Commentary Magazine


Topic: Human Rights Watch

The Voiceless Victims

In Friday’s post, I noted that due to their warped focus, Israeli human-rights organizations are increasingly leaving real victims voiceless. But the damage is incomparably greater when major international organizations do the same. To appreciate just how badly groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have betrayed those who need them most, everyone should read Nicholas Kristof’s devastating recent articles on Congo in the New York Times (see, for instance, here and here).

The civil war in Congo, Kristof writes, has claimed almost seven million lives over the last dozen years. It has also created a whole new vocabulary to describe the other horrific abuses it has generated – such as “autocannibalism,” which is when militiamen cut flesh from living victims and force the victims to eat it, or “re-rape,” which applies to women and girls who are raped anew every time militiamen visit their town.

Yet the world rarely hears about Congo — because groups such as Amnesty and HRW have left the victims largely voiceless, preferring instead to focus on far less serious abuses in developed countries, where gathering information is easier.

Neither Amnesty nor HRW has issued a single press release or report on Congo so far this year, according to their web sites. Yet HRW found time to issue two statements criticizing Israel and 12 criticizing the U.S.; Amnesty issued 11 on Israel and 15 on the U.S. To its credit, HRW did cover Congo fairly extensively in 2009. But Amnesty’s imbalance was egregious: For all of 2009, its web site lists exactly one statement on Congo — even as the group found time and energy to issue 62 statements critical of Israel.

By any objective standard, of course, there is no comparison in the scope of the violations. Even if you accept all the Goldstone Report’s worst slanders against Israel as gospel truth, none of them remotely compares to the kind of atrocities Congo’s victims describe – such as experienced by the young woman who told Kristof that after Hutu militiamen tied up her uncle, “they cut off his hands, gouged out his eyes, cut off his feet, cut off his sex organs and left him like that.” Nor is this exceptional: such stories are routine.

The same holds for the death toll. The highest estimate of Palestinian fatalities in last year’s Gaza war is just over 1,400; for the rest of the year combined, Palestinian fatalities numbered around 115, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs. By contrast, the death toll in Congo is around 45,000 a month — every month.

Human-rights organizations clearly should not ignore genuine violations in developed countries, but they do need to maintain a sense of proportion. Instead, the relative frequency of their press releases paints countries such as Israel and the U.S. as the world’s worst human rights violators. The result is that the real worst abuses, like those in Congo, remain largely below the public’s radar. And so the victims continue to suffer in unheard agony.

In Friday’s post, I noted that due to their warped focus, Israeli human-rights organizations are increasingly leaving real victims voiceless. But the damage is incomparably greater when major international organizations do the same. To appreciate just how badly groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have betrayed those who need them most, everyone should read Nicholas Kristof’s devastating recent articles on Congo in the New York Times (see, for instance, here and here).

The civil war in Congo, Kristof writes, has claimed almost seven million lives over the last dozen years. It has also created a whole new vocabulary to describe the other horrific abuses it has generated – such as “autocannibalism,” which is when militiamen cut flesh from living victims and force the victims to eat it, or “re-rape,” which applies to women and girls who are raped anew every time militiamen visit their town.

Yet the world rarely hears about Congo — because groups such as Amnesty and HRW have left the victims largely voiceless, preferring instead to focus on far less serious abuses in developed countries, where gathering information is easier.

Neither Amnesty nor HRW has issued a single press release or report on Congo so far this year, according to their web sites. Yet HRW found time to issue two statements criticizing Israel and 12 criticizing the U.S.; Amnesty issued 11 on Israel and 15 on the U.S. To its credit, HRW did cover Congo fairly extensively in 2009. But Amnesty’s imbalance was egregious: For all of 2009, its web site lists exactly one statement on Congo — even as the group found time and energy to issue 62 statements critical of Israel.

By any objective standard, of course, there is no comparison in the scope of the violations. Even if you accept all the Goldstone Report’s worst slanders against Israel as gospel truth, none of them remotely compares to the kind of atrocities Congo’s victims describe – such as experienced by the young woman who told Kristof that after Hutu militiamen tied up her uncle, “they cut off his hands, gouged out his eyes, cut off his feet, cut off his sex organs and left him like that.” Nor is this exceptional: such stories are routine.

The same holds for the death toll. The highest estimate of Palestinian fatalities in last year’s Gaza war is just over 1,400; for the rest of the year combined, Palestinian fatalities numbered around 115, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs. By contrast, the death toll in Congo is around 45,000 a month — every month.

Human-rights organizations clearly should not ignore genuine violations in developed countries, but they do need to maintain a sense of proportion. Instead, the relative frequency of their press releases paints countries such as Israel and the U.S. as the world’s worst human rights violators. The result is that the real worst abuses, like those in Congo, remain largely below the public’s radar. And so the victims continue to suffer in unheard agony.

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You Know What’s a Human-Rights Violation?

Criticizing anti-Zionist NGOs, that’s what. In what is apparently not a parody, Human Rights Watch has issued a press release about the New Israel Fund controversy, apparently in the belief that making the association between the two groups explicit will help the NIF:

(New York, February 7, 2010) – The growing harshness of attacks by Israeli government officials on nongovernmental organizations poses a real threat to civil society in Israel, Human Rights Watch said today.

The most recent attacks center on the New Israel Fund (NIF). …

“What we’re seeing in Israel is a greater official intolerance of dissent,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. … “A clear pattern of official efforts to suppress voices critical of government policy is emerging.”

Note that HRW has done zero investigation into the clear pattern of official efforts to murder democracy activists by the Iranian regime. However, a thoroughly democratic debate in Israel about NGOs sends the group into hysterics about “threats to civil society.”

Aren’t there some actual dissenters in the Middle East who are actually being attacked who Human Rights Watch could pay attention to?

Criticizing anti-Zionist NGOs, that’s what. In what is apparently not a parody, Human Rights Watch has issued a press release about the New Israel Fund controversy, apparently in the belief that making the association between the two groups explicit will help the NIF:

(New York, February 7, 2010) – The growing harshness of attacks by Israeli government officials on nongovernmental organizations poses a real threat to civil society in Israel, Human Rights Watch said today.

The most recent attacks center on the New Israel Fund (NIF). …

“What we’re seeing in Israel is a greater official intolerance of dissent,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. … “A clear pattern of official efforts to suppress voices critical of government policy is emerging.”

Note that HRW has done zero investigation into the clear pattern of official efforts to murder democracy activists by the Iranian regime. However, a thoroughly democratic debate in Israel about NGOs sends the group into hysterics about “threats to civil society.”

Aren’t there some actual dissenters in the Middle East who are actually being attacked who Human Rights Watch could pay attention to?

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The Human-Rights Facade Is Beginning to Crumble

The collaboration between Amnesty International and an unrepentant Islamist named Moazzam Begg has been a source of wonderment among those who follow these kinds of things, but only back-burner wonderment, obscured by the media’s general tendency to protect the credibility of “human rights” NGOs, or at least not ask too many questions.

The UK Times was impelled, finally, to give some space to the fact that Amnesty, one of the two largest human-rights groups* (the other being Human Rights Watch) has been promoting Begg, a former Gitmo detainee and booster of terrorists and radicals. What finally attracted press attention to this outrageous state of affairs was the appearance of a whistleblower from within the ranks of Amnesty.

Meet Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit. She went public with her disgust after spending two years in a failed effort to separate Amnesty from Begg:

“I believe the campaign [with Begg's organization, "Cageprisoners"] fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

No kidding. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Amnesty responded to her going public by suspending her. The excellent British blog Harry’s Place has posted her statement:

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners. …

The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights.

Or, as a British blogger puts it, “upholding concepts of due process and women’s rights may not be best served by strolling along to Downing Street hand in hand with Moazzam Begg, a Salafi Islamist who has attended Jihadi training camps in Afghanistan and Bosnia.”

There is a vital role for groups like HRW and Amnesty to play in the world. Properly understood, their mission is to use their moral authority to shame and condemn tyranny and those who wish to make the world a hospitable place for tyrants and terrorists. But moral authority requires moral clarity. HRW and Amnesty have been overtaken by activists who use their position to wage easy campaigns against open societies instead of taking on the more difficult, thankless, and sometimes dangerous struggle against closed ones.

For people who do not follow these issues closely, there have been a few recent moments that indicate beyond any doubt that something is rotten in the “human-rights community.” One moment was when HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money. We have arrived at another such moment: a human-rights organization has suspended an employee for complaining about the organization’s partnership with a terrorist.

*In my opinion, the largest and most important human rights organization in the world is the U.S. Army, but that’s an argument for another time.

The collaboration between Amnesty International and an unrepentant Islamist named Moazzam Begg has been a source of wonderment among those who follow these kinds of things, but only back-burner wonderment, obscured by the media’s general tendency to protect the credibility of “human rights” NGOs, or at least not ask too many questions.

The UK Times was impelled, finally, to give some space to the fact that Amnesty, one of the two largest human-rights groups* (the other being Human Rights Watch) has been promoting Begg, a former Gitmo detainee and booster of terrorists and radicals. What finally attracted press attention to this outrageous state of affairs was the appearance of a whistleblower from within the ranks of Amnesty.

Meet Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit. She went public with her disgust after spending two years in a failed effort to separate Amnesty from Begg:

“I believe the campaign [with Begg's organization, "Cageprisoners"] fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

No kidding. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Amnesty responded to her going public by suspending her. The excellent British blog Harry’s Place has posted her statement:

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners. …

The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights.

Or, as a British blogger puts it, “upholding concepts of due process and women’s rights may not be best served by strolling along to Downing Street hand in hand with Moazzam Begg, a Salafi Islamist who has attended Jihadi training camps in Afghanistan and Bosnia.”

There is a vital role for groups like HRW and Amnesty to play in the world. Properly understood, their mission is to use their moral authority to shame and condemn tyranny and those who wish to make the world a hospitable place for tyrants and terrorists. But moral authority requires moral clarity. HRW and Amnesty have been overtaken by activists who use their position to wage easy campaigns against open societies instead of taking on the more difficult, thankless, and sometimes dangerous struggle against closed ones.

