Precise Weapons Kill Civilians Too

As a general rule, it’d be better if media accounts of war did not stress thesurgical precision of the weapons being used. It’s a fixture of U.S. reporting on U.S. wars, but the same rhetoric is used when U.S. allies are dropping bombs.

Photo: PCHR

According to Washington Postcolumnist Richard Cohen (11/19/12):

Israel has gone out of its way to avoid civilian casualties. Its air force has used new, highly accurate ammunition aiming for rocket-launching sites and government installations. For the most part, it has succeeded.

Aron Heller of the Associated Press (11/17/12) had this description of the Israeli military:

Israel, armed with precise intelligence and newly developed munitions, has carried out hundreds of surgical airstrikes in a campaign meant to hit militants hard while avoiding the civilian casualties that have marred previous offensives.

AP’s Ibrahim Barzak (11/20/12) later reported:

Israel has killed dozens of wanted militants in surgical strikes throughout the operation, the result, officials say, of intelligence gathered from its collection of high-flying drones overhead and a network of informants.

Before dawn Monday, a missile struck a three-story home in the Gaza City’s Zeitoun area, flattening the building and badly damaging several nearby homes. Shell-shocked residents searching for belongings climbed over debris of twisted metal and cement blocks in the street.

The strike killed three adults and a 2-year-old boy, and wounded 42 people, al-Kidra said.

That’s a peculiar kind of “surgery.”

According to the Palestinians Centre for Human Rights (11/19/12), 87 Palestinians had been killed, 57 of them civilians. Another tally finds that 72 percent of the casualties are civilians.

It could be argued, as defenders of Israeli military attacks have done before, that this ratio of civilian-to-combatant deaths is more humane than recent U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But calling airstrikes that kill civilians more often than fighters “precise”–well, perhaps there’s a more precise word than that.