My Final Thoughts on the HRW Debate

by Kevin Jon Heller

Professor Bell’s latest post is extremely unfortunate. Instead of addressing his failure to quote HRW’s sentence in its entirety, he not only spins the sentence to somehow support his criticism of the organization, he does so by subtly imputing that criticism to me:

If Professor Heller believes that HRW is capable of having seen plausible signs of Hezbollah presence in Sreifa on July 31, but decided not to mention it, but instead imply that Hezbollah was absent on the basis of HRW not seeing “weapons, military equipment, or trenches,” I must say that I sadly agree.

Even the most cursory reading of my post reveals that I have never claimed to believe any such thing. What I actually said is that, given the brevity of HRW’s visit to Sreifa on July 31, the researchers would not have had time to interview residents to determine whether Hezbollah fighters had moved into the area; they would only have had time to determine whether there were any visible manifestations of their presence.

Notice, also, that Professor Bell fundamentally misrepresents the substance of HRW’s report. HRW did not claim that there were no Hezbollah fighters in Sreifa on July 31st; it said simply — and precisely — that “[t]he researchers saw no signs of Hezbollah military activity in the village, such as weapons, military equipment, or trenches.” Instead of overreaching, in other words, HRW did precisely the opposite: it made a limited claim on the basis of its limited information.

The piece de resistance, however, is Professor Bell’s final claim, also imputed — this time less subtly — to me:

I take Professor Heller’s correction. It is possible the report should be read as making the statement that HRW investigators saw no “weapons, military equipment, or trenches,” and that the HRW investigators actually did see persons it believed or suspected were Hezbollah fighters and that it deliberately omitted this fact in its report, and instead attempted to mislead readers into believing that because they saw no “weapons, military equipment, or trenches,” there was no Hezbollah presence.

I offered no such correction, of course — for the simple reason that there is nothing in HRW’s discussion of the Sreifa attacks that indicates “the HRW investigators actually did see persons it believed or suspected were Hezbollah fighters,” much less that that the organization “deliberately omitted this fact in its report.” Any suggestion to the contrary is pure fantasy.

This will be my final comment on the subject. As always, though, I welcome our readers’ thoughts.

One Response

  1. Professor Heller,

    I, for one, appreciate your perseverance in this debate and am all-the-more grateful inasmuch as you spared me time I would have otherwise spent commenting on this or that item by Professor Bell (and without your perspecuity, elegance and wit). Your civility throughout is also appreciated. And of course the debate was quite illuminating for a number of reasons….

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