Ishaqi Update

The Pentagon says the dead children were collateral casualties of a legitimate raid on an al Qaeda hide-out:

The footage shows at least one adult male and four of the children with deep wounds to the head that could have been caused by bullets or shrapnel. One child has an obvious entry wound to the side and the inside of the walls left standing were pocked with bullet holes. A voice on the tape said there were clear bullet wounds in two people.

Although it has been known that U.S. air power was involved in the assault on the building in Ishaqi, it was not previously reported that there was an AC-130 gunship, a devastating weapon capable of operating at night and pummeling its target with side-firing guns, including a 105mm cannon. The gunship is flown by Air Force Special Operations crews.

So these civilians may have been shot accidentally by a gun-ship in pursuit of a legitimate target, and not in any pre-meditated or illegal fashion, as is alleged at Haditha. There are some important distinctions here: the collateral civilian casualties that can and do regrettably occur in urban guerrilla warfare; the abuse of detainees under command authority; and battlefield war crimes, in which defenseless civilians are deliberately targeted out of revenge, or in some psychological snap. The first is always terrible - but not out of ethical bounds, as long as force was proportionate. It's the terrorists who are ultimately responsible if they choose to hide among civilians and prompt a battle. The civilian casualties are always a hideous thing; but so is war. And a just war can be waged minimizing such casualties, but rarely avoiding them altogether.

But the latter two are indeed out of bounds. I feel more strongly about detainee abuse and torture, because it is pre-meditated, committed against targets already under control, and subject to command authority. But that is no excuse for Haditha, if the charges pan out. The conclusions about Ishaqi also seem to me to be provisional. More evidence may yet emerge. We should be cautious about drawing any firm conclusions yet.