On April 16, 2008, a shell from an Israeli army tank on a counter-terrorism mission in Gaza killed four civilians, including a Reuter's cameraman, Fadel Shan. On April 18th, well before Israel (or anyone else) could conduct a serious investigation, Amnesty International sent out a press release stating that "Fadel Shan appears to have been killed deliberately although he was a civilian taking no part in attacks on Israel's forces."
The Israeli army eventually conducted an investigation, which resulted in a seventeen-page report sent to Reuters, but not released to the public, or published by Reuters. A summary released by IDF states:
The facts show that the incident occurred against the backdrop of severe hostilities in the area. Earlier in the day three IDF soldiers had been killed in an attack and there was continuous mortar and anti-tank fire directed against IDF forces.
Moreover, the investigation shows that the tank shot was authorized after the tank crew reported identifying, from afar, suspicious figures wearing bulletproof vests and protective gear who were affixing a large unidentified black object to a tripod and aiming it at the tank. Only in retrospect was it discovered that the suspicious figures were Reuters cameramen wearing vests, and that the object mounted on a tripod was a camera and not an anti-tank missile or tripod-mounted mortar as the crew believed at the time.
Given the information at the time and the conditions in the field, the decision of the tank crew and the officers who authorized the shot was reasonable since the suspicious figures and suspected missile presented a clear and present danger to the lives of the IDF soldiers. The subsequent investigation revealed that the soldiers in the tank did not and could not have positively known that the object affixed to the tripod was not a weapon. Nor could they positively identify any markings on the clothing of the men to indicate that they were media personnel. There was no way for the tank crew to know that the suspicious figures were Reuters employees shooting footage and not militants shooting rockets.
Two days later, Amnesty International published an extremely tendentious press release, condemning what it calls the Israeli army's "scandalous" "so-called investigation" into the incident, and which includes what strikes me as a bizarre claim by Amnesty's Donatella Rovera that she is sufficiently familiar with the "sophisticated optical systems" in the Israeli tanks involved to say with some certainty that they must have seen "the clear TV-Press marking on both Fadel Shana's blue flak-jacket and the Reuter Mitsubishi Truck nearby" almost a mile away.
NGO Monitor points out that the army report wasn't released to Amnesty, and there is no indication in Amnesty's press release that anyone at Amnesty actually read the army report before condemning it as "scandalous" and a "so-called investigation." The press release itself suggests that Amnesty was indifferent to the content of the army report, because it was not the product of an independent investigation.
Early yesterday morning, I emailed Amnesty's press contact for the Middle East, Nicole Choueiry, and introduced myself as blogger for the Volokh Conspiracy. I forwarded the NGO Watch link, and asked if she "could confirm or deny that Amnesty wrote its press release without having access to the full report the Israeli army made on the incident?" I also asked "whether the basis for the underlying press release by Amnesty was a specific critique of the Israeli report on the incident, or was part of a general critique of Israel for not conducting independent investigations of civilian deaths in Gaza." (In other words, would Amnesty automatically condemn any report, no matter how thorough, issued by the Israeli army, because it was issued by the Israeli army).
A few hours later Ms. Choueiry responded that she would get back to me with a detailed response shortly. I haven't heard back, but will let readers know if and when I do.
And compare Amnesty's sole statement so far on journalists wounded and killed by Russian forces in Georgia: "'The fact that media workers have themselves become casualties, with over a dozen journalists killed or wounded during attacks by all sides, has compounded the problem of access to information. Journalists, as all other civilians in the conflict zone, must be protected from hostilities,' said Nicola Duckworth." That's it.