For people who do not follow these issues closely, there have been a few recent moments that indicate beyond any doubt that something is rotten in the “human-rights community.” One moment was when HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money. We have arrived at another such moment: a human-rights organization has suspended an employee for complaining about the organization’s partnership with a terrorist.

*In my opinion, the largest and most important human rights organization in the world is the U.S. Army, but that’s an argument for another time.

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HRW Should Stop Punishing Colombia

If I were being ungenerous, I could easily say that no one should pay attention to what Human Rights Watch has to say in light of that group’s history of employing an investigator with a strange fetish for Nazi memorabilia and its attempt to raise money in Saudi Arabia, of all places, by advertising its battles against “pro-Israel pressure groups.” But that would be wrong because, for all its faults, HRW does some valuable work in such countries as China and Sudan. Unfortunately, HRW does not extend similar tolerance and understanding to its targets.

Case in point is its new report on Colombia: “Paramilitaries’ Heirs: The New Face of Violence in Colombia.” In it, HRW focuses on violence and drug-trafficking perpetrated by paramilitary groups that have continued to exist even after the majority of such fighters were demobilized between 2003 and 2006. As far as I can tell, HRW has collected some useful information that shows the need for greater Colombian action against these groups. I am sure that Colombia officials would be the first to say that they need to do more to combat paramilitaries along with FARC and other leftist groups. (In fact, I heard those very views voiced during my visit to Colombia in the fall.) But there is no acknowledgment in the report of the tremendous strides that the government under President Alvaro Uribe has made in combating guerrillas and terrorists of whatever strip, in pacifying much of the country, and in making it possible for citizens to enjoy their democratic rights in peace. Instead the report has a nasty, hectoring tone, suggesting, without quite coming out and saying so, that senior echelons of the government are complicit in paramilitary violence. Among the report’s recommendations for action is this:

Delay consideration of free trade deals with Colombia until the Colombian government meets human rights pre-conditions, including dismantling paramilitary structures and effectively confronting the successor groups that now pose a serious threat to trade unionists.

Actually the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is already stalled. It has been ratified by the Colombian parliament but not by the U.S. Congress, where Democrats are blocking it at the instigation of protectionist union leaders. This makes no sense as a matter of policy, because the agreement would not only provide a boost for American exporters, it would also provide much-needed economic help to America’s closest ally in Latin America. Colombia has made amazing, almost miraculous strides in beating back insurgents and narco-traffickers over the past decade, and it did so while reducing human-rights violations among its security forces and enhancing the rule of law (a story that my colleague Rick Bennet and I told in this Weekly Standard article). But the HRW report has nothing positive to say about Colombia’s achievement as far as I can tell. Instead it insists on punishing Colombia — and the U.S. economy — by stopping an important trade agreement until such time as Colombia achieves a state of perfection that will suit HRW. This is a perfect illustration of why it is hard to take seriously so much of the work that comes out of the professional “human rights” community, which too often seems colored by animus against democratic American allies such as Israel and Colombia.

If I were being ungenerous, I could easily say that no one should pay attention to what Human Rights Watch has to say in light of that group’s history of employing an investigator with a strange fetish for Nazi memorabilia and its attempt to raise money in Saudi Arabia, of all places, by advertising its battles against “pro-Israel pressure groups.” But that would be wrong because, for all its faults, HRW does some valuable work in such countries as China and Sudan. Unfortunately, HRW does not extend similar tolerance and understanding to its targets.

Case in point is its new report on Colombia: “Paramilitaries’ Heirs: The New Face of Violence in Colombia.” In it, HRW focuses on violence and drug-trafficking perpetrated by paramilitary groups that have continued to exist even after the majority of such fighters were demobilized between 2003 and 2006. As far as I can tell, HRW has collected some useful information that shows the need for greater Colombian action against these groups. I am sure that Colombia officials would be the first to say that they need to do more to combat paramilitaries along with FARC and other leftist groups. (In fact, I heard those very views voiced during my visit to Colombia in the fall.) But there is no acknowledgment in the report of the tremendous strides that the government under President Alvaro Uribe has made in combating guerrillas and terrorists of whatever strip, in pacifying much of the country, and in making it possible for citizens to enjoy their democratic rights in peace. Instead the report has a nasty, hectoring tone, suggesting, without quite coming out and saying so, that senior echelons of the government are complicit in paramilitary violence. Among the report’s recommendations for action is this:

Delay consideration of free trade deals with Colombia until the Colombian government meets human rights pre-conditions, including dismantling paramilitary structures and effectively confronting the successor groups that now pose a serious threat to trade unionists.

Actually the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is already stalled. It has been ratified by the Colombian parliament but not by the U.S. Congress, where Democrats are blocking it at the instigation of protectionist union leaders. This makes no sense as a matter of policy, because the agreement would not only provide a boost for American exporters, it would also provide much-needed economic help to America’s closest ally in Latin America. Colombia has made amazing, almost miraculous strides in beating back insurgents and narco-traffickers over the past decade, and it did so while reducing human-rights violations among its security forces and enhancing the rule of law (a story that my colleague Rick Bennet and I told in this Weekly Standard article). But the HRW report has nothing positive to say about Colombia’s achievement as far as I can tell. Instead it insists on punishing Colombia — and the U.S. economy — by stopping an important trade agreement until such time as Colombia achieves a state of perfection that will suit HRW. This is a perfect illustration of why it is hard to take seriously so much of the work that comes out of the professional “human rights” community, which too often seems colored by animus against democratic American allies such as Israel and Colombia.

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Human Rights Watch: The World Needs More Corrupt and Politicized “International Justice”

Predictable, of course. Clive Baldwin, a “senior legal adviser” to HRW, finds it “most embarrassing of all” that the British attorney general “gave a speech in Jerusalem on 5 January declaring that the government was ‘determined that Israel’s leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK.’”

Can’t have that, can we?

This really isn’t about international justice, of course. It’s about the desire of many human-rights activists — today they unfortunately are almost exclusively drawn from the far Left — for more political power. Here’s how the international justice game is played:

Groups like HRW rely on fraudulent or biased testimony in Gaza and Lebanon (or Iraq) combined with creative interpretations of the “laws of war” to produce claims of war crimes; these claims are received as legitimate and trustworthy in UN bodies, among allied NGOs, and in the international press; activist lawyers use the now-laundered allegations to file universal jurisdiction lawsuits with sympathetic British judges; arrest warrants are issued. But then government officials recognize the awful reality of this politicized little merry-go-round and speak out against the practice — prompting HRW to protest that politicians are interfering in the independence of the court system. Chutzpah.

There are at least a few people left in the UK who understand the perniciousness of “universal jurisdiction.” One is MP Daniel Hannan, who wrote a terse seven-point refutation of the idea yesterday (h/t Andrew Stuttaford):

1. Territorial jurisdiction has been a remarkably successful concept. Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, it has been broadly understood that crimes are the responsibility of the state where they are committed. … Western liberals might say: “Since Karadzic won’t get justice in Serbia, he should get it at The Hague.” But an Iranian judge might apply precisely the same logic and say: “Adulterers in Western countries are going unpunished: we must kidnap them and bring them to a place where they will face consequences”. …

2. International jurisdiction breaks the link between legislators and law. Instead of legislation being passed by representatives who are, in some way, accountable to their populations, laws are generated by international jurists. …

7. The politicisation of international jurisprudence seems always to come from the same direction: a writ was served against Ariel Sharon, but not against Yasser Arafat. Augusto Pinochet was arrested, but Fidel Castro could attend international summits. Donald Rumsfeld was indicted in Europe, but not Saddam Hussein.

What you’ll always find about the international-justice hustle is that its proponents never explain how these fatal problems can be resolved. In this case, the problems, of course, are the solutions. That’s because universal jurisdiction isn’t about justice. It’s about power.

Predictable, of course. Clive Baldwin, a “senior legal adviser” to HRW, finds it “most embarrassing of all” that the British attorney general “gave a speech in Jerusalem on 5 January declaring that the government was ‘determined that Israel’s leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK.’”

Can’t have that, can we?

This really isn’t about international justice, of course. It’s about the desire of many human-rights activists — today they unfortunately are almost exclusively drawn from the far Left — for more political power. Here’s how the international justice game is played:

Groups like HRW rely on fraudulent or biased testimony in Gaza and Lebanon (or Iraq) combined with creative interpretations of the “laws of war” to produce claims of war crimes; these claims are received as legitimate and trustworthy in UN bodies, among allied NGOs, and in the international press; activist lawyers use the now-laundered allegations to file universal jurisdiction lawsuits with sympathetic British judges; arrest warrants are issued. But then government officials recognize the awful reality of this politicized little merry-go-round and speak out against the practice — prompting HRW to protest that politicians are interfering in the independence of the court system. Chutzpah.

There are at least a few people left in the UK who understand the perniciousness of “universal jurisdiction.” One is MP Daniel Hannan, who wrote a terse seven-point refutation of the idea yesterday (h/t Andrew Stuttaford):

1. Territorial jurisdiction has been a remarkably successful concept. Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, it has been broadly understood that crimes are the responsibility of the state where they are committed. … Western liberals might say: “Since Karadzic won’t get justice in Serbia, he should get it at The Hague.” But an Iranian judge might apply precisely the same logic and say: “Adulterers in Western countries are going unpunished: we must kidnap them and bring them to a place where they will face consequences”. …

2. International jurisdiction breaks the link between legislators and law. Instead of legislation being passed by representatives who are, in some way, accountable to their populations, laws are generated by international jurists. …

7. The politicisation of international jurisprudence seems always to come from the same direction: a writ was served against Ariel Sharon, but not against Yasser Arafat. Augusto Pinochet was arrested, but Fidel Castro could attend international summits. Donald Rumsfeld was indicted in Europe, but not Saddam Hussein.

What you’ll always find about the international-justice hustle is that its proponents never explain how these fatal problems can be resolved. In this case, the problems, of course, are the solutions. That’s because universal jurisdiction isn’t about justice. It’s about power.

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Egypt Does PR Right

Credit where it is due: The Egyptians know how to deal with Hamas and especially with the useful idiots who have turned Gaza into a cause celebre. When George Galloway and his traveling roadshow of activists showed up in Egypt to make trouble, the Egyptians simply threw all of them out of the country.

