Jews and Genocide

Standard

An audio commentary: http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/82622

 A sort of companion piece to the article “The Refugee Crisis and the New Holocaust” which explores the political misuse of Holocaust exceptionalism and Judeocide exceptionalism to mask the genocidal nature of empires past and present.

link to mp3: https://archive.org/download/20150908JewsAndGenocide/20150908Jews%20and%20Genocide.mp3

Partial transcript with hyperlinks:

Jews and Genocide

Zionists like to lay special claim to the term genocide on behalf of all Jews, but now anti-Zionists have taken to supporting this. Some anti-Zionists and supposed anti-imperialists have repeated the false claim that the term was invented to denote the killing of Jews. The only reason that I can see for this is to maintain a false image of genocide as an act of exceptional villains. In fact genocide is a normal behaviour of imperial and colonial powers. Despite many attempts to rehabilitate empires as being on some level noble – all imperial and colonial projects are inescapably genocidal.

However, a number of Jewish nationalist ideologues claim that the only true genocide was that carried out by the Germans against Jews. These people are called “Holocaust exceptionalists”, and their claims are broadly understood by genocide scholars as being nonsense supported by falsehoods. It is fair to surmise that Holocaust exceptionalists are generally ardent Zionists. That is why I have been alarmed to see their most central and fundamental lie being spread by anti-Zionists, anti-imperialists, and antiwar writers. That lie is the idea that the word genocide was ever in any way meant to be a way of describing Judeocide in particular.

One writer went so far as posting that the word genocide “was invented… in order to stress the difference between murdering Jews and killing lesser breeds.” This lie is so easy to disprove that it is laughable. Anyone can spend 30 minutes reading Chapter 9 of Raphael Lemkin’s Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (which can be found here) and they will know that there is no way that Lemkin meant the “genocide” term to be exclusively applied to Jews or to the Judeocide that was happening even as he wrote.

When people refuse to accept or even to re-examine a demonstrably false claim it is because it is an essential foundation of a much larger lie. For Zionists the obvious need is to make Israel morally immaculate and incapable of doing wrong. Holocaust exceptionalists have to perform serious mental contortions to avoid confronting the fact that genocide was not intrinsically related to Judeocide, but apparently the Zionists are not alone in this. When I have tried to correct others on this issue I am met with resounding silence and even censorship. The question is why don’t these antiwar and anti-Zionist people want to face up to a very simple truth? What do they have to hide? Or what are they hiding from?

Genocide is an incredibly important word. That is the reason that the meaning of the word is suppressed. It is a term, like “terrorism”, that is thrown around with great passion by people who would never in a million years be able to explain what they actually mean when they use the term.

Many people bandy the term genocide about with great emotion and no thought. However, there are also people who scorn others for inappropriately using the term when they too would be completely incapable of giving a real definition. The whole discourse between these two sides is even more idiotic than the sum of its parts because it is like a debate without any reasoning. The conflict is invariably between a party who believes that it is a badge of passion, courage and moral engagement to claim that something is genocide, and another that believes labelling something as genocide is premature, rash, irrational, partisan or lacking in scholarly standards.

Unacceptable Ideas

You might wonder how this widespread idiocy came to pass. It is very simple. At the end of World War II a traumatised world wanted to know how the events they had lived through had come to pass. They wanted to criminalise the German and Japanese leaders and they wanted to understand what had led these societies to cause such violence. People wanted to understand this as criminality and pathology. But there were two areas into which inquiring minds might wander which were metaphorically signposted with skull-and-crossbones and the legend “STAY OUT!”

The first area relates to the war that had just been. The victors in this “Good War” were in reality drenched in the blood of the innocent and that was a very delicate matter. We have just passed the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and there is still a suppression of the fact that those bombings were not military in intent. They were not aimed at winning the war against Japan. Nor was the even more deadly campaign of firebombing that preceded the atom bombs. In fact most of the “strategic” bombing carried out by the US and UK in World War II was simply mass murder of civilian populations, and it was militarily counterproductive – a misuse of resources that hindered military progress. I could illustrate this in detail, but let me try to save time and effort by using a comparison. The Soviet Union produced more armaments than anyone else in the war. They did not build bomber fleets to bomb German cities. To do so would have been an unthinkable, nigh suicidal, waste of resources. The Western Allies had the luxury of wasting their most valuable materiel and personnel on a project of mass murder, but the underlying strategic calculus is the same – it was militarily counterproductive.

With the deaths of millions of civilians weighing on the consciences of leaders and on the collective conscience of the people’s who had fought against the greater evil of Axis, the last thing anyone would want would be the suggestion that the actions of the Allied leaders in killing civilians were in some intrinsic and essential way linked to the atrocities committed by Japan and Germany. Both collectively and individually, both consciously and unconsciously, people knew not to explore any notion that would suggest that mass killings of civilians by Allies had any fundamental and immutable connection to the mass killings of civilians by Axis powers.

This is best summed up by Justice Robert Jackson’s opening statement at the Nuremberg Trials, “…the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.” Please note that he is not talking about a future trial of a future regime, but the way “history” will judge “us” – meaning Jackson and his contemporaries. The discourse of aggressive war that was created at Nuremberg was closely and precisely shaped to construct a crime of which the Germans were guilty but of which the Allies were not. That is why Hermann Göring at times shouted out “What about Hamburg?” and “What about Hiroshima?” Göring knew that wasn’t a legal defence in and of itself, he was trying to fracture the narrative framework with which his prosecutors and judges legitimated themselves.

And then there is another no-go area – another place from which the collective consciousness (and most individual consciousnesses) shied away in fear. In addition to avoiding any suggestion that Axis atrocities might bear any resemblance to the Allied habit of incinerating innocent human beings by the tens of thousands, it was also imperative that there be no suggestion whatsoever that Japanese and German conquest and occupation might in any way resemble the colonial and imperial policies of Britain, France and the US.

The Frightening Truth

To be very clear: the Allies killed millions in World War II, but the Axis powers killed tens of millions. Within reason, aggression can justly be called “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Thus, to suggest that there is a moral equivalence between Axis and Allied crime is not really acceptable. (It is equally unacceptable to claim a moral equivalence between Nazi crimes and those of Communist regimes in the USSR or China).

That said, however, the atrocities that the Germans and Japanese committed against the peoples of Europe and Asia inevitably resemble the crimes of other colonising and imperially hegemonic powers. Both of these Axis powers, along with Italy, consciously wanted to repeat the imperialist and colonialist conquests of the British and French. The difference is that with changes of technology the intensity and speed were unprecedented. What would have been 50 years of killing for the British Empire was squeezed into 5 years. Yet the principle was the same, and I cannot help but think that the main reason that people saw a moral distinction between German imperial expansion in Europe and, say, British expansion in Africa was that most of the victims of the Germans were White.

Meanwhile policies of deliberately and systematically killing civilians came to dominate the so-called “strategic bombing” of the UK and US during the war. They too bore chilling similarities to the policies of mass killing pursued by the Germans and Japanese. Eric Markusen and David Kopf published a book called The Holocaust and Strategic Bombing which documents parallels in the way the Germans and the Western Allies were justifying ever greater mass killings with pretensions of clinical detachment and inevitability, along with eerily similar euphemisms – such as the German “evacuation” and the British “dehousing”.

The fact is that there is an essential and fundamental connection between the actual extermination of peoples, such as the Aboriginals of Tasmania, the “hyperexploitation” such as lead to millions of deaths at Potosí and 10 million in King Leopold’s Congo, and the social and cultural destruction accompanying the economic and political subjugation of imperial or neocolonial domination. Within that framework there are also practices of ethnic cleansing and of any systematic attempt to reduce a non-military population through killing, preventing births, or reducing material wellbeing to lower lifespans.

The Germans did, or attempted to do, all of the above to various peoples under the Nazi leadership of the “Third Reich”. In many ways this project was inchoate and even contradictory, and yet viewed from enough distance it had a distinct singular form. One man, Raphael Lemkin, saw it and recognised in it “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups.” He called that “genocide”.

Disney Genocide

Lemkin had a profound insight which had three things in common with other fundamental changes in paradigmatic thinking. The first is that it had a long gestation. Lemkin didn’t just base his idea on German policies under Hitler, he had been researching and thinking about these issues since he was a teenager nearly three decades earlier. He was horrified by the Armenian genocide and spent his early adulthood trying to understand and encapsulate that violence, with the particular aim of making it an “international crime”.

The second is that its significance was much greater than the originator himself understood at the time. Later, Lemkin himself, much to the detriment of his career and political standing, made a clear link between genocide and settler-colonialism. He spent a great deal of his time writing about the genocidal destruction of indigenous peoples in the Americas. In my opinion he did this despite wishing to think the best of his new home in the United States. Had he lived longer he would have been forced to confront the fact that imperialism is inherently genocidal even when it is not engaged in settler colonial expansion. Rather than seeking to impose the “national pattern” of the imperial centre it seeks to impose an “imperial pattern” which is equally alien to the victim group but which also cements their subjugation in an ethnoracial imperialist hierarchy. This is achieved with exactly the same social, political, cultural and economic destruction and the same forced displacement, concentration and mass killing that characterises settler-colonial genocides. This is true regardless of whether the empire is predominantly formal, informal, or neocolonial.

The third thing that happens when new revolutionary ideas arrive is that people try to cling on to outmoded beliefs and ways of thinking. They are resistant, and in the case of genocide this resistance has been nourished by political interests and given a fertile discursive medium by the historical experiences of the internal and external relations of Germany’s Third Reich. The nature of genocide was obscured from the very genesis of the term by a strident and loud imagery of Nazi exceptionalism.

An exceptionalist emphasis was one of two opposing reactions to the unprecedented suffering inflicted on the world by the Nazi regime. The other emphasis was to try to understand what conditions had led to members of our species doing or allowing things that seem to be unvarnished evil from the outside. A lot of good and bad things came out of line of thought, but I would argue that it greatly profited societies to think of the German experience as one to be studied and avoided. It is from this tradition, which is always at least partly relativistic, that sprung concepts like Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” and our understanding of the psychology of authoritarians. I think that a very frightening aspect of contemporary life is that our understanding of these Nazi traits fades, and as the understanding fades the traits themselves become more and more manifest in ever more shamelessly inhuman official discourse. Two recent examples being the US “Law of Warfare” field manual which authorises the killing of journalists and the West Point professor who wants the military to kill lawyers and scholars who oppose US military actions to the list of targets – not to mention attacking mosques and various other enemies of US military freedom.

In contrast to those who sought deeper understanding of Nazism, all forms of exceptionalism involve taking supposedly unique aspects of something and presenting them as essential and defining characteristics. This vastly overstates the substance of those aspects that are claimed as being exceptional and, if accepted, makes comparisons impossible. This exceptionalist approach can be seen in the famous Disney wartime propaganda film “Education for Death”. It is understandable that there was a desire to dramatise the oppressive and invasive nature of the Nazi regime, but it encapsulates a fetishistic approach that is literally a cartoon version of reality. As propaganda this is to be expected, but after the war it is not as if people said to themselves: “Now that that is over I need to take a more nuanced view of the National Socialist government in Germany if I am to truly grasp the nature of that regime and its atrocities.”

The danger of exceptionalist narratives is that they deny context and refuse to allow comparisons. The upshot of this is that people emphasise the wrong things in the fetishistic and cartoon manner which I mentioned. Thus US exceptionalists create a fetish out of surface aspects of their constitution that they are formally and informally indoctrinated at a young age to view as essential parts of “democracy”. In reality, the excessive focus and attention then given to the “democratic” nature of US governance actually makes it far easier for undemocratic power relations to develop and entrench themselves.

Similarly, an exceptionalist narrative about Nazi Germany emphasises surface appearances and destroys any ability to learn and to avoid repetition. To use a reductio ab Hitlerum analogy, it is like saying that everything will always be okay as long as the highest political office is not occupied by a man with a funny moustache.

 

Holocaust Exceptionalism

Here is a multi-choice question:

The US has just won a war against the forces of darkness embodied by Germany and Japan. There is a new word around called “genocide”. Are you inclined to think that this word means a) what Hitler did to the Jews, b) what Hitler did to the Jews and what was done to the indigenous people of North America in order to create the US – illustrate your answer with reference to the screen appearances of John Wayne.

Clearly no ordinary citizen of the victor states would want to think that the crime of genocide, which saw millions of Jews systematically murdered, was a very prominent part of their own proud national heritage. Canada, Aotearoa, the US, and Australia didn’t want to see their origins as stained by comparison to the roving mass-murders of the Einsatzgruppen. The USSR didn’t want to see the Terror Famine in Ukraine or Stalin’s ethnic cleansing transmigrations as bearing any resemblance to the Camps in which so many of their own died. And the old imperial powers, France and Britain, didn’t want to see their bejewelled traditions of civilising hegemony equated in any way to gassing children.

In the fertile ground of Nazi exceptionalism that was already established it was inevitable that Holocaust exceptionalism take root, not just as the explicit belief of hardliners, but also as the default starting point for general layperson’s discourse. The base belief is that the Holocaust is the defining archetype of what genocide is and that other events are “genocidal” to the extent that they can be compared to the Holocaust.

What is this Holocaust that they are talking about? Part of the problem is that this is an extremely slippery concept. The real problem is that people don’t want a robust definition of the Holocaust. They want to be able to know what it is without having to cogently delineate that knowledge. For most people the Holocaust is emotive but vague. It is misunderstood not in the manner that one might misunderstand historic events like the War of the Roses or the reign of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, but rather the impressionistic imagery is so powerful as to drown out actual detail. This is understandable, but still regrettable.

The Holocaust is so overwhelming that a film like Schindler’s List had to be made in monochrome because even the sombre and washed-out cinematic tones that are conventionally used for Eastern Europe in World War II are insufficient for an actual concentration camp. Genocide is literally made to be black-and-white. Our sensitivities to the issue are so high that misters used to cool visitors to Auschwitz today caused an international outcry because they were reminiscent “the Holocaust showers” (as one news bulletin called them). There were, of course, no actual “Holocaust showers”. The realities are not any less horrifying than the nightmare images, but they are more complicated. In fact, the realities are more horrifying than the symbolic beliefs, and once you know them you can’t unlearn them. That is why people create a totemic imagery of the Holocaust. They can feel all of the horror, grief and outrage without the crippling depression. Most of all, they don’t feel the burden of obligation to end suffering. Instead, steeped in the dark cartoon visions of “Holocaust showers”, they are more able and more likely to inflict suffering because they are artificially separating the suffering of certain human beings from other members of the same species.

The symbolic or cartoonish approach to conceptualising the Holocaust has the advantage that you do not have to be categorical about something to make it a defining character. It is possible to retain the notion that the Holocaust is encapsulated in the conspiracy of the Final Solution, in the Judeocide, and in the gas chambers of death camps. Everything that is not part of that vision is either forcibly incorporated or essentially ignored.

To clarify my point, let me draw your attention to the role of a) gas chambers and b) the Final Solution. These things are synonymous with genocide in most people’s minds, but Lemkin never included them in his description of genocide for the very simple reason that he didn’t know about them. Moreover, if these things had not existed it might have meant that many more Jews would have survived in relative terms, but most European Jews would still have been killed by the genocide policies that Lemkin described. Those Jews who died were joined by many millions of others who died as a result of genocide. The Final Solution and the gas chambers are clearly linked to genocide in that they are a way of enacting genocide that is entirely consistent with the logic of genocide take to its greatest extreme – that of extermination. These things are linked to genocide, but they do not typify let alone embody genocide.

The end result is that the paradigmatic exemplar of genocide, the Holocaust, is a misrepresentation of itself, let alone genocide as a whole. For some that means that the Holocaust was the only genocide. For most, however, it means that when one decides to use the “g-word”, one constructs the newly acknowledged genocide as being a reflected image of that mythologised Holocaust. By maintaining that exceptionalist purity one never needs to accept something as genocide if one does not want to. In fact, people can get very angry when someone labels something genocide on the basis that to do so is to accuse the perpetrator of being as bad as the worst atrocities of German mass murder. Conversely you can appropriate the imagery of the Holocaust for anything you don’t like, particularly if you can label it anti-Semitic. In an extreme example a man was filmed at a rally opposing the “Iran nuclear deal” recently where he yelled that Obama was releasing money to “the terrorist Nazi regime which is building nuclear gas chambers!”

 

Kelly’s Law

If you are attempting establish the moral validity of acts by refuting any comparison to Hitler’s acts, you are defending the indefensible.

Most readers will probably be familiar with Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches”. The most common corollary is that the party that makes the analogy has lost the argument. It is dated now, and perhaps it was always more inclined to be used against critical thought than to promote it. I propose instead that what we need now is a “law” that states that if you are attempting establish the moral validity of acts by refuting any comparison to Hitler, you are defending the indefensible. This is true whether the reaction is the gut reaction of an Israeli who spits and yells with genuinely distraught anger at the suggestion that Israel is committing genocide; or whether it is the snide put-downs of a pundit, politician, bureaucrat or academic who sneers at those who claim that the US or UK or France has committed genocide.

The corollary of Kelly’s Law is that not only must the person refuting the Hitler comparison be defending the indefensible, but they are almost certain to be demolishing a straw man in doing so. To say that someone has committed genocide is not the same as saying that they are morally equivalent to Hitler in the same way that saying the we evolved through processes of natural selection is not the same as calling someone a monkey. For example, in his book Empire Niall Ferguson first himself compares the actions of British forces during the Indian Mutiny to those of the SS against Jews, but then concludes that the British weren’t actually as bad as the SS as if that somehow makes things better.

Nazi exceptionalism and Holocaust exceptionalism are the gift that keep on giving. As long as you avoid building death camps with giant gas chambers and crematoria then you can incinerate and starve hundreds of thousands. It is like teflon coating for genocide perpetrators. It shields them from all serious accusations of intentional wrongdoing because any attempt to suggest a systematic purpose behind Western mass violence is delegitimised as being an invalid attempt to equate our leaders with the Nazis. I fear that this will continue until the point where it Western governments, particularly the US, actually do become the moral equivalent of the Nazis – and that moment does get closer over time.

A New Holocaust

People don’t want to face up to the reality of genocide, because they will then have to admit that Western states are committing massive acts of genocide right now. The Western interventions most apparent in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia have created mass destruction and mass death.

The tempo of violence that exists now does not even match that of the bombing during the Korean War, let alone the enormous scale of violence of World War II. However, this violence never ends. It seems destined to continue for eternity and the scale of death continues to creep upwards. Western interventions of many types have sowed conflict and instability and they keep tearing at these open wounds, often blaming the victims. I cannot shake the feeling that if Germany had not been at war, Nazi genocide policies would have been enacted at the same slowly accumulating pace.

The destruction and the violence are often meted out by enemies of the United States, but I think people are beginning to grasp that to greater or lesser extents the US is often the creator and sponsor of these enemies. Moreover these enemies are often materially dependent on the US either directly or through allied regimes. That is the new reality, or at least one of the new realities. Lemkin’s understanding of genocide was of disparate acts that could only be related to each other when you grasped the underlying strategic reasoning,

That is why anti-Zionists are embracing Holocaust exceptionalism. Israel provides such easy cartoon villains, Netanyahu and a cabinet of political colleagues that seems unable to go two months without a minister openly calling for the extermination or ethnic-cleansing of non-Jews. They might as well have a leader with a funny moustache. It is facile and comforting, but it is stupid. Israel does not have the power to effectuate all this destruction, nor does it control the US. Everything the US has done has followed a trajectory it has clearly been on since 1945. Trying to explain it current genocidal actions is like trying to explain the trajectory of a cannonball by a stiff gust that arose during its flight without any suggestion that there might have been a cannon involved at any point.

Advertisements

The ICC Will Only Hurt the Palestinian People, Part 2: These People are Warmongers and We Should Revile Them

Standard

In Part 1 I discussed various things relating to the International Criminal Court. With all its humanitarian rhetoric, the actions of the ICC have consistently been a source of injustice and suffering. Moreover it has been the enemy of truth – perhaps the greatest crime because it can perpetuate suffering for generations to come.

Part 2 deals with, among other things, the undue deference paid to those who professionally don the mantle of humanitarian. These are not great humanitarians, quite the reverse. Just as hierarchies of “knowledge” can produce ignorance so can “humanitarian” hierarchies militate against humanitarianism. By analogy, if I want to hear a cogent perspective on US foreign policy I would almost be better off heading to the pub and looking for someone in the mood to be candid than I would be in heading to a foreign policy think-tank. Equally, once professional “humanitarians” have internalised the idea that they are inherently moral, it is pretty easy for them to neglect morality altogether.

I feel that it is constructive to cultivate contempt and anger at those who are more-than-comfortably well off because of their role within agencies of dysfunction and harm such as the ICC. At the same time I am aware that critics of people within institutions often personalise criticism – not as insults nor ad hominem critiques, but as a presumption that a mistaken intellectual stance must be the result of bad intent. Obviously, I am not saying that we should extend the benefit of doubt to Obama or Kissinger or Power. Sometimes, even if people believe that they are doing the right thing it is not relevant. Pol Pot thought he was doing the right thing, but so what? For people with less executive power, though, it is generally counterproductive to attack their motives.

My answer is to cultivate contempt for the collective, and respect for the individual. Self-satisfaction is destroying the intellects of people who succeed in many walks of life, and none of us plebs should continue to feed that.

Preventing Peace

When an accused criminal is the demonised leader of a Third World state, there can be no compromise according to the pundits. Only prosecution to the utmost extent of the law is acceptable, even if innocent people must die to achieve this.

When official villains, certified by the US State Department, are up for prosecution we enter Oppositeland. War is peace and the rule of law means lawlessness. The pundits enter a cop-show fantasy where law is not an imperfect instrument of ethics, but a tool of righteous justice. The rule of law doesn’t mean abiding by the law even when the results are not to your liking, but it now means breaking the rules to ensure that the bad guy is always punished. For example, in How America Gets Away with Murder, Michael Mandel pointed at the “absurdities” of Western newspapers touting the triumph of the “rule of law” after Slobadan Milosevic was illegally extradited from Serbia under extremely political circumstances.

The bloodlust and the self-righteousness can lead to a lot worse than subverting sovereignty and bringing the law into disrepute. Hard lines on “the end of impunity” are a potential enemy of peace both indirectly and directly. Take the case of Charles Taylor. He ended a civil war and left the country when he was offered exile in Nigeria. The US Congress soon voted to offer a $2 million bounty on Taylor. Richard Falk criticised his later capture, prosecution and conviction on the ground that it was selective prosecution serving US political ends: “…when the application of international criminal law serves the cause of the powerful, it will be invoked, extended, celebrated, even institutionalised, but only so long as it is not turned against the powerful. One face of Janus is that of international justice and the rule of law, the other is one of a martial look that glorifies the rule of power on behalf of the war gods.”

