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Cluster Bombs, The American Gift That Keeps On Giving
December 18, 2002 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Cluster Bombs: The American Gift That Keeps On Giving. "During its air war in Afghanistan, the United States dropped nearly a quarter-million cluster bomblets that killed or injured scores of civilians, especially children, both during and after strikes, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today....Human Rights Watch found that the United States did not take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties, as required by international humanitarian law....As of November 2002, the International Committee of the Red Cross had identified 127 civilian casualties to cluster bomb duds-a number it stressed was only a partial tally of the total killed and injured since many go unreported. An astonishing 69% of the casualties were children."
posted by fold_and_mutilate (62 comments total)

 
$$$$$
posted by Satapher at 11:32 AM on December 18, 2002


United States dropped nearly a quarter-million cluster bomblets that killed or injured scores of civilians, especially children, both during and after strikes

How did they especially kill children? Were they dropped on school-yards? Or do they have a magical sensor that seeks out youth?

In other News: People die in war. It is not nice.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 11:37 AM on December 18, 2002


In other News: More civilians die in haphazard, poorly-thought-out military attacks without clear objectives. It is not necessary.
posted by argybarg at 11:43 AM on December 18, 2002


isn't "scores" of civilian casualties a surprisngly low number for a war?
posted by andrew cooke at 11:46 AM on December 18, 2002


Cue the tough guys chattering about how they had it coming to them...

Ooops. Too late.
posted by websavvy at 11:47 AM on December 18, 2002


In still other News: Argument between pro- and anti-war factions on Metafilter continues. Observers predict another long and pointless thread.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:47 AM on December 18, 2002


In Yet Other News: I'm not wearing any pants.
posted by Ty Webb at 11:48 AM on December 18, 2002


In a related Story: Some members the Metafilter community still continue to push their political agenda by posting threads that support their ideological view point.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 11:51 AM on December 18, 2002


Post-news: This thread simply screams Pointless Ugly Discussion. Authored by none another than the most balanced & thematically diverse posters, our own fold_and_mutilate!
posted by dhoyt at 11:54 AM on December 18, 2002


Cluster bombs pose a big unexploded ordnance problem because a lot of the thousands of bomblets don't go off on impact.

As the article itself says U.S. cluster bombs also left an estimated 12,400 explosive duds —de facto antipersonnel landmines—that continue to take civilian lives to this day.

Children and unexploded ordnance are a bad combination. It tends to be children who, unaware of the dangers, handle the unexploded bomblets and get killed as a result - hence you do get larger numbers of child casualties than you would get with other sorts of bombs.
posted by Flitcraft at 11:55 AM on December 18, 2002


not to make light of the situation (although that seems to have begun) but if it was dud enough not to explode, isn't odd for them to explode "on touch'"? I'm not saying it isn't still a big problem, but I would think at the very least you'd have to pick one up and shake it a bit for it to explode (I admit to knowing nothing about explosives...).
posted by stifford at 11:56 AM on December 18, 2002


Would you prefer we went back to carpet bombing with B-17s?
posted by bondcliff at 12:00 PM on December 18, 2002


and before we leave you: steve only had one excuse and it didn't work so now he thinks the thread should be gone. also, plans are still in the works for my pompador-to-end-all-pompadors. insiders say excessively tall and greasy pompador will cause others to tremble in it's curved shadow.
posted by mcsweetie at 12:00 PM on December 18, 2002


In Other News I'm going to see Two Towers right now. No children will be harmed.
posted by cinderful at 12:01 PM on December 18, 2002


If you read the link, it's much more nuanced than Foldy's FPP would make you think.

The HRW is after the US for somewhat more stringent target selection (ie, not near towns) and to reduce the dud rate. Doesn't seem that big a deal to me.

(and no, I don't think they're talking about the runway ones where some bomblets are intentionally set to explode on delay to discourage cleanup; they seem to mean plain old duds)

Stifford: go ask someone in EOD how easy it is for duds to later explode. I don't think it's hard, especially for really mass-produced stuff like CBU bomblets where the quality control probably ain't the greatest. Jostle it a bit and it finally makes that electrical connection, or frees up some mechanical widgetry that had been stuck, and BOOM's your uncle.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:02 PM on December 18, 2002


Also, when people refer to duds, they are specifically talking about munitions that did not detonate as planned. They don't mean that these munitions are permanently non-functional.

