The Politics Of Genocide Denial
The House Foreign Affairs Committee is preparing to consider H.Res.252—The Armenian Genocide Resolution—this Thursday (March 4, 2010), and it has some key Congresspeople scrambling to kill it.
The resolution calls upon the President of the United States:
(1) to ensure that U.S. foreign policy reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the U.S. record relating to the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution; and
(2) in the President’s annual message commemorating the Armenian Genocide to characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, and to recall the proud history of U.S. intervention in opposition to the Armenian Genocide.
The resolution is basically a formal acknowledgment by the United States of America of the first genocide of the 20th Century. It essentially proclaims that the U.S. government is NOT a Holocaust denier, and it includes quotes from former US Presidents (including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush) who publicly acknowledged the Armenian genocide in speeches during their respective terms.
One quote included within the body of Resolution 252 was made by none other than Adolph Hitler, acknowledging what he personally had taken from the preceding Armenian genocide:
As displayed in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Adolf Hitler, on ordering his military commanders to attack Poland without provocation in 1939, dismissed objections by saying ‘[w]ho, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?’ and thus set the stage for the Holocaust.
That quote exemplifies how deranged leaders often look back to previous massacres and genocides in gauging how the international community might deal with them should they too embark on the annihilation of a targeted group. Unfortunately, in Washington, DC, lobbyist threats are far more likely to move politicians than the snuffed out voices of 1.5 million innocent human beings.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek warned of repercussions, if the motion passes:
“Turkey and the United States are two important allies,” he said. “We have a shared history over the past 50-60 years. Adopting this resolution will harm relations.”
In a rare show of unity, a powerful Turkish bipartisan parliamentary group is in Washington to deliver that message.
Three US Congresspeople are leading the charge to squash the resolution, as reported by The Hill:
In a February 22 letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee members obtained by The Hill, Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) ask their colleagues to reject a resolution that would recognize the killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks during World War I as genocide. […]
“A vote on this resolution will do nothing to rectify the tragedies of the past, but it will most certainly have significant negative consequences on current and future relations with Turkey,” the letter says. Cohen, Granger and Whitfield are all co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on U.S.-Turkey Relations.
The three lawmakers are also working on a separate letter to Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the committee chairman, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the panel’s ranking member, opposing the resolution. The trio is gathering members’ signatures and 14 lawmakers have signed onto the letter to Berman and Ros-Lehtinen. Aides are expecting many more to sign on before that letter’s release on Tuesday.
The resolution was aborted the last time it was introduced in 2007, after aggressive lobbying by the Turkish Lobby and the Bush Administration:
In 2007, the resolution squeaked by the panel with a close vote of 27-21 in its favor. But after intense pressure from Turkey, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) decided against bringing the resolution to the House floor after originally promising to do so.
But some believe that this time around the odds are good for its passage. According to Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who introduced the resolution for consideration, there are more favorable conditions today than in 2007.
For one, President Barack Obama was rather vocal on the campaign trail in promising to acknowledge the Armenian genocide:
“I also share with Armenian Americans — so many of whom are descended from genocide survivors — a principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide. That starts with acknowledging the tragic instances of genocide in world history. As a U.S. senator, I have stood with the Armenian American community in calling for Turkey’s acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide.“
In 2006, Obama was quoted as saying:
I criticized the secretary of State for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term ‘genocide’ to describe Turkey’s slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. I shared with secretary Rice my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.”
Asserted Mr. Obama, back then: “The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy.”
Mr. Obama also stated unequivocally that “as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
Of course many will recall that when President Obama finally got the opportunity to make good on his promise in Turkey (April 2009), he opted out. Could you even imagine an American President choosing not to use the word ‘Holocaust’ or ‘genocide’ while in Germany, so as not to offend any German Holocaust deniers in the audience? Could you imagine an American President choosing not to use the word ‘genocide’ in Rwanda or in Cambodia so as not to offend any Hutu or former Khmer Rouge genocidaires?
The good news, as far as this resolution is concerned, is that President Obama (unlike his predecessor) has chosen to remain silent on the measure:
… the Obama administration has taken no public position on the measure, set for a vote Thursday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Aides to senior lawmakers on the committee say there has been no pressure against the resolution from the White House.
Another factor working in favor of the resolution is the now-strained relationship between Israel and Turkey:
The [House Foreign Affairs] committee is strongly pro-Israel, and prospects for passage could be affected by rising tensions between Turkey and Israel, as well as Turkey’s relatively warm relationship with Iran. In the past, Turkey and Israel had friendlier relations, and Israel had quietly lobbied against the resolution.
