Alert! War Update/ Write Now
24 November 2001
With the Alliance Party currently reviewing its contentious support for the war against the people of Afghanistan, and the Labour Party conference on the weekend of 1 December, it is a particularly good time for you to make your views known to Alliance and Labour MPs if you are so inclined.
As well as writing to Helen Clark and Jim Anderton as leaders of their respective political parties, it would be useful to contact your local Labour or Alliance MPs, and any list MPs from either party who live in your area. It would also be a good time to write again to your local paper, phone talk back radio, and/or the nationally distributed media. Contact details for politicians and mass media are at the end of this message.
Below are some quotes and sources of information summarising areas of major concern which you could raise in your letters, phone calls and faxes.
There are now more than 300 statements and articles (published between 11 September and 16 November) listed on the index page at http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/usatresp.htm which provide background material, facts and figures.
One of the clearest analyses of the current situation is that in John Pilger's article 'This war of lies goes on' which we circulated on 17 November 2001 - it is available online at http://www.johnpilger.com
The article begins: "There is no victory in Afghanistan's tribal war, only the exchange of one group of killers for another. The difference is that President Bush calls the latest occupiers of Kabul "our friends"."
However welcome the scenes of people playing music and shaving off their beards, this so-called Northern Alliance are no bringers of freedom. They are the same people welcomed by similar scenes of jubilation in 1992, who then killed an estimated 50,000 in four years of internecine feuding.
The new heroes so far have tortured and executed at least 100 prisoners of war, and countless others, as well as looted food supplies and re-established their monopoly on the heroin trade.
This week, Amnesty International made an unusually blunt statement that was buried in the news. It ought to be emblazoned across every front page and television screen. "By failing to appreciate the gravity of the human rights concerns in relation to Northern Alliance leaders," said Amnesty, "UK ministers at best perpetuate a culture of impunity for past crimes; at worst they risk being complicit in human rights abuse.""
The statement of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Bishops of New Zealand, (meeting in Wellington on 8 November 2001) condemning the war on the people of Afghanistan is a useful homegrown source of quotes for letters to politicians and the mass media. The statement includes points such as: "We question whether the dropping of food parcels can in any way justify the dropping of bombs" and "Those of us who live in relative security and affluence need to be honest enough to apologise most sincerely for our years of blindness to the plight of suffering peoples, the poor, and those who carry the heavy and tragic burden of history, wars, dominations and betrayals. It is an illusion to believe that terrorism can be defeated with revenge or violent reprisal. The perpetrators of terrorism should remain in moral isolation. Sadly they do not when their terrorism is matched with hostilities that cause large numbers of innocent civilian casualties." The statement is available online at http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/cra0028.htm
As well as the moral and ethical issues raised by this war of retaliation which is killing people who had nothing to do with the attacks in New York and Washington, there are the concerns which have been raised in the past few days about the possible mass slaughter of fighters trapped in Kunduz. On Wednesday, the Dominion reported that US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld had "ruled out any chance that thousands of Al Qaeda mercenaries trapped in the northern city of Kunduz would be allowed to negotiate a safe passage out of Afghanistan". He was quoted as saying "The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders, nor are we in a position, with relatively small number of forces on the ground, to accept prisoners."
As recently as yesterday, a Guardian article by Luke Harding in Mazar-i-Sharif, Rory McCarthy in Kabul and Ewen MacAskill had the headline 'Fear of Bloodbath as Alliance Advances on Kunduz' which begins "The Northern Alliance and US bombers yesterday mounted what they hope will be the final push on the Taliban-held city of Kunduz after a negotiated surrender fell apart almost as soon as it was signed. The intensity of the fighting and the prospect of the imminent fall of the city led to fears that it could deteriorate into a bloodbath." (Guardian, 23 November 2001).
In addition to the possibility of the massacre of the fighters, sentences such as "On the Kunduz front, the alliance rushed tanks and troops from other frontlines to join the assault on the city. B-52 bombers flew over the frontline but dropped their loads close to Kunduz itself. Panicked refugees streamed from the city." (same Guardian article) suggest that the toll of death and injury among the remaining civilian population in the area is likely to be extremely high.
The types of weapons used by the US armed forces in particular during this war are both an immediate and long-term concern. In the short term, weapons such as daisy cutters, cluster bombs, bunker buster bombs, and techniques such as carpet bombing are in practice 'indiscriminate' weapons - they give lie to the myths about selected targeting, precision bombing, and protection of the civilian population.