It's sloppy terminology, but soon enough there will be multi-word nightmares like "Inadvertently Unexploded Ordinance" and "Permanently Inactive Ordinance" to take care of this grey area.

Also, as a general EOD rule, the longer something sits out in the environment, the more dangerous it is.
posted by Irontom at 12:16 PM on December 18, 2002


This just in: It is probably not illegal for Ty Webb to be pantsless, but it should be.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:17 PM on December 18, 2002


dhoyt - is it pointless? As stated elsewhere in mefi, the US administration would have you believe that American wars are bloodless (particularly in regard to civilian casualties), and are therefore very much misleading you.

So it's a topic in which citizens of that government are compelled to reconcile their normally unconditional defence of their governments actions abroad with their normally unconditional hatred of having their domestic freedoms compromised.

Lots of point, I'd say.

[newsreaders: is there any chance you could find somewhere else to play? You are spoiling MeFi for many people. Thanks].
posted by RichLyon at 12:18 PM on December 18, 2002


Is BOOM like these uncles?
posted by Stynxno at 12:21 PM on December 18, 2002


thanks for the input, I wasn't trying to imply that these duds weren't still dangerous. It would just seem to me that something that fell out of the sky and impacted on the ground wouldn't necessarily be hair-trigger sensitive. (no doubt if I was in a pack of kids growing up in afghanistan I would be the first dumbass to try and pick one up and pitch it into a wall...)
posted by stifford at 12:27 PM on December 18, 2002


Webb: Don't you hate pants?

Rich: I have never hear the administration say that wars are "bloodless" Maybe you could point me towards that statement? And as discussed many times, it is these agenda driven political threads that are spoiling MeFi for many people...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:30 PM on December 18, 2002


No Steve, it's the people who can't resist commenting in them.
posted by walrus at 12:51 PM on December 18, 2002


Your right walrus, it is mine and everyone else's fault for commenting in this thread. Because if none of us who disagree with the premise of this thread comment, then surly people like f&m will quit posting them...

[/sarcasm]
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:58 PM on December 18, 2002


Steve_at: Does it really not bother you that two-thirds of those killed by these bombs were children? I understand that war is war, &c., but doesn't this seem worth paying attention to?
posted by languagehat at 1:07 PM on December 18, 2002


no one is arguing that a war can or should be bloodless. the point is, sometimes it's bloodier than necessary and one has to wonder why such inhumane munitions were deployed so irresponsibly.
posted by mcsweetie at 1:09 PM on December 18, 2002


A lot of this was due to a mistake: the cluster bomblets were accidently the same color (yellow) as the food packages we dropped to help the people.
posted by Mack Twain at 1:20 PM on December 18, 2002


Steve_at_Linwood - for reasons that utterly escape me, I linked to my profile page, rather than the posting with the link you ask for. Must have been the excitement.

Can't point you to a statement by the government because it is hardly the sort of thing they would commit to print, can point you to this, though: in What Bodies?, former Vietnam reporter Patrick Sloyan describes the censorship he was subjected to when (unsuccessfully) attempting to report any deaths in the Gulf war: In manipulating the first and often most lasting perception of Desert Storm, the Bush administration produced not a single picture or video of anyone being killed. This sanitized, bloodless presentation by military briefers left the world presuming Desert Storm was a war without death.

Cheney said “The American people saw up close with their own eyes through the magic of television what the U.S. military was capable of doing.” His formal report to congress of the number of Iraqi dead was 457.

It's not unreasonable or even very contentious to suggest that the administration wishes to dissociate in the minds of its citizens the act of US military intervention from images of 10'000s of military and civilian deaths.

Is it your view, given the almost complete lack of video or photographic material recording death, that the government does not have a policy of suppression on doing so? It may not - how then do you account for its lack of availability and Cheney's inaccurate report?

I think this is an important point - thought and conviction, without fact, is useless. Denying people facts, in a democracy, is a serious crime because it denies them choice. What do you think?

