Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Matt 24 Watch, 12: LGF catches BBC out in a contradiction on Hezbollah war crimes

A few weeks back, in Matt 24 Watch no 3, we had occasion to remark on the roots of BBC's now notorious bias - and that of the wider media.

In that light, attention was drawn to a framework for critically assessing and de-spinning the media, and the need for us to become far more critically aware as consumers of news and views in a world full of agenda journalism and outright propaganda.

Overnight, Charles Johnson of LGF, a major media watchdog blog that has an impressive track record -- including catching out both CBS' Dan Rather on the TANG forged memo scandal and the recent Reuters Fauxtography media manipulation attempts -- has now caught the BBC [and their major sources, Amnesty International and UN groups] out in a significant and telling self-contradiction:

BBC Ties Self in Knots to Avoid Noticing Hizballah Crimes
Here’s a priceless quote from the BBC, whose editors did not realize that two adjacent sentences in this article contradict each other: Israel to probe cluster bomb use.
As well as highlighting the issue of cluster bombs, Amnesty found that Hezbollah hid Katyusha rockets among civilians and often fired them into Israel from the cover of civilian villages.
But researchers found no evidence that Hezbollah actually used civilians as human shields during the fighting.
Firing rockets from civilian villages isn’t using civilians as shields?

Talk about "the OOPS! effect" . . .

In short, it is evident that we have a not so nice choice:

Option A: the BBC's reporters and editors were utterly unable to realise that hiding rockets among civilians and then firing them from the same villages and houses is a classic case of use of civilians as human shields. So, it utterly misread the acknowledged facts -- which clearly vindicate the Israelis -- into the very opposite: "researchers found no evidence that Hezbollah actually used civilians as human shields during the fighting."

Option B: The BBC knowingly and cynically spun the facts. That is, though they had to describe the human shield behaviour, by citing "researchers" to say that Hezbollah did not use human shields, it gave a neat sound-bite that can be used to bash the Israelis as lying to defend their unprovoked and "disproportionate" attacks on civilians.

Utter incompetence and bias, or cynical deception and bias. On either option, BBC has plainly failed in its duty to the global public, and stands again exposed as untrustworthy and biased.

Similarly, the conclusion to the BBC article is telling, as it cites and remarks on the underlying Amnesty International Report:

Hezbollah is asked to renounce its policy of reprisal rocket attacks into Israel, to stop fighters operating from civilian areas, while the government of Lebanon is urged to ensure armed groups on its territory - essentially Hezbollah - do not break humanitarian law.
Israel launched its offensive after Hezbollah militants seized two of its soldiers and killed several others during a cross-border raid on 12 July.
During the conflict Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets into northern Israel, while the Israeli military launched a vast air offensive across Lebanon and a ground invasion into the south.
About 1,000 Lebanese - mostly civilians - died in the conflict, while 161 Israelis, mainly soldiers, were killed.

First, who is going to make Hezbollah -- a terrorist group in effect occupying Southern Lebanon as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Foreign Legion, in defiance of UN resolutions, stop using terrorist tactics that are obviously gaining massive sympathy and even support in the international media and forums?

Second, in the absence of such self-restraint by terrorists, how can nations effectively defend themselves against terrorist stratagems and attacks -- in this case by rocket campaigns that use villages and homes as bases and target civilian areas, at a rate of over a hundered rockets a day? [It is all too easy to find fault with Israel, but I suspect it is a lot less easy to find an alternative means of self defense under the relevant circumstances that is credibly likely to be effective and does not use the sorts of weapons and tactics that Amnesty International, BBC etc are objecting to. Hint to Amnesty International, the BBC and co: Telling civilians by the hundreds of thousands to hunker down in bunkers for the indefinite future and/or to abandon their homes, farms and workplaces to bombardment by terrorists hiding behind civilian villages and houses is not a credible defence.]

Next, let us note: as even so humble a source as Wikipedia abundantly documents, Hezbollah initiated the conflict, not least by firing rockets into Israeli civilian areas:

The conflict began when Hezbollah fired Katyusha rockets and mortars at Israeli military positions and border villages to divert attention from another Hezbollah unit that crossed the border and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers (Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev) and killed three. Israel attempted to rescue the abducted soldiers although five more were killed by Hezbollah during the rescue mission. [Cf Haaretz report which gives details, and notes that that "[a]s soon as this barrage began, the Galilee Division conducted a routine check to ensure that all army outposts and vehicles were still in contact with headquarters, and quickly discovered that contact had been lost with the two jeeps patrolling near Zarit." This is how the raid and kidnaping were discovered. Contrast this Washington Post report, which tellingly omits reference to the initiation of rocketing and targetting of civilians by Hezbollah.]

Over the next several weeks, almost four thousand rockets were fired into Israeli civilian areas, forcing the evacuation of dozens of thousands and forcing the remainder of people in northern Israel to resort to living in underground bomb shelters. That is, it is bad aim on the part of Hezbollah coupled to effective civil defense on the part of Israel that kept down Israel's civilian death toll. So, while civilian deaths in war are horrible -- and war itself is a horror -- we must remember to put things in context.

Further to this, we must further correct: the Israeli air attacks were not at all a vast offensive reminiscent of the old WW II carpet bombing campaigns that flattened cities, generated firestorms and killed hundreds of thousands -- there is abundant easily accessible information that demonstrates specificity and limited attacks.

So, the terms BBC chose to use to describe Isrel's air attacks are again plainly tendentious and not properly warranted by the facts on the ground.

Thus, the the closing rhetorical flourishes and comparison of deaths while in context denying Hezbollah's use of human shields on their own side and suppression of properly addressing the heavy and sustained targetting of Israel's civilian population, infrastructure and economy [which sustained upwards of US$ 1.4 billions in damage] is highly tendentious and deceptive.

