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Seven Deadly Sins in Afghanistan

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Teach In on War Remarks By David Swanson, April 29, 2010

If we could establish that funding an escalation of war in Afghanistan was illegal, immoral, against the public will, economically catastrophic, counterproductive on its own terms, and a cynically motivated intentional failure, well then nothing would change. Unless people use that information in pressuring their representatives to vote No. Because most of this is pretty easily known. Nonetheless I think it's a good place to start, so let me take these points one at a time.


Under domestic law, funding the escalation may be legal. Even if the war was never constitutionally declared, and even if the funding is off the books, one might be able to argue successfully that the funding itself constitutes a declaration of war. But under the UN Charter, which is the supreme law of the land under Article VI of our Constitution, war is a crime. The only exceptions are for self-defense or UN Security Council authorization. The invasion of Afghanistan fit neither exception. Whatever cover is given to the ongoing occupation, it is the continuation of an illegal war.

Revenge is not a legal ground for war and makes very little sense on its own terms. The 9-11 hijackers were already dead and not from Afghanistan. Much of the planning had been done in Europe and this country. And Al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan. We're fighting a war against the Taliban that, because it is a foreign occupation and there are no other jobs, fuels the extremely unpopular Taliban, which wouldn't invite Al Qaeda into Afghanistan if it could. And Al Qaeda in Afghanistan would not make the United States less safe than Al Qaeda in the locations it's in now, except to the extent that we enrage the people of Afghanistan against us.

The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg concluded that aggressive war is "not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." This one is no exception. Our crimes include using weapons that kill large numbers of civilians, targeting civilians, using cluster bombs and depleted uranium, assassination, imprisoning people without charge, abusing and torturing. The United Nations has warned the United States about its growing illegal use of drones. A former assistant secretary of state during Bush's presidency wrote in the Washington Post this April 2nd that if the International Criminal Court begins prosecuting crimes of aggression this year, potential defendants will include members of congress who fund aggressive wars.

If we do not prosecute crimes or even investigate them, they are repeated, by our nation and others. As recently as February the White House press secretary said the President was open to attacking Iran. In fact, President Obama asserted his power to make war in a peace prize acceptance speech in Oslo, and recently created a policy of never using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, with the exception of Iran.


To believe our media outlets, the killing of civilians is a political or public relations problem. But to those people killed and their loved ones it's a little more serious than that. And what exactly do we mean by civilians? If our own nation were occupied would we consider it legal to kill those who fight back but illegal to kill those who don't? It can be helpful to see things for a moment the way the rest of the world does. But even by our own definition of civilians, most of the people we kill with drones are civilians. On Monday, the Washington Post's stenographer published a CIA claim that with a new smaller missile they killed a man while killing only nine others. But even the one man targeted is usually guilty only by assertion, and usually guilty of resisting a foreign occupation, which is actually legal.

We probably kill more people in night raids now than with drones, kicking in doors and shooting at anyone who comes running to help. If the shootings of handcuffed students are an exception, if digging bullets out of pregnant women with knives while others lie bleeding to death is an exception, lying about what's happening has by now been established as the norm. And apologies and compensation for killing the wrong people, as if there could be right people, is commonplace. General McChrystal says that of all the people we've killed at checkpoints, not a single one has been a threat. Killing the people of Afghanistan is the mission of the U.S. military. Responses to the recent video released by wikileaks from Iraq included both that it showed a freak incident and that what it showed was perfectly within the rules of engagement. In fact the incident was typical of what has always happened in foreign occupations, and of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as described by veterans of those wars in their Winter Soldier testimony available on the website of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

We are killing thousands of civilians per year, plus non-civilians, plus over 1,000 US troops with over 5,000 wounded, plus mercenaries, plus those diagnosed with brain injuries after leaving Afghanistan, plus suicides which are now probably higher than combat deaths, plus the violence to others that troops bring home, plus anyone damaged by heroin during our occupation of Afghanistan. Arguing that the other guys kill more civilians than we do is not the point, and clearly not a point the people of Afghanistan weigh heavily. From their point of view, we are killing their brothers, whether civilian or not, and we are foreign occupiers. Imagine if Afghanistan were to institute an Arizona-like law requiring identification papers from people who looked like they might be foreign. Guess who would fit the profile.


A recent survey of Kandahar, the area where the escalation is planned, found that 94% of the people there prefer peace negotiations to U.S. attacks, and 85% see the Taliban as "our Afghan brothers." The survey was funded by that radical pacifist organization, the United States Army.

Back in December, U.S. pollsters asked Americans if they supported funding an escalation, and in several polls a majority said No. So a lot of congress members voted for more war funding but promised to oppose the escalation funding in the spring. Then the White House began the escalation, and the pollsters (apparently assuming that our servile congress would fund anything the president had already begun, even if the people opposed it) stopped polling on the escalation. Polling just on the war, pollsters find the US public evenly split or leaning slightly in support. But they ask whether people support the president, not how much longer they want the war to last or whether that's their top choice for where to spend a trillion dollars. Many Americans think they are required to say they support the president, and others choose to support a political party, but both big parties support the war (which, by the way, will cause a lot of Democrats to stay home in November).

When Democrats.com funded polling on Iraq that no one else would do, we found a majority in favor of Congress cutting off the funding. I'm confident we could find that on Afghanistan at least following the coming rise in deaths. And this supplemental is not to keep the war going but to escalate it, which the American people opposed when asked.

Now, it is hard for us to know what's happening in Afghanistan. But no one can claim that 94% of Kandaharis are ignorant of Kandahar.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
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