“George Galloway is considered persona non grata and will not be allowed to enter into Egypt again,” a Foreign Ministry statement said. The activist left Egypt Friday morning from Cairo airport. … “He was told that he is a trouble maker and his behavior is undermining Egyptian security.”

This is no exaggeration. The arrival of Galloway’s “relief convoy” was accompanied by Hamas-staged riots along the Gaza border in which a Hamas sniper killed an Egyptian border guard. As a result, “Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit said his country would ban aid convoys from entering its territory.”

Where are the outraged Human Rights Watch press releases? When are the UN Human Rights Council hearings? Where is the collective outrage of the British media? We have banned aid convoys to Gaza — this statement would cause global apoplexy if uttered by the Israeli foreign minister.

But Egypt isn’t done:

Mosques throughout Egypt took advantage of Friday prayers to criticize Hamas…London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Saturday that most of the 140,000 mosques operating under the auspices of Egypt’s Ministry of Awqaf took part in the verbal onslaught on the Palestinian Islamist group. …

According to another imam, Hamas is to blame for the blockade imposed on the Palestinians in Gaza. “Its leaders want to stay in power, even at the cost of their own people’s expulsion and starvation,” the imam said during a sermon at Cairo’s Al-Rahma Mosque.

Egyptian officials speak the terse and confident language of sovereignty. Israelis too frequently employ the defensive language of ethics, unaware that such noble rhetoric, when applied to foreign policy, invites little but skepticism and complaint.

Credit where it is due: The Egyptians know how to deal with Hamas and especially with the useful idiots who have turned Gaza into a cause celebre. When George Galloway and his traveling roadshow of activists showed up in Egypt to make trouble, the Egyptians simply threw all of them out of the country.

“George Galloway is considered persona non grata and will not be allowed to enter into Egypt again,” a Foreign Ministry statement said. The activist left Egypt Friday morning from Cairo airport. … “He was told that he is a trouble maker and his behavior is undermining Egyptian security.”

This is no exaggeration. The arrival of Galloway’s “relief convoy” was accompanied by Hamas-staged riots along the Gaza border in which a Hamas sniper killed an Egyptian border guard. As a result, “Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit said his country would ban aid convoys from entering its territory.”

Where are the outraged Human Rights Watch press releases? When are the UN Human Rights Council hearings? Where is the collective outrage of the British media? We have banned aid convoys to Gaza — this statement would cause global apoplexy if uttered by the Israeli foreign minister.

But Egypt isn’t done:

Mosques throughout Egypt took advantage of Friday prayers to criticize Hamas…London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Saturday that most of the 140,000 mosques operating under the auspices of Egypt’s Ministry of Awqaf took part in the verbal onslaught on the Palestinian Islamist group. …

According to another imam, Hamas is to blame for the blockade imposed on the Palestinians in Gaza. “Its leaders want to stay in power, even at the cost of their own people’s expulsion and starvation,” the imam said during a sermon at Cairo’s Al-Rahma Mosque.

Egyptian officials speak the terse and confident language of sovereignty. Israelis too frequently employ the defensive language of ethics, unaware that such noble rhetoric, when applied to foreign policy, invites little but skepticism and complaint.

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Will They Give up on Closing Guantanamo?

The rationale for closing Guantanamo was always thin. It was, the Obami said, a “recruiting tool” — although terrorists hardly needed yet another reason to slaughter us. They have so many after all and didn’t need Guantanamo to recruit terrorists throughout the 1990s and for 9/11. It had a “bad reputation” — although much of that was based on misinformation, and the Obama team concedes it is a professionally run, humane, and secure facility. Now comes word that the detainees don’t want to leave. After all, even leftist advocacy groups realize the change of venue doesn’t mean much. (A Human Rights Watch rep tells Newsweek “Moving more than 100 detainees — the vast majority of whom would end up being held without charge — to a U.S. facility that is already being dubbed ‘Gitmo North’ will blunt the positive message Obama hoped to send by shutting Guantanamo in the first place.”)

It doesn’t really make any sense if we want to “improve our image” when the detainees and their lawyers now contend that a SuperMax facility is worse than the current rather comfy environs:

[T]he final irony is that many of the detainees may not even want to be transferred to Thomson and could conceivably even raise their own legal roadblocks to allow them to stay at Gitmo. [Detainee lawyer Marc] Falkoff notes that many of his clients, while they clearly want to go home, are at least being held under Geneva Convention conditions in Guantánamo. At Thomson, he notes, the plans call for them to be thrown into the equivalent of a “supermax” security prison under near-lockdown conditions.

“As far as our clients are concerned, it’s probably preferable for them to remain at Guantánamo,” he says.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Obamis insisted on closing Guantanamo as part of their fixation from the campaign — now embedded in Obama’s governance — with being “not Bush.” As one after another of their rationales collapses, as it has become untenable even to send the large number of detainees from Yemen back home, and as the public grows increasingly wary of shuffling the detainees to the heartland of America, one wonders just how long the Obama team will keep at this.

At some point the invocation of his still-unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo simply reinforces the image of Obama as an out-of-touch and ineffectual commander in chief in the war against Islamic fundamentalists. Sometimes it’s best to admit that there is a vast difference between campaigning and governing. After all, they dumped the promise to allow C-SPAN to televise health-care negotiations, so why not give up the much dumber idea of closing Guantanamo?

The rationale for closing Guantanamo was always thin. It was, the Obami said, a “recruiting tool” — although terrorists hardly needed yet another reason to slaughter us. They have so many after all and didn’t need Guantanamo to recruit terrorists throughout the 1990s and for 9/11. It had a “bad reputation” — although much of that was based on misinformation, and the Obama team concedes it is a professionally run, humane, and secure facility. Now comes word that the detainees don’t want to leave. After all, even leftist advocacy groups realize the change of venue doesn’t mean much. (A Human Rights Watch rep tells Newsweek “Moving more than 100 detainees — the vast majority of whom would end up being held without charge — to a U.S. facility that is already being dubbed ‘Gitmo North’ will blunt the positive message Obama hoped to send by shutting Guantanamo in the first place.”)

It doesn’t really make any sense if we want to “improve our image” when the detainees and their lawyers now contend that a SuperMax facility is worse than the current rather comfy environs:

[T]he final irony is that many of the detainees may not even want to be transferred to Thomson and could conceivably even raise their own legal roadblocks to allow them to stay at Gitmo. [Detainee lawyer Marc] Falkoff notes that many of his clients, while they clearly want to go home, are at least being held under Geneva Convention conditions in Guantánamo. At Thomson, he notes, the plans call for them to be thrown into the equivalent of a “supermax” security prison under near-lockdown conditions.

“As far as our clients are concerned, it’s probably preferable for them to remain at Guantánamo,” he says.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Obamis insisted on closing Guantanamo as part of their fixation from the campaign — now embedded in Obama’s governance — with being “not Bush.” As one after another of their rationales collapses, as it has become untenable even to send the large number of detainees from Yemen back home, and as the public grows increasingly wary of shuffling the detainees to the heartland of America, one wonders just how long the Obama team will keep at this.

At some point the invocation of his still-unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo simply reinforces the image of Obama as an out-of-touch and ineffectual commander in chief in the war against Islamic fundamentalists. Sometimes it’s best to admit that there is a vast difference between campaigning and governing. After all, they dumped the promise to allow C-SPAN to televise health-care negotiations, so why not give up the much dumber idea of closing Guantanamo?

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Judge Goldstone: I Participated in a Farce

Richard Goldstone seems to use interviews to chip away at the legitimacy of his own work. He told the Forward that nothing he uncovered in Gaza is credible enough to be admissible in court. And now he has admitted this to Haaretz:

Many Israelis are right to feel that the United Nations and its member bodies such as the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have devoted inordinate and disproportionate attention to scrutinizing and criticizing Israel. This has come at the price of ignoring violations of human rights in other countries, some of them members of those very same bodies. The time has come for the investigation of all violations of international human rights law and international law whenever they are committed, in any state.

A few thoughts: First, this is almost exactly what Bob Bernstein argued in his New York Times op-ed about Human Rights Watch — for which he was accused by HRW, on whose board Goldstone sat, of claiming that no scrutiny whatsoever should be applied to Israel. Will HRW now distort Goldstone and level the same charge? Not a chance.

Second, this statement would seem to validate Shimon Peres’s critique that Goldstone is a “small man, devoid of any sense of justice, a technocrat with no real understanding of jurisprudence” who was “on a one-sided mission to hurt Israel.” Goldstone has admitted that the lawfare campaign against Israel, of which he has become the de facto leader, is a perversion of justice: disproportionately and selectively applied. It is the equivalent of a police force that pursues the arrest of Jews, and scarcely anyone else, for violations. Such a police force is inherently illegitimate. Yet Goldstone chose to become the chief of that police force, and now denounces the fact of its — his — own iniquity. What psychodrama. What a small man.

Third, there is one person perfectly situated to rise to the challenge of even-handedness and proportionality that the good judge has placed before the world: his name is Richard Goldstone. He has earned his bona fides as a harsh and tendentious critic of Israel. Because of this, he has immense credibility at the UN and among “human-rights” activists worldwide. When will his campaign of inquisition against other democracies begin? Someone should ask him.

Richard Goldstone seems to use interviews to chip away at the legitimacy of his own work. He told the Forward that nothing he uncovered in Gaza is credible enough to be admissible in court. And now he has admitted this to Haaretz:

Many Israelis are right to feel that the United Nations and its member bodies such as the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have devoted inordinate and disproportionate attention to scrutinizing and criticizing Israel. This has come at the price of ignoring violations of human rights in other countries, some of them members of those very same bodies. The time has come for the investigation of all violations of international human rights law and international law whenever they are committed, in any state.

A few thoughts: First, this is almost exactly what Bob Bernstein argued in his New York Times op-ed about Human Rights Watch — for which he was accused by HRW, on whose board Goldstone sat, of claiming that no scrutiny whatsoever should be applied to Israel. Will HRW now distort Goldstone and level the same charge? Not a chance.

