Aletho News

ΑΛΗΘΩΣ

Moscow slams HRW chief for touting story on Russia’s rich grabbing life-saving ventilators

‘We need joint action, not fake news’

RT | March 24, 2020

Russia’s top diplomat in the US has demanded the Human Rights Watch chief stops spreading misinformation about Russia’s readiness to fight Covid-19, after he touted an article claiming it’s letting the wealthy buy up ventilators.

Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s envoy in Washington, has penned a scathing rebuke to the group’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, who tweeted that the Kremlin was “doing nothing to stop wealthy Russians from buying up ventilators,” all that while “leaving ordinary Russians with a likely shortage of this life-saving equipment.”

Roth’s tweet was based on a report by the Moscow Times citing interviews with medical experts and anonymous “wealthy individuals,” said to be on the hunt for the coveted ventilators that help coronavirus-stricken patients breathe.

Although the article itself states that “Russia appears to be in a better starting position than other countries when it comes to ventilators,” with 5,000 devices ready to treat Covid-19 patients in state-run Moscow hospitals alone and “an average of about 29 ventilators per 100,000 residents” available nationwide (as opposed to Italy’s 8 per 100,000), the piece mentions that the majority of life-saving medical equipment is concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

While that might prompt some concern, in reality, more than half of Russia’s 438 Covid-19 cases (262) have been reported in the capital, which is at the center of the country’s fight against the disease.

Firing back, Antonov said that Russia, which has so far been successful in containing the spread of the virus, has put “well-timed measures” in place that allowed it “to confront this new global threat far more effectively than in the countries that HRW generally avoids criticizing.”

“We urge the executive director of Human Rights Watch not to misinform his readers in New York and around the world about the activities of the Russian government in the fight against coronavirus infection.”

Antonov suggested that, instead of promoting “fake news” and inciting xenophobia and Russophobia, politicians and public figures in the US focus on pooling efforts with the rest of the international community to fend off the pandemic. “Today, more than ever, the combined efforts of the international community are important… Saving lives is the top priority now.”

March 24, 2020 Posted by | Fake News, Russophobia | , | 1 Comment

The Douma Market Attack: a Fabricated Pretext for Intervention?

By Eric Draitser | CounterPunch | August 21, 2015

The August 16, 2015 attack on a market in the Syrian town of Douma, just outside the capital Damascus, has caused international outrage. Condemnations of the Syrian government have poured in from seemingly all corners of the globe as President Assad and the Syrian military have been declared responsible for the attack, convicted in the court of media opinion. Interestingly, such declarations have come well before any investigation has been conducted, and without any tangible evidence other than the assertions of the rebel spokespersons and anti-government sources. Indeed, there has been an embarrassing dearth of investigative questions asked as corporate media, who have been far from objective these last four and half years, have rushed to fit the facts to their long-standing narrative of “Assad the Butcher.”

This author fully understands that, in asking difficult questions, he will be called an “apologist,” an “Assad propagandist,” or some other such nonsense. Frankly, such name-calling means very little when compared to the suffering of Syrian people, and the untold brutality that will be visited upon them if the western corporate media and warmongers get their way and yet another imperialist so-called intervention is carried out in the name of “humanitarianism.” The goal is to ask the right questions, to cast doubt on the already solidifying propaganda narrative that will undoubtedly be used to justify still more war.

Those who work for peace must be prepared to interrogate the received truths of the media machine, to confront head on that which is uncomfortable, and to do so knowing that their motives are just. The victims of this war, both past and future, deserve nothing less.

Questioning the Douma Narrative

When carefully scrutinizing the documentary evidence of the attack, and comparing that to the claims made throughout western media, some troubling irregularities emerge. Not only do the claims seem to be exaggerated, but when placed within the historical context of this war, they seem to fit into a clear pattern of distortion and misinformation disseminated for political purposes, rather than objective reportage. Indeed, the raw footage taken on the scene goes a long way to contradicting some of the claims made by witnesses and “activists” (an interesting term in itself) often quoted in the media.

First, there is the allegation that more than 100 civilians were killed in an airstrike carried out by the Syrian military. There are certainly plenty of pictures that seem to bolster that claim, with debris scattered everywhere, aid workers carrying victims, and frightened civilians rushing around the destroyed marketplace. However, when one looks at the videos, even those provided by outlets such as The Guardian in the above linked article, one curious thing seems to be missing: bodies.

Indeed, it does seem odd that an airstrike could obliterate a crowded market on a Sunday, killing over a hundred people, and no videos or images would show bodies torn apart by the blast? One would expect to see mangled corpses, limbs scattered on the ground, pools of blood, etc. None of that seems visible.

Compare the Douma videos to those from Gaza on July 30, 2014 during Israel’s vicious war. An Israeli airstrike, which killed 15 people and injured more than 150, also hit a crowded market and caused horrific destruction. And in the videos, one sees bloodied bodies missing limbs, pools of blood on the street, and other gut-wrenching images. Or compare the Douma videos to those of the Christmas 2013 bombing of a crowded Baghdad market. The videos of that attack are gruesome, showing victims with heads partially blown off their bodies, legs attached to bodies by skin alone, lifeless corpses of children and other truly disturbing images.

