White House press secretary Jay Carney had his evasive maneuvers tested on Wednesday when a reporter at a daily briefing pressed him over whether the administration considered civilian casualties brought about by U.S. airstrikes abroad to be acts of terror.
In an exchange first posted by Matthew Keys of Reuters, McClatchy's Amina Ismail, a reporter who primarily covers Egypt, noted that President Barack Obama had determined Monday's Boston Marathon bombings to be an "act of terrorism." She then asked Carney how the White House would consider an action of similar devastation by the U.S. abroad.
"I send my deepest condolence to the victims and families in Boston. But President Obama said that what happened in Boston was an act of terrorism," she said. "I would like to ask, do you consider the U.S. bombing on civilians in Afghanistan earlier this month that left 11 children and a woman killed a form of terrorism? Why or why not?"
Carney appeared eager to avoid a direct answer to the question of how the word "terrorism" would be considered in such a circumstance. Here's his response, as transcribed by Dispatches from the Underclass blog:
Well, I would have to know more about the incident and then obviously the Department of Defense would have answers to your questions on this matter. We have more than 60,000 U.S. troops involved in a war in Afghanistan, a war that began when the United States was attacked, in an attack that was organized on the soil of Afghanistan by al Qaeda, by Osama bin laden and others and more than 3,000 people were killed in that attack. And it has been the president’s objective once he took office to make clear what our goals are in Afghanistan and that is to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al Qaeda. And with that as our objective, to provide enough assistance to Afghan National Security Forces and the Afghan government to allow them to take over security for themselves. And that process is underway and the United States has withdrawn a substantial number of troops and we are in the process of [drawing] down further as we hand over security lead to Afghan forces. And it is certainly the case that I refer you to the defense department for details that we take great care in the prosecution of this war and we are very mindful of what our objectives are.
(Watch the entire exchange above.)
While Carney's response neglects to mention "terrorism" altogether, questions about the use of the word have been hotly debated in the days after the Boston bombings, which killed at least three people and injured more than 170. Some have claimed that such words can only be used when indiscriminate violence is used to further a specific political motive, but others have argued that any instance in which people who are killed while otherwise going about their normal business should constitute "terrorism."