But after what happened in 2007, Speaker Pelosi in not about to commit to anything:
A spokesman for Pelosi did not say whether or not the House leader would bring the resolution to the floor for a vote if it passed the committee again.
“It’s important to take it one step at a time and see what the committee does next week. Following their action, we can have a discussion with the chairman and others about next steps,” said Nadeam Elshami, Pelosi’s spokesman.
It is long past due for the United States of America to stand up and be counted in acknowledging the Armenian genocide. To do otherwise is akin to rewarding the genocidaires.
As Thomas Jefferson once eloquently stated, “There is not a truth existing which I fear… or would wish unknown to the whole world.”
It appears President Obama has once again proven himself to be a spineless, non-principled, duplicitous wimp. The AP is reporting:
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is urging Congress to hold off on a resolution declaring the Ottoman era killing of Armenians as genocide.
The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee was scheduled to vote on the resolution Thursday, and appeared likely to endorse it.
But White House spokesman Mike Hammer said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had spoken with the committee’s chairman, Democratic Rep. Howard Berman, on Wednesday and indicated that such a vote would jeopardize reconciliation talks between Turkey and Armenia.
The move breaks a campaign promise by President Obama to brand the killings genocide.
Anyone who cares to see the House Foreign Affairs Committee Mark-Up of the Armenian Genocide Resolution can watch it live HERE.
It passed the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, but remains to be seen whether Pelosi will do what she did in 2007 and deny a Full House vote:
House panel approves resolution recognizing Armenian genocide
Reporting from Washington – A divided congressional panel Thursday voted 23 to 22 to approve a resolution to officially recognize the Armenian genocide despite a last-minute attempt by the Obama administration to delay a vote on the long-debated measure.
Whether the measure will come before the full House remained uncertain. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village), has said he would only bring the issue before the House if there were enough votes to pass it. […]
I thought I’d address one of the core arguments being made by some of the critics of this resolution; that being: “It’s not the US’s business to weigh in.”
Here’s Justice Richard Goldstone’s explanation regarding the international community’s responsibility over crimes as grave as genocide, and how the Holocaust in particular changed the fundamentals of international law:
These crimes were so great, he explained, they went beyond their direct victims or the countries in which they were perpetrated, to harm humanity as a whole. This definition, he said, meant that perpetrators were to be prosecuted anywhere, by any country … This rational, he went on to say, constituted the basis for the concept of universal jurisdiction.
In other words the world views genocide as a crime against “humanity as a whole,” and therefore it is in fact OUR BUSINESS — the business of the international community. It is not just a private dispute between the perpetrators and the victims.
So even though the Turkish genocidaires all died evading both prosecution and even vilification during their lifetimes for slaughtering 1.5 million men, women and children, the world still owes it to their victims to set the public record straight — to help thwart Turkish historic revisionism.
Do you believe the Holocaust is our business? After all we have Holocaust museums here in the US (taxpayer subsidized) and yet that was a crime committed by Germans against Jews, Poles, Gypsies, gays, Russians, etc. Why should that incident be our business, but not the Armenian genocide?
Do you believe the Rwandan genocide is our business? How about Khmer Rouge’s genocide in Cambodia? How about Sadam Hussein’s genocide against the Kurds? How do we pick and choose which are to be acknowledged? How do we determine which genocide deniers are to be imprisoned (such as Holocaust deniers in Europe), and which ones are to be placated (Turkish genocide deniers)?
There’s no exceptionalism when it comes to genocide. Genocide against one group is a crime against all of us.
I read this great comment left by Appok over on digg (in response to this post), and I thought I’d share it with readers:
For anyone who needs a contextual footnote to put this article in perspective, here it is:
My great-great-grandfather was a prominent Armenian businessman who owned a number of large orchards in what is now Turkey. He had seven children and four siblings (1 brothers and 3 sisters) each with their own families. The entire extended family consisted of approximately 45 people, many of whom were young children. None of them were active in politics or military affairs. Needless to say they posed no threat to the Ottoman Empire.
Of the 45 people in my extended family, only 2 survived – my great-grandmother and 1 of her cousins.
Acknowledging this genocide isn’t simply a matter historical accuracy, politics, or retributive agenda. Why this bill is important is the same reason why it is a crime to deny the holocaust in Germany. By politicizing this bill, they are essentially turning history into a commodity, to be bought and traded in exchange of political and diplomatic capital. There is a reason why history is taught in school. Hitler used this justification for the holocaust: “”Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
My 2 cents.