All of these are conspicuously absent from any of the footage of the airstrike on Douma. Why? The various footage from the scene, repeated on both anti-Assad media (as seen here), and on mainstream western media (as seen here), shows no such images. Raw videos taken in the immediate aftermath of the attack also show no bodies (as seen here and here). There is footage showing bodies, however there is no discernible evidence that they were victims of the airstrike. Interestingly, all the victims shown in this video were military age males, rather curious if indeed this was an attack on a crowded market where presumably women and children would have been present. Indeed, in the midst of the ongoing war, there are fighters being killed on a daily basis, and it is entirely plausible that the wrapped bodies shown were fighters killed in some other fashion and simply presented to the camera as if they were victims of the airstrike.

To be fair, hours of research did uncover a total of one video, taken after the blast, showing the bodies of a handful of male victims. However, none of the signs of death by airstrike are visible; the bodies are all whole, no missing limbs, very little blood (unlike in the Gaza and Baghdad videos). A logical conclusion based on the available evidence would be that the men seen in the video died from the collapse of a building, presumably the destroyed building behind them.

While impossible to say exactly what happened, there is certainly no definitive evidence of an airstrike as a “deliberate massacre,” the argument trumpeted by western media and their Saudi- and Qatari-funded counterparts in the region. An objective examination of the evidence yields the distinct possibility that an airstrike was carried out on a building adjacent to the market. And yet, within hours of the attack, the narrative was seemingly already written: Assad carries out retribution against innocent civilians – a clear war crime.

Another important question that bears close scrutiny has to do with the victims themselves. Naturally, one does not want to make light of anyone killed or wounded in a war, but in trying to discern what is real and what is not, one must closely examine all evidence. And the victim list, as well as the treatment of the bodies raises more questions than it answers.

According to a list of victims names published in Arabic by the Doumaa Coordinating Committee, a pro-rebel group, there were 102 victims of the airstrike. After a translation, it is clear that the list reveals a grand total of three women among the 102 victims. It strains credulity that in a crowded market on a Sunday, with an alleged airstrike that could not distinguish between genders, there would be only three women among the dead. How is this possible? It seems likely that, as mentioned above, the list includes dead fighters who may have been killed in some other fashion – in battle, targeted by the Syrian military, etc. – who have simply been added to the list in order to bolster the narrative of a “massacre” in the market.

Additionally, we hear of the burial of victims in mass graves, still another puzzling development. As Reuters reported the day after the incident:

Sixty bodies were buried on Sunday night in two mass graves, said a spokesman for the Syrian Civil Defense force in Douma, a rescue service operating in rebel-held areas. Another 35 were buried on Monday, and the death toll was over 100, he said. “It was really difficult to identify the bodies of the martyrs. Some of them were burned to the bone, so we couldn’t add them to the documented list,” said the 28-year-old spokesman, who declined to give his real name for security reasons. His house was destroyed in the bombing, he added.

Naturally, the grizzly description given in the article elicits a strong emotional and visceral response. However, there is the troubling question as to why, if the Doumaa Coordinating Committee was able to compile a list of all the victims with their names, so many were still buried unceremoniously in mass graves. Even assuming that the number killed was correct, if it was difficult to identify the bodies with some so badly burned, they still managed to somehow identify them. If one accepts that this is true, then surely these bodies would have been given to the local families for burial. Yet they were not. Why not?

Typically the use of mass graves indicates a desire to quickly hide bodies which, if the media narrative on Douma were true, would seem unnecessary. At the very least, a real investigation into this incident would probe into the use of mass graves for the purposes of hiding key information, namely the identities of those killed.

An alternative theory, one which is supported by the evidence available, is that the Syrian military carried out an airstrike in the rebel stronghold town of Douma, and that the strike hit its target, a building housing a terrorist faction long since known to be in the city. This would explain the preponderance of men among the dead, the need for secrecy in burying the bodies, and the motive for the Syrian military striking the target.

Moreover, it is no secret exactly who has been operating in Douma and why they would be targeted. As the Carnegie Endowment noted in 2013:

The city of Douma has long been a stronghold of the insurgency, and several armed factions are active in the area, many of them with an Islamist bent. One, the Islam Brigade of the Alloush family, has over time grown quite a bit bigger than the others, particularly after it claimed responsibility for the July 18, 2012 attack against the National Security Office in Damascus, which killed several leading Syrian security figures. In March 2013, the main factions of the area joined forces in a local body called the Douma Mujahedin Council. The new group included the Islam Brigade, the Douma Martyrs’ Brigade, the Ghouta Lions Brigade, the East Ghouta Revolutionaries’ Brigade, the Lions of God Brigade, the Tawhid al-Islam Brigade, the Farouq Brigade [Liwa al-Farouq], the Shabab al-Hoda Brigade, the Seif al-Omawi Battalions, the Military Police Battalion, the Regime Protection Battalion, and the al-Ishara Battalion.

This key information is entirely omitted from the western media narrative about what happened in Douma, for obvious reasons. Namely, it undermines the meme that Assad’s forces carried out a criminal massacre of civilians as a form of collective punishment. Instead, it bolsters the claims by Syrian military spokespeople that the military targeted terrorist elements inside the city, just as they had done on a number of previous occasions, including as recently as June 2015. This point is critical because it demonstrates that this latest incident is part of an ongoing battle with these Douma factions, one which has seen countless rockets fired at Damascus from Douma and other surrounding suburbs.