There is hypocrisy, and the direct intervention of neutralising enemies through the courts, and the implicit threat to other Third World leaders that if they do not run their country according to US wishes they may end their lives in a prison cell far from home. But in some ways, those things are not the worst of it. The worst thing is that the next Charles Taylor will look at his future and weigh whether to concede defeat in war and flee the country. Remembering Taylor, he or she will decide instead to fight to the death and thousands of others will die as well.

That is an indirect way of promoting conflict, but ICC indictments can be used to more immediate warmongering effect. Shortly before NATO started an air war against Libya in 2011, the UNSC instructed the ICC to investigate Libya (despite the fact that the US, Russia and China refuse to be subject to the ICC themselves). The probe centred on the killing of political prisoners in a prison in 1996. As Phillippe Sands pointed out at the time the very existence of the investigation made a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Libya less likely. Indictments for Muammer Ghadaffi, his son Saif al Islam and his brother-in-law came less than two months after NATO bombs killed another of Ghadaffi’s sons and three of his grandchildren. Both flight and negotiation became impossible. The indictment ensured that fighting would continue – meaning that people would continue to be killed and maimed.

Given the timing and the political nature of the decision to indict in the midst of war there are really only three possible reasons for the indictment. One is that US and European leaders wanted to make a salient demonstration to the world of what happens to leaders who they dislike and they don’t care how many Libyans are killed in order to make that demonstration. (In retrospect the Panama invasion of 1989 can be seen as such an operation, and the best estimates of Panamanians killed in “Operation Just Cause” are in the thousands.) The second possibility is that the same powers were actually desirous of conflict in Libya as a divide-and-control strategy whereby independent development is curtailed by ongoing destabilisation and ever-renewable civil strife. This would be entirely fitting within a pattern of interventions which has sown conflict and degraded central governance in dozens of countries. The third option is that both of the previous options are true in varying degrees.

Colonisation by NGO

Palestine is one of a number of societies rife with NGOs. Mandy Turner has shown that the “liberal peacebuilding” practiced by these NGOs is a colonial practice and a contemporary “mission civilatrice”. Israel’s colonial practices are “at the expense of Palestinian self-determination”, but Western-backed “peacebuilding” is “at the expense of a development strategy for national liberation”.

The “liberal peacebuilding” prescription of “neoliberal policies of open markets, privatization and fiscal restraint, and governance policies focused on enhancing instruments of state coercion, ‘capacity building’ and ‘good governance’” is simply neocolonialism. These are the practices developed by the British and imposed wherever possible on colonies, former colonies and parts of the formal empire. Once upon a time it was called “liberalism” now it tends to be called “neoliberalism”, but it amounts to the same thing – colonial control that ensures both dependency and impoverishment. The main difference here, and in other neocolonies, is that the former colonial power does not have an exclusive concession and the exploitation and expropriation (which may be of donor money rather than indigenous wealth) is a multinational Western project.

In short, while Palestinians are concentrated into fragmented reservations by Israel’s settler colonial project, within those patches an additional burden of neocolonial servitude suppresses independent development. But as Turner also indicates, part of the neocolonial NGO dominance is the delegitimisation of violent resistance: “…the ability to decide whether someone is or is not a ‘partner for peace’ and thus act on this decision is unequal. This phrase, therefore, made Israel’s attempts to control Palestinian political elites seem innocuous. It also allowed donors to believe that funding and working with Palestinian elites regarded by Israel as being ‘partners for peace’ would assist their mission of supporting the peace process. In its application this paradigm has variously meant Israel justifying cutting off revenue transfers to the PA, arresting and detaining democratically elected Palestinian politicians, extrajudicial executions and military violence. It has also been used by donors to justify cutting off aid, reverting to ‘bad governance’ practices, and supporting regime change. It has been, in effect, the discursive framework that has bound the two practices of control together and has given them common purpose.”

One Person’s Terrorist is Another Person’s Legally Elected Political Representative

Building on Turner’s work another legal scholar, Vicky Sentas, gave this talk on “peacebuilding as counterinsurgency”. Her focus is on the listing of the Kurdish PKK as a terrorist organisation, but the logic applies equally to Palestinian armed resistance formations given that they all have been or could be declared terrorists on the basis of their resistance activities. The terrorist listing is even worse than politically motivated accusations of war crimes or crimes against humanity because it prejudicially criminalises people on the basis of belonging to a designated terrorist entity. If you delegitimise resistance or insurgency on the basis of acts designated as “terrorism” than all personnel become “terrorists” regardless of their own actions.

Of course the main use of the term “terrorist” in the last 100 years has been as a way of delegitimising armed violence from non-state actors. Our elites work hard to avoid any suggestion that terrorism might actually refer to the intentional use of terror per se, because that would inevitably mean that the greatest terrorists are the most powerful states. Noam Chomsky’s famous assertion that we ignore the “wholesale” terrorism of militarised states and concentrate on the “retail” terrorism of armed non-state entities doesn’t really suffice. “Terrorists” means people with weapons or destructive implements who we don’t like and who we can get away with labelling as “terrorist”. Whether they actually practice the use of terror is not relevant. Anticolonial rebels were called terrorists; the resistance to German occupation in Europe were labelled “Bolshevist terrorists”; the Viet Minh and later the National Liberation Front were labelled “Communist terrorists” from which came “Charlie Tango” and hence “Charlie”. The only difference is that now we have an international regime, subject to US hegemony, which makes this political, and inherently oppressive, act into a internationally legalistic one.

The idea of terrorism itself is a way of implying that the organised armed violence or property destruction of a group is illegitimate as being criminal and outside of the behaviour of combatancy. The old-fashioned approach was to suggest that belligerent parties such as insurgents must be treated as combatants. After the cessation of hostilities the victor could legitimately label the defeated foes as traitors and deal with them as such. This is hardly perfect and does nothing to prevent victor’s justice and judicial massacres. On those grounds some might think that it is a pointless distinction to make. But there is a certain sense that if the belligerents were criminals en masse because terrorism is a crime, then they would properly be dealt with by the normal policing and judicial processes of the state in question. If the response to an organised challenge is military violence, paramilitary violence, counterinsurgency, “counter-terror”, political violence and or political terror, then you are in a situation of armed conflict and the enemy should be treated as a combatant, at least for the duration.

Anyone who has Followed the Thread of This Article to This Point…

deserves a medal. But they also might be asking: “Hang on, surely joining the ICC will strengthen Palestinian claims to statehood and make their resistance more, not less, legitimate.” I wish it were so, but it is unfortunately more accurate to say that those countries that are subject to the ICC may find themselves in the same situation as Palestinians if they face aggression or occupation. They may find that politically determined accusations about the manner in which armed resistance is conducted or internal conflict is dealt with are used to delegitimise all resistance either informally or formally through the enforcement of terrorist listings.

Bear in mind, too, that entities like the US and Israel have a long-standing habit of conflating armed and unarmed resistance activities. In Viet Nam the US coined the term “Viet Cong Infrastructure” (VCI) to designate people who had sympathy for the National Liberation Front and the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF). The term Viet Cong had already conflated combatants and non-combatants who opposed the Saigon regime, now the VCI designation worked in the same way as a “terrorist” or “VC” designation, legitimising deadly violence as if the victims were combatants yet denying the rights accorded to combatants. VCI were the prime target of the notorious Phoenix Programme. Unlike actual NLF officials or PLAF personnel those fingered as VCI, often by tortured suspects, were easy to abduct or kill at their homes.

A similar mentality is even applied now domestically in the US, with the designation of “material support for terrorism”. This sounds like it could only mean substantive support for actual terrorism such as providing money or materiel to suicide bombers. In practice the case of the Holy Land Foundation 5 shows that it is political designation intended to conflate the crime of thinking the wrong thoughts with unlawful acts of violence. The victims of that judicial persecution are serving sentences of up to 65 years for sending money to charities allegedly controlled by Hamas. They were not accused of funding terrorist activities, but of sending funds to a terrorist entity.

The HLF5 defendants are claiming that they were entrapped because they tried to get a State Dept. list of approved charities, but were denied. The point of the exercise is to create a political language in which giving charity to orphans is “terrorism”. This accompanies an ongoing exercise to “rebrand” military violence, including killing civilians, as “humanitarian”. The most important thing to remember is that this has worked. If you put “holy land foundation trial” into a search engine that does not anticipate your desires (such as duckduckgo), you will find that their conviction was a victory against Jihadi terrorism and the plot to enforce Sharia in the United States of America.

This illustrates that we are really faced with two possible ways of dealing with the overall issue of armed mass violence. We can either accept the Nürnberg precedents and the UN Charter. This would mean that war is illegal, all people have a right to life and that the aggressor is culpable for all loss of life and suffering. The UNSC would be able to authorise legitimate military action, but it could only do so in accordance with the UN Charter, which can only mean acting as a collective defence against an aggressor. This is a highly imperfect system and many bad things can happen to people that this particular system does not act to prevent or discourage. On the other hand, this system outlined does not actively facilitate atrocities, while the alternative does.

The system that is favoured by the US, and ultimately promoted by the ICC, is one in which the armed violence is legitimate if carried out by lawful combatants in a lawful manner. Unlawful actions by lawful combatants are not legitimate, but they are a side-issue of individual criminality. In contrast, unlawful acts committed by unlawful combatants are the retrospective rationale for justifying unlawful status and all resistance by unlawful combatants is unlawful. In other words, might makes right. Lawfulness or unlawfulness depend entirely on the ability to control perceptions. The powerful are allowed to commit mass violence against the weak, and the resistance of the weak will make them the perpetrator and justify the acts of the powerful.

Israel’s Persecution Complex

The ICC’s significance is inevitably that of a public relations exercise. Even the “end of impunity” enthusiast must readily admit that the Court’s function is not to provide specific deterrence but to create general deterrence (supposedly by ending impunity). In fact, there is no evidence or concrete reasoning that would support that claim, but it has a veneer of rationality. This isn’t a matter of common ignorance, this is highbrow ignorance for superior idiots only, but even on these terms the putative general deterrent effect is the result of managing perceptions. Thus even the supporters know that ICC activities are a form of display, and their trial are inevitably show trials.

Because the ICC is one big politicised PR exercise, legalistic analyses of the ICC are less important than discursive analyses. I have concentrated on the ways in which the ICC is part of the ongoing process of creating an international political discourse of “good guys” and “bad guys” in which the powerful control the language, the conversation and thus, ultimately, the perception. This is a thought control process aimed largely at the intelligentsia. But in the case of Palestine, ICC membership will further another project of thought control – that of the Great Israeli Persecution Complex.

Historically Jews have suffered a great deal of persecution. In Europe during World War II this persecution became something that truly defies words. Even at a time when unspeakable acts and unimaginable suffering were the experience of many millions throughout the world, the fate of Europe’s Jews stand out. The German concentration camp, slave labour, and extermination camp systems, and the mobile civilian mass-murder systems, exceeded all historical precedents of cruelty. I do not write that lightly and I am not forgetting Potosí, nor the Atlantic slave trade, nor the victims of Japanese occupation, nor the Ukrainian Terror Famine, nor any of the other great obscenities of humanity. Jews were not the only victims, by any means, but in some respects they were the key and exemplary victims.

If Zionism had ever been purely a response to persecution, perhaps the lesson of the Shoah might have been commit to opposing all acts of genocide. It would be an anticolonial movement. But Zionism was never purely about an enduring escape from persecution. It has always accommodated a combination of nationalism, colonialism, racism, chauvinistic religious belief, and Imperial power politics. In addition we must account for the role that greed and love of power play in all political movements that provide outlets for them. Thus, inevitably, the response to the Shoah was not an organic response that would reject all genocidal cruelty, but an exploitative one by a existing system of power hierarchies whose human components seized on the emotional and political capital provided by the murder of millions.

The historical persecution of Jews and the Shoah actually have very little to do with the realities facing Israel. I am not saying that there has never been persecution of Jews in the Arab world, nor that anti-Judaism is no longer a matter of concern in Europe or elsewhere. These are complicated issues which I cannot get into here. I will confine myself to pointing out that when the Argentine junta was detaining Jews and sending them to camps where they were sometimes tortured in front of pictures of Hitler, and many were killed, the Israel’s government sided with the neo-Nazis, not against them.

But when it comes to the occupation of Palestine, the exploitation of past persecution is the gift that keeps on giving. The ICC will provide an ongoing opportunity for the Zionist regime to harp on about how the entire world hates Jews on a regular basis. It will be like the Goldstone Report on a loop track.

To refresh your memory, the Goldstone Report was slanted against Palestinians. Richard Goldstone, the lead author, is an avowed Zionist despite his history of opposing apartheid. This was a fact finding mission, not a judicial inquiry, but it should still have addressed the question of aggression. Instead it misleadingly affirmed Israel’s right to self-defence. Noam Chomsky characterised the report as being pro-Israel on those grounds. It was also disproportionate, devoting considerable wordage to Palestinian militant activities, when if weighted by deaths caused Palestinian activities would barely get a mention.

Goldstone had watered down some aspects of the report against the wishes of his co-authors, yet on its release the Israeli government lead a chorus of Zionists, neocons, white supremacists and Islamophobes around the world that shrieked like stuck pigs. They claimed that the whole thing was part of the giant world-wide conspiracy of the Jew-hating UN. Goldstone later strengthened these cries by undermining the report with his name on it. All three of his fellow authors issued their own contrary statement, but hardly anyone heard about that.

This is another one of those inversions of reality, this time in three steps rather than two. When Operation Cast Lead was occurring the raw images tended to show the truth – a helpless besieged people were being attacked in a one-sided slaughter. But if you try searching “goldstone report bias” in duckduckgo you have to scroll down a great deal to find anything that counters the notion that the report was biased against Israel, and I don’t even know how many hits you would get before the first one that suggested a pro-Israel bias.

Even anti-Zionist outlets like Electronic Intifada devote their attention to decrying Goldstone’s later betrayal and defending the Goldstone Report against accusations of anti-Israel bias and completely neglect to show the important ways in which the report was unreasonably and unfairly biased in Israel’s favour. That, far more than the report’s actual contents, is the contribution of the report to posterity and our understanding of Israel’s actions in Gaza. Expect more of the same.

Binyamin Netanyahu has just succeeded electorally by taking a “hard line” and playing on fear and racism. The Great Israeli Persecution Complex has become part of an ever-intensifying spiral of extremism where each new crime necessitates a more insane world view. The world increasingly sees the bare injustice of the genocidal project of Zionism in Palestine. The response within Israel and for their fanatical supporters, who are increasingly confined to the US, is the paranoiac vision of a world of savage “anti-Semites” who oppose Israel out of hatred for Jews.

In reality the international community and the UN greatly favour Israel at the expense of Palestinians, including the diaspora. The UN was Israel’s midwife (the father of the child, Britain, decided that it was not desirable to be present at the birth). The UN has acted to shield Israel from the consequences of realising the human rights of Palestinians. It is a complicated story which can be found by scrolling halfway down here or you could just watch Vera Gowland-Debbas here and here. In short, what it means is that every single member of the United Nations, meaning your government, has a specific moral and legal obligation to act to secure the long absent rights of the people of Palestine. They have failed to do so for 66 years and the only reason for not doing so is the potential negative impact on Israel. No country has any such obligation to Israel nor, especially, to the “Jewish state of Israel”. Individual Israelis have the same human rights as we all have, but the state of Israel has no rights which can override the human rights of millions of Palestinians.

They Walk Among Us!

And who will stand for Palestinian human rights? Our over-privileged and well-tailored liberal apparatchiks advocate that the world’s problems will be solved by meting out white-man’s justice from on high. Self-appointed as God’s gift to human rights, in reality these individuals act to reproduce the most cruel and destructive imperialist violence. They perpetuate the most deadly circumstances of direct mass violence and of structural violence. These are the clerics of Hernán Cortés (“Cortez the Killer”) singing hymns to the righteousness of his bloodletting. They share their apparently capacious catholic faith with overtly hawkish liberal interventionists and neocons, but in reality this is a narrow orthodoxy fitting the requirements of “ostensible diversity concealing actual uniformity”.

Many people have come to realise that “neconservatives” are just a subset of “liberal interventionists”. The fact that highly prominent liberals have always been part of the neoconservative movement, and the fact that they both have identical “moral” facets of foreign policy prescription should have made more people realise this earlier. Still, even now most people are blind to the fact. This is an understandable result of the manner in which these ideologies are presented to people as contending and the manner in which the ideologues criticise each other. The political “debates” between various foreign policy factions in the US are nothing but frenetic, and ultimately unbelievable, theatre. The rhetoric clashes, but the exceptionalist interventionism matches – as do the concrete deeds.

For me it is no stretch at all to see some prominent “humanitarians” as blood-drenched imperialists. As soon as I read Samantha Power’s A Problem From Hell I knew she was exactly as she now appears to us all. It doesn’t take a genius, it just takes actual thought. The neocons themselves considered her book a must read. And she is far from alone.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been described as having a “revolving door” relationship with the US State Dept. Amnesty International (AI), in addition to a long history of providing atrocity propaganda to support US interventions, has been implicated in helping a US regime change plot in Eritrea, along with HRW. The US State Dept in 2011 seems to have specifically funded a joint AI/HRW delegation to Eritrea as part of a destabilisation plan. Many of the people within these organisations are dedicated and well-meaning, but the seem oblivious to the malevolent nature of those running things. The clearest example is Save the Children, whose employees were shocked and appalled at the decision by their superiors to give Tony Blair a “global legacy award”.

What shocks me is that people are actually surprised to find that the folks who run big NGOs are power-loving elitist scumbags. I feel like I’m the guy in the movie They Live who has what Slavoj Žižek describes as “critique of ideology glasses”. When wearing the glasses he sees, among other things, that most rich and powerful people are hideous and foul creatures who are the enemies of humanity.

I am not suggesting here that all rich and powerful people are literally malevolent parasites from another species. What I am suggesting is that their humanity is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if they are loving parents or kind to animals. It doesn’t matter if they spend at least 20 hours each week washing the feet of lepers. In our unequal society even charities are often dizzyingly steep hierarchies; the dynamics of power, and the group dynamics of elite psychology, mean that with some exceptions these people might just as well be bloodthirsty baby-eating reptiles from outer space.

People reflexively defer to the authority of these “successful” people, because they are programmed to believe that advancement within a hierarchy comes through merit, while at the same time they project their own disinterested humanitarian values on to these people. What I see is what I saw in Susan Power, Tony Blair and Barack Obama. These people are happy to take selfies with Bill Clinton, or share a stage with Henry Kissinger. When they debate a neocon like Robert Kagan it is in an atmosphere of mutual respect, if not admiration. The only powerful Westerners who they don’t love are those who actively play the vicious villain, like Donald Rumsfeld, and even then that is entirely contingent and will change as soon as that villain is reinvented by a PR firm and a couple of journalistic puff-pieces.

People like Susanne Nossel (head of PEN, former executive director of AI USA, and warmonger) should only provoke disgust and anger in anyone who really cares about human rights. It is completely irrelevant if they don’t understand why we hate them and if their precious feelings are hurt. They have drunk so deeply from the well of Western hypocrisy that the only thing that can remain true within them is the love of power. The political powers and functionaries that control the ICC are no different. Some may be perfectly well-meaning, particularly if their involvement has simply followed logically from their area of legal expertise, but most are liable to be slime in human form.

The idea that human rights are advanced by a political process of choosing individual designated criminals and punishing them with maximum possible fanfare is likely to appeal to the worst fake humanitarians. Imprisoning people is not a humanitarian pursuit. A true humanitarian is more concerned with emptying prisons than filling them. Moreover, someone who really cared about justice would want to see a stronger International Court of Justice – able to rectify interstate injustice, not spend billions of dollars on prosecuting a handful of cherry-picked expedient pre-fab demons.

I happen to think that many of the people involved in the ICC are most likely to be horrible self-righteous bastards, but even if many of them are deeply concerned humanitarians it does not change the institution. Hans von Sponeck recently said on Democracy Now! “There is a new chief prosecutor in The Hague. And we are now—in mid-April, on the 18th of April, in fact, the War Crimes Commission will meet yet again in Kuala Lumpur to prepare for the second, and hopefully last, draft submission of this documentation to the International Criminal Court.” Obviously there is no harm in handing reports to the ICC, but why bring up the new prosecutor? In the context which he gives the implication is that there is a prospect of the ICC indicting US officials. Does he believe this? Does he identify with the ICC officials and project his own benevolent intents on to them? Is he confused about the difference between the way people act in the real world and, say, the way they might present their desires at a social occasion?

That is why I hang my head in despair when I hear someone as admirable as Dr Francis Boyle discussing the ICC as if Palestinians have nothing to lose, as if the worst of their worries is simply that the ICC will be unable to act on their behalf. In his own words, Boyle “advised President Abbas to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court….” And, because I know that Boyle an intelligent and caring man, from my very bowels comes the unstoppable question: “Are you out of your fucking mind?”

Conclusion

Inevitably the ICC will do everything possible to seem as if it is responding to public pressure to prosecute Israeli crimes, but it will not prosecute Israelis. It will be biased in favour of Israel, but that will be represented as being even-handed and objective by some, and as being biased against Israel by others. Many supporters of Palestine will be sucked into defending the ICC against accusations of bias.

Palestinian leaders will be threatened with ICC prosecutions both publicly and in private. This will deepen the already profound constraints and controls imposed on them by Israel and the US. This may be enough to erode the ability to resist armed mass violence by Israel, such as the resistance to “Operation Protective Edge”. That conflict was once again a one-sided act of mass-murder, but armed resistance caused enough IDF fatalities that there must have been some deterrent effect. That deterrence will be eroded if Palestinians do not feel able to use armed resistance.

Already Palestinians are beaten with the stick of the Hamas terrorist designation. On the other hand Al Jazeera‘s “Palestine Papers” illustrate that Palestinian Authority leaders are compromised in other ways. I draw the inference that Israeli actions such arresting legislators or the 2002 siege of Yasser Arafat’s compound were ways of creating threats which are levers with which to control PA leaders. The PA leaders might not be traitors as much as they are responding to the political realities of the world that they live in. The ICC will provide more ways of threatening and controlling some Palestinian leaders while turning the other into outlaws. It is all bad news for Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the goodhearted people of the world will be drawn into a narrative of atrocity calculus. The criminality of all Palestinian resistance will be arranged alongside the criminality of a few Israeli bad apples. When all eyes see mounds of Palestinian dead, we will still have our thinking obfuscated. The victims will be made to seem the criminals. The ICC will turn up the volume of the conversation which avoids, at all costs, trying to examine the deep historical issues of justice, and instead yells stridently and chest-thumpingly about the criminality of the “bad guys”.

Meanwhile Israel’s leaders will exploit the empty threat of ICC prosecutions against them to deepen the sense of the whole world is hostile to Jews. Israelis and Western Zionists will be deafened to criticism of Israel’s crimes, slipping ever deeper into the lake of Kool-Aid beneath the mirror surface of which lies Oppositeland.

The ICC is nothing but bad news for Palestinians.

The ICC Will Only Hurt the Palestinian People, Part 1: Brer Bibi’s Briar Patch

Standard

Part 2

I was bred and born in the briar patch, Brer Fox,” he called. “Born and bred in the briar patch.”

