Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Baghdad's Qana: Amiriya Shelter 1991

I've written about the disaster in Qana 2006 and my experience of the first Qana massacre in 1996. People around the world are remembering Qana and their own Qana's; places where civilians seeking shelter from war died in large numbers yet where the world seemed to forget or to never even know of the crime in the first place.

Treasure of Baghdad is one of the very best Iraqi bloggers. The deaths in Qana make him remember Baghdad's Qana, the Amiriya Shelter 1991:
The crime's TV footage and pictures posted on the internet reminded Iraqis with a similar crime happened in 1991 when the U.S. decided to punish Saddam for his invasion to Kuwait by killing his country's civilians. Amiriya Shelter crime was never forgotten. On February 13, 1991 at 4 in the morning it was hit by two American bombs, which incinerated the building, including all but ten of the 400 women and children seeking refuge inside of it. Despite severe looting to the shelter after the U.S.-led invasion, pictures of many of the victims remain, which includes several entire families who died in the slaughter. Shadows of women who died have been burned into the walls, similar to the infamous shadow of a man flash-imprinted into concrete as he was vaporized by the atomic bomb of Hiroshima.

I was 10 years-old when the crime happened. I still remember the footage of the men and women who were weeping for their families and relatives at the metal fence of the shelter. Their eyes were red as if they were crying blood instead of tears. Twenty-five years passed and I still see the same footage but this time in Lebanon. Lebanese civilians were crying blood for the loss of their relatives and friends in Qana.

Treasure of Baghdad, July 31, 2006

Americans were at fault then. Apparently, the intelligence was wrong; it wasn't a military site but a shelter of civilians. I want to believe that the military didn't target it knowingly. "We're human, we goofed!" is what I wanted to say at the time. How inadequate is that response. But its is barely mentioned in our histories of the war, America has never had to account for it morally or in any other fashion. I will admit that I had completely forgotten it and even after reading Treasure of Baghdad could recall only vague memories from 1991 of hearing it briefly on the news.

We say it was first a shelter for high-ranking officials. They say it was opened to the general public. We say there are no innocents, everyone is implicated. (Didn't they know Saddam was a bad guy? Vaporized into shadow-prints? that's what happens to people who associate with Saddam -- Can't you almost hear Cheney saying that?).

Over and over, I hear this. The children in Qana should have known Hezbollah was launching missiles nearby (Don't they know they are bad guys?). Somehow, people want want to believe that the unjustly dead were not truly innocent. Because then what? We owe compensation and need to accept guilt and possibly punishment. But if they were implicated, in on the violence, the attack, the threat in some way, well, then, it is all part of war.

In Amiriya, they should have known we would target government sites, they are not truly innocent. Even Bin Laden invokes it about the Trade Center, they should have known what the government has done in their name. They are not truly innocent.

Is anyone ever innocent anymore? Is any war death a simple tragedy? Is compensation ever offered? Prosecution for war crimes ever made? Decades of painstaking work in establishing the Geneva Conventions, the Internation Criminal Court, establishing rules for the conduct of war and the protection of civilians and we all throw it away. I don't want to die for my blue passport some day. I don't want anyone to die for their lack of innocence, for the coincidences of life, and identity, and circumstance, that put them in the range of either madmen or the madly rational governments who try to take them out. Enough!

Another memory of mine now: pictures of the civilians killed (including small children) when President Reagan bombed Libya posted in permanent display cases in front of the Libyan embassy in Damascus. I walked past those pictures of limp, bloody toddlers and felt a pang, a pang of guilt and implication every time. But really, those pictures weren't for me, weren't meant to shame the few Americans in Damascus. They were meant for the Syrians, for fellow Arabs, to demonstrate their current powerlessness and rouse them to further action.

