politics, theology

Israel Has No Right To Act With Impunity

This is a theological post. I have every right to say what I will say and to claim that it is true. Why? Because I am a person who, though theologically educated in a “tradition”, is also a thinker whose theology has evolved through a painful process to the point of arriving close to where Nietzche found himself more than a century ago. I have evolved to the point of scoring all Abrahamic religions for the very same sin — the hubris of believing their respective religions give them the right to act with impunity.

Like the prophet Amos, I hate and despise this posturing, whether it comes from an Imam, a Rabbi or a minister. As Shoah suggests, the causes of the Holocaust were at bottom religious. So too are the underlying realities of many of the most intractable conflicts today.

I believe that there are two sins that are unforgiveable. The first is to deny a person the dignity of being able to say no, for I believe that Abba is within everyone and so too is the freedom to be who one is and who one shall be, period. The second is to claim one’s religion as a justification for acting with impunity. This is exactly what is claimed whenever any person or nation uses their power to deny life and liberty to “enemies” — most particularly civilians.

In a situation of profound conflict, it is necessary to be scrupulous in one’s judgments. Such scrupulousness has been the hallmark of Human Rights Watch.

One indication that Israel has been acting with impunity is the ferocity with which it has attacked the dispassionate conclusion of Human Rights Watch, an organization which is no less veracious than the prophet Amos was when he told the priests to take away the noise of their songs. Human Rights Watch exposes impunity with an equal brush, Arab and Israeli, US and China, etc.

Today’s climate has become demonic. And the culprit at the root is religion, or so I contend. A true understanding of who we are would strip us of our religious pretensions and acknowledge that we possess inherently a dignity that even our own sin cannot entirely eradicate.

Now I shall not attempt the herculean task of trying to undo what is being done to Human Rights Watch by its ferocious and unfair critics. I shall merely give you some references to enable you to reach your own conclusion. If you agree, you do not say I am for the Palestinians or I am for Israel. You say I am for truth. Until the participants in any conflict can step back and see more than the red heat of irrational war, there can be no peace.

Human Right Watch cited and documented an incident representing Israeli impunity in Gaza.


http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2009/08/13/white-flag-deaths-0 (Downloadable PDF)

Required reading. Objective reporting.

A Google news search for Joe Stork, the Human Rights Watch expert on the Middle East, will link you to a plethora of baseless and unfair attacks on both Stork and Human Rights Watch.

Required reading. Highly prejudiced opinion.

And here are some of the reasons I have been so insistent on saying Human Rights Watch is being treated with the same impunity I would criticize across the boards.

The true face of the so called “human Rights Watch”? Short and vitriolic, accuses Stork of supporting Palestinian terrorism against Israel.

Pathological politics: HRW’s “white flags” report Long and involved. Seeks to refute the facts of the HRW White Flag Report. If you take out the statements that have nothing to do with the evidence in the HRW report, it would be much shorter. But the purpose is to undermine trust of Human Rights Watch. The fact remains that HRW is the gold standard for unbiased human rights reporting, vetting each report with legal counsel and relying for support globally on the promise that it is being objective. This is what places current attacks in the “they do protest too much” category.

How human rights groups abuse their position I was about to credit this piece with a great POV until I got to the point where it gravitates to the main attack on Stork which is the most nefarious of the lot. If there is a mother lode of negativity toward HRW, it is Maariv’s Ben-Dror Yemini and here is a summary of his recently issued and false brief on Stork. And here is the report on which Yemeni relies. The slim pickings in this report are evidenced by taking a quote or Stork out of context and representing its message to be an endorsement of Palestinian violence. All Stork suggests is that Palestinians might be motivated to violence, a statement a FBI agent might have made in a report about the Black Panthers.

But whole cloth can be made from tissues of lies by able propagandists.

Generally when such accusations are made they just get repeated over and over by one side against the other.

I once spent a good deal of time investigating and then writing what was deemed to be a fair article on the late community organizer Saul Alinsky. This controversy reminds me of the sorts of tone I encountered back then. It is clear that Stork has detractors who will not respond to any argument, no matter how true or reasonable.

Innocent Israelis and Palestinians who have perished are victims of such closed minds. If there is collective guilt there is also collective causation.

The sage person will do better to remain silent than to venture into realms of untruth that mount up and serve to besmirch organizations that are our only protection against a world of total polarization and propaganda.


Medvedev: End Thuggery in Chechnya

Who else do we ask. Chechnya is not immune to a word from Moscow. Medvedev can give that word. It would be a simple one. End the thuggery.

The largest and one of the most egregious examples is today’s abduction and brutal murder of renowned human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, 50.

This page will gather the resources needed for what I hope will be a movement utilizing Twitter to prevail upon Medvedev to intervene in Chechnya and help bring an end to murderous thuggery by security forces there. It is beyond the level of indecency that should be allowed in a world that pretends to a measure of civilization.