On cluster munitions, the headlined topic of the BBC article, let us look at a little background: easily accessed through Wikipedia. Here, we can see that "Cluster bombs are now standard air-dropped munitions for most nations, in a wide variety of types," and that "Artillery shells that employ similar principles have existed for decades." This is because they have important and legitimate military functions, duly recognised by relevant military and legal authorities:

Cluster bombs were developed in order to improve the efficiency of aerial attacks, particularly against "soft" targets like personnel. Single bombs are less useful for this purpose because they cover a smaller area (known as a "footprint" in military parlance), and their effectiveness is dependent on the accuracy of the bomb's drop. A cluster bomb functions like a shotgun, covering a wider area with a spread of miniature bombs . . . .

Most Anti-armor munitions contain shaped charge warheads to pierce the armor of tanks and armored fighting vehicles. In some cases, guidance is used to increase the likelihood of successfully hitting a vehicle. Guided submunitions can use either a shaped charge warhead or an explosively formed penetrator. Unguided shaped-charge submunitions are also very effective against entrenchments that incorporate overhead cover . . . . Anti-runway submunitions such as the JP233 are designed to penetrate concrete before detonating, allowing them to shatter and crater runway surfaces . . . . Mine-laying weapons do not detonate on contact, but scatter their cargo of land mines for later detonation. They come in antipersonnel and antitank forms. Antitank mines are nearly always used in combination with antipersonnel mines to make the antitank minefield more difficult to clear . . . . An anti-electrical cluster weapon — the CBU-94/B — was first used by the U.S. in the Kosovo War in 1999. These consist of a TMD (Tactical Munitions Dispenser) filled with 202 BLU-114/B submunitions. Each submunition contains a small explosive charge that disperses 147 reels of fine conductive fiber; either carbon fiber or aluminium coated glass fiber. Their purpose is to disrupt and damage electric power transmission systems by producing short circuits in high voltage power lines and electrical substations. On the first attack, these knocked out 70% of the electrical power supply in Serbia . . .

All of this, and more, was accessible through a single link to a commonly available source.

So, while there is a legitimate concern over unexploded munitions -- as happens with all explosive munitions [e.g. unexploded WW I shells still occasionaly kill people in Northern France] -- we should also recognise that when the Israelis unleashed their armour after penetrating the fortified pre-prepared "tank-killing" zone in Southern Lebanon with infantry, cluster munitions would have fulfilled a useful and militarily legitimate role in allowing their armour to break through the fortifications that should not have been there in the first place. Thus, the weapons would have a plainly legitimate purpose: aiding the advance to cut off the supply routes for the rockets being launched against their cities and farms by Hezbollah from the villages and houses in South Lebanon. [It is worth noting again that the fortified zone and rockets were put in place in defiance of relevant UN resolutions, and that the fighting was initiated by Hezbollah's bombardment of Israeli civilian areas as well as by their kidnapping of Israeli soldiers inside Israel.]

As for Amnesty International and UN agencies, on which the BBC has unwisely relied, we need not say much further -- the incompetence and/or biased agenda of the researchers are plainly exposed too. In short, Israel has more than a point or two in its complaints over one-sided statements, investigations, reports and actions of International bodies.

In short, there are many, many problems with the way the situation in the Middle East is being reported, and other issues of interests to Christians and others in the Caribbean and beyond. It is high time for an accounting, and for a house cleaning at Bush House, London, as well as in Amnesty International, in the UN and far beyond. But, on track record, we should not hold our breaths waiting for that to happen anytime soon.

So, the take-home lesson is plain: let the listener, reader or viewer beware! END


UPDATE: LGF, overnight, informs us that the George Soros-funded Human Rights Watch has issued a rebuke to the Palestinian use of human shields in Gaza. Their remarks are interesting and illuminating in the light of the above:

. . . Calling civilians to a location that the opposing side has identified for attack is at worst human shielding, at best failing to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians from the effects of attack. Both are violations of international humanitarian law.

According to media reports, on Saturday the IDF warned Mohammedweil Baroud, a commander in the Popular Resistance Committees, to leave his home in the Jabaliya refugee camp as they planned to destroy it. Baroud reportedly summoned neighbors and friends to protect his house, and a crowd of hundreds of Palestinians gathered in, around, and on the roof of the house. The IDF said that they called off the attack after they saw the large number of civilians around the house. On Monday, the BBC also reported that the IDF had warned Wael Rajab, an alleged Hamas member in Beit Lahiya, that that they were preparing to attack his home, and that a call was later broadcasted from local mosques for volunteers to protect the home.

“There is no excuse for calling civilians to the scene of a planned attack,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Whether or not the home is a legitimate military target, knowingly asking civilians to stand in harm’s way is unlawful” . . . .

On November 3 the BBC also reported that Hamas radio broadcasted an appeal to local women to go to a mosque to protect 15 alleged militants holed up inside from Israeli forces surrounding the building. Many women went to the mosque and reportedly two were killed and 10 more injured when Israeli forces opened fire.

It is a war crime to seek to use the presence of civilians to render certain points or areas immune from military operations or to direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attack. In the case where the object of attack is not a legitimate military target, calling civilians to the scene would still contravene the international humanitarian law imperative for parties to the conflict to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians from the effects of attack. In the event that such abuse takes place, however, parties to the conflict remain obliged under international humanitarian law to take precautionary measures and not to target civilians or cause excessive civilian injury or damage in relation to the anticipated concrete and direct military advantage.

Of course, all of this is to be understood in light of the background point that in the recent Lebanon conflict, Israel gave sometimes up to 48 hours notice of attacks in areas where the Hezbollah were using villages and homes as a base of military operations.

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