Jeffery Goldberg wonders if American troops committed war crimes in Somalia while fighting rebels in Mogadishu. The question seems ridiculous at first. What war crimes could be committed against murderous insurgents responsible for a civil war? Goldberg’s big gun, however, is astounding. According to Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, 80% of Somalia casualties were civilians. This number, if true, is alarming and news to me. I find it unbelievable, to be completely frank. Yet there it is. So is a battle such as the one in Mogadishu a crime if more civilians die than bad guys?
…gunmen in that battle hid behind walls of civilians and were aware of the restraint of the (Army) Rangers. These gunmen literally shot over the heads of civilians, or between their legs. They used women and children for this. It’s mind-boggling. Some of the Rangers shot civilians, some of them inadvertently and some of them advertently. They made the choice to shoot at crowds. When a ten-year-old is running at your vehicle with an AK-47, do you shoot the kid? Yes, you shoot the kid. You have to survive.
American waged war on the Somali rebels right enough. But the crimes were committed by the rebels who deliberately placed innocent lives in harms way because of their own lack of courage, equipment, skill.
Earlier Michael quoted Daniel Pipes, who I respect a lot, as saying that he doesn’t know what the Israelis hope to achieve in Gaza or if their army knows how to do the job there. With respect to Mr. Pipes, I don’t think the objective is in doubt – it is to hurt and hopefully cripple Hamas, a purely military action that’s overdue. As to whether the IDF knows how to do that cleanly…is such an outcome even possible?
Mark Bowden also has something useful to say about Gaza:
I believe that culpability for these casualties is very much with Hamas. Take this leader, Nizar Rayyan, who was killed with many of his children. He knew he was a target. If I knew that I was a target, I sure as hell wouldn’t have my children near me. It’s a horrible and cynical choice he made.
In other words, Rayyan was using his sworn enemy’s own sense of mercy and fair play as a weapon against them. It did not work and while we ought to mourn the innocent lives that have been lost, the objective is a good one.
To allow terrorists to hold hostage the civilian lives that are unfortunately entangled with their own is not an acceptable option for any nation at war with these people.
For a guide, consider the Moscow theatre hostage crisis engineered by Chechen terrorists in the Russian capital. Even though many hostages were killed, Russia’s choice to use force against the terrorists was the correct one.
Only the size of the stage and the number of hostages is different in Gaza.