Cyber Terror Next?"
Dorothy E. Denning, Computer Science, Georgetown University
Before, After, and In Between"
James Der Derian,
Political Science, Brown University, University of Massachusetts,
the War Against Afghanistan"
Richard Falk, International Law, Princeton University
Militarism, Arms Races and Arms Control"
Mary Kaldor, Political Science, London School of Economics
Psychology of Terrorism"
Clark McCauley, Psychology, Bryn Mawr College
Armed Force and the Laws of War"
Adam Roberts, International Relations, Oxford University
Charles Tilly, Sociology, Columbia University
to Tilly's 'Predictions'"
Jack Goldstone, Sociology, University of California, Davis
Afghan Civilians from the Hell of War"
Nicholas Wheeler, Political Science, University of Wales,
War and Peace-Building: Unfinished Legacy of the 1990s"
Protecting Afghan Civilians from the
Hell of War
J. Wheeler, Senior Lecturer, Department of International
Politics, University of Wales, Aberystwyth
We did not start this war. So understand,
responsibility for every single casualty in this war, whether
they're innocent Afghans or innocent Americans, rests at
the feet of the al Qaeda and the Taliban (Donald H. Rumsfeld,
4 December 2001).
Michael Walzer dubbed blaming your enemy for
the cruelty of war as the 'War is hell' doctrine.1
The attraction of this moral conception of war to U.S. political
and military leaders is that it absolves them of responsibility
for the death and suffering inflicted on innocent Afghans
as a consequence of the U.S. bombing campaign against the
Taliban and al Qaeda. It is estimated in a recent study of
civilian casualties caused by U.S. attacks that as many as
3,767 Afghans may have died in the eight and a half week campaign.2
However, U.S. officials repudiate such an assessment. The
Bush Administration has refused to put a figure on civilian
deaths but according to Under Secretary of State for Political
Affairs, Marc Grossman, 'when the military aspect of the struggle
is over, it will be clear that the number of civilian casualties
is very, very low'.3 Indeed, the administration
has repeatedly contrasted its caution in avoiding civilian
casualties with the deliberate acts of civilian destruction
inflicted by the forces of al Qaeda against the World Trade
Centre on September 11. For example, Department of Defence
spokesperson, Victoria Clarke, stated on 23 October that 'U.S.
forces are intentionally striking only military and terrorist
targets. We take great care in our targeting process
to avoid civilian casualties'.4 State Department
officials and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff expressed
similar sentiments of concern. What is significant about these
statements is that they acknowledge a direct responsibility
for the protection of Afghan civilians, and as such they sit
uneasily with Rumsfeld's contention that the US is innocent
of the adverse moral consequences of the bombing campaign
that it initiated on 7 October. In this essay, I will explore
how far US targeting policy against the Taliban and al Qaeda
is shaped by the interaction of these two discourses of war.
Has the U.S. taken 'great care' to avoid civilian casualties
or has it unreasonably privileged the lives of its own military
personnel over those of ordinary Afghans? Are administration
officials paying lip service to the norm of non-combatant
immunity for political purposes? Or, are they adhering to
the Rumsfeld view that the U.S. cannot be held accountable
for the moral consequences of its actions against the Taliban
and al Qaeda?
Walzer traced the idea of 'war is hell' to
General Sherman's moral justification for the forced evacuation
of the population of Atlanta as he razed it to the ground
during the Civil War. Sherman claimed to be innocent of the
harm he and his men had imposed on the citizens of Atlanta,
arguing that responsibility for such cruelty rested with those
who had started the war, namely, the leaders of the Confederacy.
Walzer points out that in response to General Hood's plea
for restraint on the part of the Unionist forces, Sherman
replied: 'War is cruelty and you cannot refine it...those
who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and
maledictions a people can pour out'.5 Sherman destroyed
Atlanta and pursued a 'scorched earth' policy across Georgia
because he was determined to destroy the Confederate army
and bring victory to the forces of the Union. As far as he
was concerned, his forces were entitled to do whatever was
necessary to achieve victory.
for an article in the Emory International Law Review on whether
Sherman's actions would conform to curent law of war standards.
