11 March 2002
Six Months On
Part II: The Victims
Kelly Campbell, Sister-in-law
of Craig Scott Amundson, killed in the Pentagon on
11 September 2001.
In January 2002, Kelly Campbell
went to Afghanistan to meet civilian victims of the war.
‘I want to tell a story about two children.
The first is about my niece Charlotte, whose father was killed.
Charlotte was barely two and a half on September 11th,
and no one was really sure she understood much of what was going
on. It had been explained to her but it was this time where all
of her aunts and uncles and grandparents and everyone was there
and people kept coming and giving her gifts. So we weren’t really
sure how much Charlotte knew what was going on.
‘And one day Charlotte and I went
on a little walk on this nature trail near their house and as
we were walking down the trail I asked her, "Charlotte, have
you been here before?" And she stopped and she said, "Yes.
Daddy used to take me here." And she looked down at her feet
and she said, "A plane crashed into Daddy’s work and Daddy
couldn’t get out."
‘And it was such an awful thing
to hear from a two-year-old, to hear that a two-year-old has a
story like that, and it’s true.
‘And then, when I went to Afghanistan,
I was at the Emergency Hospital for victims of war, and I met
an eight-year-old boy who was missing part of his hand.
‘We asked him why he was there
and what had happened, and he told us that he’d been playing near
his house with his ten-year-old friend, and that his friend had
seen something yellow and picked it up and he had shouted, "No!
Don’t touch it!" And he watched his friend explode and die,
and he’s in hospital missing part of his hand.
‘And it is just so horrible that
we live in a world where children have these stories. Where children
have seen these things happen. And it made me think about how
I’m going to explain all this to Charlotte some day and what action
has our government taken to respond to Craig’s murder.
‘As far as I can tell, the main
action that they’ve taken is to kill more innocent people and
to give more children horrible stories to tell.’
THE VICTIMS IN THE UNITED
Nearly 3000 people were killed in the
11 September attacks. Four aircraft were destroyed as a result
of the terrorists’ actions, including United Airlines Flight 93,
which came down in Pennsylvania before it could reach its intended
target, probably as a result of a passengers’ revolt - 40 passengers
and crew were killed, apart from the four hijackers. 288 people
were killed in the attack on the Pentagon. 2,672 death certificates
have been issued for those lost at the World Trade Centre.
Among the dead were several children.
Rodney Dickens, Bernard Brown and Asia Cottom, all 11, were on
American Airlines Flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon.
They were on a school field trip to California. Juliana McCourt,
aged 4, was on the first airplane to crash into the World Trade
One of the most memorable stories
to come out of the World Trade Centre concerned Abe Zelmanowitz.
Abraham J. Zelmanowitz, 55, an Orthodox Jew, spent his last moments
comforting his quadriplegic friend and colleague, Edward Beyea.
Zelmanowitz, a computer programmer for Empire Blue Cross and Blue
Shield, was honored by President Bush for bravery and kindness
in the face of tragedy.
Abe Zelmanowitz’s sister, Rita
Lasar, spoke out on US radio: ‘In the ordinary sense of the word,
Abe Zelmanowitz was no hero. A saint maybe, but not a hero: Heroes
die saving other people’s lives. Those two guys who, in the midst
of their own hurried flight, paused at the 68th floor of the World
Trade Center to carry a disabled woman 68 floors to safety - those
guys are heroes.
‘Abe accomplished nothing, really,
except to decide on September 11, 2001, as the twin towers of
death and fear filled his 27th-floor office, just what kind of
man he would be. We can’t control death; it comes to us all in
the end. But that choice, Abe’s choice, we keep to the end: What
kind of person will I be?
‘Abe, a 55-year-old computer programmer,
was a devout Jew who read the Torah daily. "Why are you still
in there?" his brother Jack demanded when Abe called soon
after the first plane hit. Why? Because his friend Ed, a paraplegic,
was also there. He couldn’t save Ed’s life. But he wouldn’t become
the kind of guy who leaves a paralyzed friend to die alone.
