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A Look at the Allegations of Israeli and Hamas War Crimes

Aired September 30, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the war in Gaza. A blistering report by the U.N. accuses both sides of war crimes. What's next?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Welcome to the program.

War crimes, possible crimes against humanity, and disproportionate force, those are just some of the charges in a report on the Gaza war, now formerly presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Israel gets most of the blame, but Palestinians, Hamas are faulted, as well. Both are accused of failing to distinguish between military and civilian targets.

Israel refused to cooperate with the inquiry, calling it one-sided and shameful. Hamas called the report unreasonable. Each side said that it was engaged in self-defense. So will anyone face trial? And what is the role of international law in armed conflict?

Joining me now here in the studio, Judge Richard Goldstone, lead author of the U.N. report.

Judge Goldstone, thank you very much for coming in.


AMANPOUR: I want to start by asking your reaction to the following. There are reports in the Israeli media and we've asked the prime minister's office about a possible plan this week to present to their cabinet, to his own cabinet, the establishment of a committee, an investigative committee to probe the findings of your report. What is your reaction to that?

GOLDSTONE: Well, I -- I would be absolutely delighted. That's really what -- what we've asked for in our -- in our first recommendation, is a transparent, open investigation in Israel and in Gaza into the allegations we make in our report.

AMANPOUR: Do you expect to get one in Gaza?

GOLDSTONE: Well, I certainly hope so. And I think if Israel goes that way, it will put a huge amount of pressure on -- on Hamas.

AMANPOUR: A huge amount of controversy about the report and about your findings. Do you believe that Israel deliberately, intentionally went out to target civilians?

GOLDSTONE: Well, not -- not as policy. And -- and this is something we -- we haven't looked into, and that is individual liability, criminal liability. That needs a fully fledged formal investigation by investigators, if necessary prosecution.

This wasn't the purpose of our fact-finding mission. We -- we weren't even quasi-judicial, and we -- we certainly didn't get near being judicial.

AMANPOUR: The Israelis say that, given the density of the population in Gaza, given the difficulty of distinguishing between military targets and those which are embedded, they say, inside the civilian population, they did the best they could to avoid civilians. This is what Prime Minister Netanyahu last week told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

GOLDSTONE: Well, certainly...

AMANPOUR: Let's just listen.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: It's absurd. Israel was rocketed, pummeled for eight years by thousands of rockets that came from - - that came from Gaza. We tried to get at the rocketeers, at those terrorists firing those missiles and rockets, who placed themselves, embedded themselves in homes and schools and mosques, you name it. And we tried to target these people.

We even sent them SMS text messages telling the Palestinian civilians, "Please get out of harm's way," cellular phones, you name it. So we did everything possible to minimize the loss of innocent civilian lives.


AMANPOUR: So one of the criticisms of the report is that it didn't do enough to highlight this fact of embedding military targets, military people in civilian areas, whether they be schools, homes, et cetera.

GOLDSTONE: Well, it's certainly something we looked into. And -- and -- and the report didn't question the right of Israel to take action to stop the firing of rockets and mortars, clearly, as we hold, serious -- serious war crimes. But -- but -- what -- but what Prime Minister Netanyahu ignores completely and what Israel has ignored are our criticisms of the way they fought the war.

We -- we didn't second-guess generals. We didn't question the difficulty of fighting a war in a heavily built-up civilian area. What we did was -- was question the -- the -- the degree to which innocent civilians were -- were targeted.

And -- and also, I would add, the -- the -- the huge, huge damage done to the infrastructure of Gaza, factories, bulldozing agricultural fields, bombing the only flour factory, and so on. Those are the sorts of aspects that I would certainly suggest are really calling out for investigation.

AMANPOUR: We're just going to now put up a graphic which shows the response by Hamas, because we do want to get at the "what next" aspect of - - of your report.

So the Hamas deputy prime minister there, Ahmad Yusuf (ph), says that, "It is a serious report. We'll look into some of the recommendations in the report about crimes committed by Hamas."

Now, your report did criticize Hamas for the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel and targeting Israeli civilians. Again, do you believe that you went enough after the notion of putting their weapons systems or their personnel anywhere near civilian targets?

GOLDSTONE: Absolutely. We -- we -- we certainly looked into that. But -- but in some cases, we assumed that they may well have done that. We -- we -- we didn't find proof -- any precise proof of that, but we assumed it might have happened. But even then, that didn't justify the sort of civilian casualties that -- that ensued as a result of Operation Cast Lead.

AMANPOUR: Were you surprised by the reaction to your report?

