American forces began unleashing tiny cluster bombs on Iraq in 2005. The cumulative bomb total -- fired from both aircraft and artillery -- is now estimated by antiwar groups at 11,000.
And last year, following America's lead, Israel saturated parts of Lebanon with the American-made weapons, causing little damage to Israel's foes, Hezbollah, but exacting a continuing toll on children and other civilians.
Such indiscriminate attacks during wartime is nothing new. In Kosovo 10 years ago, American forces left behind an astounding total of a million tiny weapons possessing decades-long killing and maiming power.
In legislation apparently intended to establish that Democrats are opposed to such indiscriminate killing, and are dedicated to peace, Sens. Dianne Feinstein of Calif. and Patrick Leahy of Vermont are seeking to curb the manufacture and use of cluster weapons by the Bush administration.
In introducing their legislation, both senators gave voice to "appalling civilian casualties"wherever the US has dropped the bomblets -- or may do so in the future. And yet the two Senators are not intent on completely banning the bombs, but to impose a limit on the American-made bombs' manufacture and use.
Obviously, the Democrats -- and other co-sponsors -- seek to establish their party's good intentions without offending the Bush administration -- and unfortunately without producing a widespread, enduring and effective ban.
At a time when Human Rights Watch and other peace groups are urging a broad ban on the use of these weapons, the American military predictably accedes only to "limit" their use. This means that the US might go along with producing only limited-life bomblets, devices that would self-destruct after a given period.
If this ever happens, it will take time to develop and produce. So far, there's no research seeking to develop limited-life bomblets.
But international organizations are pressing the US to go much further and ban the bomblets entirely because of their persistence in civilian areas. In Human Rights Watch recommendations, it seeks to:
Prohibit bomblet use in or near populated areas.
Accurate mapping of bomblets that are already in those areas.
Warning markers near the grounded weapons.
Research whose object is to disarm weapons currently taking tolls.
Research into developing self-destruct weapons to curb their indefinite aftermath.
Because Israel is involved, two things are unclear: 1. Will the House of Representatives go along? 2. If this happens, will George Bush ultimately approve the legislation without a signing statement that effectively undermines it?
A journalist for half a century, Mitchell Kaidy of Rochester, N.Y., has worked for three daily newspapers, TV and public radio. He contributed articles with a team of reporters that won a special citation for the Gannett Newspapers from the Pulitzer Prize Committee in 1963 and won a Project Censored award in 1993. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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