Reading the Fine Print; International Red Cross Is Soft on Dictators

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 17, 2004 | Go to article overview

Reading the Fine Print; International Red Cross Is Soft on Dictators


Byline: Lee A. Casey and David B. Rivkin Jr., SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Some of the most determined opposition to America's war on terror has come from a very unlikely source, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC has launched public attacks on key aspects of U.S. policy, including the refusal to grant captured al Qaeda and Taliban members prisoner of war status, or to process them as ordinary criminal defendants, and has accused Americans of "systematic" violations of international law in Iraq.

In the wake of the Abu Ghraib abuses, Bush administration critics have demanded to know why American officials did not act on the ICRC's complaints. The answer to that question may well be that, whatever its role in the past, the ICRC was not taken seriously enough because it no longer merits its reputation for neutrality. In fact, ICRC reports cannot be taken at face value for three important reasons.

First, the ICRC is highly selective in its public accusations of international law violations, with democracies getting the short end of the stick. An excellent example is the ICRC's 2001 report on Iraq - the last year of Saddam Hussein's rule before preparations for the 2003 war that toppled him. Anyone reading this report could not tell whether the ICRC believed Saddam's government was violating international humanitarian law or not. Its principal criticisms were reserved for the U.N. sanctions, noting deep concern "about the adverse consequences of the embargo" on Iraq and that the Anglo-American "no-fly" zones. The report also said that along with "persistent reports of possible military action against Iraq were yet another source of psychological stress for the population." Similar reports were just as uncritical of Syria and Iran.

These mild assessments are in notable contrast with the 2001 ICRC study on Israel, the Middle East's only democracy. The ICRC repeatedly referenced human-rights "violations" by the Israeli government and noted that it "regularly drew the attention of the Israeli authorities to their obligation to respect the rights of individuals and populations protected by IHL." This is, presumably, because, in the ICRC's view, the Israelis very much needed such reminders. Obviously, the ICRC felt free to attack Israel openly, while maintaining a diplomatic silence regarding its neighbors, because Israel would not retaliate against ICRC personnel. This may be common sense, but it is not "neutrality."

Second, the ICRC has a policy agenda - to promote additional human-rights protections for insurgent or guerrilla forces. …

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