‘Death comes to us all, but not
all of us get to be Abe Zelmanowitz before we die. Now we are
at war, and war is always us vs. them. But who is the us that
is at war? Abe’s question: Who are we going to choose to be?’
Rita Lasar, 70, also visited civilian
victims of the war in Afghanistan in Jan. 2002.
VICTIMS IN AFGHANISTAN
One of the victims Kelly Campbell and
Rita Lasar met was Najiba Shakar Pardes:
‘At her tiny flat in Makrayan, Mrs
Shakar waited patiently, slumped in a near-bare room, for the
visitors. Her once pretty face is now criss-crossed with scars
and she has difficulty standing up or talking. She was in pain,
she said, and wanted to rest. She had suffered extensive injuries
to her head, arms and legs in the US bombing raid on 17 October,
and spent weeks in hospital. She had also been four months pregnant
and there are fears for the unborn baby.
‘Mrs Shakar, 38, was collateral
damage. She had been at home in central Kabul, with her three
children, when the bomb punched a hole in it. The children who
had, amazingly, escaped harm, watched and cried as she was scooped
out by a bulldozer. Now they help their father, Mohammed, look
after their invalid mother.
‘Under the glare of television
lights, Mr Shakar, 40, spoke about his wife, who was a teacher
before the Taliban banned her from the job. How she secretly worked
for the UN World Food Programme and how she had looked forward
to resuming her teaching job when the Taliban went.
‘"Her life, all her dreams
and ambition, had been destroyed. My children and I are just glad
that she is alive," he said. "We do not blame you for
what had happened, you too have suffered greatly. But no one has
ever explained to me why my home, in the middle of a residential
area, nowhere near the military, was bombed.’
‘Mr Shakar’s son, Mohammed Biyuqra,
15, said: "The Americans are angry because they had one day
of war. We have had 23 years of it."’ (Independent,
16 Jan., p. 1)
The first family the US relatives
had arranged to meet were the Amiris, apparently in the same suburb
of Kabul: ‘Abdul Basir and Shakila lost their five-year-old daughter,
Nazila, during a US air strike on the morning of 17 Oct. She was
playing with her younger brother and sister in a building 20 yards
from their home when it was hit by a bomb.
‘"I am very glad the Americans
are coming to see us," said Mr Amiri, a 34-year-old former
police officer sacked by the Taliban because he refused to enforce
their punitive policies. "An innocent life lost is a terrible
thing, wherever it is. The life of my daughter was precious, but
so were the lives of all those who died in America."
‘Mrs Amiri, 33, sat stroking a
faced photograph of her daughter. She said: "People used
to stop me on the street and say how beautiful she was. I would
like to show the Americans this photo of her and try to explain
how sad we feel. Maybe they will talk about the people they lost.
It is a long way for them to come, and also very kind of them.
We all suffer because of the terrible things men do."’ (Independent,
15 Jan. 2002, p. 12)
DIRECT VICTIMS OF THE US WAR
Estimates of the number of civilians
killed by the bombing in Afghanistan vary. ‘A senior MSF [Medecins
sans Frontieres] worker, who has been in Afghanistan for five
years, estimates the number of civilian dead at between 2,000
and 3,000, based on reports from hospitals and field workers around
the country. A European demining expert in Kabul who works closely
with the Pentagon reckons that up to 8,000 civilians have been
killed.... Professor Marc Herold, of the University of New Hampshire,
puts the number of civilian casualties at at least 4,000.’ Herold
has compiled a list of incidents reported by the international
media, and calculated a death toll based on these reports. The
European demining expert quoted by the Guardian suggests
that his figures could be doubled: ‘Most Muslims are buried within
six hours of death. There’s no need to report births or deaths
here and the hospitals do not have anything on the dead.’ (Guardian,
12 Feb. 2002, p. 5)
‘Most of those killed are as a
result of "mistakes" during high-altitude bombing, the
central feature of modern American war-making, which wreaks havoc
on the ground but keeps US servicemen in a relatively risk-free
environment in the skies.’ Some deaths are the results of special
forces raids on the ground. On 24 Jan., a US special forces raid
on the southern village of Uruzgan led to two men being found
shot dead with their hands tied behind their backs with plastic
tape, ‘suggesting that they had been bound and then executed’.
