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RICHARD FALK: Unless we do this what had started
out as a just war comparable in some ways to World War II will degenerate into
a new and maybe more difficult version of the Vietnam War.
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, debating the war on
T. KUMAR: If everyone is asking for fair treatment of
anyone in the world, we should also provide that to who is under our control—in
this case Al Qaeda.
MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world
affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley
Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. With the initial phase of
the war on terrorism winding down, attention is turning to potential new battle
fronts. Places like Indonesia, Colombia, the former Soviet republic of Georgia,
and Iraq are frequently mentioned as possibilities.
MCHUGH: Will there be a national
debate on how to proceed? Common Ground’s
Brockman recently spoke with one expert who wants the Bush administration to
listen to other opinions before making any new military moves.
RICHARD FALK: I think the initial
reactions to September 11 here led to such a feeling of shock and vulnerability
that there was a turning toward trust in the President and patriotism in the
nation that, in effect, was summarized by the slogan, “United We Stand.” And I
think that was understandable and even appropriate because the direction of
response does, did seem to be reasonable and well presented by the Bush
Professor Richard Falk writes frequently on globalization, human rights, and
issues of war and peace.
FALK: Now we’re in a new phase.
The shock effect has worn off. The period of mourning is over. And the proposed
post-Afghanistan extensions of the war seem dangerous, unpopular to other
governments, including our close allies, and ones that risk American lives and
deserve to be very widely debated before they’re embarked upon. Unless we do
this, it seems to me, what had started out as a just war comparable in some
ways to World War II will degenerate into a new and maybe more difficult
version of the Vietnam War, where the country was very split and Americans were
asked to risk their lives for purposes that many of us in this society believed
to be unnecessary and unwise.
BROCKMAN: You’re critical of the
Democrats for not challenging the President in this regard for a wider debate.
Wouldn’t it be politically difficult for them to do that?
FALK: As I have tried to suggest,
I think in the first weeks after the attacks that kind of deference and that
kind of support was justifiable. But I, I believe we’re a strong enough society
that we benefit from debate and discussion and that the opposition party is
crucial to maintaining the vitality of our democracy. And if it keeps quiet or
is too passive on issues of peace and security then we have to question whether
that party is really serving the interests of the American people. I think they
have a responsibility that goes beyond looking at the popularity polls to raise
the issues that affect the future of our country, the future of the
world—particularly when they are matters of war and peace.
BROCKMAN: Our next phase would appear
to be going to, possibly going to war against Iraq.
FALK: I oppose the extension of
the war to Iraq. I think Iraq is a state that can be deterred, as the Soviet
Union was deterred throughout the long period of the Cold War. It is not like
the Al Qaeda terrorist network, which is dominated by a visionary and suicidal
kind of ideology that cannot be deterred. We have the means to hold Iraq
responsible for anything that it does beyond its borders. The only wars that it
has embarked upon was the war against Iran, which was undertaken with
encouragement from Washington, and the war against Kuwait, which was also
ambiguously handled diplomatically by Washington at the time.
Saddam Hussein is a brutal leader and had done very
bad things to his own people, especially the Kurdish minority. But he’s been
prudent in relation to his neighbors. He has generally shown that he wants to
survive as a leader and that he wants to keep Iraq as a unified sovereign
state. And any leader would know that initiating any kind of action beyond his
borders would result in the utter devastation and destruction of Iraq. So I
believe that deterrence is sufficient, that recourse to war lacks a legal or
moral mandate, and that those that are advocating war at this time are doing a
disservice to the American people.
BROCKMAN: You talked about what you
think is a dramatic shift, you called it, in US foreign policy because of this
war on terrorism. Could you explain that?
FALK: I think that the war on
terrorism has given rise to a new approach to the American role in the world.
And that new approach is to move from being a very powerful, sole surviving
super power to being a country that sets and interprets the rules for the whole
system of international relations. And that, in effect, is something that I
think policy makers, conservative policy makers in Washington, have put forward
somewhat opportunistically, taking advantage of the mood against terrorism to
pursue a wider agenda. An agenda that has to do with missile defense of the
planet from space, with the weaponization of space, with this preventive war
mentality directed at potential possessors of weaponry of mass destruction. And
it is intended, it seems to me, to shift the center of global governance from
international institutions to Washington and to our government. And it is in my
view seeking to establish the first truly global empire under American
BROCKMAN: You really think that
that’s where we’re headed?
