Letters to the Editor

Targeting Children in Afghanistan

By Wendy Davis

Writing at the Guardian, Karen McVeigh says that there is burgeoning outrage over army Lt. Col. Marion Carrington’s recent statement to the Military Times that troops assisting Afghan police forces were on the lookout for “children with potential hostile intent.”

“… Carrington told the Marine Corp Times that children, as well as “military-age males,” had been identified as a potential threat because some were being used by the Taliban to assist in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.

“‘It kind of opens our aperture,’ said Carrington, whose unit, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was assisting the Afghan police. ‘In addition to looking for military-age males, it’s looking for children with potential hostile intent.’”

Another unnamed “Marine official” questioned the original New York Times account of three children, Borjan, 12, Sardar Wali, 10, and Khan Bibi, 8, from Helmand province in October, as having been gathering dung for fuel as they were killed by a drone rocket strike.

“However, the U.S. official claimed that, before they called for the strike on suspected insurgents planting improvised explosive devices, marines had seen the children digging a hole in a dirt road and that ‘the Taliban may have recruited the children to carry out the mission.’”

Well, digging holes; there you have it: ironclad innuendo, eh?  Worth killing with impunity.

McVeigh links to Human Rights Watch, “Taliban Should Stop Using Children as Suicide Bombers,” which says that evidence belies Mullah Omar’s pledge to protect women and children.

“The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has collected evidence that the Taliban has been recruiting children ages 11 through 17 to carry out activities including armed combat, planting improvised explosive devices, and smuggling weapons across the Pakistan-Afghan border. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission confirms increasing use by the Taliban of child suicide bombers. The Afghan government has reported that as many as 100 children who were recruited as suicide bombers by the Taliban are in the custody of the National Directorate of Security.”

HRW chronicles a number of suicide bombings by children as young as seven claiming that the Taliban had given them amulets containing verses from the Quran they said would protect them, but not their targets, from the blasts.  Others were apparently threatened with mutilation unless they carried out a suicide bombing.

Who could argue that those actions by the Taliban would be not just disgusting, but evil?  Children should never be tools of violence, for any number of reasons, including the fact that they’re too young to reason.  Perhaps we can also agree that “the Taliban” is now a catchall term for anyone on “their side” being considered as “working against U.S. interests.”

Let’s hope McVeigh is right, and there IS increasing outrage at this “aperture opening,” and that it’s not policy, or de facto policy.  Pardiss Kebriaei, senior attorney for the ACLU is troubled:

“Under the rules of law you can only target civilians if they are directly participating in hostilities. So, here, this standard of presuming any military aged males in the vicinity of a war zone are militants, already goes beyond what the law allows.

“When you get to the suggestion that children with potentially hostile intent may be perceived to be legitimate targets is deeply troubling and unlawful.”

Ironically enough, former IDF Gazan legal adviser Amos Guiora, a law professor at the University of Utah specializing in counter-terrorism, says:

“I have great respect for people who put themselves in harm’s way. Carrington is probably a great guy, but he is articulating a deeply troubling policy adopted by the Obama administration.

“The decision about who you consider a legitimate target is less defined by your conduct than the conduct of the people or category of people which you are assigned to belong to … that is beyond troubling. It is also illegal and immoral.  If you are looking to create a paradigm where you increase the ‘aperture’—that scares me.  It doesn’t work, operationally, morally or practically.”

The definitions from the “OBomba” administration concerning who he, the CIA and Joint Special Operations (the Dark Army) chooses to assassinate have morphed significantly, from moving in a tactical fashion, to deeming all males of military age reasonable or even desirable targets, including the ones retrieving bodies from earlier drone assassinations.  The current alternative verbiage to “terrorist” is now “militant,” a conveniently broad brush for either “anti-terrorism” or “anti-insurgency” tactics.

In an April speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center, OBomba’s anti-terrorism czar John Brennan made the case for a recent change in policy switching from the threshold of “imminent threat” to “significant threat,” which essentially means “we think” that person may do something against U.S. interests.  Of course, he also tried mightily to make the case that his boss’s drone program killing “al Qaeda” is: within international law; ethical and conforms to the “necessity for national defense” bar; proportional; distinctly targets “military objectives” and minimizes civilian death; legal, and just.  In regard to when and how it should be used, he says it’s better than ground wars or occupations, heh, and that ‘none of this is casual’.  Then:

“Still, there is no more consequential a decision than deciding whether to use lethal force against another human being, even a terrorist dedicated to killing American citizens. So in order to ensure that our counterterrorism operations involving the use of lethal force are legal, ethical and wise, President Obama has demanded that we hold ourselves to the highest possible standards and processes.”

“This reflects his approach to broader questions regarding the use of force. In his speech in Oslo, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, the president said that all nations, strong and weak alike, must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. And he added: Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conflict. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard-bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength.”

“Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.” —Edward W. Said

Bizzarely, then he goes on at length about their awareness that the U.S. is now setting establishing precedents that other nations may follow, and not all of those nations will be nations that share our interests or the premium we put on protecting human life, including innocent civilians.  So…they’re focusing on morality, responsibility, care in choosing targets, reviewing standards, yada, yada.

Will a reporter ever ask him or Leon Panetta about targeting children whom they might believe are militantly working against U.S. interests?  What percentage of Americans polled would support the drone killing of children if the poll added that they were acting with potential (sic) “hostile intent?”  Frankly, I shudder to think how many would.

In related news from RT:

“The private military company Academi—formerly Blackwater and, more recently, Xe—is the proud winner of a no-bid contract that will keep them profiting off Uncle Sam’s wars for the next few years. Under a deal first reported by’s ‘Danger Room,’ Academi will assist the recently created U.S. Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan with housing facilities and office space on their massive ten-acre compound in Kabul named Camp Integrity.

“According to ‘Danger Room’ reporter Spencer Ackerman, Academi won the rights to lease Camp Integrity to the special ops team through May 2015, providing accommodations for some 7,000 elite troops.”

“Humanism is the only—I would go so far as saying the final—resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history.” —Edward W. Said

Get the U.S. the hell out of Afghanistan.  Stop drone killings in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan…where over 200 children have been killed by American drones, as have many, many other civilians.

Just as an aside, this news didn’t cause anger in me so much as sadness, and the concomitant bit of depression.  I decided that I’d need to compartmentalize a bit in order to even write it up.  I want to say that I was aided when I went to search for this particular photo that I’d used before.  The boy looks like one of my grandsons, and so pulls at my heart even more.  Most all the photos of Afghani kids were taken byyou’ve got it, ISAF forces.  I refuse to use those, and it pissed me off seeing the kids with troops.  Anger was preferable to grief, in other words., December 8, 2012