11 October 2006

Ignatieff: Qana attack a War Crime

According to an article by Graeme Hamilton in today's National Post, Michael Ignatieff - speaking in French on a popular Quebec talk show - renounced the 'lack of compassion' shown when he commented in August that he wasn't 'losing sleep' over civilian deaths in Qana (Lebanon). He went on to remind everyone that:

"I was a professor of human rights, and I am also a professor of the laws of war, and what happened in Qana was a war crime, and I should have said that. That's clear."

I don't like the guy, but you've got to admire his guts. He also is apparently unafraid to admit he was wrong and apologize, which is something certain North American heads of state have had a great deal of difficulty with.

I wasn't there, and I'm not familiar enough with the facts or with the law to make a personal assessment. But to be honest, I'm more interested in the immediate spin, which in the article cited included comments by representatives of two prominent Jewish organizations, and also by Iggy's own director of communications, Leslie Church.

"That's appalling. To call it a war crime is totally, totally unacceptable." - Frank Dimant, executive vice-president of B'nai Brith Canada.

Actually, Frank, it's committing war crimes that is totally, totally unacceptable. Calling something a war crime is totally acceptable if it is indeed a war crime; it would only be unacceptable if it's clearly not a war crime. So, Frank, please tell us how you define war crimes, and then tell us your understanding of what happened at Qana. Then we will be able to judge. By simply attacking the speaker you convey the implication that the content of what he said is accurate, because if it were clearly not you could refute it with facts.

"For somebody as well-informed and experienced as Mr. Ignatieff, he should know that is not a reasonable charge to level against Israel." - Shimon Fogel, chief executive of the Canada-Israel Committee.

Why not? Is Israel simply immune from such charges because of the persecution Jews have suffered throughout the centuries? That position is unreasonable. Is it unreasonable because anyone saying something like what Ignatieff said will be pilloried and attacked relentlessly? That sort of behaviour is unreasonable too. But Iggy's comments seem pretty reasonable. He's the international law scholar, and he thinks its not just possible but "clear".

"He meant that this was a tragedy of war, that this was a deplorable act in war, that this was a terrible consequence of war." - Leslie Church

That's just weak Leslie. First of all, most deplorable acts in war would constitute war crimes, so that's not much of a clarification. As for the first and last comments, They're just BS. A tragedy is something that can't be avoided, usually something that is virtually certain because of the intrinsic character of those suffering the tragedy. Terrible consequences imply amorlaity - consequences simply flow, without reference to the cause. Well there was a cause, and it was bombs, not fate or karma.

Bombs don't fall by accident, they're dropped by airmen under the orders of senior officers under the direction of the civilian authority in Israel. Those aircraft and munitions have sophisticated targeting systems and all the bells and whistles that collectively create shock and awe. I'm sure mistakes still happen, but it is generally on the person claiming the mistake to prove it, rather than to take as unstated assumption that it was a mistake and then go out and viciously attack the person who foolishly thinks people should be held responsible for their actions.

We should also recall that the explanation given at the time was NOT that it was a mistake (which was the excuse given for the shelling of the UN observer post - an excuse that strains credulity and that, if false, would seem to confirm that act as a war crime) but rather that there were rockets being fired from nearby and that this was a legitimate act of self-defence. Putting those potential targets on par with tremendous civilian casualties is intrinsically suspect, and creates at least a triable issue on the question of whether or not the act constitutes a crime under international legal norms.

And now that I have also exposed myself to unreasonable attack by making such reasonable statements, I do want to emphasize that I personally am not saying the attack was a war crime. I am neither well-grounded enough in the international laws of war nor the particular facts of this situation to say so. All I am saying is that someone who is much better informed on both counts than me thinks it is "clear" that it was a war crime, and those who have rejected his views have not yet, to my knowledge, made rational responses to the charge.

I hope that some readers will make rational responses, which would include describing what constitutes an unacceptable attack on civilians, how such attacks might be justified, and whether or not the facts of this case seem to fall within or outside of the principles enunciated. It would also include meta-commentary on how others are responding, and whether their responses are rational and deserving of attention. But given the level of discourse on this subject generally I expect I will just have to delete this post by lunch. Which is fine, because then my response to the Cat's challenge will move back to the top of my blog where it belongs!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "War Crime" that Mr. Ignatieff was alluding to is the one that Amnesty International has identified: Namely, Hizbollah placing their military machinary in civilian areas.

