The Cost of Unjust War

“Move beyond the prophesying of a smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Today I would like to take the time to approach the issue of US foreign policy from a different perspective and that is by focusing on the actual, gritty real-world effects that our wars have – both on the civilians of the countries we invade or threaten and on our own servicemen and women.

If you want a background as to my perspective in order to better grasp what I have to say below and where I am coming from then you can read my views on the war on terror at large here and on the targeting of civilians here. Also, let me preface the following by stating, so that there is no confusion, that I do not trust Iran or any other country unfriendly towards the United States and in no way view them as the “good guys”. Furthermore, in no way do I support isolationist policies; if America’s national security is under imminent threat and no other method can be reasonably employed than I believe that military intervention against the offending party is licit as long as Catholic just war doctrine is not violated. A brief overview of Catholic just war doctrine is given below as a reference; more information can be found here:

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

Now, with that said, I believe that our current foreign policy under Obama and in continuation of the Bush legacy, does violate just war doctrine as evidenced in part by the unnecessary and disproportional hardship faced by millions of people around the world as a direct result of our unjust actions, only a few of which are outlined below.

First, let me address the issue of depleted uranium: It is a byproduct of uranium refinement for nuclear power. Depleted uranium is much less radioactive than other uranium isotopes, and its high density – twice that of lead – makes it useful for armor and armor piercing shells. It has been used in conflicts including Bosnia, Kosovo, Lebanon, the Gaza strip, Afghanistan and Iraq and there have been increasing concerns about the health effects of DU dust left on the battlefield. Specifically, birth defects and cancer rates have skyrocketed among the civilian population in these regions following conflicts involving DU and many researchers now believe that there is a direct link between DU used by the US military and cancer and birth defects to the point that many now want to define DU as an indiscriminate weapon – specifically banned by Catholic just war doctrine. However, any conclusive evidence on the effects of DU is lacking due to refusal by the US to cooperate with researchers. Without the exact information of when, where and in what quantity our military has used DU its adverse health effects can only be guessed at. However, with literally tons upon tons of the radioactive waste littering past conflict zones it would be irrational not to suspect a cause and effect between DU and the sudden escalation in birth defects and cancer rates. More information on depleted uranium is available here (Warning: disturbing images). The below two quotes are taken from the above link on DU. Concerning birth defects in Iraq:

In September 2009, Fallujah General Hospital, Iraq, had 170 new born babies, 24% of whom were dead within the first seven days, a staggering 75% of the dead babies were classified as deformed.

This can be compared with data from the month of August in 2002 where there were 530 new born babies of whom six were dead within the first seven days and only one birth defect was reported.

Doctors in Fallujah have specifically pointed out that not only are they witnessing unprecedented numbers of birth defects but what is more alarming is:   “a significant number of babies that do survive begin to develop severe disabilities at a later stage.”

Suspected effects of DU on our own personnel:

Terry Jemison of the Department of Veterans Affairs reported this week to the American Free Press that “Gulf-era veterans” now on medical disability since 1991 number 518,739, with only 7,035 reported wounded in Iraq in that same 14-year period.

Soldiers developing malignancies so quickly since 2003 can be expected to develop multiple cancers from independent causes.

This phenomenon has been reported by doctors in hospitals treating civilians following NATO bombing with DU in Yugoslavia in 1998-1999 and the U.S. military invasion of Iraq using DU for the first time in 1991.

Medical experts report that this phenomenon of multiple malignancies from unrelated causes has been unknown until now and is a new syndrome associated with internal DU exposure.

Just 467 U.S. personnel were wounded in the three-week Persian Gulf War in 1990-1991.

Out of 580,400 soldiers who served in Gulf War I, 11,000 are dead, and by 2000 there were 325,000 on permanent medical disability.

This astounding number of disabled vets means that a decade later, 56 percent of those soldiers who served now have medical problems.

The number of disabled vets reported up to 2000 has been increasing by 43,000 every year.

Brad Flohr of the Department of Veterans Affairs told American Free Press that he believes there are more disabled vets now than even after World War II.

click for enlarged version

Our military has been using depleted uranium for over twenty years now and yet we still have no way of knowing definitively if a link exists between DU and the staggering increases in deformities and malignancies listed above because not only have we refused to fund research in order to determine the moral licitness of our tactics, but our military also categorically refuses to share any information of DU use with researchers – necessary information if the truth is ever to be established on the effects of DU. In the meantime, if we really cared about following just war doctrine we would cease the use of DU under suspicion of indiscriminate effect on civilians; yet, we continue to use DU unreservedly because, apparently, DU’s usefulness as a bunker buster and anti-armor is more important to our military than the lives of civilians or even our own troops.