Second, this statement would seem to validate Shimon Peres’s critique that Goldstone is a “small man, devoid of any sense of justice, a technocrat with no real understanding of jurisprudence” who was “on a one-sided mission to hurt Israel.” Goldstone has admitted that the lawfare campaign against Israel, of which he has become the de facto leader, is a perversion of justice: disproportionately and selectively applied. It is the equivalent of a police force that pursues the arrest of Jews, and scarcely anyone else, for violations. Such a police force is inherently illegitimate. Yet Goldstone chose to become the chief of that police force, and now denounces the fact of its — his — own iniquity. What psychodrama. What a small man.

Third, there is one person perfectly situated to rise to the challenge of even-handedness and proportionality that the good judge has placed before the world: his name is Richard Goldstone. He has earned his bona fides as a harsh and tendentious critic of Israel. Because of this, he has immense credibility at the UN and among “human-rights” activists worldwide. When will his campaign of inquisition against other democracies begin? Someone should ask him.

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Close Gitmo, Open the National Security Court

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch presents the maximalist position of civil liberties advocates when it comes to the War on Terror: He argues not only that we should close the detention facility at Guantanamo (which I agree with), but also that we should either try suspects in the criminal courts under standard criminal procedures or else release them. That’s going a bit too far for me, or, I suspect, most other Americans. To see why, consider this AP report:

Al-Arabiya television reports that a former Guantanamo detainee carried out a recent suicide bombing in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

A cousin says Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti released from Guantanamo in 2005, was reported missing two weeks ago and his family learned of his death Thursday through a friend in Iraq.

The cousin, Salem al-Ajmi, told Al-Arabiya on Thursday that the former detainee was behind the latest attack in Mosul, although he did not provide more details.

Three suicide car bombers targeted Iraqi security forces in Mosul on April 26, killing at least seven people.

Because it was “only” Iraqis who were killed, this apparent attack by a former Gitmo detainee will not cause much uproar in the United States. But imagine if he had struck not in Mosul but in New York, Paris, or London. Then it would be a different story. To avoid such a dire scenario, we need to have a way of dealing with detainees that goes beyond the normal safeguards of the criminal justice system.

Jack Goldsmith and Neal Katyal–the former a conservative law professor who served in the Bush Justice Department, the latter a liberal law professor who represented one of the Gitmo detainees in a successful appeal to the Supreme Court in 2006–have proposed just such a system: setting up a federal National Security Court run by specially selected federal judges. Roth argues against this idea, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch presents the maximalist position of civil liberties advocates when it comes to the War on Terror: He argues not only that we should close the detention facility at Guantanamo (which I agree with), but also that we should either try suspects in the criminal courts under standard criminal procedures or else release them. That’s going a bit too far for me, or, I suspect, most other Americans. To see why, consider this AP report:

Al-Arabiya television reports that a former Guantanamo detainee carried out a recent suicide bombing in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

A cousin says Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti released from Guantanamo in 2005, was reported missing two weeks ago and his family learned of his death Thursday through a friend in Iraq.

The cousin, Salem al-Ajmi, told Al-Arabiya on Thursday that the former detainee was behind the latest attack in Mosul, although he did not provide more details.

Three suicide car bombers targeted Iraqi security forces in Mosul on April 26, killing at least seven people.

Because it was “only” Iraqis who were killed, this apparent attack by a former Gitmo detainee will not cause much uproar in the United States. But imagine if he had struck not in Mosul but in New York, Paris, or London. Then it would be a different story. To avoid such a dire scenario, we need to have a way of dealing with detainees that goes beyond the normal safeguards of the criminal justice system.

Jack Goldsmith and Neal Katyal–the former a conservative law professor who served in the Bush Justice Department, the latter a liberal law professor who represented one of the Gitmo detainees in a successful appeal to the Supreme Court in 2006–have proposed just such a system: setting up a federal National Security Court run by specially selected federal judges. Roth argues against this idea, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

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Spielberg Withdraws from the Olympics

Yesterday, Steven Spielberg announced that he had severed his role as artistic advisor to this year’s Summer Olympics, which begins in August. “I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue business as usual,” he said in a statement. “At this point, my time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies, but on doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur.”

China is committing no such crimes in Darfur. It is, however, providing crucial material support to the government in Khartoum as well as diplomatic help, especially in the U.N Security Council. That government, in turn, is sponsoring the Janjaweed militia, which has rightly been accused of genocide. So far, about 200,000 to 400,000 people have died according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Spielberg, by refusing to continue his work on the opening and closing ceremonies, implicitly says that participation in the Olympics is tantamount to supporting the atrocities, including mass murder and rape, taking place in western Sudan.

In the wake of the famed director’s withdrawal, Human Rights Watch has asked others to think about their personal responsibility. “These influential players should be prepared to show the steps they are taking to address the worsening rights climate in China, or they risk being tarnished by a human rights debacle,” said Minky Worden, the group’s media director, yesterday.

Worden raises a fundamental issue: At what point does personal participation imply guilt? Beijing’s response is predictable: “As the Darfur issue is neither an internal issue of China, nor is it caused by China, it is completely unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair for certain organizations and individuals to link the two as one,” the Chinese embassy in Washington said in a statement yesterday. Beijing’s position, however reasonable it seems on its face, is unconvincing simply because the tragedy in Darfur would not be occurring were it not for China.

Today, there is a growing sentiment that China is too damn close to the Janjaweed militia. On Tuesday, 25 individuals, including Nobel peace laureates, called on Chinese President Hu Jintao to take steps to end the slaughter sponsored by Khartoum. Whether Beijing likes it or not, people are starting to make the connections between death in Darfur and the celebrations in Beijing. It is high time we examine our national—and personal—responsibility for China’s acts because we are enabling the Chinese regime through our policies of engagement.

“Repression in China is on the rise, and Olympic sponsors, governments, or world leaders—especially those planning to attend the Games—can’t pretend otherwise,” said Worden. At least Prince Charles is on the side of the angels. He has said that he will not attend the Games. President Bush, however, is going to Beijing in August for the spectacle. Regrettably, he has tried to lessen his personal responsibility by saying that he is doing so only as a sports fan. As Spielberg has just shown us, however, that is not possible in today’s climate. Let me quote Bush to Bush: you’re either with the Chinese autocrats or against them.

And if you’re with me, you insist that your leaders in Washington not associate themselves with ugly events taking place in Darfur by supporting the extravaganza in Beijing.

Yesterday, Steven Spielberg announced that he had severed his role as artistic advisor to this year’s Summer Olympics, which begins in August. “I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue business as usual,” he said in a statement. “At this point, my time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies, but on doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur.”

China is committing no such crimes in Darfur. It is, however, providing crucial material support to the government in Khartoum as well as diplomatic help, especially in the U.N Security Council. That government, in turn, is sponsoring the Janjaweed militia, which has rightly been accused of genocide. So far, about 200,000 to 400,000 people have died according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Spielberg, by refusing to continue his work on the opening and closing ceremonies, implicitly says that participation in the Olympics is tantamount to supporting the atrocities, including mass murder and rape, taking place in western Sudan.

In the wake of the famed director’s withdrawal, Human Rights Watch has asked others to think about their personal responsibility. “These influential players should be prepared to show the steps they are taking to address the worsening rights climate in China, or they risk being tarnished by a human rights debacle,” said Minky Worden, the group’s media director, yesterday.

Worden raises a fundamental issue: At what point does personal participation imply guilt? Beijing’s response is predictable: “As the Darfur issue is neither an internal issue of China, nor is it caused by China, it is completely unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair for certain organizations and individuals to link the two as one,” the Chinese embassy in Washington said in a statement yesterday. Beijing’s position, however reasonable it seems on its face, is unconvincing simply because the tragedy in Darfur would not be occurring were it not for China.

Today, there is a growing sentiment that China is too damn close to the Janjaweed militia. On Tuesday, 25 individuals, including Nobel peace laureates, called on Chinese President Hu Jintao to take steps to end the slaughter sponsored by Khartoum. Whether Beijing likes it or not, people are starting to make the connections between death in Darfur and the celebrations in Beijing. It is high time we examine our national—and personal—responsibility for China’s acts because we are enabling the Chinese regime through our policies of engagement.

“Repression in China is on the rise, and Olympic sponsors, governments, or world leaders—especially those planning to attend the Games—can’t pretend otherwise,” said Worden. At least Prince Charles is on the side of the angels. He has said that he will not attend the Games. President Bush, however, is going to Beijing in August for the spectacle. Regrettably, he has tried to lessen his personal responsibility by saying that he is doing so only as a sports fan. As Spielberg has just shown us, however, that is not possible in today’s climate. Let me quote Bush to Bush: you’re either with the Chinese autocrats or against them.

And if you’re with me, you insist that your leaders in Washington not associate themselves with ugly events taking place in Darfur by supporting the extravaganza in Beijing.

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More Samantha Power

Martin Kramer points us to an interesting quote from the 2003 book Ethnic Violence and Justice, in which Samantha Power, one of Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers, asks a question of David Rohde, a reporter who covered the intifada for the New York Times. The quote is as follows:

Samantha Power: I have a question for David about working for the New York Times. I was struck by a headline that accompanied a news story on the publication of the Human Rights Watch report. The headline was, I believe: “Human Rights Report Finds Massacre Did Not Occur in Jenin.” The second paragraph said, “Oh, but lots of war crimes did.” Why wouldn’t they make the war crimes the headline and the non-massacre the second paragraph?

(The article to which Power refers is here, and its headline is: “MIDEAST TURMOIL: INQUIRY; Rights Group Doubts Mass Deaths in Jenin, but Sees Signs of War Crimes.” Obviously, Power has misremembered the headline.)

Here we have another window into the thinking of Power: Israel is accused in sensational press reports of a massacre in Jenin, and is subjected to severe international condemnation; HRW finally gets out a report and says there was no massacre; the NYT reports this as its headline; and Power thinks the headline still should have been: Israel guilty of war crimes!

Martin Kramer points us to an interesting quote from the 2003 book Ethnic Violence and Justice, in which Samantha Power, one of Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers, asks a question of David Rohde, a reporter who covered the intifada for the New York Times. The quote is as follows:

Samantha Power: I have a question for David about working for the New York Times. I was struck by a headline that accompanied a news story on the publication of the Human Rights Watch report. The headline was, I believe: “Human Rights Report Finds Massacre Did Not Occur in Jenin.” The second paragraph said, “Oh, but lots of war crimes did.” Why wouldn’t they make the war crimes the headline and the non-massacre the second paragraph?