That is the War Crime that Ignatief has referred to.

October 11, 2006  
Anonymous Alex said...

Ignatieff must be an idiot to make that comment.

The building had missles launched from it.

Hizbollah had dileberately placed people in the building.

No war crime on Israel's part, maybe on Hizbollah's.

October 11, 2006  
Blogger Gavin Neil said...

Anonymous - that is obviously not what he was talking about.

Alex - Every time civilians are killed, the IDF blames the combatants for hiding among them.

The screenshots provided by the IDF are on Wikipedia and they clearly show missiles being fired from 'near residential area' not from 'inside apartment building'.

Also, your commentary relies on the unstated assumption that the commission of a war crime by one party justifies the commission of a war crime by the other party. I think that assumption is absolutely indefensible, but it is obviously key to your opinion so you should justify why two wrongs make a right.

October 11, 2006  
Blogger Gavin Neil said...

PS this is the spin I'm talking about - Anonymous is willing to give Iggy's words the opposite of their obvious meaning so that they support Israel and condemn Hizbollah.

Alex is willing to adopt language as strong or even stronger than the language used by IDF apologists, when (s)he obviously has no first hand information to go on and plenty of dissenting opinions that should cause any reasonable person to qualify their adoption of one argument as hard fact.

October 11, 2006  
Anonymous grace said...

Hey Gavin,

I agree with you on the spin factor. People will always twist words to mean something other than what the speaker intended. We've been taught this trick well over the past few administrations (US).

I read your previous post on the electoral process and the need to revitalize it for members and totally agree. This process is not democratic.

I received a phone call saying if I threw my support behind riding favourite, Bob Rae, they'd make sure I was selected to go to Montreal. Since I was undecided, guess what, I wasn't selected to go to Montreal. Much like your riding, I'm sure people were given a list of those who they should vote for. Because of my indecisiveness, I'm not going.

Nice way to make everyone feel included!

I'm for the one person one vote philosophy. The party needs to change this if they want to attract new people. Would also have made for a much more interesting convention.


October 11, 2006  
Blogger Penny said...

As a completely unqualified onlooker, I feel quite free to call what Israel did a War Crime, especially if Ignatieff - whom I don't like as a candidate but who is an acknowledged expert on the subject - calls it one!!

What really, really made my blood boil was this tidbit at the end of the story the Globe & Mail reported [highlights mine]:

The letter issued to Mr. Ignatieff expresses the CIC's concerns and also issues an ultimatum to the Liberal leadership hopeful.

"Should you choose to offer such a clarification, we will undertake to circulate it widely within the pro-Israel community.

Should you choose not to issue a statement, we would feel obliged to convey that message to our constituency as well," it states.

Imagine for a minute that it was the pro-Lebanon community, the "pro-Khalistan" community, or any other group of Canadians lobbying on behalf of a foreign country, how this kind of implied threat would go over!!!

It's outrageous!!

And btw, Israel should withdraw from the Sheba'a Frams, where they';ve been building concrete barracks and running razor wire all voer the place , and let the UN observers keep track of what is rightfully Lebanese land.

And... yeah yeah, who don't I tell you what I really think, eh?

October 11, 2006  
Blogger petroom said...

The Middle East is a mess, no thanks to the developed world. Oil is tasty.

The pro-Israeli lobby freaks me out. It was creepy to see all those lawn signs in Toronto's "jewish suburbs" for the first time this summer. It made me feel like Canada was just a resort holiday and that Israel was the home country.

I digress.

What really bothered me to comment was Ignatieff and other politicians trying to play both sides of an issue. He wants credit for being BOLD towards one side when it counts then turns to the opponents and equivocates on his meaning.

It's BS leadership. It's insulting.

October 11, 2006  
Blogger Jason Bo Green said...

Wow Gavin, I'm impressed - you really rock the house.

First off, I've said all over the place:

"I'm fully open to an investigation, but as of right now am not convinced that Qana was done with intent, and intent makes the crime, as I understand."

