intervention is the only option, when the events and history leading up to those crises, with its preventable turns, has been ignored. In Somalia, for example, the breakdown leading to the rule of the warlords was largely due to Barre’s rule, itself aided and armed by powers such as the US. The current order is one analogous to Hobbes’ state of nature: dominance by potent nations is more effective than weak international institutions, which are themselves subject to pressures, influences and intrigues from the powerful. In that context, Kant’s advice is better: the primary obligation is to leave the state of nature and establish a just system of constraints.[64] This means pressing the cause of judicial due process, impartiality in international law, restraints on superpowers and weak states alike, accountability, transparency, and alternative forms of achieving humanitarian goals. It is also to beware that humanitarian discourse can be used to disempower, and invoked for ulterior purposes. To ask, then, how the United States and its allies should retaliate is to mistake the problem for the solution.


an style="font-size: 10pt;"> Christopher Hitchens, Minority Report, ‘The Ends of War’, The Nation, December 17, 2001.

[2] ‘America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.’ G. W. Bush, Presidential Address to the Nation, Oval Office, Washington D. C., 11th September, 2001.

[3] The popular nationalist government of Mohammed Mossadegh came to power in Iran in the 1950s, on a programme of nationalisation of oil interests. It was subsequently toppled by the Shah and the army, with covert support from the CIA. See for example, Sepehr Zabih, The Mossadegh Era: Roots of the Iranian Revolution, Chicago, Lakeview Press, 1986. For extracts from the relevant CIA documents, see James Risen, ‘How a Plot Convulsed Iran in ‘53 (and in ‘79)’ New York Times, 19 April, 2000.

[4] Nasser united Syria and Egypt as the ‘United Arab Republic’, in 1958. Britain, France and Israel attempted to militarily remove him in 1956 after he had nationalised the Suez canal.

[5] Only after Israel’s invasions, and sponsoring of proxy militias in the south, do Islamic Jihad, Islamic Amal, and Hizbollah, emerge as significant forces with popular support.

[6] On US involvement in the coup against Kassem, and their support for Saddam’s eventual leadership of the Iraqi Baath, see Said Aburish’s, Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, New York, Bloomsbury Publishing, 1999.

[7] The US gave Israel the ‘green light’ to invade Lebanon, resulting in more than 17,000 dead, and used its navy to bombard the Druze and Shia militias on behalf of the Christian Phalange government, Israel’s proxy government. Retaliation came with suicide bombers destroying the US Marines’ Beirut headquarters, killing 241. The marines subsequently abandoned Lebanon. Robert Fisk, Chapter 14, Pity the Nation, 3rd Edition, Oxford, Oxford Paperbacks, 2001.

[8] See Fred Halliday’s ‘Fundamentalism and Political Power’ in his Two Hours That Shook the World: September 11th, 2001 Causes and Consequences, London, Saqi Books, 2001, and Tariq Ali’s superior ‘One Hundred Years of Servitude’ in his The Clash of Fundamentalisms, London and New York, Verso, 2002.

[9] The United States currently has a military presence in 100 out of the 189 countries of the UN, William Arkin, ‘US Air Bases Forge Double Edged Sword’, Los Angeles Times, 6 January 2002.

[10] The bombing of Sudan’s only pharmaceuticals plant, terminated the production of 50% of Sudan’s medicines, with considerable cost in human life resulting. In spite of unassailable evidence that it was just a pharmaceuticals plant, no apology was ever issued.

[11] Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser to president Carter at the time, disclosed this aim of US funding for the Mujahedeen, and that it commenced before the Russian invasion, Interview in Le Nouvel Observateur, 15-21 January, 1998.

[12] Evidence has just emerged that the US used Islamists to arm Bosnian Muslim groups during the war in Yugoslavia, ‘Intelligence and the War in Bosnia, 1992-1995’, Srebrenica Report, Netherlands Institute for War Documentation,, Netherlands, Amsterdam, Boom Publishers, 2002.

[13] Al Qaeda’s founding statement, as do subsequent interviews, singles out US actions in Iraq, support of Israel against the Palestinians, and military presence in the peninsula, as the central motives for attacking the superpower, Fred Halliday, ‘Founding Statement of Al Qaeda’ Two Hours That Shook the World: September 11th, 2001 Causes and Consequences.

