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Democracy and ‘Hellfire’

Wednesday 15th December, 2021
A few days after the conclusion of US President Joe Biden’s virtual ‘Summit for Democracy’, where many leaders waxed eloquent on the need to preserve global democracy, some disturbing news has come from Washington. None of the US military personnel involved in a botched drone attack that killed 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children, in Kabul, on 29 August, will be punished, the Pentagon has decided, according to media reports. In fact, nobody expected the US to take any action against those responsible for the tragedy.

In the immediate aftermath of the deadly drone attack in Kabul, the US claimed to have killed a dangerous terrorist who was about to carry out a car bomb attack on the American troops at the Kabul airport, which was in utter chaos with the US troops pulling out; many desperate Afghans were trying to flee the country. Washington went into denial mode when the media pointed out that the car destroyed by the drone strike belonged to an aid worker, but subsequently it admitted to the terrible mistake. Now, it has audaciously refused to hold anyone accountable for the destruction of innocent lives.

The US possesses advanced military technologies and is backed by some of the world’s best intel outfits. It must have been monitoring the movement of the suspicious car its drone targeted in Kabul. The target was not in a combat zone; the car was parked in the courtyard of a house at the time of the attack, and there was ample time for double-checking before a 20-pound Hellfire missile was released. How come the US military made such a mistake? A plausible explanation may be that it did not care to double-check whether it was zeroing in on a terrorist target, for it was in a mighty hurry to neutralise threats, and knew that nobody would be held accountable for the attack.

The New York Times

has reported that during the past two decades or so, in fighting some elusive enemies, such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, ‘the US military has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians by accident in war zones, like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia … rarely does it ever hold specific individuals accountable.” It may be recalled that no criminal proceedings were instituted against the US military personnel who carried out an airstrike on a Doctors without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, killing 42 people, and injuring more than 30 others in 2015.

Numerous allegations were levelled against the US forces in Afghanistan, but many of them were unsubstantiated, and, therefore, as the American defence bigwigs have argued, the benefit of doubt may go to the American troops. But isn’t it unbecoming of the US, which has taken upon itself the task of probing war crimes in other countries, to refuse to take action against its own military personnel when there is irrefutable evidence of their involvement in attacks on civilians, and to deny torture victims justice in the name of national security.

Steven Kwon, the President of the US-based aid organisation, which employed the driver of the car destroyed by the American drone, has asked, according to NYT, “How can our military wrongly take the lives of 10 precious Afghan people, and hold no one accountable in any way?” Rhetorical as this question may sound, there is a clear answer thereto: the US can do so because it is too powerful to be held accountable.

Speaking at the dedication of the Dodd Center for Human Rights, in October, President Biden declared that ‘leading by example means taking action at home to renew and defend our own democracy; to advance equity and promote justice’. As for world leaders, like the US, ‘leading by example’ should also mean defending democracy, advancing equity and promoting justice in other parts of the globe as well.


Chandana Sesath Jayakody

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