Friday, August 11, 2006

What Do We Know?

“More than 1,000 Lebanese, most of them civilians, have now been killed in the hostilities, the Lebanese government has said. Some 122 Israelis, most of them soldiers, have also been killed. ” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4778591.stm?ls

It may be time to let some facts get in the way of our stated objectives.

We know the ‘terorrists’ are killing mostly soldiers, while our ‘democratic ally’ is killing civilians wholesale.

"Hostage-taking is a war crime,"said Hanny Megally, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. "No domestic legislation can change that."

We know the justification is that we can't allow ‘terorrists’ to hold hostages, but are soldiers captured in a raid, hostages or are they POWs? We also know that the US government has no problems with Israel holding hostages. It seems to have no problems with Israel clling the people they hold hostages, but maybe it's just that they only disagree with Israel behind closed doors, rather than publicly.

let some facts get in the way of our stated objectives

‘terorrists’ are killing mostly soldiers, while our ‘democratic ally’ is killing civilians wholesale

Accountability for War Crimes
Some combatants in the southern Lebanon conflict may be responsible for war crimes or other serious violations of humanitarian law. The Lebanese government has a responsibility to track down, investigate, and prosecute them. So does the Israeli government, and indeed the government of any country that abides by the principles of international humanitarian law.

August 10, 2006 http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/08/10/lebano13955.htm

The continuing toll of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is enormous and warrants the attention of this special session of the Human Rights Council: hundreds of civilians, many of them children, have been killed, essential infrastructure has been destroyed, and millions of lives have been disrupted. Serious violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) have been committed by both Israel and Hezbollah. The victims deserve more than rhetoric, though: they require that this Council take concrete and constructive steps to help end their suffering. To be effective, those steps must address the roles and responsibilities of all parties. If this Council neglects to consider the full conflict, and looks at violations of international law only by Israel while ignoring violations by Hezbollah, its pronouncements will lack credibility and be futile.

Israeli air and artillery strikes

28 people were killed in Qana on July 30, eleven died in the July 16 bombing of a civilian home in Aitaroun; and another eleven were killed when an apartment building was destroyed in Tyre that same day. There is no evidence to suggest in any of these cases that Hezbollah forces or weapons were in or near the area that the IDF targeted during or just prior to the attack.

Since the beginning of the armed conflict on July 12, Israel has carried out more than 5000 air strikes over Lebanon, and fired artillery shells into southern Lebanon, killing over 600 Lebanese civilians, and wounding thousands. During that same period, Hezbollah has fired over 2500 rockets into Israel, killing 36 Israeli civilians, and wounding hundreds more. Since the start of the hostilities, Human Rights Watch (HRW) researchers have been on the ground documenting the conduct of both warring parties and the impact of their misconduct on civilians.…

By failing to distinguish between combatants and civilians in their military campaign, Israel has violated one of the most fundamental tenets of the laws of war: the duty to carry out attacks on only military targets. Under IHL, parties to an armed conflict must not make the civilian population the object of attack, or fire indiscriminately into civilian areas. Nor can they launch attacks that they know will cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects that exceeds the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. Such attacks constitute war crimes. For example, HRW has found that 28 people were killed in Qana on July 30, eleven died in the July 16 bombing of a civilian home in Aitaroun; and another eleven were killed when an apartment building was destroyed in Tyre that same day. There is no evidence to suggest in any of these cases that Hezbollah forces or weapons were in or near the area that the IDF targeted during or just prior to the attack.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have consistently blurred the distinction between civilians and combatants. Israeli government officials have argued that after Israel ordered civilians to evacuate southern Lebanon, only people associated with Hezbollah remain, and thus are legitimate targets of attack. Under international law, however, only civilians directly participating in hostilities lose their immunity from attack. Many civilians have been unable to flee because they are sick, wounded, do not have the means to leave, are providing essential civil services, or lack a safe route for their departure. HRW has documented 27 deaths that resulted when civilians came under attack as they attempted to flee southern Lebanon, as well as two Israeli air strikes on humanitarian aid vehicles. This week, Israel has warned that any vehicle moving south of the Litani River will be targeted as they may be carrying rockets or other military equipment. Such an approach presents a clear violation of IHL, as it presumes that civilian objects are valid military targets without properly making such a determination.