FALK: I hope not. But I think
that the outlook, the combination of policy on the part of many who seem to be
exerting a tremendous influence in the Department of Defense and in the
National Security Council are pushing us in that direction. But, of course, without
BROCKMAN: Earlier this year there was
some controversy about how the United States was handling prisoners at
Guantanamo Bay. What do you think?
FALK: I think it was a great
public relations mistake not to have provided the sort of prison conditions
that would not be so vulnerable to severe criticism by human rights
organizations. When you put people in cages, blindfold them, take them in
manacles from place to place, that creates a kind of image of a vengeful power
that is trying to humiliate and abuse those prisoners in its, under its
control. And the whole point of international humanitarian law has been to put
minimum conditions that all governments have agreed that they would abide by
and which help a country like the United States because we have prisoners in
various parts of the world. Hostages are taken. We have an interest in saying,
at the very least we expect you to treat our prisoners the way we treat your
prisoners. Now we can’t really say that anymore. We’ve given up the credibility
of our own objections to the way Americans might be abused in conditions of
captivity. I think that we’ve actually reacted somewhat to the criticism, and
conditions in Guantanamo have been improving. But they again are done not out
of respect for international law but as a sort of unilateral gesture on the
part of Washington. Which again reinforces the impression that this is a
government that is unwilling to accept the framework of international
cooperation, but wants to do everything by its own discretion and is in that
sense a unilateral actor in the world.
BROCKMAN: Security versus human
rights. How do we balance those out? Obviously we’re very concerned as a public
that these terrorists could strike again and we need to protect ourselves. And
yet how do we make that work with our human rights policies?
FALK: I don’t think any of us
have the real answer. It requires prudence and wisdom in a way and a matter of
sensitivity and experience. One has to try to identify what are the most
serious threats of renewed terrorism, take reasonable precautions, don’t do things
that are not suitably related to the legitimate security goals. Be very
careful, in other words, not to allow even the appearance of racial and ethnic
and religious prejudice to seem to be driving what is done in the name of
security. And not to deprive people of their rights in a way that is beyond
what is functionally required to protect the society.
BROCKMAN: Professor Richard Falk is
Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. He currently is a Visiting
Professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.
PORTER: Critiquing US actions in
Afghanistan, next on Common Ground.
T. KUMAR: It’s better to have an investigation
and to correct the mistakes that were made.
MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and
audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the
broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org. Common Ground is a service of the
Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide
range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world
PORTER: The renewed conflict in the
Middle East is diverting the world’s attention away from Afghanistan and the
war against terrorism. But human rights organizations across the globe are
hoping the United States doesn’t forget about Afghanistan’s plight.
MCHUGH: T. Kumar is the Asia
Director for Amnesty International’s Washington, DC office. He says the war on
terrorism is far from over.
T. KUMAR: First of all, civilian
casualties. When an air campaign is on, which is what 99 percent of American
involvement was, on air, chances of making mistakes are there. And also there
were reports about innocent civilians being targeted. Not intentionally. We are
not saying they are intentional targets. But for different reasons. One reason:
poor intelligence. Number two, the machinery: the aircraft may not have done
its job firing at the right place. And number three, of course: personal
rivalries among different people. They feed in—and again it comes back to
intelligence—they feed in wrong intelligence to punish someone whom, whom they
don’t like and the other person may not be pro-Taliban. That person may be
actually [be] anti-Taliban. For all these reasons, and also few Americans are
on the ground, so the chances of making mistakes are great. So we were
concerned about that.
Second, when people were fleeing Afghanistan we
wanted to make sure that civilians should be allowed to access safe areas. So
these are the major issues that we raised at that time.
MCHUGH: Do we know how many
civilians have died?