(fire and ice is an interesting further reference, with sources including Reuters, of the nature and scale of some of the civilian atrocities that were carried out. I imagine, given the success of the administration in keeping this information out of the public domain for such a long time, much of the material will be novel to most people).
posted by RichLyon at 1:24 PM on December 18, 2002


languagehat, yes, it bothers me a lot. And it is definitely worth paying attention too. Thing is though, this sort of stuff isn't new. It always happens in a war, there's always innocents in the way. Imagine, for example, how many German civilians were killed during WW2 during the bombing of Dresden. Even if you were to magically avoid killing anyone that wasn't a soldier, do you think that those soldiers don't have wives, kids etc who are waiting for them to come home? There is no such thing as a war where the innocent don't get hurt. This isn't really anything new, it's just the sad fact that war means pain and death to many, some innocent, some not. That doesn't mean we shouldn't fight in afghanistan, or WW2 Germany for that matter, but it is something we should always remember when someone's is going on about how wonderful a war is going. War is pain, the question should always be which is the worse result: the pain from going to war, or the consequences of avoidance without resolution.
posted by unreason at 1:29 PM on December 18, 2002


Does it really not bother you that two-thirds of those killed by these bombs were children?

Yes, for the love of god, yes of course, the whole story is bothersome, no one likes to see this much rampant death in the world, civilian or otherwise, but the point is that we're all big boys and girls and we all read the news (for that matter the Reuters story was also at CNN.com yesterday) and fold_and_mutilate's post is exactly the kind of news item that inspires long, boring, argumentative (and yes, pointless) threads on a website that used to be about web oddities, useful tools and online culture that brought out everyone's helpful collective nature.

If f_and_m truly cares about the world, why not spend that passion running for office, starting action groups, starting protests, communicating with his political representatives, writing articles or writing books, instead of posting to a website that was never intended for this kind of debate.
posted by dhoyt at 1:31 PM on December 18, 2002


Well first off, children are not 2/3 of the people killed by these bombs. 87 of the 127 civilian casualties where children. It is a awful that any children. let alone any civilians, are killed in war. But... considering past wars, this is an extremely low number. It sounds cliche, but it is true, people die in war.

So yes, it bothers me that these 87 children died. But that is war.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 1:33 PM on December 18, 2002


Your right walrus, it is mine and everyone else's fault for commenting in this thread. Because if none of us who disagree with the premise of this thread comment, then surly people like f&m will quit posting them...

Actually, despite the fact that I'm ignoring my own advice here, it would be a great idea to do just that. If everyone who had a problem with this thread and the many others like it (either because of content or presentation) just ignored it, the flames would gutter and die out much more quickly due to lack of fuel.

I would still like to see MeFi add a new feature: the killfile. I'm sure Matt will jump right on that.

On preview: I'm pretty sure I saw and heard coverage of the Baghdad-bound caravan of military and commandeered civilian vehicles that was turned into so much scrap metal by American planes in the Gulf War. If I remember the incident correctly, it would seem that there were probably 457 Iraqi dead in that "battle" alone.
posted by deadcowdan at 1:34 PM on December 18, 2002


This just in: It is probably not illegal for Ty Webb to be pantsless, but it should be.

But then work would be so much less fun.
posted by Ty Webb at 1:40 PM on December 18, 2002


Well first off, children are not 2/3 of the people killed by these bombs. 87 of the 127 civilian casualties where children. It is a awful that any children. let alone any civilians, are killed in war. But... considering past wars, this is an extremely low number. It sounds cliche, but it is true, people die in war.

Well, let's take that 87 children and add them to the "500,000" or so that have died as a direct result of the American and UN sanctions on food, and medical supplies to Iraq over the past 10 years. Is that an acceptable loss?

(As for total deaths due to the sanctions, its up around 1.5 million)
posted by SweetJesus at 1:48 PM on December 18, 2002


Can't point you to a statement by the government because it is hardly the sort of thing they would commit to print

So you are assuming then?

Back on the dud cluster bombs:

Here is a photo from the State Department of U.S. military personnel explaining the dangers of unexploded ordnance to Afghan children in the village of Deh Baha Ali.