GOLDSTONE: Well, I was. I was surprised at the -- at the tremendous criticism -- and I think unfair criticism -- that came out of some -- some quarters in Israel, and also there was some Hamas spokespersons who -- who -- who criticized the report. You know, I wasn't surprised, but -- but I must say, the depth and venom of the opposition has -- has -- has been surprising.

AMANPOUR: The reason I ask you is because, even some Israelis who feel that unless they investigate, they're going to get an international investigation, in the Jerusalem Post shortly after the report was made -- made -- made public, one writer wrote that the -- the kind of report that came out closed down what could be or should be a vital debate even before it got started, because of the heightened nature of -- of this precise report. He said, for instance, a debate about when does negligence become recklessness, when does recklessness slip into wanton callousness, and then into deliberate disregard for innocent human life?

This Israeli writer basically said that this is an area of legitimate debate, but because of the heightened feelings, it's probably not going to happen.

GOLDSTONE: Well, you know, it -- it seems now that the -- at least the prospect of it happening -- and certainly, there -- there -- there has been an active debate, if one reads -- and I have been trying to keep up to the best of my ability with the Israeli -- with the Israeli media -- the -- the report has opened a huge debate within Israel. And -- and that's a very good thing.

And I think it's open to debate internationally. And -- and it's certainly my hope that -- that the effect of the report will -- would have consequences in the future for the protection of innocent civilians in -- in many places of the world.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it has an affect in terms of other prosecutions? For instance, there are people who say, including potentially members of the ICC, that some of what NATO or the U.S. is doing, let's say, in Afghanistan or in Iraq, the whole issue of civilian casualties has become huge in Afghanistan.

GOLDSTONE: Well, that's correct, but -- but -- but the United States, I think, to its credit has always taken care to -- to protect innocent civilians. When -- when innocent civilians have been -- have been killed and injured, it hasn't been because it was intentional. It may have been - - it may have been negligent. It may even have been -- I don't know, I haven't looked into it -- it may have been more than negligence, but I have no doubt it wasn't deliberate.

AMANPOUR: So, again, are you saying that it was intentional in Israel?

GOLDSTONE: Certainly, some -- some of it was intentional. There was no -- there was no mistake about the bombing of civilian buildings and legislative council, the sorts of factories, food factories which are civilian that I was talking about. That wasn't an area -- the -- the -- the Israeli army have very precise munitions.

AMANPOUR: To follow up there, there are some 100 investigations, according to the Israelis, that are going on, and some 23 or so that are possibly being brought to criminal trial. Does that go to what you're asking for, because you talked about individual responsibility?

GOLDSTONE: No, not at all. These -- these are secret military inquiries. In -- in very few cases have -- have the victims been -- been - - been spoken to. My understanding is that the Israeli military are relying almost entirely on what they get from their own forces. That's hardly the sort of inquiry that's going to -- that's going to satisfy victims.

AMANPOUR: I want to play also what Hillary Clinton, secretary of state here in the United States, has had to say about -- about the report.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We believe that the mandate for the Goldstone report was one-sided and that many of the recommendations are appropriately dealt with by the institutions within Israel. Therefore, we believe that the appropriate venue within the international system is the Human Rights Council. We and other nations will be engaged about that, but we have grave concerns about the recommendations.


AMANPOUR: So, first of all, grave concerns about the recommendations. What precisely do you think she means by that?

GOLDSTONE: Well, she may mean -- she may mean having referenced to -- to the Security Council. It's difficult to deal with Secretary Clinton's criticisms without knowing what they are. I mean, she -- she wasn't specific, no -- no -- no detail at all.

AMANPOUR: I think she said to keep it within the Human Rights Council and not to -- not to put it to the Security Council.

GOLDSTONE: But -- but -- but the problem is, the Human Rights Council has -- has got no enforcement powers at all.

AMANPOUR: Does it bother you the reputation that the Human Rights Council has, which is as an -- basically anti-Israeli?

GOLDSTONE: Absolutely. And this is -- this is -- this is the reason I initially refused to get involved on what I considered to be a very lopsided, unfair resolution. It was only when the mandate was broadened that I was prepared to get involved. And certainly, I've on many occasions spoken about what I consider to be the unfortunate over-concentration by the Human Rights Council on -- on Israel.

AMANPOUR: Now, we talked about each side conducting their own investigations. Israel has its justice -- the wheels of justice that turn. What do you expect really you can get out of Hamas is Gaza?

GOLDSTONE: Well -- well, Hamas have -- have courts open. There are courts in Gaza. People are convicted. Some people, regrettably, in my view, are sentenced to -- to be executed.

But if Hamas hasn't got the sufficient resources, hasn't got sufficient lawyers and judges, which I doubt, I've no doubt that the international community will -- will -- will fill any gap that there may be in such an absence of resources.

