What Happened Here…?

Yesterday was pretty surreal – it all started for me as I reached the office and started to answer my email. When I heard about the second plane, I turned on the TV and within minutes all the staff was watching. I tried to get back to work but then heard on my radio that the Pentagon had been hit. I looked out my window and sure enough, smoke was rising in what was a crystal clear sky. They then started to evacuate downtown and from where we are on one of the city’s main boulevards we could see a steady stream of office workers walking north away from the city as well as backed-up traffic. No one looked like they were panicking though. I began to feel very glad that HRW took the decision to move to Dupont Circle from its previous location just one block from the White House. Rumours started circulating that a low-flying plane was headed for the White House but obviously this did not turn out to be true. By about 11:30am, nearly all of the planes were accounted for and it seemed that no more crashes would happen.

At midday I had to take a very painful decision to cancel events we had planned here in DC to release the global report we have been working so hard on. We has some great briefings for media and diplomats lined up for the Organization of American States where NGOs are not normally welcomed but they are located about two blocks from the White House. So given the access problems and the fact that we would get nil media attention we canceled. We went ahead with the global release of the report, which if you are interested you can see online at http://www.icbl.org/lm/2001

When I left the office at 1pm, the traffic on Connecticut Avenue had all but disappeared and the shops and restaurants were closing. I headed for my friend Simone’s house and from there did what everyone else in the world did yesterday – watched TV. That was kind of numbing after 10 hours. It was interesting to see how the U.S. media took some care not to show the jumpers and the dead until much later in the evening. The famous news anchors spent the entire day on TV and by the evening were starting to sound incoherent. This morning the newspapers are full of stories and photos of the carnage, as I expect they are around the rest of the world.

What is concerning me now is exactly what the government here will do to pursue those who carried out these terrible crimes against humanity. In his statement Bush said the US will, “make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbor them.” No crime should be retaliated if it means killing more innocent people. I fear for my colleagues in places like Afghanistan, Sudan and Yemen who have sent been sending us messages of support. In the US, if you kill, then you will be killed through their despicable use of death penalty. This is the method I fear they will use to retaliate for yesterday’s crimes, but on a far larger scale. I fear they will destroy the work I have engaged in over the past five years both in the landmines campaign and at Human Rights Watch to ensure that the laws of war are abided by and given due respect. The principles of distinction between soldier and civilian, of proportionality with respect to the use of force, the prohibitions of unnecessary suffering and respect for basic human rights. I have seen the US strive to adhere to these rules, most recently in the Kosovo conflict, which was executed with surgical accuracy (but still with civilian casualties). Yesterday’s events have brought everything down to such a level, that I find myself terribly concerned about how the US will respond.

The streets in DC are now quiet apart from intermittent sirens while the skies are clear with the exception of some helicopters and some fighter jet flying thousands of miles above. They should lift the state of emergency by the weekend. Until then everyone is told to remain at home, if they are not at work or school. I should know later today whether the meeting I was due to fly down to on Friday in Nicaragua is going ahead. I’m booked on American, the airline of the Americas, but expect will be one of the safest to fly following these events.

I always thought something like this could happen here and have been working for a long time now to wake up this country. They should be reaching out and seeking help from this huge outpouring of sympathy by the international community. But this is the Bush administration and I’m more than skeptical as to what their next step will be. At least I know I can always come home to New Zealand, where sanity prevails and the grass is green! Missing you madly…

Love Mary