US special forces are known to have used such tape on women in
a similar raid in Jan. ‘In both cases, houses or buildings were
torched.’ ‘The raids suggest that the special forces shoot first
and ask questions later.’ (Guardian, 12 Feb. 2002, p. 5)
Some deaths are the result of false
information being fed to US forces by local warlords. ‘The International
Committee of the Red Cross is investigating the deaths of at least
52 civilians on Dec. 29 at Qalaye Niazi, south-east of Kabul,
when a B-52 and two B-1B bombers struck after a regional warlord
told the Americans it was a Taliban stronghold. It was not. At
least 25 children were killed, according the UN.’ (Guardian,
12 Feb., p. 5)
INDIRECT VICTIMS OF THE US
The US war has greatly deepened the
humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, leading to an increase in
death and suffering due to hunger, and disease. ‘Carl Conetta
of the Commonwealth Institute estimates that up to 1,300 civilians
have been killed by US bombs and at least 3,000 other Afghans
are dead because the American campaign worsened the humanitarian
emergency.’ (Guardian, 12 Feb. 2002, p. 5)
The Guardian reported
in January from the village of Bonavash in the remote northern
mountain region of Abdullah Gan, home to 10,000 people. Bonavash,
the most accessible village in the region, was, in early January,
‘slowly starving.’ People had resorted to
eating bread made from grass and traces of barley flour. ‘Babies
whose mother’s milk has dried up are fed grass porridge. The toothless
elderly crush grass into a near powder. Many have died. More are
sick. Nearly everyone has diarrhoea or a hacking cough. Many are
too weak to stand. Others cannot leave their homes... "We
are waiting to die. If food doe not come, if the situation does
not change, we will eat this... until we die," said Ghalam
Raza, a 42-year-old man with a hacking cough, pain in his stomach
and bleeding bowels.... People in even more distant reaches, days
away by donkey, are worse off, according to aid workers and Bonavash
residents who have been there.’ (Guardian, 9 Jan., p. 13)
‘Aid officials say that northern
Afghanistan, with an estimated 2.6m in need of aid, is among the
hardest hit and the most difficult region to administer.’ ‘It
is feared that about a third of people who need food aid might
not get it.’ Aid workers in the north ‘say conditions are still
critical, with numerous villages cut off and unable to support
themselves.’ (Financial Times, 7 Feb., p. 8)
CLOSING THE WINDOW
Western aid agencies warned in the
early stages of the war that there was a window of opportunity
to get food aid out to villages before the snows fell. An opportunity
that could only be taken if bombing was suspended to allow the
safe delivery of aid. This warning was ignored and the opportunity
wasted. Luckily the snows were late, and some food aid was able
to enter the country. But in many cases it was not distributed
to the local distribution points where people in need could get
access to it, contributing to the present crisis.
BBC reporter David Loyn warned
in early Feb., ‘Tens of thousands of people face starvation this
winter in western Afghanistan - despite a huge international aid
effort. About seven million people depend on aid in Afghanistan
- but the disruption to supplies during last year’s fighting broke
a vulnerable food chain... [Oxfam and other agencies] lost three
months during the fighting and in that vacuum people died.’ (BBC
News Online, 4 Feb.)
After a month in Badghis province
- ‘the area most affected by Afghanistan's hunger crisis’ - Loyn
reported, ‘In ultra-conservative village societies, women and
small babies are dying behind the closed doors of their houses
and these deaths are certainly a private, secret famine behind
the big claim that famine in Afghanistan has been averted.’ ‘Once
the food pipelines reopened after the bombing, much of the early
distribution went straight to grain bankers in the bigger villages,
who had lent food on credit in lean times.’ (BBC News Online,
The victims of 11 September deserve
to be remembered, but not at the cost of the memory of those innocents
who have died and who continue to die in the US/UK war in Afghanistan.
As Natasha Walter has warned us, we should not think that just
because they ‘don’t get obituaries in The New York Times
that each of the civilian lives lost in Afghanistan isn’t as precious
to their loved ones as the people who died in the Twin Towers.’
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