Furthering this point is the fact that this attack in Douma was by no means the only incident of the day. There were in fact a series of clashes throughout the Damascus suburbs on Sunday August 16, the day of the incident. According to military sources, there were fierce clashes in East Ghouta with both Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) and Faylaq al-Rahman (Al-Rahman Corps) which resulted in 11 Syrian soldiers killed and 21 militants killed. In addition, the city of Harasta, adjacent to Douma, was the scene of major clashes between the army and rebels.

Were one to present all these facts clearly, it becomes inescapable that whatever happened in Douma was part of an ongoing battle between the Syrian military and anti-government “rebels” in control of the town. But that fact is not at all convenient for the war narrative. It presents no justification for an expansion of the international campaign against Syria; it provides no pretext for the US or its allies to invoke their wretched, and utterly discredited, “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine. And ultimately that is the goal.

Exposing the “Humanitarian” Warmongers

The sad fact is that the dead in Douma are little more than props for those who would attempt to orchestrate yet another US-led war in the Middle East. These purported humanitarians would like to transform the incident into viable political currency to expand the war already raging in order to achieve the longed for regime change in Syria that thus far has been unattainable.

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, has been vocal in his support for a full scale war on Syria in the name of humanitarianism. Roth has repeatedly called for intervention against the legal government of Syria, having recently tweeted statements such as “Like Sarajevo, could Douma market slaughter finally force Assad to stop targeting civilians?” (@KenRoth, Aug 16). The implication of the statement is quite clear: there should be military intervention, such as the US-NATO war on Yugoslavia and later Serbia, in order to stop the “slaughter” of civilians. It should be noted that this tweet was posted within hours of the news of the incident in Douma long before any investigation.

Roth, and by extension his organization Human Rights Watch, further discredits whatever vestiges of impartiality he and HRW might have had with inane tweets such as “Douma market killings show how Assad chooses to fight this war: deliberately against civilians,” (@KenRoth, Aug 16), an obviously biased, and utterly unsubstantiated allegation. Roth could have absolutely no knowledge of either the identities of the dead, or the Syrian government’s motives, when he released the tweet the same day as the attack. He reveals himself here to be little more than a lackey for imperialism, a war hawk masquerading as a human rights defender.

Such dishonesty is nothing new for Roth and HRW however. As this author has previously argued, HRW is an utterly discredited organization that has on multiple occasions published blatantly false allegations about the war in Syria in order to justify a US-NATO intervention. One should of course recall the laughable, and now completely debunked, 2013 report from HRW entitled Attacks on Ghouta: Analysis of Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria, which falsely claimed that the Syrian government carried out the infamous chemical weapons attack of August 21, 2013.

The report, cited by many of the leading warmongers itching for intervention in Syria, has since been thoroughly discredited by the work of former UN weapons inspector Richard Lloyd and Prof. Theodore Postol of MIT who published their findings in a report entitled Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013 which demonstrated unequivocally that the Syrian government could not have carried out the attack.

Additionally, Roth and HRW’s false narrative was again obliterated when Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh published his exposé The Red Line and the Rat Line which firmly established the fact that the rebels were indeed capable of carrying out the attack on East Ghouta, and that they had help from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and possibly other regional actors. This critical fact completely contradicted the assertions by Roth, HRW and the chorus of others who emphatically declared that only Assad’s forces were capable of carrying out the attack. Oops. Sorry Kenny, but your war pretext fell flat that time. One can only hope that it will once again.

But Roth and HRW are not the only ones making spurious claims in pursuit of the war agenda. Leave it to the Nobel Peace Prize winner President Obama and his White House to never let any tragedy go to waste. The day after the attack, National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price, speaking on behalf of the President, issued an official statement which “strongly condemns the deadly airstrikes yesterday by the Asad regime on a market in the Damascus suburb of Douma, where more than 100 people were killed and hundreds more injured, including scores of innocent women and children… These abhorrent actions underscore that the Asad regime has lost legitimacy and that the international community must do more to enable a genuine political transition.”

It is interesting to note here that the White House had already determined that “scores of innocent women and children” had been killed or injured. Where did this information come from? Certainly the casualty list released by the anti-Assad rebels did not indicate scores of dead women and children, nor did any of the videos of incident. It seems that, rather than conveying factual information, the White House was merely using the emotionally charged phrase “women and children” for propagandistic purposes, in order to be able to justify a possible military escalation against Damascus.

It is equally interesting to recall that just like Roth and HRW, the White House attempted to similarly capitalize on the August 21, 2013 chemical weapons attack for the purposes of pushing the US into war on Syria. In its now also debunked U.S. Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013, the White House stated that “The United States Government assesses with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013. We further assess that the regime used a nerve agent in the attack.” Oops again.

But why should this author pick on the August 21, 2013 chemical weapons incident in attempting to critically examine the recent attack on Douma? Because it was at that moment, in the late summer of 2013, exactly two years ago, that the United States was on the verge of all out war against Syria and the Syrian people; because a narrative built on lies and distortions almost, yet again, pushed the US into war. Because this author marched in Times Square, New York City demanding that there be no war on Syria, then or ever. And because today, with so many lives already lost over these last four and half bloody years in Syria, peace-minded people cannot sit by and allow the US-NATO war machine and its human rights complex toadies to drag us into war.

