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Don't Attack Afghanistan
An Essay by Norman Council

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As I mourn the loss of both heroes and innocent victims, it is clear to me that what we saw last Tuesday was an attack not just on America, but on all of humanity. British, Japanese, Mexican and Irish citizens were also pulled dead from the rubble of the World Trade Center. These attacks were as clearly a crime against humanity as the actions of Slobodan Milosevic, who is on trial at the Hague.

What happened on Sept. 11 was not an act of war. We should take swift and aggressive action against the individuals who perpetrated these crimes, but I believe that any action should, at all costs, avoid the loss of innocent life. Most of the citizens of Afghanistan are just as innocent as those who were quietly preparing for work in the World Trade Center last Tuesday. Many Afghanis are women or Christians or Hindus who are horribly oppressed by their government. They are not responsible for the actions of their government regarding Osama bin Laden no more than I was responsible for my government's decision to arm and train bin Laden's soldiers in a misguided effort to undermine Communism.

Declaring the actions of terrorists to be an act of war has broad implications. It could give the president the power to declare marshal law and abridge civil liberties at home. It could provide the basis for a unilateral bombing of another country. Most importantly, it could provide a shield for the taking of innocent human life. Despite the tacit agreement of our allies, and even those who have condemned us in the past, the outrage that was perpetrated on American soil does not empower the United States to drop bombs. The proper place for the punishment of the criminals who committed these acts is in the world court. Justice requires a rule of law. Retribution, on the other hand, is another word for vengeance, and vengeance is best left to a power far greater than our government.

Norman Council is a professor at Hahnemann University in Philadelphia.