WATCH OUT for 'Human Rights Watch' and 'Amnesty' !
Copy of a letter to the New York Sun
from Maurice Ostroff: A critic's first duty is to get his facts right
To The Editor September 3, 2006
A critic's first duty is to get his facts right
I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Roth's statement "A critic's first duty is to get his facts right" ‘Roth's False God' (NY Sun August 23). It is particularly appropriate as it is HRW's failure to separate fact from conjecture that gives rise to the severe criticism that has unfortunately diminished the stature of this very important humanitarian organization.
For example in his letter of August 8, ‘Roth's Supersessionism' Roth states categorically that Human Rights Watch researchers found no Hezbollah soldiers or arms anywhere in sight of a very large number of the civilians killed in their homes or vehicles by Israeli bombs.
HRW workers may well have found no signs of arms or Hezbollah soldiers when they arrived. But the statement that none were there immediately prior to, or at the time of the relevant attacks is conjecture. So too, is the assumption that the casualties found were all civilians. Permit me to explain.
In a letter I wrote to Mr. Roth on August 20, (which remains unacknowledged), I attached photographs of Hezbollah fighters on heavily armed vehicles in the midst of high rise residential areas. According to Chris Tinkler of the Australian Sunday Mail, the extremists use high-density residential areas as launch pads for rockets and heavy caliber weapons. Dressed in civilian clothing so they can quickly melt back into suburbia, the fighters carrying automatic assault rifles ride in on trucks laden with cannons. (My complete letter to Mr.Roth, including the photographs, may be found on the web at http://tinyurl.co.uk/nlio)
A little research reveals that it is futile to expect evidence of a rocket launcher, even soon after a firing. According to the Global Security Organization, mobile rocket launchers move out from underground facilities, fire from pre planned firing positions, and return in a few minutes to protected caves or to alternate firing positions.
Surely it is unforgivable for a serious organization to ignore evidence of this nature
It is puzzling that Mr. Roth seems to be unconcerned about Hezbollah's locating of military objectives near concentrations of civilians; a serious a war crime. Nor does he take into account that the laws of armed conflict do not preclude attacking a legitimate military target in the proximity of civilians.
I quote article 51.7 of the protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions, which specifically states; "The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favor or impede military operations"? This reinforces Art. 28 of the Fourth Geneva convention, which expressly states "The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations."
Sadly, in ignoring the regular, cynical and grossly illegal practice by Palestinian terrorists and Hezbollah of hiding behind civilians, and even launching their rockets from civilian houses, HRW fails to distinguish between cause and effect. Where have HRW investigators been while this inhumane practice has been deliberately used from day one in Jenin and Gaza?
How do HRW investigators manage to obtain information certain enough to permit them to condemn Israel, a state, struggling for its existence, when seasoned journalists admit difficulty in ascertaining facts in Hezbollah territory? For example, CNN's Nic Robertson admitted that Hezbollah controlled an anti-Israel piece he wrote and that in examining damaged buildings he was unable to "see if perhaps there was somebody there who was, you know, a taxi driver by day, and a Hezbollah fighter by night...." (http://newsbusters.org/node/6552)
Mr. Roth's reference to Qana is also subject to doubt. If HRW investigations are to be credible, they dare not ignore any shred of evidence, even evidence produced by bloggers who have raised strong suspicions that the Qana tragedy may have been staged by Hezbollah. More so since the exposure by bloggers of Dan Rather's story on 60 minutes and the admission by Reuters that photos have been doctored. I am not claiming that the accusations are accurate. I do state categorically that in a search for truth they cannot be ignored and must be investigated. (See http://tinyurl.com/jljdb)
There are other aspects which cannot be ignored if one is determined to ascertain the facts. It was reported that the roof of the building was intact when first viewed. Journalist Ben Wedeman of CNN noted that there was a large crater next to the building, but observed that the building appeared not to have collapsed as a result of the Israeli strike.
There were also widespread reports that civilians were unable to flee Qana due to destruction of bridges and roads. In the circumstances one wonders how HRW investigators journalists and rescue teams had no problem getting there in droves.
It is sad and disappointing that HRW has not raised strong criticism of Hezbollah's violation of every humanitarian law in cruelly withholding any shred of information about the kidnapped soldiers. The deliberate cruelty inflicted on the families is beyond comprehension. Is it too much to expect HRW to demand that the captives be visited by the Red Cross and be permitted to telephone their families in the presence of neutral parties?
In a recent article in the Jerusalem Post Mr. Roth accused Israel of indiscriminate bombardment. With respect, I suggest that a more realistic understanding of 'Indiscriminate bombardment" would have been achieved if HRW investigators had taken the trouble to interview and even to participate in planning sessions with a number of IAF pilots and an equal number of Hezbollah missile launchers to ascertain the factors they take into consideration in selecting their targets. There can be no doubt who would be judged guilty of "indiscriminate bombardment".
As Human Rights Watch is far too valuable a humanitarian instrument to be devalued by prejudice and bias, it is essential that it weigh evidence more carefully to ensure that reports are fair and balanced