It is clear that the Douma incident has been portrayed as an “official massacre” not because of any aspect of the attack itself. Rather, it has been presented this way in order to justify a pre-conceived war narrative, one that has repeatedly collapsed in the past, but one which the rapacious warmongers and strategic planners refuse to give up on. It’s not about the dead, nor is it even really about Assad. It is about destroying Syria and achieving geopolitical objectives which have been thus far unattainable due to the stubborn resolve of Damascus and its military. Ultimately, this war is about remaking the Middle East, no matter how many bodies it takes. Sadly, the dead of Douma are little more than tinder to those desperate to set Syria and the region ablaze.

August 21, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Revolving Door at Human Rights Watch

By MAIREAD MAGUIRE, ADOLFO PEREZ ESQUIVEL, RICHARD FALK, HANS von SPONECK & KEANE BHATT | CounterPunch | July 11, 2014

Dear Kenneth Roth,

While we welcome your stated commitment to Human Rights Watch’s independence and credibility, we are dismayed by your rejection of our common-sense suggestion for strengthening them: bar those who have crafted or executed U.S. foreign policy from serving as HRW staff, advisors or board members—or, at a bare minimum, mandate lengthy “cooling-off” periods before and after any associate moves between HRW and the foreign-policy divisions of the U.S. government.

Before addressing your letter’s objections to the three instances of HRW’s advocacy that suggest a conflict of interest, we would like to reiterate that they were “limited to only recent history,” and that other cases could have been raised as well. One obvious example of HRW’s failure to appropriately criticize U.S. crimes occurred after the 2004 coup d’état against the democratically elected government of Haiti. The U.S. government essentially kidnapped Haiti’s president; thousands of people were killed under the ensuing coup regime; and deposed officials of the constitutional government were jailed.

In the face of what were likely the worst human rights abuses of any country in the Western hemisphere at the time, HRW barely lifted a finger. HRW never hosted a press conference criticizing the coup or post-coup atrocities. In contrast to HRW’s appeals to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Democratic Charter for Venezuela and Cuba, HRW never publicly invoked the Charter in the case of Haiti, even as Articles 20 and 21 afforded multilateral measures “in the event of an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime.” HRW never placed an op-ed about the overthrow in a prominent newspaper. (In 2004 The New York Times alone published at least five HRW opinion pieces and four HRW letters on other subjects.) It is reasonable for outside observers to question whether this lack of response from HRW to such large-scale human rights violations had anything to do with U.S. foreign-policy priorities.

The very existence of such questions regarding HRW’s advocacy should be reason enough to impose sharp restrictions on HRW’s close ties to the U.S. government. Given the impact of global perceptions on HRW’s ability to carry out its work, simply the appearance of impropriety can impede HRW’s effectiveness. Closing HRW’s revolving door would be an important first step to allaying or preempting concerns that HRW’s priorities are compromised.

Concrete evidence of a revolving-door phenomenon between HRW and the U.S. government renders crucially incomplete your admission that “it is true that some served in the US government before or after their involvement with Human Rights Watch.” We provided examples of those who served in the U.S. government both before and after their involvement with HRW, a norm widely recognized to generate perverse incentives and undermine an institution’s reputation for independence.

For instance, you may disagree with our view that a former official of the Central Intelligence Agency—one of the world’s greatest institutional human rights violators over the past half-century—has no standing to advise on human rights issues for your organization. Surely you must concede, however, that a conflict of interest was raised when Miguel Díaz, the ex-CIA analyst in question, exploited the eight years of experience and relationships he accumulated within HRW’s advisory committee for his subsequent role as the U.S. State Department’s “interlocutor between the intelligence community and non-government experts.”

Your colleague, HRW Counsel and Spokesperson Reed Brody, seemed to misunderstand the nature of our proposal, arguing in a June 11 debate on Democracy Now! that “Miguel Díaz never worked at Human Rights Watch,” and that the organization is “a big tent—we’ve got people on the right; we’ve got people on the left.” In fact, our letter suggested prohibitions or cooling-off periods for “any associate,” including advisory-committee members like Díaz. Secondly, our proposals would not impact political diversity; rather, they would make it more difficult for those previously employed by human rights-abusing organizations like the CIA from adversely influencing HRW’s priorities or damaging HRW’s reputation.

It is important to further clarify our request, as Brody made two mutually irreconcilable claims: that “there is no revolving door,” and that “this revolving-door policy, if we implemented it, would have changed one person at Human Rights Watch.” Both statements are untrue. A cooling-off period, which all HRW associates would accept, would have prevented both Díaz and former HRW Washington director Tom Malinowski from almost immediately entering the U.S. State Department (Malinowski is now Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor), and would have also applied to Nik Steinberg, a senior researcher in HRW’s Americas division as of May 2014.

Just one week after you received our May 12 letter, Mr. Steinberg announced that he was leaving HRW to take a position with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, which he described as an “extraordinary opportunity.” This is disturbing from a human rights perspective, because Ms. Power’s July 17, 2013 confirmation hearing was riddled with provocative comments, including her evidence-free claim of an Iranian “nuclear weapons program,” her promise to “never apologize for America,” and her commitment to “work tirelessly to defend” Israel. After assuming her post, she advocated in favor of a U.S. strike against Syria in 2013, defending it as “legitimate” while tacitly acknowledging its illegality. She later declared that the United States has “nothing to apologize for” in Afghanistan, despite its record of numerous atrocities. Most recently, Ms. Power engaged in a coordinated media event with Henry Kissinger, whom Mr. Brody once referred to as a war criminal.