AMANPOUR: And just final question: Where does one go from here, in terms of international justice, given the controversy over this report?

GOLDSTONE: Well, I think what's very important is that double- standards need to stop. It's really unfair that -- that international criminal justice only -- only involves smaller, weaker -- weaker powers. I think it's very important for that reason that the United States should become much more active and much more involved in the International Criminal Court. I think it's moving in that direction, but I'd have to see it move a lot quicker.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Judge Goldstone, thank you for joining us.

GOLDSTONE: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And we'll obviously be following the developments in this.

And we are going to a break now. When we come back, we'll discuss this and other vital national security issues with former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): Hamza (ph), his nine siblings and his parents live here.

(on-screen): Oh, my god.

(voice-over): They tell me their home was hit by missiles twice.


AMANPOUR: As I reported, as many journalists reported earlier this year, the Gaza war caused destruction, fear and death on both sides. Joining me now, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to discuss all this.

Welcome. Thank you very much. We just had Judge Goldstone on talking about the report on the Gaza war, saying that he would be delighted if, in fact, the reports we're hearing from Israel turn out to be true, that they're going to have some kind of investigative committee. Do you think the U.S. is doing enough to support this? And should it do more out of the report?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I -- first of all, let me say, I know Judge Goldstone very well and have the greatest respect for him. And I'm very glad that he has worked on this.

I think that the United States cares deeply about the loss of civilian life on both sides, but also understands the difficulties of what it's like. And you asked him a question about generally in war now about civilian casualties.

I think that what the U.S. thinks is that this needs to be within the Human Rights Council and that it would be great -- I speak for myself -- that basically it needs to be investigated by the Israelis themselves and by Hamas.

AMANPOUR: Is it -- does it make an effect, does it have an effect that, for instance, human rights organizations, like Human Rights Watch, say that the U.S. should side with the Goldstone report?

ALBRIGHT: I think that the U.S. has to look at the facts from the perspective of both sides and not -- the human rights people obviously have a very strong interest in this, and I admire what they do, but I think that what the U.S. believes is that investigations need to happen within Israel and among Hamas, and then also that the Human Rights Council itself, of which the U.S. is now a member, is also an appropriate place to discuss this.

AMANPOUR: Can we move on to some other vital issues that are coming up this week? For instance, the talks between the U.S., Iran, and the other members of the Security Council and Germany in Geneva tomorrow, do you think there's going to be anything like a satisfactory outcome?

ALBRIGHT: I think it's the beginning of a process, Christiane, that has taken too long to happen. And I have believed for a long time, as I think you know, that it is very important to talk to people, countries that we disagree with.

We know very little about Iran. I think that the beginning of these talks are important. I hope they're not just talks to have talks to have talks, because there are a lot of issues on the agenda. The Iranians are saying they won't talk about the nuclear issues, which is a little hard to believe, since that's central, but we do have to talk about the whole gamut.

AMANPOUR: Well, look, I just spoke to an Iranian official in Iran who says that they are sincere about wanting to have better relations with the United States, put relations back on a -- on a different footing, and acknowledge that nuclear negotiations would have to be part of any kind of broad talks.

And we've just heard that President Ahmadinejad has been talking in Iran ahead of this -- of this meeting, saying that they propose perhaps to buy enrichment uranium for a certain facility, the one in Tehran. Is that a goodwill gesture ahead of the -- ahead of the talks?

ALBRIGHT: Well, it counters a little bit what they have done. I know that the missile tests they said had been planned ahead and were not deliberate at this particular time, but the combination of negative things and positive things are kind of a mix-and-match thing.

I think it is worth listening to what he said, because part of what this is about is whether they could get their enriched fuel someplace else so that they wouldn't have to do it.

The thing that's so worrisome is that a lot of what they're doing is secret. They are signatories of the NPT. And under that, they theoretically should be declaring what they're planning, allowing inspectors in. And what I think needs to happen is for the diplomatic string here to really be played out.

Mistakes that were made over Iraq should not be made over Iran. And so I want to see these talks really accomplish a lot in terms of learning more about each other.

AMANPOUR: The NPT, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I was going to ask you about that, the sort of reverse what we're seeing almost. Almost the United States is playing down the military capability of any nuclear program, where we're just hearing that Britain believes that Iran has restarted work on a -- on a weapons program, the Germans believe it, the French believe it.

What is happening here? Is it a shock from the Iraq false intelligence?

ALBRIGHT: I -- I do think so. I find so interesting how something that happened earlier then affects the unintended consequences of something. And the bottom line is that our intelligence community has made quite clear that, on the Iraq issue, there were -- mistakes were made. And I find very interesting the reports today is that the British disagree, the Israelis have for some time.