And Brer Rabbit skipped away as merry as a cricket while Brer Fox ground his teeth in rage and went home. – “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby” retold by S.E. Schlosser.

I had hoped to be writing of his legacy, but sadly Binyamin Netanyahu is here to stay. Nevertheless, one thing is clear even from the flip-flopping Israeli premier, and that is his strenuous objection to Palestinian accession to the Rome Statute – the treaty governing the International Criminal Court. But all is not as it seems. The ICC is no real threat to Israel, nor its occupation, nor its illegal settlements and creeping annexation, nor the slow genocide of the Palestinian people. Bibi is playing the role of Brer Rabbit – “Please don’t throw us in the ICC briar patch” – safe in the knowledge that the only people likely to be hurt by ICC thorns are the Palestinians.

A Move Against Israel?

Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have supported Palestine signing the Rome Statute – a treaty which will make Palestine subject to the International Criminal Court (ICC). This is part of a tactic to establish statehood for Palestine be the establishment of de facto state credentials within multilateral institutions.

I am unsure what sort of fantasy land people inhabit, but supporters of Palestine seem, on this issue, to have decided that black is white and up is down. Their positivity relies on the potential for the ICC to become something which it currently is not, and the potential for Palestine to make use of this future development in some way which would currently be symbolic but somehow maybe might someday be more than symbolic in some manner that we cannot yet foresee. On the negative side of the equation we have the immediate reality that Palestinians are now subject to prosecution by the ICC and Israelis are not.

Just to make sure you get that: becoming signatories to the ICC means that Palestinians are subject to prosecution, not Israelis.

Yet Netanyahu and the US State Department are acting as if Palestinian accession to the Rome Statute were a move against Israel. It can only mean that Israeli and US leaders are deliberately objecting to the Palestine ICC membership as a way of giving credibility to a move which might otherwise greatly alarm supporters of Palestine. Netanyahu is trying to make us all think the the ICC briar patch is his greatest fear, but the ICC is certain to work against Palestinian interests. As I will detail below, the ICC is a tool of neocolonial oppression by design; it will embed a double standard which favours the powerful over the powerless in general, and Israel over Palestine in particular; it will fuel Israel’s self-justifying claims of persecution; and will continue the ongoing imperialist work of undermining the sovereignty of all nations which defy Western domination.

The (New) Scramble for Africa

The ICC throughout its existence has been a political tool of neocolonial oppression aimed specifically at the former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa. 60% of its funding comes from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, the former colonial powers in Africa. Naturally this gives them considerable control over the Court, but it is also under the direction of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Of the 5 permanent UNSC members two have themselves signed and ratified the Rome statute – the UK and France. Between them the British and French empires once ruled half of Africa, with Britain additionally exerting informal hegemony over other areas such as the Belgian Congo.

Normally even critics of the ICC acknowledge the “noble” sentiments and hopes with which the ICC was launched in 2002. I believe that to be a load of crap. The people behind the ICC are not noble at all. Anyone can fall to ignorance or false hope, but those actually involved are highly privileged elitists whose self-deception is only exceeded by self-righteousness, self-regard and self-congratulatory selfies. That may seem harsh, but my condemnation is not gratuitous, as I will explain later.

All 36 indictments issued by the ICC have been against Africans. People act as if its record thus far is some unfortunate aberration which will be rectified, but the politicisation is systemic. David Hoile has written an large comprehensive volume (Justice Denied: The Reality of the International Criminal Court) detailing things that are wrong with the ICC. I cannot do justice – so to speak – to this work, but here is a small sample from the introduction:

The court has claimed to be “economical”, yet it has cost close to a billion euros to conclude one deeply flawed trial. … The court has claimed to bring “swift justice” but it took several years to bring the first accused to trial for allegedly using child soldiers. … The court claims to be fighting impunity, yet it has afforded de facto impunity to several serial abusers of human rights who happen to be friends of the EU and the USA, and granted de jure immunity to non-member states such as the USA.

In the ICC, one has a court whose judges are appointed not because they are the best legal minds in the world, but because of squalid vote trading. Some are appointed because it is a cosy retirement job; some are washed-up politicians; some are diplomats; some use the court as a waiting room before greater things; others are appointed because their governments pay the ICC a lot of money; and some don’t even bother to show up for work because something better came along. We have judges making critical rulings on very difficult issues of law who have never been lawyers, let alone judges. We have judges who have pressed for legal indictments on the basis of what they have seen on CNN. We have judges who cite classical Greek mythology to justify prolonging Africa’s civil wars rather than to put peace before selectively retributive European law. We have judges who are political activists with little practical experience beyond abstract sloganising. And we have judges who have taught law in classrooms without any courtroom experience whatsoever.

The ICC has produced witnesses in several trials who recanted their testimony when in the witness box, admitting that they were coached by non-governmental organisations as to what false statements to make. We have seen prosecutorial decisions that should have ended any fair trial because they compromised the integrity of any subsequent process. We have seen trials stopped because of judicial decisions to add new charges halfway through proceedings. And most telling of all, the court brought into being in 2002 to punish the most serious crimes in the world, the most grave of which being waging a war of aggression, has consciously avoided meaningfully addressing aggression – managing to postpone any action for at least another decade. It has turned a blind eye to the invasion and occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan by Western military forces.

It certainly can be argued that there are plenty of indictable people in Africa, but indictability is not guilt. We tend to think that prosecutions of African “war criminals” are justified by the inevitability of their guilt, but these are political actors, and politics distorts narratives. What is more, evidence of guilt seems far less relevant to ICC decisions than political concerns. In global terms the cases pursued are not in any way the most urgent in terms of the gravity of the accusations nor the weight of evidence. For example, though it is difficult to summarise, the situation with regard to Kenya makes it very clear that ICC personnel are willing to act with shameless disregard for real issues of justice.

After elections in 2007 Kenya was wracked with communal violence. An estimate 1300 people were killed. The loser of the election was Raila Odinga. He disputed the election and violence followed. Most of the victims were supporters of his opponent. Raila Odinga is the most prominently pro-Western leader in Kenya – a supporter of neoliberalism and foreign investment. It was very clearly Raila’s claims of election fraud which triggered the violence, and I will repeat here most of the victims were supporters of Raila’s opponent. Despite this, the ICC has charged members of both sides as they were at the time. The indicted are charged with being indirect co-conspirators by having organised networks in advance which committed ethnic violence and retaliatory ethnic violence. Raila is not charged with anything.

The narrative that ICC prosecutors are trying to present, then, is that each side had conspired to bring about these acts of violence beforehand. So, for example, Uhuru Kenyatta is accused of having met with others to conspire to commit violence, but the violence was triggered by his political enemy, initiated by followers of his political enemy and was mostly carried out against those perceived as his political supporters. He is alleged to have paid and directed members of the Mau Mau inspired Mungiki – an organised criminal militia/gang which is normally a bitter and deadly enemy of the government – to commit retaliatory violence after the anti-Kikuyu violence begun by the election result. He is alleged to have coordinated police actions to give Mungiki the freedom to carry out the violence. When the a pre-trial Judge summarise the allegations in his dissenting opinion, they sounded rather far-fetched. According to David Hiole, the original key witness against Uhuru recanted, reportedly in early 2009, leaving only those who corroborate a story told by someone who no longer claims it is true. Nothing in the remaining testimony in any way indicates what Uhuru Kenyatta might have hoped to gain by organising mass murder, rape and ethnic cleansing.

You might ask why Uhuru Kenyatta doesn’t just let the case go to trial, if it is so thin. One reason is that since being indicted Uhuru has been elected President of Kenya. It seems that a lot of people in Kenya were of the opinion that the ICC indictments were a political attack against opponents of Western interests and enemies of pro-Western Raila Odinga. Hoile quotes a Chatham House report suggesting that people believe that even the indicted political allies of Raila were, in fact, more rivals than allies. One defected and became Uhuru’s running mate in 2013 despite the ICC allegation that they were engaged in opposing conspiracies of ethnic violence. Both Western interference and the political nature of the ICC charges were more or less confirmed by the reaction of the EU and the US to the growing popularity of Uhuru in as the 2013 elections approached. Individually a number of EU nations threatened diplomatic and economic consequences should Kenyatta be elected. More jaw-dropping, though, was the extremely unsubtle threat that US Ambassador Johnnie Carson made in public by repeatedly telling the Kenyan people they faced “consequences” depending on the way they chose to vote in the election. This is from the representative of a country that passed the American Service-Members’ Protection Act for the explicit purpose of preventing its own citizens from being held accountable for their incredibly large numbers of easily proven war crimes.

The other reason that Uhuru Kenyatta might want to avoid a trial is the legendary slow pace of the ICC. Jean-Pierre Bemba has been in custody for 7 years and he has still never been convicted. Now information has surfaced that members of his defence team have been harassed and interfered with.

Remember that a criminal court is supposed to either prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt or acquit. The ICC is supposed to afford a presumption of innocence before conviction. In what universe, then, is it considered just to imprison an accused man for 7 years whilst trying to cobble together enough evidence to secure a conviction? Bemba may not actually be innocent, but justice requires that he either be convicted in reasonable time or be released.

To summarise, ICC proponents might see themselves as shining white knights, but everything that the ICC has done thus far has been squalid and foul. Whether or not the given accused are guilty, these are show trials made into grotesque parody by the fact that the lead actors are too stupid to understand the role they are playing. The ICC is the progeny of the equally execrable pantomimes of power that occurred at the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR). You can read more about that here.

Embedding Double Standards and Injustice

I used to work at a stall in a local market that was occasionally frequented by the former Prime Minister of my country, the Right Honourable Geoffrey Palmer QC, and I have often fantasised about what I might say to him in the entirely plausible event that I am able to address him. It is possible that I would use rude words because Palmer was the Chair of the 2010 inquiry by the UN into the Mavi Marmara incident.

The “Palmer Report” was a travesty. As Richard Falk explained, Palmer was not particularly knowledgeable about either the international law of the sea or the law of war. And incredibly, the only other independent member of the Panel was Alvaro Uribe, the former President of Colombia, with no professional credentials relevant to the issues under consideration, and notorious both for his horrible human rights record while holding office and forging intimate ties with Israel by way of arms purchases and diplomatic cooperation that was acknowledged by ‘The Light Unto The Nations’ award given by the American Jewish Committee that should have been sufficient by itself to cast doubt on his suitability for this appointment. His presence on the panel compromised the integrity of the process, and made one wonder how could such an appointment can be explained, let alone justified.”

The Palmer Report found that Israel used excessive force, but that its blockade was legal. However, in point of fact it was not really an investigation but rather a PR exercise that was a predetermined endorsement of Israel’s blockade of Gaza in particular and its occupation of Palestine in general. The terms of reference excluded the overall legality of the occupation and thus made it inevitable that the blockade of Gaza, an intrinsic part of the occupation, would be deemed legal. By analogy, if a bank robber shot someone during a robbery you wouldn’t accept a plea of self-defence on the basis that the victim lunged and caused the robber genuine fear. You can’t refuse to examine the context of the greater crime and make reasonable judgements. The fact that the shooter is robbing the bank cannot be excluded from consideration.

Let us be quite clear, accepting Israel’s claimed right to intercept the Mavi Marmara is much more insane than accepting a self-defence plea from someone who murders a hostage in a bank robbery. For a start it would mean that Israeli officials had reasonable cause to believe that there were weapons aboard the vessel. But the flotilla of the Mavi Marmara was an extremely public action, not a weapons smuggling operation. Israel’s rationale for its blockade is self-defence, but it doesn’t show any way in which this is linked to the interception of the flotilla. Israel does make claims about small arms and “paramilitary equipment”, but they are less to justify the raid itself than to justify the deadly violence.

The fact is that Israel claimed that this was a deliberate provocation aiming at destroying the blockade, but if Israel’s justification of the blockade is self-defence it cannot claim the right to enforce the blockade against vessels which it does not suspect of carrying weapons shipments. As it happens Israel cannot even legally invoke self-defence until it has ended its occupation – another factor conveniently overlooked by top legal thinkers like Palmer. I have previously described the limits on self-defence claims:

Israel claims the right of self-defence, but what does Article 51 of the UN Charter actually authorise? “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.” Well, the UNSC has indeed been apprised of this situation and has passed resolutions to restore international peace and security, but Israel will not comply with those resolutions. In order to claim the right of self-defence Israel would first have to relinquish all occupied territories, among other things. And that is a normal established understanding. An occupying force does not have a right to self-defence. Nor is it permissible to blockade a country and then “defend” against their armed resistance to that blockade. If these things were not true then you would have a situation where both sides can claim self-defence with each supposedly defending against the other’s defence.

The fact that Israel is using force to prevent humanitarian aid encapsulates the fact that the blockade is an illegitimate act of aggression which, in turn, gives legitimacy to armed resistance by Palestinians. You cannot judge the actions of any party in a conflict without examining the legal context of that conflict – or you end up spouting irrational victim-blaming nonsense like the Palmer Report.

Everything that applies to the Palmer Report in this regard also applies to the Goldstone Report. Law dealing with the legality of a conflict is called jus ad bellum, whilst law dealing with the legality of conduct during conflict is called jus in bello. By only dealing with jus in bello questions we end up in a morass of illogic, but we also inevitably privilege the most powerful party and the aggressor in any conflict as well as disadvantaging the party whose territory is the site of the conflict.

But jus ad bellum matters cannot be ignored. They are fundamental. People have a right to life and it does not just disappear because there is a war on. It is not legitimate to kill people in war, rather the illegitimacy and the criminal culpability are, all things being equal, located with the aggressor. The personnel that actually commit acts of violence are allowed to do so on two grounds, one is that there is reciprocal risk faced by belligerent personnel, and the other is that criminal responsibility for causing violent death and destruction lies with the aggressor.

This raises a side matter which is very relevant to the moral legitimacy of Israel’s state violence against Palestinians: Sebastian Kaempf argues that the moral legitimacy of the use of violence by combatants has been disintegrated by the asymmetry that exists in current warfare. The moral justification which allows a soldier to kill is based on reciprocal risk between belligerent personnel. One might argue that at least morally, and possibly legally, someone who is engaged in risk-free killing is not a “combatant” by any reasonable understanding of the term “combat”. A related legal question is whether UAV operators or even Special Forces personnel are entitled to “combatant privilege”, which is the legal basis for their violence and destruction. It was arguably stretched by powerful artillery and aircraft, but it is comprehensively broken by the one-sided and very low risk warfare engaged in by the US. This is especially so in the case of drones, but it is also true of helicopter gunships such as this one: or the Collateral Murder video; or the sequence at the end of Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre.

The technology allows US personnel to commit distant leisurely cold-blooded precision killing of people who have no chance of striking back and no chance of escape. Two of this videos show the deliberate murder of wounded people, but all of the victims here are effectively hors de combat. One might argue that these are war crimes on those grounds. Killing unarmed wounded people is definitely a war crime. Killing people on suspicion of being engaged in insurgent activity is murder in any respect. And when insurgents attempted to surrender to personnel in an Apache gunship, the crew were ordered to murder them an the ground that they were not allowed to surrender to airborne personnel – a crystal-clear example of a war crime.

Israel’s attacks on Palestinians fall into the same category. The moral justification for armed violence is destroyed by the disparity of risks, notwithstanding the number of fatalities sustained by the Israeli occupation forces. In addition the actual applications of force against alleged combatants become either arguably or inarguably criminal acts in and of themselves due to the incapacity of the victims. Also there is a prohibition on placing civilians at risk in order to reduce risk to your own personnel. We are aware of this with regard to the use of “human shields”, but it also applies to airstrikes which kill civilians in order to reduce risks to combatants.

Supreme Crime

The Nürnberg (Nuremberg) Tribunal ruled “to initiate a war of aggression…is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” This suited the victorious Allies, of course, but it also means that the law relating to war can be reconciled with the fundamental right to life. Anything else would mean that when if anyone rich or powerful enough to start a war decides that their ends are best served by war, then ordinary people’s lives are simply forfeit – to be taken without any repercussions. Wars kill people therefore, unless you think that the powerful have the self-arrogated right to take lives “for reasons of state”, wars must be illegal.

People seem to think that war is somehow morally distanced from the individual acts of violence which occur in war. We seem to have forgotten the lessons learned from German aggression and we have slid back into voluntarily abdicating our morality in favour of allowing authorities to make such decisions for us. We just follow orders.

A case in point is the ruling by judge Anne Mactavish [sic] in Canada against the application for refugee status by US deserter Jeremy Hinzman. “An individual must be involved at the policy-making level to be culpable for a crime against peace … the ordinary foot soldier is not expected to make his or her own personal assessment as to the legality of a conflict,” Mactavish wrote in her 2006 decision. “Similarly, such an individual cannot be held criminally responsible for fighting in support of an illegal war, assuming that his or her personal war-time conduct is otherwise proper.” This is directly contrary to the spirit of two the Nuremberg principles. She is basically saying that she is happy if he is coerced into committing violent crimes because he himself will not be prosecuted.

If the war wasn’t clearly illegal Mactavish would probably have cited arguments for its legality rather than ruling that legality irrelevant. Iraqis have the legal right to resist aggression and occupation and those who do so have a right to life. Mactavish is revealing that she doesn’t really care about the deaths of Iraqi combatants. These combatants are innocent as much as any non-combatant is innocent. They are engaging in legally sanctioned armed resistance. They are human beings whose nervous systems transmit pain as much as a civilians; who feel the same fear and grief; and who will be mourned as deeply. As far as I can ascertain, at base the only reason Mactavish doesn’t take this view is that she is a disgusting racist who has embraced the dehumanisation of any Arab who resists Western power. You cannot think the way she does without being a racist bigot at some fundamental level.

Naturally, this all relates to the situation in Palestine. The UN Partition Plan of 1947 was of highly dubious legality under the UN Charter itself. The subsequent ethnic cleansing and confiscations of Palestinian property during the Nakba were crimes against humanity. The Israeli occupation of the remainder of Palestine in 1967 is very clearly illegal. UNSC resolutions 242, 338, 446 reaffirm the patent illegality. As mentioned above, under this circumstance Israel’s only legitimate form of self-defence, under UN Charter Art. 51, is to first comply with the UNSC resolutions and end the occupation. The continuing occupation involves continual armed violence as well as other acts which fit the category of acts of war – to the extent that the term still has meaning – or crimes against the peace.

What this means is that armed violence by Palestinian resistance fighters is legally legitimate. They have what is called “combatant privilege”. They are legally allowed to kill people within the limits of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). (This is the jus in bello component which makes it illegal for combatants to target non-combatants and other such things.) The “combatant privilege” allows combatants to legally kill – not because the lives of those they kill are not afforded any protection under the law, but because the criminal culpability for any killing lies with the aggressor, not the specific combatant who physically carries out the act of killing.

Combatant’s privilege, by the way, does not require that the combatant be a uniformed regular in a state military branch. The requirements are: “(1) operating under military command; (2) wearing a fixed distinctive sign (or uniform for regulars); (3) carrying arms openly; and most important, (4) conducting military operations consistently with the laws and customs of war.” State belligerents always deny the applicability of combatants privilege to non-state resistance forces. The German did for the “Resistance” in Western and Northern Europe as much as they did for the “Partisans” in Eastern and Southern Europe. The British denied combatant status to anti-colonial rebels like the“Mau Mau” and far too many others to mention. At the turn of the 20th century erstwhile allies of the US in Cuba and the Phillippines became unlawful combatants. So too did erstwhile allies in the fight against Fascism after the end of WWII in Greece, Viet Nam, Phillippines (again), Indonesia, Korea, and Malaya. More recently, of course, the US has famously declared many more of its enemies to be “unlawful combatants”.

Both in history and in our own times, the only reason to deny combatant status en masse is in order to commit war crimes. Those declared “unlawful combatants” are subject to torture and summary execution in every historical instance. For example, one might argue that ISIS/Daesh personnel are not legal combatants, but what would be the practical purpose? A robust moral stance would be to treat captives as prisoners of war until the cessation of hostilities. After hostilities have ended it would be possible to charge them as criminals using normal legal proceedings. The only other legitimate approach would be to treat each suspect as a criminal suspect from the outset and accord them rights, such as habeus corpus, on those grounds. The only reason for conflating the ideas of criminality and combatancy, as the US does, is as a way of denying and circumvention human rights in order to commit atrocities.

It is true that a combatant who deliberately disguises their combatant status by feigning non-combatancy forfeits combatant privilege as such, but that does not mean that one can simply deny the right of armed resistance to those who cannot form regular military units. If people have the right to self-defence from foreign aggression and occupation that means that they have the right to armed resistance. That cannot legitimately be restricted in such a way that prevents the victim of aggression from resisting because they do not have the material capacity to fulfill certain predetermined criteria.

The right for irregular guerrilla forces to be considered combatants has been established clearly and indisputably, albeit against the wishes of the late nineteenth century Western imperial “Great Powers”. The response by the “Great Powers” then or now is to accuse their weaker opponents of hiding behind civilians. Whether it was the Prussians accusing the franc-tireurs or colonial regimes such as the French in Alegria, such accusations serve a dual purpose. The first is to delegitimise the armed resistance in order to use judicial and extrajudicial acts of incarceration, torture, maiming and execution. The second is to legitimise their own attacks on civilians. This itself works on two levels: suggesting that military necessity (namely, legitimate attacks on armed targets) requires the targeting of civilians who become “collateral damage” in a legitimate military endeavour; but at the same time the second element is to produce a schizophrenic ideological discourse which destroys the distinction between combatant and non-combatant. This is a technique, or a symptom, of genocide. Violence is inflicted on the target population by blurring combatant and non-combatant status and creating in people’s minds the vision of a weaponised people. But don’t take my word for it, this is what Adolf Hitler said: “This partisan war has its advantages as well. It gives us the opportunity to stamp out everything that stands against us.”

Israel frequently claims that its enemies hide among civilians. This is an excuse for killing civilians, but they also know that they must continue at all costs maintaining the international consensus that armed actions by Palestinian formations (“militants”) do not have the foundational legitimacy of military operations. Ironically, however, it is powerful militarised states like Israel and the US whose personnel may not have legitimate combatant privilege. In a journal article that complements Sabastian Kaempf’s reasoning on reciprocity of risk, international law scholar Jens David Ohlin argues that whether uniformed or not both drone operators and special forces personnel do not meet the requirements of lawful combatancy. There is nothing that prevents this logic being applied to any personnel, including ordinary grunts, engaged in a mission which is not that of a lawful combatant. In refusing to treat enemies as combatants, powerful states are themselves increasingly embracing paradigms of violent force that are morally and legally equivalent to paramilitary death squad activity.

All of this is outside of the jurisdiction of the ICC. Aggression was one of the four types of crime outlined in the Rome Statute, but it was undefined and hence outside of consideration. An amendment addressing this will come into force in 2017, but it must be individually ratified by each state.