HRW’s proximity to Ms. Power damages HRW’s stated independence in light of her declarations that “the United States is the greatest country on Earth,” “the leader in human rights,” and “the leader in human dignity.” Shortly after leaving HRW, Malinowski similarly lauded the “bipartisan consensus for America’s defense of liberty around the world” and the “exceptional” nature of the United States at his own September 24, 2013 confirmation hearing.

Mr. Roth, we are deeply worried that Mr. Steinberg’s announced transition to Ms. Power’s office—a week after your receipt of our letter—is just one of many more revolving-door episodes that will continue to create perverse incentive structures within the organization. How can we expect HRW associates to be completely unafraid to hold human rights violators in the U.S. government accountable for their offenses and crimes when they are hoping to work for some of these very same functionaries immediately upon leaving HRW? That is the question that you must answer, Mr. Roth, in light of the transitions of Malinowski, Díaz and Steinberg to the U.S. State Department.

If you nevertheless object to prohibiting the involvement of U.S. foreign-policy officials at HRW or instituting cooling-off periods for them, we suggest, in parallel, an even narrower proposal: bar the participation at HRW of those who bear a direct responsibility for violating international humanitarian law. Javier Solana, currently a member of HRW’s board of directors, served as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Secretary General during its 1999 military campaign in Yugoslavia. NATO’s use of cluster munitions and its bombing of civilian targets in Yugoslavia led HRW itself to conclude that the organization “committed violations of international humanitarian law.”

Solana is therefore a poor choice for HRW’s board of directors. His removal from your board would signal HRW’s good-faith effort to bolster its independence and credibility as an advocate for human rights. When Mr. Brody was asked on Democracy Now! to respond to the argument that “those who bear direct responsibility for human rights violations should not be on the board of directors of an independent human rights organization,” Mr. Brody said, “I would agree with that.” We hope you concur with your colleague.

We will now address in turn your responses to the three cases of problematic HRW advocacy mentioned in our letter:

First, you objected to our concerns over the 2009 statements made by Tom Malinowski as HRW’s Washington director to the LA Times. He contended that “under limited circumstances” there was a “legitimate place” for renditions. You argue that our letter “mistakenly claims he was supporting unlawful CIA renditions,” and that “Malinowski was certainly not endorsing the CIA’s illegal rendition program, which entailed transferring individuals without due process protections to countries where they faced torture.” You further define renditions as simply “the transfer of a person in custody from one jurisdiction to another, which is legal under certain circumstances,” and cite extraditions as a legitimate form of rendition.

We appreciate your attempt to clarify Malinowski’s statement, which at the time provoked public consternation from law professors specializing in constitutional law and international law, such as Darren Hutchinson and Kenneth Anderson. This reaction arose because the LA Times article in question focused exclusively on CIA renditions and President Barack Obama’s executive order, which preserved them through a redefinition that allowed the transfer of suspects on a “short-term, transitory basis.” All CIA renditions, whether long- or short-term, whether they lead to torture or not, deny suspects the right to legal proceedings in which they can challenge their transfer from the country in question. Unlike commonplace extraditions, CIA renditions—extraordinary or otherwise—do not guarantee the detainees’ right to legal counsel or access to the court system of the country where they are seized.

In our previous letter to you, we cited Obama’s “preservation of renditions” as a serious human rights concern, and hyperlinked to a widely cited Open Society Justice Initiative report from 2013 which observed that Obama’s 2009 “executive order did not repudiate extraordinary rendition,” and that “it appears that the Obama administration did not end extraordinary rendition.” In light of this and the fact that the LA Times solely focused on an executive order pertaining to CIA renditions, Malinowski’s comment on their “legitimate place” was troubling and remains so, especially given his now-senior position within the Obama administration. Controversy around the practice persists, as exemplified by the headline of a 2013 Washington Post news article: “Renditions continue under Obama, despite due-process concerns.”

Malinowski’s subsequent statement to the LA Times was perhaps even more dubious, for additional reasons. As HRW’s Washington director, he paraphrased the Obama administration’s claim that designing an alternative to “people being sent to foreign dungeons to be tortured” was “going to take some time,” without questioning whether a gradual approach to ending such abuses was justifiable or even legal. For an organization that operates under the principle that human rights are absolute rights, not rights to be traded away for expediency or other political goals—which is the only way that a credible human rights organization can or should operate—such a statement should be deeply alarming. In fact, the Obama administration did proceed to “take some time,” sustaining the use of such “foreign dungeons” for years—likely up to the present day.

Numerous eye-witness testimonies led to articles by Der Spiegel in 2009 and the BBC in 2010 that reported on torture conducted under Obama’s presidency at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where detainees have had no right to habeas corpus. A 2011 Nation investigative piece detailed the conditions of an underground “secret prison” in Somalia used by the CIA, which serves as a destination for U.S.-assisted renditions. U.S. officials are said to conduct joint “debriefings,” or interrogations, at the site. The report’s author, Jeremy Scahill, found that the prisoners were unable to be seen by the Red Cross, and “they are not ever presented with charges.”

