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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Human Rights Watch and false moral equivalence 


Human Rights Watch is one of those NGOs about which I am enormously ambivalent. There is no question that in its fearless and rapid investigation of apparent abuses of human rights abuses, it sheds light on crimes that the world needs to know about. Unfortunately, it refracts that light through a moral prism that fails to distinguish between the crimes of fundamentally just countries -- which crimes, if they are crimes at all, are essentially failures of internal controls -- and those of fundamentally unjust countries or criminal non-governmental organizations that abuse human rights and engineer crimes of war as a matter of policy. This false equivalence may make it easier for HRW to operate across the lines of battle, but it undermines the organization's basic premise by indicting countries that fundamentally respect the law and legitimizing organizations that build entire strategies in contravention of it.

HRW's recent pronouncements on the Israeli-Hezbollah war are an example of this strained moral equivalence. On Saturday, HRW denounced Hezbollah's attacks on metropolitan Israel in a tough press release, "Hezbollah Must End Attacks on Civilians: Rocket Attacks on Civilians in Israel Are War Crimes."

“Lobbing rockets blindly into civilian areas is without doubt a war crime,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Nothing can justify this assault on the most fundamental standards for sparing civilians the hazards of war.”

Hezbollah claims that some of its attacks are aimed at military bases inside Israel, which are legitimate targets. But most of the attacks appear to have been directed at civilian areas and have hit pedestrians, hospitals, schools, homes and businesses.

The press release goes on, in the usual HRW fashion, to describe specific attacks according to time, method and location, and to name the people killed in those attacks, supported by the verbatim testimony of witnesses. Presumably, Human Rights Watch does this for at least two reasons. First, to build evidence for legal cases against those who launch attacks against the day when they may be brought to the bar. Second, because humanizing the casualties in these attacks makes it much harder to dismiss them.

In the same press release, though, HRW examines Hezbollah's motives for the attacks against Israeli civilians, and sees nothing but tit-for-tat:
Yesterday, Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, offered to stop bombing Israel’s “northern settlements” if the Israeli military stopped bombing Lebanon’s “cities and civilians.” He also warned that an Israeli attack on Beirut would result in Hezbollah bombing Tel Aviv....

“Human Rights Watch has documented the Israeli military’s persistent use of indiscriminate force, which has killed hundreds of Lebanese civilians,” Roth said. “But war crimes by one side in a conflict never justify war crimes by another. Hezbollah must stop using the excuse of Israeli misconduct to justify its own.” (bold emphasis added)

The bolded statement is certainly true, but it ignores the rather relevant point that for Hezbollah the killing of Israeli civilians is its policy, and killing all Israeli Jews is its objective. Hezbollah has said this rather clearly, beginning with its political manifesto of February 16, 1985. Israel has never expressed a corresponding objective nor acted as if it had one, notwithstanding accusations to the contrary. This is an important difference, and ought to be recognized as one by an organization such as Human Rights Watch, dedicated as it is to the rule of law.

Two days earlier, on August 3, Human Rights issued a 49-page report(pdf) on attacks by Israel, "Fatal Strikes: Israel's Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians In Lebanon." Supporters of Israel need to read the report for two reasons. First, they need to understand that IDF soldiers and airmen have done some things in this war that they should not have done, and in a couple of cases they appear to have been brutal when brutality was not called for. The "human shield" explanation does not apply in every case, although it applies more often than HRW allows. Second, Israel's opponents are going to be quoting from it at length, usually out of context, so supporters need to know what HRW wrote. You can get through it in well under an hour.

The HRW report on Israel's attacks details specific cases in the same style as the press release's examination of Hezbollah's attacks. Several of those cases are very troubling. For example:
At 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 15, an Israeli airplane fired at a three-story civilian home in Bent Jbeil, a large town near Lebanon’s border with Israel. The strike collapsed the home, killing 80-year-old Haj Abu Naji Mrouj, and his 40-year-old daughter whose name is unknown to Human Rights Watch, and trapping their bodies under the rubble. Hashem Kazan, 16, who was wounded in the second strike while trying to recover the bodies (see below), told Human Rights Watch that Haj Abu Naji Mrouj had nothing to do with Hezbollah. “Haj Abu Naji was not Hezbollah; he was an old man who didn’t work anymore,” he said. “The Haj just lived in his house with his daughter.” The bodies of Haj Abu Naji and his daughter remain buried in the rubble of their demolished home. Another witness denied that there was any Hezbollah presence at or near the home at the time of the attack.

