One of the main things that makes the global jihad network morally reprehensible is that it targets civilians — chiefly in Israel but also all over the world. It justifies the attacks by a provision of Islamic law that prohibits the killing of women and children “unless they are fighting against the Muslims” (‘Umdat al-Salik o9.10, cf. al-Mawardi, al-Akham as-Sultaniyyah, 4.2). This has been interpreted as allowing civilians to be killed if they are somehow aiding the war effort — hence the common assertion that “there are no civilians in Israel.”
Aware of this and media-savvy as ever, the jihadis and their allies have tried to make much of the U.S. forces supposedly targeting civilians in Iraq. And the mujahedin themselves have used women and children as shields to try to make sure the U.S. would target civilians — the easier to discredit American claims of the moral high ground. And of course the Kerryite Left, following their leader’s example of hysterical claims of American soldiers running amok in Vietnam, piles on happily.
But in an interview with Iraq Coalition and Pan-Arab print reporters, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage was having none of it, and spoke with rare and refreshing candor. From the State Department website, with thanks to Ruth King:
QUESTION: One follow-up, sir, very quickly —
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Sure.
QUESTION: — about human rights in Iraq. There have been civilian casualties, women and children, in Fallujah. How can you promote democracy in the Middle East when you’re sending out a message that it’s okay to shoot at children and —
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Oh, stop. Stop. Shame on you. I hope you were screaming about human rights during the time of Saddam Hussein. I didn’t hear many in the region.
We are the most humane military in the world. We punish our people when they exceed bounds, and we do it transparently. We regret every single civilian life which is lost, and we do our utmost, even putting our soldiers at risk, to prevent those.
It is true that there are civilian casualties and it is true that these scenes are shown over and over, particularly on our Arab friends’ television networks. Now we spend enormous amounts of time and put our soldiers and Marines at risk in order to try to prevent it.
War is dangerous and it is difficult times, but when you ask that question, I would hope that you’d reflect on your own writing over the past, say, 30 years and see what you’ve said about human rights in Iraq.
Thank you all very much.