But even if they can prosecute the crime of aggression the entire setup will militate against justice and will always favour the powerful against the weak. Aggression will not now become the missing context, but will rather just be another potential crime for Third World citizens to be charged with. The very nature of this criminal court is to pluck certain selected villains from immense complex and multifariously criminal circumstances of mass violence and to charge them in isolation from the masses. Of necessity this will always be a political process, even more so than ad hoc tribunals. In theory ad hoc tribunals such as the ICTY or ICTR could treat all belligerent parties even-handedly. They don’t, of course, but the ICC cannot in any conception be even-handed in its approach.

With jurisdiction over nearly half of the world’s war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocides prosecutions by the ICC are inevitably political. These are show trials and they fuel the Hitler-of-the-Month-Club demonisation of Third World leaders that forms the backbone of Western interventionist propaganda. That is true of the entire process even if a case never goes to trial or if the defendant is acquitted.

Can you imagine how much mileage the US State Dept. and the Israeli hasbara (propaganda) agents would get out an ICC indictment for, say, Khaled Mashal from Hamas? They would milk it for all its worth and that would be to the detriment of every single Palestinian alive, even those who despise Mashal. The ICC will help Israel justify killing Palestinians because it will help replace the image of a people with the image of a single demon, and when you want to conduct a war against a people, which is to say genocide, it is very useful to convince your own people that you are fighting a single tyrant.

Israeli Impunity, Palestinian Punition

By practicing its pious “end of impunity” criminal prosecutions the ICC ignores the context questions such as which belligerent is the aggressor and who is a legal combatant. Instead, its real contextualisation comes from the politics of neocolonialism. Theoretically these questions should not have much impact on the question of guilt or innocence in war crimes. Jus in bello applies to all combatants, right?

Actually, not right. The Nürnberg Tribunal ruled that Russian partisans, as resistance to aggression, could not be tried for war crimes. This has been an issue right up until 2010 when Latvia successfully appealed a prior European Court of Human Rights ruling which had ruled against their conviction of a Soviet partisan for a 1944 war crime.

I am not going to argue that armies of “liberators” should be able to commit mass murder, mass rape and war crimes with impunity. The law must reflect basic principles such as legal equality – even to victims of “liberators”. International humanitarian law precedes the Nürnberg Tribunal and has been developed and elaborated since. As far as I am concerned the mass rapes committed by the Red Army in 1945 were war crimes and many of the “strategic bombing” missions undertaken by the Western Allies were acts of mass murder.

When you are dealing with forces of resistance not recognised as combatants by the aggressor/occupier, the moral situation changes. For one thing, to immunise them from war crimes prosecutions is not to grant them impunity. If they are adjudged unlawful combatants by the occupier, by nature the more powerful belligerent, they are subject to all of those judicial or extrajudicial hazards outlined above – incarceration, torture, maiming and death. They have no impunity and even their friends, family and community may be at risk from retaliation, collective punishment or the violent technologies employed in extrajudicial executions.

Failure to treat resistors as lawful combatants highlights a certain moral coherence to the idea that it is the aggressor/occupier that is culpable for their war crimes. Legitimate acts of resistance are treated as crimes by the occupier which effectively destroys the rule of law with regards to war crimes. That does not mean that they cannot be culpable for some criminal acts, but they did not create the circumstances which prompted them. A court cannot ethically judge them if it does not seek to prosecute those responsible for the aggression. In that sense the principle that aggression is the “supreme crime” makes considerable sense.

The culpability of the aggressor for the war crime committed by the resistor is actually morally greater than that of the resistor because it is unmitigated – the original act which created the circumstances of the resistors crime was itself a crime. Once again we can use the analogy of an armed bank robbery with hostages acting in lawful self-defence but committing acts which are themselves crimes. Deliberately killing the child of the hostage taker is a crime, but if the robber has already killed 10 hostages by that point, the circumstance have a considerable bearing. It would be completely wrong to charge a hostage with murder but refuse to charge the robbers or consider the circumstances in which the crime was committed as relevant.

In fact, it is possible to argue that killing a child was justified and a court would would then decide whether, in the circumstances, that was “reasonable”. (I personally don’t think that in the real world it is ever reasonable to kill a child, but if you want to find people who do think it is reasonable the best places to look are not where slavering terrorists strap bombs to little girls but places like the White House where killing children is routine practice and they simply state that “the price is worth it”.)

Not only are basic legal principles important, but there is at least one part of international law that is even more fundamental than IHL, and that is the UN Charter. The ICC relies on the UN Charter for its authority. So does the UNSC. The UN Charter is fundamental to the notion that there is a modern international state system in which there is international law. People have described it as the global “constitution”. This is of considerable relevance to Palestinians because the ICC process will not put alleged crimes in that context.

For example, if people have a right to self-defence, then they must practically be allowed to exercise that right. A case in point is rocket fire from Gaza. It is not so much argued as screeched by Israel and their supporters that the rockets fired by Gazan militants into Israel violate the principle of discrimination which requires that combatants distinguish between military and civilian targets.

I want to look at the rocket fire issue from a couple of angles, but first let me remind people that it is a real possibility that this alleged war crime might be the cause of prosecutions. In our Orwellian world where “freedom” quite literally means “slavery” – as in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom – “resistance” also means “aggression”. Everyone’s favourite Peace Prize-winning older and larger brother (Obama) said the following about rockets from Gaza: “…we strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza. No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.” He knows, of course, that the rockets from Gaza did not actually “target” civilians and that the real accusation is that they were not accurate enough to discriminate between targets as required by law.

Obama has used a simple two-step rhetorical technique to invert reality. First he turns allegedly indiscriminate rocket fire into “targeting civilians”, which provides a 90º angle. Second, he states that Israel has a “right to defend itself” which implies that it was Gazan militants who fired first (a lie) and obfuscates the nature of Israel’s actions over the long term. That provides another 90 degrees. Voilá, we have now turned 180 degrees to enter Oppositeland, where black is white and truth is lie. Obama can only do this because the news media are subservient vacuous apparatchiks, but it also shows that he and the US establishment are committed and implacable enemies of the Palestinian people. At a time when most of the world watched in horror as Gazans were mutilated and slaughtered by the hundreds, Obama chose to attack them. He gave arms to Israel in the middle of the slaughter so that they could kill more.

Take time to think about what that means. As children were being dismembered and incinerated every single day, this man, Obama, deliberately twists the facts in a calculated way to make the victims seem then perpetrators and the perpetrators seem as victims.

Meanwhile, in the UK David Cameron remained a staunch supporter of “oasis of freedom” Israel. He spouted exactly the same line as Obama even when members of his own caucus and cabinet objected. These are the most powerful Western leaders, and they are quite happily prepared to cold-bloodedly attack Palestinians during a time of intense suffering. They weren’t forced into it by the “Israel Lobby”; they are not scared of Netanyahu; they do not love Netanyahu. Nor does this have anything to do with party politics. Blair and Bush would have done the same, and they were from the putatively opposing parties. They do it because they are cold-blooded mass-murdering imperialists whose geostrategic ends are furthered by the deaths and suffering of Palestinians – just as they were furthered by the deaths of Salvadorans, Laotians, Indonesians, Koreans, Vietnamese, Guatemalans, Philipinos, Eritreans, Congolese and many many more.

Ask yourself what these Western leaders are going to do with the fact that Palestinians will be subject to ICC prosecution. What I foresee is that the next time Israel wishes to commit a genocidal slaughter in Gaza, Palestinian leaders will now “investigated” for their “crimes” no matter what they actually do or don’t do. The ICC brush will tar the entire Palestinian people and the Western public will be forced once again into a discussion which begins with the vehement declaration that Israel clearly must respond to the acts of militants. The result will be that the only allowable criticism of Israel will be to censure them for not making their attacks on the besieged overpopulated Gaza strip a bit less massacre-ish.

In summary, the most powerful Western leaders have shown that they will attack the Palestinians at every turn, even at the height of their suffering. The only thing that holds them back is the weight of public opinion, and the ICC will give them opportunities to shift sympathies away from Palestinians and to further obscure the basic rights and wrongs of the issue. The way Obama used and shamelessly twisted the issue of rocket fire illustrates the problem.

But what else could be learnt from the issue of Gazan militants firing what, by all accounts, were very basic rockets? What if I were to return to the bank robbery analogy? Gazan rocket fire is equivalent here to throwing paperweights in the direction of armed robber from behind a desk when children might be hurt. The robbers have already killed and can be expected to kill again. A moral or legal justification that this is a reasonable act of self-defence would require that the risk to innocents is outweighed, in the judgement of those throwing the paperweights, by the potential prevention of violence by the robbers.

One might argue that throwing paperweights in morally unacceptable because the throwers have no substantive grounds for believing that they will disable or deter the attacks but might just as easily aggravate them and increase their violence. That is a very nice argument against acts of violence that can hurt innocents, and it happens to be how I feel about rocket fire from Gaza. But no one, including the “end of impunity” bureautwats, can justify contemplating the morality and legality of the paperweight throwers until they have judged and punished the robbers for their crimes, which include murder.

Once again we are confronted with the fact that by isolating alleged war crimes from their context, ICC proceeding could promote injustice, enable crimes and embed impunity. We should ask, what sort of mad world is it when we judge the victim of an attack on the legality of their acts of self-defence, but we don’t judge the attacker? Gazans are imprisoned by two US client states, the number one and number two recipients of US military aid. Their lives are not as desperate as those of Warsaw Ghetto inmates, but the sickening comparison is impossible to avoid. If we interfere in any way with their ability to defend themselves, even with acts that would otherwise be criminal, we risk becoming the moral equivalents of those who deported Jewish refugees to Axis controlled Europe and near-certain death. An entrapped people are attacked by a superior power with weapons that kill, maim, traumatise, brutalise and immiserate. When we prevent defensive acts on the basis that they are prohibited in IHL, if we do not know for certain that our interference does not interfere with their ability to defend themselves then we risk becoming a party to acts of aggression. That is another reason that the idea, from the Nürnberg Tribunal, of making the aggressor culpable for the criminal acts of the collective victim actually makes sense in the overall scheme of things.

The Privilege of Power

Judging war crimes only by their conduct without the jus ad bellum context provides an obvious advantage to the aggressor. Usually the aggressor is the more powerful belligerent and they are more likely to retain the initiative, control the tempo of the conflict and be able to conduct operations away from their own territory, people and assets. The aggressor has all of the advantages and, all things being equal, for equivalent war aims they have a much greater ability to achieve their desires whilst constraining personnel within the letter of the law. In practice aggressors may commit many war crimes, but I am trying to point out that this is despite a real situational advantage. They commit prolific war crimes only because their war aims are more extreme and are often inherently brutal, criminal and genocidal.

But the ICC may choose to ignore war crimes altogether and yet still acts as a weapon against the people of Palestine. As we have seen when acting as a neocolonial tool against African countries like Kenya, the ICC has preferred charges of crimes against humanity. This too creates an inherent bias in favour of the powerful over the weak. The ICC is tasked with only taking on cases where the state in question is “unable or unwilling” to prosecute.

For those willing but “unable” to prosecute their own genocidaires, war criminals, or criminals against humanity, there is a mechanism called “self-referral”. Anyone who has studied the history of international relations would predict that no state ever would actually say that they have a criminal suspect who they would like to prosecute for crimes committed in their country but are so pathetic and useless we can’t actually hold our own trial and theye need better richer whiter people to do the job for them. Yet these “self-referrals” do occur. David Hoile explains the phenomenon thus:

“The myth of African self-referrals is just that. It is public knowledge that the ICC Prosecutor Luis Ocampo made the governments of Uganda and DR Congo an offer they could not refuse: refer your countries to the ICC and we will only investigate your rebels; refuse and we will indict you as well.”

If you are a strong enough country you can defy the ICC, but if you are an enemy of the West, that very defiance is a weapon to be used against you. But a strong state that is allied to the West like Israel? Quite aside from the fact that Israel has not only refused to ratify the Rome Statute but, like the US, has also repudiated the initial signing of the treaty. More than that, however, the US State Department is quite satisfied when Israel investigates its own alleged war crimes and apparently that is more important to global officialdom than either public opinion or mere facts.

For example, after Operation Cast Lead Israel convicted two low-ranking soldiers of using a child as a human shield. They received suspended sentences of three months. This should have provoked screams of outrage that this stage-managed ersatz justice was far worse that doing nothing. Instead, the media printed the “reasoned” and respectable criticisms of people like Sarit Michaeli of B’Tselem: “Although individual soldiers do bear responsibility if they have violated rules, this has to be accompanied by systematic examination of issues of policy – such as what constitutes a legitimate target, open fire regulations, types of weapons used and the targeting of public buildings. The main issues of concern that we have raised have not been dealt with.” In other words, forget slavering passionately about evil “war criminals” (as we do about African suspects) these soldiers have quite correctly been disciplined for having “violated rules”, but we should also tweak Israeli policy somewhat. An incoherent scream of rage is actually a more coherent response than that.

To criticise the manner in which Israel judges its own actions normalises the idea that Israel should be left to police its own war crimes. People also seem to accept the idea that it is right for the US and the UK to choose who, if anyone, will be held accountable even when the crimes are committed in other countries. These countries then use the selective prosecutions of low-ranking personnel to create a false image of lawfulness.

Worse still, Israel has used the fact that it went through a judicial sham and conducted some supposed investigations to further criticise Hamas because they haven’t conducted their own prosecutions. This is another two-step inversion of reality. First, you get people to accept the idea that there is some moral equivalence in the illicit acts of aggressor and resistance forces – twisting the first 90º – then you get them to accept that your abysmally deficient scapegoating of junior personnel is some sort of robust corrective. After these two simple steps you hand rotated into Oppositeland and you may now safely blame and demonise the victim of your mass murder.

And when we envision the future impact of the ICC regime on Palestine we must not, under any circumstance, fail to take into account the power of the political discourse which seeks to make enemy states into appendages of a near omnipotent villainous leader. Every crime committed by personnel from a state deemed inimical to the West is blamed directly on the leader of that country. Bashar al-Assad drops barrel bombs on civilians; Omar Bashir commits genocide; Muammer Ghadaffi even committed the massacre of political prisoners in one of his prisons. Theirs are the fingers on the triggers.

Ordinary people may likewise think that Donald Rumsfeld should been tried for torture, or Tony Blair for crimes against peace, or Ariel Sharon for mass murder, or Henry Kissinger for genocide. People in officialdom, however, claim to have a superior understanding of politics and power and are ever willing to concede limits to justice where powerful Westerners are concerned.

Convicting a couple of rather amateur torturers from Abu Ghraib and a few Blackwater murderers makes the US feel like it is superior, lawful, legitimate and civilised. US political and military leaders go free and the bureaupratts, security geeks and self-described “wonks” sneer at the inferiority of those who don’t accept a priori that Western leaders are untouchable. With regard to Third World enemy states it is the exact opposite. These same “wonks” now salivate with strident bloodlust. Justice is now an absolute and they can never compromise. The snide bespectacled weeds are now transformed into blood-drenched muscular Conan-esque warriors meting out righteous violence. They cheered when Osama bin Laden was supposedly killed: “We’re number One!” They howled in triumph when Ghaddafi died in the most grotesquely cruel manner and Clinton crowed: “We came. We Saw. He died.”

Part 2

Why Blocking the Revolving Door Won’t Fix Human Rights Watch

Standard
A recent open letter decrying the links between Human Rights Watch (HRW) Western powers was signed by two Nobel peace laureates and over 100 scholars. Belén Fernández wrote an outline of the problem – the “revolving door” which surely has a corrupting effect. However well-meaning most HRW employees are, and no matter how much of HRW’s work is well-meaning, the organisation is tainted and it is not independent. The same is true of Amnesty International(AI). However, preventing the continuation of relations between these organisations and the US State Department will not fix the greatest problems. It is a necessary but woefully insufficient measure. In order to become functioning independent human rights organisations both AI and HRW must actively oppose imperial power. They must reject all actions which facilitate attacks by powerful states on those less powerful. If they do not do that they are doomed to remain tools of empire, promoting interventions that do more harm than decades of good work can undo.
Selective AmplificationAs the US unleashed its military might on Viet Nam, it also unleashed charities. USAID provided funds for many and the US extended a paternal possessive wing over all. Helping the less fortunate, after all, is what the US is all about. By their own account that is why the US had troops in the country – to help those too weak to defend themselves. And USAID was part of the strategic approach in Viet Nam, and it remains so today. (NGOs were told by Andrew Natsios in 2003 that they were “an arm of the US government” and he threatened to rip up USAID contracts of any NGO that failed to act as such.)

The people of South Viet Nam needed charitable assistance. Many were orphaned, dispossessed, injured, diseased or impoverished. Yet many charity workers, singly or en masse, came to the conclusion that they could not, in conscience, continue rendering aid. The charities were doing the same work as that of the US military civic action programs. They weren’t winning the hearts and minds of Vietnamese, as much as they were providing public relations cover for the destruction being wrought by the full weight of US military might.

The problem is that by structural reflex a power as dominant as the US automatically co-opts all that can be co-opted. The vast majority of massacres by US troops – such as those documented by Nick Turse – were not reported by journalists. The vast majority of villages destroyed were not reported. But it almost seemed that every time a Westerner dug a well there were 30 cameras pointed at him. It was inevitable. The US government had the capability of promoting coverage of the one and suppressing coverage of the other.

There is a persistent myth that bold journalists spearheaded the growing opposition to the war in Indochina by fearless reporting, There is also a journalistic myth that reporting is shaped by “news values” which, for better or worse, are responsive to audience interests – “if it bleeds it leads” “man bites dog”. This is utterly wrong on both counts. Most reporting from the field in Viet Nam was coverage of those things that the US military arranged to be covered including huge amounts of coverage of civic action programs. Far from being sensational, these stories were as dull as dirty dishwater and just as good at obscuring the ugly truth that lay beneath.

There is the same inevitable selectivity with regard to the actions of human rights NGOs. Even without the corruption which has occurred in AI and HRW, the US will always be able to amplify any accusations levelled against its enemies and targets, while it also wields a great amount of power to deflect and diffuse criticism aimed at itself.

 

 

Promoting Slaughter

In October 1990 AI gave crucial support to the fraudulent claim that Iraqi personnel had murdered premature babies by removing them from incubators. They would later retract that support, but less than three weeks after the incubator lies Amnesty released a report on atrocities carried out by Iraqis in Kuwait. The report contained unconfirmed as well as independently verified reports of atrocities. Atrocities were definitely taking place, but why dramatise the report with unconfirmed allegations? Amnesty’s answer: to “raise awareness”? But, the entire world was already watching. Saddam Hussein was the most vilified person on the planet. George Bush had labelled him as worse than Hitler.

No one should underestimate AI’s impact in this instance. People were wary of US warmongering, but atrocity propaganda is a very powerful tool. It is one of the ironies of human existence that people are mobilised to commit atrocities by stories, true or false, of the atrocities of the targeted enemy. AI helped unleash a quarter century of insecurity, fear, death and grief on the Iraqi people. With those actions alone AI destroyed its value to humanity – taking all of the hard work of dedicated and sometimes brave and self-sacrificing individuals and converting that into a form of capital to be spent by murderous warmongers.

 

 

An Army of Straw Men “Marching in Lockstep”

Democracy Now! hosted a lively and enlightening debate between Keane Bhatt and Reed Brody of HRW.

I’m normally one to doubt the assumed goodwill of various people. I find it silly to say that “nobody doubts” or “nobody can doubt” the good intentions of people doing bad things. With any politician or bureaucrat there is always considerable grounds to doubt good intentions. Not only does power corrupt, but so does prestige and money. In our dysfunctional world, anyone who does achieve success should be viewed with the greatest suspicion. Orthodox thinking is far more ubiquitous now than, say, the mid-20th century in the West. It is very rare for anyone to achieve recognition without “drinking the Kool-aid”, which is often the elixir of self-satisfaction.

In the case of Reed Brody I am willing to concede, that he seems to be the genuine article – a humanitarian famed for taking on US-backed dictators. I don’t know how he has failed to notice the toxic nature of HRW, but I suspect that the nature of his responses to Bhatt provide some insight.

Keane Bhatt raised serious issues about HRW. Some of the issues were disputed. Brody rejected the characterisation of HRW as having a “revolving door”. But he also repeatedly said that Bhatt was wrong because HRW did not “march in lockstep” with the US State Department. This was one of a number of “straw man” arguments. Bhatt never claimed that HRW did “march in lockstep”, so Brody is creating a straw man to knock down in order to create the impression, for himself as much as for other people, that he has demolished one of Bhatt’s arguments.

Brody insisted that Bhatt and other critics of HRW were motivated by support for the Venezuelan government. This fallacy is called the “appeal to motive”. It isn’t just a tricky debater’s ploy, in fact in debates such as this one it tends to fail. It indicates the natural thought processes of Brody and others in that sort of position. Presumably Brody already knows that HRW are the good guys, so when serious accusations are levelled at HRW his mind does not focus on the validity of the arguments. He simply wants to know why people are attacking HRW. Once he has found what he thinks is the best answer, he must naturally believe that once he explains it to others they will all, like him, feel that the puzzle is resolved.

This is why delegitimisation is such an important tool. Those convinced of their own benevolence can only explain profound criticism by saying that the source itself is tainted. This is true of any White House or State Dept. spokesperson who knows that the US is a force for good in the world, but it is also true of any NGO or alternative media that have proven their goodness by criticising the US and Israel. The people who attack them are crackpots, malcontents and ideological zealots. Any substance in their criticisms is merely the substance of blemishes on the surface of the radiant sphere that describes the whole.

 

The Straw Giant

Brody’s most powerful counter to Bhatt’s claims, on the surface at least, was his invitation to everyone to visit the HRW website: “I think anyone who is familiar with our work, anyone who takes the time to look at our website, would see, first of all, that we routinely criticize the U.S. government.” It is true. Brody is trying to show us that glowing orb he sees as the truth – the real HRW which boldly takes on the crimes of the US and Israel. Once you embrace the underlying assumption of fundamental benevolence then you will see things the way that Brody and his colleagues see things. Collections of people like this are known as “reference groups”.

“Reference groups” share values and share assumptions. The problem with such groups is not that the assumptions are necessarily invalid, but rather that their validity is never tested. No one inside the group can originate challenges to assumption that they themselves hold, and when someone outside the group challenges them, they respond with the sort of delegitimising thought processes described above. Reference groups help to cause what is known as “groupthink” and also what is known as “confirmation bias”, when people focus on and give greater weight to evidence that fits preconceived conclusions.

There are two major problems with adopting the Brody’s view. One is that, even viewing HRW in isolation, it cannot explain the substance of those accusations of bias. These are real issues, and simply saying that HRW is often critical of the US doesn’t address the substance. The second is that, as mentioned, if HRW does not actively guard against co-optation, the nature of our society will ensure that any even-handed approach will become distorted in transmission to the public.

In the final analysis, the HRW website and the internal view of its activists and employees is another straw man. It is an impressive straw man – compelling and seemingly substantive. But it is not the internal functioning of HRW which is the final measure of its nature, and it is not the front it presents to those engaged enough to seek it out. HRW’s true nature is how it functions in our society.

