Excessive force and hypocrisy

      Tuesday, December 12 2000 12:42 15 Kislev 5761  


      By Alex Safian

      (December 12) – Soldiers manning a combat bulldozer are suddenly attacked by armed militiamen; a civilian mob joins the attack, providing cover for the gunmen. The soldiers call for help and soon Cobra helicopters are firing volleys of anti-tank missiles and 20-mm cannon on the crowd below. Within minutes almost 100 of the attackers, mostly civilians, are dead. 

      A military spokesman justifies the high civilian toll, explaining that, “Everyone on the ground in the vicinity was a combatant, because they meant to do us harm.” 

      Attacking hostile civilians as if they were combatants would seemingly guarantee “excessive force” condemnations from the UN and human-rights groups. 

      But there was no condemnation. 

      This was because Israeli forces weren’t involved, and ironically enough, UN “peacekeepers,” mostly from the US, were. 

      The attack on the bulldozer crew and the intervention by US Cobra helicopters occurred on September 9, 1993, in Mogadishu, Somalia. The attackers were Somali militiamen and civilians. The person defending the use of helicopters to cut down almost a hundred Somalis was a UN spokesman named Maj. David Stockwell. 

      There is no record that the UN ever disavowed Stockwell’s statement, and even if they had, the battle’s very high death toll was the rule rather than the exception during the UN intervention in Somalia. Indeed, the UN had, three months earlier, passed a resolution under Chapter 7 of the Charter, requiring member nations to supply heavy weapons to the UN forces deployed in Somalia. 

      Security Council Resolution 837 condemned “unprovoked armed attacks against [UN personnel]… which appear to have been part of a calculated and premeditated series of cease-fire violations… [and urged] member states to contribute, on an emergency basis, military support and transportation, including armored personnel carriers, tanks and attack helicopters to provide… the capability appropriately to confront and deter armed attacks…” 

      Member states did not forsake this UN call, and as the weaponry arrived it was put to use, never more violently than in the aftermath of a botched US raid to capture Somali warlords. The mission, undertaken by army rangers and Delta Force commandos, went seriously wrong when two US helicopters were shot down by RPGs, leaving the soldiers encircled by Somali militiamen and civilians. 

      The ensuing battle and the eventual rescue of the soldiers, employing tanks and armored personnel carriers, was described by US officials as “carnage.” 

      Up to 500 Somalis were killed and 1,000 injured in the fighting; press reports indicate that “hundreds of women and children” were among those treated in hospitals afterwards. 

      Despite these very high casualties, US Army spokesmen asserted that excessive force had not been used nor international law breached, and that the Somalis themselves bore ultimate responsibility for the bloodshed. 

      “It is they who initiated the firefight and who bear ultimate responsibility for this tragic loss of life.” 

      Compare this with a more recent encirclement: Israeli soldiers manning the enclave at Joseph’s Tomb are attacked by a similar mix of armed Palestinian militiamen and civilians. 

      The surrounded and besieged troops report that one of them has been shot and needs medical attention. 

      Senior officers refuse to send in nearby armored forces, and the wounded soldier dies, waiting for a rescue that never comes. The officers later explain that “if we had sent in tanks and heavy weapons to take out a wounded soldier, it would not only have caused an escalation in events, but imagine how it would look to the rest of the world.” 

      Despite almost unimaginable restraint in this incident, and in the conflict with the Palestinians generally, it is Israel that has faced condemnation – condemnation that was never leveled at the US and the UN in Somalia, despite admitted carnage there. 

      And Somalia is far from the only instance of this double standard. 

      For example, after tensions had risen between the US and Panama, an off-duty US soldier there made a wrong turn and was shot dead by Panamanian forces. The US invaded and deposed President Noriega, in the process killing as many as 3,000 Panamanians, the majority apparently civilians. 

      Compare this to Israel’s reaction to the lynching of its two soldiers after they made a wrong turn into Ramallah – a three-hour warning before retaliatory strikes against empty buildings. 

      Why then have Amnesty International and similar groups singled out Israel for reproach? A hint, perhaps, can be found in Amnesty’s kangaroo-court approach to the conflict. 

      Reversing the usual process of investigating before reaching conclusions, Amnesty on October 3 charged Israel with using “excessive and indiscriminate force,” then two days later announced the departure of its delegates to “investigate” the matter. The unwarranted charges spring from extreme hypocrisy and bias. 

      (The writer is associate director of the Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, Camera).

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