Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.
transcriptPAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington. On September 22, a fact-finding mission created by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was released and showedaccording to some, conclusivelywho was responsible for the deaths that took place. The fact-finding mission was chaired by Judge Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, QC, a retired judge of the International Criminal Court, former attorney general of Trinidad and Tobago, and included other jurists from around the world. And joining us now is Gareth Porter, investigative journalist and often contributor to The Real News Network. Thanks for joining us.GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Thank you, Paul.JAY: So what did the report conclude?PORTER: The report concluded that a US citizen, Furkan Dogan, a 19-year-old US citizen, and five Turkish citizens were deliberately murdered by Israeli commandos on board the Mavi Marmara, the ship that was taken over violently by the Israeli commandos. It really provided very specific evidence that both Furkan Dogan and the five Turkish citizens were in fact killed when they were incapacitated, unable to resist, were clearly not a threat to the Israeli commandos. So it's really the clearest and most convincing evidence that has been published, and obviously from an official source, that this was an execution-style murder.JAY: Okay. Just to give context fornot perhaps everyone remembers thisthere's an aid flotilla going, trying to get to Gaza to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. One of the boatsI can't remember, the six or seven boats, one of the boats is selected, and the commandos actually drop from helicopters down onto the boat, and shooting takes place. And up until now, the Israelis have been saying there were shots fired at them, there were knives and other things used, and the people shot were actually the aggressors, and the commandos were defending themselves.PORTER: Correct.JAY: So how does this fact-finding mission, how have they determined that's not true?PORTER: Well, first of all, they interviewed 121 eyewitnesses to what happened. They tried to interview Israeli officials and IDF personnel, of course, but the Israeli government refused to cooperate, refused to have anything to do with the inquiry, and so they were unable to do that. But most importantly, they had access to the autopsy reports which were carried out by Turkish medical personnel on the dead, as well as, equally important, the medical forensic reports, which were actually tissue studies and detailed forensic reports which were vital in judging exactly what happened. And on the basis of that, they were able to assess the evidence that they were given. They also had their own experts on both the forensics, the medical forensics, and on firearms, so that they would have their own expertise in order to evaluate the evidence [inaudible] JAY: I'll read a quote from a piece, your article, about this, which quotes the report. The report says Dogan had apparently been, quote, "'lying on the deck in a conscious or semi-conscious state for some time' before being shot in his face. The forensic evidence that establishes that fact is 'tattooing around the wound in his face,' indicating that the shot was 'delivered at point blank range.' The report describes the forensic evidence as showing that 'the trajectory of the wound, from bottom to top, together with a vital abrasion to the left shoulder that could be consistent with the bullet exit point, is compatible with the shot being received while he was lying on the ground on his back.'"PORTER: Yes. I think this is the key point in the entire report. That is to say, they found evidence which was really quite incontrovertible that these people, and particularly Furkan Dogan, the 19-year-old American citizen, could not have been shot in a situation where they were threatening the Israeli officers.JAY: Now, you point out in your article that the White House has known this, that the Turkish autopsy report has been available to them, and this is an American citizen, but the White House has not said anything. So, first of all, how do we know in fact that that they did have this autopsy report? And then, why haven't they said something?PORTER: I started working on this back in July and was told by a source in the US government, in the Obama administration, thatand this was in early AugustI was told that indeed the autopsy report which was held by the Turkish authorities had been turned over to the US Embassy in July, and that it was then passed on to the Justice Department, which was supposed to use this as the basis for a decision as to whether an independent US investigation by the Justice Department was appropriate. And, of course, we've heard absolutely nothing. Nothing has happened even after the publication of this report, which provides, again, additional information. By the way, I am convinced that the Justice Department also has the medical forensic reports, not just the autopsy reports. So they have the full set of documentation which was available to the UN fact-finding commission. But what I think is going on here is that the Obama administration had a very firm policy: we are not going to say anything about this matter; we're going to keep it quiet.JAY: You suggested in your article that someone from the State Department was actually saying, we're not going to do anything that might upset the negotiation process.PORTER: That's right. The day, two days ago, when I published this story, I called the State Department, tried to get a comment, and what I was told was by somebody who was not able to speak on the record: we believe that this report is biased, not objective in its tone and conclusions, and we think it should not be used to disrupt the talks which are directly going on between the Palestinians and the Israelis or the talks that are going on between Israel and Turkey.JAY: Now, one of the things you point out in your article is that the fact-finding commission found that the Israeli armed forces had not communicated anything to the ships. What is that about? 