SweetJesus: That is a load of bullshit and you know it. First: The sanctions have nothing to do with civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Nice attempt to make the leap. Second: For the last 10 years Saddam has lived in the lap of luxury building lavish palaces and buying weapon systems while his people starve.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 1:53 PM on December 18, 2002


[steve_at_linwood - do you intend replying tonight (GMT) or shall I retire to slumber?]
posted by RichLyon at 1:55 PM on December 18, 2002


I supported military action in Afghanistan in order to rout, capture, and kill Al Qaeda, and I applaud HRW for attempting to show the mistakes made during the war. I actually am pretty sure that many in the military are a lot less callous than people like Steve_at, and will study this report and probably make some changes (if possible) the next time this happens.

Everyone I know in the military's nightmare is to kill civilians, especially children. Listening to reports like this and attempting to address these problems ultimately strengthens the military's morale (how would you feel being a crewman on a bomber which killed dozens of kids?). People like Steve_at are probably just sick of anti-war fundamentalists, and thus react in this callous, unhelpful way, but the reality is that limiting civilian casualties is a huge plus for the military and the country at large, and reports like this can help inch closer to that reality.
posted by cell divide at 2:01 PM on December 18, 2002


...oops -sorry- that was your reply. And I spent 25 minutes crafting my note with some very gracious conversation hooks for you. Nice troll!

[if anyone else finds the likes of steve and the amusing newsreaders not quite their cup of tea these days, and ache for a volume control, I'd thoroughly recommend Plastic. It's really quite pleasant and educational to discover a community of people with whom you can improve your mind, disagree, and yet don't want to punch.]

Bye.
posted by RichLyon at 2:04 PM on December 18, 2002


SweetJesus: That is a load of bullshit and you know it.

Hmmm, no it's not a load of bullshit. Since you have no idea what I'm talking about (how did Afghanistan even come up in your reply?), I'll post some info. Here's a brief excerpt from a very long document on the UN's sanctions of Iraq.

When the Security Council first imposed sanctions on Iraq in 1990, many diplomats, scholars and citizens believed that comprehensive economic sanctions were innovative, benign and non-violent. Some believed that sanctions offered an ethical foreign policy tool to combat threats to peace and security without causing unintended suffering.

It is now clear that comprehensive economic sanctions in Iraq have hurt large numbers of innocent civilians not only by limiting the availability of food and medicines, but also by disrupting the whole economy, impoverishing Iraqi citizens and depriving them of essential income, and reducing the national capacity of water treatment, electrical systems and other infrastructure critical for health and life. People in Iraq have died in large numbers. The extent of death, suffering and hardship may have been greater than during the armed hostilities, especially for civilians... Comprehensive sanctions in Iraq, then, are not benign, non-violent or ethical.


That's a quote from the Global Policy Center, which has ties to the United Nations. So it's not bullshit. It is in fact, very very true. Maybe you just have no idea what I'm talking about.
posted by SweetJesus at 2:06 PM on December 18, 2002


how did Afghanistan even come up in your reply?

My bad... mis-read your afghanistan comment. The original intent of my post was to shed some light on so called "acceptable casualties" such as the 500,000 or so that have been killed as a result of UN and America's sanctions of Iraq.
posted by SweetJesus at 2:11 PM on December 18, 2002


SweetJesus, he might have been refering to this
posted by stifford at 2:14 PM on December 18, 2002


Rich: It took you 25 min to cut and past an article?

SJ: How did Iraqi sanctions come up in a thread about cluster bombs and civilian deaths in Afghanistan...

Not doubt that Iraqi citizens are suffering. Were you go wrong is to blame that sanctions. The 'Food-for-Oil' program allows plenty of money to go into Iraq for food and medical supplies. The problem is that Saddam takes the money and uses it for other things. So the blame lies not with the U.N. and the sanctions, but with Saddam
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 2:15 PM on December 18, 2002


Actually, Steve it's not quite accurate, as many important medical supplies which could be potentially used for some sort of chemical weapons projects are not allowed under the program, even though there are ways to make sure they are not used in that manner. Of course, it still goes back to Hussein's decisions to pursue such weapons programs in the first place. That being said, however, the sanctions program has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of needless deaths and is inhumane-- the majority of the blame, of course, lies with Hussien, however not all of it, especially since the UN and the US offered no creative solution to the problem. The uncreative, but effective, solution of war will make this all history in a few months. I recommend the Reason Magazine piece here if you have not yet read it, it is pretty clear-headed.
posted by cell divide at 2:27 PM on December 18, 2002


The problem is that Saddam takes the money and uses it for other things.

