Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Own Lyin' Eyes

There's a new controversy* brewing about a Goldstone report contributor, this one being Irish Col. (ret.) Desmond Travers.
Travers rejects the idea that Israel launched the offensive in Gaza on December 27, 2008, as an act of self-defense in response to Hamas rockets.

The Jerusalem center report says he bases this idea on a "fact" that he presents that in the month prior to start of the war, only "something like two" rockets that fell on Israel.

The report quotes an extensive interview with Travers in the Middle East Monitor, in which he also says that Hamas had sought "a continuation of the cease-fire" prior to Israel's offensive in Gaza.

Travers also rejects Israel Defense Forces photographs as proof that Hamas hid weapons in mosques during the conflict.

"I do not believe the photographs," Travers said, describing the IDF evidence as "spurious."

Now I'm going to confess something here. Whenever I'm shown intelligence photos demonstrating, for example, that the Cubans have Russian missiles, they don't look like anything to me. But I imagine that with intelligence training, what looks like grainy blocks is actually meaningful data, since the analysts draw conclusions pretty confidently from them (and the reveal of the photos is always considered quite the dramatic trump card). So I assume that unless Travers is alleging the photos are doctored, he's simply deciding that he doesn't like evidence that contradicts his pre-existing conclusions. It's a tough world when the facts are established by those who aren't interested in one side's iteration of them.

You might recall that, when pressed about the alleged bias in another panel member (Christine Chinkin), Judge Goldstone's response was that since the panel was a "fact-finding" commission, not a judicial inquiry, recusal was unnecessary. I noted at the time that Judge Goldstone seems to be the only person on the planet who continues to blithely assert that his panel wasn't making any assertions regarding guilt and innocence. As he put it, "if this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven." Alas, it seems that Col. Travers is with the majority interpretation of what the panel did:
Travers also criticized Israel's past presence in Southern Lebanon, asserting that Israeli soldiers had "taken out and deliberately shot" Irish peacekeeping forces in the area.

He accused "Jewish lobbyists" of influencing British foreign policy in the Middle East and said that efforts to block the Goldstone reports findings have failed.

"The court of world opinion seems determined to see the report prevail," he said.

We'll skate on by yet another instance of "Zionist" slipping back into "Jewish" (I hate when Jews influence things. So much better when they're under the dominion of their superiors). A fact-finding probe, of course, does not "prevail" or not, particularly when it (in theory) is meant to begin, not end, the process. Once again, Judge Goldstone takes the lonely dissenting view, saying that if the allegations in his report are disproven, "I will rejoice."

And here we return to the problem. Judge Goldstone is a true believer in the system, surrounded by cynics. He didn't mind that his compatriots on the panel were "biased", because, he thought, the was nothing judicial going on. Everything he did was predicated off of taking the system at face value. His panel members are impartial and will evaluate evidence fairly. The world will take the report exactly as far as its technical mandate (fact-finding, not judicial), no further. Testimony received is without question truthful and unimpeachable. Refusal to give evidence means there is no countervailing evidence to be had.

His colleagues were wiser, or at least more attuned to reality. Col. Travers knew he wasn't participating in a "fact-finding commission". He knew that the report would be taken as a definitive pronouncement on guilt and innocence, and he knew that given the subjectivity of conflicting evidence and legitimate fears of bias leading to non-cooperation, he could write a report saying virtually anything he wanted while staying within the boundaries of the process. And so long as he colored inside the (infinitely malleable) lines, Judge Goldstone, he of great faith, would have no thought to protest.

* There is another allegation Col. Travers urged Hamas to demand more for the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit. The passage cited for this is as follows:
Travers claims that the Palestinians should really demand that more prisoners be released for Shalit: “When the Palestinians sign up to, say, the release of Shalit for 2000 Palestinians, they degrade their own value system. They ought not to do that. But then no civilized country ought to detain 8000, is it 8000 Palestinians? Very nearly 9000.”

I'm not entirely sure what Travers is trying to say here, but it's not at all clear he means that Hamas should have demanded more for Shalit. If anything, I think he's arguing the opposite -- that the 2000:1 ratio implies that Palestinian prisoners are worth 1/2000 of an Israeli one. Then, of course, he pivots to attacking Israel for detaining the prisoners in the first place. In any event, since I don't think it is clear that Col. Travers made the claim alleged, I don't think its appropriate to attack him for it.

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