(The article to which Power refers is here, and its headline is: “MIDEAST TURMOIL: INQUIRY; Rights Group Doubts Mass Deaths in Jenin, but Sees Signs of War Crimes.” Obviously, Power has misremembered the headline.)

Here we have another window into the thinking of Power: Israel is accused in sensational press reports of a massacre in Jenin, and is subjected to severe international condemnation; HRW finally gets out a report and says there was no massacre; the NYT reports this as its headline; and Power thinks the headline still should have been: Israel guilty of war crimes!

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The Norman Finkelstein Roadshow

Norman Finkelstein, freshly liberated from the humdrum of academic life by way of being denied tenure at De Paul University, has taken his hate-Israel routine on the road. He has gone to Lebanon to give lectures and to “hold two workshops in Palestinian refugee camps.”

At a press conference on Friday — Finkelstein must surely savor having the kind of attention lavished on him in Lebanon that few can be bothered to provide in America — he channeled Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah, in describing the 2006 Israel-Hizballah war:

However, it is also true to say that the Lebanese resistance inflicted a historic and well-deserved military defeat on the invading foreign army and its chief supporter.

He continued:

It should also be mentioned that after the war the US-based organization Human Rights Watch whitewashed Israeli war crimes and made false accusations against Hizballah. This cowardly and mercenary act deserves contempt.

Ah yes, Human Rights Watch, that steely defender of the Jewish state.

It’s probably impossible to put Finkelstein’s swindles and perversions (to borrow an Orwell phrase) into a ratings system, and I am by no means a person who wastes much time following the man’s deluded utterances. But here he has clearly sunk to a new low: He openly sympathizes with Hizballah, a group which seeks the genocide of the Jewish people; he openly wishes for Israel’s military defeat at the hands of an enemy whose primary ambition is the state’s annihilation; and he does all of this while hiding behind the fig leaf of his own Jewishness so as to deflect the charge that he is an anti-Semite.

It is normal to say that Finkelstein’s are the views of a self-hating Jew. But by all appearances, the man does not hate himself, and in fact views his role as that of a hero — a brave truth-teller fighting against the imperial forces of Zionism and Americanism. Finkelstein is a hustler and a coward because he trades off his Jewishness to lend credibility to starkly anti-Jewish rhetoric. It’s time we stopped calling Finkelstein a self-hating Jew and started calling him what he actually is: an anti-Semite.

UPDATE: Tony Badran emailed me a link to a Haaretz article with fresh details. Touring southern Lebanon and meeting with Hezbollah’s regional commander, Finkelstein said: “I think that the Hezbollah represents the hope.” No word yet on whether Finkelstein is going to pose for photos manning a Katyusha rocket launcher…

Norman Finkelstein, freshly liberated from the humdrum of academic life by way of being denied tenure at De Paul University, has taken his hate-Israel routine on the road. He has gone to Lebanon to give lectures and to “hold two workshops in Palestinian refugee camps.”

At a press conference on Friday — Finkelstein must surely savor having the kind of attention lavished on him in Lebanon that few can be bothered to provide in America — he channeled Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah, in describing the 2006 Israel-Hizballah war:

However, it is also true to say that the Lebanese resistance inflicted a historic and well-deserved military defeat on the invading foreign army and its chief supporter.

He continued:

It should also be mentioned that after the war the US-based organization Human Rights Watch whitewashed Israeli war crimes and made false accusations against Hizballah. This cowardly and mercenary act deserves contempt.

Ah yes, Human Rights Watch, that steely defender of the Jewish state.

It’s probably impossible to put Finkelstein’s swindles and perversions (to borrow an Orwell phrase) into a ratings system, and I am by no means a person who wastes much time following the man’s deluded utterances. But here he has clearly sunk to a new low: He openly sympathizes with Hizballah, a group which seeks the genocide of the Jewish people; he openly wishes for Israel’s military defeat at the hands of an enemy whose primary ambition is the state’s annihilation; and he does all of this while hiding behind the fig leaf of his own Jewishness so as to deflect the charge that he is an anti-Semite.

It is normal to say that Finkelstein’s are the views of a self-hating Jew. But by all appearances, the man does not hate himself, and in fact views his role as that of a hero — a brave truth-teller fighting against the imperial forces of Zionism and Americanism. Finkelstein is a hustler and a coward because he trades off his Jewishness to lend credibility to starkly anti-Jewish rhetoric. It’s time we stopped calling Finkelstein a self-hating Jew and started calling him what he actually is: an anti-Semite.

UPDATE: Tony Badran emailed me a link to a Haaretz article with fresh details. Touring southern Lebanon and meeting with Hezbollah’s regional commander, Finkelstein said: “I think that the Hezbollah represents the hope.” No word yet on whether Finkelstein is going to pose for photos manning a Katyusha rocket launcher…

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The Other Fallujah Reporter

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” — Thomas Jefferson

I just returned home from a trip to Fallujah, where I was the only reporter embedded with the United States military. There was, however, an unembedded reporter in the city at the same time. Normally it would be useful to compare what I saw and heard while traveling and working with the Marines with what a colleague saw and heard while working solo. Unfortunately, the other Fallujah reporter was Ali al-Fadhily from Inter Press Services.

Mr. al-Fadhily is unhappy with the way things are going in the city right now. It means little to him that the only shots fired by the Marines anymore are practice rounds on the range, and that there hasn’t been a single fire fight or combat casualty for months. That’s fair enough, as far as it goes, and perhaps to be expected from a reporter who isn’t embedded with the military and who focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians. The trouble is that Mr. Al-Fadhily’s hysterical exaggerations, refusal to provide crucial context, and outright fabrications amount to a serious case of journalistic malpractice.

Some of what al-Fadhily writes is correct. The economy and infrastructure really are shattered. Unemployment is greater than 50 percent, as he says. It’s true that most Iraqis – in Fallujah as well as everywhere else – don’t have access to safe drinking water. But he proves himself unreliable, to put it mildly, after only one sentence: “The city that was routed in November 2004 is still suffering the worst humanitarian conditions under a siege that continues.”

There is no “siege” in Fallujah. He is referring here to the hard perimeter around the city manned by Iraqi Police who prevent non-residents from bringing their cars in. It’s an extreme measure, no doubt about it. But it keeps the car bombers and weapon smugglers out. Iraqis who live in Fallujah are free to come and go as they please. The non-resident vehicle ban is a defensive measure, like a national border or castle moat. Its purpose is to prevent a siege from the outside.

My colleague (of sorts) at least acknowledges that “military actions are down to the minimum inside the city.” He adds, however, that “local and U.S. authorities do not seem to be thinking of ending the agonies of the over 400,000 residents of Fallujah.”

This is nonsense on stilts. Marines distribute food aid to impoverished local civilians. The electrical grid is being repaired now that insurgents no longer sabotage it. Solar-powered street lights have been installed on some of the main thoroughfares and will cover the entire city in two years if the war doesn’t come back. Locals are hired to pick up trash that went uncollected for months. A new sewage and water treatment plant is under construction in the poorest part of the city. Low-interest microloans are being distributed to small business owners to kick start the economy. American civilians donate school supplies to Iraqi children that are distributed by the Marines. Mr. al-Fadhily would know all this if he embedded with the U.S. military. Whether or not he would take the trouble to report these facts if he knew of them is another question.

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“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” — Thomas Jefferson

I just returned home from a trip to Fallujah, where I was the only reporter embedded with the United States military. There was, however, an unembedded reporter in the city at the same time. Normally it would be useful to compare what I saw and heard while traveling and working with the Marines with what a colleague saw and heard while working solo. Unfortunately, the other Fallujah reporter was Ali al-Fadhily from Inter Press Services.

Mr. al-Fadhily is unhappy with the way things are going in the city right now. It means little to him that the only shots fired by the Marines anymore are practice rounds on the range, and that there hasn’t been a single fire fight or combat casualty for months. That’s fair enough, as far as it goes, and perhaps to be expected from a reporter who isn’t embedded with the military and who focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians. The trouble is that Mr. Al-Fadhily’s hysterical exaggerations, refusal to provide crucial context, and outright fabrications amount to a serious case of journalistic malpractice.

Some of what al-Fadhily writes is correct. The economy and infrastructure really are shattered. Unemployment is greater than 50 percent, as he says. It’s true that most Iraqis – in Fallujah as well as everywhere else – don’t have access to safe drinking water. But he proves himself unreliable, to put it mildly, after only one sentence: “The city that was routed in November 2004 is still suffering the worst humanitarian conditions under a siege that continues.”

There is no “siege” in Fallujah. He is referring here to the hard perimeter around the city manned by Iraqi Police who prevent non-residents from bringing their cars in. It’s an extreme measure, no doubt about it. But it keeps the car bombers and weapon smugglers out. Iraqis who live in Fallujah are free to come and go as they please. The non-resident vehicle ban is a defensive measure, like a national border or castle moat. Its purpose is to prevent a siege from the outside.

My colleague (of sorts) at least acknowledges that “military actions are down to the minimum inside the city.” He adds, however, that “local and U.S. authorities do not seem to be thinking of ending the agonies of the over 400,000 residents of Fallujah.”

This is nonsense on stilts. Marines distribute food aid to impoverished local civilians. The electrical grid is being repaired now that insurgents no longer sabotage it. Solar-powered street lights have been installed on some of the main thoroughfares and will cover the entire city in two years if the war doesn’t come back. Locals are hired to pick up trash that went uncollected for months. A new sewage and water treatment plant is under construction in the poorest part of the city. Low-interest microloans are being distributed to small business owners to kick start the economy. American civilians donate school supplies to Iraqi children that are distributed by the Marines. Mr. al-Fadhily would know all this if he embedded with the U.S. military. Whether or not he would take the trouble to report these facts if he knew of them is another question.

