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When a Foreign Military Shoots a U.S. Human Rights Defender “at Point Blank Range,” Shouldn’t the U.S. Investigate?

As a teenager, Furkan Do?an would tell his parents that he wanted to bring toys, books, and food to the children of Gaza. Described by his father as a young man with a huge heart, Furkan was deeply troubled by the humanitarian situation faced by Palestinians living in Gaza due to the Israeli blockade, a situation the United Nations Relief Works Agency has described as “a crisis that transcends the humanitarian sphere.”  After graduating from high school, in 2010, Furkan joined the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, an international effort by activists who organized six ships, carrying more than 700 civilians from almost 40 countries, to sail towards Gaza to break the siege and deliver humanitarian supplies.

Three years ago, in the early hours of May 31, 2010, Israeli forces boarded the ship Furkan was on, the Mavi Marmara, while it was in international waters.   Commandos opened fire on the unarmed civilians  aboard. According to an investigation by the United Nations Human Rights Council:

“[Furkan Do?an was] filming with a small video camera when he was first hit with live fire. It appears that he was lying on the deck in a conscious, or semi-conscious, state for some time. In total Furkan received five bullet wounds . . . All of the entry wounds were on the back of his body, except for the face wound which entered to the right of his nose. According to forensic analysis, tattooing around the wound in his face indicates that the shot was delivered at point blank range.”

Eight other people on the Mavi Marmara, all Turkish citizens,  were also killed. Many others, on the Mavi Marmara and other ships, were injured, among them other U.S. citizens. Passengers were detained and had their property confiscated.

Furkan’s parents had been closely following the progress of the flotilla.  When they heard about the attack, Furkan’s father, Professor Ahmet Do?an, made numerous urgent calls to U.S. officials asking them to find the whereabouts of his son.  Despite Professor Do?an’s  repeated inquiries , State Department and Department of Defense documents reveal that U.S. officials did not become aware of Furkan’s death until June 2, 2010, when the Turkish press reported it.  The U.S. officials’ first response was not to call Professor Do?an, but to await confirmation from the Israeli government.

Many U.S. citizens take for granted that if they are wounded or worse by another government, the  U.S. will, at the very least, press for an independent, credible investigation. Under the international human rights system, governments are responsible for the protection of human rights defenders, and the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders has concluded that, “[f]ighting impunity for violations committed against defenders is crucial in order to enable defenders to work in a safe and conducive environment.”

But instead of taking decisive action to get to the bottom of the attack against a flotilla of human rights defenders in international waters and ensure accountability, the U.S. showed an alarming amount of deference to Israel and tried to undermine international efforts to investigate the incident.  Records recently released, as a result of the Center for Constitutional Rights’ (CCR) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) efforts , show that the U.S. closely followed Israel’s lead in responding to the attack. For example, in July 2010, Matthew Andris, of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs at the U.S. State Department asked the U.S. staff to the Human Rights Council (UN HRC) in Geneva to, “Please approach [Israeli] Ambassador Yaar to find out if he has views on the currently proposed flotilla committee and whether he prefers that the U.S. engage or hang back on this?  There was a push in the room to engage (if its [sic] not too late) but we don’t want to unknowingly step on Israel’s toes.” [cont’d.]

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