I will Tweet this and use the hash tag #natalia to consolidate pieces gathered from the scene if possible and from around the world.

Here are salient news sources with brief quotes and source links:


MOSCOW — A prominent human rights worker who for a decade documented kidnappings and killings in Chechnya was snatched outside her home on Wednesday and found a few hours later near a highway in a neighboring republic, dead of gunshot wounds to the head and chest.



Estemirova was a researcher with the leading Russian human rights group Memorial for a decade and had worked closely with Human Rights Watch, including on its recent investigations into the punitive killings and house burnings against people suspected by Chechen authorities of having links to rebels.  She was named a top human rights defender by Human Rights Watch in 2007 under its Voices for Justice program. She received the European Parliament’s Robert Schuman medal in 2005, and the “Right to Life” award from the Swedish Parliament in 2004. She was the first recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya prize, in honor of the slain Russian journalist.

In Chechnya, where decades of armed conflict have made violence and abuse a daily reality, human rights defenders like Estemirova are rare. She was known for her fearlessness in exposing human rights violations and for demanding that perpetrators be held accountable.  At her urging, victims and witnesses of Chechnya’s brutalities broke their silence to denounce their abusers, some even testifying in court cases brought by Memorial and others in an attempt to see the perpetrators held to account.



A report was released on the same day as Estemirova’s killing, which calls for Russian officials, including Prime Minister Putin, to be held accountable for crimes while they have been in office.

Estemirova’s death is the latest in an increasing list of reporters, lawyers and activits who have been killed in Russia, according to Amnesty International.

In a report released in May of this year, Amnesty accuses President Medvedev of failing to live up to the human rights promises he made before being elected.

Amnesty says: “People continue to be ‘forcibly disappeared’ or abducted, arbitrarily detained, tortured or even killed while in detention. ”



A Likely (Future) Move To Federal Courts

Here’s how I think it will come down.

The tribunal/commission route will prove cumbersome and deficient in the dispensation of justice and the President will reconsider.

When the slavish flood of media has moved to some other issue of the day, there will be a gentle reconsideration.

The trial of detainees will end up where they should be. In our federal courts.

And the unassailable logic of Human Rights Watch and other salient observers will be vindicated.

And we will add the adjective canny to the list of attributes we accord the President.


Military Commissions: President Obama Needs To Change His Mind

I rarely publish press releases but I do not regard Human Rights Watch as a source of slanted information and self-serving prose. The following is considered, has a history and should cause the President to rethink his decision to use military commissions to try Guantanamo detainees. Why? Because he is Barack Obama and he has not only indicated that he would be wrong at times but that he, and we, can and should learn from our mistakes. This is one of those times. The reasoning is persuasive.

Complete release from Human Rights Watch:

US: Revival of Guantanamo Military Commissions a Blow to Justice. New Rules Won’t Ensure Fair Trials.

(Washington, DC, May 15, 2009) – The Obama administration’s decision to revive military commissions for detainees at Guantanamo will prolong the injustice of Guantanamo, Human Rights Watch said today. The commissions will provide substandard justice, and will likely be beset by litigation and delays.

“The military commissions system is flawed beyond repair,” said
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “By
resurrecting this failed Bush administration idea, President Obama is backtracking dangerously on his reform agenda.”

As a presidential candidate, Obama rightly called the military
commissions at Guantanamo “an enormous failure.” On his second day in office, he suspended the commissions for 120 days and announced plans to close the detention center at Guantanamo within a year.

Today, the administration announced that it would resume trials of
Guantanamo detainees by military commissions under new rules that would offer defendants greater legal protections. According to the administration, the new rules would prohibit the introduction of evidence obtained through coercion, tighten the use of hearsay evidence than under the existing military commission rules, and allow detainees greater choice in selecting defense lawyers.

Although the proposed changes to the commissions would be
improvements, they do not address fundamental concerns about the flawed nature of such tribunals, Human Rights Watch said. The very purpose of the commissions was to permit trials that lacked the full due process protections available to defendants in federal courts.

Some of the most egregious problems of the military commissions are the result of starting a system from scratch. Because the rules of procedure were ad hoc and untested, it was difficult to prepare a defense. For instance, the system in place to provide discovery to defendants left defense counsel without access to critical – and in some cases possibly exculpatory – evidence. Many issues became subject to myriad legal challenges, resulting in long and unnecessary delays.

An inherent problem with the commissions is their lack of
independence. Being part of the larger military structure, they are
vulnerable to improper executive branch influence and control.

Another issue of concern is the commissions’ continued reliance on hearsay evidence. Although some defenders of the commissions have pointed to international tribunals’ relatively permissive rules on hearsay, a crucial distinction is that the triers of fact in such tribunals are judges – who know to properly discount the weight of hearsay – not laypersons, who do not. Human Rights Watch knows of no criminal justice system other than Rwanda’s highly discredited gacaca courts in which hearsay is admitted before a jury of non-lawyers, as would be the case with the revised military commissions.