While villagers were attempting to dig the bodies out of the rubble, an Israeli warplane fired a second missile at the rubble and the rescuers at around 1:15 p.m., killing two male civilians, including 30-year-old Bilal Hreish, a U.S.-Lebanese dual national. Hashem Kazan told Human Rights Watch how he was wounded during the second attack as he worked to recover the bodies:
There was no Hezbollah at the house when I went there, and there was no fighting taking place in the village—there was no one but civilians. The civil defense was there to help us [recover the bodies]. Originally, there were about fifty people at the rubble trying to help, but then we were only about ten. We were on the rooftop of the house when we were hit. I didn’t hear anything, I just heard the explosion.

Hashem Kazan told Human Rights Watch that at least six were wounded in the second air strike, including two sons of Haj Abu Naji Mrouj.

Some of these HRW "cases" look worse for Israel's pilots and soldiers than others. Many of the cases involve attacks on locations where Hezbollah soldiers had been, but were no longer. HRW seems to think that Israel needs to locate the enemy in real time, an unreasonable requirement in an asymmetrical war. In all, the HRW report describes roughly 25 cases, perhaps a third of which seem particularly tough to explain away, at least on the facts unearthed by HRW's investigators. More than 150 apparent civilians died in the documented attacks, more than 60 of whom were children.

Of course, it is tough to judge any of these numbers out of context. During roughly the period covered by the HRW report, Israel flew almost 7000 sorties, and attacked 3300 targets from the air. By that reckoning, very few of Israel's attacks killed civilians, which goes a long way toward undermining any argument that such attacks are intentional above the level of the individual pilot.1 HRW leans in the direction of context, but does so in a way that tilts toward Hezbollah's talking points to such a degree that it seriously undermines its own credibility:
Human Rights Watch is hardly asserting that all Israeli strikes have targeted civilians. There are obviously many cases in which Israeli forces attacked legitimate military targets, such as rocket launchers and dug-in military positions.

Even allowing that HRW has probably missed some cases even as it overstates Israel's culpability in others, possibly unlawful cases constituted fewer than 1% of attacks during that period. Measured by casualties, the aggregate civilian deaths in Lebanon as of the date of HRW's study was under 500, or less than one for every six air attacks. Either way, attacks on civilians represented a tiny proportion of the total, far fewer than the "all" that HRW "is hardly asserting." A note that Israel caused civilian deaths exceptionally, rather than by design, would have made for much more credible indictments in the cases where crimes might have occurred.

HRW's "recommendations" also reflect false moral equivalence. They appear to slap down all the actors involved, but in fact legitimize all sort of illegal actions. Pages 11-13 include enumerated recommendations to Israel, the United Nations, the United States, the United Kingdom, Hezbollah and Syria and Iran. Compare the recommendations to Israel, on the one hand, and Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, on the other hand:
To the Government of Israel

All forces should be immediately ordered to uphold fundamental principles of international humanitarian law. In particular, they must:

• Distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives, and cease any deliberate targeting of civilians.

• Cease all indiscriminate attacks, in particular indiscriminate bombardments against cities, towns, villages and other areas in which civilians are concentrated.

• Scrupulously observe the principle of proportionality. Cease launching any attack that may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof that would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

• Immediately cease the use of cluster munitions in Lebanon until the dud rate can be reduced dramatically. If cluster munitions are employed, they should never be used in or near populated areas.

• Never target humanitarian personnel, convoys and objects, or peacekeeping personnel, all of whom are entitled to the protections given to civilians.

• Instruct all levels of government to cooperate with international investigations into violations of international humanitarian law, including the Commission of Inquiry proposed below.

While there is room to argue with HRW's implicit interpretation of the law in a couple of these recommendations and the suggestion that Israel "cease" activities it has not admitted to (e.g., "indiscriminate" attacks), most of this stuff lands within Israel's policies and aspirations, even if it does not have perfect compliance. Now let's look at the recommendations for Hezbollah:
To Hezbollah

• Cease all indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli cities, towns, villages and other areas in which civilians are concentrated as well as any deliberate targeting of civilians.

• Make all feasible efforts to avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas and to remove civilian persons or objects under its control from the vicinity of military objectives.

• Under no circumstance take advantage of the location of civilians or other persons protected under international law for the purpose of shielding a military objective from attack or to favor or impede military operations.

