The BBC has been making hay with the news that a US airstrike in Afghanistan last week apparently killed around 50 civilians, sending its reporters hiking through the mountains to collect first-hand accounts of the tragedy, and generally giving the incident the sort of coverage that it wouldn't give to a story about 50 civilians being killed by the Taliban.
It's no more than we've come to expect from the BBC, and the Western news media in general. But grudging credit where it's due: when Peter Allen of the Beeb's Radio Five Live interviewed Carla Haddad, a spokeswoman from the International Committee of the Red Cross, about the incident he at least attempted to make a distinction between civilians being accidentally killed by Nato forces, and the Taliban's deliberate targeting of civilians.
Haddad was having none of it. Despite being invited to do so by Allen, she refuses to accept that there's any difference between Nato's actions and those of the Taliban, instead falling back on platitudes about appealing to 'all parties' in the conflict, and generally doing a passable imitation of a greased weasel playing Twister.
Here's the interview (I hope – this is my first attempt at recording and embedding audio. Web 2.0? Here at Monkey Tennis Centre we're still at Web 0.05). Allen first talks to a guy from international development think-tank The Senlis Council, who, while not being overly critical of Nato, says it should put more boots on the ground and rely less on airstrikes. He starts talking to Haddad at about 1:45.
In case the clip malfunctions, or disappears, here are the key exchanges:
Peter Allen: When you say you’ve appealed to all parties does that mean you actually talk to the Taliban and say ‘The suicide bombing must stop.’
Carla Haddad: The ICRC is in regular contact with all parties to the conflict, be it Nato/ISAF forces, US-led coalition forces, the Afghan Government or the armed opposition, which includes the Taliban. So the ICRC has contacts with everyone on a regular basis, and tries to remind them regularly of their obligations under international humanitarian law, or what is also called laws of war, which explains that they should distinguish between military objects and civilians.
PA: It’s probably worth pointing out, that of course, that when you get a suicide bomber, quite deliberately they walk into a crowded place and take out a lot of civilians, and do it deliberately, and that, at the least, the allied forces do intend to hit only combatants; they don’t aim for civilians but sometimes they strike them. So there is a difference…
CH: We’re not speculating on… what we’re deploring is the casualties; and many casualties are civilians. Each force has to take into account international humanitarian law and to respect it. We will not speculate we do not know the details of what happened in every single incident. All we can say is that casualties are civilian they are either injured or killed and all parties to the conflict should spare them and should make sure they’re distinguishing between military objects and civilian objects.
As an afterthought, she adds that the ICRC 'deplores' the Taliban's suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul last week. Perhaps she was worried about leaving listeners with the impression that the Red Cross supported it.
There's such a thing as not taking sides in a conflict, but this is ridiculous. The moral equivalence on display is nauseating. Haddad, and her colleagues at the Red Cross, clearly see Nato as no better than the Taliban, and the Taliban as no worse than Nato.
This is the sort of no-fault leftist claptrap that blights the work of not just the ICRC, but the UN and other transnational NGOs. There are no good guys or bad guys, just victims and oppressors, and Nato and the Taliban are equally guilty of oppressing the Afghan people.
Of course it may be that Haddad is personally sympathetic to the Taliban's aims, and just wishes it was a little more discerning in its target selection – you've got to love her characterisation of mass-murdering religious fanatics as 'the armed opposition'.
The line about 'not knowing the details' of various incidents is a transparent cop-out. And does she honestly believe that Nato and US forces need 'reminding' of their obligations under international law?
Like Allen, I'd dearly love to know what form the ICRC's 'regular contact' with the Taliban takes. Does someone from the Red Cross really call up the Taliban to complain about civilian casualties? If so what does the Taliban tell them? "Sorry, that was another software glitch"? or "Our boy mistook that busload of schoolchildren for a Humvee"?
Either Haddad is lying, which is perfectly plausible, or the Taliban is playing the Red Cross for the well-intentioned dupes that they are. Either way, by refusing to concede that the Taliban are the real enemies of the Afghan people, the ICRC is undermining the effort to defeat them, and ensuring that it'll be needed in Afghanistan for a very long time to come.
Then again, maybe they just want to ensure that they're never out of work.
Thanks to Rusty for the link.