[14] Northern Alliance atrocities have involved the rape, torture, and murder of thousands of innocent Afghans, yet ‘not a single Afghan commander has been held accountable for violations of international humanitarian law.’ ‘Background report on Afghanistan’, Human Rights Watch, October 2000.

[15] Both the US friendly president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and Washington’s emissary to Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, previously worked for the US oil company UNOCAL. Note also how important, strategically, the US views oil matters in the region, e.g., US Government Energy Information Factsheet on Afghanistan, December 2000. UNOCAL is currently subject to a campaign including court actions by Amnesty International USA, in connection with human rights abuses in Burma, Doe v. Unocal, Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, 3 December, 2001.

[16] Cf. Allen Buchanan’s discussion of norms established by the NATO Kosovo intervention ‘From Nuremburg to Kosovo: The Morality of Illegal International Legal Reform’, Ethics, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 673-705, July 2001. Buchanan’s discussion, however, is in terms of ‘law’ rather than ‘norms’.

[17] Thomas Aquinas, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 40, Summa Theologica, Christian Classics, June 1981.

[18] The UN Commission on Human Rights recently failed to adopt measures to secure human rights in the ‘fight against terror’. The resolution was defeated after Mexico withdrew its support, under pressure from the United States. ‘UN Commission fails to uphold human rights in fight against terror’, Amnesty International, Public Statement, AI Index: IOR 41/014/2002, News Service No: 76, 26 April, 2002.

[19] On the US domestic front see Ronald Dworkin, ‘The Threat to Patriotism’, New York Review of Books, 28 February, 2002.

[20] ‘The Uses of Military Power’, Remarks Prepared for Delivery By the Hon. Caspar W. Weinberger, Secretary of Defence, To the National Press Club, Washington DC, Weds., Nov. 28, 1984.

[21] ‘The Ties that Bind: Colombia and Military-Paramilitary Links’, Human Rights Watch, Vol. 12, No. 1 (B), February 2000; ‘Colombia: Stop the massacres. Stop the military aid’, Amnesty International, AI Index AMR 23/11th 0/2001 – News Service Nr. 181, 11th October, 2001.

[22] Saudi Arabia prohibits political parties, and unions, decapitates or mutilates prisoners and imposes draconian constraints on the movements, dress and freedom of women. Yet, it was made a member of the UN Human Rights Commission in May 2000, sells the US the equivalent of 1.5 Million barrels of low price oil, and spends the equivalent of 10 Million dollars on US weapons, a day.

[23] Between 1975 and 1998, the Indonesian army was responsible for the deaths of between 100,000 and 200,000, East Timorese. In spite of the ‘Indonesia Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997’, US Department of State, Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998, detailing abuses, the US still managed to supply Indonesia with 1 billion dollars worth of military equipment between 1992-97. This figure is drawn from US Department of Defense, Defense Security Assistance Agency, Fiscal Year Series as of September 1981 and Foreign Military Sales, Foreign Military Construction Sales, and Military Assistance Facts, annual, various years, 1982 through 1996. See also, Press Release: ‘East Timor: The World Must Act Or Be Complicit In The Killing’, Human Rights Watch, New York, September 5, 1999.

[24] Earlier this year, the US Senate overwhelmingly passed the fiscal year 2002 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill granting $2.04 billion in military aid and $720 million in economic aid to Israel. Total aid given to Israel by the US between 1949 and 2001 is $94,966,300,000, according to American-Israeli Co-operative Enterprise (AICE), without conditions. More than US aid to the whole of sub-Saharan Africa for the same period.

[25] Human Rights Watch World Report, 2001: Turkey; Human Rights Watch World Report 1999: Turkey.

[26]Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch continue to regularly record ‘disappearances’ and human rights abuses by the Russians in Chechnya. The death toll for ongoing offensives is in the thousands. Russia acting in Chechnya: Human Rights Watch, ‘The ‘Dirty War’ in Chechnya: Forced Disappearances, Torture, and Summary Executions,’ Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 13, No 1(D), March 2001; Russia acting in Chechnya: Human Rights Watch, ‘Last Seen . . .: Continued ‘Disappearances’ in Chechnya’, A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol.14, No. 3 (D), April 2002.