Sherman's theory of where to locate responsibility
for death and suffering in war is open to the fundamental
objection that those who use force in a just cause should
recognise a responsibility to protect civilians from the horrors
of war. The fact that Sherman chose to evacuate the city of
Atlanta before burning it suggests that even he recognised
that war could be refined to some degree.6 It is
the belief that war can and must be fought with moral restraint
that distinguishes the doctrine of 'war is hell' from the
Just War tradition of moral theorising. This distinguishes
between the jus ad bellum (the justice of the reasons
for going to war) and the jus in bello (the justice
of the conduct of war). We are interested in the latter, and
what lies at the core of this part of Just War theory is the
absolute principle that civilians are not legitimate targets
of war. This norm is enshrined in all the instruments of international
humanitarian law, notably the Geneva Conventions (including
the two additional Protocols signed in 1977), and it is a
moral standard against which states feel it necessary to justify
their actions. The attack against the World Trade Centre on
September 11 received almost universal condemnation by governments
because it was a deliberate and systematic attempt to kill
and maim civilians.
Why do Just War theorists argue that civilians are entitled
to immunity from harm? The answer is a complex one but it
rests upon the claim that only those capable of harming others
can be denied protection of their right to life. Soldiers
forfeit this right once they take up arms and become dangerous
to combatants and civilians on the other side. By contrast,
civilians who are not capable of harming others must be treated
as innocent in wartime. Walzer argues that, 'The relevant
distinction is...between those who make what soldiers need
to fight, and those who make what they need to live, like
all the rest of us'.7 Attacking munitions factories
where civilians' work is permissible but attacking their homes
is prohibited.8 Civilians only lose their immunity
from attack whenever they 'are actually engaged in activities
threatening and harmful to their enemies'.9 On
this basis, Walzer was highly critical of U.S. targeting of
Iraq's power generating facilities during the Persian Gulf
War. It is estimated that these strikes resulted in the deaths
of as many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians through the loss of
water, power and sewage facilities.10
Even if states only attack strictly legitimate military targets,
it is impossible, even with the technological development
of precision weapons, to avoid the inadvertent killing and
harming of civilians: there can be no guarantee that the guidance
systems will not malfunction; there is the problem of human
error in programming systems; the possibility that targets
will prove to have been mistakenly identified; and the troubling
issue of your enemy placing 'human shields' around military
installations. In other words, the guarantee of immunity to
civilians can never be absolute, a point which Western leaders
frequently reiterate to justify their targeting policies.
It is the fact that innocents will inevitably be hurt in war
that underpins pacifism's deontological rejection of the Just
The problem for just war theorists is that if they were to
commit to the principle of absolute protection for civilians
in war, they would have to rule out using force to prosecute
a just cause. As Brian Orend puts it:
Outlawing all warfare would ignore both the
responsibility for interstate aggression and the implicit
entitlement of a state to use necessary means (including
armed force) to secure the lives and rights of its citizens
from serious and standard threats to them...It is simply
not reasonable to require a state to stand down while the
aggression of another state wreaks havoc - murder and mayhem
upon its people.11
Just War theory is prepared to sanction the
harming of civilians provided that it is not a deliberate
act of policy, and can be justified in terms of the military
advantage obtained from such attacks. To secure this controversial
claim, the doctrine of 'double-effect' developed by Catholic
theologians in the Middle Ages is invoked. The argument is
that an act is permitted which has both good and evil consequences
if the following conditions are satisfied: the evil outcome
must not be intended; the adverse effect must not serve directly
as a means to the good achieved; and crucially, the good must
outweigh the unintended evil consequences of the act - the
In pressing into service the argument of double-effect, Just
War theory comes perilously close to exposing itself as morally
incoherent. The principle of non-combatant immunity is predicated
on the proposition that civilians are not engaged in the business
of harm. Yet having done nothing to forfeit the right to life,
the theory legitimates placing innocents in danger where they
cannot be guaranteed safety from missiles that go astray and
where the proximity of their homes and workplaces to military
facilities exposes them to death and injury. Such a predicament
begs the pacifist question of whether a war that cannot be
fought without killing civilians should ever be resorted to.12
for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Just War.