 

Where There’s Smoke…

Humanity is complex, and its institutions equally so. But if you ascribe an essence to something there is a severe limit on how much of its character you can ascribe to asymptomatic products of human complexity. In other words, Human Rights Watch cannot be “independent” if it has any ties with regimes which commit human rights abuses. As Fernández writes:

“Javier Solana, for example, was NATO secretary general during the 1999 assault on Yugoslavia, an event HRW itself described as entailing “violations of international humanitarian law.” Solana is now on the group’s Board of Directors.”

So by HRW’s own lights, there is prima facie evidence that Solana is a war criminal – yet he is appointed to their board of directors. That is not a aberrant little matter that has no bearing on the otherwise independent nature of HRW, it is actually all the proof that is needed that HRW is not independent at all. Let’s not be stupid about this – if HRW’s employees and activists actually were independent of thought and action they would never have allowed someone suspected of war crimes to be appointed to their board.

If HRW workers were truly independent, they would not tolerate their bosses saying that there is “a legitimate place” for extraordinary renditions. If HRW workers were really independent they would revolt against executive director Kenneth Roth tweeting his support for military intervention in Syria.

Brody objected strongly to concept of HRW having a “revolving door” with the US government, but that is another straw man. “Revolving door” is a subjective usage. It is great for drawing attention to the issue, but easy for someone like Brody to dismiss. But you don’t need a “revolving door” to be compromised. Brody tried to talk down the numbers, but after the debate Bhatt tweeted showing an email from one of two HRW employees to join Samantha Power’s team.

This isn’t just about Washington D.C. political actors either. Along with even further ties to US government Bhatt has also revealed:

“To be sure, not all of the organization’s leadership has been so involved in dubious political activities. Many HRW board members are simply investment bankers, like board co-chairs Joel Motley of Public Capital Advisors, LLC, and Hassan Elmasry, of Independent Franchise Partners, LLP. HRW Vice Chair John Studzinski is a senior managing director at The Blackstone Group, a private equity firm founded by Peter G. Peterson, the billionaire who has passionately sought to eviscerate Social Security and Medicare. And although Julien J. Studley, the Vice Chair of the Americas advisory committee, once served in the U.S. Army’s psychological warfare unit, he is now just another wealthy real-estate tycoon in New York.”

 

Magnified Bias

People defend HRW on the basis of the undoubted good work they do, but that is beside the point. An academic engaged in human rights issues, such as Stephen Zunes here, may be in a situation any irregularities or biases seem of minor importance compared to their invaluable documentation of crimes by numerous regimes. However, as Bhatt points out: “documentation is different from advocacy and operationalizing that research.”

HRW, like AI, is biased in favour of Western interests. Here, for example, you can see some of the criticisms levelled at HRW over its disproportionate and inaccurate condemnation of human rights abuses in Venezuela. It is bad enough that HRW tried to create a sense of equivalence in human rights abuses and political repression between Venezuela and Colombia, but you would have to be very stupid indeed to be blind to the potential of such a report to be used for ill-purposes. Just like the AI report on Kuwait under Iraqi population, such a report his a negative impact out of all proportion with its significance. In private and public diplomacy this is ammunition for US interventionists.

Every time HRW condemns an enemy of the West, they themselves put greater energy into “awareness”; Western bureaucrats and politicians suddenly decide that they are, in this instance, an authoritative and independent voice; and, most of all, the media really report it. And when I write “really report” I mean that it enters the echo-chamber of the real media agenda. It is said that US media have perfected the art of lying “by only telling the truth once”. Something reported a dozen pages in to the NYT is simply not part of reality for the vast majority of people. If you want to understand what HRW is really about watch mainstream news and current affairs programming.

We who read the sort of articles you get on this website, such as the one you are reading now, form a minority reference group consisting of people who know a lot more detail about political events than most members of the public. We should not forget, however, that even watching the television news regularly is more than most people manage. Media analyst Andrew Tyndall, who compiles reports on network news broadcasts, points out in an interview with Danny Schechter that network news broadcasts have far greater viewer numbers than cable news – about 5 times as many. So the really real HRW, in practice, isn’t even what you would get from CNN, but rather that which is on the nightly news broadcasts.

 

“You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train”

Bhatt points out the double standard of HRW advocacy: “Let’s take the case of drone strikes in Yemen, for example. What Human Rights Watch is advocating is not for the immediate cessation of drone strikes, which have killed hundreds of civilians around the world. What they’re asking for is greater transparency on the legal rationale for continuation of those drone strikes. So, the idea that the United States can treat the entire planet as a legitimate battlefield is simply unquestioned.” In contrast we have seen Roth’s call for intervention in Syria, but even if this were not the case there is an unavoidable pitfall in criticising enemies of the West.

The fact is that when HRW condemns an enemy of the West, their own advocacy in terms of solutions is only part of the picture. By highlighting that there is a problem HRW effectively arms those in political power who seek to create a casus belli – a pretext for deadly intervention. They should also recognise that when the US seeks to intervene as a matter of course they will create disinformation through covert agencies which will inevitably target groups like HRW in just the same way that they target media outlets in order to propagate the disinformation.

Equally, any concession to the sensibilities of US leaders, any extra softness such as that displayed over the use of deadly drone programme, effectively means that HRW is acting as an agent in a “limited hangout” action. By soft-selling the criminality of US actions, they actually become part of a discourse which normalises those crimes, making them seem legitimately disputed actions rather than unambiguous crimes. The lack of urgency signals a lesser moral weighting while also allowing acclimatisation among a public who become like the proverbial boiling frogs.

Reforming groups like HRW is much more complicated than simply enacting rules about employing people who have previously worked in governments implicated in human rights abuses. Here is my three-step programme:

 

1) Disembed: Clearly HRW cannot legitimately hire people who have worked in policy related functions at the US government. It is sickening that they should think even one such person is acceptable. That goes equally for putting the former Secretary General of NATO on the board of directors. They should also have a ban on those from high-level military, police or intelligence backgrounds. These are the sort of organisations usually implicated in human rights abuses, and it should be as clear as day that they do not belong working in human rights organisations. They should also be wary of hiring those who have worked at low-levels in such organisations because they will be inclined to identify with potential human rights abusers and because their insider perspective will often be privileged as being “expertise”.

Reed Brody proudly embraces the idea that there is a “revolving door” between HRW and the United Nations secretariat. Given that much of the UN bureaucracy is devoted to ostensible human rights functions it may be hard to avoid interpenetration, but it is hardly something to tout as a source of credibility. Under a UN flag, millions of civilian casualties were caused in the bombing of Korea. Under a UN flag, an estimated 1 million Iraqis died due to genocidal sanctions, and in Haiti blue-helmeted troops have provided support for death squads and massacres. In addition, the UN is inevitably a corrupting hierarchy in which even those with the best intentions must become careerists in order to acquire the power and influence to effect positive change. This sort of relationship makes a hollow mockery of the notion of “independence”. Power structures such as that of the UN corrupt because they disproportionately favour those who are not burdened with unbending principles and thus tend to empower the self-deluding and the sociopathically dishonest.

Disembedding will require more than mere hiring policy changes, it will require a psychological negation of embeddedness. The rank and file of HRW will have to utterly reject the close identification of their superiors with those who wield state power.

It can be done. In 2012 people were naming Amnesty a “shill” or the “propaganda arm” of NATO or as an “imperialist tool”. Consternation has particularly been fueled by Amnesty USA’s crucial support for NATO’s ongoing occupation of Afghanistan. Ann Wright and Colleen Rowley wrote of “announcements posted online as well as billboard advertisements on Chicago bus stops, telling “NATO: Keep the Progress Going!’” The CEO of AIUSA at the time was Suzanne Nossel – former employee of HRW, the US State Department, the UN and the Wall Street Journal. If those aren’t insider credits enough, she is also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Do you think that that qualifies her as part of the US political elite? I do. But AI members expressed their displeasure and Nossel resigned soon after. A small victory perhaps, but a sign that change is possible.

 

2. Say No to “Humanitarian Intervention”: In the debate on Democracy Now! Reed Brody cited R2P: “You know, the countries of the world, in 2005, all the countries at the General Assembly, agreed that there were certain circumstances that invoked what they called the right to protect, when it may be necessary for the international community even to use force. And that’s the lesson of Srebrenica. It’s the lesson of Rwanda.”

You should not trust anyone who is a professional human rights worker when they cite R2P and cannot even get the name right. “R2P” stands for “Responsibility to Protect”. Brody’s mistake, however, is perfectly symptomatic. For Western interventionists it is seen as a “right”, and indeed their discourse would have people believe that “R2P” was some sort of international enabling act. The way R2P is discussed creates an impression that if human rights abuses have been detected, the US or NATO can simply decide for themselves if they feel like abrogating the sovereignty of another country and using whatever force they claim to be necessary – as if they had never harmed people while claiming to be acting for their own good in the past.

This idea of R2P that is widely propounded in the public discourse is a complete distortion. The UN measure from 2005 is a norm which must be in compliance with international law. More specifically, it does not in any way supersede the UN Charter and licence any action outside of the normal framework for legal intervention. That means that, given that immediate self-defence is not an issue, no military action can be taken under R2P without UN Security Council authorisation.

On the subject of distortions and nonsense – I may not be an expert on Rwanda, but I have written on the subject and I know that people are hideously misled by the popular narrative. Not only was the US instrumental in creating the conditions which spiralled into a bloodbath, but the US also blocked others who wished to intervene to prevent the genocide. Even if they could not have foreseen the full extent of the horror that was to unfold, the US intervened recklessly without concern for innocent victims and now it has the gall to say that the resultant genocide shows that it should intervene more often. Brody citing Rwanda and Srebrenica is a facile cliché and it is manipulative. These events are simply meant to symbolise savage-horrors-that-the-West-should-have-prevented, provoking emotion without thought.

 

3. Do No Harm!: For organisations like HRW to ever become functional promoters of human rights they must actively ensure that none of their actions cause serious harm to people. That means that they cannot side with the powerful against the weak. People working in HRW must be alert to the actions of their leadership and be prepared to resist any distortions of emphasis liable to lead to co-optation by Western interventionists.

Reed Brody is quite right about one thing, the HRW website is full of criticisms of the US and its clients in poorer states. Anything that suggests that such a rampant human rights abuser has a role in preventing human rights abuses by weaker regimes must be viewed with suspicion.

When you consider the US role in human rights abuses in Chile, Indonesia, Argentina, Guatemala, Iran, South Africa and so forth; and then you add its interventions in Grenada, Panama, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere; and then you add its wars in Indochina, Iraq and Afghanistan; you quickly see that the US is in a league of its own as a human rights abuser. Moreover, if you also consider that it played a crucial aggravating role in Rwanda and Cambodia and even the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, you begin to wonder about the schizophrenic nature of the discourse of human rights altogether. Every time a State Department official criticises human rights abuses in a poor unstable or destabilised country, or any other country, it should bring howls of condemnation for its hypocrisy. Even Iran has more authority to talk about human rights than the US and we would never let them condemn others without, quite rightly, including references to their own failings.

The US is a ruthless global hegemon. It is a prolific human rights abuser because of its global reach, but by the same token its global power is a function of an interventionism which is inevitably contrary to the human rights of those in targeted states. Even though other regimes share responsibility for some of its crimes, and others are guilty of their own, it has no real competition for title of greatest human rights abuser. This is an ever-present reality and unavoidably pertinent context of global human rights concerns. HRW must rid itself of the cognitive dissonance that it promotes by seemingly forgetting this whenever there is evidence that an enemy of the West has committed human rights abuses. It cannot ever, ever be seen to be in agreement with the US whatever the circumstances and should always make references to the human rights abuses of the US when the US government is a topic of discussion.

HRW must concentrate its efforts on the human rights abuses of the most powerful states, starting with the US. It must also exercise the greatest vigilance over intelligence claiming condemnable acts by weak and insecure states, especially where those states are governed by regimes considered inimical by the West.

Above all, HRW must reconcile itself to the limitations of its role. It is self-evidently seductive to take evidence of wrongdoing to powerful actors to get them to take robust immediate action. That way you might really feel that you are making a real difference. But people killed by hellfire missiles are just as dead as those killed by barrel bombs and anyone who acts to legitimise the former killings by condemning the latter is an accomplice in the crime.

HRW can record human rights abuses and raise awareness among populations who can oppose the actions of their own governments and render solidarity and support to victims and dissidents in other countries. At the same time, however, HRW must actively reject providing even tacit support for state actions outside of the framework of the UN Charter and must be extremely discriminating when supporting state intervention under the Charter. [Under the letter of the law the sanctions imposed on Iraq were according to the UN Charter, but they were also one of the most appalling and deadly criminal acts of our times and contravened the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and parts of International Humanitarian Law such as the prohibition on collective punishment in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.]

HRW must do more than simply reject the careerism of those who move in powerful circles, it must become an active and consistent opponent of empire. To be independent it must always, and at every opportunity, overtly reject working with Western state power. People within HRW must search within themselves. They must look at the greater picture of violence and suffering in the world and ask where the ultimate sources are. They must protest collaboration and demand change. If necessary, they must become like the IVS volunteers in Viet Nam who chose to stop doing good in order to stop promoting far greater harm.

Rwanda: Western Guilt and Hypocrisy, the Misuse of Genocide and Genocide Denial

Standard

“They killed Habyarimana because they knew he was the only one who could stop the Hutus from killing Tutsis. That is why, every day, I say that: the genocide was not planned by Hutus, it was planned by Tutsis: it was planned by the RPF. Even after the Interahamwe killed my wife, even after all the horrible things that have happened to me, I believe the Tutsis created the genocide. And for me it was a war between brothers: the Hutus had an army and the Tutsis had an army and there was fighting at every level.”i

 

Rwanda has a special place in genocide scholarship as one of only three acknowledged paradigmatic examples (the others being the Shoah and the Armenian holocaust). Vahakn Dadrian refers to ‘the three principle genocides’;ii Jones refers to three ‘“classic” genocides’;iii Levene calls them the ‘prototypical examples’.ivYet one would not normally expect a survivor of a ‘classic’ and ‘prototypical’ genocide to say that the planners of the genocide were the enemies of those who actually carried out the genocide. In what other case would a victim make that claim?

Kigali_Memorial_Centre_5

The narrative known by most Westerners is deliberately and pointedly distorted. Every fatuous overprivileged liberal hack will, as if by compulsion cite the racial slur inyenzi (cockroaches). The infamous Radio Mille Collines told people to kill the inyenzi. But somehow everyone neglects to mention that this was the name adopted by Tutsi guerillas for themselves in the 1960s. They called themselves cockroaches in reference to their own ineradicability. So this idea that this radio station simply called Tutsi vermin is actually a lie. That summarises their approach quite well. They try to shape the events into something as closely resembling the Shoah as possible by elision and miscontextualisation while attacking those who overstep the line as deniers. I am not going to excuse the actions of mass murderers or of propagandists at Radio Milles Collines who fomented violence against innocents, but the fears and instability without which these crimes would not have occurred were themselves fomented by Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) and his Western backers. The violence of the “100 Days” was preceded by violence and it was followed by violence and further genocide.

We are meant to believe that some unexplained racial hatred simply exploded as if randomly, but the hatred and fear were the results of actual events not primitive tribalism. After the RPA invasion Rwanda’s Juvenal Habyarimana, who had many Tutsi friends and had appointed many as colleagues, increased racial tension as a way of using the threat of massacres as a bargaining chip with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).v As will be shown this was as tragic as it was ruthless, because the equally, or more, ruthless RPF knew that their only path to power lay over a mountain of corpses of their fellow Tutsivi – showing that the chauvinist Tutsi ideology which many of their number openly espousedvii was equally contingent. Ultimately, as with other genocides, the victims of this genocide were not victims of blind hatred, but victims of political machinations which fostered and harnessed hatred, and much of that was emanating from Washington DC.

As Hitler analogies and Munich analogies wear out from overuse, ‘genocide’ has become the keystone accusation in a new discourse of ‘humanitarian intervention’. A ‘Rwanda analogy’ on the dangers of inaction has replaced the ‘Munich analogy’ on appeasement. Of course, many historians will point out that, against the wills of their own peoples, the US and UK governments did a great deal more than to merely ‘appease’ Hitler,viii and similarly it is not US inaction, but rather the fact that the Clinton administration enforced inaction on others which became their most noted contribution to slaughter which occurred in Rwanda.ix So having prevented others from intervening to stop one of the greatest slaughters in history, the US begins an elaborate hand-wringing exercise in order to give itself license to intervene wherever else it likes. The resulting discourse of ‘humanitarian intervention’ and ‘responsibility to protect’ (or ‘R2P’x) is a direct attack on norms of state sovereignty which offer some protection for weak states against strong states.

The Rwanda genocide was significant and dramatic. In terms of human suffering it should rightly be remembered as one of the most horrific events of its time. But like the Democratic Kampuchea autogenocide before it, it was so unusual as to be patently useless as any form of paradigmatic model. In fact, it is probably no coincidence that atypical genocides are such a focus, and that it is they that have become fodder for the Hollywood vision of genocide. What happened in Rwanda has no parallels. The Shoah has been described as a “uniquely unique genocide” but it can be understood as having typical characteristics taken to atypical extremes, but the Rwanda genocide not in ferocity but in complexity and confusion. The Anglophone world has created a mythological Rwandan Holocaust with cartoon villains, victims and heroes. The US, in particular, wrings its hands over its inaction, but deliberate US actions played a significant role in causing the violence that took so many lives.

Of late the orthodox or as genocide scholar René Lemarchand would have it, the ‘politically correct’) interpretation Rwandan history has been brought into question in broader circles than previously. Recent elections have highlighted the questionable use of the criminal charges of genocide denial, most notably when leading opposition figure Victoire Ingabire was charged with ‘association with a terrorist group; propagating genocide ideology; negationism and ethnic divisionism.’ A month later, the lawyer who flew from the US to defend her was arrested and later proffered charges which included ‘denying and downplaying genocide through his publications and conferences,’ and ‘spreading rumours that are capable of threatening the security of the Rwandan people.’xi Late last year she was sentenced to 15 years in prison. A leaked draft of a UN report claims that if proven in court, actions testified to by victims of Rwandan forces in Congo/Zaire would constitute genocide.xii And perhaps most telling of all, Tony Blair has posted an opinion piece in the Guardian praising Rwanda as a “beacon of hope”. I am not being flippant when I say that praise from Blair, a personal associate of fellow war criminal Paul Kagame, should be read as an admission of oppression and injustice.

There is some acknowledgement in the literature that Rwanda was an unusual case of genocide in that there was genuine fear amongst the perpetrators. There is even a significant article in the Journal of Genocide Research supporting the survivor testimony above to the effect that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) provoked genocide.xiii In another article René Lemarchand writes: ‘To put it baldly: Jews did not invade Germany with the massive military and logistical support of a neighboring state….’xiv But to extend the analogy, this was a genocide in which Jews were massacring Germans, in which Himmler was born a Jew, in which Hitler had Jews in his cabinet and as close friends, and in which the most celebrated rescue of Jews was carried out, in part, by the Wehrmacht. All of these factors tend to be elided in the orthodox literature, and the only reasonably contextualised narrative is found in the writings of those who are, more or less, deniers of genocide. I don’t agree with the genocide deniers, to me they are ignoring the elephant in the room, which is to say the ample evidence that there was a dramatic mass-murder of Tutsi as such in Rwanda which constitutes one of the most deadly genocides of history. Those who support the orthodox interpretation, on the other hand, deny the existence of any sort of room and call the elephant a camel.

 

The Genocide: Some Questions and Answers.

Former UN special rapporteur on genocide Keith Harmon Snow, in an article that won him the a Project Censored award for suppressed is news, writes, ‘Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, that’s clear. There was large-scale butchery of Tutsis. And Hutus. Children and old women were killed. There was mass rape. There were many acts of genocide. But was it genocide or civil war?’xv There are two things to consider here: First, should the events of 1994 be referred to as a genocide or as a civil war in which a genocide occurred? Second, were there mutual genocides of Hutu and Tutsi in 1994, in short a ‘double genocide’?

In the first instance, I believe any given set of events should only be characterised as a genocide if the majority of victims are victims of genocide. In this case, there are simply no trustworthy sources available to make that determination. For example, in ‘testing the double genocide thesis’ Philip Verwimp finds from household sampling that 79 of 138 deaths in 1994 (57.2%) were Tutsi.xvi Given that Tutsi represented only 8.4% of the sample (which, interestingly enough, is exactly the percentage of Tutsi in the 1991 census),xvii this certainly proves genocide. The problems with this are that the sampling is from central and southern Rwanda and that it avoids any killing before 1994. Verwimp admits on both counts that this avoids counting the victims of RPF massacres, but explains that ‘very few scholars will use the word genocide to describe the killings committed by the RPF before, during, and after 1994.’xviii So far from actually ‘testing the double genocide thesis’ Verwimp actually makes an a priori exclusion of the possibility. In terms of the problem of whether the bulk of those killed in the period were Tutsi we are left with no answers except that, given that there is such an evident bias in sampling, one might tentatively infer that the bulk of victims were not Tutsi. According to Harmon Snow: ‘Professors Christian Davenport (U. Maryland) and Allan Stam (Dartmouth) published research in 2004 that showed that the killings began with a small, dedicated cadre of Hutu militiamen, but quickly cascaded in an ever-widening circle, with Hutu and Tutsi playing the roles of both attackers and victims. Their team of researchers also found that only 250,000 people were killed, not the 800,000 plus advanced by the RPF, and that for every Tutsi killed two Hutus were killed. The research unleashed a firestorm: the media jumped on them for denying genocide.’xixShould it then be considered a civil war? That too is problematic due to the fact that only a minuscule percentage of those killed were combatants.

As for the double genocide thesis, this is nearly as difficult. Certainly before April 1994 there are good reasons to believe that RPF massacres were indiscriminate in the matter of ethnicity. Largely this seems to be because they were primarily interested in ‘refugee generation.’ According to Harmon Snow ‘The RPF practiced a scorched earth policy: they did not want to have to administer a territory or deal with local populations. The RPF displaced people, shelled the IDP camps, and marched on. They killed some captives, buried them in mass graves or burned corpses, and used survivors as porters to transport ammunition, dig trenches or cook their meals.’xx Sometimes this involved the massacre of Tutsis, as Joan Casòliva and Joan Carrero report: ‘In some regions there were attacks and killings directed against the Tutsi population. Principal amongst these were those against the Bagogwe, a Tutsi sub-group from the north, in January 1991, and against the Tutsis of Bugesera in March of 1992.’xxi Other reports, particularly from the ‘100 days’ period in which enormous numbers of Tutsis were being massacred, suggest that RPF massacres were directed against Hutu, which may well be true but might equally be a presumption. On the whole, however, the ‘double genocide thesis’ is somewhat of a red herring. Structurally, as I will show, it was more the case that having ‘provoked’ the Tutsi genocide, Rwanda’s RPF controlled Government of National Unity (GNU) exploited the initial genocide to launch a subsequent genocide of Hutu.

