Cutting through the bullshit.

Tuesday 20 February 2007

Watch your step

Jewish Voice for Peace wrote this morning encouraging me to contact my Senator to demand that they support California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act.

The bill aims to ban use, sale, or transfer of any cluster munitions unless ‘the submunitions of the cluster munitions have a 99 percent or higher functioning rate’ and ‘will not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians’.

“This landmark legislation would put the US at the forefront of global efforts to eliminate weapons that have killed and maimed thousands of civilians,” said Steve Goose, director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch. “At the moment, the US is best known as one of the most prolific users, producers, exporters and stockpilers of the weapon.”

It could well be a step in the right direction, except, ‘The President may waive the requirement under section 2(1)’ regarding the functioning rate if he ‘certifies that it is vital to protect the security of the United States’. Given what we now know about Congressional oversight of executive power, it looks more like carte blanche, particularly considering that, according to HRW, of the estimated 1 billion cluster submunitions the US currently has stockpiled, only about 30,000 would meet the stipulated criteria. No doubt it would be vital to the security of the United States to sell these at a profit, or give them to some other party with America’s best interests at heart.

JVP asserts that the bill also paves the way for clean-up operations, particularly in Lebanon, but the text of the bill only provides that

(3) not later than 30 days after such cluster munitions are used, the President submits to the appropriate congressional committees a plan, including estimated costs, for cleaning up any such cluster munitions and submunitions which fail to explode and continue to pose a hazard to civilians…

It doesn’t mention Lebanon and there doesn’t appear to be any wording that would make it retroactive to cover the million or so bomblets scattered all over southern Lebanon and taking their intended toll of UN mine clearers and Lebanese kids.

It’s funny how they name legislation. Leaving everything more or less to Presidential discretion hasn’t offered Iraqi civilians much protection, but time will tell. It starts out limp; we’ll see what form it takes if and when it passes the Senate, then it could be amended in the House, and once passed into law, there’s the inevitable process of gutting it through regulation.

Meanwhile, moves are afoot to launch ‘an international process to create a treaty banning cluster munitions that cause unacceptable humanitarian harm’. Launching a process sounds good. Just watch where you step.

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