We note with interest that none of the HRW reports on rendition that you listed and hyperlinked to in your letter refer to torture, CIA renditions, or long-term detention without due process that have occurred under the Obama administration. While we welcome HRW’s call for criminal investigations regarding Bush-era human rights abuses, it appears that HRW has not advocated for criminal investigations into any of these Obama-era abuses. In fact, two HRW researchers have publicly fretted over the U.S. handover of the Bagram base to the Afghan government due to concerns over Afghanistan’s use of torture, without ever mentioning Obama-era, U.S.-directed torture at the same base. There may be some legitimate reason for HRW’s very different positions regarding the two administrations, but combined with the existence of HRW’s revolving door, they reinforce a reasonable suspicion that Malinowski’s inappropriate comments in 2009 as an HRW employee were influenced by his intention to serve in the Obama administration, and that HRW’s decidedly more muted position today on Obama’s policies is perhaps related to its ties to the administration.

Your second point pertains to our argument that in light of HRW’s 2012 letter to President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela questioning the country’s suitability as a candidate for the UN Human Rights Council, HRW had reason to write a similar letter to President Obama expressing reservations over the U.S. position in the same council. In our previous letter to you, we cited the U.S. record of human rights abuses that include a secret, global assassination program and the illegal detention of individuals at Guantánamo Bay. You have countered by avoiding a discussion of comparative abuses between the two countries, and have instead argued that for HRW, a “central concern on council membership is whether a government takes the council and its special procedures seriously,” and that Venezuela, unlike the United States, does not.

However, under no objective standard was this a “central concern” of the 2012 letter to Chávez signed by your colleagues José Miguel Vivanco and Peggy Hicks that we originally cited. After asserting in their introduction that “Venezuela currently falls far short of acceptable standards” in “promoting and protecting human rights,” Vivanco and Hicks outlined specific “policies and practices of [the Chávez] administration” and argued for their reversal. Their letter then dedicated the next 10 paragraphs to arguing that Venezuela has failed in the areas of judicial independence, media freedom and civil society. Before concluding their letter, Vivanco and Hicks devoted only one paragraph to “cooperation with the Human Rights Council.”

Given the broad scope of the content and priorities of HRW’s letter to Chávez, HRW simply has no tenable justification for its continued support of the U.S. presence on the UN Human Rights Council. Aside from its far grimmer human rights record than Venezuela, “[t]he United States is the only country to vote against all the Council’s resolutions focusing on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories,” admits HRW. “The US rejection of any resolution focusing on Israel and the [Occupied Palestinian Territories] and Israel [sic] exposes its double standards.” HRW’s own finding, coupled with the U.S. role in blocking the implementation of the Council’s recommendations of the Goldstone Report on Israeli war crimes during the Gaza attack of 2008-09, certainly weakens your letter’s claim that “on balance, the United States has played a constructive role at the Human Rights Council.”

It is not too late for HRW to demonstrate its independence from the U.S. government by writing a letter to President Obama outlining the most egregious U.S. human rights violations that should be reversed in order for the country to serve as a credible member of the UN Human Rights Council. HRW’s letter could demand an end to the Obama’s extrajudicial “kill list,” an authoritarian U.S. policy for which a Venezuelan analogue is nonexistent and inconceivable, and the letter could also condemn U.S. intransigence within the Council, particularly toward Palestinian human rights.

Our third and final example questioned HRW’s lack of opposition to Obama’s consideration of a missile strike on Syria in 2013—a violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition on the unilateral “threat or use of force” in international affairs. We appreciate your clarification of HRW’s mandate, “which is to monitor governments’ adherence to international human rights and humanitarian law.” We would urge HRW to consider expanding its purview to adopt the UN Charter as a foundation for its legal determinations due to the inevitable human rights violations that occur as a result of a war of aggression, considered the “supreme international crime” by the Nuremberg Tribunal.

We express our concern, however, that HRW’s stated neutrality on matters of war and peace is compromised by your public statements of questionable judgment. At the height of intense pressure for a U.S. bombing campaign on Syria in late August of 2013, you all but advocated military intervention on social media, while maintaining plausible deniability in the context of a climate of warmongering. A sampling of your tweets include:

* To justify #Syria inaction, top US general trots out age-old ethnic animosities line. Heard that B4? Bosnia. Rwanda. trib.al/qSzrz1N

* Top general suggests US is more interested in a geopolitical partner in #Syria than saving civilians from slaughter. trib.al/WElNRGM

* It took chemical attack to convince Obama/Kerry that Assad isn’t interested in negotiated solution!? No more excuses. trib.al/viu2scd

* If the appalling slaughter in #Syria won’t get Obama to act, maybe ridicule will: trib.al/gp7HDo1

* If Obama decides to strike #Syria, will he settle for symbolism or do something that will help protect civilians? trib.al/hl6QhA1

Such behavior is unbecoming for the head of a major human rights organization and runs counter to the spirit of HRW’s official neutrality toward the impending intervention in Syria. We encourage you to demonstrate greater tact and responsibility in light of the near-inevitability that U.S. missile strikes would have led to violations of international humanitarian law, including the killing, maiming, and displacement of many innocent civilians—as shown by the U.S. bombings of Yugoslavia in 1999, and of Iraq during the 2003 invasion and subsequent years of war.