[27] When Iraq invaded Iran (1980) the US blocked UN Security Council resolutions condemning the invasion, removing Iraq from its international list of nations supporting terrorism, whilst fully aware of Iraq’s slaughter of Kurdish rebels in 1975. Iraq used chemical weapons in 1984, nevertheless the US strengthened diplomatic relations. In 1988 Saddam Hussein was responsible for the murder of thousands of Iraqi Kurds, yet the US strengthened economic ties. Only when Iraq left the US fold by invading Kuwait, thereby threatening oil markets, did the US turn against it with the aim of punishing the unauthorised transgression. ‘Access to Persian Gulf oil and the security of key friendly states in the area are vital to US national security ... The United States remains committed to defending its vital interests in the region.’ President George Bush (senior), National Security Directive Number 54, 15 January 1991, outlining the aims of the Gulf War.

[28] See A Selective US Vision of Justice, Human Rights Watch World Report 2000.

[29] US legislators had originally included a clause giving the president the power to intervene, using ‘all means necessary and appropriate’, to secure the release of any US citizen held by the ICC, and to punish those who co-operate with the court (now known as the ‘Hague invasion clause’), in the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act (2001). Whilst this clause was removed, the legislation remains anti-ICC. The final withdrawal of approval took place with a letter to the United Nations on 6th May, and statements by members of the administration made it clear that attempts to assert ICC jurisdiction over US citizens would be considered illegitimate, ‘US withdraws from treaty on International criminal Court’, The Washington Times, 7 May, 2002.

[30] The KLA is responsible for atrocities before during and after the NATO bombing, and has connections with Islamist groups. ‘The Kosovo Liberation Army: Does Clinton Policy Support Group with Terror, Drug Ties? From ‘Terrorists’ to ‘Partners’’, US Senate Republican Policy Committee, 31 March, 1999; ‘K-For is failing to stop KLA atrocities’, The Guardian, 4 August, 1999; ‘FRY (Kosovo): End deliberate attacks on Serb civilians’, Amnesty International Press Release, AI Index EUR 70/003/2001, News service Nr. 29, 16 February 2001.

[31] When the television station case was brought before the European Court of Human Rights, it too ruled that NATO actions were outside of its jurisdiction, and a case on behalf of Yugoslavia against the US presented to the International Court of Justice, was deemed outside of that court’s jurisdiction because to exercise jurisdiction this court needs the parties consent. The US had placed reservations when it signed the relevant conventions under which the case was brought, thereby placing it outside the jurisdiction of the court, ‘Legality of Use of Force’ (Yugoslavia v. United States of America), ICJ, 2 June 1999.

[32] Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act, May 1997.

[33] Section 307, ‘Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act’ 1997.

[34] The US accused Jose Bustani of ‘mismanagement’ but provided no documentary proof, at the OPCW meeting where it led a vote to oust him as head of the organisation, with votes 48 to 7 (and 43 abstentions). The reasons given for ousting Bustani, incidentally, conflict directly with the provisions of the convention, as he himself protested at the meeting. It later transpired that US opposition to Bustani actually lay in his attempt to persuade Iraq to join the convention. ‘US ousts director of chemical arms body’, The Guardian, 23 April, 2002.

[35] The UNICEF survey on child mortality in Iraq, 1999, shows that mortality in children under five has doubled since the last survey ten years ago: UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said ‘the findings reveal an ongoing humanitarian emergency’, ‘Iraq surveys show ‘humanitarian emergency’’, UNICEF Newsline, Wednesday, 12 August 1999.

‘The severity of Iraq’s humanitarian situation stems from the massive and swift degradation of the country’s civilian infrastructure, aggravated by over 10 years of economic and trade isolation. Overall health conditions of the population remain poor—well below the 1990 levels; environmental health hazards continue unrelieved. Food availability and consumption fall short of requirements impacting the nutritional status of large part of the population. Chronic malnutrition is widespread, especially among the growing children.’ W. Kriesel, Executive director of the WHO office of the European Union, ‘Health Situation in Iraq’, report presented to the hearing ‘Iraq and the International Community’ of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy, WHO reports, Brussels, February 26, 2001.

