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Are We Not Savages Too?

The Beheading of James Foley

by GARRY LEECH

Without question, the beheading of US journalist James Foley was an inexcusable and savage act of violence by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The killing of non-combatants should always be condemned. But there is a clear discrepancy in the response of both the Western media and the general public with regard to the killing of Western civilians compared to Islamic civilians. The number of Western civilians killed by Islamic militants pales in comparison to the number of non-combatants that have died at the hands of the US and its military allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen. And yet, the outrage at the killing of these innocent Muslims, many of who are women and children, is virtually non-existent in the West.

According to several studies, more than 1,000 Afghan civilians were killed by the US military in the first six months of Operation Enduring Freedom. The number of non-combatants killed by coalition forces surpassed 3,000 by the end of the third year of the occupation. The killing of civilians by the US military continued thereafter with drone strikes accounting for most of the deaths in recent years. According to the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, some 2,400 people were killed by US drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen during the first five years of Barack Obama’s presidency. The study claims that as many as 951 of these deaths were civilians and that almost 200 of the victims were children.

These numbers are corroborated by another study conducted by the Columbia Law School which reports that approximately 600 people were killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan in 2011. According to the report, as many as 155 of those killed were civilians. Together, these two reports suggest that 30 to 40 percent of people killed by US military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan are civilians. This percentage corresponds with that reported in a study headed by public health expert Amy Hagopian of the University of Washington. Hagopian’s comprehensive study of civilian deaths during the US invasion and occupation of Iraq (2003-2011) reveals that Baghdad was at the epicenter of the violence for much of that period and that 35 percent of those killed in that city by US coalition forces were civilians.

Some may argue that civilian deaths are inevitable in a war and that militants, not civilians, are the intended target of US operations. In accordance with such arguments we use terms such as “collateral damage” to eradicate the human factor and to justify the deaths of these innocents. But the rate of so-called collateral damage is extremely high if, as these studies suggest, 30 to 40 percent of those killed in US military operations over the past...

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