'Cause that's a complete contradiction of what the Israeli armed forces have said.PORTER: Absolutely. This is a very key point, because the rationale, of course, on the part of the Israeli government and IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] was that they were there to intercept possible weapons going to Hamas in Gaza. That was the rationale for the interception of the ships and taking them over. However, what the fact-finding mission found, as you suggested, is that the Israeli ships surrounding or approaching the Gaza flotilla never communicated by radio to any of the ships saying, we would like to board peaceably to inspect the cargo.JAY: Now, in that report, do they explain how they know something like that? 'Cause presumably they only have one side of the story, 'cause Israel wouldn't cooperate with their fact-finding mission.PORTER: Well, I assume that they had access to the ship's logs and to electronic recordings of the entire ship.JAY: But in the report itself do they explain?PORTER: It did not mention that, but that would be my assumption, that they were able to ascertain what sort of communications there were between the ship and any other ships during the voyage.JAY: The other big issue here is the story broke on September 22. You wrote a piece for Truthout. Most of the media has not even mentioned this.PORTER: Well, it's actually worse than that, Paul. Not a single US-based news media, corporate news source, has done a story pointing out that Furkan Dogan, the 19-year-old US citizen, was killed under circumstances which clearly indicate that this was an execution. It's been completely blacked out, in other words, in the United States. Of course, it's been picked up by the Turkish media. They've covered it very extensively. The BBC had a story which talked about the report. It did not mention specifically this evidence about the nature of the killing of Furkan Dogan and the five Turkish citizens. So, otherwise, other than the Turkish media, this has been blacked out across the globe.JAY: So what's the next step? What does the UN human rights commissioner do now with this information?PORTER: Well, I think this is one of those cases where it's up to alternative media to get the story out and to develop some pressure on institutions in this country to raise this issue, to say to the Obama administration, how can you in good conscience refuse to lift a finger to even carry out your own investigation of the killing of a US citizen on board this ship, when you know that there is very clear and convincing evidence that he was murdered deliberately?JAY: Thanks very much for joining us.PORTER: Thank you.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
End of TranscriptDISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
UN Fact-Finding Mission Says Israelis "Executed" US Citizen Furkan Dogan
Monday 27 September 2010
by: Gareth Porter, t r u t h o u t | Report
Furkan Dogan, a 19-year-old US citizen of Turkish descent, was aboard the Mavi Marmara when he was killed by Israeli commandos.
The report of the fact-finding mission of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla released last week shows conclusively, for the first time, that US citizen Furkan Dogan and five Turkish citizens were murdered execution-style by Israeli commandos.
The report reveals that Dogan, the 19-year-old US citizen of Turkish descent, was filming with a small video camera on the top deck of the Mavi Marmara when he was shot twice in the head, once in the back and in the left leg and foot and that he was shot in the face at point blank range while lying on the ground.
The report says Dogan had apparently been "lying on the deck in a conscious or semi-conscious, state for some time" before being shot in his face.
The forensic evidence that establishes that fact is "tattooing around the wound in his face," indicating that the shot was "delivered at point blank range." The report describes the forensic evidence as showing that "the trajectory of the wound, from bottom to top, together with a vital abrasion to the left shoulder that could be consistent with the bullet exit point, is compatible with the shot being received while he was lying on the ground on his back."
Based on both "forensic and firearm evidence," the fact-finding panel concluded that Dogan's killing and that of five Turkish citizens by the Israeli troops on the Mavi Marmari May 31 "can be characterized as extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions." (See Report [.pdf] Page 38, Section 170)
The report confirmed what the Obama administration already knew from the autopsy report on Dogan, but the administration has remained silent about the killing of Dogan, which could be an extremely difficult political problem for the administration in its relations with Israel.
The Turkish government gave the autopsy report on Dogan to the US Embassy in July and it was then passed on to the Department of Justice, according to a US government source who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the administration's policy of silence on the matter. The source said the purpose of obtaining the report was to determine whether an investigation of the killing by the Justice Department (DOJ) was appropriate.
Asked by this writer whether the DOJ had received the autopsy report on Dogan, DOJ spokesperson Laura Sweeney refused to comment.
The administration has not volunteered any comment on the fact-finding mission report and was not asked to do so by any news organization. In response to a query from Truthout, a State Department official, who could not speak on the record, read a statement that did not explicitly acknowledge the report's conclusion about the Israeli executions.
The statement said the fact-finding mission's report's "tone and conclusions are unbalanced." It went on to state, "We urge that this report not be used for actions that could disrupt direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine that are now underway or actions that would make it not possible for Israel and Turkey to move beyond the recent strains in their traditional strong relationship."
Although the report's revelations and conclusions about the killing of Dogan and the five other victims were widely reported in the Turkish media last week, not a single story on the report has appeared in US news media.
The administration has made it clear through its inaction and its explicit public posture that it has no intention of pressing the issue of the murder of a US citizen in cold blood by Israeli commandos.