Next, I’d like to address the Iraq war, specifically. Blessed John Paul II condemned the Iraq war as a violation of Catholic just war doctrine, stating:

War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity… War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations… War cannot be decided upon except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations (Address to Diplomatic Corps,  Jan. 13, 2003).

However, we went to war anyway under the pretext of national defense based on “intelligence” that stated Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs. Our “evidence” however consisted of a single eyewitness report and thus was faulty at best. Furthermore, U.N. weapons inspectors presented evidence they said disproved those claims. Despite, the tenuous grounds of our allegations against Hussein we continued with our plan to bomb and invade Iraq. According to CNN, “Subsequent U.S. investigations into the intelligence failure around the claims found that German intelligence considered the defector “crazy” and “out of control,” while friends said he was a “liar.” And, it turned out, the CIA not only never spoke with him, it never even saw transcripts of the German interviews, only the Germans’ analysis of the interviews.” The cost of this unnecessary and unjust war are staggering. Opinion Business Research, estimated that the death toll of Iraqi citizens between March 2003 and August 2007 was 1,033,000. Furthermore, over 4 million people were displaced in one of the largest refugee crises in history and over 140,000 new cancer cases have been reported (depleted uranium being the suspected cause). Finally, the Iraq war has resulted in 4,484 American military casualties and 33,186 wounded. Additionally, the economic hardships and continued adverse health effects inflicted upon the Iraqi populace can be expected to continue for decades to come. So, what did the Iraq war accomplish in light of all this? Well, considering that our national security was never actually in jeopardy and that we killed more Iraqis than Hussein’s despotic regime ever did its hard to argue that we accomplished anything at all.

But the Iraq war is now essentially in our past. It is a cautionary tale, however, that we must heed in the future to avoid similar calamity – the soul of America is in jeopardy in light of such evil, another atrocity like Iraq and we may lose it forever. With US-Iran relations heating up another war seems probable, but we must approach Iran with a prudence that our foreign policy has lacked up to this point. With the publication of the November IAEA report, which claims evidence illustrating the existence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran, we must be cautious of the same kind of faulty evidence that lead us into the Iraq war nearly a decade ago. It is paramount that we return to Catholic just war doctrine as the guiding principles underlying our foreign policy.

In addition to the US insistence that Iran not pursue a nuclear weapon, many US leaders are vehemently opposed to Iran’s entire nuclear program, some going so far as to threaten preemptive missile strikes against Iran’s nuclear reactors for fear that Iran’s nuclear power program is a facade and actually the groundwork for nuclear weapons. Furthermore, leaders like Rick Santorum and Barack Obama have refused to take preemptive nuclear strikes off of the table. However, while it is true that the nuclear power capabilities of Iran do bring them one step closer to achieving nuclear weapons than they would otherwise be, using this as justification for preemptive war is wrong for a plurality of reasons. First, Iran’s nuclear program according to experts in the field poses no imminent threat making any military action by the US unjust under Catholic doctrine. Secondly, Iran has met its obligations under the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has a right to peaceful use of nuclear energy under the treaty. Third, Iran’s need for nuclear power generation is real. Even when Iran ‘s population was one-third of what it is today, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, negotiating on behalf of President Gerald Ford, persuaded the former Shah that Iran needed over twenty nuclear reactors. With Iran ‘s population of 74 million and its oil resources fast depleting, Iran may be a net importer of oil in less than a decade from now. Nuclear energy is thus a realistic and viable solution for electricity generation in the country. To demand that Iran shut down their nuclear reactors thus forcing its 74 million inhabitants to rely on nonrenewable and fast-depleting oil for their livelihood is draconian. Worse, preemptive nuclear strikes against Iran’s nuclear reactors would result in an estimated 3 million civilian deaths and compromise the well-being of another 71 million people.

In terms of sheer numbers, the United States is perhaps the greatest violator of human rights on the world stage. We need to completely throw out our current, militaristic foreign policy and establish a military strategy based in Catholic just war doctrine. By doing so we can preserve the lives of millions and perhaps even begin healing the deep wounds between the West and Middle East. Its a long and hard road ahead of us, but to quote one source at the Vatican, “The vase had been broken, and we have to try to find a way to mend it.”


War on Terror Proponents . . . Promote Terrorist Attack?

Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan's funeral

By now it has been all over the news that yet another Iranian scientist linked to Iran’s nuclear program has been assassinated last Wednesday. The story can be found here. Many US politicians have endorsed the bombing, including Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum who stated, “On occasion, scientists working on the nuclear program in Iran turn up dead. I think that’s a wonderful thing, candidly.” Santorum went so far as to say that we should treat nuclear scientists working for the Iranians like enemy combatants. While no one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, Iran blames Israel and the United States and, while the US denies involvement, Israel has made numerous implicit statements regarding covert operations in Iran, stating that 2012 would be critical for Iran — in part because of “things that happen to it unnaturally.”