My students have a hard time grasping this, why people would cling to a moment of defeat, of humiliation, of loss, why would they would stubbornly remember? Until I say two words: Remember the Alamo! The nascent Republic of Texas lost at the Alamo, lost completely. But they fought valiantly (or so we are told). And that loss became the rallying cry that led more men to fight. No one remembers the Battle of San Jacinto, the overwhelming victory that led to Texas' independence from "the tyrant Mexico." Had the defeat at the Alamo been less total perhaps there would have been less urgency to sign up and fight. Hell, a tactical victory at the Alamo might have doomed the whole Republic of Texas project!

Remember Qana, someone is saying somewhere. Remember Amiriya!

Somewhere else someone is saying, Remember the Marines in Beirut 1983! Remember the Trade Center!

And on and on. I say, remember when children and women and old men were innocents, remember when we all signed treaties and defined war crimes and pledged to uphold human rights?

Because right now, my toddler is sleeping. And somewhere in Pakistan a toddler is awakening. And in Kashmir, and Iraq, and Lebanon, and Israel, and Chechneya, and Darfur, and Somalia, and Congo, and Libya, and Guatemala and New York City, there are toddlers. And they are all innocent tonight.


Eric said...

War pigs are ruining America's reputation as a nation that values human rights. Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, the killing of innocent families in Iraq, approval of Israel's wanton destruction in Lebanon, spying on its own citizens, no rights for homosexuals, stolen elections, religious extremism, complete disregard to the UN, etc., etc.
The United States has dug itself into a huge hole; it's time to rejoin the rest of the world...

Anonymous said...

This is a beautifully written and reasoned post. Unfortunately, wars have over time became more and more about decimating entire populations rather than the military assets of the enemy. This is not due to any change in human morality. Rather, it is because the tools of destruction have become so much more efficient at destroying all assets of the enemy including their wives and children. There is nothing moral in what is happening now, but then, there was also nothing moral about the blitz, buzzbombs, Death Camps, fire bombings, a-bombs & carpet bombings of World War II and the only people punished after that war were the losers.

Umm 'Skandar said...

Sadly, anonymous is right. The shiny tools of war prove irrestible. Amiriya was destroyed by American "smart bombs" after all. The "West" remembers the London Blitz, not the destruction of Dresden.

All the reasons to avoid going to war in the first place. Scary to think the world might have to learn the lessons of WWI all over again.

Eric said...

Repeating the mistakes of the past should not excuse the war pigs' actions today. Killing a whole family to get at your enemy is a war crime...

Anonymous said...

I agree that what is happening now on both sides constitutes a "war crime" from a moral standpoint. Unfortunately the justice systems of our world are not based upon any universal moral code. Instead, they are based upon supporting the desires of the powerful and protecting those who have the ability to inforce their own version of morality. That is why the poor Israeli on a bike is a war crime victim while the hundreds of thousands dead in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, Afganistan, etc. are "collateral damage". It is about a complete imbalance in power not what is morally right. This is Abu Skandar btw, my account is not working for some reason today.

Heather said...

I like Abu Skandar's comments about the relativity of terms u=like "war crimes" and "morally right". At the same time, I think there is a sense of dignity and humanity that can manifest in it all if we are not so segregated, removed, isolated, fragmented. But its easy for me to say, safe here behind my monitor.

Anonymous said...

The funny thing is that "morally right" is actually, in theory, not a relative term. Within the field of Ethics, in order for something to be judged morally right or wrong the principles used have to be universilizable (forgive the post-modern made up word there). So, for the Israelis to say that it is morally wrong that their innocent civilians are being killed by rockets while they themselves are killing civilians with bombs is hypocritical. They attempt to explain their actions through some convoluted justification about rockets being fired from up the street but, I think we can all agree, that there is never a morally justifiable reason to slaughter civilians.

The only moral choice for all parties in the Middle East would be to sit down and end this war that started with the Israeli-Palestinian civil war 60 years ago. Unfortunately, there are too many people drawing their power from that conflict and the sense of hope that we all had eight years ago that sanity may finally prevail over the dogs of war seems like a lifetime ago.

سحاب said...