(updated below - includes full text of Senate Amendment No. 4882; update II: copy of Senate Roll Call Votes.)
"[Cluster bombs are] the single greatest risk civilians face with regard to a current weapon that is in use." -Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch
David Rees, the man behind the hilarious and trenchant Get Your War On, reminded me yesterday of another especially egregious - yet much less known - vote cast by Senator Hillary Clinton, which no one in the mainstream media is talking about:
But in the autumn of 2006, there was a chance to take a step in the right direction: Senate Amendment No. 4882, an amendment to a Pentagon appropriations bill that would have banned the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas.
Senator Obama of Illinois voted IN FAVOR of the ban.
Senator Clinton of New York voted AGAINST the ban.
Analysts say Clinton did not want to risk appearing "soft on terror," as it would have harmed her electibility.
No, neither candidate is perfect. Indeed, as Rees points out about Obama:
Nobody who voted for 2005's wack-ass energy bill is perfect. Nobody who voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act is perfect.
Yet he goes on to say:
But of the two remaining Democratic candidates, one decided her vote on Amendment No. 4882 according to a political calculation. The other used a moral calculation.
Whomever you're supporting, or even if you're not supporting either candidate, Rees makes a fair point here. On not one but two of her most important life-and-death votes in the Senate, Clinton embraced political expediency over the protection of innocent human lives.
Moreover, if such issues as the horrific realities of cluster bombs were given their due in the mainstream media, Clinton's vote against Amendment No. 4882 would've and should've been fair game in assessing her record.
The United States of America is the largest manufacturer of cluster bombs. This weaponry maims and kills thousands of innocent human beings globally each year but reaps huge profits for the defense industry, which in turn, of course, pays exorbitant rates to advertise during U.S. network news broadcasts.
Thus, its absence from our "national debate" is no grand mystery.
First, a brief background on the cluster bomb. Then, an exploration of why Senator Clinton's vote against its ban is highly relevant to President Clinton's actions back in 1997.
The Cluster Bomb
Nick Turse describes the ghastly nature of cluster bombs in his article "Did the U.S. Lie About Cluster Bomb Use in Iraq?":
A cluster bomb bursts above the ground, releasing hundreds of smaller, deadly submunitions or "bomblets" that increase the weapon's kill radius causing, as [Marc] Garlasco [Human Rights Watch senior military analyst] puts it, "indiscriminate effects." It's a weapon, he notes, that "cannot distinguish between a civilian and a soldier when employed because of its wide coverage area. If you're dropping the weapon and you blow your target up you're also hitting everything within a football field. So to use it in proximity to civilians is inviting a violation of the laws of armed conflict."
Worse yet, U.S. cluster munitions have a high failure rate. A sizeable number of dud bomblets fall to the ground and become de facto landmines which, Garlasco points out, are "already banned by most nations on this planet." Garlasco adds: "I don't see how any use of the current U.S. cluster bomb arsenal in proximity to civilian objects can be defended in any way as being legal or legitimate."
In July 2003, UNICEF's Representative in Iraq, Carel de Rooy, explained why children are drawn to these unexploded bomblets:
“Cluster bombs come in interesting shapes that are attractive to children,” said de Rooy. “Many children are injured or killed because they see a shiny metal object, sometimes in the shape of a ball, and they have to go and pick it up and play with it.”
And as Reuters reported last May:
Some 400 million people around the world live and work in what are effectively minefields, at daily risk of death or maiming by cluster bombs, according to a report issued on Wednesday.
The report, from the campaign group Handicap International, said over 13,000 civilians are known to have been killed or injured in recent years by the bombs, but that the real figure was probably many times higher.
In the wake of armed conflicts "unexploded cluster submunitions turn homes, livelihoods and social areas of 400 million people living in affected countries into de facto minefields," the report said.
The High Costs of Political Expediency
In fact, as evidenced by her vote against Amendment No. 4882, it's fair to say that Hillary Clinton stands - or stood (she might regret the vote; we don't know because no one in the media has asked her) - with George W. Bush on the issue of cluster bombs. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Bush administration reiterated its support of this weaponry:
Cluster bombs, which nearly 100 countries are seeking to ban, should not be considered bad as long as states involved in conflicts use them responsibly, a senior United States official said on Wednesday.
The official's remarks, which could not be quoted directly, clearly confirmed that Washington -- like Russia, China and some other powers -- remained opposed to banning the weapon.
And if it's fair for Senator Clinton to cite all of her husband's accomplishments in office, it's only fair and responsible for the media to reveal any substantive symbiotic blemishes they share, such as the former president's record on land mines.
October 1997, New York Times:
The White House said today that President Clinton was ''rock solid'' in his opposition to an international treaty banning all land mines, even though pressure was sure to build on the White House to reconsider after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to an American anti-mine activist and her organization.
