Civilian casualties are an unfortunate and unavoidable inevitability of any military conflict. The war in Afghanistan has demonstrated that even the world's most sophisticated weaponry suffers from either technical or human error. The Western-allied wars against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic involved targets in heavily populated areas and civilians died in some air strikes. Most infamous was the missile strike on China's embassy in Belgrade, which was blamed on a map error. The US war against Afghanistan's hated Taleban rulers and terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network has had its share of civilian casualties, although Washington has been less than forthcoming about the number of incidents and deaths. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has often refused to acknowledge claims of civilian deaths, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Even admitted attacks which killed civilians have been shrugged off as being an inevitable by-products of war. There has not been an apology and little, if any, compensation to the families of the victims. It is as if the US has a licence to kill and that no further questions should be asked. The lack of compassion has been noticeable. In Kabul, numerous families are demanding the US compensate them for losses. One woman with five young children whose husband was killed when a bomb fell on their house, has yet to receive an apology, let alone monetary assistance. Perhaps the loudness of the calls of protest has prompted Mr Rumsfeld to finally acknowledge the military's killing of at least 14 civilians in a ground assault near the southern city of Kandahar on January 24. But while admitting the incident took place, Mr Rumsfeld has denied wrongdoing by American soldiers or their commanders, whom he said had not opened fire first and had used good judgment. The tenacity of the media brought the incident to light. Many of the survivors were rounded up but then released after it was found they were not Taleban or al-Qaeda members. They have accused the soldiers of abusing them and carrying out a massacre. These are only allegations, but then so are Washington's claims against the dozens of prisoners from Afghanistan it is holding in cages in Cuba. It is clear that legal rights are being infringed or ignored. The US cannot have double standards and it must respect the rules of war. If investigations and trials can be held when the US deems they should be, then the reverse should also hold true - in the name of fairness.