A more humanitarian war
March 10, 2003 12:17 PM   Subscribe

An interview with Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. Roth describes how his organization is trying to pressure the U.S. to wage as humanitarian a war as possible. To this end, HRW has not taken a position for or against a war, but rather on how a possible war should be waged. But this raises the question of to what extent the U.S. is still concerned with international humanitarian law. As Michael Byers of Duke University warns, "some U.S. politicians have begun to think of war, not as the high-risk recourse of last resort, but as an attractive foreign policy option in times of domestic scandal or economic decline... When war is seen as an ordinary tool of foreign policy - 'politics by other means' - political and financial considerations impinge on the balance between military necessity and humanitarian concerns."
posted by homunculus (10 comments total)
Amnesty International has adopted a similar position - neutral on the rights and wrongs of the war itself, but concerned with how it would be waged, the humanitarian impact (including the 'rules of engagement', the impact of sanctions and the human rights record of Saddam's government) and the human rights situation afterwards - just as it did in Afghanistan.

Somewhat tangentially, Clare Short, the British International Development Secretary who has threatened to resign if war goes ahead without UN approval, seems to have left herself some room for manoeuvre if humanitarian aid is approved once the war gets underway.
posted by plep at 12:43 PM on March 10, 2003

The Amnesty call for Human Rights inspectors is something that should be put under consideration before a war starts. If we've been able to get weapons inspectors in, and scientist interviews without minders, why not get human rights observations? And election observations?

It seems that without firing a shot, UN presense could be scaled up nearly without limit. Imagine an Iraq absolutely crawling with UN inspectors, media, bloggers, peaceniks. Could Saddam continue making people "disappear"? Could one of his famous 100% elections happen with UN observers present and free to travel without minders?

Unfortunately, I suppose it's too late for that now. Would've been a nice idea though.
posted by condour75 at 2:02 PM on March 10, 2003

I don't want to imagine anything that might be crawling with bloggers....
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:21 PM on March 10, 2003

posted by condour75 at 2:32 PM on March 10, 2003

It seems that without firing a shot, UN presence could be scaled up nearly without limit. Imagine an Iraq absolutely crawling with UN inspectors, media, bloggers, peaceniks. Could Saddam continue making people "disappear"? Could one of his famous 100% elections happen with UN observers present and free to travel without minders?

For many, that was the whole point behind lifting Iraqi sanctions. But the Ignorant and Incompetent only understand force as applied by themselves. An economic takeover of Iraq was once possible, without a shot being fired. And now, those who called for such a move are identified as weak and simpering by those who just wanna see the missiles fly. HRW is described as pragmatic. The Bush administration (and all the little Bushies) describe themselves as pragmatic. Why such disagreement between them?

We will highlight the humanitarian needs of those displaced or victimized by war and demand their protection.

And they will be ignored. Saddam and his administration are going to fight for their lives; Bush will be fighting for the will of God, a war for peace. Neither side has left themselves room for care about the Iraqi people, and the HRW is trying to recapture some legitimacy in a bastard role of protecting the innocent. Those who have the guns just don't have the means to care. How fucked up is that?

Ignoring criticism from a number of European leaders, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and even the normally neutral Red Cross, Rumsfeld insisted the detainees were not prisoners of war and refused to convene the tribunals required under the Geneva Conventions to determine their status. He also ignored advice from the Pentagon's judge advocate generals, and based his decision instead on an analysis provided by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, a former corporate lawyer from Texas. The suspects, who have still not been charged or granted access to counsel, remain at Guantanamo: at least 14 have attempted suicide.

Collateral damage, baby! Get used to it.
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:58 PM on March 10, 2003

Thanks for the Amnesty links, plep.

Collateral damage, baby! Get used to it.

And that will seem like nothing if they really go through with the "Shock and Awe" campaign we keep hearing about. I suspect that it may actually be disinformation, meant to psych out the Iraqis. At least I hope so, because I don't see how many civilians in Baghdad would survive it, even if the bombs are precision guided. Chris Hedges discussed it with Bill Moyers last week:
MOYERS: When you hear the General describe an attack of 3,000 missiles on Iraq, what comes through your mind?

HEDGES: Well not images of shock and awe. Images of large numbers of civilian dead. Destroyed buildings. Panic in the corridors of hospitals. Families that can't reach parts of the city that have been devastated and are desperate for news of their loved ones. All of the images of war that I've seen for most of the past two decades come to mind.
posted by homunculus at 4:10 PM on March 10, 2003

I have a different take on the subject. If war is to be, then you want (at least the more responsible) combatant to abide by the rules of war--at least insofar as the rules of war have evolved over time.
Important stuff such as what are the "escalators", the triggers, that heighten the intensity, such as attacks on airfields, on civilian targets, or with NBC weapons, etc.; and what response will each invoke.
International war conventions also come into play, such as trying to avoid the use of WMDs, and notification to third parties of WMD use--to avoid "spillover" into other nations; missile launches and what surveillance by third parties is acceptable; involvement of non-combatant neutrals and observers.
Last but not least, war crimes and evidence collection.

And though it is not a pleasant thing to do, it is better that all of this be taken into consideration before the war begins.
posted by kablam at 6:16 PM on March 10, 2003

OT a bit, but did y'all see that the Pentagon's building a set for their presentations in Qatar?
Gone are the easel and chart, solitary television and VCR machine with which General Norman Schwarzkopf showed fuzzy images of smart-bomb raids during the 1991 Gulf War. On a set that will become instantly recognisable, generals will present updates from two podiums at the front of a stage adorned with five 50in plasma screens and two 70in television projection screens ready to show maps, graphics and videos of action.

Behind them will be a soft-focus elongated map of the world, as if to suggest that the world is united behind them. The set was built in Chicago and reputedly shipped over by Federal Express at a cost of $47,000 (£29,000).
posted by condour75 at 6:34 PM on March 10, 2003

More ominously, this BBC correspondent says that the Pentagon has threatened to fire on the satellite uplink positions of independent journalists.
posted by homunculus at 8:14 PM on March 10, 2003

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