I have never had as many heartfelt messages of gratitude as I have for speaking out against our SAS troops going off to Afghanistan. “We’re so grateful someone is speaking for us” was a common theme. I have spoken to quite big protest meeting and demonstrations up and down the country.
National, Labour and NZ First yelled and screamed at me in the House for advancing the Green principle of non-violence, which obliges us to explore all non-violent ways of dealing with problems. I argued there was an alternative to the war, which involved nations cooperating to find out who was responsible for the September 11 atrocity and bringing them to a court. If necessary political and other pressures could be put on nations harbouring terrorists. But we needed to be patient. It took a few years for the Serbian government to hand over Slobodan Milosevic to a war crimes tribunal, but it happened.
The warmongers became a bit quieter in the House, because most New Zealanders came to see the downsides of the war.
For a start, the so-called “war against terrorism” didn’t reduce the threat of terrorism against the United States or Western targets. The sight of the richest country in the world assaulting one of the poorest, turned many in the Islamic world in favour of Osama bin Laden. Thus we are likely to see more terrorists emerging.
Secondly, the intensive bombing of Afghanistan was itself a form of terrorism. Killing thousands of innocent Afghan civilians was not the way to remember the 3,400 people who died at the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. The lives of thousands more Afghanis were put in danger by the unexploded cluster bombs littering the country and the difficulties of getting aid through to starving people because of anarchy existing under the warlords that have taken over from the Taleban.
These warlords are marginally better than the Taleban in their treatment of women, but seem to be just as good at looting, or murdering those who get in their way.
That’s the problem with using the US Air Force to change a government. Not only is it against international law, but it does not guarantee a better or more stable government.
In the end stages of the war there were horrific massacres of surrendering Taleban prisoners.
I asked Phil Goff in the House if our SAS troops would be taking prisoners in the light of House voting “total support for the approach of the United States”, and US Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s statement that US special forces would not be taking prisoners. Goff replied that our troops would keep within the Geneva Convention. But how could we be sure when operation are likely to be under US command, and US Defence Secretary has no respect for the rules of war: Rumsfeld wanted Osama bin Laden to be killed rather than captured, and foreigners fighting with the Taleban to be killed rather than be allowed to leave Afghanistan.
Bush doesn’t want the “war against terrorism” to stop, and talks about attacking countries like Iraq, the Sudan, Somalia and North Korea – that is, he’ll do everything other than deal with the underlying causes of terrorism, such as the ongoing suffering of Palestinians. Behind a smokescreen of interest in the Israel/Palestine peace process, Bush has largely supported Israel’s iron fist policy against Palestinians, which will only spawn more terrorists. I have been pushing our government to get more involved with the Palestinian issue, to push the Israeli government to end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.