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October 06, 2015

AP Reporter Highlights State Department Double Standard on ‘Collateral Damage’

Associated Press (AP) correspondent Matt Lee highlighted seeming hypocrisy from the U.S. State Department in an Oct. 5, 2015 press briefing. Lee asked State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner whether his agency was “appalled” at the result of an October 3 U.S. airstrike that targeted Taliban terrorists in the Afghan city of Kunduz. The U.S. attack accidentally killed at least 19 people in a hospital run by the international non-profit organization Doctors Without Borders.

The AP correspondent pointed out that the State Department used that exact terminology—“appalled”—to describe an Aug. 4, 2014 Israeli bombing aimed at Palestinian terrorists near (or possibly in) an United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school in the Gaza Strip. That strike—similar to its U.S. successor—was meant to target terrorists, in that instance Hamas members responsible for attacking Israeli civilians and soldiers during the 2014 Israel-Hamas war. The Israeli airstrike accidentally took the lives of 10 civilians—like others whom Hamas frequently used as “human shields” to deter Israeli counterattacks.

In July 2014, an inspection by UNRWA found its own facilities to be housing missiles and other weapons used by Gazan terrorist groups in the Strip, including Hamas (“20 missiles found in UN-run school in Gaza,” Times of Israel, July 17, 2014).

Lee quoted to Toner his department’s statement after that August 2014 bombing, noting that at the time State asserted, “The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah…the coordinates of the school…have been repeatedly communicated to the Israeli Defense Forces…Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties.”

In particular, Lee emphasized the State Department’s own pronouncement that “the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.” The AP correspondent observed that these U.S. condemnations were issued prior to calling for an investigation. He then wondered if “the suspicion that militants are operating nearby a site like this, which is a school, that that suspicion does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of innocent civilians? Is that still the Administration’s position?”

Not answering Lee’s question, Toner said Kunduz was “an active combat zone” and the U.S. takes “every measure possible and would encourage any government in the world to take any measure possible…to avoid civilian casualties.”

The AP reporter noted that Doctors Without Borders claims to have given U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan advanced notice of its local coordinates “much in the same way the IDF had been given the coordinates of the school in Rafah.”

Toner asked that Lee “give me a pass if we wait for the investigation” of Kunduz “to run its course.”

Israel received no such “pass” for the Rafah bombing, which received widespread U.S. media coverage immediately after the attack. A Lexis-Nexis search reveals that The New York Times alone featured six stories (averaging 1,000 words each) and ran two Op-Ed columns—within the three weeks after the August 4 incident.

By contrast, Saudi airstrikes in July 2015 in the Yemeni city of Mukha—part of the ongoing Iranian-Saudi war in Yemen—hit residential compounds, killing at least 63 people—and received significantly less coverage in the weeks following. The New York Times mentioned the event only as an aside to a 322-word brief (“Saudi Forces Agree to Halt in Yemen War,” July 26). To the extent that Mukha airstrikes were noted by other major U.S. media outlets such as USA Today, the Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post, the reporting consisted entirely of briefs.

It seems that Saudi airstrikes got virtual “passes,” like those State asked of AP, from the media as well.

A transcript of the October 5 State Department press conference can be found here.—Sean Durns

Posted by SD at October 6, 2015 04:53 PM

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