HRW’s official abstention from endorsing or opposing wars also appeared to be broken by Tom Malinowski’s March 27, 2011 article in The New Republic on NATO’s Libya intervention. The piece was originally titled “Why Isn’t Obama Getting Credit For Stopping An Atrocity?” and contended that “NATO acted more quickly [than in Bosnia] to stop atrocities in Kosovo.” In the case of Kosovo, “we could see and feel the difference Clinton and NATO had made.” Malinowski then celebrated NATO’s intervention in Libya as “the most rapid multinational military response to an impending human rights crisis in history” for which “we should be grateful.”

As Washington director for HRW at the time of the article, Malinowski offered no disclosure of his previous responsibilities in foreign-policy speech-writing as the Senior Director of the White House’s National Security Council during Clinton’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Nor did his sanitized portrayal of those actions include his own organization’s inconvenient conclusion that “NATO committed violations of international humanitarian law.” Malinowski’s piece also omitted the clearly unconstitutional nature of Obama’s military intervention in Libya. Furthermore, he excluded evidence that the NATO coalition quickly had moved away from the scope of the civilian-protection mandate provided in UN Resolution 1973 and toward the aim of regime change, which conformed with Obama’s comments weeks prior that “it’s time for Qaddafi to go.”

More egregiously, the following year—months after your organization’s report, “Unacknowledged Deaths: Civilian Casualties in NATO’s Air Campaign in Libya,” examined eight NATO strikes that killed 72 civilians—Malinowski offered unalloyed praise for the NATO intervention. He argued that “Barack Obama’s administration made its most unequivocal stand on behalf of an Arab Spring uprising” in Libya, where the destabilizing consequences of the administration’s support in arming rebel forces continue to be felt. Completely ignoring the issue of civilian deaths at the hands of NATO (confirmed by HRW itself), Malinowski claimed in this October 2, 2012 Foreign Policy article that “recent events have reinforced, not weakened, the rationale for supporting political change in the Arab world.”

Advocacy divorced from HRW’s own empirical findings, unconditionally applauding U.S.-NATO military actions in Libya and endorsing their suitability elsewhere, is a predictable outcome for a former Clinton official who became HRW’s chief lobbyist in Washington, and who may have aspired to a position in the Obama administration as he wrote such statements. However, such advocacy is unhelpful to HRW’s stated concerns over NATO’s airstrikes and its failure “to acknowledge these casualties or to examine how and why they occurred.”

We are heartened, Mr. Roth, by your expressed willingness to “speak out, as we have done” in Kosovo and elsewhere. But HRW’s track record for holding NATO accountable for its violations of international humanitarian law is wholly inadequate. Javier Solana initiated a war in violation of the UN Charter in 1999 and presided over the deliberate NATO bombing of a Serbian television station, a war crime that killed 16 civilians including a make-up artist, a cameraman, an editor, and a program director.

In your May 1999 letter to Solana, which mentioned that bombing, you urged that “these issues be scrutinized promptly and rigorously,” and that “disciplinary or criminal investigations be launched.” NATO implemented none of your suggestions and has held no one to account for that atrocity or for any other crime in Yugoslavia. And yet Solana was awarded a position on HRW’s board in 2011. It is hard to escape the conclusion that HRW’s admonishments of NATO’s behavior are toothless, and that Solana’s subsequent leadership role at HRW signals to former and future NATO leaders who violate international law that they should be undeterred by HRW’s objections and inquiries.

Finally, you responded to our emphasis on HRW’s ties to the United States by mentioning the involvement of former government officials of Mexico, Peru, South Africa, and other countries at HRW. But our focus is HRW’s ties to the foreign-policy divisions of the U.S. government, which, unlike the foreign-policy arms of many of the governments you cite, are continuously engaged in massive human rights abuses. This is a consequence of the status of the United States as the world’s sole military superpower, which frequently violates international law with impunity, and, as in the case of its invasion of Iraq, is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. As a recent poll showed, the rest of the globe sees the United States as “the greatest threat to peace in the world today” by a wide margin, so HRW’s unabashed closeness to that government is understandably viewed as an extremely political decision.

One of us would be delighted to meet with you whenever convenient at your New York offices to discuss these matters further and to personally deliver a petition signed by over 15,500 people so far, along with their individual comments in support of the following demand:

The credibility of a global human-rights organization depends on its independence. Human Rights Watch has done important, critical work, but it can do better. It should implement at least a five-year “cooling-off” period before and after its associates move between HRW and the U.S. government’s foreign-policy divisions. Human Rights Watch associates should concentrate on protecting human rights. They should not have conflicts of interest with past or future careers in branches of the U.S. government that may themselves be involved in human-rights violations.

We eagerly await your reply, and believe that HRW’s implementation of cooling-off periods for its associates and its removal of Solana from its board of directors will represent valuable first steps toward greater independence. Thank you for engaging with us on issues that we believe are essential to the pursuit of human rights throughout the world.