[37] One piece of contrary evidence is the statement of Ashraf Bayoumi, who headed the World Food Programme Observation Unit in Iraq until May 1998, see ‘Two Hiroshimas, Twenty Lebanons’, by Amira Howeidy, Al Ahram, Weekly edition, 24 – 30 December 1998.

[38] Graf Hans von Sponeck (Former UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq), ‘It is an outrage that you repeat fabricated disinformation’ The Guardian, 4 January, 2001.

[39] Julian Borger, ‘Ex-monitor says UN tricked Saddam to prompt bombing’, The Guardian, 30 March, 1999.

[40] Seymore Hersh, ‘Overwhelming Force, What happened in the final days of the Gulf War?’, The New Yorker, 22 May, 2000;

[41] In 2001 alone the US vetoed two such resolutions, one calling for UN observers and the other for UN monitors, March and December 2001, respectively.

[42] James Mayall, ed., The New Interventionism: United Nations experience in Cambodia, former Yugoslavia and Somalia, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 192. UN troops in Somalia were astonishingly cruel against the civilian population, including acts of torture. In contrast to the US, Canada has tried its soldiers for such criminal acts.

[43] Even on conservative estimates, Afghanistan shows a higher rate of civilian loss than the intervention in Kosovo, Carl Conetta ‘Operation Enduring Freedom: Why a Higher Rate of Civilian Bombing Casualties’, Project on Defense Alternatives, Briefing Report 11th, Cambridge MA, The Commonwealth Institute, 24 January 2002.

[44] ‘Yugoslav Town Bathed in Blood’, Associated Press, 6 April, 1999; ‘The victims: At sites of NATO Accidents, Scent of Death, Sound of Fury’, New York Times, 13 April, 1999; ‘Charred Corpses Litter Site of Attack’, The Times, 16 April, 1999; ‘Cluster bombs may be what killed refugees’, Los Angeles Times, 17 April, 1999; ‘Refugee Serbs Blame NATO in Camp Bombing’, Los Angeles Times, 22 April, 1999; ‘Consigning their future to death’, The Guardian, 22 April, 1999; ‘NATO acknowledges bombing Serb town’, Associated Press, 28 April, 1999; ‘Families Blasted in Just Another Mistake’, The Independent, 29 April, 1999; ‘NATO admits Hit Bus, Raids Go On’, Reuters, 2 May, 1999; ‘War in The Balkans – Nato calls the bombing of a hospital collateral damage. I call it a tragedy’, The Independent, June 1, 1999.

[45] ‘(6a.) that NATO shall be immune from all legal process, whether civil, administrative or criminal. (b.) Its personnel,…immune…in respect of any civil, administrative, criminal or disciplinary offences which may be committed by them in the FRY…(8.) NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY, including associated airspace and territorial waters. (10.) The authorities in the FRY shall facilitate, on a priority basis and with all appropriate means, all movement of personnel, vehicles, vessels, aircraft, equipment or supplies, through or in the airspace, ports, airports or roads used. No charges may be assessed against NATO for air navigation, landing or takeoff of aircraft, whether government owned or chartered. Similarly, no duties, dues, tolls or charges may be assessed against NATO ships. (11) Nato is granted the use of airports, roads, rails and ports without payment of fees.’ ‘Appendix B: Status of Multi-National Military Implementation Force’, Rambouillet Agreement, Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo.

[46] ‘Economic Issues’, Rambouillet Agreement, Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo.

[47] Controversy surrounds the extent of crimes in Kosovo. Some evidence is extensively reviewed in (the late) Daniel Pearl, with R. Block, article ‘Despite Tales, the War in Kosovo Was Savage, but Wasn’t Genocide’, The Wall Street Journal, 31 December, 1999. Even satellite pictures produced to prove the appearance of ‘mass graves’ have since been disputed, given they also show buildings mysteriously appearing in the space of days, ‘Nato Photos of Kosovo Mass Graves are Fake: Report’, Agence France-Presse, 31 March, 1999.

