Human Rights: The Corruption Creeps into Annual State Department Human Rights Report on Israel

By Bird, Eugene | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 3, 1999 | Go to article overview

Human Rights: The Corruption Creeps into Annual State Department Human Rights Report on Israel


Bird, Eugene, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


HUMAN RIGHTS: The Corruption Creeps Into Annual State Department Human Rights Report on Israel

You can now mention in the Department of State's report on Human Rights in Israel the word "torture." That was a concession to the truth, but it took countless hours of discussion within the Department before it was decided to permit use of the term. You can mention Israel's use of torture, however, only as "alleged."

You also can mention the name of someone who claims to have been tortured. And you can give statistics on all sorts of practices in violation of human rights and civil rights in Israel in order to make the annual U.S. human rights report's authors feel good about being balanced.

But you cannot mention that among those being tortured by America's principal ally in the Middle East are American citizens. And if you plan to remain in U.S. government service, you'd better not mention the lack of response from the government of Israel to protests from the United States.

A GLARING OMISSION

Sources in the U.S. State Department claim that no mention was made of American citizens being tortured by Israeli occupation authorities because U.S. officials "did not want this to be just a report on U.S. policy and judgment, but a universal report." Apparently it only looks to reporters like Clinton administration fear of retaliation by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel's lobby in Washington, DC, and how it might react.

Hashem Mufleh is an 18-year-old who had spent several years going to school in his family's native town of Ramallah, although he himself is a third-generation American. He was arrested in August, tortured, seen only a few times by the American consul in Jerusalem, and then forced to sign a confession in Hebrew, which he does not read, alleging that he was a member of Hamas.

The fact that it was an extorted confession was not mentioned in his trial nor in the annual U.S. Department of State Human Rights Report. His name was mentioned, but the Department of State chose not to mention the inconvenient fact that he is a U.S. citizen who had suffered the legalized torture that the Israeli government calls "moderate physical pressure." It left him traumatized and unwilling to resist further. After more than five months, he "confessed" before a military judge and was sentenced to three years' imprisonment. He will serve at least half that time if he maintains good behavior.

There is no reason why, except as a political concession to Israel, there is no mention of Mufleh's American citizenship, according to retired U.S. consular officers. Some expressed both astonishment and outrage at the failure to identify Mufleh as American.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CRITICIZES STATE DEPARTMENT

The 22nd Annual Department of State Human Rights Report to Congress covers some 194 countries, is longer than the Starr report, and increasingly is becoming an important instrument of U.S. policy to force the pace of human rights reforms around the world.

At a hearing of the Christopher Smith subcommittee on human rights, Amnesty International testified to another lapse in the department's treatment of Israeli practices. While praising the department for actually including the word "torture" among the activities of the Israeli interrogators, the Amnesty comment went on to condemn the Israeli government for seeking to "redefine" the word torture by calling it "moderate physical pressure. …

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