THE PROBLEM WITH COLLATERAL DAMAGE
Another air strike by NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) with US in the lead in Afghanistan. Another batch of civilians (14, including 11 children; 9 by US count) killed. Another protest – President Karzai said: "Bombing Afghan houses is banned." Another apology by US commanders, with same justification (excuse?): “ISAF said the death toll was nine and has apologised while saying the strike was carried out after insurgents who had earlier killed a patrolling marine hid in a compound and carried on firing.” (“NATO risks becoming 'occupying force': Karzai,” AFP May 30, 2011.)
So what should the ISAF (read US forces) do to avoid killing civilians in foreign wars, otherwise known as collateral damages, starting with ground fighting in Afghanistan and drone attacks in Pakistan.
The radical solution by many commentators is: “Get out of Afghanistan”. What if this is not an option? What then?
KANT’S CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE AS RULE OF ENGAGEMENT
The next best thing than getting out of Afghanistan is to establish one basic principle, fight foreign wars as thought it is a domestic war. Or as Kant would have it: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” (Categorical imperative or golden rule) Immanuel Kant Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals (1785).
Kant’s golden rule in biblical terms means: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Mathew: 7:12. (In Chinese it is: “Do not do to others what you do not want happen to you.”)
While this principle is not a failed proof principle by any means, as in cases when US values are not the same as Afghan values, it has the benefit of forcing the US forces to abide by a set of rules of engagement that US can live with.
Would the US force bomb civilian houses in NYC, just because a few terrorists are hiding in the midst? The answer is obviously not. That is why in many hostage situation, the SWAT team would rather let the terrorists go than killing the hostages. The SOP and training of all SWAT team is to kill or capture terrorists, without sacrificing life or limb of civilians.
There is three simple reasons why SWAT team or US soldiers would not kill US civilian to get to terrorists: (1) The civilians are their brothers and sisters, part of their flesh, blood and soul. (2) The civilians are US citizens with constitutional - human rights. (3) The responsibility of SWAT/soldiers is first and foremost to protect the life and limb of the citizens.
Why then are the ISFA – US forces killing many Afghan civilians in order to get to a few terrorists?
Because afghans are not brothers and sisters. Because Afghans are not US citizens. In the ultimate analysis, given US mission - exterminate the terrorists, Afghan lives are dispensable, though always with “sincere” regret!
Until the Bush administration and because of war on terror, US has always followed Kant’s golden rule; after all US is the world’s promoter/policeman of universal human rights.
With the Bush administration, the US started to treat terrorists beyond the protection of international law. Specifically, terrorists can now be tortured for information and detained with no due process; a position sanctioned by Obama (See “Fighting Terror: Bush vs. Mao” in this blog).