While I am no fan of Iran or the increasingly tumultuous relationship between Iran and the United States these tactics are intrinsically evil under just war theory and their approval by US leaders is disgraceful. The rationale that assassination of Iranian scientists is licit because 1: Iran is developing nuclear weapons and intends to use them against the US and Israel, and 2: anyone involved in Iran’s nuclear program is an enemy combatant is categorically wrong on both counts.

A recent report released by the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran offers intelligence that according to the IAEA “indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device.” This highly-anticipated report has been politically abused to “prove” that Iran is building nuclear weapons and to justify acts of war against Iran like the assassination of scientists and international sanctions. GOP nominee hopefuls Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have both stated that they would not rule out preemptive missile strikes against Iran based on the premise of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. However, according to a statement made by an Obama senior administration official, “The IAEA does not assert that Iran has resumed a full scale nuclear weapons program nor does it have a program [sic] about how advanced the programs really are.” Apparently, the new report does not necessarily contradict US intelligence that has thus far found zero evidence of nuclear weaponization in Iran.

Furthermore, the report’s authenticity has been called into question. Robert Kelley, a former director at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), made the following statement regarding the new IAEA report.

“In 2009, the IAEA received a two-page document, purporting to come from Iran, describing this same alleged work. Mohamed ElBaradei, who was then the agency’s director general, rejected the information because there was no chain of custody for the paper, no clear source, document markings, date of issue or anything else that could establish its authenticity. What’s more, the document contained style errors, suggesting the author was not a native Farsi speaker. It appeared to have been typed using an Arabic, rather than a Farsi, word-processing program. When ElBaradei put the document in the trash heap, the UK’s Times newspaper published it.”

Kelley added that “the new team under the new director general, Yukiya Amano, also, in effect, fished the discarded document out of the trash heap”. In contrast, there is a wealth of investigations and intelligence to counter this solitary report, affirming time and again Iran’s assertions that they are not pursuing nuclear weaponization. Secretary of Defense and former CIA Director Leon Panetta, the man at the top of the US intelligence food chain, stated that Iran is NOT building a nuclear weapon. Furthermore, if the faulty evidence of the November IAEA report is excluded, every single investigation of Iran’s nuclear program has yielded zero evidence of any attempt at weaponization since 2003. Iran’s clean record is even more impressive when considering that Iran has one of the most transparent nuclear programs in the world, allowing additional protocol in IAEA investigations, including surprise investigations, that countries such as the US have never allowed.

The IAEA’s November report reeks of the same kind of “report” that claimed that we had evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That was our pretext for war with Iraq and it turned out that the paper was a sham. A decade after we went to war with Iraq and still the “evidence” of the report remains unverified and no WMDs have been found. We cannot justify assassinations and other acts of war, risking war with Iran that would lead to thousands of American deaths and possibly hundreds of thousands of Iranian deaths, on such faulty evidence.

Secondly, the rationale that scientists associated with Iran’s nuclear program are “enemy combatants” and therefore “fair game” is erroneous. Assassination of Iran’s scientists breaks the following laws of war:

Rule 1. the parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians.

Rule 2. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.

Rule 4. The armed forces of a party to the conflict consist of all organized armed forces, groups and units which are under a command responsible to that party for the conduct of its subordinates.

Rule 5. Civilians are persons who are not members of the armed forces. The civilian population comprises all persons who are civilians.

Rule 6. Civilians are protected against attack, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.

As well as the following principles of Catholic just war doctrine:

Just cause:  innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life.

Last resort: Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical.

Distinction: Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of distinction. The acts of war should be directed towards enemy combatants, and not towards non-combatants caught in circumstances they did not create. The prohibited acts include bombing civilian residential areas that include no military target and committing acts of terrorism or reprisal against civilians.

Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan with his son.

Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was not a soldier, not a terrorist and in no way was part of Iran’s military complex. He was a scientist working towards advancing Iran’s nuclear technology and therefore a civilian. Thus, his death, no matter how advantageous politicians like Santorum may claim it to be, is murder and a grave evil both according to Catholic moral teaching and the secular laws of war. It is the responsibility of the United States to defy such tactics and publicly denounce their use. The targeting of civilians for lethal attack is an act of terrorism regardless of whether such attacks are directed towards Americans as was the case on 9/11 or if it is against our enemies such as the car-bombing of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan. There is no fundamental difference.

– Christian Ohnimus