He claims seventy percent of the city was destroyed during Operation Phantom Fury, also known as Al-Fajr, in November 2004. This is a lie. If he really went to Fallujah himself, he knows it’s a lie. It’s possible that as much as seventy percent of the city was damaged, if a single bullet hole in the side of a house counts as damage. I really don’t know. It’s hard to say. But I saw much more destruction in nearby Ramadi than I saw in Fallujah. Even there the percentage of the city that was actually destroyed is in the low single digits – nowhere near seventy percent. And I spent triple the amount of time in Fallujah as in Ramadi. I didn’t personally see every street or house, but I followed the Marines on foot patrols every day and never once retraced my steps.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Look at Google’s interactive satellite image of Fallujah from space. You can clearly see which parts of the city were destroyed and which weren’t. Most of the damage is in the north. Some of the blanks spots you’ll see are empty lots, some are cemeteries, others are destruction from war. Even if all the blank spots in the city were sites of destruction, the percentage of the total area destroyed is far closer to zero percent than to seventy. Mr. al-Fadhily’s exaggeration is on par with the libelous claim that the Israel Defense Forces killed thousands of people in the Jenin refugee camp in April of 2002 when the actual number was a mere 52.

“All of the residents interviewed by IPS were extremely angry with the media for recent reports that the situation in the city is good,” he wrote. “Many refused to be quoted for different reasons.”

This is about as believable as his seventy-percent destruction claim. What media reports from Fallujah are the residents talking about? Fallujah is very nearly a journalist-free zone. Mr. al-Fadhily and I are practically the only ones who have been there for some time. Google News finds hardly any articles filed from the city aside from mine and his. Noah Shachtman published a Fallujah piece in Wired recently, but it’s unlikely that anyone there came across it. It’s also not very likely that the Arabic-language satellite channels Fallujah residents have access to are bursting with reports of good news from the former insurgent stronghold.

Anyway, the situation in the city isn’t good. Not at all. What it is is non-violent. It’s not a war zone anymore. The infrastructure and economy are only just now beginning to slowly recover because the war, until recently, made rebuilding impossible.

“Many residents told IPS that US-backed Iraqi police and army personnel have detained people who have spoken to the media,” al-Fadhily wrote.

Some Iraqis may well have said this. The idea that Americans were setting off car bombs was another theory that made the rounds in Fallujah not long ago. Only the most paranoid or irresponsible of reporters would bother to publish such claims without a dash of skepticism or evidence.

I have been to the Iraqi Police jail in Fallujah. It’s a terrible place that probably ought to be investigated by Human Rights Watch or the like. (The Marines I spoke to insist it is an abomination.) The Iraqi Police force gets, and deserves, a lot of legitimate criticism. But the idea that its officers arrest citizens for talking to journalists is about as plausible as the silly claim made by Iraqis in Nassiriya recently that the Americans dumped a shark in a Euphrates River canal to frighten people.

Mr. al-Fadhily quotes many disgruntled Iraqis. That’s all fine and good. I, too, heard lots of complaints. There’s plenty to gripe about. Fallujah is a broken-down, ramshackle, impoverished wreck of a city. It was ruined by more than three years of war. What else can you expect of a place that only stopped exploding this summer? But if the best possible scenario ever unfolds, if peace arrives even in Baghdad, if the government becomes truly moderate and representative, if rainbows break out in the skies and the fields fill with smiling children and bunny rabbits, somebody, somewhere, will complain that Iraq has been taken over by the imperial powers of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks.

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Katie’s World

At her National Press Club event yesterday, we heard this from CBS News anchor Katie Couric:

The whole culture of wearing flags on our lapel and saying “we” when referring to the United States and, even the “shock and awe” of the initial stages, it was just too jubilant and just a little uncomfortable. And I remember feeling, when I was anchoring the “Today” show, this inevitable march towards war and kind of feeling like, “Will anybody put the brakes on this?” And is this really being properly challenged by the right people? And I think, at the time, anyone who questioned the administration was considered unpatriotic and it was a very difficult position to be in.

There is a lot to unpack in these few sentences. For one thing, Couric’s aversion to using the word “we” when referring to her own country is both weird and revealing. After all, she is part of the United States, a citizen of America, and so she is part of “we.” Hers is an example of a certain journalistic sensibility that feels as if members of the media are compromising their objectivity by referring to their country as if they were a part of it. And I suppose in The World According To Katie, it would be a gross violation of journalistic ethics to hope for America to prevail in a war to depose Saddam Hussein and bring liberty to his broken land. Hence, I suppose, her discomfort with how well the initial stages of the Iraq war went.

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At her National Press Club event yesterday, we heard this from CBS News anchor Katie Couric:

The whole culture of wearing flags on our lapel and saying “we” when referring to the United States and, even the “shock and awe” of the initial stages, it was just too jubilant and just a little uncomfortable. And I remember feeling, when I was anchoring the “Today” show, this inevitable march towards war and kind of feeling like, “Will anybody put the brakes on this?” And is this really being properly challenged by the right people? And I think, at the time, anyone who questioned the administration was considered unpatriotic and it was a very difficult position to be in.

There is a lot to unpack in these few sentences. For one thing, Couric’s aversion to using the word “we” when referring to her own country is both weird and revealing. After all, she is part of the United States, a citizen of America, and so she is part of “we.” Hers is an example of a certain journalistic sensibility that feels as if members of the media are compromising their objectivity by referring to their country as if they were a part of it. And I suppose in The World According To Katie, it would be a gross violation of journalistic ethics to hope for America to prevail in a war to depose Saddam Hussein and bring liberty to his broken land. Hence, I suppose, her discomfort with how well the initial stages of the Iraq war went.

This point is worth pausing over. After all, during his reign, Saddam Hussein routinely executed political opponents and political prisoners. Children and young people were tortured to force their parents and relatives to confess to alleged political offenses. Schoolchildren were summarily shot in public—and families of executed children were made to pay for the bullets and coffins used. Human Rights Watch concluded that the Iraqi regime committed the crime of genocide against Iraqi Kurds—and estimates are that more than 300,000 Iraqis were executed during Saddam Hussein’s reign. He was also responsible for invading two nations at a cost of more than a million lives. Imagine hoping that the United States would defeat such a regime quickly, easily, and with a minimum loss of life and damage. The audacity!

As for the “inevitable” march toward war and her “kind of feeling like, ‘Will anybody put the brakes on this?’”: First, the “march” to war was not inevitable—one person on this planet could easily have put the brakes on it. His name was Saddam Hussein. He could have stopped the war at any time, if only he had met the commitments to which he had agreed. It was Saddam Hussein who was in material breach of Security Council Resolution 1441. It was he who had amassed a record of defiance for more than a decade. But for Katie Couric, the responsibility for war rests not with the former dictator of Iraq, but with the President of the United States.

And then there is tossing out the standard talking points that those who questioned the administration were “considered unpatriotic” and “it was a very difficult position to be in.” By whom, in Couric’s imaginary history, were critics of the administration considered “unpatriotic”? This notion is a flimsy urban legend—and yet Katie claims to have been put in a “very difficult position” based on a scenario that never even occurred. What a tower of strength she is.

The virtue of such statements, I suppose, is that it rips away the pretense of objectivity—as if that was even necessary at this stage. It appears as if Katie Couric is a worthy successor to Dan Rather—and her comments, in some ways so utterly typical, also remind us why CBS’s ratings are in the toilet, and deserve to be.

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“Fatal Strikes”?

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is capable of great feats of productivity when it wishes to draw a crowd to an international crisis. Especially, it goes without saying, when the crisis affords an opportunity to slander Israel. Last summer, only three weeks into the Israel-Hizballah war, HRW released a sensational 49-page report that declared, “Our research shows that Israel’s claim that Hizballah fighters are hiding among civilians does not explain, let alone justify, Israel’s indiscriminate warfare.” It added that “these attacks constitute war crimes,” and concluded that “in some instances, Israeli forces appear to have deliberately targeted civilians.”

Those are serious charges to inject into the middle of a war, especially one as saturated with media coverage as any conflict involving the Jewish state (in a recent Harvard study, Marvin Kalb noted that the Israel-Hizballah war summoned the heaviest international media coverage since the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991). None of HRW’s calumnies, it should be added, has been substantiated in a credible way.

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) is capable of great feats of productivity when it wishes to draw a crowd to an international crisis. Especially, it goes without saying, when the crisis affords an opportunity to slander Israel. Last summer, only three weeks into the Israel-Hizballah war, HRW released a sensational 49-page report that declared, “Our research shows that Israel’s claim that Hizballah fighters are hiding among civilians does not explain, let alone justify, Israel’s indiscriminate warfare.” It added that “these attacks constitute war crimes,” and concluded that “in some instances, Israeli forces appear to have deliberately targeted civilians.”

Those are serious charges to inject into the middle of a war, especially one as saturated with media coverage as any conflict involving the Jewish state (in a recent Harvard study, Marvin Kalb noted that the Israel-Hizballah war summoned the heaviest international media coverage since the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991). None of HRW’s calumnies, it should be added, has been substantiated in a credible way.

But sensationalism and good timing, after all, were precisely the point, and attacking the legitimacy of the Israeli war effort proved highly effective in getting Human Rights Watch into the headlines. To that end, the report was titled “Fatal Strikes: Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon.” Is this a straight-to-video action movie, or an objective report on a serious subject? But never mind.

What is relevant about all this is that HRW has just announced the release, thirteen months (!) after its libelous claims against Israel, of the companion study to “Fatal Strikes,” this one about Hizbollah’s violations. The media frenzy that surrounded the war last summer has long since subsided, but Hizballah has seen to it that HRW does get a little bit of publicity for its efforts: The press conference in Beirut announcing the study had to be cancelled because of security threats. But HRW is a courageous and principled organization, and will not be deterred from finally, and no doubt cathartically, releasing its report over a year late and into an indifferent media environment. The Hizballah study has just been posted on HRW’s website and it is much more boringly titled than the hit piece on Israel: “Civilians Under Assault.” You may wish to be sitting down to hear this news, but Human Rights Watch has concluded, after thirteen months of investigation and dozens of pages of analysis, that Hizballah fired rockets at Israeli civilians.