An alternative answer to this moral dilemma
is to accept the necessity of fighting just wars but insist
that 'due care'13 be taken in the protection
of civilians. The Pentagon and State Department press briefings
on the bombing campaign in Afghanistan are replete with
references to U.S. forces exercising 'care' in targeting.
But what does this mean? A key prerequisite is respect for
the proportionality rule. This is codified in Protocol 1
to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. States have a legal obligation
under Article 51 (5) (b) to refrain from attacks 'which
may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life,
injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination
thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete
and direct military advantage anticipated'.14
International humanitarian law establishes norms for judging
legitimate conduct, but it does not obviate the fact that
with the best of intentions, there will be disagreements
over whether this obligation is met in specific cases. For
example, NATO was criticised by human rights groups and
other commentators for its strikes against the Federal Republic
of Yugoslavia's electrical grid during the Kosovo war. However,
NATO defended this choice of target on the grounds that
the military advantage was both 'concrete and direct', and
the good outweighed the evil consequences in terms of inadvertent
The elasticity of the proportionality rule leads Walzer
to view it as 'a weak constraint'15 on the targeting
policies of states. He worries that the doctrine of double-effect
becomes a 'blanket justification' for those deaths that
are 'unintended but foreseeable'.16 To avoid
this danger, Walzer insists that those who take up arms
must not merely apply the proportionality rule since 'Civilians
have a right to something more. And if saving civilian lives
means risking soldiers' lives, the risk must be accepted'.17
He illustrates this claim by pointing to those airmen of
the Free French force who chose to incur the greater risks
of flying low against German military targets in Occupied
France during World War II because this minimised the risk
of killing French civilians who lived near these targets.
As one of the pilots recalled, 'It was more risky but it
also permitted greater precision'.18 There is
a limit to the dangers that we can expect the military to
shoulder, and Walzer suggests that these are 'roughly at
that point where any further risk-taking would certainly
doom the military venture or make it so costly that it could
not be repeated'.19
Does U.S. conduct of 'Operation Enduring
Freedom' meet the requirement of 'due care'?20
Marc W. Herold argues that far from accepting a positive commitment
to save civilian lives, the U.S. has sacrificed Afghan lives
to protect American ones.21 His indictment rests
on two fundamental claims. First, he argues that the U.S.
has caused many deaths by deliberately attacking the Afghan
civilian infrastructure. According to Article 52(2) of Protocol
1, a military target is defined as 'objects which by their
nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution
to military action'.22 Although Rumsfeld claimed
on 19 October that the U.S. was 'focused totally on military
targets',23 such claims depend upon accepting that
U.S. attacks against the main telephone exchange in Kabul,
the electrical grid in Kandahar, and the hydroelectric power
station adjacent to the Kajaki dam constituted legitimate
military targets.24 If we apply the Just War principle
that civilians only lose their immunity when they contribute
directly to war-making activities, it is hard to justify U.S.
attacks against facilities that sustain civilian life, and
where such strikes resulted in hundreds of Afghans being killed.
The second aspect of Herold's scathing critique concerns his
claim that the U.S. should not have dropped bombs on Taliban
and al Qaeda targets given the risks of unintended but foreseeable
casualties. He writes, 'It is simply unacceptable for civilians
to be slaughtered as a side-effect of an intentional strike
against a specified target...Killing civilians even if unintentional
is criminal'.25 This assertion raises a number
of difficult issues. First, there is the question of whether
Herold's figure of 3,767 casualties exaggerates the number
of civilians killed in the bombing campaign.26
Secondly, there is the contention that some Afghan civilians
have forfeited their right to immunity from attack by participating
in war-making activities. Rumsfeld made this claim in response
to reports that civilians had been killed after a bombing
mission against ammunition dumps hidden inside tunnels close
to the village of Khorum. Rumsfeld accepted that people had
been killed who lived in the vicinity of the target, but denied
that these people were innocent. He asserted that any civilians
killed were culpable because they were part of the activity
of war making. In the Secretary of Defence's somewhat flippant
words, 'people who were in close proximity to these isolated
ammunition dumps...were not cooking cookies inside those tunnels'.27
However, this assertion has not been verified by any other
sources, and it is equally plausible that those killed were
innocent civilians. The presence of Afghans close to the bombing
site did not necessarily render the attack unjust unless we
are to adopt the pacifist premise (as does Herold) that it
is unacceptable to place civilians at risk in war. Rather,
it would be necessary to show that the resulting unintentional
civilian casualties were outweighed by the 'concrete and direct'
military advantage of the attack.
