Koh Selling Humanitarian Bombing
This is a section of an article written by Alexander Cockburn:
- As the US stepped up its bombing raids against Yugoslavia, Harold Koh, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, called the leaders of several US human rights groups to a hastily arranged meeting at his offices in Foggy Bottom. Koh started the session by telling the groups’ leaders, who included Amnesty International-USA’s head Dr. William Schulz, that he was sorry that the administration could not support the extradition of Pinochet. He stressed that while Madeleine Albright cared deeply about human rights matters, the Defense Department had quashed the idea. But, Koh said, there was good news. Albright had convinced the Defense Department and Clinton that human rights concerns should be the driving force behind the bombing of the Serbs. Koh said he hoped the human rights groups would enthusiastically support the mission and promised that if they did, Albright might even meet with them in person in the near future.
- Amnesty International has obediently hopped to State’s tune, saying in a press release “violations of human rights lie at the heart of the current conflict in Kosovo, and have done so ever since it developed during the 1980s. It is therefore essential that the effective protection and promotion of human rights should be the centerpiece of any agreement to be reached on Kosovo.” On March 29, the group called for increases in military intelligence operations on the ground in Kosovo. Human Rights Watch has also pressed the cause of military intervention, using their Kosovo Human Rights Flash to draw attention to Serbian abuses. After a week of unrelenting missile attacks in Yugoslavia and Kosovo, none of the Human Rights Watch reports included any tallies of civilian casualties from the NATO bombings. Care Yugoslavia, an Australian humanitarian aid group, said that over the first week, NATO bombing raids had killed at least 15 ethnic Kosovars, when its bombs hit a refugee camp.
- A person who attended the meeting tells CounterPunch he was shocked that many of the leaders endorsed Koh’s rationale. “Human rights is just another affinity cause to be used by Clinton and Albright when it suits them, rather than consistently and broadly”. he said. “Indeed, human rights concerns could be used as an excuse for extra-legal military actions that bypass the Security Council and/or Congress.”
- Readers may recall that one particularly successful propaganda campaign against Iraq saw US government operatives using Amnesty International to advance the false and easily disprovable story that Iraqis had murdered over 300 Kuwaiti babies in August, 1990, by tossing them out of their incubators and letting them die on the floor. It’s not at issue here whether or not Iraqi or Serb forces are brutal. It’s a matter of how human rights organizations willingly become instruments of state policy. Somalia offers a particularly vivid example of this.
- —Alexander Cockburn, How the US State Dept. Recruited Human Rights Groups to Cheer On the Bombing Raids: Those Incubator Babies, Once More?, CounterPunch Newsletter, April 1999.