Media Pundits Advocate Civilian Targets


October 1, 2001


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New York City, September 24, 2001 - ACTION ALERT
As the news media prepare for war, some prominent journalists have been advocating military strategies that violate the laws of war and mirror the strategies of terrorists.

Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, the channel's most popular host, declared on his September 17 broadcast that if the Afghan government did not extradite Osama bin Laden to the U.S., "the U.S. should bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble -- the airport, the power plants, their water facilities, and the roads." O'Reilly went on to say:

"This is a very primitive country. And taking out their ability to exist day to day will not be hard. Remember, the people of any country are ultimately responsible for the government they have. The Germans were responsible for Hitler. The Afghans are responsible for the Taliban. We should not target civilians. But if they don't rise up against this criminal government, they starve, period."

O'Reilly added that in Iraq, "their infrastructure must be destroyed and the population made to endure yet another round of intense pain.... Maybe then the people there will finally overthrow Saddam." If Libya's Moammar Khadafy does not relinquish power and go into exile, "we bomb his oil facilities, all of them. And we mine the harbor in Tripoli. Nothing goes in, nothing goes out. We also destroy all the airports in Libya. Let them eat sand."

It's unclear how O'Reilly is able to reconcile his claim that "we should not target civilians" with his calls for decimating the infrastructures of at least three countries and starving their populations.

His tone remained the same a few nights later (9/19/01), as he recommended bombing Afghanistan "in strategic ways and hope that the people themselves would rise up and throw the Taliban out." Acknowledging that Afghanis "are starving as it is," O'Reilly recommended that the U.S. intensify civilian suffering by knocking out "what little infrastructure they have" and blowing up "every truck you see" to make sure that "there's not going to be anything to eat."

The Geneva Conventions (Protocol 1, Part IV, Chapter III, Article 54) are very clear that "starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited." They specify that "objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population," including water and food supplies, are not legal military targets. Violating these strictures, which are legally binding on the U.S., would constitute a war crime, and might be considered a crime against humanity.

New York Daily News columnist A.M. Rosenthal, formerly the executive editor of the New York Times, had similarly disturbing advice in his September 14 column. Rosenthal suggested an ultimatum be delivered to at least six countries -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and Sudan-- giving them three days to hand over documents and information related to weapons of mass destruction and terrorist organizations.

Rosenthal warned that "in the three days the terrorists were considering the American ultimatum, the residents of the countries would be urged 24 hours a day by the U.S. to flee the capital and major cities, because they would be bombed to the ground beginning the fourth day."

The Geneva Conventions state that combatants "shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives" (Part IV, Chapter I, Article 48).

If actually carried out, the proposals made by these pundits would almost certainly result in civilian deaths totaling in the millions. Suggesting that killing large numbers of civilians is an acceptable political strategy only legitimizes the logic of terrorism.

ACTION: Please contact these journalists and point out that it is irresponsible to encourage the government to commit illegal acts and kill innocent people.

Fox News Channel
Bill O'Reilly, The O'Reilly Factor

New York Daily News
A.M. Rosenthal rosecolumn@aol.com

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Published October 1, 2001
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