There is scope for legitimate disagreement over whether the
destruction of Taliban and al Qaeda forces justifies x number
of civilians being killed as a consequence of 'collateral
damage'. This phrase has become a euphemism for the death
and destruction in civilian areas inadvertently caused by
a correctly aimed weapon hitting its intended military target.
However, what is striking is that U.S. officials have not
invoked the proportionality rule in replying to allegations
that they have been reckless when it comes to the protection
of innocent Afghans. Rather, the U.S. has either chosen to
dismiss such claims as propaganda or it has chosen to explain
civilian losses in terms of mistakes in targeting. For example,
the satellite guided Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) is
accurate to within 43 feet. The problem is that such technology
is never one hundred per cent reliable. On 12 October, a JDAM
missed its designated military target and hit a residential
area in Afghanistan.28 This was only one of a series
of mistakes that the Pentagon has reluctantly acknowledged.
No matter how sophisticated the technology becomes, it is
impossible to eliminate completely the risk of civilian casualties.
One commentator has estimated that 'around five per cent [of
these smart weapons] will miss because their guidance systems
fail'.29 Compared to previous conflicts, this is
an unprecedented level of accuracy, but this has to be set
against ever growing public expectations that such wars be
fought with very low civilian casualties. In this context,
it is worth pausing to consider that even a correctly aimed
2,000lb bomb 'could cause death and casualties for hundreds
of yards around the target site'. Consequently, even if all
the Pentagon's weapons were hitting their targets, we would
still want to ask whether such attacks were justified.
The proportionality rule is designed to try and mitigate the
hell faced by civilians in war. But it is predicated on the
idea that there is a commitment on the part of combatants
to try and reduce the exposure of civilians to danger. What
stands in need of urgent examination is Marc Herold's claim
that the U.S. is so obsessed with reducing the risks to its
own military personnel that it has chosen to employ tactics
and strategies that maximise the harm imposed on innocent
Afghans. If this view is accepted, then it turns Walzer's
notion of 'due care' upside down. Far from acknowledging a
positive responsibility to protect Afghans from the misery
of war, U.S. military strategists are choosing to impose levels
of harm on innocent civilians to reduce the dangers faced
by U.S. forces. The U.S. had a legal and moral right to remove
the military threat posed by the Taliban and al Qaeda, but
were there alternative military strategies that would have
secured victory at a significantly reduced cost in terms of
civilian casualties? Rumsfeld denied that the U.S. had any
choice in the military strategy it had adopted given the overriding
requirement to 'defend the United States from the kinds of
terrorist attacks which we've experienced'.30
Such an assessment dodges the charge that the U.S. military
should have been prepared to incur greater risks to save innocent
Afghans. Tactics such as flying low over targets to ensure
greater discrimination rather than attacking from above the
range of anti-aircraft fire and ground to air missiles would
have demonstrated a positive commitment to protect civilians.
Such a change in tactics would have increased the risks to
U.S. aircrews, but this has been a fantastically one-sided
war in which U.S. aircraft have been able to operate with
invulnerability over the skies of Afghanistan. What has also
been missing from the campaign is reliable intelligence as
to what constitutes a legitimate target. In the absence of
such information, the U.S. should have refrained from attacking.
here to visit
Marc Herold's website and download his report on civilian casualties
A commitment to zero-casualty warfare shaped the conduct of
U.S. military intervention in the last decade. The war against
the Taliban and al Qaeda suggests that this desire to reduce
risks to a bare minimum continues to shape American military
strategy. The U.S. has not deliberately attacked civilian
targets and this places its actions in a very different moral
category from those who perpetrated the events of September
11. However, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that
the U.S. has not shown 'due care' in its treatment of Afghan
civilians. The decision to strike against key elements of
the infrastructure of the country demands an explanation from
policy-makers, as do strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda
targets where civilian deaths were foreseeable. At the very
least, as Amnesty International USA pointed out, the Bush
Administration has a legal obligation to justify such attacks
in terms of international humanitarian law.31
Cosmopolitans argue that all lives are morally equal and should
be treated accordingly. To expect states to apply this principle
when the lives of their soldiers is on the line is to establish
unrealistic standards for the conduct of war. However, what
can be expected of our political and military leaders is that
they acknowledge a responsibility to protect civilians even
if this requires exposing their soldiers to higher levels
of danger. Political and military leaders should be held accountable
for the care they exercise in protecting civilians in wartime.