On June 13, two weeks after the Mavi Marmara attack, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement saying that Israel "should be allowed to undertake an investigation into events that involve its national security" and that Israel's military justice system "meets international standards and is capable of conducting a serious and credible investigation."
Another passenger whom forensic evidence shows was killed execution-style, according to the OHCHR report, is Ibrahim Bilgen, a 60-year-old Turkish citizen. Bilgen is believed by forensics experts to have been shot initially from the helicopter above the Mavi Marmara and then shot in the side of the head while lying seriously wounded.
The fact-finding mission was given forensic evidence that, after the initial shot in chest from above, Bilgen was shot in the head with a "soft baton round at such close proximity that an entire bean bag and its wadding penetrated the skull and lodged in the chest from above," the mission concluded.
"Soft baton rounds" are supposed to be fired for nonlethal purposes at a distance and aimed only at the stomach, but are lethal when fired at the head, especially from close range.
The forensic evidence cited by the fact-finding mission on the killing of Dogan and five other passengers came from both the autopsy reports and pathology reports done by forensic personnel in Turkey and from interviews with those who wrote the reports. Experts in forensic pathology and firearms assisted the mission in interpreting that forensic evidence.
The account, provided by the OHCHR of the events on board the Mavi Marmara on its way to help break the economic siege of Gaza May 31 of this year, refutes the version of events aggressively pushed by the Israeli military and supports the testimony of passengers on board.
The report suggests that, from the beginning, Israeli policy viewed the Gaza flotilla as an opportunity to use lethal force against pro-Hamas activists. It quotes testimony by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak before the Israeli government's Turkel Committee that specific orders were given by the Israeli government "to continue intelligence tracking of the flotilla organizers with an emphasis on the possibility that amongst the passengers in the flotilla there were terror elements who would attempt to harm Israeli forces."
The idea that the passenger list would be seeded with terrorists determined to attack Israeli defense forces appears to have been a ploy to justify treating the operation as likely to require the use of military force against the passengers.
When details of the Israeli plan to forcibly take over the ships in the flotilla were published in the Israeli press on May 30, the passengers on board the Mavi Marmara realized that the Israelis might use deadly force against them. Some leaders of the IHH (the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Aid), which had purchased the ships for the mission, were advocating defending the boat against the Israeli boarding attempt, whereas other passengers advocated nonviolence only.
That led to efforts to create improvised weapons from railings and other equipment on the Mavi Marmara. However, the commission concluded that there was no evidence of any firearms having being taken aboard the ship, as charged by Israel.
The report notes that the Israeli military never communicated a request by radio to inspect the cargo on board any of the ships, apparently contradicting the official justification given by the Israeli government for the military attack on the Mavi Marmara and other ships of preventing any military contraband from reaching Gaza.
According to the OHCHR report, Israeli Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi testified to the Turkel Committee August 11 that the initial rules of engagement for the operation prohibited live fire except in life-threatening situations, but that that they were later modified to target protesters "deemed to be violent" in response to the resistance by passengers.
That decision apparently followed the passengers' successful repulsion of an Israeli effort to board the ship from Zodiac boats.
The report confirms that, from the beginning of the operation, passengers were fired on by helicopters flying above the Mavi Marmara to drop commandos on the deck.
Contrary to Israeli claims that one or more Israeli troops were wounded by firearms, the report says no medical evidence of a gunshot wound to an Israeli soldier was found.
The OHCHR report confirms accounts from passengers on the Mavi Marmara that defenders subdued roughly ten Israeli commandos, took their weapons from them and threw them in the sea, except for one weapon hidden as evidence. The Israeli soldiers were briefly sequestered below and some were treated for wounds before being released by the defenders.
The OHCHR fact-finding mission will certainly be the most objective, thorough and in-depth inquiry into the events on board the Mavi Marmara and other ships in the flotilla of the four that have been announced.
The fact-finding mission was chaired by Judge Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, Q.C., retired judge of the International Criminal Court and former attorney general of Trinidad and Tobago, and included Sir Desmond de Silva, Q.C. of the United Kingdom, former chief prosecutor of the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone and Ms. Mary Shanthi Dairiam of Malaysia, founding member of the board of directors of the International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific.
The mission interviewed 112 eyewitnesses to the Israeli attack in London, Geneva, Istanbul and Amman, Jordan. The Israeli government refused to cooperate with the fact-finding mission by making personnel involved in both planning and carrying out the attack available to be interviewed.
The Turkish governments announced its own investigation of the Israeli attack on August 10. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the formation of a "Panel of Inquiry" on August 2, but its mandate was much more narrowly defined. It was given the mission to "receive and review the reports of the national investigations with the view to recommending ways of avoiding similar incidents in the future."
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