These recommendations are startling for their obvious omissions. There is no recommendation that Hezbollah abandon its policy of killing Jewish Israeli civilians. Also, there is no recommendation that Hezbollah fighters wear uniforms. This is especially surprising, because Hezbollah's refusal to wear uniforms makes it much harder for Israel to "distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants," HRW's first recommendation to Israel. It is almost as if HRW is endorsing the fighting of wars without uniforms, which history reveals is catastrophic for civilians.

Now look at the recommendation to Syria and Iran:
To the Governments of Syria and Iran

• Do not permit transfers to Hezbollah of arms, ammunition, and other materiel that have been documented or credibly alleged to have been used in violation of international humanitarian law in Lebanon, as well as funding or support for such materiel, pending an end to the violations. (emphasis added)

Presumably, HRW inserted the italicized text to make its recommendation to Syria and Iran [typo corrected] symmetrical with its recommendation to the United States that it suspend shipments of weapons "that have been documented or credibly alleged to have been used in violation of international humanitarian law in Lebanon, as well as funding or support for such material, pending an end to the violations." The problem is, all shipments of arms to Hezbollah -- which is supposed to disarm per the United Nations Security Council -- flout international law. They do not become lawful simply because Hezbollah stops shooting at Israeli civilians. By proposing this false equivalence HRW legitimizes the criminal intervention of Iran and Syria in Lebanon's internal politics.

HRW's false moral equivalence may be driven by the politics of its staff or the requirement that it not too thoroughly anger Hezbollah. In either case, the result is a propaganda victory for Hezbollah and its clients. Human Rights Watch's false moral equivalence strengthens the vicious enemies of human rights at the expense of those who would defend them. That is a shame.

UPDATE: Power Line takes up the subject with links to various commentators who argue that HRW is heavily biased against Israel. I agree, in case that wasn't obvious. It is different from my point, which is that HRW's false equivalence undermines its own mission by supporting rogue regimes and criminal organizations, but obviously important to supporters of Israel.

BONUS: If you have not yet identified your lunchtime reading, consider Andy McCarthy's article from the February issue of Commentary, "International Law vs. The United States." It is essential context necessary to understand the claims of the "transnational progressives" who seem to dominate HWR and other NGOs.
_________________________________
1. It would be surprising if over the course of such a difficult war there weren't a few instances where Israeli pilots used very poor judgment, or even unloaded on civilians in rage. It happens in every war. However, given the low frequency of civilian casualties compared to the number of missions and attacks, individual pilot error or rage is a much more plausible explanation than the absurd claim from the pro-Hezbollah activists and propagandists that it is Israel's policy to attack civilians.

24 Comments:

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Aug 08, 08:25:00 AM:

your first paragraph under "To the Governments of Syria and Iran" begins "Presumably, HRW inserted the italicized text to make its recommendation to Syria and India..." I think you ment Iran  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Tue Aug 08, 08:31:00 AM:

Ignore, if you want, the recommendations and pronouncements of HRW in re: Israel's conduct. What is important is that the atrocities committed by *both* sides will be recorded forever. When you blithely mention,
"which crimes, if they are crimes at all, are essentially failures of internal controls"
you show that you *need* to be brought face to face with just what "failures of internal controls" means, and that is HRW's job.

I support the Israel in this war, but you're trying to look away from the dead children with that blase phrase - and if you want to stay on the moral high horse, you need to look the horror of war in the face and not flinch.

This kind of cowardice is what enrages us lefties about you hawks: when an Abu Ghraib happens, or when people get tortured at Guantanamo bay, you call it a "failure of controls." It's not just that!! It is *horror* of the highest order. If you want to support war, you'll be much more credible if you acknowledge how horrible it is and not try and cynically minimize its impact to shape the political debate.

Also, there's a bit of a disconnect in your post. First you quote HRW instructing Hez,
"Cease all indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli cities, towns, villages and other areas in which civilians are concentrated as well as any deliberate targeting of civilians."
Then you say,
"Cease all indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli cities, towns, villages and other areas in which civilians are concentrated as well as any deliberate targeting of civilians."


Wha?  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Tue Aug 08, 08:33:00 AM:

oops: pasting failure.

Meant to quote "There is no recommendation that Hezbollah abandon its policy of killing Jewish Israeli civilians." in the second quote. It's early.  