KUMAR: It’s a very difficult
estimate, to put a number. But we can, we’re pretty sure the numbers are not
low. Because of the way the whole operation was organized. And the way even the
current government of Pakis—sorry, Afghanistan—is saying that at least two or
three places which they themselves came out saying, “These are innocent
civilians.” Anyone, if you know that if these are the attacks on civilians, the
numbers are going to be not low.
MCHUGH: We’re not talking hundreds,
we’re talking thousands?
KUMAR: We don’t know. It’s very
difficult, as I told you. It’s very difficult to say the exact number. But my
gut personal feeling it would be very high.
MCHUGH: Now, as you mentioned
earlier, Amnesty doesn’t think that these were intentional deaths.
KUMAR: That’s why we are asking
them for having an investigation. We always give good faith assessment of a
situation. So we don’t want to point fingers at any government, saying that
“You are doing it purposely.” Which we believe they did not do it purposely.
And we, we strongly believe. But one is believe, second is the reality. We can
believe but people on the ground, you know, by the end of the day they are the
ones who are paying the price. They may believe that it’s not intentional for
the first week, second week. After a month if it happens they may say, “Wait a
minute. There is something going on.” For that alone we want US administration
to, to have an impartial investigation. And for their own good, not to lose the
support of the local population. Even from a pure, narrow, political point of
view, it’s better to have an investigation and to, and to correct the mistakes
that were made.
MCHUGH: Do you think that will ever
KUMAR: It’s very difficult to say.
The way the Bush administration is going about the war—the reason obviously
it’s so emotionally charged, because of the killing of innocent civilians
involved in the World Trade Center—it will be very difficult. Because they have
the blank check basically. So the, the extremists within the military who are
angry, and we can understand, but they don’t even want to adhere to the basic
minimum standards of confrontation. And sadly, this is the one that’s going to
create more problems.
You know, human rights and humanitarian situations
are helpful for the people. But in the long term it’s helpful to the people who
are, who are also involved in the act. Because when you lose the people on the
ground, you may be in a situation like Russians were in, in Afghanistan. And
it, it could come back. I mean, I wouldn’t rule out that. If this is going to
continue and more and more civilians are going to be killed, and then there is
a Moslem angle, also they always see that “We have been persecuted by your
government because we are Muslims, not because of Afghan,” then that element
adds on. Then you are going to find fertile ground. And also it will find it
difficult to find Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders and Al Qaeda leaders
because local population, it’s not going to help you. They may not support
them. But at the same time they don’t want to help you because they have been
MCHUGH: Amnesty International has
also been fairly critical of the situation in Guantanamo. What are the
KUMAR: Number one, the way they
were transported: hooded, gagged, all the rest of it. We can understand when
there is one prisoner who may be unruly, to be controlled. Those are exceptions
not the rule. But having a standard policy of locking everyone up when they
were transported, itself is, it’s not, it’s not fair. We can argue that these
guys belong to the horrible group. But that doesn’t excuse anyone to treat
these people in that manner.
Second, the forced shaving of their hair and beard.
You know, basically that, number one, forcibly taking something away from them.
For whatever reason. You may say it’s for hygienic reason. The second one
obviously, there is a religious element to that. Given the religious
sensitivity—I am not saying this is Amnesty’s version—any human being, anyone
with common sense should know. There is a religious sentiment against beard. So
when you take that away you are going to make them difficult to cooperate with
you, even from your pure, from a pure investigation point of view, why do you
want to put them on that corner?
Number three, the conditions in Guantanamo itself.
Now we hear that situation is improving. But initially it was pretty disturbing
to allow them to be locked up in that fashion. If everyone is asking for fair
treatment of anyone in the world we should also provide that to who is under
our control—in this case Al Qaeda. They may be horrible. But they may not be
horrible. We are not passing judgment. But we are asking that we should not be
killed or we should not be treated like that. So why are we treating them? And
also, let the courts, let the law take its own course, if they are guilty. This
is like punishing someone before their judgment. That’s why we were disturbed.
MCHUGH: But congressional
investigators and members of the International Committee for the Red Cross, say
that they don’t see any widespread abuse in Guantanamo.
KUMAR: The widespread abuse from
congressional angle is more or less focusing on physical torture, beating, not
the conditions per se. You go to a situation for a day or two and you see, “Oh,
it’s, the weather it’s nice. They get food.” But you should put yourself in
their shoes, too, so you see how they feel.
