NEWS

  /  

July 27, 2006

Re: On civilian casualties

My good friend, Pete Korzynski, brought up some interesting points in response to my post concerning civilian casualties in Lebanon. As he has always done, Pete forces me to clarify my original position.Here is the section of his comment that interests me most.

Or, imagine a cop chasing a fleeing suspect(imagining also whatever is necessary for one to believe the officer really needs to get this suspect). The officer aims at the leg of the suspect intending only to stop him, but, unaware of the suspect's hemophilia, the shot hits the suspect on target, and he bleeds to death. We do not punish the cop in the same way we punish someone such as his suspect, who let us say, had just commited murder.If we take the state as an individual actor in a similar way, intention is paramount in understanding our response. Israel is the cop aiming at the suspect, hoping to injure a limb.
This scenario is not analogous to what is going on in Lebanon. First, if the situation with the cop resembled the situation in Lebanon, the cop, like Israel, would have to know that the suspect is a hemophiliac. After all, Israel knew and certainly knows now that its attacks are killing noncombatants. Thus, for the analogy to be more accurate, the cop would not only know the suspect would bleed to death, but would shoot him repeatedly. After all, what I was talking about in my post, is not a single-episode scenario, but an ongoing situation. I guess game theorists would say it's not a single-act game, but rather one with multiple iterations that would allow the actor to learn from the preceding acts.Second, I don't think it is fair to unite noncombatants (represented by the bleeding to death) and the combatants (the suspect) in one entity. A better analogy would be if the cop were to chase the suspect in a busy public space, and begin shooting into a crowd, hitting innocent bystanders in the process. Would we fault the cop for that conduct?Finally, for the purpose of clarification, I want to emphasize that I do believe intention does matter, on the individual and state level. Pete is absolutely right to bring up how our legal system delineates the same act of taking someone's life according to intention. The point of my earlier post was not to refute that, but rather to ask the following question: if a state actor is killing innocent civilians, is that state absolved of those deaths simply because that state had no intention of killing those civilians in the first place? To me, it seems that intention, while relevant, cannot be considered the determining factor.