The body count and proportionality
By MAURICE OSTROFF
The media never considered the huge disparity between the number civilian casualties in Libya and Kosovo compared to zero NATO casualties.
The Guardian, on May 14, 2012, claimed that according to Human Rights Watch (HRW)
at least 72 civilians including 24 children were killed by NATO air strikes
during the 2011 Libyan campaign. HRW issued a report describing bombed sites in
which no clear evidence of a legitimate military target was found, but NATO and
all the nations that participated in the air campaign, including the UK, have
refused even to acknowledge these fatalities, to provide specific information on
the military target or to conduct a field investigation into the
In seven of eight bombed sites HRW investigated, they found no
clear military target at the time when NATO strikes resulted in civilian
fatalities. The most serious of these incidents occurred in the village of Majer
on August 8, 2011, when NATO air strikes on two family compounds killed 34
civilians, five of them children, and injured at least 30 more. Initial strikes
killed 16 civilians. A further strike, shortly thereafter, killed an additional
18 civilians who had rushed to the scene to assist the wounded and
The NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo in 1990 was even more
dramatic. Just over 38,000 combat sorties, including 10,484 strike sorties, were
flown by Allied forces with no Allied combat fatalities, a remarkable
The campaign involved up to 1,000 aircraft as well as
aircraft carriers stationed in the Adriatic and Tomahawk cruise missiles fired
from aircraft, ships and submarines.
Despite strenuous efforts to avoid
civilian casualties, errors inevitably occurred, including the accidental
bombing of a Kosovar Albanian refugee convoy and a strike again the Chinese
Embassy in Belgrade. (Some sources subsequently indicated that the latter may
have been intentional with the goal of eliminating radio equipment being used by
the Yugoslav army).
In assessing the Kosovo campaign, a NATO paper titled
“Kosovo one year on” stresses that modern technology, the skill of NATO’s
pilots, and control over target selection made it possible for the Alliance to
succeed in that campaign with remarkably few civilian casualties. Nevertheless
NATO admits that the actual toll in human lives will never be precisely known,
though HRW has estimated that between 488 and 527 civilians may have lost their
lives. The Yugoslavs claim there were 1,200-5,700 civilian deaths.
OF the international media considered the huge disparity between the number
civilian casualties in Libya and Kosovo compared to zero NATO casualties worth
mentioning. The question of proportionality simply did not arise.
contrast, in the current Israel-Gaza conflict, reporters have been quick to
accusingly blazon repeatedly that only 3 Israelis have been killed to date,
compared to 61 Gazans, and on this account they charge Israel with a
How then does one explain this selective focus
on body count, and how should one interpret the dismal lack of understanding
that every one of the 12,000 rockets fired into civilian areas of Israel during
the past three years was intended to kill and maim as many as possible? Rockets
were fired towards schools deliberately at 8 a.m. when the kids were on their
way to classes, and only by the grace of the Almighty did they not succeed in
these mass murder attempts.
Moreover the manner in which the rockets are
fired into civilian Israeli areas from the midst of populated civilian areas
constitutes a double war crime. This procedure ensures that responsive attacks
on the rocket launchers cannot be achieved without tragically incurring
collateral civilian casualties.
The writer is a commentator on current
affairs. His web site is located at www.2nd-thoughts.org.