Another International Institution Has Lost Its Way?
Another International Institution That Has Lost its Way?
As Congress scrutinizes the financing and operations of the United Nations, we have also found an unfortunate need to focus on other multilateral institutions that receive significant funding from the American taxpayer. One such organization is the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Since its founding in Switzerland in 1863, the ICRC has provided vital and laudable emergency relief to the victims of war and natural disasters around the world, operating under its “Seven Fundamental Principles”: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality. But in recent years, it has moved to broaden its non-emergency relief portfolio, engaging in a level of political activism that appears to contradict its foundational mission of being a neutral and impartial organization. In some cases, actions and statements by ICRC leaders have been directly in opposition to, and even attacked, the interests of the United States.
Specifically, the ICRC has engaged in efforts, among others, to:
Reinterpret and expand international law so as to afford terrorists and insurgents the same rights and privileges as military personnel of states that are party to the Geneva Conventions; and
Inaccurately and unfairly accuse the United States of not adhering to the Geneva Conventions, even while demonstrating a reluctance to pursue those same protections for American prisoners of war.
It's important to make clear here that the American Red Cross (ARC) and the ICRC are not one and the same - in fact, they operate completely separately. The ARC is not in any way involved in the ICRC's policy decisions or statements.
Even so, this trend at the international level is more than worrisome. The ICRC helped save American lives in two world wars and has played a vital role in conflicts around the globe as a neutral arbiter. But under its current leadership, the organization appears to have lost its way by deviating from its core principles. In doing so, it risks forfeiting its hard-earned credibility and moral authority.
Like Amnesty International, which recently diminished its credibility by allowing one of its leaders to compare our terrorist holding center at Guantanamo Bay to a Soviet Gulag, the ICRC's political forays have done significant damage to the international perception of America's defense and foreign policy. This is particularly troubling given that the United States government has remained the ICRC's single largest contributor since its founding; to the tune of $233 million in 2003 alone.
How did this happen? In recent years, the ICRC has undergone a significant and accelerating change, leaning more in the direction of the liberal and frequently anti-American international nongovernmental organization community. According to analysts Lee A. Casey and David Rivkin, Jr., the ICRC made “no discernible effort” to improve the plight of America's POWs from the Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq wars, despite pressure from the U.S. government and POW families. The ICRC has also conspicuously failed to criticize the North Vietnamese, North Korean, and Baathist Iraqi governments for their torture, killings, and other abuses of U.S. POWs.
Former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger criticized the ICRC in the report of the independent review commission he chaired on prison problems in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, stating flatly that the ICRC's legal and policy positions were fundamentally wrong. In particular, the report condemned the ICRC's insistence that the same Geneva Conventions protections afforded uniformed soldiers in military conflict be granted to terrorists who do not wear uniforms and indiscriminately target civilians. Shortly afterward, the Wall Street Journal quoted an ICRC official on a visit to a U.S.-run Iraqi prison telling U.S. authorities that “you people are no better than and no different than the Nazi concentration camp guards” after she was denied immediate access to the prison - for personal safety reasons, because it had just experienced a riot.
As frustrating as such incidents are, the bigger problem is that we need a truly impartial and independent ICRC to tell the world the truth about the way America operates - that abuses are aberrations, that our soldiers go to extraordinary lengths to protect civilians, and that our foreign policy rests on the principle that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. There's no other organization in a position to play that role; without it, many foreign populations are pre-disposed to believe the worst about us. It's in everyone's interest that the ICRC return to its core mission, because that mission is indispensable, and there's no one else out there in a position to fulfill it.