So let's kill more children. The terrorist will win if the killing ever ends.
posted by four panels at 2:38 PM on December 18, 2002


Interesting that it hasn't been pointed out that the majority of the children killed were probably trying to gather up these munitions, most likely at the behest of their parents or owners (yes, as in slavery.) The reason? Such high-quality scrap can be re-sold in the enormous arms markets of Pakistan as premium alloy.
Ironic, that in that region, small amounts of cluster-bomb scrap is worth more than human life.
posted by kablam at 2:50 PM on December 18, 2002


but who will think of the OIL?!?!?!?!?!
posted by quonsar at 2:53 PM on December 18, 2002


I thought people weren't going to be commenting on these bullshit political threads any more?
posted by jammer at 2:56 PM on December 18, 2002


rich:

[if anyone else finds the likes of steve and the amusing newsreaders not quite their cup of tea these days, and ache for a volume control, I'd thoroughly recommend Plastic. It's really quite pleasant and educational to discover a community of people with whom you can improve your mind, disagree, and yet don't want to punch.]

perhaps one day, rich. for now, members of metafilter are sticken with fear and paranoia that their world shall crack and sunder if they do not respond to every gripe. most political threads, many days, seem darkly cynical: a mood that matches that of their frequent readers.

i realize we all sometimes lose focus, but as a general rule your political party will not suffer shame and bitter humiliation if you do not have the last word. your core values shall stand, if they are solid, despite the words of any other. so why do we engage in this endless clusterfuck? why are we so needy?
posted by moz at 2:59 PM on December 18, 2002


Dear Rich:

Plastic is a censoring joke. A sham in the backseat of Carl Steadman's 1989 Honda Accord.

We know you'll be happier there.
posted by four panels at 3:17 PM on December 18, 2002


The report says there were 127 casualties of which there were 29 deaths; there weren't 87 children killed. The percentage of children on the casualty list is high because many of them do not immediately recognize the danger of an unexploded munition. There was even one instance in which one group of children threw a bomblet at two others.

The BLU-97 has a dud rate of about 5%. There are 202 BLU-97s in each CBU-87 and CBU-103, so that means about 10 unexploded bomblets per weapon. These weapons are very effective and inexpensive, so they tend to get used a lot.

There's already been US activity to replace the BLU-97 submunitions with non-explosive payloads. These payloads contain thousands of metal darts of various sizes. Obviously, once the initial dispense is over, there is no danger to personnel (unless they pick up the darts and start stabbing each other
posted by joaquim at 3:31 PM on December 18, 2002


I can't believe the callousness and sheer ugliness of some of the comments in this thread. Collateral damage is all right when the damage is done to children thousands of miles away, right? As Mack Twain pointed out, the humanitarian supplies and bomblets are the same color. That's not an avoidable "booboo" by the US military?

I don't see anything wrong with this being a FPP. Human Rights Watch just released it's report on the subject, and F & M posted it. Partisan shmartisan.
posted by Devils Slide at 3:37 PM on December 18, 2002


But there is nothing unique, interesting, or quirky about it, Devils Slide. It's news. This is not Newsfilter.

And this discussion is old and pointless. I'm going to live by my own words and shut up with the news posts and the Newsfilter comments, already. I wish some other people would do the same.
posted by jammer at 3:51 PM on December 18, 2002


Jammer, I can respect that.
posted by Devils Slide at 4:08 PM on December 18, 2002


But there is nothing [...] interesting [...] about it.

People are being killed in our names. They deserve at least our passing interest.
posted by muckster at 4:44 PM on December 18, 2002


Lots of things deserve our passing interest. This isn't "things that deserve our passing interest"-filter, as mathowie has said time and again.

