Unspeakable acts of violence were committed on September 11. The perpetrators of the horrific attack of September 11 must be brought to justice, using the instruments of domestic and international law. The unconscionable slaughter demands prosecution.
But bombing a desperately poor country under the yoke of a repressive regime is a wrongheaded response. The U.S. bombing of Afghanistan should cease immediately.
It is a policy that will diminish U.S. security, ignores overriding humanitarian concerns, and precludes more sensible approaches to achieving justice and promoting security in the United States and around the world.
1. The policy of bombing increases the risk of further terrorism against the United States.
This is an uncontested claim.
The Bush administration along with virtually every commentator acknowledges that the U.S. bombing and military response is likely to worsen the possibility of additional terrorism on U.S. soil.
The recent Congressional leak that so outraged the White House involved a Washington Post report that an intelligence official, responding to a senator's question, "said there is a '100 percent' chance of an attack should the United States strike Afghanistan, according to sources familiar with the briefing."
The horror of September 11 allows for no satisfactory response. But surely the United States must not act to increase the risk of terrorism.
No matter how great one's outrage at September 11, no matter how intense one's desire to "do something" -- it doesn't make sense to pursue a course of action that intensifies the very problem the Bush administration says it is trying to solve.
And the increased risk of terrorism will not be short-lived. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says the war against terrorism will take years to win. Former CIA chief James Woolsey and others have talked about a two- or three-decade war. That's coming from proponents of the U.S. military action, people who view terrorism as something that can be defeated, rather than as a tactic assumed by weak and disgruntled parties.
2. The bombing is intensifying a humanitarian nightmare in Afghanistan.
"The terrorist attacks of 11 September, in terms of security and access within Afghanistan, have created the potential for a humanitarian crisis of massive proportions," according to the UN's World Food Program (WFP). The WFP estimates 7.5 million people are in danger of starvation in Afghanistan.
The U.S. threat of military response to September 11, and now its bombing, has made a horrible situation worse. The WFP has predicted nearly two million additional people will need food assistance due to the disruptions caused by the expectation, and now the reality, of a U.S. military response.
"It is now evident that we cannot, in reasonable safety, get food to hungry Afghan people," says Oxfam America President Raymond C. Offenheiser, "We've reached the point where it is simply unrealistic for us to do our job in Afghanistan. We've run out of food, the borders are closed, we can't reach our staff and time is running out."
After September 11, relief agencies pulled their staff out of Afghanistan, though the WFP has managed to continue to deliver some food supplies via Afghani staff.
But aid agencies warn that time is running out to deliver food supplies. By mid-November, heavy snows block key roads, making it impossible to move trucks into many areas of the country.
"If WFP is to meet its target of delivering 52,000 tons of food aid each month to millions of hungry people inside Afghanistan, it urgently needs to fill-up its warehouses before the region's harsh winter sets in," said Mohamed Zejjari, WFP assistant executive director and director of operations.
Oxfam has called for a pause in the bombing on humanitarian grounds. "We just don't know how many people may die if the bombing is not suspended and the aid effort assured," Offenheiser says.
Here the humanitarian imperative is aligned with the most narrowly defined U.S. national interest. No action can better serve to reduce the risk of future terrorism than providing sufficient food aid to the suffering Afghanis.
3. There are better ways to seek justice.
If law is to have meaning, it must constrain and guide our actions in the times of greatest stress and challenge, not just when it is convenient.
Reviewing the principles of international law, Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, urges the United States to:
- Convene a meeting of the UN Security Council.
- Request the establishment of an international tribunal with authority to seek out, extradite or arrest and try those responsible for the September 11 attack and those who commit or are conspiring to commit future attacks
- Establish an international military or police force under the control of UN and which can effectuate the arrests of those responsible for the September 11 attacks and those who commit or are conspiring to commit future attacks. It is crucial that such force should be under control of the UN and not a mere fig leaf for the United States as was the case in the war against Iraq.
A fair trial of bin Laden -- one perceived as fair not just in the United States but around the world -- is essential to avoid turning him into a martyr and worsening the spiral of violence.
Opponents of the war should not be content to be a dissenting minority. While there are many compelling arguments against the war, it is critical to emphasize those with the best prospect of moving the U.S. public and policymakers.
The widespread U.S. public support for military action against Afghanistan is based in part on a desire for a modicum of justice and for action to reduce the risk of future terrorist action.
These are both vital goals, but both -- especially reducing the risk of future terrorism -- can be better achieved through peace than war.