And I think what has to happen -- and this is why it's so important to have a president who actually assesses a lot of issues and gathers the advisers, is to look at all of this, since there are not that many completely black-and-white answers.

AMANPOUR: And talking about President Obama, who has wanted to have a different relationship with Iran -- he's said it publicly many times, you know, sort of like a global agenda on resetting relations -- is it not completely complicated by the dispute after the election?

ALBRIGHT: Well, it certainly makes it harder. But I do think that there are national interests that we have that have to be taken care of. We have made clear how we feel about the election. They are not talking to President Ahmadinejad, but they, I think, feel that they need to go forward.

It obviously is complicated. What is interesting is how many people in Iran actually are interested in a nuclear program, no matter which side they're on.

AMANPOUR: Right. And, again, about the nuclear program, given the revelation about the Qom program in a military base -- and, by the way, the Iranian head of its atomic energy agency has said it was put there precisely because of the threats of attacking it -- attacking the program. That's -- that's what they're saying about why it was at the military base.

But others are saying now the options are either some kind of attack on Iran's nuclear programs or accepting Iran with a level of nuclear program with -- with heightened inspections.

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that people have said that, if they abide by the NPT regulations, which is inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, they, as signatories, have the right to a peaceful program. The problem is, the secrecy that has surrounded us to whether they're moving to weaponization. And also, what is it that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is really doing? Because they are the ones -- that's what's suspicious about this -- about this particular site.

I have recently read, also, that they have kind of taken over the communications network of Iran. And I -- I think -- you've followed these issues so carefully yourself -- is whether actually Iran is not much more of a military state than a theocratic state at this point. We don't know enough about Iran, which is why we have to talk to them.

AMANPOUR: So that's your position, that talking is better than -- than -- than not?

ALBRIGHT: Well, talking is not necessarily being nice. I mean, what you do is you deliver tough messages that way. And I think mistakes have been made in terms of not being able to.

I quote you very often, when you interviewed President Khatami in 1998, it made a difference, because he told us something, and we were trying then to respond to that. You have to have that kind of communication, whether you like the people you're dealing with or not.

AMANPOUR: Can we move on to Afghanistan, just next door to Iran and vital to the United States, particularly right now, with a strategy review? I want to play what President Obama said about Afghanistan in his first major speech back in March.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the Afghan people, the return to Taliban rule would condemn their country to brutal governance, international isolation, a paralyzed economy, and the denial of basic human rights to the Afghan people, especially women and girls. The return in force of Al Qaida terrorists who would accompany the core Taliban leadership would cast Afghanistan under the shadow of perpetual violence.


AMANPOUR: So there is a debate going on about what to do now about Afghanistan, how to rescue it from the trouble that it's in, and there are some, influential in Washington, who are talking about a pullback. Is that even remotely possible?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that what is so important, again, President Obama is the kind of person that wants to have information before he makes a decision. There were other ways that decisions were made in the previous eight years. And so what he is doing is talking not only to General McChrystal, but also to the other advisers to see what the options are here. He is committed to making sure that Al Qaida is not a threat to the United States and also because it's so intricately involved in terms of what's going on so that the people are not threatened by the Taliban and then give haven -- safe haven.

So I think what he is doing is assessing the situation, looking at metrics as to what they've done, and what NATO's role is.

AMANPOUR: Right. But if they pull back, instead of what General McChrystal is basically saying, that if you want to push the Taliban back, you've got to increase the manpower on the ground and take care of the Afghan civilians, as well, if they pull back, what's going to happen? If they bomb from the air, what's going to happen?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think they -- I personally think that this is what they're looking at. And yesterday, the secretary general of NATO, Rasmussen, and he were -- President Obama -- were talking. NATO has a very important mission there.

And I think that they have to look at exactly what you're asking: What happens if they pull back? What happens if they double down? What are the metrics? And those are the appropriate questions.

And I hope -- I really do hope, because I've been in the -- in the various meetings when we were in the office -- that they all feel free to disagree, to kind of put their points on the table and then figure out what the right answer is, and not just say you have to agree with what I'm saying. What this president wants is to have different views and then be able to make up his mind.

AMANPOUR: On that note -- and we'll continue this conversation -- we're going to say goodbye for the moment and thank you for joining us, Secretary Albright. But we will, as I said, continue this discussion live on the Internet, so go to our Web site, and to the program's Facebook page.

Thank you for watching for the moment. We'll be back tomorrow. It is an important day, as we've been saying, because of the crucial talks with Iran. Goodbye for all of us for right now, except for Secretary Albright. We are going to talk to her online to discuss the intersection between jewelry and foreign policy. "Read My Pins" is her latest book, and we're going to talk about it online.