What is JNV & the JNV Network? JUSTICE not VENGEANCE logo
Home page
What is JNV?
JNV's principles
What we do
Anti-war Briefings & Documents
Events Diary
Contacts
Useful links

Mailing lists


Sign the Pledge of Resistance against an attack on Iraq
 
 

Briefings & Documents Menu / Anti-war Briefings Menu / Briefing 13


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 STATES

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 Centre.

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 WAR

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, 15 Feb.)


CONCLUSION

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.’

^ back to the top

Briefings & Documents Menu / Anti-war Briefings Menu / Briefing 13