Contextual Content

Cluster bombs: Hell from above

Cluster bombs are literally hell from above. Anyone who has seen the effects of cluster carpet bombing on innocent civilians – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and in the 60s and 70s in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam – cannot help but be horrified. A cluster bomb is a cannister that opens in midair and ejects hundreds of "bomb-lets" across an area of more or less two football fields.
These bomb-lets are little metal balls – as powerful as a hand grenade. When these bomb-lets explode, there’s a rain of jagged shrapnel. When they explode on the ground with a time delay they kill or maim anyone within a radius of 10 to 15 meters. But as many as 1 in 4 of these bomb-lets never explode. The place where they fall becomes a minefield. And the victims, afterwards, stepping over them, are in most cases, children. Diplomats from 111 nations, meeting in Dublin, have just agreed on a landmark treaty banning cluster bombs. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, urged everyone to sign the treaty, I quote, “without delay." It goes into effect by mid-2009. Who did not agree; and who won’t sign? The biggest producers – and users – of cluster bombs: Israel, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and the number one producer and user, the United States. The US did not even attend the meeting in Dublin.

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Story Transcript

PEPE ESCOBAR, ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: This is a fragment of a cluster bomb made in Russia and recovered in Afghanistan. And make no mistake: this is literally hell from above. Anyone who has seen the effects of cluster carpet bombing on innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and in the ’60s and ’70s in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam cannot help to be horrified. A cluster bomb is a cannister that opens in midair and ejects hundreds of bomb-lets across an area of more or less two football fields. These bomb-lets, they are little metal balls as powerful as a hand grenade. When these bomb-lets explode, there’s a rain of [inaudible] shrapnel everywhere. And when they explode on the ground with a time delay, they kill or maim anyone in a radius of 10 to 15 meters. But as many as one in four of these bomb-lets, they never explode. The place where they fall becomes a minefield, and the victims afterwards stepping over them are in most cases children. Diplomats from 111 nations meeting in Dublin, in Ireland, have just agreed on a landmark treaty banning cluster bombs. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, he urged everyone to sign the treaty, I quote, "without delay." The treaty goes into effect by mid-2009. There’s a problem. Some did not agree, and some won’t sign. Who? The biggest producers and users of cluster bombs—Israel, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and the number one producer and user, the United States. The US did not even attend the meeting in Dublin. According to State Department spokesman Tom Casey, the treaty will not change US behavior. He said, and I quote, "Cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility." The State Department also argues that no cluster bombs in a war field put the lives of US soldiers at risk. What about the lives of innocent civilians? On top of it, this is a watered-down treaty because of US pressure on allies like Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and Australia. Some US allies at NATO—but not all of them—will sign the treaty. Countries that sign are allowed to keep cooperating on a military level with countries that don’t, and this is also because of US and NATO pressure. The US cluster bombed villages and cities in Afghanistan and Iraq. Israel cluster bombed southern Lebanon in 2006. The text of this new treaty was built on the lessons from the 1997 treaty to ban land mines. When land mines and antipersonnel mines were banned, the so-called rules of engagement in war, they had to be revised. That’s what will happen regarding the cluster bombs as well, as much as the Pentagon may be against it.

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