But anyway... as I promised I'm shutting up about it right.... now.
posted by jammer at 4:58 PM on December 18, 2002


Beg to differ, folks -- I'd say cluster bombs are a perfectly reasonable topic for links / conversation by the adults (or whoever) participates here.

Bombies - A PBS special on cluster bombs.

Alternet article summarizing the "Bombies" special

(Yes, I've posted this before. I can't retrieve it again with Google.)

Because the chances of assembling a ongoing broadcast audience in the US to watch shows about the impact of cluster bombs are slim to none, this makes "Bombies" a great example of how the web can provde timely, accurate materials on an important matter to a limited audience. (It's also an example of using your fellow MeFiers to help filter material, because you wouldn't necessarily think to look for "bombies" instead of "bomblets" on Google.)

Of course, if you are reading MeFi from Laos, there's probably nothing academic, obscure, "newsy," or of passing interest about our discussion. The little Laotian kids in impacted areas sing catchy tunes about bombies in school. ( Lao Unexploded Ordnance Program Page ) The coping strategies being implemented on the community level are fascinating! Perhaps webcams of demining teams will someday become a gruesome addition to the "reality" TV genre.
posted by sheauga at 5:02 PM on December 18, 2002


Pretty terrible; reminded me of a story Dad told. He was in the artillery during the war and part of an enginering outfit as part of the US Occupation Group in southern Germany in '45-'46.

A dud 155 round that had lodged in a large house in Germany going off months later -- when the family and neighbors were trying to move the round out of the house so they could repair it. It seems the dad didn't want to wait for the US Army, whom he heartily despised for putting the round into his house in the first place, to deal with it.
posted by alumshubby at 5:52 PM on December 18, 2002


I'm wearing pants, but I'll take them off during this post.

There. No more pants.

As you were.
posted by KiloHeavy at 6:39 PM on December 18, 2002


in What Bodies?, former Vietnam reporter Patrick Sloyan describes the censorship he was subjected to when (unsuccessfully) attempting to report any deaths in the Gulf war

Seymour Hersh also discusses this in this interview.
posted by homunculus at 10:17 PM on December 18, 2002


There. No more pants.

And cluster bombs are apparently pantsless too. Forsooth!

Sanctions, however, are a horse of a different color. The United States does not owe handouts, yet the uproar about sanctions seems to suggest the opposite.

The US says: "stop making bombs or no more billions in aid" and people see this as killing children? Come on, it's free money in obscene amounts.
posted by hama7 at 4:22 AM on December 19, 2002


Speaking of cluster bombs, then there's the issue of the US refusal to sign international treaties on small arms and land mines.

land mines are extremely usefull, you know
posted by troutfishing at 6:40 AM on December 19, 2002


Sanctions, however, are a horse of a different color. The United States does not owe handouts, yet the uproar about sanctions seems to suggest the opposite.

The US says: "stop making bombs or no more billions in aid" and people see this as killing children? Come on, it's free money in obscene amounts.


Sanctions are not anti-handouts, Hama7. Sanction is pretty much a fancy term for embargo. This means that no matter how much money Iraq has, the United States (or UN) will not allow them to purchase food, medical supplies, and a whole bigass list of other things from any country affiliated with the UN. It has nothing to do with the United States sending aid to Iraq (although, under the UN's sanctions, this would be illegal). I have no idea where you picked this piece of fantasy from.
posted by SweetJesus at 4:01 PM on December 19, 2002


Steve_at_Linwood It is a awful that any children. let alone any civilians, are killed in war. But... considering past wars, this is an extremely low number.

It is awful that children have died. But it is truly horrifying that they might have died by bombs on which grinning servicemen had painted "Here's a Ramadan present from Chad Rickenberg". (Via Robert-fisk.com. Caution: other areas of the site contain distressing images of Afghani civilian casualties.)

Maybe only those bombs intended for targets safely separated from civilian population centers were decorated in this manner. Maybe the ones destined for 'mixed' areas were handled with the solemn professionalism of an elite fighting force, strengthened in their distress by the secure knowledge they were serving a just nation's moral purpose.
posted by RichLyon at 11:20 AM on December 20, 2002


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