Goldstone v. House of Representatives: The Unending Inquiry Into the War Crimes Inquiry

There could be trouble brewing for the congressional resolution (PDF), now circulating for signatures in the House, that condemns the United Nations’ Goldstone Report on alleged Israel and Hamas war crimes in Gaza.

The House resolution, H.Res. 867, has collected 124 signatures so far for its appeal to the Obama administration to oppose any international consideration or endorsement of the report, which it calls “irredeemably biased.” The resolution was initiated by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and is co-sponsored by Democrats Howard Berman of Los Angeles and Gary Ackerman of Queens, along with Republican Dan Burton of somewhere in Indiana.

But Berman, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is having second thoughts about the resolution, according to this Friday blog post by Spencer Ackerman of the on-line Washington Independent. Berman’s staff is said to be consulting with Ros-Lehtinen’s staff about how to proceed. The reason: a hard-hitting letter to the committee from Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist who authored the U.N. fact-finding report. Goldstone goes through the resolution paragraph by paragraph and points to a hefty list of distortions, misrepresentations and borderline fabrications about his 575-page report.

By way of background (if you’ve been following the case, skip this paragraph), Goldstone was appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council last spring to lead a fact-finding mission probing alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead last December and January. Goldstone’s report found evidence of war crimes by both Israel and Hamas. It was submitted September 15 to the Human Rights Council, which voted October 16 to refer it to the Security Council. The Security Council can send the report to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution of suspected war-crimes perpetrators, unless Israel acts beforehand to launch its own independent investigation.

One point Goldstone has been making over and over since his report was published is that the international court may act only when a nation can’t or won’t conduct its own credible, independent inquiry into allegations of war crimes. Israel has conducted numerous such inquiries in the past, to worldwide acclaim. This time, for some reason, the Netanyahu government has been refusing to launch an inquiry, instead leaving it to the army to investigate itself.

Investigator: “Hey, O’Reilly, did you beat up that kid?”

Suspect: “Naah.”

Investigator: “Glad to hear it. Say hi to Marge and the kids.”

Israel tried at first to ignore the Goldstone commission. Now it’s waging an international campaign to discredit the report. Lehtinen’s resolution seems to be the campaign’s latest sortie; in fact, much of its language comes straight from Netanyahu government talking points. (I posted last week that Netanyahu now seems to be reconsidering his refusal to launch an inquiry.)

More on the details of the House resolution and Goldstone’s critique after the jump.

One of the House resolution’s biggest whoppers is its claim that “the mandate of the ‘fact-finding mission’ makes no mention of the relentless rocket and mortar attacks, which numbered in the thousands and spanned a period of eight years, by Hamas and other violent militant groups in Gaza against civilian targets in Israel, that necessitated Israel’s defensive measures…”

The trouble is that this refers to the original mandate from the Human Rights Council, which Goldstone refused to accept. Goldstone insisted on an amended mandate that included Hamas’s actions as well as Israel’s. The council’s chairman accepted the amended mandate and read it to the council, which voiced no dissent. In any case, the critical point is that ithe finished product, Goldstone’s actual report, spends about 70 pages on Hamas behavior. The House resolution conveniently ignores all that history. Ron Kampeas of JTA does a good job in this blog post dissecting the pros and cons of Goldstone v. Lehtinen and House Resolution 867.

The resolution also makes a big deal about an October 16 Forward article, currently a “gotcha” favorite in the right-wing blogsphere, in which Goldstone told reporter Gal Beckerman that “If this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven.”

The trouble with this “gotcha,” of course, is that Goldstone’s mission was never meant to provide legal evidence. That’s the job of a prosecutor. Goldstone’s job was to assemble facts and try to determine if there’s enough evidence to open a legal investigation leading to a possible indictment. He’s like the detective who first visits the scene and brings evidence back to the D.A., who then decides whether there’s enough there to indict and go to court.

For anyone who’s really interested, here’s a PDF of the International Criminal Court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence, from the original 2002 Rome Statute that created the court.

The demands of fairness (combined with a touch of prurient curiosity) require that we note this report posted by Michael Goldfarb on the Weekly Standard blog. He argues, for what it’s worth, that Goldstone’s letter to the House was actually drafted by Morton Halperin, “who serves on the J Street advisory council and is a senior adviser at George Soros’s Open Society Institute.” Goldfarb says Halperin’s role was revealed by a “check of the file’s ‘properties’.” He doesn’t document this properties check, either in his post or via link, so we’ll have to take it on faith. Incidentally, Halperin’s bio also includes senior positions in the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council in Johnson, Nixon and Clinton administrations, but apparently all you need to do is say “George Soros” and you’ve got your target pigeonholed.

Tikkun magazine is circulating emails with a long, detailed dissection of the House resolution, authored by Middle East scholar (and frequent Israel critic) Stephen Zunes. It’s being sent around by email and doesn’t seem to be up on the Web, so I’ve pasted the whole thing here.

Written by

J.J. Goldberg

J.J. Goldberg

Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).

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