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Warren: U.S. Must Address Civilian Casualties

February 27, 2014 – The United States must consider the consequences of civilian casualties in future use of military force abroad in order to protect its interests, said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at the annual Whittington Lecture last night at Georgetown.

“The failure to make civilian casualties a full and robust part of our national conversation over the use of forces is dangerous … because of the impression that it gives the world about our country … and because of how it affects the decisions that we make as a country,” said Warren during her remarks titled “Collateral Damage, National Interests and the Lessons of a Decade in Conflict” at historic Gaston Hall.

The Whittington Lecture is named after Leslie Whittington, McCourt School of Public Policy professor and associate dean, who along with her husband and daughters, died tragically on September 11, 2001 when American Airlines flight 77 was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon.

Previous Whittington Lecture speakers include former Indiana U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“[Whittington] is remembered as a first class educator, a champion of our students who demanded their best work,” said Ed Montgomery, dean of the McCourt School of Public Policy. “Each year we pause at this lecture to honor her memory and to thank her for her contributions to the Georgetown community.”

Strategies for Preventing Civilian Casualties

Warren, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012, said that as the United States exits the post-9/11 era with troop pullback from Iraq and Afghanistan, military leaders learned lessons about the effects of civilian casualties and applied strategies to addressing the problem.

Those strategies, such as expressing public regret, paying for property damage and making gestures of respect to families and communities harmed, must be factored into decision-making in sending troops abroad, Warren said.

“When our country considers military intervention, we must be hard-headed and clear-eyed. … Unintended consequences can have a profound impact,” said the former Harvard Law School professor. “Whatever our righteous intentions, the world does not hold us blameless when civilians dies.”

Preserving our Role as “Moral Leader”

Warren suggested that the United States should establish training programs that address civilian casualties, improve efforts to track these casualties during military engagements and formulate best practices for military leaders if civilian casualties occur.

“The decision to use military force is one of the most important any country can make,” she said. “If we openly consider … all the intended and unintended consequences, we will make better decisions…that will live up to our nation’s core values, advance our national interests and preserve our role as a moral leader in the world.”