• About CIVIC

    CIVIC is a Washington-based non-profit organization that believes the civilians injured and the families of those killed should be recognized and helped by the warring parties involved.

    On this blog, you will find stories from our travels around the world as we meet with civilians and military, aid organizations and government in our quest to get war victims the help they need.

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  • Contributors

    Sarah, Executive Director

    Marla B, Managing Director

    Kristele, Field Director

    Liz, Chief Communications Officer

    Trevor, CIVIC's fellow based in Afghanistan

    Chris, CIVIC's fellow based in Pakistan

    Jon, CIVIC's US military consultant

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AFGHANISTAN: U.S. Too Quick To Justify Afghan Deaths (The Huffington Post)

By Sarah Holewinski, Executive Director of CIVIC

Conclusions from the US investigation into the May 4th airstrikes in Afghanistan are leaking out. It appears that US personnel made mistakes–resulting in civilian deaths–by not sticking to their own stringent guidelines on the use of force. After eight years in Afghanistan, American forces finally have good rules in place to minimize civilian deaths, but didn’t stick to them when they counted the most, in the heat of battle.

So why are US officials still blaming the Taliban? Lt. Commander Christine Sidenstricker said in Kabul today, “The fact remains that civilians were killed because the Taliban deliberately caused it to happen. They forced civilians to remain in places they were attacking from.”

Let’s break this down to the nuts and bolts: Taliban tactics are egregious. They put civilians in harm’s way. They are violating international laws and everyone knows it. This makes the US military’s job a whole lot harder.

But regardless of what the other side does in war, the US military has responsibilities to avoid civilians and obey its targeting restrictions.

If you want to talk strategy instead of international law, avoiding civilian deaths is smart. Everyone knows that too. That’s why the US military put in place rigorous rules of engagement that ushered in several months of far fewer airstrike casualties. In Farah Province on May 4th, those rules could have saved lives. In one case, a plane given the OK to attack the Taliban didn’t confirm its target before dropping bombs. That might have given the Taliban time to flee and civilians time to enter the target zone. In another, buildings housing militants were struck, but the “imminent threat” required to green light for bombing wasn’t there.

The new US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, told the Senate this week: “In addition to the tragic loss of life, I am acutely aware of the negative repercussions resulting from civilian casualties.” He’s got it right: civilian deaths breed anger. But so do immediate denials of civilian harm in incidents like Farah. US Commanders need to understand this quickly. President Obama and Secretary Clinton appropriately expressed their regret for the Afghans burying their dead, but other US officials accused villagers and the Afghan Government of exaggerating the numbers killed.

And now to continue to downplay the US role even after the results of this investigation are made public, they’re literally adding insult to injury.

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ISRAEL/GAZA: Will Israel Help Gaza’s Victims? (The Huffington Post)

By Sarah Holewinski, Executive Director of CIVIC

Ask any civilian who has lost a loved one, a limb, or a home in war and they’re likely to tell you they never received anything for their suffering. I’ve always found it shocking that international law doesn’t generally require warring parties to help the people they’ve harmed.

Take for example the family of 60-year old Fayiz Ad-Daya. He was killed along with twenty of his relatives on January 6, 2009, when an Israeli warplane roared over Gaza attempting to bomb a house nearby that allegedly contained a weapons cache. Fayiz’s family was killed instead, with victims ranging in age from four (granddaughter Kawkab) to sixty (Fayiz himself). An Israeli military official admitted it made a mistake in hitting the wrong house and said this “is bound to happen during intensive fighting.”

The Al-Daya family thus joins a long list of millions of civilians destroyed in war. Like so many before them, the surviving members will likely never receive a formal apology or compensation for their losses.

When a similar mistake was made by the US military in Afghanistan back in 2001, they didn’t pay any compensation either to a woman widowed by a missile intended for three miles east. Eight graves are lined up near her home, representing her husband and children. I’ve heard so many stories like this. And then a few years later, the US learned it had to do things differently: a compensation system now exists for “mistakes” and unintended casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The system doesn’t work perfectly, but making amends to these civilians is the decent thing to do. It is befitting a nation like the US that prides itself on abiding by international laws that obligate respect for civilians (as Israel has claimed it does too).

Plenty of people have a bone to pick with Israel over this winter’s war with Hamas. And by bone I mean serious allegations linking Israeli Defense Forces to war crimes and violations of international laws governing armed conflict. All of the details have to be sorted out — the investigations, witness accounts, military records, photos and media reports. In the meantime, the UN estimates that three-quarters of the population still needs some form of aid. They’re talking about the basic stuff like food, water, shelter and healthcare.

So while the investigators press on and the applicable laws are figured out, here’s an idea: help these people.

Billions have been pledged from donor countries to help Gazans, but Israel has blocked all but a trickle from reaching across the closed borders. Hamas has played a role in the devastation too and Gazans are now being punished broadly (if not intentionally by Israel than certainly by default) for the acts of a few. Israel’s reticence comes from not wanting aid to go to people who will turn around and support Hamas; but who do they think they’re turning Gaza’s children toward by blocking life-saving aid?

If all that seems too daunting, start with the Al-Daya family.