[48] High Administrative Courts had access to and used Foreign Office Reports. The Upper Administrative Court at Münster: ‘Events since February and March 1998 do not evidence a persecution programme based on Albanian ethnicity’, 24 Feb. 1999 (Az: 14 A 3840/94, A); ‘Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have neither been nor are now exposed to regional or countrywide group persecution in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.’ 11th March, 1999 (Az: 13A 3894/94, A). NATO bombing began 24th March 1999. Foreign office and court documents reproduced in Junge Welt, 24th April 1999. Courts dealing with asylum claims might be expected to underplay events in Kosovo, yet the courts were citing official Foreign Office reports.

[49] Under Orders: War Crimes in Kosovo, Human Rights Watch, 2001.

[50] Civilian Deaths in the Nato Air Campaign, Human Rights Watch, Volume 12, Number 1 (D) Februrary 2000.

[51] Large graves of Roma and Serbs have been reported, plus over 100,000 displaced just among the Roma. Roma Rights, Bulletin of the European Roma Rights Centre, Budapest, several issues, 2000-2001.

[52] ‘Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Kosovo): Amnesty International calls for an end to executive orders of detention’, Amnesty International, AI Index: EUR 70/017/2001, 3 August 2001.

[53] ‘Kosovo: Amnesty urges accountability in KFOR’, Amnesty International, AI INDEX: EUR 70/01/00, 6 January 2000.

[54] ‘United State Calls Sharon ‘Man of Peace’’, Reuters, Washington, 11th April, 2002.

[55] ‘Israel/OT: Nothing to hide? Amnesty International head calls on Israel to co-operate with UN inquiry’, Amnesty International, AI Index: MDE 15/063/2002, News Service No: 76, 29 April, 2002; Human Rights Watch, Report: Jenin: IDF Military Operations, Vol. 14, No. 3 (E), May 2002.

[56] Israeli communications minister, Reuven Rivlin, quoted in ‘UN in crisis meeting as Israel snubs mission’, The Guardian, April 29, 2002.

[57] Evidence also exists that the US actually blocked the UN inquiry mission, ‘Jenin Inquiry: Sharon puts Washington on the spot: US blocked UN mission, says Israeli leader’, The Guardian, 8 May, 2002.

[58] ‘Bush rejects Carter’s call to end ban’, The Independent, 16 May, 2002.

[59] ‘Cluster Bombs in Afghanistan’, Human Rights Watch Backgrounder, October 2001

[60] Early indicators were of an emerging humanitarian catastrophe, yet astonishingly after February reports and figures dry up, ‘Aid workers say Afghans now fleeing ‘hunger belt’’, The Scotsman, 22 February, 2002; ‘Campaign Against Terrorism: Graveyards outgrow villages in Afghan starvation belt’, The Independent, 4 February, 2002.

[61] Article 51 of the UN charter specifies that states have a right to individual or collective self-defence, until such a time as the security council can take measures to act on behalf of such states. The US, with allies, passed resolution 1368 and 1373, emphasising an ‘inherent’ right to self defence, interpreting this as licence to continue its military actions in Afghanistan indefinitely, with no security council intervention.

[62] ‘Afghanistan: International responsibility for human rights disaster’, Amnesty International, AI-index: ASA 11th /009/1995, 29th November, 1995; ‘Military Assistance to the Afghan Opposition’, Human Rights Watch Backgrounder, October 2001.

[63] ‘Rumsfeld wants Bin Laden dead as allies’ net tightens’, The Guardian, 22 November, 2001.

[64] ‘… lawless external (brutish) freedom and independence from coercive laws is a state of injustice and of war, each against each, which a man ought to leave in order to enter into a politico-civil state,’ Immanuel Kant, ‘Man ought to leave his ethical state of nature and become a member of an ethical commonwealth’, Book Three, Division One, II, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone. Kant had a different story to tell about international law. However, the grounds for making that difference, which are echoed in J. Rawls’, The Law of Peoples, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 1999, are themselves questionable.