By Blogger Robert Schwartz, at Tue Aug 08, 09:23:00 AM:

Assuming that all of the allegations of the "report" are true, they still amount to nothing because the standard of behavior by which HRW seeks to judge Israel's actions is so far at variance with anything resembling war as it really conducted.

The law of war, to the extent that it is not an oxymoron, is codified in a series of Treaties that include the Geneva Conventions and the International Criminal Court. The underlying premise of those instruments and the body of commentary that has grown up around them is that war is an activity that occurs at a remove from the rest of the world. It is fought between armies that are organized, have uniforms and ranks, and are professionals who are remote from the political issues that may have caused the war, on battlefields delimited from the mundane world. It is a profoundly anachronistic and romantic view suitable only for fantasy novels.

In fact, for the last few hundred years, since the wars of religion, the Napoleonic wars, and the World Wars of the 20th Century, war has become completely unlike that profile. Wars include the deliberate targeting of civilian populations and infrastructure. Wars are won when the enemy has lost the further will to fight, which may require massive destruction of populations and civil infrastructure.

Further, weaker groups have discovered (or more properly rediscovered) the advantages of inverting the very structures presumed by professional militaries. Hezbollah, while clearly well trained and well organized, shuns uniforms and insignias, and fortifies locations within civilian areas.

Because of the fundamental disconnect between the legal conception of war and the real world, countries that fight asymmetrical embedded guerrilla forces, such as Israel and the United States, will always be guilty of war crimes.

We can either worry about that or decide that it is not a real problem and move on.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Aug 08, 09:27:00 AM:

Phrizz11, regarding the "disconnect" to which you refer: The point, which apparently I failed to make clearly, is that Hezbollah has as its mission, not just in this war but in its founding documents, to kill Jews in the Levant. HRW might have worked itself up to observe that the murder of even non-Israeli Arabs is a gross violation of Israeli law and prosecuted as such (allowing for room to argue about what amounts to murder in war), while Hezbollah does not even regard the reverse as a crime. There is a huge difference there that HRW would have done well to point out. Similarly, HRW might have acknowledged that Israel investigates its own allegedly unlawful attacks, and sometimes even disciplines or prosecutes its soldiers. Hezbollah does not. There is another difference in policy.

Regarding your first point, which somehow morphed into me being a "coward": Nobody, or almost nobody, is happy about either the abuses of Abu Ghraib or the killing of civilians in war. However, abuses and crimes always occur in war. It is impossible to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people, arm them, put them in jeopardy of their lives, and not expect (i) a few bad apples to work out their stuff on the enemy, and (ii) a few basically good apples to crack under the strain. The question is, what do you do about it? Do you investigate, adjudicate and discipline (as happens in both the American and Israeli military) or do you make such abuses and crimes part of your strategy?

Now, I don't want to get the "torture" thing going here. I think the American chain of command screwed up massively, in that it created huge pressure without setting the right tone from the top. However, the systems we have for policing the infractions did investigate, adjudicate and discipline the people involved, at least up to a certain level. Whether we applied precisely the level of executive culpability that the left likes to apply to business cases is another matter, but it does not mean that we are not qualitatively different from the enemy.  

By Anonymous skip davis, at Tue Aug 08, 10:30:00 AM:

But why the artful dodging when it has all be spelled out before:

"There is a huge gap between us (Jews) and our enemies not just in ability but in morality, culture, sanctity of life, and conscience. They are our neighbors here, but it seems as if at a distance of a few hundred meters away, there are people who do not belong to our continent, to our world, but actually belong to a different galaxy." [Israeli president Moshe Katsav. The Jerusalem Post, May 10, 2001]

Not a control problem it seems, but rather an attitudinal one. This wasn't a nutbag cleric being "translated" by MEMRI.  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Tue Aug 08, 10:48:00 AM:

TH: sorry about the "coward" comment, that came out wrong. I hurt my back playing ultimate yesterday so I'm a little cranky.

I see your point now about HRW's failure to make the distinction between policy and a mistake. It's really unfortunate for such an important organization to fail to make that distinction, especially when coupled with the statements made by its director. IMO HRW would be more effective if it tried to stay neutral on the political issues, and just "call em as it sees em."  

By Blogger Shan, at Tue Aug 08, 10:59:00 AM:

An Israeli officer today, via Haaretz:

"We are now in a process of renewed escalation. We will continue hitting everything that moves in Hezbollah - but we will also hit strategic civilian infrastructure...It could be that at the end of the story, Lebanon will be dark for a few years."

