They have the destructive power of an atomic bomb, but they can barely make a dent in U.S. news coverage. I'm talking about the 15,000-pound bombs the United States is using against Afghanistan this week. The so-called Daisy Cutters, named BLU-82, are the world's biggest non-nuclear device.
In many places, the development received a 10-second mention on the evening news, five or six items down in the program lineup. Newscasters broadcast video footage of an enormous black dust cloud rising above an Afghan mountain range, accompanied by the assurances of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the "stepped up" assaults would hasten the collapse of the Taliban regime.
AP describes the Blu-82, nicknamed "Big Blue," as being "as large as a Volkswagen beetle, but heavier." Digging for the less charming details, one finds that the bomb got its other name, "Daisy Cutter," because of the shape of the crater it leaves -- and that it has the ability to clear a 3-mile-long path. Dropped from huge transport aircraft, "Big Blue" releases a cloud of inflammable ammonium nitrate, aluminum dust, and polystyrene slurry which is then ignited by a detonator. The result is a firestorm that incinerates an area the size of five football fields, consumes oxygen, and creates a shock-wave and vacuum pressure that destroys the internal organs of anyone within range.
"As you would expect, they make a heck of a bang when they go off," General Peter Pace, vice-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff told a press conference. "The intent is to kill people."
The United States has used at least two of these "Big Blues" so far. David Williams described one attack from northern Afghanistan, where he is reporting for the Daily Mail of London.
"The sound and impact was unmistakably different ... Each of the previous explosions -- and there had been more than 100 -- had been similar in sight and sound," wrote Williams.
"The sound split the air. It was like a thunder clap directly overhead at the height of a ferocious storm. I could see the massive oily black cloud of the explosion as it rolled across the hillside, a mixture of thick smoke, chunks of earth and debris."
"Big Blue" was used in Vietnam, to create instant helicopter landing pads in jungle areas. It was employed in the Gulf War, to detonate minefields, and more controversially, to terrorize Iraqi troops. From the ground, the columns of dust and smoke that the bombs produce are indistinguishable from mushroom clouds. In Iraq, some British patrols reported thinking they were in a nuclear war. This reporter saw U.S. Gulf veterans cry as they recalled watching, from miles away, the deadly impact.
While George W. Bush lectures the world about Osama bin Laden's lust for nuclear weapons, U.S. forces are employing weapons that, while not banned by international treaty, come as close to nukes as one can get without smashing atoms.
The Daisy Cutter attacks come less than a week after the United States crippled Afghanistan's biggest hydroelectric complex. Afghan Education Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said seven U.S. raids last Wednesday and Thursday severely damaged the Kajaki hydroelectric complex in southern Helmand province, knocking out the power supplies of Kandahar and Lashkarga. The report was corroborated by refugees interviewed by Agence France Press (AFP, 11/01/01)
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"So far water has not started gushing out of the dam but any further bombing will destroy (it)," Minister Muttaqi told DAWN, Pakistan's English language paper, last week. "It may cause widespread flooding, putting at risk the lives of thousands of people."
According to DAWN, Kajaki, 90 kilometers northwest of Kandahar, contains 2.7 billion cubic meters of water and irrigates land farmed by 75,000 families in a desert area.
In their search -- ostensibly -- for Osama Bin Laden and those who facilitated the criminal attack on the United States on September 11, wave after wave of U.S. bombers, including giant B-52s, are carpet bombing frontlines in northern Afghanistan. In another new development this week, U.S. forces are also using 5,000 pound GBU-28 "Deep Throat" bunker-busters, which burrow through as much as 20 feet of rock before exploding underground.
The Geneva Protocol is not unclear. You don't have to be in Afghanistan. You can read it on the Web.
Protocol 1, Article 51.2. states: "The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited."
Article 57: "Works or installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dikes and nuclear electrical generating stations, shall not be made the object of attack, even where these objects are military objectives, if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces and consequent severe losses among the civilian population. "
Article 51 explicitly outlaws carpet or area bombing tactics: "Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate: an attack by bombardment by any methods or means which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects; and an attack 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."
Article 55: "Care shall be taken in warfare to protect the natural environment against widespread, long-term and severe damage."
The press talked for weeks about whether it was acceptable for U.S. forces to violate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Is it unreasonable to expect at least equal attention to the question of whether U.S. assaults are violating international law?