Rights group probes US agencies on foreknowledge of Israeli flotilla raid
What did we know, and when?
That’s the gist of a series of Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which hopes to learn more about any American involvement in or foreknowledge of the deadly flotilla raid that left nine peace activists dead, including a young, unarmed American citizen who was reportedly shot four times in the head.
“One U.S. citizen was killed, others were injured, detained and had their property taken, and a U.S.-registered vessel seized by Israel during its attack in international waters last month,” CCR attorney Katherine Gallagher said in a media advisory. “Serious questions remain unanswered about the U.S. response to the attack, its actions and policies, particularly in the context of the blockade of Gaza, internationally condemned as illegal and unjust. Citizens need to know their government will protect their rights under U.S. and international law vis-ÃƒÂ -vis a foreign government, including IsraelÃ¢â‚¬â€the biggest recipient of U.S. aid over the last fifty years.”
The group’s FOIA requests target information possibly held by the U.S. Central Command, Navy, State Department, Defense Department, Justice Department, Homeland Security, European Command and Coast Guard. The full documents were made available online.
The CCR explained:
Specifically, the FOIA requests seek information on what, if any, communications were made between the U.S. government and Israel prior to and after the attack; what, if any, information the U.S. shared before or after with Israel about any of the U.S. citizens abroad; what was done to secure the release of detained citizens; and what is being done to return property seized from U.S. citizens and other passengers and to ensure that such property, which includes evidence for any investigations into the attack, is not tampered with or destroyed. A FOIA request was also made regarding communications with other countries and with organizations such as NATO in relation to the attack on the flotilla and the delivery of humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Finally, a request was made for information about U.S. policy towards IsraelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s blockade of Gaza, which has been found to be a form of Ã¢â‚¬Å“collective punishmentÃ¢â‚¬Â by various representatives of the United Nations.
After the deadly attack, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked” by the violence and called for an investigation into the events.
“I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation,” he said.
U.S. officials were hesitant to criticize a closely-held ally such as Israel, but many Democrats including President Obama echoed the U.S. Secretary General in calling on a full disclosure and investigation.
A number of the peace activists claimed Israeli special forces that boarded the ship in international waters had a list of individuals to assassinate, but the claim was not corroborated.
The Israeli government claimed that the activists attacked commandos with blunt objects and knives as they fast-roped into the crowd, and that in killing nine people the soldiers were merely acting in self defense. The country also claimed that the Gaza flotilla had links to al Qaeda and Hamas, stemming largely from the involvement of IHH, a Turkey-based Islamic charity organization that operates in many countries in the Muslim world.
Israel has accused IHH of having links to terrorist organizations, and the group has been banned in Israel since 2008. The US does not list IHH as a terrorist organization.
Twenty-one regional leaders, led by Turkey, denounced the Israeli raid in a joint statement released at the Istanbul forum in which they expressed “grave concern and condemnation.”
“This is a clear manifestation of how Israel has isolated itself,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who chaired the summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), told reporters.
In Israel, media criticised hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for restricting the probe’s mandate to theoretical legal questions, saying it would be little more than a “committee-lite” or an “investigative committee without investigators.”
“It is not supposed to investigate whether the blockade policy as a whole is either effective or justified… And that is the recipe by means of which the government is trying to ensure the failure of the investigation into the flotilla events,” the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot said.
Netanyahu has insisted the mission was a success and Israeli officials have rejected efforts to launch an international probe, promising to conduct their own internal review of the May 31st killings.
Israel has since loosened its military blockade to allow in greater volumes of humanitarian aid.
With AFP. Additional reporting by RAW STORY.