Saturday, July 2, 2011

Some Killers Are More Equal Than Others

By Rami G. Khouri  

This has been a bad week for killers in the Arab world. The indictments now being handed down by the U.N. Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in the case of the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) arrest warrant for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, represent two important steps on the road to corralling criminals who have plagued the modern Middle East for decades.

The case for moving these cases into trials is compelling, on moral and political grounds. Fair trials for the accused might achieve three things: hold accountable those who now stand accused of grievous crimes, so that justice can be achieved at last for those who have died or suffered; send a message to others in the region and abroad that they cannot kill and terrorize with impunity; and, send the important message to the ordinary people of the Arab world that perhaps they can look forward to a future of more normalcy and security.
But is justice divisible? Can it be selective? I ask because it seems clear that a lesser standard of accountability is applied in the case of crimes committed in the region by people other than Arabs, especially Americans, British and Israelis. Simultaneously with the STL and ICC indictments this week we have had the release of an extraordinary piece of collaborative research by more than 20, mostly U.S.-based, economists, anthropologists, lawyers and political scientists, providing new estimates of the total war cost as well as other direct and indirect human and economic costs of the United States’ military response to 9/11.

The Costs of War project, conducted by the Eisenhower Study Group co-directed by Professors Neta Crawford of Boston University and Catherine Lutz of Brown University, is the first comprehensive analysis of all U.S., coalition, and civilian casualties in these conflicts, including U.S. contractors. The study also provides the most detailed look of the effects of the 12-year sanctions imposed on, and the 2003 American invasion of, Iraq, and specifically the impact on the country’s health system, the displacement of populations, and the resulting transformations in ethnic and sectarian compositions of neighborhoods and cities. It makes for stunning reading.
It is fascinating that these early days of the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign include no mention of Iraq and Afghanistan. The political reality in the U.S. is that these wars are history, because Americans are on their way out of them. But the real and total costs of those wars and other military and security responses to 9/11 should not be allowed to pass into history simply because fickle Americans are focused elsewhere. Enormous damage has been done to many parts of the Middle East and South Asia, with human suffering on a monumental scale. Is anyone to be held accountable for this? Or do only Arab criminals get sent to trial and to jail?

The Costs of War project aimed to outline a broad understanding of the domestic and international costs and consequences of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Its extensive findings include, for example:
While just over 6,000 U.S. soldiers have died in these wars, the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars is unknown;

Over half a million new disability claims came into the U.S. Veterans Administration as of last autumn;
At least 137,000 civilians have died and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan;

The conservative numbers of war dead, in uniform and out, is 225,000; millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions. The current number of war refugees and displaced persons is 7.8 million;
The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century. Conservatively estimated, the war bills already paid and obligated to be paid are $3.2 trillion in constant dollars. A more reasonable estimate puts the number at nearly $4 trillion;

The ripple effects on the U.S. economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases, and those effects have been underappreciated;
Afghanistan and Iraq both rank low in global rankings of political freedom, with warlords continuing to hold power in Afghanistan with U.S. support, and Iraqi communities more segregated today than before by gender and ethnicity as a result of the war;

Serious and compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about war against Iraq.
It seems reasonable to ask for political and legal accountability for 225,000 deaths, 7.8 million displaced people and refugees, and some $4 trillion wasted. Or is this unrealistic, because angry white men in Washington and London enjoy immunity from accountability, and can respond with impunity to the crimes of 9/11 with their own much larger and more costly crime spree? Is this imperfect justice, or neo-colonialism, or a bit of both?

This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 02/07/2011

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