The initial RPA invasion of Rwanda was in effect an invasion by the Ugandan military with US backing. RPA forces were uniformed Ugandan military using Ugandan arms which were supplied throughout the civil war thanks to an increase of US and UK military aid after the invasion.xxii At this time Tutsi refugees enjoyed a stable privileged position in Ugandaxxiii while those who remained in Rwanda, or had subsequently returned, formed the ‘majority of economic operators’.xxiv The RPF attack intentionally pre-empted Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s moves towards allowing the peaceful return of all Tutsi refugees, because the RPF felt that this would be of detriment to their plan to take control of Rwanda.xxv Uganda’s military dictator, Yoweri Museveni (whom Madeleine Albright spoke as ‘a beacon of hope for Africa’),xxvi feigned shock and surprise that a massive proportion of his military forces had mutinied, but continued supplying them with arms supplied to him mainly by the US. The orthodox explanation, ascribed to even by Kuperman, is that he was going to disarm the RPA but had his feelings hurt when Habyarimana publicly accused him of involvement.xxvii In fact Museveni was deeply complicit. He even gave a speech to his military officers which, in Philpot’s words, ‘reads like a blueprint for the invasion and war that some of his officers were soon to conduct in Rwanda….’xxviii In it he said:

We had to reject the concept of ‘a small but efficient’ army…. This notion is nothing but suicidal. Insurgents do not have to do much, but they will have succeeded in their devices if they simply terrorize the population, stop them from producing wealth for the country, dismantle the network of civil administration and block communications. Once the state does not stop insurgents from doing this on a large scale, the country will rapidly lose income and find it impossible to support the army… Insurgents will be in a position to create a situation of strategic stalemate or even to launch a strategic counteroffensive to seize state power.xxix

 

This is a far cry from normal asymmetrical guerrilla warfare, instead it is a way for a small force (but not a noticeably inferior one) to effect an invasion and occupation of a country with a hostile population in a manner that would normally take a large superiority of forces. The FAR was a government force vulnerable to the degradation of the Rwandan state, while the RPA was superior in arms and had invulnerable external supply and a safe rear area in Uganda. Accordingly they depopulated Rwanda’s most productive agricultural region.

Two and a half years after the invasion, only 1800 people lived in an area of northern Rwanda that previously had a population of 800,000. As the “liberators” advanced, the Hutu peasants fled. By April 1993, Rwanda had more than one million internal refugees. That means one million farmers (one seventh of the total population) who are no longer producing on the most fertile lands in the country. It also means one million people to house and feed, and hundreds of thousands of children absent from school which caused great anxiety among parents.

The Rwandan Minister of Agriculture, Husbandry and Forests in 1992, James Gasana, described the situation in the war torn Byumba prefecture north of Kigali in a book published in 2002. “A prefecture that had been the country’s breadbasket now had the largest population in need of welfare and the highest mortality rate due to malnutrition.”xxx

In Kigali and elsewhere large numbers of clandestine RPF cells operated, often using ‘human rights’ NGOs as cover.xxxi They carried out sabotage, bombings of public places, and an eliticidal assassination campaign in order to terrorise the population and destabilise the government.xxxii At the same time the Rwandan government was also destabilised by what amounted to an attack by the US dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the ‘donor institutions’ of the West, who demanded that, in the midst of civil war, Rwanda must dismantle its interventionist state apparatus.xxxiii During this time the RPF avoided a peaceful settlement, despite increasingly large and clearly desperate concessions by Habyarimana and despite the fact that they knew that Tutsi massacres were an almost inevitable outcome of the growing chaos and fear.xxxiv According to testimony obtained by French prosecutor Jean-Louis Bruguiere, RPF leader Paul Kagame was consistent in telling RPA troops that he had no intention of honouring peace accords.xxxv

Then, in what one RPF defector described as ‘a macabre plan to drive the country into chaos’ the RPF assassinated Habyarimana.xxxvi A UN report describes the assassination merely as ‘a plane crash’.xxxvii Similarly Adam Jones notes only that the plane ‘was shot down’ without addressing the impolitic issue of who exactly shot it down.xxxviii Kuperman merely notes that ‘Hutu extremists’ blamed the RPF.xxxix For Lemarchand, writing in 2002, ‘responsibility remains a mystery’.xl Even for the earlier pieces this is an act of willful blindness. In 1997 an ICTR team recommended that RPF leaders be prosecuted (although the report was quashed and the lead investigator told to burn his notes, it survived and is now part of the ICTR record).xli In 2003 the ICTR itself announced plans to indict RPF leaders, but the US and UK had the chief prosecutor, who announced these plans, replaced. By 2005 a Spanish court which indicted 40 members of the RPF/GNU leadership for war crimes and crimes against humanity cited RPF responsibility for the assassination.xlii Finally, in France, Bruguiere issued a detailed indictment of 9 RPF leaders in 2006.xliii

The RPF decision to pursue violent means was not surprising. By 1993 their strategy of terror and massacre had driven away the support they initially received from Rwandan opposition partiesxliv and they had been handed a resounding defeat in election in September of 1992, showing that they could not hope to gain control of Rwanda by democratic means.xlv

What ensued definitely involved a massive genocidal slaughter of Tutsis, primarily by the Interahamwe and other militias. However, the fact that the Interahamwe leader was a Tutsi/former Tutsi, and other members were Tutsi including a district president, should be a source of considerable interest for scholars, but it is seldom remarked. Levene does mention it in his introductory volume, but only to stress its lack of import.xlvi

Beyond the fact that there were large scale massacres, little is said that is credible. Consider that there were only 650,000-800,000 Tutsi in Rwanda.xlvii Most accounts would have it that the vast majority (around 80%) were killed. This is not inconceivable, but it seems highly unusual for a 100 day period of largely civilian orchestrated massacres – especially considering that through that time the Tutsi-led RPF controlled ever more of the country. Naturally, the number of Tutsi brings into question some of the high-end estimates of total mortality. For example, Adam Jones gives the following interesting snippet:

About 80 percent of victims died in a “hurricane of death . . . between the second week of April and the third week of May,” noted Gérard Prunier. “If we consider that probably around 800,000 people were slaughtered during that short period . . . the daily killing rate was at least five times that of the Nazi death camps.”xlviii

Further, ‘[o]n April 20, at the parish of Karama in Butare prefecture, “between thirty-five and forty-three thousand people died in less than six hours.”‘xlix For someone like Jones who, no doubt, has read many accounts of mass killing, it should be obvious that ill-equipped militia led civilians could not round up such a number and could not physically kill so many in such a short space of time using small arms and machetes. Nor does anyone explain how this occurred without the same sort of compunction and reticence which people ordinarily feel on some level when it comes to taking human life – especially when in close proximity, especially for non-military, and especially when it is someone who has not killed before.l Although some writers do delve into the factors that caused 175,000 to 210,000 to participate in murder,li I can’t help but feel that such uncritical acceptance of hyperbole indicates in many a racially informed vision of orgiastic bloodletting. As for Jones’s source, it is an organisation called African Rights. According to Philpot they were involved in financing the RPF,lii and, he later quotes, Professor Filip Reyntjens: “As for African Rights, the political and historical analyses made by that group have a flagrant pro-RPF bias that is incompatible with the mission and code of conduct of any serious association devoted to promoting human rights.”liii

As surely as there were massacres of Tutsi by the Interahamwe and others, there were also massacres by the RPA during the ‘100 days’, the extent of which are likewise impossible to determine at this stage. Even Roméo Dallaire did not deny this, and originally denied any co-ordinated genocide:

On September 14, 1994, on CBC’s French language magazine, Le Point, General Roméo Dallaire answered the following question from a Rwandan who lived in Quebec City: “In your opinion, was there a genocide in Rwanda, that is the carrying out of a plan to eliminate ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda?”

“I would say there was a national genocide, a genocide based on a political basis, not only ethnic,” replied Roméo Dallaire. “Many Hutus and many Tutsis were killed… I think that the explosion we saw could not have been planned. I don’t think that anybody could ever have planned an explosion of that magnitude.”liv

Bear in mind that Dallaire was anything but neutral:

“Romeo Dallaire was very close to the RPF”, says Gilbert Ngijol, political assistant to Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh. “He let the RPF get arms. He allowed UNAMIR troops to train RPF soldiers. United Nations troops provided the logistics for the RPF. They even fed them.”

The [UN] Secretary General’s Special Representative to Rwanda, Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh confirmed this when he broke 10 years of silence regarding Rwanda in an interview published in Africa International. “In the field, he abandoned his work as military commander and got involved in politics; he violated the principle of UNAMIR’s neutrality and became the objective ally of one of the parties in the conflict.”lv

There are also suggestions that RPF massacres have wrongly been blamed on Interahamwe:

The Belgian Marcel Gerin concluded … that in 1994 he and his wife were left trapped by the Rwandan war. They were witnesses to the indiscriminate killings in the area they lived in and they were able to confirm, through the fact of having been held prisoners, how those who apparently seemed to be Interahamwe militia were no more than mercenaries in the pay of the Tutsi army. … Although they state that in their residential zone the Interahamwes killed a thousand people in the church, the majority of the massacres were carried out with the arrival of those mercenaries who killed whoever they met without any ethnic discrimination, in a clear operation of whole-territory cleansing. Whatever images of the situation emerged gave one to believe that the authors were the Hutu Interahamwe militia. Santos Ganuza, a Navarrese missionary, was the rector of the Kiziguro parish, also in the east of the country. He says:

“For many years I was the parish rector in the east of the country. In 1994 the Interahamwearrived and killed some 1,000 Tutsis who had taken refuge in the church without my being able to do anything to prevent it. A few days later, the Tutsi military arrived and killed 10,000 Hutus. The Western world’s televisions broadcast pictures of these Hutus assassinated in my parish, identifying them as Tutsis”.lvi

 

 

Deniers, Distorters and Hypocrites

Among those who are ‘more or less’ deniers of genocide are Edward Herman and David Peterson. In The Politics of Genocide the 18 pages which they devote to events in Rwanda and what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo have provoked considerable criticism.lvii The problem I have is that Herman and Peterson never actually come out and say that there was never a genocidal mass-murder of Tutsi. Instead they imply as much with statements to the effect that the orthodox ‘propaganda line on Rwanda … turned victim and perpetrator upside down.’lviii Perhaps I read too much into this lack of a positive stance because the authors themselves do not counter allegations of genocide denial in responding to Caplan and to a short piece by Adam Jones.lix On the other hand, they quote with approval a study which found that 300,000 Tutsi were killed, around 50% of the population.lx How that could have happened in a matter of 100 days and not constitute genocide is rather hard to fathom

It is also the Rwanda/DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) section of the book which I find most problematic. The authors have no problem in levelling very accurate criticisms of the orthodox narrative. On the other hand they often overstep the mark. For example, all of the complexities of Ugandan and Anglo-US support for Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front, which are detailed below, are reduced to the statement that the RPF was ‘a wing of the Ugandan army’.lxi Perhaps it is unfortunate that one cannot make such a statement baldly when it probably gives a perfectly accurate understanding of the underlying situation, but it is nevertheless a prima facie falsehood. This leaves the authors open to critiques like that of Gerald Caplan who uses this to mock the very idea that the RPF was effectively a proxy force for the US.lxii Interestingly, Herman and Peterson are able to refute this by citing Caplan’s own earlier work,lxiii but that still does not make the RPF a literal and overt ‘wing’ of the Ugandan army. In fact, authors undermining their own arguments is a very minor matter. More important is the fact that it is symptomatic of a narrative of events which is the mirror-image of that which it opposes. The authors over-simplify in this matter and others because they, as much as their opponents, seem driven to produce a childish vision of simplistic moral significance.

The whole polarised debate over Rwanda reveals something very rotten pervading the discourse of genocide and genocide denial. There is an intellectual reason for avoiding the attachment of a particular moral weight to the concept of genocide in that it can only confuse analysis. There is also, however, a psychological reason. The moral weight given to genocide also seems to produce what can only be described as an atavistic or childish manichaean narrative of victim and perpetrator populations as essences of good and evil. The dangers of this can be seen in the strikingly similar, but diametrically opposed, narratives produced by Adam Jones with regard to RPF killings of Hutu, and that of Herman and Peterson with regard to Interahamwe and/or Forces Armées Rwandaise (FAR) killings of Tutsi.

When it comes to the RPF led slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Hutu, Jones is very keen on emphasising the agency of the ‘Hutugénocidaires‘ who had, in his interesting turn of phrase, ‘staged a mass evacuation’. Translated, this means that millions fled in the face of the RPF takeover of Rwanda. When the RPF led an invasion of Zaire (later the Democratic Republic of Congo) it was because the génocidaires had ‘reconstituted themselves as a terrorist force, brutally controlling the refugee population and launching attacks against Tutsis in both Congo and Rwanda.’ They invaded again because the man they themselves had put into power in Kinshasa ‘fell under the sway of Hutu representatives in Kinshasa, supporting renewed cross-border killing operations in Rwanda.’ Jones writes this even though he acknowledges that both Rwanda and Uganda ‘have experienced miraculous leaps in their export of key commodities – diamonds, gold, timber, and coltan (an ore used in computer chips and cell phones) – at levels that exceed total domestic production, providing vivid evidence of the pillaging.’ Jones uses génocidaire to mean anyone who was in a position of power in Rwanda before the RPF takeover. More than that he means the ‘double-plus bad’ people. He doesn’t concern himself with issues like which among them actually were guilty of committing genocide. The impression he gives is that it is the evil génocidaires who are ultimately responsible for the RPF having entered Zaire/DRC and having massacred hundreds of thousands while Rwandan sponsored Congolese rebels, according to Jones himself (citing a 1999 UN report) were “running torture centers that amounted to ‘extermination’ sites.lxiv Much of his contextualisation of Rwandan aggression and genocide is exactly that given by the Rwandan government. Thus it is deeply ironic when Jones writes of Herman and Peterson: “Herman and Peterson none-too-subtly adopt Hutu Power’s justification for slaughtering Tutsi civilians: that they constituted a ‘fifth column,’ indistinguishable from the invading RPF. This casual parroting of the most virulent Hutu-extremist propaganda effectively blames Rwanda’s Tutsis for their own extermination. It is a disgraceful ploy, and by itself it casts Herman and Peterson’s ‘analysis into utter disrepute.”lxv

Herman and Peterson are more blatantly partisan than Jones. Despite apparently believing that hundreds of thousands of Tutsi were slaughtered, as mentioned above, they create a simple narrative of good Hutus and bad Tutsis. It is worth quoting Jones at length:

Would it not have been incredible for Kagame’s Tutsi forces to conquer Rwanda in 100 days, and yet the number of minority Tutsi deaths be greater than the number of majority Hutu deaths by a ratio of something like three-to-one? Surely then we would have to count Rwanda 1994 as the only country in history where the victims of genocide triumphed over those who committed genocide against them, and wiped the territory clean of its ‘genocidaires’ at the same time.”

Of course, no mainstream authority has ever claimed that the Tutsi “victims of genocide” in Rwanda in 1994 were drawn from “Kagame’s Tutsi forces.” The latter were invading from Uganda, as Herman and Peterson themselves emphasize. They were outsiders with no connection to, and apparently no particular sympathy for, the Tutsi civilian population of Rwanda. It was the Rwandan Tutsi population which, by all serious accounts, bore the overwhelming brunt of the Hutu Power genocide.

So Herman and Peterson’s mocking reference to the “minority Tutsi” population supposedly bearing the brunt of the massacres, then assuming “complete control” of Rwanda, is pure sleight-of-hand. To repeat the indisputable: it was the foreign-based RPF that took “complete control” in July 1994 and “wiped the territory clean of its ‘genocidaires’”….lxvi

It seems likely that the understandable anger that Herman and Peterson feel at the misuse of accusations of atrocities, fuelling far greater atrocities, causes an over-identification with the villainised attacked in Western propaganda. However, this should not be a reason for excusing the crimes committed by members of a denigrated group against members of another group, even if that group has members who are even greater perpetrators of atrocities. Caplan evinces great indignation that Herman and Peterson should call him a ‘genocide facilitator’ when he has ‘spent the past decade immersed in genocide prevention,’lxvii but the description aptly fits Caplan and many others who may genuinely believe that they are working to prevent genocide. Even Jones, who tries very hard to avoid siding with the predominant discourse of apologism and denial of Western crimes, is pulled by emotionality and the very weight of the orthodoxy into the position of minimising the most deadly genocides perpetrated by recidivists who are still very powerful and emphasising the crimes of official enemies of the West who no longer pose a threat to anyone. As Herman and Peterson write regarding Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction:

Jones’s chapter on Bosnia and Kosovo also flies in the face of his claim that he “adopt[s] a comparative approach that does not elevate particular genocides over others, except to the extent that scale and intensity warrant special attention.” Measured by “scale and intensity,” the civil wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo were not remotely in the same league as the U.S. assault on Vietnam, the killings in Indonesia (in the mid-1960s, during and after the overthrow of Sukarno), the two phases of the Iraq genocide (the sanctions era and then war of aggression-occupation), or the still ongoing invasion-occupation of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Furthermore, his treatment of numbers in Bosnia is deceptive.  Jones asserts that “a quarter of a million people died in Bosnia and Herzegovina” in the years up to the Dayton accords in late 1995.  But by the time Jones wrote this, two important establishment studies had shown that the total number of war-related deaths on all sides, soldiers as well as civilians, totalled approximately 100,000. Of these deaths, some 40,233 are now reported as non-soldiers (39,199 civilians, and 1,035 policemen). So Jones suppresses information that would show the earlier standard claim of 250,000 deaths to have been an inflation of wartime propaganda.lxviii

Simply glancing at the contents page of Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction confirms that Jones comes nowhere close to basing his emphasis on ‘scale and intensity’. A chapter is dedicated to Bosnia and Kosovo, while none of the larger genocides mentioned above get similar treatment.

With regard to Rwanda, there is no question, however, that killings occurred on a scale warranting considerable attention, the problem is rather, as I have written the creation of a highly politicised mythological narrative of the genocidal killing of Tutsi which is problematic. Here, once again, Jones is merely one of the better of an extremely bad lot. The ‘Rwandan holocaust’ is rather like the mythic and equally political creation based on the Shoah which Norman Finkelstein calls ‘The Holocaust’: ‘Like most ideologies, it bears a connection, if tenuous, with reality.’lxixFinkelstein’s ‘The Holocaust’ has its origins in imperial geopolitics: ‘Impressed by Israel’s overwhelming display of force, the United States moved to incorporate it as a strategic asset. (Already before the June war the United States had cautiously tilted toward Israel as the Egyptian and Syrian regimes charted an increasingly independent course in the mid-1960s.) Military and economic assistance began to pour in as Israel turned into a proxy for US power in the Middle East.’lxx In Rwanda the geopolitical imperatives existed before the genocide actually took place, and the resulting myth, which would have it that what happened in Rwanda was very similar to the Shoah, has a far more tenuous connection with reality than the mythical ‘Holocaust’.

 

Kagame’s “Beacon of Hope”

After the RPF takeover the Tutsi genocide was exploited to create what ‘even Britain’s Economist has called “the most repressive in Africa.”‘lxxi This has been recognised by some in the genocide field including Kasaija Phillip Apuuli,lxxii and Lars Waldorf.lxxiii The GNU claimed that it governed a ‘criminal population’.lxxiv According to the GNU themselves, there were 109,499 imprisoned by 2000 awaiting genocide charges.lxxv They widely accused any political opponents of being génocidaires and when that label ceased its usefulness, switched to accusing people of ‘divisionism’, ‘negationism’ and ‘genocide ideology.’lxxvi The latter, of which the GNU accuses those such as the famed rescuer Paul Rusesabagina for having denounced RPF atrocities and two of their own government’s former Prime Ministers, now attracts a 10 to 50 year prison sentence in Rwanda.lxxvii

Though many thousands suffer terribly due to this form of genocide exploitation, this pales in comparison with the hundreds of thousands who died when the RPF used the Tutsi genocide to launch their own genocide. One might think that this would be of considerable interest to genocide scholars, but apparently it is not. When the RPF took over Rwanda 2 million people fled, 1.2 million of them into Zaire.lxxviii Meanwhile, the US was advancing certain plans:

At the very moment the tragic refugee operation was underway, French journalist Jean Daniel was meeting the assistant Secretary of State, John Kornblum, in his Washington office. His account of that meeting is hair-raising.

“France? We want to get along with France. Chirac? A man of good will. We like him. But: (1) no question of keeping Boutros-Ghali; (2) no question of keeping Mobutu in power… … Let’s get together again in six months time. We’ll see if I am mistaken. Watch out for Africa: France has it all wrong. The strong man is in Uganda, not in Kinshasa.”

In his own words, Jean Daniel left that meeting “dumbfounded by the cynical detailing of events to come, and the arrogance of the vocabulary used”lxxix

Kornblum was prophetic. To revisit Jones’s orthodox rendition:

Hutu génocidaires staged a mass evacuation of populations under their control, across the Congolese border to the city of Goma. Ironically, it was this humanitarian crisis that galvanized the world, not the genocide against Tutsis. Ironically, too, the outside aid that flooded in was instrumental in permitting the génocidaires to reconstitute themselves as a terrorist force, brutally controlling the refugee population and launching attacks against Tutsis in both Congo and Rwanda.