MCHUGH: We hear the words “Geneva
Conventions” used quite a bit now when we refer to the war on terrorism. Can
you remind our listeners exactly what the Geneva Conventions are?
KUMAR: Fundamentally it is the,
Geneva Convention in a nutshell, it’s about what laws and what rules that
govern a war. And also, it’s like having a soccer game or basketball game. You
have certain rules that govern. It’s the same rules when there’s a conflict,
when there’s a war between states. How you treat a captured prisoner from the
other side. When you shell or when you bomb a place, you don’t intentionally
target civilians. You, you, you should have pretty much good intelligence to
single out the military targets. Hospitals should not be targeted. Children should
not be targeted. You know, these basic things.
MCHUGH: When you really examine the
Geneva Conventions, as you mentioned, they apply in a state-to-state type war
situation. And that’s not really what’s going on in the global war on
terrorism. Are the Geneva Conventions outdated? Do they need to be updated?
KUMAR: I will say it’s my personal
opinion, I will say it’s better to have a look at it. Geneva Conventions came
into effect about 50 years ago. Obviously, anything after 50 years have to be
looked at. It should not be looked at because of the new war that’s taking
place in, in Afghanistan. It should [be] to refine itself with new weaponry
that came into effect. And also, new, new methods of war that, like terrorism,
guerrilla warfare. It’s all being new. I mean, relatively new. Of course
guerrilla warfare was there. The new term for guerrilla warfare is terrorism.
Basically that’s what is happening. So it’s always nice to reassess, to see how
it should be refined. But one thing we should agree before we start
reassessing, is not to water it down. The current rules should stand and rules
should be added, not deleted from the current rules. Otherwise we all will be
going backwards to have another third war, World War coming up. Because the
minute one country or group of countries started to play it by their own rules
and ignore the rules of the game, then you are creating a situation where the
other side will use whatever they can for survival tactics. Then it’s going to
be chaotic and it could be pretty, pretty, pretty dangerous situation. So
that’s why Geneva Conventions was created, to create a more harmless or more,
more peaceful world, even though countries may fight.
MCHUGH: We know that the war
essentially, from a conflict standpoint, is over in Afghanistan. And as the US
and its allies swept across Afghanistan we saw footage of liberated towns. But
what are the conditions really like now?
KUMAR: The situation is different.
I mean, you can always find people celebrating. Obviously, women were treated so
harshly. So there is a relief. And also Taliban was, was out of step with
reality. They were trying to turn the clock back a couple of thousand, at least
a couple of hundred years. There was a relief. But there is also concern that
the safety of individuals may not be guaranteed. Like that was guaranteed under
Taliban. The current situation is different from different regions of
Afghanistan. If you go to Kabul, the capital, I will say it’s pretty okay.
Because international forces are there, the parliament is there, and a new
administration is there.
The minute you go outside Kabul then you face
numerous different problems. In the north, fights among the groups, Northern
Alliance, and the abuses—minor abuses but abuses. And the security is not
confirmed in non-Kabul areas. In the South the bombing campaign is still going
on. Along with other abuses that’s taking place. So the situation is still
fluid. Even though there is essential victory. I will say, “Don’t rush to, to
immediately decide that everything is over.” Everything is not over.
MCHUGH: What are your prospects for
a lasting peace?
KUMAR: I will say that for the
lasting peace there are two aspects [that] should be taken into account. This
is my personal view. Outside powers, especially neighboring countries, they
were the ones who created the trouble there. They should be checked But there
are countries who are going to be involved in a positive way. Even neighboring
countries. Usually they create that. That’s a reality because it’s, it’s a
landlocked country. Afghan is a landlocked country.
The second one is to ensure that, that anyone and
everyone who pays attention understands the dynamics of the ethnic and tribal
nature of the society. By which there are major four or five ethnic divisions
are there. To understand that and to help create a system by which they can
live together, not fight with each other. That means strong federalism is
something is important to Afghanistan at this time.
MCHUGH: T. Kumar is the Asia
Director for Amnesty International’s Washington, DC office.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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