HRW also documented the IDF’s firing of artillery shells with cluster munitions into civilian areas. Due to their wide dispersal pattern and their high failure rate, HRW believes that cluster munitions should never be used in or near populated areas.

Although our investigations are still ongoing, HRW has collected evidence that Hezbollah has stored weapons in or near civilian homes and that fighters placed rocket launchers within populated areas or near U.N. observers. These are serious violations of IHL because they violate the duty to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties. If done for the purpose of shielding military assets behind civilians, they are war crimes. However, those cases do not justify the IDF’s extensive use of indiscriminate force in other situations where civilians were killed and there was no evidence of a Hezbollah presence at the time of the Israeli attack. HRW researchers documented 153 civilian deaths in the first weeks of the conflict – more than one-third of the total Lebanese civilian deaths during that period – in which we found no evidence of Hezbollah forces or weapons present in or near the area during or just prior to the IDF attack.

Hezbollah rocket attacks

As noted, more than 2,500 rockets have been fired into northern Israel. While Hezbollah claims that some of its attacks are aimed at military targets, most of the rocket attacks appear to have been directed at civilian areas and have hit pedestrians, hospitals, schools, homes and businesses. As the weapons being used by Hezbollah lack a guidance system, they are inherently indiscriminate and should never be directed at civilian areas.

Human Rights Watch has also documented violations of IHL by Hezbollah, including a pattern of deliberate attacks on civilians which amount to war crimes. As noted, more than 2,500 rockets have been fired into northern Israel. While Hezbollah claims that some of its attacks are aimed at military targets, most of the rocket attacks appear to have been directed at civilian areas and have hit pedestrians, hospitals, schools, homes and businesses.
As the weapons being used by Hezbollah lack a guidance system, they are inherently indiscriminate and should never be directed at civilian areas. By firing these rockets at civilian areas, Hezbollah has violated the obligation of IHL that requires attackers to distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians. For example, HRW documented rocket attacks that damaged Safed and Nahariya hospitals in northern Israel and injured patients in the former. In the absence of armed troops or military assets inside, hospitals must never be attacked, and attacking them deliberately is a war crime.…

Maybe we should say that any war of choice is a crime.

Lebanese Detainees in Khiam Prison and Israel
Some 140 Lebanese men and women are currently being held without charge in Khiam prison in the occupied zone. Some of the detainees have been imprisoned since 1986. This notorious facility, where torture is endemic, is a joint enterprise of Israel and the SLA.

Israeli human rights lawyers have petitioned Israel's Supreme Court for the release of twenty-five Khiam prisoners, arguing that Israel is ultimately responsible for Khiam. Ha'aretz (April 13) has reported the possibility that some of the prisoners will be transferred to Israel, a step which would violate international humanitarian law. In Israel's Supreme Court on April 17, state prosecutor Malchiel Blass indicated that Israel considered the Khiam detainees a responsibility of the SLA.

Since at least 1989, Israel has held Lebanese inside Israel as hostages to gain the return of missing Israeli soldiers. Of the twenty-one Lebanese who were held hostage in Israel, eight had been transferred to Israel from Khiam prison. Many of the hostages have alleged torture in Israeli custody, and in March Israeli courts agreed to hear Mustafa al-Dirani's petition for compensation for torture that included rape. Torture and hostage-taking for any reason are both war crimes.

On April 12 the Supreme Court overturned its 1997 ruling that Israel could hold Lebanese as "bargaining chips," saying that Israeli law did not allow administrative detention of an individual who "does not pose a threat to the security of the State of Israel." Despite this new ruling, Israel continues to hold Mustafa al-Dirani and Sheikh `Abd al-Karim `Obeid hostage, and on April 18 Israel's "security cabinet" unanimously voted to seek new legislation to allow Israel to detain Lebanese it deemed a threat to security. Israeli law already allows the detention of individuals who threaten state security, raising speculation that the new law will be used to hold a new group of Lebanese, possibly from Khiam.

