U.S. government hypocrisy on civilian casualties

August 7

Back in July, State Department spokesmen Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes suggested to CNN’s Candy Crowley that Israel wasn’t doing enough to avert civilian casualties in Gaza. “I think you can always to more. The U.S. military does that in Afghanistan.”

On August 3rd, ten people, including an undetermined number of civilians, died when an Israeli shell landed on a street near an UNRWA school, leaving the school and its grounds completely undamaged. Before the incident could be properly investigated the U.S. State Department issued a harsh condemnation: “The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah… We once again stress that Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties.”

Consider those statement in light of an incident in June 2007, when U.S. forces killed seven Afghan children when they intentionally bombed a school being used by hostiles to attack U.S. forces. Let’s repeat, they didn’t bomb near a school and successfully miss the school, they didn’t fire blindly at their attackers and accidentally hit the school, they intentionally bombed the school itself. U.S. forces thought there were no children in the school, but “mistakes were made,” while undoubtedly a truism in the fog of war, is hardly adequate when the U.S. government is favorably comparing its actions in Afghanistan to Israel’s actions in Gaza–especially if you consider that Afghanistan is a “friendly” country, allied with the U.S., while Gaza is emphatically hostile territory for Israel.

And how, by the way, did the U.S. command explain the incident? They “accepted responsibility for the … raid but accused the Taliban of using the children as human shields. ‘We are saddened by the innocent lives that were lost as a result of militants’ cowardice,’ said Major Chris Belcher.”

UPDATE: Judging from the comments, readers are skipping over the following language, which I’m now repeating with emphasis added: “an Israeli shell landed on a street near an UNRWA school, leaving the school and its grounds completely undamaged.”

David Bernstein is the George Mason University Foundation Professor at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, VA.
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