News Release

First Casualties of War


Executive director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights, which has recently put out several fact sheets on Afghanistan, Normand said today: “Afghanistan was one of the world’s poorest and most devastated countries even before this crisis. The UN has abandoned its relief operations, and all neighboring countries have sealed their borders. More than 1 million Afghans have so far fled their homes in panic. The $320 million aid package that Bush promised Thursday will help the refugees. But there is also the danger that food will be used to attract millions of desperate people to the border to serve as a proxy army for unscrupulous opposition leaders — part of a policy that Rumsfeld calls ‘draining the swamp.’ Throughout history — and recently in Rwanda, Cambodia and Nicaragua — refugee populations have been manipulated to serve political and military ends. And what of the 20 million Afghans left behind? Will they be condemned to starvation as part of the U.S. policy to isolate and kill the estimated 50,000 Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters? Will there be any TV cameras to record their fate? With UN agency heads warning that the population faces a ‘catastrophe of stunning proportions,’ it is critical that the U.S. government live up to its rhetoric of targeting only the perpetrators of terrorism and not civilians in general. This is not only the right thing to do, it is our obligation under human rights and international law.”
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Following a meeting Wednesday in Washington, D.C., with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Qatari ruler Sheikh Hamad al-Thani acknowledged that U.S. officials had asked him to use his influence to rein in the influential Al-Jazeera’s news coverage. Al-Jazeera is currently one of the very few media outlets still reporting from Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan. Campagna is the program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa at the Committee to Protect Journalists. He said today: “The U.S. administration is in effect calling on the Qatari government to interfere in what has been until now an independent news station. Over the years various Arab governments have tried to influence Al-Jazeera — the most widely-watched news channel in the Arab world — through diplomatic and other pressures and these have gained widespread attention. We are disheartened that U.S. officials are adopting similar tactics.”
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Columnist for the British Observer newspaper, Palast said today: “Americans should take no comfort in Blair’s bomb-’em-now speech. It was given at the Labour Party Conference, his party’s convention, and he was speaking to a dark side of the British psyche: the need to justify empire. Afghanistan broke the back of the Soviet Empire — and the British Empire’s expansion before that. The British, unlike the Dutch and Spanish, have never accepted their loss of imperial authority….”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; David Zupan, (541) 484-9167