In the face of this threat, in 1997 Rwanda assisted the overthrow of the Mobutu regime by Laurent Désiré Kabila….lxxx

Jones doesn’t bother with details such as how or why a campaign against some guerillas turned into the invasion of the massive country the DRC – then known as Zaire.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees were killed or starved to death with 50% of the victims being under 15 years of age.lxxxi A UN report on the genocide mysteriously dropped the use of the word in its final draft. ‘In the UN it is explained that ‘following deep discussions’ in New York the report’s authors ‘themselves’ decided to retract the term ‘genocide’.lxxxii It is reasonable to expect that the more recently leaked draft UN report on the genocide was leaked because it too was unlikely to be released in unadulterated form. As of the time of this writing it seems that the report may never be released in any form. Meanwhile, Western interests were amply served. As Philpot puts it:

It has been said that the invasion of Rwanda by Ugandan troops in 1990 was aimed at Kinshasa not Kigali. The war that has followed in the Congo and the scramble by Western corporations for control of the vast Congolese natural resources makes that interpretation very plausible. …

Since the war began in the Congo in 1996, the rush of American, Belgian, Canadian, British and French corporations for diamonds and gold and other natural resources in the region has been widely documented and denounced.lxxxiii

 

Despite the space I have devoted to it, this is by no means a full account of just how problematic the Tutsi genocide/’Rwandan genocide’ is as a paradigmatic exemplar of genocide, less still of the role of Western complicity and of hegemonic distortion of unwanted truth. My point is that, for all of their seeming ignorance, genocide scholars know enough to know that the events of 1994 in Rwanda do not warrant inclusion as one of the three main genocides of the 20th century, yet somehow none challenges that. Jones even as much as accuses François Mitterand of genocide denial:

The president (François Mitterrand) of the same French state that prosecuted Robert Faurisson not only actively supported Rwanda’s génocidaires – before, during, and after the 1994 catastrophe – but when asked later about the genocide, responded: “The genocide or the genocides? I don’t know what one should say!” As Gérard Prunier notes, “this public accolade for the so-called ‘theory of the double genocide’ [i.e., by Tutsis against France’s Hutu allies, as well as by Hutus against Tutsis] was an absolute shame.” It advanced a key thesis of genocide deniers: that the violence was mutual or defensive in nature.lxxxiv

But though Jones equates Mitterand’s failure to unequivocally toe the line with denial, he himself makes the observation that in the former Yugoslavia genocidal acts were ‘implemented in systematic fashion – primarily, but not only, by Serb military and paramilitary forces.’lxxxv The mythical ‘Rwandan holocaust’ must be defended stridently, not so much because the construction of the genocidal mass-murder of Tutsi is tenuous (I think there is considerable uncertainty about that issue) but because even if the central events of the myth are all portrayed accurately, the events surrounding them cannot be mentioned. Why? Because the RPF were acting as agents of the US and they ‘provoked’ one genocide and committed another, bringing death to anything between 450,000 and 1.5 million people. Along with Uganda they committed 3 acts of aggression, described at Nuremberg as ‘the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.’lxxxvi Those acts of aggression have brought about 10 million deaths or more. This makes it even more imperative that we view the RPF as heroic leaders of a victimised people – the ‘Jews of Africa’. Why? Because if it is admitted that Museveni and Kagame are war criminals then we are brought one step closer to having to admit that Albright, Clinton, Bush and Blair (to name a few) are guilty of crimes far beyond the scale of which Jean-Paul Akayesu or those in Rwanda have been convicted.

The discourse of the ‘Rwanda holocaust’ suffers from exactly the same selective failure to ask or answer the obvious questions that afflicts the scholarly discourse about US genocides. As Orwell has his character Syme (who ‘sees too clearly and speaks too plainly’) say: ‘Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.’lxxxvii

 

 

i Keith Harmon Snow, “Hotel Rwanda: Hollywood and the Holocaust in Central Africa.” Retrieved 3 April 2009 from http://www.allthingspass.com/uploads/pdf-135Hotel%20Rwanda%20Corrected%20Final%201%20Nov%2007.pdf, p 23.

 

ii Vahakn N. Dadrian, “Patterns of twentieth century genocides: the Armenian, Jewish, and Rwandan cases,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(4), December, p 487.

 

iii Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, London: Routledge, 2006, p 48.

 

iv Mark Levene, Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State, Volume I: The Meaning of Genocide, London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2005, p 67.

 

v Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, p 74.

 

vi Ibid, p 64.

 

vii Keith Harmon Snow, “Hotel Rwanda: Hollywood and the Holocaust in Central Africa,” p 7. Retrieved 3 April 2009, http://www.allthingspass.com/uploads/pdf-135Hotel%20Rwanda%20Corrected%20Final%201%20Nov%2007.pdf.

 

viii One rather unrelenting summary, which omits the usual polite disclaimers, reads: ‘…one wonders what the other powers were doing while Hitler was rearming. And the answer is that they – Britain, the USSR, and the United States – did all they could to facilitate his task. They provided the Nazis with resources, military know-how, patents, money, and weapons – in very large quantities. Why? To set the Nazis up, lead them on, and finally destroy them, and take Germany into the bargain at war’s end. Throughout the 1930s, the United States acted as a mere supplier to the Nazis in the shadow of Britain, who produced the entire show. This show had to end with Britain’s participation in a worldwide conflict as the leader of the coalition of Allied forces against Nazi Germany. But the Hitlerites had to be duped into going to war against Russia with the guarantee that Britain, and thus America, would remain neutral: Hitler would not want to repeat the errors of World War I. Therefore Britain had to ‘double’ herself, so to speak, into a pro-Nazi and anti-Nazi faction – both of which, of course, were components of one and the same fakery. The complex and rather grotesque whole of Britain’s foreign policy in the 1930s was indeed the result of these ghastly theatrical diversions with which the Hitlerites were made to believe that at any time the colorful Nazi-phile camp would overthrow the hawks of the War Party, led by Winston Churchill, and sign a separate peace with the Third Reich. The secret goal of this unbelievable mummery was to drive Hitler away from the Mediterranean in 1941, and into the Soviet marshes, which the British would in fact allow him to ‘cleanse’ for three years, until the time would arrive to hem the Nazis in and finally crush them.’ Guido Giacomo Preparata, Conjuring Hitler: How Britain and America Made the Third Reich, London and Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2005, p 204. Preparata goes into detail over the next 50 pages or so including considerable detail regarding the complex masquerade which was played out by the British. For Preparata Britain’s rulers were ‘monolithic’, and indeed he reveals a very surprisingly complex and co-ordinated deception of public diplomacy lasting for a decade. At the end of the next chapter I will deal with the issue of whether some monolithic conspirational group determines US foreign policy, or rather why, assuming that there is no such group, that US foreign policy itself is monolithic.

 

ix See below.

 

x I don’t want to overdo the references to 1984, but it is worth mentioning that if the point of the contractions so beloved by Orwell’s Party was to rename institutions in ways which were both slick and at the same time effaced meaning, then ‘R2P’ may well be the ultimate exemplar, although who can tell what the future might bring?

 

xi Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Peter Erlinder Jailed by One of the Major Genocidaires of Our Era – Update,” MR Zine, 17 July 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2010 from http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/hp170610.html.

 

xiiLeaked UN report cites ‘genocide’ in DR Congo,” Reuters, 27 August 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2010 from http://www.france24.com/en/20100827-leaked-un-report-cites-genocide-congo-hutu-rwanda-ethnic-violence.

 

xiii Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, pp 61–84.

 

xiv René Lemarchand, “Disconnecting the threads: Rwanda and the Holocaust reconsidered,” Journal of Genocide Research (2002), 4(4), p 500.

 

xv Keith Harmon Snow, “Hotel Rwanda: Hollywood and the Holocaust in Central Africa.” Retrieved 3 April 2009 from http://www.allthingspass.com/uploads/pdf-135Hotel%20Rwanda%20Corrected%20Final%201%20Nov%2007.pdf, p 2.

 

xvi Philip Verwimp, “Testing the Double-Genocide Thesis for Central and Southern Rwanda,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 2003; 47, p 430.

 

xvii Scott Strauss, “How many perpetrators were therein the Rwandan genocide? An estimate,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, p 96.

 

xviii Philip Verwimp, “Testing the Double-Genocide Thesis for Central and Southern Rwanda,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 2003; 47, p 425.

 

xix Keith Harmon Snow, “Hotel Rwanda: Hollywood and the Holocaust in Central Africa.” Retrieved 3 April 2009 from http://www.allthingspass.com/uploads/pdf-135Hotel%20Rwanda%20Corrected%20Final%201%20Nov%2007.pdf, p 12.

 

xxIbid, p 8.

 

xxi Joan Casòliva and Joan Carrero, The African Great Lakes: ten years of suffering, destruction and death, Barcelona: Cristianisme i Justícia, 2000, p 7.

 

xxii Peter Erlinder, “Bush and Other War Criminals Meet in Rwanda: The Great ‘Rwanda Genocide’ Coverup,” GlobalResearch, 2007. Retrieved 5 November 2009 from http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8137. Prof. Erlinder is former President of the National Lawyers Guild and is Lead Defence Counsel for former Major Aloys Ntabakuze in the Military 1 Trial at the ICTR, the central case in the Tribunal. His article is based on the documents and testimony entered in the court record of the ICTR.

 

xxiii Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, p 65.

 

xxiv Joan Casòliva and Joan Carrero, The African Great Lakes: ten years of suffering, destruction and death, Barcelona: Cristianisme i Justícia, 2000, p 7.

 

xxv Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, p 68.

 

xxvi Robin Philpot, Rwanda, 1994: Colonialism Dies Hard, Translation of Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali, Quebec: Les Intouchables, 2004. Retrieved 13 October 2009 fromhttp://www.taylor-report.com/Rwanda_1994/index.php?id=ch1.

 

xxvii Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, pp 70-1.

 

xxviii Robin Philpot, Rwanda, 1994: Colonialism Dies Hard, Translation of Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali, Quebec: Les Intouchables, 2004. Retrieved 13 October 2009 fromhttp://www.taylor-report.com/Rwanda_1994/index.php?id=ch1.

 

xxix Ibid.

 

xxx Ibid.

 

 

xxxii Keith Harmon Snow, “Hotel Rwanda: Hollywood and the Holocaust in Central Africa.” Retrieved 3 April 2009 from http://www.allthingspass.com/uploads/pdf-135Hotel%20Rwanda%20Corrected%20Final%201%20Nov%2007.pdf, p 17.

 

xxxiii Robin Philpot, Rwanda, 1994: Colonialism Dies Hard, Translation of Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali, Quebec: Les Intouchables, 2004. Retrieved 13 October 2009 fromhttp://www.taylor-report.com/Rwanda_1994/index.php?id=ch5.

 

xxxiv Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, pp 72-3.

 

xxxvJean-Louis Bruguiere, Issuance of International Arrest Warrants: PI06-0046 (E) (“Bruguiere Report”) 17th November 2006.

 

xxxvi Joan Casòliva and Joan Carrero, The African Great Lakes: ten years of suffering, destruction and death, Barcelona: Cristianisme i Justícia, 2000, p 8.

 

xxxvii Robin Philpot, Rwanda, 1994: Colonialism Dies Hard, Translation of Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali, Quebec: Les Intouchables, 2004. Retrieved 13 October 2009 fromhttp://www.taylor-report.com/Rwanda_1994/index.php?id=ch6.

 

xxxviii Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, London: Routledge, 2006, p 238.

 

xxxix Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, p 78.

 

xl René Lemarchand, “Disconnecting the threads: Rwanda and the Holocaust reconsidered,” Journal of Genocide Research (2002), 4(4), p 512.

 

xli Peter Erlinder, “Bush and Other War Criminals Meet in Rwanda: The Great ‘Rwanda Genocide’ Coverup,” GlobalResearch, 2007, Retrieved 5 November 2009 from http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8137.

 

xliiIbid.

 

xliii Jean-Louis Bruguiere, Issuance of International Arrest Warrants: PI06-0046 (E) (“Bruguiere Report”) 17th November 2006.

 

xliv Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, p 74.

 

xlv Robin Philpot, Rwanda, 1994: Colonialism Dies Hard, Translation of Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali, Quebec: Les Intouchables, 2004. Retrieved 13 October 2009 fromhttp://www.taylor-report.com/Rwanda_1994/index.php?id=ch2.

 

xlvi Mark Levene, Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State, Volume I: The Meaning of Genocide, London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2005, p 99.

 

xlvii The 1991 census put the number at 596,400, although some believe that their numbers were under-reported, the proportion (8.4%) would not be that inconsistent with what would be expected after the exodus of Tutsi after 1959. Marijke Verpoorten estimates that there were between 717,300 and 837,100 Tutsi in Rwanda (“The Death Toll of the Rwandan Genocide: A Detailed Analysis for Gikongoro Province ,” Population (English ed.), 60(4), 2005.) Verpoorten, extrapolating from a south-western province, estimates 600,000 to 800,000 Tutsi killed. The methodology, however, is based on current population adjusted for population growth, death and various forms of migration. It involves a large number of variables and necessary assumptions and I believe that this is an issue that is far, far from settled.

 

xlviii Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, London: Routledge, 2006, p 232.

 

xlix Ibid, p 239.

 

l See Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. New York, Boston: Back Bay Books, 1995.

 

li Scott Strauss, “How many perpetrators were therein the Rwandan genocide? An estimate,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, p 93.

 

lii Robin Philpot, Rwanda, 1994: Colonialism Dies Hard, Translation of Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali, Quebec: Les Intouchables, 2004. Retrieved 13 October 2009 fromhttp://www.taylor-report.com/Rwanda_1994/index.php?id=ch4.

 

 

 

 

lvi Joan Casòliva and Joan Carrero, The African Great Lakes: ten years of suffering, destruction and death, Barcelona: Cristianisme i Justícia, 2000, pp 9-10.

 

lvii A significant exchange was initiated when Gerald Caplan published a highly critical review [“The politics of denialism: The strange case of Rwanda: Review of ‘The Politics of Genocide’,” Pambazuka, 17 June 2010, issue 486. Retrieved 7 September 2010 from http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/65265%5D. The review is replete with criticisms which are unerringly far short or far wide of the mark. It seems almost certain that to the author and, no doubt, to a substantial proportion of the readers, the very act of denying one of the most horrific mass-slaughters of human history puts Herman and Peterson firmly into the camp of the irrational, if not insane, deniers of the Shoah/Holocaust.

 

lviii Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, The Politics Of Genocide, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010, p 51.

 

lix Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Genocide denial and facilitation: Gerald Caplan and the politics of genocide,” Pambazuka, 8 July 2010, issue 489. Retrieved 7 September 2010 from http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/65773; Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Adam Jones on Rwanda and Genocide: A Reply ,” MR Zine, 14 August 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2010 from http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/hp170610.html.

 

lx Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Adam Jones on Rwanda and Genocide: A Reply ,” MR Zine, 14 August 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2010 from http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/hp170610.html.

 

lxi Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, The Politics Of Genocide, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010, p 53.

 

lxii Gerald Caplan, “The politics of denialism: The strange case of Rwanda: Review of ‘The Politics of Genocide’,” Pambazuka, 17 June 2010, issue 486. Retrieved 7 September 2010 from http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/65265.

 

lxiii Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Genocide denial and facilitation: Gerald Caplan and the politics of genocide,” Pambazuka, 8 July 2010, issue 489. Retrieved 7 September 2010 from http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/65773.

 

lxiv Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, London: Routledge, 2006, pp 250-2.

 

lxv Adam Jones, “On genocide deniers: Challenging Herman and Peterson,” Pambazuka, 15 July 2010, issue 490. Retrieved 7 September 2010 from http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/65977.

 

lxvi Ibid.

 

lxvii Gerald Caplan, “Sources and Testimonies – a Response to Herman and Peterson,” Pambazuka, 15 July 2010, issue 490. Retrieved 7 September 2010 from http://allafrica.com/stories/printable/201007161136.html.

 

lxviii Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Adam Jones on Rwanda and Genocide: A Reply ,” MR Zine, 14 August 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2010 from http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/hp170610.html. The citations given by the authors read as follows: Ewa Tabeau and Jakub Bijak, “War-related Deaths in the 1992–1995 Armed Conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Critique of Previous Estimates and Recent Results,” European Journal of Population, Vol. 21, June, 2005, pp. 187-215.  In section 3.3, “Overall Numbers” (pp. 205-207), they estimated 102,622 total war-related deaths on all sides, of which 55,261 (54%) were civilians at the time of death, and 47,360 (46%) were military or combatants (p. 207).For the later of the two studies, see Patrick Ball et al., Bosnian Book of the Dead: Assessment of the Database, Research and Documentation Center, Sarajevo, June, 2007, Table 23a, “Victims Reported in BBD by Status in War,” p. 30.  At the time this study was released, Ball et al. estimated 96,895 total war-related deaths, of which 56,662 were soldiers at the time of death (58.5%), and 40,233 were civilians or policemen (41.6%).  Here we’d like to emphasize that earlier drafts of this work were in circulation since 2005 (see, e.g., “Research Halves Bosnia War Death Toll to 100,000,” Reuters, November 23, 2005); in citing the June 2007 draft, we do not imply that Adam Jones could have cited it in his 2006 textbook.

 

lxix Norman Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, Online edition retrieved 8 August 2008 from http://www.geocities.com/holocaustindustry/acknowledgments.html.

 

 

lxxi Peter Erlinder, “Bush and Other War Criminals Meet in Rwanda: The Great ‘Rwanda Genocide’ Coverup,” GlobalResearch, 2007, Retrieved 5 November 2009 from http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8137.

 

lxxii Kasaija Phillip Apuuli, “Procedural due process and the prosecution of genocide suspects in Rwanda,” Journal of Genocide Research (2009), 11(1),March, p 22.

 

lxxiii Lars Waldorf, “Revisiting Hotel Rwanda: genocide ideology, reconciliation, and rescuers,” Journal of Genocide Research (2009), 11(1),March, pp 105-112.

 

lxxiv Scott Strauss, “How many perpetrators were therein the Rwandan genocide? An estimate,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, p 94.

 

lxxv Ibid, p 90.

 

lxxvi Lars Waldorf, “Revisiting Hotel Rwanda: genocide ideology, reconciliation, and rescuers,” Journal of Genocide Research (2009), 11(1),March, p 110.

 

lxxvii Ibid, pp 112, 115.

 

lxxviii Scott Strauss, “How many perpetrators were therein the Rwandan genocide? An estimate,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, p 97.

 

lxxix Robin Philpot, Rwanda, 1994: Colonialism Dies Hard, Translation of Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali, Quebec: Les Intouchables, 2004. Retrieved 13 October 2009 fromhttp://www.taylor-report.com/Rwanda_1994/index.php?id=ch15.

 

lxxx Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, London: Routledge, 2006, p 250.

 

lxxxi Keith Harmon Snow, “Hotel Rwanda: Hollywood and the Holocaust in Central Africa.” Retrieved 3 April 2009 from http://www.allthingspass.com/uploads/pdf-135Hotel%20Rwanda%20Corrected%20Final%201%20Nov%2007.pdf, p 21.

 

lxxxii Joan Casòliva and Joan Carrero, The African Great Lakes: ten years of suffering, destruction and death, Barcelona: Cristianisme i Justícia, 2000, p 16.

 

lxxxiii Robin Philpot, Rwanda, 1994: Colonialism Dies Hard, Translation of Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali, Quebec: Les Intouchables, 2004. Retrieved 13 October 2009 fromhttp://www.taylor-report.com/Rwanda_1994/index.php?id=ch1.

 

lxxxiv Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, London: Routledge, 2006, p 357.

 

lxxxv Ibid, p 216.

 

lxxxvi Yoram Dinstein, War, Aggression and Self-Defence (3rd ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, p 109.

 

lxxxvii George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.  London: Penguin, 1983, p 26.

 

Amnesty International and Liberal Imperialism – Video, Audio, Illustrated Transcript.

Standard

The following is a commentary, meaning that it is me editorialising a lot. Some listeners or readers may find some of what is said to be opaque. I am particularly aware that my use of the term “liberal” may be unfamiliar and problematic. I won’t go into what it is exactly that I mean by “liberal”, but it is broadly consonant with the usages in political science when describing regimes, policies or ideological formations. It is a definition of liberal that doesn’t fall apart when one tries to put it in a broader context.

In contrast, Chris Hedges has recently written of The Death of the Liberal Class. Everything Hedges writes makes perfect sense and everyone knows what he means when he uses the term ‘liberal’. What Hedges would be hard-pressed to do is to reconcile this usage of the term liberal with other unavoidable usages such as as a way of describing the inescapably (if not virulently) liberal policies of “conservatives” and “neo-conservatives”. I’m sure that Hedges is aware of this. What he is doing is referring to self-identified “liberals” which roughly corresponds to what US political scientists refer to as “welfare liberals”.

I don’t believe that there is any such thing as a “welfare liberal”. It is very well understood in political science that most in the US who identify as “conservative” are actually liberals, and I would argue that anti-socialist sentiment has driven many to misidentify themselves as liberals. Most “welfare liberals” are very much at one with their fellow liberals in the “conservative” camp. The putative divide between them is much as the divide between Republican and Democrat – not really a divide at all.

If, at times, it seems that I am overstating matters out of some callow need to dramatise and you feel that my credibility is tarnished, I would urge consideration of the following. 1) It is not possible in this medium to demonstrate the evidence and reasoning behind every position I take; 2) conservatism is not neutral – it is a positive affirmation of an orthodox position; 3) in many cases the orthodox position is not even a reasoned position, but rather simply unexamined “commonsense” received ideology, in other cases it is specious; 4) thus by the avoidance of statements which cannot be demonstrated I would, of necessity, be promulgating fallacies; 5) if there really are things that you simply cannot allow to pass unremarked, please feel free to contact me with and questions and I will happily explain the basis of any such assertions on my part.

I hope that makes this talk a little clearer.

Here is a video version.

Or download audio from here:

Intro

Hello and welcome to this On Genocide audioblog commentary. Today I tackle the vexed question of whether Amnesty International are still the profoundly compassionate force for good which inspired millions like me in past times or have become a pack of mass-murdering sociopaths or are merely the pandering toadies of a pack of mass murdering sociopaths? I can reveal in advance that the answer is yes.

Part 1: The KONYism of Amnesty International

I received a phone call the other day from a telemarketer working for Amnesty International. He informed me that he was calling to raise awareness about events in Syria. He cited an urgent need for international action under the United Nations Security Council. Part of my response was to ask why Amnesty International felt a need to “raise awareness” over Syria, which is hardly absent from mainstream news reporting, while not having done so with their own reports of atrocities and ethnic cleansing in post-Gadaffi Libya.

Image

In a formal sense, Amnesty International remains politically neutral, however, Amnesty has an extremely problematic record. In October 1990 Amnesty gave crucial support to the fraudulent, and now infamous claim that Iraqi personnel had murdered premature babies by removing them from incubators. Image

They would later retract that support, but less than three weeks after the incubator lies Amnesty released a report on atrocities carried out by Iraqis in Kuwait. The report contained unconfirmed as well as independently verified reports of atrocities. Atrocities were definitely taking place, but why dramatise the report with unconfirmed allegations? Amnesty’s answer: to “raise awareness”? But, the entire world was already watching. Saddam Hussein was the most vilified person on the planet (except among some Arabs). George Bush had labelled him as worse than Hitler.

Image

And it was not as there were no atrocities taking place elsewhere such as Myanmar and Honduras, nor even that they were not occurring in military occupations such as those of Western Sahara, East Timor, Palestine and West Papua.

Amnesty produced this report as the US was trying to gain support for unleashing the greatest mass violence on the world since the invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet forces. Amnesty must have known that this was going to involve massive suffering. To be absolutely clear, bombs dropped by US warplanes (even smart bombs) do not build schools, they do not organise elections, and they do not emancipate women (except in giving the equality of the grave).

Image

I mention this because most news and entertainment media treatment of the subject would have you believe that they do these things. What bombs actually do is kill, maim and destroy bringing the suffering of physical pain, fear, grief and material loss.

Amnesty International played a crucial role in in unleashing Desert Storm and the repercussions dwarf by far any good that Amnesty has done in this world since its inception.

Part 2: What did Amnesty enable in Mesopotamia?

It is worth understanding just how much the scale of suffering brought about with Amnesty’s crucial support outweighs the suffering they prevent in their fights against political imprisonment, torture, and capital punishment. The numbers are simply beyond a level that Amnesty could realistically dream of helping. But these victims suffered too, and their suffering is equally tragic, equally unjustified and equally obsene.

Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Desert Sabre can now be seen as the inauguration of a two decades long genocide which took hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives – probably in excess of 2 million.(1)

Image

The US was never interested in any human rights as their betrayal of anti-Baathist rebels revealed. Famously, General Norman Schwartzkopf gratuitously allowed the rather surprised Iraqi military to use helicopter gunships against the uprisings that President Bush had personally and explicitly encouraged to take up arms against the Iraqi regime. Also, while US forces had allowed Iraq’s Republican Guard to withdraw intact from Kuwait, on the so called “highway of death”, they massacred hapless conscripts who, by some accounts, were mutineers.

Image

In these accounts by exiles (who had fled Iraq after the Basra uprising was brutally crushed) those killed on Highway 80’s Mutla Ridge were conscripts headed to join the anti-Saddam uprising which had grown out of the antiwar movement in and around Basra.

There is some controversy over the numbers killed by US warplanes on the Mutla ridge. Initial military eyewitnesses and journalists such as Peter Turnley described and documented a large scale of mortality (perhaps thousands).

Image

Later arriving journalists, most notably Michael Kelly, saw less evidence of mortality but given the undenied disposal of bodies by US personnel this is hardly surprising.(2) The explanation given later was that vehicles were abandoned before being attacked. Photographs of the vehicles are widely available, although they are often from long after the event. It is clear that they were almost all attacked, whether it is conceivable that most were abandoned at this point, or indeed whether it is conceivable that they were not abandoned at this point, I leave to the reader’s judgement.

Image

Regardless of what exact portion of vehicles were occupied when attacked hundreds or maybe thousands of human beings died. Violent death is always obscene, but the photographs and descriptions of the victims here seem sometimes beyond obscenity. Helpless, fleeing, posing no conceivable threat to Allied forces, many victims were burnt alive while trapped in their vehicles.

Image

Schwarzkopf said: “This was a bunch of rapists, murderers and thugs who had raped and pillaged downtown Kuwait City and now were trying to get out of the country before they were caught.” It is exactly this sort of application of mass condemnation (in this case, given substance and verisimilitude by Amnesty itself) that often underlies massacres and other atrocities, but along with reports of a column of mutineers, there are also reports of Palestinian refugees and even Kuwaiti hostages who were among those fleeing along Highway 80.

In Desert Storm, (the bombing campaign conducted under a specious air power doctrine which, like “Shock and Awe”, invented a military significance for civilian infrastructure(3)) the US had attacked all sorts of civilian targets including power generation and water treatment and so forth. It is a war crime to attack such targets, of course, and it is difficult to see how the US could even claim some military advantage. It made no difference to the military outcome what civilians were killed and what civilian infrastructure was destroyed. The military “contest” was so uneven, the opposing forces so disparate, that even the killing of Iraqi military personnel was gratuitous as well as grotesque.

What followed thereafter was the “sanctions regime”, a cruel slow form of genocide inflicting the greatest suffering of all on children. As water-borne disease and malnutrition condemned tens of thousands of under-5’s to avoidable deaths, ironically it was Iraq’s premature infants that were forced to share incubators and were dying for lack of simple bottled oxygen.

Image

(In another irony, Madeleine Albright, who felt that 500,000 dead infants was “worth it” as a price for Iraqi containment, would in 2012 be the keynote speaker at an Amnesty International event, but I’m getting ahead of myself.) Maybe in 1990 Amnesty was doing nothing more that to report Iraqi atrocities in that same way as any other, but the context of impending war was unmistakeable and they helped bring about one of the greatest mass atrocities of the post-WWII era.

Part 3: Unrepentant

Did Amnesty, seeing this horrifying mistake, take steps to ensure that in future it would not simply become a source of atrocity propaganda for Western warmongers? Clearly not. Instead its formal neutrality and its original central purpose are being corrupted by expedience and by the corrosive permeation of the Western discourse of humanitarian intervention.

The context is this: Since World War II the state that has committed the most war crimes is the United States; the state that has caused the most deaths of innocents (notwithstanding China’s Great Leap Forward) is likewise the US. One might use different modes and criteria of calculus, but any consistent and defensible reckoning will return the same answer. When it comes to the use of mass violence, when it comes to the use of deadly ordnance, none can even be considered in the same league as the US. Horrible atrocities such as the Soviet bombing of Herat, the Russian bombing of Grozny or the Syrian shelling of Hama are as buckets next to the swimming pools of blood from North Korea, South Korea, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Image

Further context: every large-scale mass atrocity and the majority of those on a smaller scale is preceded by atrocity propaganda wherein the future victim group is portrayed as perpetrators. Sometimes the atrocities are fictitious or massively exaggerated; sometimes one blames one’s own atrocities on an enemy; sometimes false-flag atrocities are actually staged; and sometimes the atrocities are real. The attribution and contextualisation, however, are fantastically important. The actual perpetrators (often impossible to distinguish in any event) become of no importance whatsoever, the perpetrators become defined instead by a group membership. They become, as Schwarzkopf put it “a bunch”.

ImageImageImage

But, instead of learning the lesson of 1990, instead of taking steps to avoid becoming a source of atrocity propaganda which facilitates massive suffering and death, Amnesty has more often acted to embrace the very same US imperialist causes which facilitate atrocities. But Amnesty and others, including some alternative news outlets, actively jump at any opportunity to join with the US State Dept. and White House in condemnation of human rights abuses. It is as if they wish to ensure that everyone knows that they aren’t really anti-American, or anti-government, they do have haircuts, they do have jobs. It is as if the tension of having to oppose authority is suddenly released and they can get on with their job of righteous opposition to wrongdoing without fear of being criticised, misapprehended, scorned or argued with. Like the dissidents who, after years of hopeless opposition to Bush Jr’s crimes of aggression, so passionately embraced the slogan “Out of Iraq, into Darfur”, they themselves embrace the advocacy and support of war crimes.

Image

By not rejecting outright the discourse of humanitarian intervention and of “R2P” Amnesty may become a party to war crimes while its history of refusing to determine the legality of military actions as a whole (for example, the Iraq Invasion or Operation Cast Lead) means that only selected suffering and death is worthy of protest. This is an extremely dangerous mixture. It means that as long as the conduct of the war is in accordance with International Humanitarian Law they are not going to comment on “lawful” killings, even in cases of aggression wherein these “lawful” killings are actually unlawful murders. They deal with “human rights” and apparently there is no right not to be maimed or painfully killed, or to have your family killed, or your children killed by a foreign military power.

Image

In addition, Amnesty International has of late, like so many others, been embracing what might be described as KONYism. By this term I mean the enthusiastic and rigid insistence on criminal proceedings be taken against official villains who are generally not powerful (often spent forces and no longer a threat); are generally non-Caucasian and certainly not Westerners; and, ipso facto, are from the poorer countries in the world.

Image

This functions to put a black face in people’s minds when thinking of atrocities, the face of savagery – a twisted uncivilised creature of personal violence and sadism. But the greatest culpable mass-murderers sit in offices, no matter what their skin colour, and usually don’t personally torture maim and kill. Amnesty has become a keen proponent of prosecutions in the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda as well as the International Criminal Court.

Image

Both the ICTY and ICTR are seen by critics as overly politicised at the expense of justice. As ad hoctribunals they are unavoidably selective, while the ICC seems merely to be avoidably selective but selective nonetheless. Its indictments are, without exception, against the enemies and defiers of the US, a state which itself refuses to allow its own personnel to be subject to ICC prosecution. By analogy, it is as if the Mafia controlled a criminal court and used it against small-time rivals – sure those prosecuted may be guilty of heinous crimes, but there is still a massive injustice in that their very indictment advances the purposes of even greater criminals.

Image

Supporters of such courts claim that we cannot allow impunity. Indeed, there are many times when impunity is tantamount to incitement. Some claim that the culture of tit-for-tat atrocities in some civil conflicts stems in part from impunity. So Amnesty International, set up to oppose political imprisonment, is a big proponent of this system which arguably creates political prisoners and inarguably creates selective impunity along strict and consistent lines of privileging the most powerful state actors and their leaders, who, not coincidentally, are quantifiably the greatest abusers of human rights. But its actually even worse than that because the current ‘international justice’ regime has become a massive impediment to conflict resolution. Evincing at all times self-righteous condemnation for the irredeemable evil malefactors, it is made increasingly clear to the enemies of the West that they will not escape Western vengeance. What, for example, can Bashar al-Assad glean about Western intentions? Should he look to Saddam Hussein’s fate?

ImageImage

Or maybe Gaddaffi’s? In the latter instance the ICC was so prompt in announcing an intent to prosecute and issuing an arrest warrant that Gaddaffi knew from very very early in the piece that his fate, at best, would be to end his days in prison. Not a great incentive to find a peaceful solution. What about Charles Taylor? His immunity under peace accords which had ended conflict and killingwas immediately undermined by the US Congress inducement of $2 million for his capture. The precedents all send a very clear message. Or how about Sudan’s OmarHassan al-Bashir, a man who now knows that his safety and freedom requires that he cling to power no matter what the cost?

Amnesty would claim, no doubt, that its stance stems from principles – they don’t change whether the perpetrator state is China or the US, Iran or Israel, Syria or Turkey. Is this true? In reality they exclude from their remit the most serious crimes committed by the US. Moreover, they clearly have decided, in the cases of Syria or Joseph Kony for example, to emphasise those instances where they are in accord with Western governments. Without shame they refer to this as “awareness raising” when it is clear that these are the instances of very heightened public awareness in the West. In these instances groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are massive force multipliers in propaganda wars waged by Western institutions and leaders who might otherwise have fragile credibility on the subject of human rights and be vulnerable to countercharges.

If Amnesty wanted to base itself on principle, it would base itself around opposition to the suffering caused by state violence. In conflict it can’t simply choose only to oppose jus in bello infringements (those relating to the conduct of war) as if jus ad bellum matters (the legality of the war itself) were of no relevance. Firstly, one cannot simply treat something as presumed legal because one does not wish to determine its legality. Secondly, Amnesty can’t ethically justify ignoring suffering simply because it may be legal – much of their energies are spent opposing the use of the death penalty which in most relevant jurisdictions is completely legal.

Image

Consider the implications of Amnesty’s stance. Amnesty strongly condemned Israel’s use of white phosphorous in Gaza on the ground that it was indiscriminate, hence illegal. But that immediately means that Amnesty’s area of concern is not whether Israel inflicted horrible suffering and death, but whether this was lawful. Consider a child – it could be in Fallujah, it could be in Gaza, it could be in the next place – a victim of white phosphorous (WP). WP wounds and fatalities are particularly horrific in all instances. Fragments of WP can burn right through flesh and bone – they may continue burning until surgically removed. The remnants may still cause problems through toxicity and the very nature of the burns may cause crippling and agonising complications that last a lifetime. More horrifying than that, however, is that fine partially oxidised particles of WP can form a cloud where in both oxygen and moisture are depleted, a cloud that is forced downwards by airbursts as practiced in Fallujah and Gaza.Image

We know that in Fallujah this property must have been deliberately exploited because “shake ‘n bake” fire missions were described in a US military journal as being used against positions immune to high explosive artillery. Such a cloud might penetrate, for example, into the shelter of a family. Imagine this hypothetical child, cowering fearfully in a shelter, whose eyes start to burn as the phosphorous particles ignite on the eyeball itself. The child draws breath to scream and the child is as good as dead, because now the particles are in the lungs themselves. Many square meters of surface area are burning, a child is actually dying from being burnt from the inside out. This is not completely speculative. There are photographs from Fallujah of children who seem to have died in this manner.

Image

Amnesty’s stance is to oppose the illegal use of white phosphorous, but this death could have resulted from the legal use of WP (except of course that it is not legal if the war isn’t legal, but that’s no concern of Amnesty’s). So you can see why I believe that the only possible stance of principle is to oppose the suffering caused by state violence. How can anyone say that its sometimes OK to inflict agonising death on a child as long as it is “lawful”? Yes, I do inevitably mean that Amnesty must oppose all war casualties, but remember that under international law (including the UN Charter) war is actually illegal. All casualties of war are crimes, and rightly so since these are actual human beings and there is no morally justifiable reason for saying its OK to kill some of them. Even if they are military personnel they still feel pain and fear, their passing still leaves grief. If a party is forced to take life out of a need for national self-defence, then the aggressor, under a precedent established at Nuremburg, is culpable for that loss of life.

So what should Amnesty do? Well, the fact is that there are more limits on doing good than there are on doing harm. On Syria they need to revert to marshaling intelligence and moral force and eschew alignment with state actors and advocacy of any form of “international action” based on a UNSC resolution. In general, advocacy of an international governmental response should be confined to cases of international aggression, Amnesty should harness citizen activism, not lobby states or international bodies. The whole world should, in addition, move away from the self-righteous demonisation of the ICC and strengthen the International Court of Justice or other mechanisms for holding states (not individuals) accountable and for putting an end to ongoing crimes such as occupations, blockades or aggressive sanctions regimes which inflict mass suffering.

Part 4: Or are Amnesty Really Evil Lizards Psychopaths After All?

Image

The vast majority of people are in one of two camps – either Amnesty is a bunch of misguided bleeding heart lefties unintentionally helping the terrorists of this world, or they are unimpeachable fighters for justice, human rights and dignity. If one reads the Global Research website, however, it is replete with admirable writers and thinkers, such as Francis Boyle and Felicity Arbuthnot, for whom Amnesty is more of less The Enemy, whether they like it or not. Of course such critics understand that Amnesty members and activists try to live up to Amnesty’s founding principles, but in practical terms they have to deal with an organisation that is far more effective in promoting injustice, indignity and human suffering. It is probably worth contemplating this vast disparity between the commonplace perceptions of of Amnesty and those of what, in the final analysis, are a small subset of radical dissidents. Nevertheless it is these few dissidents who tend to have fact and logic on their side. In the final analysis Amnesty might as well be run by the evil alien lizards, and I think the explanation for this state of affairs lies in the nature of liberalism.

John Pilger recently described liberalism as the world’s most powerful and violent ‘ism’” in an article linking liberal ideology to imperial state policies. At a later date I will doubtless be detailing all of the evils which can be ascribed to liberalism (always a fun topic) but here I will confine myself to saying that any ideology which claims to have tenets which are “good” in moral terms and by extension whose adherents are “good” as adherents (and inescapably better morally than non-adherents) is prone to violent hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance. A liberal can enthusiastically endorse condemnations of liberal atrocities, because those atrocities aren’t really liberal because liberal means good. You could ascribe the same behaviour to a Communist, a Muslim, or a Christian. The more predominant and self-satisfied an ideology is, the more violent and schizophrenic it becomes. There are two differences between liberalism and and other such ideologies. The first is that liberalism has made a quantum leap in its ability to subsume and subvert its own critics and their condemnations. The second is that liberal schizophrenia is being deliberately harnessed by the most massive imperial military in human history.

Imagine liberal interventionismn as being a call to enforce liberal political and economic governance within which is a “bundle”. The liberal “bundle” includes humanitarian aspects, or at least it seems to. Take women’s rights, liberals believe that imposing liberal governance and norms improves women’s rights. If women actually suffer under the imposition of liberalism, then things aren’t liberal enough. Either that or the liberal will trot out racist or cryptoracist rationalisations which either blame the victim directly or blame their, often equally suffering, male compatriots. In the final analysis, the imposition of liberal governance has not been a great boon for women and girls in places such as Southeast Asia and Latin America. In fact, compared with advances for women’s rights under socialist regimes of various types, liberal feminism has been beyond pathetic. Even in the West the women’s rights for which liberals claim credit have mostly come through grassroots left-wing agitation, like many other progressive changes.

So the liberal “bundle” is really kind of agnostic when it comes to humanitarian matters. Their ideology says that they have the cure, but they don’t care if the cure actually works. Likewise the economic aspects of the bundle are supposed to do all sorts of wonderful things, but they don’t and when liberals bother to concern themselves with that inconvenient fact, they tend to say that more drastic liberalisation is the answer.

Image

Liberal interventionism is now often expressed as humanitarian interventionism. This is one of several Newspeak terms which attend the liberal interventionist discourse. “Intervention” being understood to be military in nature, it means that causing destruction and death is “humanitarian”. Here is where the creepy post-Orwellian brilliance of it comes, through: out of two sets of strident fanatics for explicitly liberal intervention in the US, one bunch deliberately positions itself as being right-wing and calls itself neoconservative and another lot characterises itself as being left-wing and calls itself liberal. They use exactly the same tropes, evince exactly the same motives and call for exactly the same interventions. There is only one significant difference, and I’ll get to that shortly. Perhaps the epitome of the latter variety, the liberals, is Samantha Power, the very image of a bleeding heart who wants to drop humanitarian bombs.

Image

Journalist David Reiff tells of her response to his suggestion that “her reasoning on foreign policy was similar to that of neoconservatives who supported the Iraq War. “She said, jokingly, ‘I am not Paul Wolfowitz,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, actually, I think you are,’”

Power, along with Clinton and Obama, thrives by taking the moral high ground and harnessing opposition to the liberal imperialism of neocons and others who identify themselves as more right-wing (and may or may not take more socially and culturally conservative positions). The take the very energy of outrage at US imperialism and channel into support for… US imperialism. Pretty nifty, huh?

There is another of that ilk named Susanne Nossel – a former State Department employee who “would have worked for and with Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Samantha Power and Susan Rice, and undoubtedly helped them successfully implement their “Right to Protect (R2P)” – otherwise known as “humanitarian intervention” – as well as the newly created “Atrocities Prevention Board.”

ImageShe credits herself with having come up with the term “Smart Power” which is so often now on Clinton’s lips.(4) I won’t go into the complicated process of paring away the meaningless rhetoric around the term “smart power”. What it means, put simply, is exactly the same liberal imperialism pursued by Bush and his neocon allies, dressed up a bit differently. One can already detect that a key differentiation is in the way these costumes are gendered – smart power is sly and feminine whereas Bush era cowboy style is masculine and muscular. Thus, one could summarise the Obama vs. Romney foreign policy debate in two short lines (saving us a great deal of time). Romney calls Obama a wimp. Obama calls Romney an idiot. Then we all go home.

It is all just making a virtue of necessity. Bush era unilateralism isn’t practicable, nor realistically desirable for current imperial geostrategic wants. If, for example, they wished to repeat their actions against Iraq on Iran they would be looking at a decade or so of genocidal sanctions that isolate the Iranian people and increase an inescapable dependency on their increasingly oppressive regime. Only then, when international public revulsion and regional disobedience among client states threaten to destroy the genocide regime – would it be desirable to unleash the gung ho bulldozer of a Bush/neocon style war machine.

So that’s what Nossel is about, and guess what her job is now? That’s right, she’s the CEO of Amnesty International USA. That’s why people are referring to Amnesty as a “shill” or the “propaganda arm” of NATO or as an “imperialist tool”. Consternation has particularly been fueled by Amnesty USA’s crucial support for NATO’s ongoing occupation of Afghanistan. In an excellent article Ann Wright and Colleen Rowley write of “announcements posted online as well as billboard advertisements on Chicago bus stops, telling ‘NATO: Keep the Progress Going!‘” these “beckoned us to find out more on Sunday, May 20, 2012, the day thousands of activists marched in Chicago in protest of NATO’s wars.” Image

Another article is worth quoting at length where it takes up the same story of what Amnesty was doing on the very day that people were mobilising to oppose war:

…Amnesty USA put on a “shadow summit” of its own during the NATO meeting, featuring Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s notorious secretary of state, who will be forever remembered for her chilling response to a question on 60 Minutes about sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s. Correspondent Lesley Stahl asked, “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.”

With a veritable war criminal as one of its star speakers, Amnesty USA’s shadow summit launched a campaign that, for all intents and purposes, called for the extension of NATO’s “good works” in Afghanistan. Its speakers and promotional materials recycled George Bush’s “feminist” justification of the invasion and occupation–that NATO would liberate women from Taliban rule.

Image

The article then examines the realities of womens lives in occupied Afghanistan, finding claims of progress “laughable” – “As Sonali Kolhatkar, founder of the Afghan Women’s Mission, and Mariam Rawi, of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, wrote:

Under the Taliban, women were confined to their homes. They were not allowed to work or attend school. They were poor and without rights. They had no access to clean water or medical care, and they were forced into marriages, often as children. Today, women in the vast majority of Afghanistan live in precisely the same conditions, with one notable difference: they are surrounded by war.”

Part 5: Conclusions

  1. Yes to mass-murdering sociopaths. People like Nossels are mass murderers. OK she may not be a sociopath, but then again she might be. We don’t know, and why would we care. Some mass murders believe deeply that they will make the world a better place; others are driven by hatred, fear or insanity; and others still are monstrously callous and simply don’t care for the suffering they cause. In this I agree with the biblical sentiments – know people from their actions, but leave the judging to some hypothesised supernatural omniscient being because we aren’t in a position to judge.
  2. Yes to toadies enabling mass-murder. Amnesty members want to do good, but self-satisfaction is unreflexive and causes complacency. Amnesty members need to discriminate more in terms of what they support and what they don’t. It might sound complicated, but it isn’t. When Amnesty is calling for petition writing and pressure to be put on a government which is commiting abuses it’s all good. When they are calling for petitions and pressure to be put on a government to “intervene” in another state, it is not good at all, it is the opposite of good, which some of us like to refer to as “bad”.
  3. Yes to compassionate voice for good. Of course most Amnesty members, volunteers and staff are fundamentally committed to alleviating human suffering. Perhaps it should be no surprise then, that there is a movement to reform Amnesty International from within. Staff and members have expressed disquiet and there is also a Code Pink petition campaign.

I would argue that reform of Amnesty is worth pursuing. It might be too much to expect deep principled reform, but even at worst a curtailing of pro-imperialist efforts in order to regain lost credibility and avoid critical scrutiny deprives the empire of a very significant tool, albeit temporarily. A more confrontational approach, aiming to publicise Amnesty’s “true nature” and reveal it for what it effectively is might seem attractive and understandable, but most people are never really going to understand the premise that this renowned humanitarian organisation is engaged in warmongering with postmodern jingoism. That makes Amnesty and suchlike a bit of a tarbaby, which is also quite handy for the US empire as a form of distraction. If you want to attack something just attack the policies and the false justifications behind them. People will work out for themselves that Amnesty is behaving inappropriately from that context.

I would like to thank you for listening to this commentary. A transcript, complete with photographs, hyperlinks and even a few good old fashioned endnote citations is available at the On Genocide blog, which is at ongenocide.wordpress.com. There is also a facebook page called – you guessed it – On Genocide. If you like the facebook page I promise to post no more than 3 or 4 items a day, including, of course, updates to the blog.

(1) Kieran Kelly, Context of the Iraq Genocide (https://ongenocide.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/context-of-iraq-genocide.pdf), pp 176-9.

(2) Michael Kelly, Martyr’s Day: Chronicle of a Small War, New York: Random House, 1993.

(3) Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, The Generals’ War, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995, p 80.

(4) Wright and Rowley, op cit.

Other links:

Great article on Suzanne Nossel

RAWA – Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan