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Bombs No Substitute for Justice


10 October 2001

Of course America has a right to self-defense. It has a right to protect itself against a recurrence of the horror that took place on September 11th. And yes, it has a right to insist that those suspected of involvement in that atrocity be brought to justice and that any state harboring them be required to hand them over. (And yes, there is a "but" on the way.)

But their rights are constrained by other rights and obligations: notably the rights of innocents not to be terrorized and murdered and the obligation to use every other means available before resorting to violence. That right and that obligation have been flagrantly disregarded by America in its attack on Afghanistan and no complicity by the lapdogs on the Security Council and no cowed silence on the part of the rest of humanity can make it just.

On Sunday and Monday nights America rained down hundreds if not thousands of tons of explosives on Afghanistan, one of the poorest nations on earth. It did so because the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan refused to comply with the diktat announced by George Bush in his much-applauded address to Congress on September 20th: "Deliver to the United States authorities all the leaders of al-Qaeda who hide in your land. Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp".

No resolution of the Security Council and no part of the Charter of the United Nations gave authority to the President of the United States to demand the extradition of anybody, no matter for what crimes they were indicted.

It is relevant to note that had members of al-Qaeda been identified and arrested in any state of the European Union they could not have been extradited to the United States because of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights bars signatories from extraditing persons when capital punishment may be inflicted.

It could have been reasonable to demand of the Taliban to hand over bin Laden and other suspected al-Qaeda personnel to the new International Criminal Court, but then the United States has boycotted it and it would have been in no position to make such a demand. The insistence that the Taliban close down terrorist camps was reasonable and in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.

But aside from the legitimacy of US demands, was there not an obligation to pursue peaceful means of resolving the issues before going to war? The Taliban indicated it was willing to discuss what should be done with bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders.

Should that not have been explored before resort to the terrible violence inflicted on the country on Sunday night? It might well be the case that the Taliban were merely playing for time but it might not be.

Perhaps they would have handed him and the others to some third country. Should that not have been explored? And should they not have been presented with whatever evidence there was against bin Laden before being required to do anything about him? Yes, we know the Taliban had been asked to do that after the 1998 bombings of the east African embassies and they had failed to comply.

But in pursuit of every means of resolving the conflict before resorting to violence, should there not have been negotiations with them, should the evidence not have been presented, should they not have been invited to extradite him to an agreed third country?

One might well be impatient with pleas for justice for the Taliban and members of al-Qaeda but how about the people of Afghanistan, upon whose homes, property and, inevitably, persons, these terrifying bombs are being and will be dropped?

Did justice not require that all avenues be explored before they were inflicted with such horrors? All the more so since America was instrumental in the Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan and in bringing such repression to the Afghan people. And now we hear that people of other countries may be visited with such abominations and again protestations for their safety are likely to be met with hysterical charges of ideological sympathy with terrorism.

Is Iraq to be assaulted again? Or is it to be Sudan or Libya of Gaza or maybe Iran? Why not Iran? It was identified a year ago as the state that was the major sponsor of international terrorism.

Some tortuous construction of the UN Charter acknowledgment of a right to self-defense. can surely be devised, along with a few resolutions cynically nodded through by the Russians and Chinese as well as the others, to "legitimize" more widespread barbarity.

And at the end of it all the world will be more securely an American fiefdom and we will all know our place and those who do not give wholehearted assent will be "part of the problem".

And just one other matter: why is it that the world is propelled into such crisis because of the murder of 6,000 people in America and not a single little thing done when 800,000 people were massacred in Rwanda in 1994?

Yes, I know the Americans were not responsible for that and I know the stuff about two wrongs and the dangers of "whataboutery" but answer the question.

Why is it that millions of African lives can be lost (well over a million in Rwanda and Burundi and, apparently, 2 1/2 million in eastern Congo since 1998) with hardly a cheep from the rest of the world and then there is such outrage voiced over what happened on September 11th?

Vincent Browne.
Published on Wednesday, October 10, 2001 in the Irish Times.
2001 ireland.com.



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