For this week’s episode of Unauthorized Disclosure, Kevin Gosztola and I spoke with Washington, DC-based activist and writer Keane Bhatt about the revolving door between Human Rights Watch and the US government. (Download the episode here or subscribe for free on iTunes here)
Earlier this month Bhatt co-authored a letter addressed to HRW executive director, Kenneth Roth, calling into question the organization’s independence and credibility in light of its cozy relationship with members of the US foreign policy establishment.
Examples cited in the letter include, “Miguel Díaz, a Central Intelligence Agency analyst in the 1990s, sat on HRW Americas’ advisory committee from 2003-11. Now at the State Department, Díaz serves as ‘an interlocutor between the intelligence community and non-government experts.” Another is “HRW’s Washington advocacy director, Tom Malinowski, previously served as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and as a speechwriter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In 2013, he left HRW after being nominated as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights & Labor under John Kerry.”
Bhatt argued that this revolving door is influencing HRW’s priorities, leading to outrageous double standards in service of a destructive US foreign policy agenda. One case in point is HRW’s relentlessly negative portrayal of Venezuela, whose leftist government has been the target of US-backed overthrow since the late Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1998.
Referencing our interview with HRW’s Mary Wareham on the last episode of Unauthorized Disclosure, Bhatt added, “I don’t mean to diminish the importance of some of [HRW’s] critical coverage and advocacy around the kinds of questions that you focus on quite correctly—drones and automated drones and the kinds of prospects for a much less accountable form of warfare. But the letter was basically conceived to promote greater independence and greater accountability on behalf of Human Rights Watch because what I have discovered is the tendency to implement the double standards in the kind of advocacy and policy priorities that Human Rights Watch engages in.”
“The letter is very simple,” explained Bhatt. “If Human Rights Watch characterizes itself as an independent global organization, then it should strengthen those credentials and it should live up to those credentials by closing what we call its revolving door.”
The letter’s signatories, which include several Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and more than 100 scholars, are urging HRW to mandate a five-year cooling off period between leaving the government and working for HRW, and vice versa.
“It’s a very straightforward and, in my opinion, unassailable request,” Bhatt told us. “Unfortunately Human Rights Watch has yet to respond in any official way so I am going to be continuing to raise the pressure through a number of op-eds, through increased signatures at our petition at RootsAction.org and increase publicity.”
In the discussion portion of the show, Kevin and I talked about the Isla Vista shooting, the US government using proxies to enforce US imperialism, sanctions on Venezuela, the Obama administration’s cruel deportation machine, a positive California Supreme Court decision on police secrecy around shootings, a lawsuit against the mass detention of innocent people following a bank robbery in Aurora, Colorado, and NBC’s interview with Edward Snowden.