The Double Standard on Wartime Collateral Casualties Practiced by the Obama Administration Comes Home to Roost in the State Department
By Ted Lapkin, 9 October 2015
Last week Mahmoud Abbas went to the UN in New York and delivered what ZFA President Danny Lamm later described as a “dissertation in distortion and denial.”
In my previous update – 2 October – I provided a dissection of the false historical narrative peddled by Abbas from the podium of the General Assembly. He sowed the rhetorical wind and now Israelis are reaping the real world whirlwind of Palestinian terrorist stabbings and shootings that have cost so many innocent lives.
Additional IDF troops and Israel Police have been dispatched to reinforce trouble spots – potential and actual. But little-if-nothing has been heard from the Palestinian Authority except the same old pernicious buck-shifting that incited this wave of violence in the first place.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas – now in the 10th year of his four-year elective term – convened apress conference at his office in Ramallah and cast the blame on the shoulders of … you guessed it … Israel:
“We didn’t strive for violence and we didn’t act to escalate [the situation], but the aggression against the al-Aqsa mosque and the worshipers lead things there.”
Could’a fooled me, especially in view of references in Abbas’ speech to Israel as a “colonial military occupation” that deliberately “target[s] Palestinian civilians by assassinations, air strikes and artillery shelling.” Such wonderful peace-loving sentiments worthy of Martin Luther King himself – not.
And then there’s Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who presides over an organization that brings to mind a famous Star Wars quote by Obi Wan Kenobi: “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
On Tuesday 6 October – Simhat Torah as it happened – Secretary-General Moon issued astatement bemoaning the death of four Palestinians – ignoring the fact that three of them were bona fide terrorists shot by Israeli security forces in self-defence. Facts, shmacts; the UN never lets such inconvenient truths get in the way of an opportunity for a rush to anti-Israel judgement. The Secretary-General went on to declare that he: “condemns the killings” and “looks to the Government of Israel to conduct a prompt and transparent investigation”.
But what of innocent Israeli victims – I hear you ask? Was there any commensurate expression of concern in this statement about Jews killed for no other reason than they were Jews? Nope, not a single syllable from that beacon of moral righteousness who sits at the apex of the United Nations.
With literally scores of individual terrorist attacks on Wednesday, the security situation deteriorated to the point where Prime Minister Netanyahu was forced to cancel a long-scheduled visit to Germany. Direct crisis management a bit closer to home was clearly in order.
Meanwhile back in Foggy Bottom, that neighbourhood in Washington DC that houses the State Department, a spokesman for John Kerry was hoist on his own petard over the American bombing of a civilian hospital in Afghanistan.
Of course, no one is questioning the tragic essence of this incident in which 22 patients and staff died when a Medicines Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) hospital was targeted by the US Air Force.
But at the daily press briefing on Monday, 5 October, Matthew Lee of the Associated Press left State Department spokesman Mark Toner literally squirming with discomfort during a line of questioning that highlighted the Obama Administration’s double standard on battlefield errors.
The transcript is lengthy, but nonetheless worth the read. And those who want to watch the State Department spokesman try and wriggle his way out of Obama Administration hypocrisy can watch video footage of the briefing. The relevant portion starts at around the 36:30 minute mark:
“QUESTION: But what I want to ask about is just Administration policy in general. So not that long ago – in fact, just a little over a year ago, in August of 2014 – Israel, during the Gaza conflict, was accused of and, in fact, did bomb a – an UNRWA school in Gaza that killed about 10 people – or did kill 10 people. At the time, this building – in fact, the spokeswoman – issued a statement that was very, very strong, saying, “The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced people. The coordinates of the school, like all UN facilities in Gaza, have been repeatedly communicated to the Israeli Defense Forces. We once again stress that Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties. UN facilities, especially those sheltering civilians, must be protected and must not be used by bases from which to launch attacks.”
And then the sentence that’s key here, and this is what I want to ask about, it says, “The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.” And then it goes on to call for an investigation. So I just want to – let me see – is it Administration – still Administration policy that the suspicion that militants are operating nearby a site like this, which is a school, that that suspicion does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of innocent civilians? Is that still the Administration’s position?
MR TONER: Well, first of all, I just would like to add the State Department’s voice to what the President and Department of Defense have already said. We mourn, obviously, the loss of life at the Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz which occurred on October 3rd. It goes without saying these doctors perform heroic work throughout the world including in Afghanistan, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends, and colleagues of those affected by this tragic incident.
You’re asking about whether our policy has changed. We always take great care and we are very adamant about stating when we see elsewhere attacks in areas where there could be civilian casualties to avoid civilian casualties. That obviously stands. That’s – there’s no other, frankly, country or government that takes greater care to investigate incidents like this, to hold folks accountable, and to try to take every measure possible to avoid civilian casualties.
What we’re looking at right now in terms of what happened in Kunduz, the facts are still emerging. There’s, I think, now three investigations underway: one by the Department of Defense, one by Resolute Support, and I think one joint Afghan and U.S. investigation. So we’ll let those investigations run their course.
But generally, these are difficult situations. It was, I think – General Campbell spoke to this as well, saying that it was an active combat zone and just trying to put that in the framework that they were called into – that air strikes were called in, without necessarily even saying that these were the airstrikes that hit that hospital, because we don’t know yet. We’re still collecting the facts.
QUESTION: Well —
MR TONER: But in speaking to your – sorry, your specific question – I mean, of course, we take every measure possible and would encourage any government in the world to take any measure possible – every measure possible – every measure possible to avoid civilian casualties, even when that involves close-quarter combat.
QUESTION: Right. I understand that and I understood —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: But my question was not about the idea – and I’m not challenging the idea that you take – that the military makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties. What I’m most curious about is that this statement said the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes, which – and the military has said that it was called in because the Afghans asked for it. But MSF says that they had been given the coordinates much in the same way the IDF had been given the coordinates of the school in Rafah.
So the question is – and I realize this is under investigation. But the question is if – the question is: If the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes on a humanitarian facility for which the coordinates had been given, that it seems to have changed.
MR TONER: It’s just – look, Matt. I think it’s safe to say that this attack, this bombing, was not intentional. I can’t get into what may or may not have happened on the ground, whether the coordinates were known, whether they were acknowledged. It’s just too much speculation at this point.
MR TONER: So you’ll hopefully give me a pass if we wait for the investigation to run its course.
QUESTION: Okay. That’s – and that’s fine. I understand it. But in the case of this – the Rafah situation, you called for a full and prompt investigation of this incident, as well as others like it.
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: But that statement began by saying that the U.S. is appalled by the disgraceful shelling. That’s before an investigation even happened. So can you say now, knowing what you did, that you – that this shelling of this hospital was disgraceful and appalling?
MR TONER: Again, I would only just reiterate our sincere condolences to the victims of this attack and just again underscore the fact that we’re going to investigate this thoroughly. And as I said, once those investigations are complete, we’re going to take steps to – either to hold any responsible parties accountable or to take measures that avoid any kind of accident like this in the future.”
Yet another example of the “do as I say, not as I do” principle applied to Israel.
But methinks this one is one worthy of retention for future hasbara reference if – or more probably when – required.
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