WASHINGTON, DC -- Saying the people of Afghanistan are "not our enemy," Sen. Paul Wellstone on Wednesday expressed regrets over a report that errant U.S. bombs may have killed civilians.
"I think it is a tragedy and I deeply regret the fact that there are innocent Afghans who lost their lives as a result of the bombing," said Wellstone.
In a speech on the Senate floor, he said: "Every time it happens -- even though it's inadvertent, never on purpose -- it is a contradiction of the values that we live by, and it does us no good when it comes to the rest of the Muslim and Islamic world."
As the Senate focused on a foreign operations bill, it was a busy day for Wellstone, D-Minn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The Senate passed two of his amendments: One calls for more U.S. humanitarian aid for Afghans, while the other requires the United States to monitor human-rights violations in Uzbekistan.
Wellstone's remarks on the bombing came after the Pentagon acknowledged that there may have been civilian casualties after Navy fighter jets accidentally dropped a 1,000 pound bomb near a senior citizens' home and two 500-pound bombs in a residential area over the weekend.
Wellstone, who voted to support the use of force in response to the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, said "the highest priority must be to avoid the loss of innocent life in Afghanistan."
In a conference call with reporters, Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., said that the killings of civilians is "horrific." But he said that it's "almost inevitable" in any large-scale military operation.
"Hopefully the loss of innocent civilian loss will be absolutely minimal," said Dayton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "This is a terribly serious undertaking and it is life and death. And all of us know that."
The Senate passed Wellstone's amendment that calls for the United States to put as much effort into providing humanitarian aid as it is on the military front in its dealings with Afghanistan. Without more U.S. aid, Wellstone said, 100,000 Afghan children could die this winter from hunger and disease.
Wellstone's amendment on Uzbekistan calls for the United States to monitor human-rights abuses in a country that suddenly is a key ally in the fight against terrorism. "We cannot overlook what is happening in Uzbekistan itself," Wellstone said.
Citing reports of the Human Rights Watch, Wellstone said those who are arrested in Uzbekistan "endure the worst torture." He said there have been hundreds of beatings and numerous accounts of the use of electric shock, temporary suffocation, hanging by the ankles or wrists, and sodomy and rape. Police torture has killed at least 15 people in the past two years, Wellstone said.
On another foreign relations front, Wellstone teamed up with Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., to question coca crop fumigation efforts in Colombia that are partly U.S.-financed.
"I have some expertise, in that I think I'm the only United States senator to withstand aerial fumigation," joked Wellstone. He was accidentally hit by the spray while touring Colombian fumigation operations last November.
Wellstone, a longtime critic of U.S. efforts to fight the drug war in Colombia, said that the fumigation of coca crops is causing rashes and headaches among those who live nearby. Calling it a case of "environmental justice," he said it would make more sense for the United States to focus on drug treatment and reducing the demand for illicit drugs.
Feingold said the drug operations will simply move.
"It makes no sense to take away a farmer's livelihood, provide him with no alternative, and expect him not to plant illicit crops again," he said.
Washington Bureau correspondent Sarah McKenzie contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2001 Star Tribune