''The President is absolutely rock-solid confident that he's got the right approach that protects our interests and works in the interest of eliminating the scourge of land mines,'' said Michael D. McCurry, the White House spokesman.
His comments came after the announcement that the Nobel had been awarded to Jody Williams of Putney, Vt., and her organization, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Last month the President announced that the United States would not sign a treaty supported by nearly 100 other nations to ban the use of anti-personnel land mines.
Mr. Clinton insisted on the exemptions at the urging of the Defense Department, which warned that the United States would invite disaster on the Korean Peninsula if it removed the nearly one million land mines that seed the border between the two Koreas.
May 1998, New York Times:
In a shift in policy, the Clinton Administration has pledged that by 2006 the United States will sign the international treaty that bans anti-personnel land mines, but only if the Pentagon comes up with an alternative weapon, Administration officials said today.
The Administration's pledge -- made in a May 15 letter from the President's national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger, to Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont -- contains a very big caveat: The Administration did not set a firm deadline for the Pentagon to come up with an alternative.
For that reason the pledge is symbolic, in large part because Mr. Clinton will no longer be President by 2006.
Lack of leadership on such critical issues can have catastrophic consequences for years or decades to come:
However, the Bush administration made an about-face in U.S. antipersonnel land mine policy in February 2004, when it abandoned any pretense of joining the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention.
”The United States will not join the Ottawa Convention because its terms would have required us to give up a needed military capability,” the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs said in a statement in February 2004, summing up the administration's new policy.
"Landmines still have a valid and essential role protecting United States forces in military operations... No other weapon currently exists that provides all the capabilities provided by landmines.”
It was this policy, HRW [Human Rights Watch] says, that laid the groundwork for the U.S. government's new antipersonnel land mine slated for production as early as 2007.
Casualties of a Horse Race
Frankly, it's surprising the Obama campaign hasn't talked about this vote, regardless of the media's lack of interest or obliviousness. Just as with Senator Clinton's vote to authorize war in Iraq, it speaks directly to Obama's counterattack when she touts her experience:
"Senator Clinton has said she is ready to lead from day one. But it's important on day one to get it right, whether you're talking about war or you're talking about economic proposals."
The media may have treated Hilary Clinton unfairly at times over the course of this campaign (though nothing came close to the silent treatment it afforded John Edwards). But aside from her Iraq War vote (and even that's almost never discussed with the complexity and precision it demands), the biggest flaw in her press coverage has been the media's failure to effectively explore the kind of president she might be based upon her record, which includes her vote against banning cluster bombs in civilian areas. Knowledge of that vote, as well as other relevant actions in the Senate, both positive and negative, would give the American people a more solid foundation on which to cast their vote.
But these things get lost in a horse race.
UPDATE: Just to be perfectly clear, Senator Clinton voted against banning the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas. Her vote was not against banning the use of cluster bombs altogether. Think about that: Should our military be permitted to use cluster bombs in civilian areas, with each exploding bomb covering the range of a football field? Yes or no? Senator Clinton said yes. Senator Obama said no. Here is the exact text, straight from Senate Amendment No. 4882:
Sec. 8109. No funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act my [sic] be obligated or expended to acquire, utilize, sell, or transfer any cluster munition unless the rules of engagement applicable to the cluster munition ensure that the cluster munition will not be used in or near any concentrated population of civilians, whether permanent or temporary, including inhabited parts of cities or villages, camps or columns of refugees or evacuees, or camps or groups of nomads.
UPDATE II: View U.S. Senate Roll Call Vote. (h/t sparafucilli in comments.) It's both interesting to note where other senators came down on this vote and the additional insight this lends in assessing how Clinton and Obama might lead our nation on such matters. Here's just a snapshot of how some other prominent senators voted (click link above for full list):
Boxer (D-CA), Yea; Byrd (D-WV), Yea; Durbin (D-IL), Yea; Feinstein (D-CA), Yea; Kennedy (D-MA), Yea; Kerry (D-MA), Yea; Leahy (D-VT), Yea; Levin (D-MI), Yea; Reid (D-NV), Yea.
Bayh (D-IN), Nay; Biden (D-DE), Nay; Brownback (R-KS), Nay; Chambliss (R-GA), Nay; Coleman (R-MN), Nay; Dodd (D-CT), Nay; Dole (R-NC), Nay; Frist (R-TN), Nay; Graham (R-SC), Nay; Hagel (R-NE), Nay; Inhofe (R-OK), Nay; Lautenberg (D-NJ), Nay; Lieberman (D-CT), Nay; Lott (R-MS), Nay; McCain (R-AZ), Nay; Rockefeller (D-WV), Nay; Santorum (R-PA), Nay; Schumer (D-NY), Nay; Specter (R-PA), Nay.