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Muzzling Free Speech

What is the meaning of freedom of speech? You might think it means simply the right to say what you want, constrained only by a few common-sense barriers against injuring others. There is, however, another definition of free speech propounded by the likes of Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, Jimmy Carter, and other Israel-bashers. By this definition, freedom of speech consists of their right to say what they want without having to suffer demurral or criticism. They complain that supporters of Israel “stifle debate” by, well, debating with them.

This audacious polemical stratagem now has been elevated to the status of a full-fledged campaign. On the web page of the New Israel Fund, I found MuzzleWatch, its logo a mouth taped shut. This is a blog sponsored by something called Jewish Voice for Peace, a group led by such luminaries of the hard left as Ed Asner and Adrienne Rich.

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What is the meaning of freedom of speech? You might think it means simply the right to say what you want, constrained only by a few common-sense barriers against injuring others. There is, however, another definition of free speech propounded by the likes of Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, Jimmy Carter, and other Israel-bashers. By this definition, freedom of speech consists of their right to say what they want without having to suffer demurral or criticism. They complain that supporters of Israel “stifle debate” by, well, debating with them.

This audacious polemical stratagem now has been elevated to the status of a full-fledged campaign. On the web page of the New Israel Fund, I found MuzzleWatch, its logo a mouth taped shut. This is a blog sponsored by something called Jewish Voice for Peace, a group led by such luminaries of the hard left as Ed Asner and Adrienne Rich.

According to its statement of purpose, “MuzzleWatch is dedicated to creating an open atmosphere for debate about U.S.-Israeli foreign policy by shining a light on incidents that involve pressure, intimidation, and outright censorship of critics of U.S.-Israeli policy.” Among the repressive incidents exposed on the website were a critique of Jimmy Carter by Alan Dershowitz, a jibe at George Soros by the New Republic, and a report on Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International by the group NGO Monitor*. Seen through this warped looking glass, criticism of these individuals or groups amounts to a threat to civil liberties.

Most blogs, like contentions, allow readers to post comments. MuzzleWatch did too—during its first four months of operation. Then it announced that it had “decided to change course and shut down the comments capability of this blog.” This explanation followed:

It seemed clear that there was a need for a space where people could freely debate challenging political issues related to Israel, Palestine, and U.S .foreign policy. Over time, however, the comment boards seem to have drawn in those who communicate in a more polarized fashion, and have chased away people seeking more thoughtful dialogue. . . . Clearly, this experiment in unfettered free speech hasn’t worked.

Now MuzzleWatch posts its opinions without any risk that a reader might attempt to “stifle” or “muzzle” it by expressing a different opinion.

*Originally misidentified.

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Dirty Olympics

Next year, at eight seconds after 8:08 on the evening of August 8, the most important event in the most populous country in the world will begin. At that moment, the Olympics in Beijing will start—and the People’s Republic of China will announce its arrival in the century it believes it will own.

Today, to mark the one-year countdown to the XXIX Olympiad, Beijing staged a grandiose nighttime ceremony in Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of the Chinese nation and the scene of mass murder in 1989. China’s Leninists are good at organizing gargantuan rallies glorifying themselves, and this extravaganza, which included International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, was no exception. The anthem for the event was “We’re Ready.”

Will Beijing’s leaders be ready a year from now? Amnesty International, in a report issued yesterday, urged Communist Party officials to stop repressing the Chinese people. In an accompanying statement, Amnesty said “time is running out for the Chinese government to fulfill its promise of improving human rights in the run-up to the Games.” The report came out on the same day as one from Human Rights Watch and another from the Committee to Protect Journalists. On Monday in the Chinese capital, Reporters Without Borders unfurled a banner showing the Olympic rings as handcuffs. Beijing authorities detained and roughed up journalists who had staged the protest. Yesterday, activists at the Great Wall displayed a large banner reading “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008.” They were detained as well.

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Next year, at eight seconds after 8:08 on the evening of August 8, the most important event in the most populous country in the world will begin. At that moment, the Olympics in Beijing will start—and the People’s Republic of China will announce its arrival in the century it believes it will own.

Today, to mark the one-year countdown to the XXIX Olympiad, Beijing staged a grandiose nighttime ceremony in Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of the Chinese nation and the scene of mass murder in 1989. China’s Leninists are good at organizing gargantuan rallies glorifying themselves, and this extravaganza, which included International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, was no exception. The anthem for the event was “We’re Ready.”

Will Beijing’s leaders be ready a year from now? Amnesty International, in a report issued yesterday, urged Communist Party officials to stop repressing the Chinese people. In an accompanying statement, Amnesty said “time is running out for the Chinese government to fulfill its promise of improving human rights in the run-up to the Games.” The report came out on the same day as one from Human Rights Watch and another from the Committee to Protect Journalists. On Monday in the Chinese capital, Reporters Without Borders unfurled a banner showing the Olympic rings as handcuffs. Beijing authorities detained and roughed up journalists who had staged the protest. Yesterday, activists at the Great Wall displayed a large banner reading “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008.” They were detained as well.

China was not ready to host the Games in 2001, when they were awarded, and it is not ready now. The Beijing Olympics organizing committee is already trying to lower foreign expectations. “We can’t please everybody,” said spokesman Sun Weide. In response, the International Olympic Committee should live up to its principles and think about criticizing the Chinese government. President Rogge, however, has consistently maintained that Beijing’s detestable political system is none of his organization’s business. “Any expectations that the International Olympic Committee should apply pressure on the Chinese government beyond what is necessary for Games preparations are misplaced, especially concerning sovereign matters the IOC is not qualified to judge,” he recently said. Some activists argue the IOC should take away the Olympics from China. I say keep the Games in Beijing to maintain the spotlight on the Communist Party—and a complicit International Olympic Committee.

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The Sound of Silence

The West is host to many organizations—the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the International Solidarity Movement, and countless others—dedicated to supporting the Palestinian cause. Given mounting casualties among Palestinian civilians under fire in Lebanon and Gaza this week, one would expect these organizations to voice their shock, outrage, or simple concern at these events. Take the plight of Palestinians in the northern Lebanese camp of Nahr el Bared: according to recent news reports, more than 130 people have died during the past three weeks of fighting there. The escalating violence in Gaza has claimed the lives of more than 70.

Surprisingly, none of these groups—always dutifully prompt to denounce Palestinian deaths at Israeli hands—has much to say about Palestinian deaths at the hands of Lebanese soldiers, or of fellow Palestinians. From France’s Campagne Civile Internationale pour la Protection des Palestiniens, from the Alternative News Center, from the new Free Gaza organization: not a word. This is puzzling, given the particularly brutal nature of the violence. Hamas gunmen threw a Fatah official from the 15th floor of an apartment building; Fatah later avenged his death by throwing a Hamas man off the 12th floor of another building. Fatah gunmen taken prisoner were shot in the head, execution-style, in the streets. (To its credit, Human Rights Watch quickly condemned these actions as war crimes, even in the face of this silence.)

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The West is host to many organizations—the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the International Solidarity Movement, and countless others—dedicated to supporting the Palestinian cause. Given mounting casualties among Palestinian civilians under fire in Lebanon and Gaza this week, one would expect these organizations to voice their shock, outrage, or simple concern at these events. Take the plight of Palestinians in the northern Lebanese camp of Nahr el Bared: according to recent news reports, more than 130 people have died during the past three weeks of fighting there. The escalating violence in Gaza has claimed the lives of more than 70.

Surprisingly, none of these groups—always dutifully prompt to denounce Palestinian deaths at Israeli hands—has much to say about Palestinian deaths at the hands of Lebanese soldiers, or of fellow Palestinians. From France’s Campagne Civile Internationale pour la Protection des Palestiniens, from the Alternative News Center, from the new Free Gaza organization: not a word. This is puzzling, given the particularly brutal nature of the violence. Hamas gunmen threw a Fatah official from the 15th floor of an apartment building; Fatah later avenged his death by throwing a Hamas man off the 12th floor of another building. Fatah gunmen taken prisoner were shot in the head, execution-style, in the streets. (To its credit, Human Rights Watch quickly condemned these actions as war crimes, even in the face of this silence.)

At least these organizations have an implicit rationale for their selectiveness in pointing out human-rights violations—their mission, more or less explicitly, is to aid the Palestinians in their struggle against the state of Israel. Criticizing others who inflict suffering on Palestinians would only be a distraction. Their calling is narrow—particularly when compared to organizations such as Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), whose mission statement defines human rights as being “universal and indivisible,” and demands that they be “upheld without exception” in “Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.” Yet, with all of IJV’s hand-wringing over the 40th anniversary of the “occupation,” they have found not a word to spare about these current cases of Palestinian suffering.

Surprised? Don’t be. After all, IJV has also been silent about the boycott against Israeli academia, despite its proclamation that “there is no justification for any form of racism, including anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racism, or Islamophobia, in any circumstance.” Well said, indeed. But like so many other paladins of universalist values—John Pilger, for example, who habitually invokes human rights to bash Israel for its behavior while reliably supporting dictators the world over—IJV has so far shown fastidious care in executing its mission.

The group’s technique is eerily similar to the approach of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), as noted by UN Watch director Hillel Neuer. Like the HRC, IJV has made sure that its commitment to universal human rights never interferes with making political hay of Palestinian suffering—an activity requiring silence when that suffering comes at the hands of Arabs.

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Hellman, Hammett, and Stalin

On February 6th, Human Rights Watch announced the winners of this year’s Hellman-Hammett grants, awarded to “writers all around the world who have been victims of political persecution.” The grants honor playwright Lillian Hellman and novelist Dashiell Hammett and are funded from Hellman’s estate. This year’s recipients were mostly from China, Vietnam, and Iran, and were presumably worthy and needy.

But what is a “human rights” organization doing honoring the memory of these two literary thugs? HRW says that “Hellman and Hammett were both interrogated in the 1950′s about their political beliefs and affiliations” in an era when Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “Communist paranoia helped fuel nearly a decade of anti-Communist ‘witch hunts.’. . . Hellman suffered professionally. . . . Hammett spent time in jail.”

Whatever paranoia and witch hunts there may have been in the 1950′s, Hellman and Hammett could not have been among the objects, for they were Communists, true-believing, loyally-serving devotées of Stalin.

