Friday, April 03, 2009

Only "hearsay"?: IDF misbehavior in Gaza

The Israeli Military Advocate General is Brigadier General AvichaiMendelblit. He concluded that Israeli soldiers' reports of the intentional killing of civilians in Gaza and other possible war crimes are "hearsay". As Amos Harel notes, the investigation was extraordinarily quick, so quick that some of the claims were not explored at all. (A thorough report would have to examine the IDF's "Rules of Engagement" in the Gaza war. As I have noted here on several occasions the Israeli army's behavior all too often often causes excessive civilian casualties.)

Inspectors general typically report to the commanding general, and they are formally charged with performing independent investigations. An inspector general in the U.S. system has complete authority to question soldiers, officers and civilians who may have information pertinent to the case at hand. Their reports are not reviewed by any command authority prior to the submission of findings to the commander. In my experience, their reports are typically extensive and require quite some time to prepare in complex cases. In this instance, the Israeli Inspector General required less than two weeks, which is quite swift.

Since the inspector general is usually a respected member of the organization that he or she is investigating, it is probably not surprising that investigators often describe crimes and misdemeanors as exceptions to organizational norms. It is relatively uncommon to read an official report that reveals broad patterns of abuse, and the authors of such exceptional reports risk being ostracized. A U.S. example is Major General Antonio Taguba, who was tasked to investigate the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. His report revealed that what happened at AbuGhraib was not merely the misbehavior of a few poorly trained soldiers, but was the product of serious command failures in Iraq. Taguba was privately castigated for his findings and retired without fanfare. In contrast, General Mendelblit is unlikely to be canned for his findings, which stop just short of calling the soldiers' allegations risible.

Instead, his investigation is cited by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi to show: "These testimonies were exhaustively examined and investigated by Military Police and the Military Advocacy and, to my satisfaction, have been proven to be unfounded and lacking in any factual base."

Despite these official denials, allegations of IDF misbehavior during the Gaza war are not receding. The UN has appointed Richard Goldstone, a respected South African jurist, to lead an investigation. Goldstone, has experience with war crimes cases in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, is be assisted by British international law expert Christine Chinkin, Pakistani lawyer Hina Jilani and retired Irish army Colonel Desmond Travers, a veteran of tough service in the Middle East as well as in the Balkans. (I have known Travers for 30 years and I have a deep respect for his fairness and his professionalism.)

Also of note: Israeli behavior in the Gaza war has apparently affected Israeli exports to Europe, which have declined dramatically.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hezbollah or Hamas can murder Israeli civilians at will, can rain rockets down over the entire country, and can blow up buses and cafes. But the IDF? It--and only it-- must hold fire. That's the message that is really being delivered to Israel. Double standards, anyone?