Friday, January 28, 2011

Amnesty International Crosses a Line on Flotilla Report; Malcolm Smart Should Step Down

Eldad Tzioni

On January 24, Israel released the results of a months-long, independent investigation into the conduct of the IDF while intercepting the Gaza flotilla, including the Mavi Marmara, last May. The commission that was tasked with investigating the incident was led by a distinguished former Supreme Court judge, Jacob Turkel. It included two international observers: Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner William David Trimble and Canadian former military judge Ken Watkin. The full report, which is nearly 300 pages long, gives an exhaustive account of all the relevant issues, of testimonies it had access to, of the legal issues involved, and whether the IDF made any mistakes. The commission literally counted every bullet and paint-gun round used by the IDF and, as much as it could, accounted for exactly how they were used, examining each of 133 separate cases of force used on the Mavi Marmara.

In the end, after months collecting evidence, painstaking research and dozens of testimonies, the Turkel Commission report exonerated the IDF for its actions.

One need only to glance at any page of the report to see how seriously the commission took its responsibilities. The international observers underscore this point:

All testimonies, both in open and private session and all formal meetings of the Commission were, of course, conducted in Hebrew. However they were simultaneously translated for us into English. In the early days there were some difficulties with the translation of documents into English; these were quickly overcome as our work proceeded.

We are glad that the Commission made repeated efforts to hear both sides, extending to making arrangement for evidence to be given by video conferencing and offering to take evidence in a neutral location. We regret that these offers were not taken up. But we would like to express our appreciation of the Israeli Arabs, who were on the Mavi Marmara and who gave evidence to us. We would also like to thank the representatives of the Israeli Human Rights Non-Governmental Organizations who testified and provided significant material to the Commission.

The Commission made enormous efforts, to get as much information as possible. This involved going back to the IDF for additional information, obtaining further staff to examine all the video material (hundreds of hours) including the CCTV downloaded from the Mavi Marmara and to collate the material so that it has been able to examine each use of force by the IDF. We have also been impressed with the efforts of the small but very dedicated team of lawyers supporting the work of the Commission.

We have no doubt that the Commission is independent. This part of the report is evidence of its rigour.

It is clear that the commission members were aware that they would be accused of partiality, and so bent over backwards to make the investigation and methodology as open as possible. It is not possible for a fair-minded observer to read the report and find any major fault with how the Turkel Commission did its job.

Which brings us to Amnesty International.

On Monday, a full day after the report was available to be read by anyone on the Internet, Amnesty came out with this statement about the Turkel Commission report (emphasis mine):

Amnesty International has questioned the findings of an Israeli inquiry into last year’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla after it cleared the Israeli armed forces of wrongdoing.

The commission, led by retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, published its findings yesterday. It concluded that the Israeli military had not breached international law when it forcibly intercepted and boarded the ships on 31 May 2010, killing nine activists.

“We have yet to study the full details of Judge Turkel’s 300 page report but it certainly appears like a ‘whitewash’, with the Israeli authorities exonerated of wrongdoing although their actions left nine people dead,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director.

“Frankly, the credibility of Judge Turkel’s investigation has been in question since it was first set up. Unfortunately, it now seems clear that the doubts that we and others had about its independence have been proved correct.”

“This outcome will serve only to reinforce the widespread view that the Israel authorities are now unwilling and incapable of delivering justice and accountability for abuses of international law and human rights violations committed by their forces.”

Amnesty International is publicly accusing the Turkel Commission of lying and malfeasance–without even reading the report.

Amnesty did not perform its own investigation in the flotilla incident. It has not published any major report on the topic. Yet, based on nothing more than hearsay, it accuses the prestigious members of the commission and the international observers — people whose efforts are public and transparent — of whitewashing the truth.

Amnesty’s criticism is based on nothing more than not liking the conclusions – conclusions that Amnesty had already determined without the bother of actually checking any facts. It goes even further, and accuses Israel of being an inherently unjust state.

How can Amnesty present itself as a fair arbiter of human rights when it convicts Israel of crimes without even knowing the basic facts?

This was not an offhand statement by a low-level Amnesty employee. This statement, that presupposes Israel’s guilt without any proof, was made by Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director — and published on Amnesty’s website.

This one press release by Amnesty should be enough to cast doubt on every single report it ever releases — certainly any report about Israel. Simply stated, Amnesty has proven here beyond any doubt that it has a severe bias against Israel.

The irony, of course, is that Amnesty’s statement disparaging the Turkel Commission for coming to a predetermined conclusion is exactly what the organization has just proven itself guilty of. Any objective person must now question the fairness of every Amnesty report written about Israel.

We can state with certainty that Amnesty’s methodology used in researching its own reports do not come close to the rigor displayed by the Turkel Commission. Apparently, Amnesty’s research uses the same methodology that it exhibits here: determine who is guilty first, and then highlight only the evidence that fits its foregone conclusions.

Amnesty must apologize for this travesty of a press release, and if it values its reputation, Malcolm Smart must be fired immediately for his ignorant, irresponsible and slanderous statement.

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