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I Cry for the September 11 Victims... And I Cry Also for the 6 Year Old Afghan Girl Whose Spinal Chord Was Severed by Shrapnel From an American Bomb

December 13, 2001

Like many Americans, I have shed many tears watching coverage of and reading about the September 11 victims.  These emotions were most intense in the days immediately following the terrorist attacks, but even now, months later, the odd story will again bring me to tears.  Particularly moving are some of the short but poignant vignettes about September 11 victims that The New York Times runs each day at the end of its daily special section on the war.

Contrary to the impression that some readers of this site seem to come away with, I support -- and have explicitly so endorsed here many times -- military action to overthrow the Taliban, and eliminate Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda as a threat.  The release of the bin Laden videotape today only strengthens these convictions.  It is not the goal, but the methods our country is using to achieve that goal that I have strongly disagreed with and criticized.

That being said and hopefully understood, I am not ashamed to say that I have also cried many times as I have read about the hundreds, if not thousands of innocent Afghan civilians -- men, women, children, babies -- who have been killed and injured by U.S. bombs and missiles.  The following account of a tragedy that occurred last weekend really hit me hard:

A second 6-year-old girl in the room was paralyzed from the waist down. X-rays showed how a tiny shard of metal had neatly severed her spinal chord...

Bibi Hawa, the aunt of the paralyzed 6-year-old girl, said a convoy of Arab fighters fleeing Kandahar passed their village, Mowshkheyl in northwestern Paktika Province, on Saturday. Twenty-four hours later, at 4 a.m. Sunday, American planes struck, she said, just as families were preparing the daily predawn meal that is part of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Thirteen people were killed and more than 40 were injured, she said.

The bomb, she and other villagers said, released hundreds of smaller bombs that sprayed the area with shrapnel.

"No Arabs were injured," Ms. Hawa said bitterly. "Only these grandchildren and ladies."

The Pentagon had no comment today on whether American bombs might have hit this village.

A picture accompanying the article gives the little girl's name as Palwasha.  Seeing her lying there in the hospital breaks my heart.

Life in an impoverished, famine-ridden country like Afghanistan is hard enough.  What will life be like for Palwasha?  What kind of medical treatment can she possibly expect to receive?  Will there be any rehabilitative services at all for someone like her?  Or will she be condemned to a life of lying in bed, helpless?

I know that thousands of people were killed here on September 11, and many others horribly injured.  They have all, fortunately, received massive attention, and every single one of the injured will undoubtedly benefit from the most advanced medical care in the world and post-care rehabilitative services. 

But Palwasha will probably receive no attention from anyone except her immediate family.  She will most likely benefit very little from any modern medicine.  But for the New York Times article, the outside world would know nothing of her.  And there are undoubtedly countless other Palwasha's throughout Afghanistan whose bomb-induced injury and suffering is going completely unnoticed by the world.   So please don't write in and say "Why are you writing about that girl, why aren't you writing about the injured Americans." 

Compassion for our own dead and wounded should not close our hearts to the innocent victims on "the other side."  In fact, I would hope that the trauma we have suffered would make us more empathetic with, and more desirous of helping, those who are suffering death and injury.  Especially should this be so when we are the direct agent of their death and injury. 

While I have maintained that our deliberate choice of a high-altitude bombing strategy has ensured such casualties, while a different strategy would have avoided them, let's assume for the sake of argument that we bear no blame for Palwasha's tragedy at our hands.  But even if we bear no blame, aren't our hearts big enough to include her in our circle of compassion?

Did Palwasha have anything to do with the September 11 attacks?  Did she help bin Laden plan them?  Did she harbor an al Qaeda terrorist cell in her little village house?  Did she do anything at all -- as if a 6 year old girl could -- to deserve this obscenity that has been visited upon her?

In short, isn't Palwasha as much a victim of September 11 as the people who died that very day?  And isn't she as deserving of the assistance of the American people and government?

[Does anyone know how to set up a fund to provide assistance to this child?  Please write if you do.]

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

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