This certainly undermines your contention that Israeli crimes are failures of internal controls. The directive to harm civilains is coming from Israeli leadership.

http://www.cggl.org/scripts/new.asp?id=670  

By Blogger geoffgo, at Tue Aug 08, 12:11:00 PM:

Phrizz11,

HRW should be neutral? Like one side isn't the "bad guys?" Neutral like much of the US media?
To paraphrase Sir Winston, you can't be neutral to a crocodile.

We want HRW to be truthful, not neutral. Objectivity is not neutrality; it's about observing the reality and speaking/acting rationally for a rightious cause.  

By Blogger geoffgo, at Tue Aug 08, 12:18:00 PM:

Shan,

Um...12-hours of darkness everyday and no electricity versus carpet bombing, is very controlled "harm" to those civilians who tactily support the Hez and encourage them continue their jihad against Israel.

So, I guess you think that if Israel runs low on smart bombs, they must cease to engage the enemy with tooth and nail?  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Tue Aug 08, 12:33:00 PM:

geoffgo: absolutely, HRW should be neutral. Lack of neutrality by HRW will call its objectivity into question, and that would be counterproductive to what it is trying to acheive. Just look at the damage that is being done to its credibility by its (disclaimer - I haven't read the report) anti-Israel slant.

One day, let's hope that the Hez perpetrators will answer for their war crimes at the Hague - and when they do, we don't want one of the defenses of their attorneys to be, "these alleged abuses are documented by a partisan, unreliable source..."  

By Blogger Steven Den Beste, at Tue Aug 08, 01:05:00 PM:

What is "international humanitarian law"?

If they mean the Geneva Convention, why don't they say so? If not, then it's a Trojan horse to try to slip their ideas past as some sort of "emerging international law", another bogus phrase we've heard a lot.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Aug 08, 01:26:00 PM:

I'd just like to go on record to say that The Hague is a joke. Ref: Trial of Slobodan Milosovic. Worthless waste of time, effort, and money that, in the end, did absolutely nothing. The mastermind of tens of thousands of murders died in his sleep.

If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times... there is no such thing as 'international law.' At best, nations are limited by treaties they may have signed, and then (as Iran and N. Korea have proven) are not really beholden to them because no one has the balls to do anything about it when they break them.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Aug 08, 01:51:00 PM:

Steven DenB: Agreed. In fairness, though, HRW has a multi-page discussion of the relevant international law -- citing treaty provisions and such -- at the end of the report, which I commend to readers who know more about it than I. I did not invest the time to study it against the actual law -- some expertise, which I do not have, would be required. That having been said, HRW seemed to argue for more restrictive interpretations of the law than most countries in fact support.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Tue Aug 08, 03:15:00 PM:

Somewhere in the narrative it gets lost that Hezbollah is an army with no country and no uniform. It resides within Lebanon, shields itself with civilians and quasi civilians and fortifies hospitals, mosques and any other structure which our set of principles precludes us from bombing.

Hezbollah is SMART and TOUGH. They are playing to win. They are COMMITTED.

For our part, the US and Israel are better equipped, wealthier and equally tough. What they lack is sufficient commitment to the barbarity of war. They and we have become so accustomed to stopping short of victory -- and a negotiated solution short of unconditional surrender -- that we have forgotten how to play to win.

That's fine when you deal with reconcileable systems or differences. But political, theocratic islam (whether sunni or shiite) is simply irreconcileable with tolerant religious systems. One must win, one must lose. Then the only question is the cost in lives. Today, we can win with less cost in lives than will be the case when political, theocratic islamists have more potent weaponry.

Ahmedinejad has stated that he is preparing an August 22nd surprise for us. I wonder if we will have a surprise for him...  

By Anonymous Jacko, at Tue Aug 08, 03:16:00 PM:

Very well drawn essay TigerHawk, and good discussion in the comments.

But I wonder if the reality is even starker than described:
1) The civilians in question may be rather more than horrific collateral damage. Passive or no, they are cohabitating, supporting, and electing the Hezbollah. I have seen a number of Israeli articles challenging our western assumption that the Hezbollah is even generally distinct from Lebanon. This assertion is not surprising coming from the source, but to the extent its true it foundationally changes the argument.

