One of the most disturbing aspects of Osama bin Laden’s October 7 videotape has been the reaction of U.S. officials to one of his charges — that the U.S. government has killed a million Iraqi children. As far as I know, not one government official has denied the charge.
Why not? It would seem to be rather important to deny such an accusation.
Every time I ask someone whether they know anything about the charge, the response is the same: “That’s ridiculous. If our government had killed a million children, we would have heard about it.”
Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that bin Laden’s charge might in fact be true — that for the past 10 years, the government of one of the greatest nations in history has engaged in the systematic killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent children.
On September 30, 1998, BBC News Online Network reported, “The outgoing coordinator of the UN oil-for-food deal in Iraq said it was correct to draw attention to the ‘4,000 to 5,000 children dying unnecessarily every month due to the impact of sanctions because of the breakdown of water and sanitation, inadequate diet, and the bad internal health situation.'”
And a Reuter’s release dated July 21, 2000, stated, “A senior UN official, Anupama Rao Singh, country director for UNICEF, said Friday about half a million children under the age of 5 have died in Iraq since the imposition of UN sanctions 10 years ago.”
If these reports are true, what does it portend for the American people, who have in the past condemned citizens in foreign lands for looking the other way when *their* governments were killing multitudes of innocent people?
What was the reaction of the Clinton administration to the horrific consequences of the U.S. embargo against Iraq? In a 1996 *60 Minutes* interview, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright told Leslie Stahl, “This is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.”
Worth the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent children? Might parents in the Middle East feel differently?
Albright and her boss, President Clinton, based their claim that the deaths of Iraqi children were “worth it” on their belief that the embargo would ultimately “squeeze” Iraq’s ruler, Saddam Hussein, into relinquishing political power. But can such a political goal morally justify the use of Iraqi civilians in such a manner — especially children?
There are, of course, those who say that Americans should not examine the terrorists’ motives for the September 11 attacks, because to do so might suggest that “we had it coming to us.” Most people would agree that nothing — especially wrongful conduct by the victims’ government — can justify those attacks. But should we permit the September 11 attacks to relieve American citizens of the responsibility for examining whether the U.S. government is guilty of targeting foreign citizens because of acts committed by their own government?
The American people seek to avenge the deaths of the 6,000 people who died in the attacks on September 11. But imagine the following: Suppose Iraqi terrorists had instead hijacked planes filled with elementary school students and then intentionally crashed them into a convention center that they knew contained several hundred thousand Cub Scouts and Brownies, killing everyone.
How much angrier would Americans then be?
Consider the following excerpt from the statement that Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, one of the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, made to the federal judge at his sentencing hearing: “You keep talking also about collective punishment and killing innocent people to force governments to change their policies; you call this terrorism when someone would kill innocent people or civilians in order to force the government to change its policies. Well, when you were the first one who invented this terrorism…. And now you have invented new ways to kill innocent people. You have so-called economic embargo which kills nobody other than children and elderly people…. You are the ones who invented terrorism and using it every day. You are butchers, liars, and hypocrites.”
Yousef’s statement raises two troubling questions: First, in the long, nasty war that might lie ahead, is it possible that the enemy will be angrier and more motivated to kill than Americans are? Second, why didn’t U.S. government officials stop the embargo once they realized not only that it was producing perverse consequences but also that those perverse consequences were a principal motive behind the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center?
Isn’t it incumbent on a citizenry to make its government stop wrongful conduct against innocent people, even in the midst of war? As a moral matter, shouldn’t we leave the barbarity to the enemy? Isn’t it in our interests to do so?