The proposed rules on hearsay open the door to obtaining convictions (and possibly death sentences) based on the testimony of dubious witnesses, people whom the government will not need to produce in court, because their testimony can be conveyed via hearsay.

“The revived military commissions will be deeply tainted by the moral and political baggage of the old commissions,” Roth said. “The unhappy history of these commissions virtually guarantees that in future commissions the unfairness of the proceedings will distract from the gravity of the crimes.”

Human Rights Watch said that whatever marginal benefits the
administration might see in obtaining easier convictions by using a
substandard trial process will be vastly outweighed by the negative
consequences of relying on the commissions. The United States can expect to face continuing international condemnation for restricting basic due process rights, and for failing to repudiate the legacy of Guantanamo. It will also discourage the international cooperation needed to successfully break up terrorist plots and apprehend terrorist suspects.

Human Rights Watch has long called on the US government to transfer the Guantanamo cases to US federal courts, where procedures that have withstood the test of time and litigation. Although critics assert that trials in US courts would jeopardize national security by exposing sensitive intelligence information, the courts are governed by carefully crafted rules that protect sensitive information from becoming public. Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Zacarias Moussaoui, implicated in the 9/11 attacks, were both tried and convicted in US federal courts.

“There is no good reason why the Guantanamo cases shouldn’t be tried in federal court,” Roth said. “In the more than seven years since the military commissions were announced, only three suspects have been prosecuted. The federal courts, by contrast, have tried more than 145 terrorism cases during the same period.”

For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on the Guantanamo military commissions, please visit:



Deportations Mar US Immigration Performance

Here’s something the Obama administration can do, sooner than later, as part of a needed effort to reform our tawdry treatment of the nonviolent.

(Washington, DC) – Three quarters of non-citizens deported from the United States over the last decade after serving criminal sentences were convicted of nonviolent offenses, and one in five had been in the country legally, sometimes for decades, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 64-page report, “Forced Apart (By the Numbers): Non-Citizens Deported Mostly for Nonviolent Offenses,” uses data from 1997 to 2007 from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to evaluate the effects of sweeping deportation laws passed in 1996. It shows that some of the most common crimes for which people were deported were relatively minor offenses, such as marijuana and cocaine possession or traffic offenses. Among legal immigrants who were deported, 77 percent had been convicted for such nonviolent crimes. Many had lived in the country for years and were forced apart from close family members.

“In 12 years of enforcing the 1996 deportation laws, no one bothered to ask whether ICE actually focused on the target group – undocumented immigrants convicted of serious, violent crimes,” said Alison Parker, deputy director of the US Program of Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “We now know that a good number of people who are here legally and who are convicted of nonviolent offenses are regularly swept into the dragnet.”

Human Rights Watch called on President Barack Obama and Congress to revise immigration laws to reduce the focus on deporting immigrants who are in the country legally. At a minimum, the report said, immigration law should be amended to permit legal immigrants facing deportation to ask a judge to allow them to remain in the United States when their crimes are relatively minor and their connections (especially family ties) to the United States are strong.



Human Rights Watch on Hillary’s Indescretion

Yes it was not cool for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to state that she would not muddy the waters by raising intractable human rights issues with the Chinese. But it gave human rights activists the opportunity to tell her how uncool it was. The head of Amnesty International got a chance on TV to explain just how noxious China is on human rights. And Human Rights weighed in as well:

“Secretary Clinton’s remarks point to a diplomatic strategy that has worked well for the Chinese government – segregating human rights issues into a dead-end ‘dialogue of the deaf.’ A new approach is needed, one in which the US engages China on the critical importance of human rights to a wide range of mutual security interests.”

Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch


News “events” like this offer a pretext for a sort of double whammy. The offended organizations can respond with appropriate salience. And the perps — in this case our Government — can respond by protesting their commitment to human rights and rememberi to emphasize it appropriately in the future.

My own reaction is that Hillary was merely being candid, rather in the manner of someone intending to interview Mike Tyson and knowing that if one says a particular thing one is likely to be KO-ed on the spot.

Borrow less and speak out more.


Unreported? Progressives Visit Obama

I would never have known without reading the following from Greg Sargent.

A number of progressive worthies had drinks at the White House with the President, the First Lady and the Vice President.

“The gist was, `We’re gonna need people out there telling the story of the stimulus and telling the story about how much we need big health care reform and clean energy and green jobs,’” the attendee says.

Among those on the guest list: Labor leaders Jimmy Hoffa, Gerry McEntee and Andy Stern, MoveOn’s Eli Pariser; Sierra Club’s Carl Pope; Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richardson; and Joe Solomonese of Human Rights Watch.

Word of the gathering first leaked out when Ben Smith posted Andy Stern’s Twitter saying he’d just been at the reception.

This is a key development for progressive leaders; more soon.

There is more where this came from.