Against this standard, 'Operation Enduring Freedom' appears
to fall some way short. In this regard, Rumsfeld's invocation
that 'war is hell' so we had better get it over with as quickly
and as cheaply for our side as possible captures the mind-set
shaping the U.S. military response to September 11. But in
arguing that the U.S. should have done more to live up to
the norm of non-combatant immunity, I am not implying that
it is solely responsible for the civilians killed by its bombing
raids. Rather, this responsibility is shared with the Taliban
and al Qaeda. It was their actions that led to the war in
the first place, and it is they who must bear an important
share of responsibility for placing Afghan civilians in the
hell that is war.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Anne Harris for
her valuable comments during the preparation of this essay.
1 Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument
with Historical Illustrations (London: Allen Lane, 1977),
2 Marc W. Herold, 'A Dossier on Civilian
Victims of United States' Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan: A
Comprehensive Accounting', December 2001, http://www.pubpages.unh.edu/~mwherold,
visited on 2 Jan 2002.
3 Interview with Under-Secretary of State for Political
Affairs Marc Grossman, U.S. Department of State, 19 October
4 Quoted in 'Fact Sheet: U.S. Military Efforts
to Avoid Civilian Casualties, U.S. Department of State, 25
October 2001 (emphasis added).
5 Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, p.32.
6 Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, p.33.
7 Cited in Brian Orend, Michael Walzer on War
and Justice (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000),
8 Orend, Michael Walzer, p.117.
9 Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, p.146.
10 For Walzer's views on the Iraqi case, see Orend,
Michael Walzer, p.117. The estimate of Iraqi civilians
killed by the U.S. strike is cited in Ward Thomas, The
Ethics of Destruction: Norms and Force in International Relations
(Cornell University Press, 2001), p.166.
11 Orend, Michael Walzer, p.75.
12 Orend, Michael Walzer, p.118.
13 Cited in Orend, Michael Walzer, p.75.
For Walzer's discussion of 'due care' see Just and Unjust
14 Cited in A. Roberts and R. Guelff., Documents
on the Laws of War (3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2000), p.449.
15 Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, p.153.
16 Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, p.153.
17 Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, p.156.
18 Cited in Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars,
19 Cited in Orend, Michael Walzer, pp.119-120.
20 It is necessary to insert the caveat here that
what follows is based on the available evidence to date, and
the judgements made here might have to be qualified in the
light of subsequent evidence.
21 Herold, 'A Dossier'.
22 Roberts and Guelff, Documents, p.450.
23 'Fact Sheet'.
24 Herold, 'A Dossier'.
25 Herold, 'A Dossier'.
26 For alternative assessments of the numbers killed,
see Macer Hall and David Wastell, 'Truth
and lies of Taliban's death claims', Electronic Telegraph,visited
on 5 January 2002, Michael Smith, 'Bombing
is successful despite claims of 'civilian genocide', Electronic Telegraph, http://www.portal.telegraph.co.uk.
blames regime for civilian deaths', Guardian Unlimited,
16 October 2001, www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4278075,00.html
Bomb Misses Target, Kills 4 Afghan Civilians', Space.Com,
on 2 Jan 2002.
29 Michael Smith, 'Bombing
is successful despite claims
of 'civilian genocide', Electronic Telegraph, www.portal.telegraph.co.uk/core/conte/nwar430.xml&site.
blames regime for civilian deaths', Guardian Unlimited,
16 October 2001, www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4278075,00.html
31 'US Obligated to Avert Civilian Casualties in
any Missile Attack', Statement issued by Amnesty International
USA, 24 October.