Mine Eyes Have Seen the Spirit of Evil

Mine eyes have seen the spirit of evil. It was hovering around a young child whose arms and leg had been blown off. We were in the Kirkuk General Hospital, northern Iraq, three weeks after the U.S. invasion of 2003.

Few of us are so deprived of humanity that we think that getting rid of Saddam Hussein meant we should blow up some of the children of Iraq. Yet that is what the American bombing managed to achieve, at least in the section of Iraq where I was working. According to Human Rights Watch, the American air force dropped thousands of cluster bombs over large areas of northern Iraq. It is not clear why they did this. For cluster bombs are not like most other modern armaments. They are not “smart bombs” or targeted missiles or even the controversial drone strikes.

Originally developed by the German army in the Second World War, cluster bombs are bombs with hundreds of tiny bombs (“bomblets”) inside them. When the main bomb explodes, it scatters the bomblets.

These “bomblets” in some cases look like toys. They are painted bright colours and are often shaped like little balls. The ones I saw were pink or orange. The problem is that civilians — mostly children — think they are harmless, pick them up and blow themselves up.

At the Kirkuk hospital was a ward with half a dozen people — children or teenagers — who had been blown up by cluster bombs. Some of them had no arms, others were missing their legs, one little fellow was half-blind. His face was a mask of stitches and cuts.

The attitude of the Iraqi families was extraordinary. To see your child blown up by bombs resembling toys, then to carry them to a hospital and find out that, at best, they would be maimed for life is difficult. Then a westerner, indistinguishable from the men who had dropped these awful weapons, enters the room. You would have forgiven the families if they had insulted or attacked me or just spat in my face. Instead, with all the traditional hospitality of the Middle East, they shook hands and offered cups of tea as we sat and talked beside their mutilated children.

Five years ago, Canada was one of the leading countries pushing for the outright ban of cluster bombs. Our negotiators led in establishing the international treaty — The Convention on Cluster Munitions — that has now been signed by 108 countries around the world.

The reasoning behind the convention and Canada’s stance was straightforward. After all, cluster bombs do not make the world safer (arguably the reason why the world tolerated nuclear weapons for so long). They do not make Canada safer (we do not drop them anywhere near our borders). Nor does their use square with most Canadians’ consciences.

Yet somehow, somewhere in that long road between making noble speeches in conferences halls and actually taking action, our national resolve has slipped.

Canadian diplomats signed the convention, but our Parliament has yet to ratify the international treaty that we helped draft to ban cluster bomb use.

Currently, the Conservative government is pushing through a wiggly-squiggly compromise. The bill they proposed — C-6 — has changed our position from an outright ban to more of a kind-of-a-suggestion that says Canada should not use children-killing-bombs unless our soldiers feel absolutely compelled to do so, and that none of our people should be arrested for using them, if they did.

The government position is that because the United States has not banned these weapons, and because Canadian soldiers often fight beside the American army, our people may be later held liable for war crimes.

Last week, Canadian politicians had a chance to put our record on these dreadful weapons right. There was a debate and expert testimony before a parliamentary committee to try to bring forward the idea that Canada should ban the use of the bombs outright by our military.

Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser testified, “If you want to kill women and children, cluster bombs are the weapons of choice.” His country has ratified the convention. A range of other experts spoke before the politicians, however, not a single victim of cluster bombs was seen by the committee.

Even John Baird, hardly a bleeding heart of a foreign minister, has recently seen what I have seen — a hospital (in Laos) where a young girl and an old man were with their limbs blown off by cluster bombs. The sight is purportedly making him consider again the use of these dreadful weapons.

Let us hope that he discovers his heart. Let us, finally, as Canadians do the decent thing. Let us say, clearly and loudly, the bombs that disproportionately target children and other civilians are wrong.

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