Wednesday, August 30, 2006


The poor, misunderstood Human Rights Watchers

Board member Kathleen Peratis presents an impassioned defense of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in the face of criticism of its recent report on so-called Israeli war crimes. Diversionary Strike On a Rights Group I guess HRW and the Post think she has enough cache to do this because she also writes for The Forward, which is a Jewish newspaper so we can’t call her anti-Semitic for siding with Israel’s critics. Fair enough, I’ll just call her knee-jerk defense of her HRW misguided and oblivious to its reputation among many as an instinctive leftist, Western-guilt-ridden organization

I confess that HRW is not among my most admired organizations. I find its reports often obvious and trite at the same time. For instance, it recently issued a statement expressing some worries about whether Saddam will get a fair trial:

“The Iraqi High Tribunal must improve its practices if it is to do justice in the upcoming Anfal trial in which Saddam Hussein and Ali Hassan al-Majid are accused of genocide, Human Rights Watch said today.” Iraq: Tribunal Must Improve Work in Anfal Trial (Human Rights Watch, 18-8-2006)

Okay – the trial shouldn’t be a sham but what exactly are the worries here? That sufficient evidence won’t be presented?

“Based on extensive observation of the tribunal’s conduct of its first trial, where Saddam Hussein and seven others were charged with crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch believes that the Iraqi High Tribunal is presently incapable of fairly and effectively trying a genocide case in accordance with international standards and current international criminal law.”

Beyond the obvious that the trial only has to be in accordance with current Iraqi standards (and not some nebulous, HRW-developed or endorsed standard), it seems that HRW is most of all concerned with process vice the application of justice.

“Our investigation showed the Iraqi government ordered the extermination of part of its Kurdish population,” said Dicker. “But individual guilt or innocence in the Anfal case can only be determined through a fair trial, where the accused are able to mount an effective defense.”

So, despite an HRW investigation which showed direct Iraqi government sponsorship of the killings of the Kurds, HRW can’t quite pull the trigger on who is individually guilty in the matter. That’s right; HRW’s press release never comes out and says that Saddam is the guilty SOB here and that they are worried that he may go free on some legal technicality. Nope; they’re worried that:

“[t]he victims of the Anfal won’t see justice done unless the Iraqi tribunal does a much better job on its second case than it did in the Dujail trial”

I challenge HRW to find one Kurd whose concept of justice in this matter is tied to just how spirited a defense Saddam is able to present.

While they fret about justice for Saddam, they have no problems directly accusing Israel Defense Forces of “…serious violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war)…”Fatal Strikes: Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon: Summary

And for Ms. Peratis enlightenment, here’s why so many of us just can’t take them seriously. Early on (third paragraph), HRW addresses a key defense point of Israel’s tactics:

“The Israeli government claims that it targets only Hezbollah, and that fighters from the group are using civilians as human shields, thereby placing them at risk. Human Rights Watch found no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack. Hezbollah occasionally did store weapons in or near civilian homes and fighters placed rocket launchers within populated areas or near U.N. observers, which are serious violations of the laws of war because they violate the duty to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties. “

To my mind, it is simply inconceivable that HRW could find no cases of Hezbollah deliberately using civilian shields – especially if, as they say, they discussed matters with the IDF officials. But even if we take such a statement at face value, we later, in the penultimate paragraph, get this disclaimer:

“In addition, Human Rights Watch continues to investigate allegations that Hezbollah is shielding its military personnel and materiel by locating them in civilian homes or areas, and it is deeply concerned by Hezbollah’s placement of certain troops and materiel near civilians, which endangers them and violates the duty to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties.”

Seems that would be a fairly significant point to tie down before rushing out an investigative report that accuses the IDF of reprehensible actions. Instead HRW, absent many of the possible facts which could serve to support the Israeli tactics, issues their report to much predictable fanfare and international glee.

Ms. Peratis is upset that the report’s critics “… have not merely deployed the common defense of accusing the accusers of getting the facts wrong. They have gone much further and accused the accusers of bad intent.” She should get over it and look into why they feel that way. …or more accurately, why WE feel that way.

While I suspect that Foxman and Dershowitz could get a little hyper in their accusations, I don't think that Gerald Steinberg does. I'll have to take a look at some of his before (and if) I respond.
I don't buy the Forward immunity. If someone HRW has a regular column in the Forward, it speaks exceedingly ill of the Forward.
Finally, did you notice the 2 words that didn't show up? Mark Garlasco!
Another balloon popped.
good point about Garlosco - his 15 minutes was about 14:59 too long. I hope it's clear that I don't buy the Forward immunity bit either but just inferred that the Post & HRW considered that a significant credential.
I thought you were expressing your cynicism about the credential.
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