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Libya, Human Rights Watch, And McCain

By Matt Duss  

"Libya, Human Rights Watch, And McCain"

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gaddafiI think most Americans would agree that the decision of the Scottish government to release Libyan terrorist Abdel Baset al-Megrahi — and the hero’s welcome he received from Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi — is an outrage. It’s interesting to see, however, where some conservatives are directing that outrage, and where they’re choosing not to.

Jamie Kirchick identifies Human Rights Watch as an accomplice of the Qaddafi regime, pointing to an article by HRW’s Middle East director, Sarah Lee Whitson, from a few months ago in which Whitson noted a “new spirit of reform” in Libya (while also noting that “the repression of Libyan citizens was as suffocating as ever.”) Kirchick writes that Whitson’s praise for Libya’s modest steps toward reform have enabled Libya to present “a softer image” on the world stage.

What this has to do with the Migrahi case is left unspecified. But if we’re criticizing people for legitimizing a bad regime, it seems rather blatantly tendentious for Kirchick to overlook Sen. John McCain’s recent visit to Libya. When he was there, McCain “praised Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi for his peacemaking role in Africa and said Congress would support expanding ties,” according to the Libyan state news agency.

As Josh Marshall noted previously, McCain even tweeted his new bromance from Qaddafi’s “ranch”, calling it an “interesting meeting with an interesting man.”

It seems like something like this — a nod of approval from a former U.S. presidential candidate — would be far more worthy of concern than Whitson’s article, especially since Human Rights Watch has a solid record of criticizing Libya’s human rights abuses.

Kirchick’s attack on Whitson and HRW makes sense, though, when understood as part of the the ongoing attempt by pro-Israel conservatives to gin up a scandal and delegitimize Human Rights Watch and other NGOs because of their criticisms of Israeli human rights abuses.

Allison Hoffman tries to make something of that story, putting the best face possible on the fact that the critics really have nothing. As we know, though, even baseless cries of bias can often produce a result if repeated loudly and frequently enough.

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