When the Soviet dictator purged his rivals, he staged grotesque “show trials” at which first the prosecutors denounced the defendants, then the defense attorneys denounced the defendants, and then the defendants—having been tortured and threatened with the murder of their families—denounced themselves. Leftist intellectuals around the world raised their voices to protest this travesty.

Hellman and Hammett, by contrast, raised their voices to denounce the protesters. They signed a petition that appeared in the Communist party journal New Masses, with the heading “Leading Artists, Educators Support Soviet Trial Verdict.” They and their comrades declared that the Moscow defendants had

resorted to duplicity and conspiracy and allied themselves with long-standing enemies of the Soviet Union—nationalists who had ties with capitalist, fascist, and White Guard Allies, and even with former czarist agents provocateurs. Degeneration may therefore be charged to the defendants, and not the Soviet Union, which gains strength internally and externally by the prevention of treason and the eradication of spies and wreckers.

A far more fitting tribute to the memories of Hellman and Hammett would be an award honoring the perpetrators, rather than the victims, of political persecution.

On February 6th, Human Rights Watch announced the winners of this year’s Hellman-Hammett grants, awarded to “writers all around the world who have been victims of political persecution.” The grants honor playwright Lillian Hellman and novelist Dashiell Hammett and are funded from Hellman’s estate. This year’s recipients were mostly from China, Vietnam, and Iran, and were presumably worthy and needy.

But what is a “human rights” organization doing honoring the memory of these two literary thugs? HRW says that “Hellman and Hammett were both interrogated in the 1950′s about their political beliefs and affiliations” in an era when Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “Communist paranoia helped fuel nearly a decade of anti-Communist ‘witch hunts.’. . . Hellman suffered professionally. . . . Hammett spent time in jail.”

Whatever paranoia and witch hunts there may have been in the 1950′s, Hellman and Hammett could not have been among the objects, for they were Communists, true-believing, loyally-serving devotées of Stalin.

When the Soviet dictator purged his rivals, he staged grotesque “show trials” at which first the prosecutors denounced the defendants, then the defense attorneys denounced the defendants, and then the defendants—having been tortured and threatened with the murder of their families—denounced themselves. Leftist intellectuals around the world raised their voices to protest this travesty.

Hellman and Hammett, by contrast, raised their voices to denounce the protesters. They signed a petition that appeared in the Communist party journal New Masses, with the heading “Leading Artists, Educators Support Soviet Trial Verdict.” They and their comrades declared that the Moscow defendants had

resorted to duplicity and conspiracy and allied themselves with long-standing enemies of the Soviet Union—nationalists who had ties with capitalist, fascist, and White Guard Allies, and even with former czarist agents provocateurs. Degeneration may therefore be charged to the defendants, and not the Soviet Union, which gains strength internally and externally by the prevention of treason and the eradication of spies and wreckers.

A far more fitting tribute to the memories of Hellman and Hammett would be an award honoring the perpetrators, rather than the victims, of political persecution.

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News from the Continent: Victor’s Justice

It is hardly newsworthy that Europe generally opposes the death penalty. It would be foolish to think that the execution of Saddam Hussein would prove an exception to this cultural rule. To be fair, Europe’s officialdom was somewhat muted in its criticisms of the execution. While the Vatican called Hussein’s execution “tragic news,” and many British bishops decried the loss of life, Britain’s foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that Saddam had now been “held to account.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted similarly cautious language: “We respect the verdict, but the German government is known to be opposed in principle to the death penalty.” The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, simply “acknowledged” the execution and called on Iraqis to work now for national reconciliation. Much as they might object in principle to capital punishment, European officials were not going to lose sleep, in short, over Saddam’s hanging.

The European press was a different matter. Take the article “No more gallows!” penned by Paolo Mieli, editor of Italy’s leading daily, Il Corriere della Sera, on January 1. Mieli objects to the death penalty in all circumstances but especially for punishing leaders of the vanquished party in wartime. He went so far as to cast doubt on the justice and fairness of the Nuremberg trials. For Mieli, tyrants deserve milder forms of punishment, like detention or exile. The Irish edition of the Sunday Mirror concurred, on the grounds that the death penalty is something that “the civilized world” should always condemn. And the French 24 Heures was on the same wavelength: on December 28, the subtitle of its piece on the forthcoming execution quoted a Human Rights Watch representative as saying “Even for a tyrant, the death penalty remains barbaric.”

Farther from the mainstream, the French Communist newspaper, L’Humanité, smelled a cover-up, informing readers in a January 2 op-ed by Hassane Zerrouky that “the fear of revelations about how Western countries were implicated in the crimes of the dictator explains the desire to eliminate him before he could reveal embarrassing details.” The trial was “a parody of justice,” he wrote, liberally interspersing the names of French companies with those of Rumsfeld, Halliburton, and Bechtel. The message was clear: the real criminals were the leaders and governments ultimately responsible for Saddam’s hanging. The Independent’s Robert Fisk seemed to be of the same opinion. In a December 31 article, he managed to sublimate his disappointment by turning Saddam’s death into a happy occasion for America-bashing: “We’ve shut him up. The moment Saddam’s hooded executioner pulled the lever . . . Washington’s secrets were safe.” Joining this chorus in the January 1 edition of the Guardian, Tariq Ali called Saddam’s execution a “colonial hanging” and a cover-up besides: “what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those who are now occupying the country.”

Such rhetoric even found its way into London’s usually more responsible Independent. A December 31 editorial called the verdict – and hanging – “Victor’s Justice,” a theme that also featured prominently in the Mail on Sunday (“A grisly act of victor’s justice that will do nothing to bring peace”) and in its daily twin (“Justice? No, a sordid show of mob vengeance”). The Independent saw no conspiracy and took only some issue with expediency. But it criticized Saddam’s hanging on broader, philosophical grounds: “the deliberate taking of a human life is a crime. It cannot be right, therefore, to punish a crime by committing another. Ultimately, nothing can resist the force of that argument, and eventually the death penalty will be outlawed all over the world. But not, yet, in Iraq, or most southern states of the U.S.”

That journalists tacked irrelevant jabs at the U.S. onto their criticisms of Hussein’s execution removed none of the weight from arguments claiming that, despite his heinous crimes, Hussein should still have been allowed to live. But whatever merit humanitarian philosophical arguments against capital punishment may have, they are difficult to apply in the face of the facts. Saddam was not a candidate for moral or political rehabilitation. His death was the least that the mute cries of his two million victims required—not victor’s justice but the justice of the vanquished. No more gallows? We can only hope. But we know, at least, that there will be no more gallows erected by Saddam Hussein—despite those who remained silent during his brutal reign and raised an outcry only at his death.

It is hardly newsworthy that Europe generally opposes the death penalty. It would be foolish to think that the execution of Saddam Hussein would prove an exception to this cultural rule. To be fair, Europe’s officialdom was somewhat muted in its criticisms of the execution. While the Vatican called Hussein’s execution “tragic news,” and many British bishops decried the loss of life, Britain’s foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that Saddam had now been “held to account.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted similarly cautious language: “We respect the verdict, but the German government is known to be opposed in principle to the death penalty.” The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, simply “acknowledged” the execution and called on Iraqis to work now for national reconciliation. Much as they might object in principle to capital punishment, European officials were not going to lose sleep, in short, over Saddam’s hanging.

The European press was a different matter. Take the article “No more gallows!” penned by Paolo Mieli, editor of Italy’s leading daily, Il Corriere della Sera, on January 1. Mieli objects to the death penalty in all circumstances but especially for punishing leaders of the vanquished party in wartime. He went so far as to cast doubt on the justice and fairness of the Nuremberg trials. For Mieli, tyrants deserve milder forms of punishment, like detention or exile. The Irish edition of the Sunday Mirror concurred, on the grounds that the death penalty is something that “the civilized world” should always condemn. And the French 24 Heures was on the same wavelength: on December 28, the subtitle of its piece on the forthcoming execution quoted a Human Rights Watch representative as saying “Even for a tyrant, the death penalty remains barbaric.”

Farther from the mainstream, the French Communist newspaper, L’Humanité, smelled a cover-up, informing readers in a January 2 op-ed by Hassane Zerrouky that “the fear of revelations about how Western countries were implicated in the crimes of the dictator explains the desire to eliminate him before he could reveal embarrassing details.” The trial was “a parody of justice,” he wrote, liberally interspersing the names of French companies with those of Rumsfeld, Halliburton, and Bechtel. The message was clear: the real criminals were the leaders and governments ultimately responsible for Saddam’s hanging. The Independent’s Robert Fisk seemed to be of the same opinion. In a December 31 article, he managed to sublimate his disappointment by turning Saddam’s death into a happy occasion for America-bashing: “We’ve shut him up. The moment Saddam’s hooded executioner pulled the lever . . . Washington’s secrets were safe.” Joining this chorus in the January 1 edition of the Guardian, Tariq Ali called Saddam’s execution a “colonial hanging” and a cover-up besides: “what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those who are now occupying the country.”

Such rhetoric even found its way into London’s usually more responsible Independent. A December 31 editorial called the verdict – and hanging – “Victor’s Justice,” a theme that also featured prominently in the Mail on Sunday (“A grisly act of victor’s justice that will do nothing to bring peace”) and in its daily twin (“Justice? No, a sordid show of mob vengeance”). The Independent saw no conspiracy and took only some issue with expediency. But it criticized Saddam’s hanging on broader, philosophical grounds: “the deliberate taking of a human life is a crime. It cannot be right, therefore, to punish a crime by committing another. Ultimately, nothing can resist the force of that argument, and eventually the death penalty will be outlawed all over the world. But not, yet, in Iraq, or most southern states of the U.S.”

That journalists tacked irrelevant jabs at the U.S. onto their criticisms of Hussein’s execution removed none of the weight from arguments claiming that, despite his heinous crimes, Hussein should still have been allowed to live. But whatever merit humanitarian philosophical arguments against capital punishment may have, they are difficult to apply in the face of the facts. Saddam was not a candidate for moral or political rehabilitation. His death was the least that the mute cries of his two million victims required—not victor’s justice but the justice of the vanquished. No more gallows? We can only hope. But we know, at least, that there will be no more gallows erected by Saddam Hussein—despite those who remained silent during his brutal reign and raised an outcry only at his death.

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