Israel’s Dahiya Doctrine Undermines Its ‘Collateral Damage’ Claims In Gaza
It’s been a full year since Israel unleashed ‘Operation Cast Lead’ against the people of Gaza, leaving 1,400 dead (mostly civilians). Israel and Egypt continue to blockade the 1.5 million inhabitants confined within the war-torn ghetto, restricting the flow of food, fuel, and other essential items, and thus making reconstruction and recovery virtually impossible.
The Guardian reports:
There is no uncontaminated water [in Gaza]; of the 40,000 or so newborn babies, at least half are at immediate risk of nitrate poisoning – incidence of “blue baby syndrome”, methaemoglobinaemia, is exceptionally high; an unprecedented number of people have been exposed to nitrate poisoning over 10 years; in some places the nitrate content in water is 300 times World Health Organisation standards; the agricultural economy is dying from the contamination and salinated water; the underground aquifer is stressed to the point of collapse; and sewage and waste water flows into public spaces and the aquifer.
Israel purposely destroyed Palestinian farmlands with tank bulldozers, wrecking 17% of it, and leaving 30% of it unusable.
Virtually none of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure has been rebuilt since the military escalation a year ago (as building materials have largely been denied entry from Israel’s blockade). The Irish Times reports that:
Some 15,000 homes were damaged or destroyed during the offensive, displacing 100,000 Palestinians.
The UN estimates 3,450 homes need to be rebuilt, 2,870 homes require major reconstruction, and 52,000 need minor repairs.
The blockade has closed down 98 per cent of Gaza’s industries, while Israel’s offensive destroyed or damaged 700 private businesses, at a cost of $139 million. The war devastated agriculture, electricity and water purification and sanitation plants, health facilities and schools.
John Ging, director of operations in Gaza for UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, told the Guardian at the time of the military incursion, when the IDF repeatedly shelled civilian structures (including UN facilities):
Under international law, installations such as schools, health centres and UN facilities should be protected from attack. Well before the current fighting, the UN had given to the Israeli authorities the GPS co-ordinates of all its installations in Gaza, including Asma elementary school [which was shelled].
Considering that Israel has arguably the most sophisticated weaponry in the world, why were there so many civilian casualties? Why did so much of the civilian infrastructure get annihilated (including entire residential neighborhoods, farmlands, schools, UN facilities, health facilities, electricity, water purification and sanitation plants)? These questions lie at the very heart of the Goldstone Report.
A tired rhetorical tactic of Goldstone Report critics (including many of our own U.S. Congressmen) has been to re-frame the argument to a simple justification: “Israel had every right to defend itself against Hamas rocket fire.”
The truth of the matter is the Goldstone Report NEVER EVER criticizes Israel for launching a military operation against Gaza in retaliation of Hamas rocket fire. In fact, the war crimes attributed to Israel are entirely focused on its deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure (as just described above).
Here’s distinguished South African jurist Richard Goldstone making this point to Bill Moyers:
BILL MOYERS: Let me put down a few basics first. Personally, do you have any doubt about Israel’s right to self-defense?
RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Absolutely not. And our approach to our mission and in our report the right of Israel to defend its citizens is taken as a given.
BILL MOYERS: So the report in no way challenges Israel’s right to self-defense-
RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Not at all. What we look at is how that right was used. We don’t question the right.
BILL MOYERS: What did you see with your own eyes when you went there?
RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, I saw the destruction of the only flour-producing factory in Gaza. I saw fields plowed up by Israeli tank bulldozers. I saw chicken farms, for egg production, completely destroyed. Tens of thousands of chickens killed. I met with families who lost their loved ones in homes in which they were seeking shelter from the Israeli ground forces. I had to have the very emotional and difficult interviews with fathers whose little daughters were killed, whose family were killed. One family, over 21 members, killed by Israeli mortars. So, it was a very difficult investigation, which will give me nightmares for the rest of my life. [..]
BILL MOYERS: What makes those acts war crimes, as you say?
RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, humanitarian law, really fundamentally is what’s known as the “principle of distinction.” It requires all people involved, commanders, troops, all people involved in making war, it requires them to distinguish between civilians and combatants. […]
BILL MOYERS: You wrote, quote, the military operation, this military operation in Gaza, was a result of the disrespect for the fundamental principle of ‘distinction’ in international humanitarian law. So in layman’s language, the distinction between what and what?
RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Between combatants and innocent civilians.
BILL MOYERS: And you’re saying Israel did not do that, in many of these incidents.
RICHARD GOLDSTONE: That’s correct.
BILL MOYERS: Did you find evidence that that is deliberate on their part?
RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, we did. We found evidence in statements made by present and former political and military leaders, who said, quite openly, that there’s going to be a disproportionate attack. They said that if rockets are going to continue, we’re going to hit back disproportionately. We’re going to punish you for doing it. And that’s not countenanced by the law of war.
BILL MOYERS: So they were doing, on the ground, what they had said earlier they intended to do.
RICHARD GOLDSTONE: That’s correct.
BILL MOYERS: -so there was intention.
Israel’s Deliberate Intent: “The Dahiya Doctrine”
A key lesson taken away from Israel’s 2006 military escalation in Lebanon — where over 1,100 Lebanese civilians were killed, 915,762 displaced (25% of Lebanon’s entire population), and significant civil infrastructure was destroyed — became known to Israeli Officials as “The Dahiya Doctrine”. Israeli Defense Forces’ Northern Command chief, Maj.-Gen. Eisenkot, described the doctrine to the press while actively serving in a senior command position (also transcribed into the contents of the Goldstone Report):
“What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on,” said Gadi Eisenkot, head of the army’s northern division. Dahiya was a Hizbullah stronghold that Israel flattened in sustained air raids during a 34-day war with the Shiite group two years ago.
“We will apply disproportionate force on it (village) and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases,” Eisenkot told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
“This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved,” Eisenkot added.
The Goldstone Report quoted Major General (Ret.) Giora Eiland as having revealed (also in October of 2008 — less than two months before the Gaza offensive) that:
In the event of another war with Hizbullah, the target must not be the defeat of Hizbullah but “the elimination of the Lebanese military, the destruction of the national infrastructure and intense suffering among the population… Serious damage to the Republic of Lebanon, the destruction of homes and infrastructure, and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people are consequences that can influence Hizbollah’s behaviour more than anything else”.
Israeli Leader, Col. (Ret.) Gabriel Siboni, also weeks before the Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, had this to say about Israel’s military plans:
With an outbreak of hostilities, the IDF will need to act immediately, decisively,and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy’s actions and the threat it poses. Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes. The strike must be carried out as quickly as possible, and must prioritize damaging assets over seeking out each and every launcher. Punishment must be aimed at decision makers and the power elite… In Lebanon, attacks should both aim at Hizbollah’s military capabilities and should target economic interests and the centres of civilian power that support the organization. Moreover, the closer the relationship between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Government, the more the elements of the Lebanese State infrastructure should be targeted. Such a response will create a lasting memory among … Lebanese decision makers, thereby increasing Israeli deterrence and reducing the likelihood of hostilities against Israel for an extended period. At the same time, it will force Syria, Hizbollah, and Lebanon to commit to lengthy and resource-intensive reconstruction programmes…
This approach is applicable to the Gaza Strip as well. There, the IDF will be required to strike hard at Hamas and to refrain from the cat and mouse games of searching for Qassam rocket launchers. The IDF should not be expected to stop the rocket and missile fire against the Israeli home front through attacks on the launchers themselves, but by means of imposing a ceasefire on the enemy
The Goldstone Report adds this paragraph on Israeli intent:
The Mission does not have to consider whether Israeli military officials were directly influenced by these writings. It is able to conclude from a review of the facts on the ground that it witnessed for itself that what is prescribed as the best strategy appears to have been precisely what was put into practice.
The Report concludes that Palestinian civilians and their non-military infrastructure in Gaza were NOT collateral damage in Operation Cast Lead; they were intentionally and deliberately targeted for destruction.
Which begs the question: if the UN had insisted on forming its own fact finding mission to investigate the war crimes that had been extensively reported in Lebanon, could that undertaking have deterred Israel from pursuing the Dahiya Doctrine in Gaza? The Israeli government had instead been permitted to appoint its own commission of inquiry, the Winograd Commission — whose findings were blasted by Amnesty International and other human rights groups for completely disregarding Israeli actions that could implicate its officials in war crimes. The Independent said of the Commission’s findings:
The commission’s statement last night omitted any mention of civilian casualties in Lebanon – for which Israel faced widespread criticism during the war. Instead it contained a strong, if hawkish, message to the Israeli political and military establishment that its only hope of “peace or non-war” is if Israeli society and others in the region believe “Israel has the political and military capabilities… to deter… its neighbours.”
Israel obviously interpreted the Winograd findings along with the international community’s reluctance to pursue war crimes investigations as something of a green light for pursuing the Dahiya Doctrine in Gaza. Let us hope that the Goldstone Report — which was resoundingly endorsed in October in a UN Human Rights Council Resolution — will help to serve as a deterrent against future crimes against humanity.