The Guardian December 5, 2001

War on Afghanistan

by Pauline Mitchell, CICD

The Western world, particularly the United States is very conscious of the 
need to appear to stay within international laws — for example the long 
effort to get Russia to change the ABM Treaty — or they spend great 
amounts of money on hiring public relations firms to put a positive spin on 
their actions, on other withdrawals or objections to agreements.

One of the justifications for the US attack on Afghanistan was the UN 
Charter which says "nothing shall impair the right of individual or 
collective self-defence, if an armed attack occurs against a member..." but 
I have difficulty on the validity of this in this instance.

1 The attack on the US was isolated lasting less than a day.

2 The self-defence response was made three weeks after those attacks.

3 The US was not attacked by a country, Afghanistan was implicated only 
because it was "alleged" that it harboured the "alleged" mastermind.

4 Could this kind of attack which used domestic airliners be called an 
armed attack?

During the week-long debate on Terrorism held in the UN General Assembly 
shortly after September 11, the Cuban delegate said that the right to self-
defence should not be invoked on this occasion because in the war on 
terrorism that right should be exercised as the right of all for the common 
defence of all.

Munitions that have been used in this have been condemned by various UN 
agencies and Human Rights bodies — carpet bombing, the use of cluster 
bombs which so resemble land mines, and incendiaries like the "daisy 
cutter" — which explodes in mid-air and incinerates everything on the 
ground within a 600-metre radius —this could be termed an incendiary. 
There is the possible use of depleted uranium weapons and bombing of 
retreating troops.

All the rules and regulations of war and conflict have gradually gone out 
the window over the last decade and especially in this war on terrorism.

I think one of the things we must push is the illegality of all these 
things. Francis Boyle, a specialist in International Law says the actions 
of the US in Afghanistan constitute armed aggression and are illegal.

International law requires that there be a court hearing to determine the 
guilt or innocence of an individual accused of terrorist acts.

He also criticised US Congress for not immediately creating a panel with 
subpoena powers to investigate the September 11th attacks.

Actions such as this would have had the backing of all countries. Such a 
reliance on the rule of law would have been a major step in the struggle 
against terrorism involving the entire organised community, as it is now 
some countries are uneasy, especially as "terrorism" has not been defined.

A United Nations Tribunal could have been set up — then there is the 
International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice which 
could have been asked to give a ruling.

None of these avenues were pursued. A week after the 11th September United 
States Congress approved a resolution allowing the President to strike both 
individuals and nations which he determined as aiding the terrorist 

Then on October 7, in a letter to the United Nations Security Council, the 
US said it reserved the right to take "further military actions with 
respect to other organisations and states". In other words, warning the 
world that they can expect a war without end.

Because of this "war on terrorism" sinister things are happening with 
little dissent from the public. The Justice Department in the US has 
detained 1200 people under new powers given them, authorities have refused 
to say why or even if they have lawyers.

American Civil Liberties Union and other concerned groups can't find out 

Then a few days ago President Bush Jnr signed an order allowing for 
suspected foreign terrorists to be tried before a special military panel 
but not a civilian court, which means that there may never be any 
information released to the public.

The Director of the American Civil Liberties Union said that the move to 
establish a military tribunal when the United States has not declared war 
is unprecedented.

A lot of investigative journalists and including Professor Francis Boyle 
are also saying that the onslaught on Afghanistan is all over oil, because 
the US wants an oil pipeline across the country to Pakistan — this gives 
another dimension on this "war on terrorism" which seems to have no end or 
no borders.

We must stick to the rule of law — but not the laws that have been spawned 
from September 11th — but the laws of the United States and before — of 

The Western world often talks about it being "civilised" but the dictionary 
meaning of "civilised" is not what is happening now.

One of the ways we can fight this action is to embarrass America by 
publicising all the laws and conventions that have been broken by its 

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