Public Comment

Commentary: Hillary Clinton’s Shameful Vote on Cluster Bombs

By Paul Rockwell
Tuesday March 18, 2008

In her autobiography, Living History, Senator Hillary Clinton portrays herself as an advocate for children, a defender of women and human rights. In fact, the Clintons have a long history of sacrificing the rights, even the lives of children, for political expediency. It is time to set the record straight. 

On September 6, 2006, a Senate bill—a simple amendment to ban the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas—presented Senator Clinton with a timely opportunity to protect the lives of children throughout the world. 

The cluster bomb is one of the most hated and heinous weapons in modern war, and its primary victims are children. 

Senator Obama voted for the amendment to ban cluster bombs. Senator Clinton, however, voted with the Republicans to kill the humanitarian bill, an amendment in accord with the Geneva Conventions, which already prohibit the use of indiscriminate weapons in populated areas. 

All senators are expected to inform themselves on the issues before they cast a vote. The evidence is overwhelming. It is hard to believe that Senator Clinton was unaware of the humanitarian crisis when she voted to continue the use of cluster bombs in cities and populated areas. A U.N. weapons commission called cluster bombs “weapons of indiscriminate effect.” For years the international press reported the horrific consequences of cluster bombs on civilians. On April 10, 2003, for example, Asia Times described the carnage in Baghdad hospitals: “The absolute majority of patients are women and children, victims of shrapnel, and most of all, fragments of cluster bombs.” Reporting from a hospital in Hillah, The Mirror, a British newspaper, became graphic: “Shrapnel peppered their bodies. Blackened the skin. Smashed heads. Tore limbs. A doctor reports that ‘all the injuries you see were caused by cluster bombs. The majority of the victims were children who died because they were outside.’” 

Even after wars subside, after treaties are signed, after belligerents return home, cluster bombs wreak havoc on civilian life. Up to 20 percent of the bomblets fail to detonate on the first round, only to become landmines that later explode on playgrounds and farmlands. Children are drawn to cluster bomb canisters, the deadly duds that look like beer cans or toys before they explode. 


Clinton on landmines 

Of course Senator Clinton did not expect her vote on cluster bombs to become an issue in a presidential campaign. But that vote is one of many examples in a pattern of indifference to the welfare of children in the Developing World. 

Because Clinton is now taking credit for the White House years, when she was a partner in power, we should also look closely at the Clinton policy regarding landmines, an issue of great concern to parents, to all those who care for children. The United States is the leading manufacturer of landmines. For families across the rest of the globe, landmines are buried terror. More than 100 million landmines are deployed in over 60 countries worldwide—nine million in Angola, 10 million in Cambodia. About 20,000 M14 antipersonnel mines are buried in the mountain areas of Yong-do, South Korea. According to U.N. estimates, 26,000 people, mostly civilians in developing countries, are killed or mutilated by landmines every year. In rural areas landmines are so ubiquitous and lethal, peasants risk their lives to earn a living tilling the soil and planting crops. 

The worldwide movement to ban landmines burgeoned in the Clinton years. It was a visionary U.S. citizen, Jody Williams of Vermont, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end the ignominy of landmines. And it was primarily in defense of children that Princess Diana, speaking from a minefield in Angola, raised international awareness about devastation caused by weapons from the West. 

In December 1997, 137 nations, more than two-thirds of the world, signed the Ottawa treaty, an agreement to ban the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel landmines. How did the Clintons respond to world opinion, to the humanitarian movement against landmines? 

President Clinton flat out refused to become party to the Ottawa Convention. As he put it, “I could not sign in good conscience the treaty banning landmines.” In “good conscience”?! 

Landmines are not good for children, Hillary. 


Paul Rockwell is a columnist living in the Bay Area.