The use of these weapons and techniques is clearly in breach of international law, particularly that relating to the protection of civilians in times of armed conflict - a brief summary of relevant conventions is included in the 'Wellington Peoples Court' transcript available at http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/cra0011.htm
Reports such as that by Justin Huggler on 19 November give an indication of exactly the kind of 'precision' bombing that is going on - headlined 'Carpet bombing 'kills 150 civilians' in frontline town' the report begins:
"A catastrophic error by carpet-bombing US Air Force warplanes was blamed yesterday for the deaths of about 150 unarmed Afghan civilians in a densely populated frontline town caught up in the battle for the Taliban redoubt of Kunduz. Terrified refugees fleeing the town of Khanabad yesterday told The Independent that American planes had bombed the area a few miles from Kunduz daily since Thursday, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the buildings they were bombing were civilian homes. All day yesterday, huge plumes of smoke rose from the hills on the front lines near the Taliban's last northern stronghold as B-52 bombers continued to drop their loads of bombs." The full report is available online at http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia_china/story.jsp?story=105629
The Centre for Defence Information website has a chronological summary of the amounts and types of weapons used in Afghanistan if you require more details about that, http://www.cdi.org/terrorism/actionupdate.cfm
The 'bad slip up' of dropping of cluster bombs of the same colour as the one person ration packs has resulted in as yet unknown numbers of civilian deaths and maimings. But the immediate deaths and injuries caused by the weapons mentioned above are unfortunately not likely to be the end of the killing.
As well as the problem of however many tons of munitions which have already been dropped on or fired in Afghanistan leading to the long term problem of unexploded shells and bombs, there are specific concerns about particular types of weapons.
Foremost among these are the concerns about cluster bombs - on 16 November 2001, Human Rights watch warned that "nearly 5,000 unexploded and highly volatile cluster bomblets may be littered across areas of Afghanistan that were targeted by US warplanes. "These unexploded bomblets have in effect become antipersonnel landmines," said Mark Hiznay, senior researcher of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. "They pose an extreme hazard to civilians, not just now but for years to come." Human Rights Watch repeated its calls for the United States to immediately stop using cluster bombs in Afghanistan. " This article is available online, together with other HRW articles raising other issues of concern about the war, at http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/afghanistan/
In addition, there is concern that Depleted Uranium munitions may have been used in Afghanistan - DU is mainly used in armour piercing ammunition fired at tanks, and it generally causes any tanks (and the people in them) hit by that type of shell to ignite. There are unconfirmed reports that the dense metal tips of the GBU-37 bunker buster bombs may be DU, and that the titanium in the alleged 'titanium' tipped / shafted missiles is in fact a combination of DU and titanium.
DU ammunition was used extensively in the Gulf war and the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Heavy metal toxicity and radiation poisoning from exposure to DU via fragment wounds, and DU particles inhaled through wind borne dust or ingested from contaminated water supplies are thought to have contributed to extraordinarily high levels of birth defects, cancers, and other serious illnesses in areas of Southern Iraq, and to 'Gulf War' Syndrome' which has affected soldiers from US and British armed forces who fought in the Gulf war.
It is primarily US munitions which contain DU, but it is exceedingly difficult to get the Pentagon to admit to their use at the time of any armed conflict. Some British anti-tank munitions have DU tips. On 24 October 2001 in the British House of Commons, in reply to a question re the use of DU by British troops, Mr. Hoon replied: "No British forces currently engaged in operations around Afghanistan are armed with depleted uranium ammunition. However, we do not rule out the use of depleted uranium ammunition in Afghanistan, should its penetrative capability be judged necessary in the future."
And finally of course, there is the issue of the millions of people in Afghanistan facing starvation which has been exacerbated by the war. From a summary of aid agency reports, put together by FAIR (available at http://www.zmag.org/), comes the following: from Jim Jennings (Conscience International),21 November - "The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is far from over - millions still face starvation and disease. The sudden expansion of Northern Alliance territories, although opening the possibility of deliveries from the north, actually stopped the food convoys from Pakistan and Iran for several days because truck drivers are reluctant to travel into a militarily volatile situation .... Meanwhile, the humanitarian effort is losing precious days, a critical factor because of the onset of winter. For every day lost now, some people will die down the line."
From Sarah Zaidi (Center for Economic and Social Rights), 21 November - "The biggest obstacle to the relief effort is now posed by U.S. partners. Northern Alliance warlords have sabotaged supply routes inside Afghanistan, while Pakistan and other neighbouring countries continue to seal their borders and prevent desperate people from reaching food and safety. Rather than seeking to score PR points, the U.S. military should pressure its allies to allow free movement to Afghans and to UN and private relief agencies. Ensuring that thousands of Afghans do not starve to death this winter is both a moral imperative and a human rights obligation for all parties who have contributed to the crisis - including the United States."
Also on 21 November from the Center for Economic and Social Rights - "The Geneva Conventions and Red Cross regulations mandate that relief aid be neutral, impartial and motivated solely by humanitarian concerns. But so far the U.S. military has viewed the food crisis in Afghanistan - which our bombing helped create - as a domestic PR opportunity. Independent relief agencies have condemned our military policy of dropping food into heavily-mined areas as not only ineffective and dangerous, but also a distraction from the unglamorous but crucial work of distributing the huge amounts of staple goods necessary to feed millions of hungry people."
And from Erwin Vant Land, (Medicin Sans Frontiere/Doctors Without Borders, which has 30 international aid workers inside Afghanistan), 21 November - "Humanitarian work should be carried out by civilian agencies and should be completely independent of military considerations .... The situation deteriorated during the past two months of bombing, as large parts of the Afghan population dependent on international aid for survival did not receive it."
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