Your explanation of intent has really turned my head - and I thank you for the explanation.

I agree completely with you here, Gavin - Israel should not be immune to warcrime charges (no nation should be), and the idea that it ought be is ludicrous.

What I really didn't like about Ignatieff's statement was the lack of information - if it's now a warcrime, why? Definite kudos for taking a second look at his views, but I need more when someone reverses their position. (I reverse myself all the time)

I think he's communicated very, very poorly, and that's really the big problem here, I'd say.

Anyway, your explanation of "intent" has really impressed itself deeply on me, thank you so much for your knowledge and time. And this post.

October 12, 2006  
Blogger Gavin Neil said...

Thanks Jason - I think that's high praise, because I consider your blogs one of the best I read.

Iggy has absolutely done a terrible job of communicating - any politician who ever thinks it's ok to say they didn't lose sleep over the killing of 50 people in whatever circumstance is shockingly disconnected from what I would think of as basic human values. Then the total reversal to saying it's a war crime... is he suggesting that as a human rights scholar he doesn't lose sleep over war crimes? It's amazing.

And in spite of the fact that i think it's a war crime, i think there are a LOT of war crimes being committed around the world. The average person just isn't practiced in sophisticate analysis of this kind of issue, and so you can't go off syaing things like Iggy said unless you're prepared to have a pretty seirous and detailed discussion about what constitutes a war crime and what observations you are in a position to make that justify the classification.

All of which is to say, i agree 100% that it's a war crime, with very little doubt, but he probably didn't need to say it and if he did need to say it he needed to do a far, far better job of explaining himself. You can expect certain interest groups to react violently to that sort of statement no matter how well reasoned, but i have to believe that the average person would be prepared to listen to a reasonable commentary and respectfully agree or disagree.

October 13, 2006  
Blogger Jason Bo Green said...

because I consider your blogs one of the best I read.

Uhh.. really? Don't be fooled, I'm incredibly uneducated. But thanks, because you're obviously very, very smart.

It's been very very interesting to watch this all, and sort of "deciding" for me... I think I support Rae more and more over Kennedy and Dion. He's shown the real leadership and statesmanship on this whole matter - I think he's handled it really well.

I think he's come out looking very good.

October 14, 2006  
Blogger Gavin Neil said...

Yes, really. Comedy is very difficult. I may be smart but a million monkeys couldn't have come up with "Qana Chameleon"!

Bob's also smart and an experienced politician. It's not surprising he doesn't make an idiot of himself on a bi-weeklyl basis like some frontrunners.


October 14, 2006  
Anonymous Ronit said...

In the interview on the Quebec program, did Ignatieff only say that Israel's actions in Qana constituted a war crime, or is that just a sound bite? I didn't see the interview, (or read a transcript), but there may have been more to the interview than spliced and quoted. Either way, he has since back-tracked to say that both sides have committed war crimes. Not a very firm stand! But changing his tune won't help him much now. The Israel lobby doesn't reverse its position as easily as Ignatieff did, once it decides to blacklist someone by labeling them an anti-semite. The race is over for Ignatieff.

October 14, 2006  
Blogger Jason Bo Green said...

That Qameleon crack was just luck - if you like comedy, I humbly suggest Olaf Raskalnikov. He's like David Sedaris, but on Canadian politics.

But thanks for your support, bro. ;)

October 14, 2006  
Blogger Gavin Neil said...

You're reight Ronit thzt the Israel lobby will absolutely not backtrack. But htis is not New York, and I'm not convinced that the blacklist will prevent Iggy from winning.

October 14, 2006  
Blogger Gavin Neil said...

JBG - the link didn't work... mind dropping the URL right in? I'll also just check your page for the link... which I could have done before typing this message... Thank goodness pixels are a renewable resource.

October 14, 2006  
Blogger Jason Bo Green said...

Heya Gavin - weird, it doesn't work for me either.


He's not linked on my site yet - I'm, er, rather bad at housekeeping.

Check out his comments on war crimes at ChuckerCanuck.blogspot.com - he's brilliant, man.

But then again, so are you, I suspect.

October 14, 2006  

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