Israel should release immediately all Lebanese it holds as hostages and compensate them for their unlawful detention. Individuals responsible for torture should be prosecuted, and their victims compensated.

Israeli Government Efforts to Sidestep Court Illegal http://hrw.org/english/docs/2000/04/18/isrlpa486.htm

Human Rights Watch has documented grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions by SLA forces, including torture and expulsion of civilians from the Israeli-occupied zone. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, Gen. Lahd, the SLA commander, can be held responsible for such acts by troops under his command, if he took part in them, ordered them, or tolerated them. Gen. Lahd is widely expected to relocate to France, and may in fact hold a French passport. If indeed he takes up residence there, the French government should undertake an investigation.

Israel, as the Occupying Power in the "security zone," is ultimately responsible for its own actions as well as those of its local Lebanese military auxiliary, including grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. Israel directly arms and finances the SLA. In April 1998, the Israeli Ministerial Committee for National Security, in announcing Israel's acceptance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 425 (1978), referred to the occupied zone as "territories under IDF control." The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Liaison Unit to Lebanon, commanded by an Israeli military officer with the rank of brigadier general, reportedly directs Israeli and SLA military activities in the occupied zone.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak yesterday said that he will seek an amendment to Israeli law to allow him, as minister of defense, to order the continued detention of Lebanese hostages. The Israeli cabinet is scheduled to meet today to discuss the matter, and the speaker of the Knesset has already said he would convene an emergency session to vote on any proposed amendments.

"Hostage-taking is a war crime,"said Hanny Megally, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. "No domestic legislation can change that."

Barak's statement came in response to a Supreme Court ruling yesterday dismissing a challenge to the court's April 12 ruling ordering the release of eight of the hostages. The earlier ruling, which is applicable to all of the hostages held in Israel, found that the hostages were not a danger to state security and that their detention as "bargaining chips" was illegal.…

"Israel's highest court has acknowledged that these detainees should be released," Megally said. "The Israeli government should admit its wrongdoing and immediately release them."

The fifteen hostages are part of a larger group of twenty-one hostages kidnapped from Lebanon by Israel and the SLA beginning in the mid-1980s. Israel has conditioned the release of the hostages to information leading to the return of Israeli POWs and MIAs. Five of the twenty-one were released in December 1999, and a sixth hostage, reported to be mentally ill, was released on April 5.

Justice Minister Yossi Beilin has said he will seek to renew the administrative detention of at least two hostages, religious leader Sheikh `Abd al-Karim Obeid and militia leader Mustafa al-Dirani. Under the Emergency Powers (Detention) Law of 1979, Israel can hold administrative detainees indefinitely without charge or trial. Obeid has already spent almost eleven years in administrative detention; al-Dirani will have been held for six years in May. Although Israel alleges that both Obeid and al-Dirani held leadership positions in Lebanese resistance organizations, and that al-Dirani at one time had custody of missing Israeli soldier Ron Arad, neither has ever been charged with a crime.

"From the beginning Israel admitted that it was holding Obeid and al-Dirani hostage," Megally said. "Calling them administrative detainees will not disguise the fact that they remain hostages."

Human Rights Watch also expressed deep concern over the conditions in which Obeid and al-Dirani are held. Despite credible reports that some Lebanese hostages have been tortured in Israeli custody, Israel has refused to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to monitor their treatment.

In March Zvi Rish, a lawyer for al-Dirani, filed a civil case against the Israeli government asking for an NIS 6,000,000 (US$1,473,900) compensation for torture and ill-treatment al-Dirani suffered while in Israeli custody. The case alleges that during the first month of his interrogation al-Dirani was raped, sodomized with a wooden club, violently shaken, beaten, deprived of sleep, bound in painful positions, and left covered in his own feces for several days as "plain and simple vengeance."

"Israel is legally obligated investigate charges of torture and mistreatment and bring those responsible for any abuses to justice," Megally said. "All the hostages should be compensated for their unlawful and arbitrary detention." …

con·cept: What Do We Know?