2) The whole situation above and HRW's approach should also be fundamentally altered by the fact the the main UN peace keeping force charged with disarming the Hezbollah these many years has also been living passively in Southern Lebanon, smudging themselves and the citizenry with a complicit, dirty black tar of collusion and guilt.

The longer bystanders remain actionless, the more they resemble abetters. And the stronger and nastier must the reaction be when it finally arrives.

If Lebanese citizens are innocent captives of a terrorist group (albeit one that clothes and educates them) why now bemoan their Israeli liberators? "I believe thou dost protest too much."

I'll end my diatribe by stealing another's poster's sentence: "If you want to stay on the moral high horse, you need to look the horror of war in the face and not flinch."

It occurs to me that there's more than one way to interpret that.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Tue Aug 08, 08:03:00 PM:

So Israel has managed to accidentally kill 10x the number of civilians that Hezbollah has intentionally killed.

What an unusal war.  

By Blogger Tom, at Tue Aug 08, 08:50:00 PM:

We seem to have some confusion here between being "neutral" and being "objective".

Being "neutral" means you don't care who wins

Being "objective" means you care who wins, but call them as you see them.

To me the morally correct position is that groups like HRW should be objective but not neutral.

A few more thoughts.

The United States and Great Britain killed far more German and Japanese civilians than they killed of us. With the US, neither Germany nor Japan attacked our homeland (Hawaii not being a state, and they only hit the military bases).

By our current post-modern standards, then, was our response to Pearl Harbor not disproportionate?  

By Blogger Dave Schuler, at Tue Aug 08, 09:23:00 PM:

What's missing from the HRW statement is that Hezbollah's wielding of force, either offensively or defensively, is illegitimate and cannot be legitimized by a change of tactics on their part.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue Aug 08, 11:29:00 PM:

HRW falls victim to the idea that because there is no black-and-white, that all shades of gray are the same. In a fallen world, all are moral distinctions will be between varying shades of gray, but it is important that we make them nonetheless.

phrizz11, I have a good deal of sympathy for your point of view - that even looking into the face of evil we must keep our bearings and the best morality we can bring forth. I work in a very liberal field, and most of my conversations with people do not seem to allow what seem to me to be elementary distinctions: if I make even the smallest qualifier about Abu Ghraib or Qana I am accused of making excuses for evil, yet the evil of our enemies is seldom mentioned in anything but a perfunctory fashion. As you seem to not be one of those, I welcome you and would gladly spar with you. What frustrates you about conservatives - and I acknowledge it - is the mirror image of what I encounter from liberals: a refusal to consider any context or extenuation.

I knew there were sane liberals out there, and that I would run into more of them if I kept my eyes open.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Aug 09, 06:01:00 AM:

Major problems with the post and many of the comments.

First, and critically, HRW does not have anything approximating "the facts" about the Israeli strikes. Local residents are far worse than useless as witnesses, for obvious reasons. And, without question, HRW has absolutely no access to any Israeli targeting intel or decision-making, without which not even a preliminary judgement can be made about the legality of a given strike.

Second, related to this, and many here seem under the common misperception to the contrary, but killing civilians is NOT a war crime. NOT. It entirely depends on the circumstances.

Third, this leads directly to the key issue, which HRW obviously does not engage seriously - or it would constitute the entirety of their "report" - it IS a war crime to deliberately blur the distinction between combatants and non-combatants by doing what HB does: base one's military activities out of civilian areas.

Fourth, the question of targeting infrastructure probably falls fairly neatly under the category of actions that must be evaluated in terms of their cost vs. their military value. Not sure how power plants or fuel dumps fit in -but also not sure they don't - but is it so hard to see the direct military value of disrupting transportation systems over which a combatant force (HB) moves its personnel and materiel? Each Israeli strike would have to be evaluated on its own, and some may well fail the test - but it seems most people assume that such strike are ipso facto contrary to the Conventions or customary rules of war, and they're not.

Finally, I can't join AVI in his sympathy for phrizz's viewpoint. I've no idea what "conservative" or "liberal" has to do with anything substantive (they're meaningless to me), but the utter lack of context or even substantive understanding on things like Abu and Gitmo are NOT symmetrically distributed. "Critics" are almost invariably misinformed and prone to context-free judgements.

TigerHawk has it exactly right about the difference between what are actually normal failures among humans within good and moral systems vs. the depravities that are routine within evil systems (if one can bestow the term "system" on some of the outfits in question).

And to the commenter who asserted command failure WRT detainee operations, I'd have to point out that the facts don't support him. The relentless distortion of the media, based on HRW products and similar, don't change the fact that abuse of prisoners has been rare and not based on any direction from above. And any ambiguities left by justified reactions to the novel situations since 9/11 resulted in confusion for only a tiny minority of personnel - confirming that existing regulations were of course sufficient as guidelines to most. That's why the few miscreants being prosecuted are all being convicted - their defenses based on reasoning along the lines used by the commenter have not just failed, they've been utterly demolished in court martials to date.

The moral insanity gripping much of the planet since 9/11 seems only to be getting worse. Today the ICRC, formerly an important organization with a crucial mission of promoting and enforcing the Conventions, yet again demonstrated how far off the rails it has gone, with a comment from one of their officials sarcastically dismissing Israeli use of leaflets to warn non-combatants away from activities/areas that would be dangerous. Nearly every single act of Hezbollah constitutes a gross violation of the most serious principles of the Conventions and customary law - and there's no doubt whatsoever that these are systematic, deliberate, and matters of policy. Yet the rare public comments are reserved for the Israelis, whose putative violations seem extremely doubtful given their enemy's systematic attempt to gain military advantage by placing non-combatants at risk.

But remember: we have almost no relevant facts on which to base a detailed conclusion. That includes "civilian casualties" - not only their actual number, but how many of them are directly attributable to Hezbollah actions (recall that Hezbollah bears the ENTIRE legal burden if/when it consciously places civilians in danger).  

By Blogger Kalman Rushdie, at Wed Aug 09, 01:15:00 PM:

Human Rights Watch's 50-page report on Israel killing civilians is based on unverifiable claims and cannot be considered credible. The statement quotes "witnesses" from Qana and elsewhere, as well as the local rescue workers who reportedly did not see "any evidence of Hezbollah military presence in or around the home." This testimony comes from biased sources and cannot serve as the conclusion that "the IDF has blurred the distinction between civilians and combatants."

HRW's statement fails to note that this area is controlled by the Hizbollah terror group, and HRW also ignores the photos and other evidence presented by other sources. As clearly demonstrated by NGO Monitor, previous HRW reports and condemnations targeting Israel, routinely based on unverifiable and unreliable "evidence", and ignoring the other information, demonstrate a pattern of bias and lack of credibility. In addition, the failure to condemn the pervasive use of human shields by Hizbollah, which is a basic violation of human rights norms, highlights the bias in HRW reports.

It would be beneficial for people to look at www.ngo-monitor.org for more information. These is the main group demanding accountablity from these NGOs.  

By Anonymous Tim Wilkinson, at Thu Aug 10, 10:13:00 AM:

1. Hezbollah doesn't recognise Israel as a state, and regards it effectively as a bunch of squatters who should be kicked out. That's their view. They don't call for the killing of civilians.

2. There's no such thing as international law because people break it? The there's no such thing as the criminal law, either.

3. US won't be a superpower much longer, thank God. China and India are far more civilised than you lot. You deserve the cretin Bush. The rest of the world doesn't.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Thu Aug 10, 08:43:00 PM:

1. So therefore, squatters are not civilians? Outstanding, I think I'll go grab my gun and start clearing out the local homeless population.

It's so clear now, it's all a matter of perspective. If they don't see Israeli civilians as deserving of protection (because they aren't really civilians, they're squatters) they can do whatever they want and its ok. This is also good, because I don't really see Arabs as people; more like vermin to be extinguished. (much like they see Jews, actually)

2. Wow, I bet you thought you struck some kind of marvelous intellectual coup with that pithy little comment didn't you?

No, genius, international law doesn't exist because "law" implies the existence of a higher authority able and willing to enforce said laws. There is no such thing, and no such thing will ever be established in the current international system because it infringes upon that holiest of holies for nation-states; soveriegnty. Surely you've heard of it. Third world nations scream about it regularly, even when it doesn't actually apply to the situation. The closest such phenomenon (which I mentioned) are international treaties that states sign willingly, and can break at will.

3. I can't speak much on the subject of India (and I suspect you can't either, based on your comment as a whole) but you're an ignorant fool if you think the Chinese are more civilized than 'our lot.'

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square_protests_of_1989
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Revolution
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_leap_forward
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China

As for being a superpower much longer, would you a) like to give a time-table and/or reasoning, since your statement as it stands is vague and worthless and b)like to put money on it? Because you're going to be terribly disappointed.  

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