Did the U.S. Commit "Terrorism" in Syria?
Michael Iafrate of Vox Nova condemns the United States for a brutal act of “terrorism” in conducting a strike into Syria against an al Qaeda facilitator.
In typical fashion, Michael likewise insinuates that Sarah Palin approves abortion bombings and alleges that, by virtue of the fact that nobody at American Catholic has yet commented on the story, we are quite obviously racist:
Of course the “pro-life” Cathollic barfosphere, so vocal in the “defense of human life,” remains utterly silent in the face of the Bush administration’s ongoing acts of terrorism. Of course, these weren’t cute white babies who were slaughtered, were they? That explains it.
Michael’s penchant for profanity, libel and general elementary school antics does nothing to enamor readers of his position or the Catholic blog he represents. Yet I think he deserves a response (however meager) …
Generally when I hear stories of this nature, there are some solid sources that I’ll turn to for information. Bill Roggio’s The Long War Journal.1
The target of this military strike was one Abu Ghadiyah — a senior Al Qaeda leader responsible for smuggling weapons, money and foreign fighters across the border into Iraq and identified as a major figure since February 2008. Ghadiyah is successor to Suleiman Khalid Darwish, a Syrian national and lieutenant of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, former leader of al Qaeda in Iraq killed by US forces in June 2006.
Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal has a substantial post on the the strategic importance of Abu Ghadiyah; details on the military operation which took him out, and background history on al Qaeda’s “Syrian facilitation network”. For a basic understanding of the factual details of this operation, I recommend reading it.
I’m going to bracket the question of whether or not the United States was right in crossing into the “sovereign territory” of Syria in pursuit of Al Qaeda. Apparently they judged that getting their man was worth jeopardizing diplomatic relations with a nation that has, in the past, been accused of neglecting to stop the flow of foreign and al Qaeda fighters into Iraq — and obviously opened up a can of worms in doing so (Syria Halts Diplomacy After U.S. Military Strike October 28, 2008).
“the Bush administration is joining a list of nations that have cited Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which enshrines the right of individual or collective self-defense to all member states.Over the years, a growing body of legal argument has made the case that this right of self-defense allows a nation to take military action on the territory of another sovereign nation that is unable or unwilling to take measures on its own to halt the threat.
It’s an interesting debate, but probably not one we can engage in without a good degree of background knowledge and study.2
So let’s deal with the prime charge of the Catholic Anarchist, namely, Can this operation by the United States accurately be described as a “terrorist” attack?
Syrian foreign minister Waleed Mouallem claimed disputed the U.S.’ account, asserting the sole intent of targeting of civilians in an act of deliberate terror (CNN.com 10/27/08): “Soldiers from the two helicopters on the ground fatally shot four members of one family, a guard at the farm and his wife and a man who was fishing nearby.”
Syria said four US military helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction just after sundown Sunday about five miles (eight kilometers) from the Iraqi border just outside Sukkariyeh. A statement by the government said eight people were killed. However, local officials said seven men were killed and two others wounded, including a woman among the injured. An Associated Press journalist at Monday’s funerals in the village’s cemetery saw the bodies of seven men, which family members later buried. …
Villager Jumaa Ahmad al-Hamad told the AP he was walking Sunday when he saw four helicopters, two of which landed. “Shooting then started ringing for more than 10 minutes,” al-Hamad said Monday. After the troops stopped firing and left the area, he and other villagers went to the site and discovered the bodies of his uncle, Dawoud al-Hamad, and four of his uncle’s sons, whom he said were killed in the raid. Local wool vendor Khaled Hamid denied al-Qaeda was in the area and accused Washington of launching the raid in the border region that is home to corn and wheat farms to cover up “failures in Iraq.”
There are many definitions of terrorism bandied about. Since Iafrate has not offered one himself, perhaps that offered by the U.S. Dept. of State will suffice as the “premeditated politically-motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets” — limiting the perpetrators to “subnational groups or clandestine agents”, I think we can broaden the definition to include state perpetrators as well (if the shoe fits …).
There is no question that the deliberate targeting of civilians is indefensible and forbidden by the Catholic Church. However, with respect to civilian casualities and the question of collateral damage, or what the military defines as
[the] unintentional damage or incidental damage affecting facilities, equipment, or personnel, occurring as a result of military actions directed against targeted enemy forces or facilities. Such damage can occur to friendly, neutral, and even enemy forces”
the Catholic principle of double effect comes into play. I think if one had sufficient possession of all the facts and knowledge of what actually transpired on the ground, one might then go about assessing the actions of those involved in this instance with recourse to this principle.
However, in asserting that “the [U]nited [S]tates military targeted a farm, not a military target”, Michael Iafrate seemingly concurs with the Syrian account (and presumption of the United States’ deliberate intent to harm civilians) and all too willing to discount and dismiss the stated objectives of those involved.
This of course, makes all the difference in discerning the moral culpability of U.S. forces in the attack.
This is not an attempt to make light of or discount the deaths of civilians in a time of war, which are lamentable and something which any soldier with integrity strives to avoid. No doubt their deaths must weigh particularly heavily on the men involved in the operation.
But to discern moral guilt is another thing altogether, and I do not believe I — or Michael Iafrate, for that matter — have the facts to adequately debate the matter.
- Bill’s journalistic coverage includes strategic and operational issues relating to the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Lebanon, and more extensively in Iraq, as well as al Qaeda’s operations, tactics, and strategy — to which end he has embedded with the US Marine Corps, the US Army, the Iraqi Army, and Iraqi police in Iraq in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008, and with the Canadian Army in Afghanistan in 2006. Suffice to say I generally look him up whenever a story like this arises.
- If the Associated Press is to be believed, the move reflects a willingness of military officials to “consider a last resort: violating the sovereignty of a nation with whom the U.S. is not at war,” the rationale being that “that whatever diplomatic damage is done will be mitigated when President Bush leaves office and a new president is inaugurated.” (Presumably Obama, to tidings of joy and good will towards men the world over).
- To give credit where credit is due, Blackadder and Katerina of Vox Nova both have written engaging posts on this principle.