Sincerely,

Mairead Maguire – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1977)

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1980)

Richard Falk – United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (2008-14)

Hans von Sponeck – United Nations Assistant Secretary General (1998-2000)

Keane Bhatt – activist, writer

 

July 11, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

America’s Long History of Bloodletting

By Lawrence Davidson | Consortium News | May 30, 2013

There is an American tradition of frequent war. Indeed, over the course of the country’s history the United States has been at war almost constantly. Some of these have been relatively short conflicts like interventions in various Central American venues. Some have been much larger and longer affairs, like the Civil War, World War II and Vietnam.

The point to be drawn from this is that the people of the United States are (perhaps unconsciously) acclimated to always being in one sort of armed conflict or another. Unfortunately, this history renders a recent public statement by the Pentagon’s general counsel, Jeb Johnson, into just a bit of fanciful idealism. He insisted “war must be regarded as a finite, extraordinary and unnatural state of affairs.” Certainly not for Americans.

An Army sergeant peers out the door of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter on the way to pick up soldiers in a training operation at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, May 23, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Percy Jones)

With their active assumption that the U.S. represents the world’s best chance for the victory of “good” against “evil,” Americans seem willing to battle on as long as they are convinced they are winning and the casualties are low. That may be why there was no popular protest when Michael Sheehan, Obama’s assistant secretary of defense for “special operations,” told a Senate hearing that the country’s “war on terror” might last “at least 10 or 20 years” longer (it has already been going on 12 years). In the mainstream media, there was not even a noticeable raising of an anchorperson’s eyebrows!

The reason given for Sheehan’s prognosis was that al-Qaida, and its franchise allies, keep recreating themselves as fast as their alleged leaders can be droned into oblivion. Missing from the congressional and media reaction was the obvious question of “how come” such groups keep recreating themselves?

Many middle-echelon State Department analysts familiar with the Middle East know the answer has something to do with the fact that U.S. policies in the region have not significantly changed since the 9/11 attacks. Most of the personnel above the middle echelon are political appointees who keep asserting that what motivates the al-Qaida types is religious fanaticism.

Of course there are religious fanatics at work on both sides of the “war on terror,” but those in the Middle East have grievances to focus on and U.S. policies are seen as one source of those. The fact that the “war on terror” is largely a consequence of American policies cemented into place by powerful special interests calls into question President Barack Obama’s recent assertion that “this is a just war, a war waged proportionally in last resort and in self-defense.”

It also suggests that the struggle is likely to go on and on until its ruinous consequences become so obvious to the voting public that the politicians are forced to break with their special-interest supporters. This is the real criterion for change, for, under the present circumstances, there will always be “terrorists” out there who, to reword (and correct) an assertion by President George W. Bush, “hate our policies.”

And what is there not to hate about draconian sanctions, the arming of dictators, and giving opened-ended support to the most racist state in the region?

Rules of Engagement

In the meantime, President Obama has been trying to create “rules of engagement” for the use of the government’s primary weapon in this endless war: those remote controlled bombs we call drones. These rules will, he says, provide “clear guidelines, oversight and accountability” and satisfy partisan congressional grumblings, if not the more pertinent questions of human rights advocates.

To this end the White House has issued guidelines concerning procedures for counterterrorism operations such as drone attacks. The guidelines tell us “there must be a legal basis for using lethal force” and decisions to use such “force against individual terrorists outside the United States and areas of active hostilities are made at the most senior levels of the U.S. Government.” The document then lays out other specific preconditions for the use of lethal force, among which are:

1. “Near certainty” that the terrorist target is present.

2. “Near certainty” that noncombatants will not be injured or killed.

3. An assessment that “capture is not feasible at the time of the operation.”

4. An assessment that the relevant governmental authorities in “the country where action is contemplated cannot or will not effectively address the threat to U.S. persons.”

5. An assessment that “no other reasonable alternatives exist” to effectively address the threat to U.S. persons.

Finally, “International legal principles, including respect for sovereignty and the law of armed conflict, impose important constraints on the ability of the United States to act unilaterally – and on the way in which the United States can use force. The United States respects national sovereignty and international law.”

The problem with these guidelines, beyond a number of undefined terms such as “near certainty,” “reasonable” and “feasible,” is that its criteria misrepresent reality or are utterly unreliable. For instance, under international law there is no “legal” basis for this sort of use of “lethal force.”

What the Obama administration (and the Bush regime before it) has done is take up the illegal Israeli “targeted assassination” program, which constitutes the behavior of a rogue state. Even from a domestic legal prospective, Obama’s criteria for targeted assassination will be carried out behind closed doors. There will be no due process. And there will be no accountability for “mistakes.”

Finally, nothing in the guidelines is enacted into legislation and therefore, assuming an effort to actually follow their criteria, they are specific to the Obama presidency and have no authority over his successors. As Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, put it, “a mere promise that the U.S. will work within established guidelines . . . provides little confidence that the U.S. is complying with international law.”

Throughout the country’s history of one war following another, there has been a parallel history of cyclical deterioration and recovery of constitutional rights.

However, with the government’s wholehearted embrace of targeted assassination, as well as modern surveillance technology and the precedent of offshore prisons for “enemy combatants,” one wonders if, from now on, the recovery of rights will ever be fully equal to their loss. Maybe now it really will be all downhill for freedom in the “land of the free.”

~

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

May 30, 2013 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes, Wars for Israel | , , , , , | Comments Off on America’s Long History of Bloodletting