Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
September 05, 2008

Followup on HRW's False Cluster Bomb Accusations

Human Rights Watch continues to spread, without presenting convincing proof, accusations of use of cluster bombs by the Russian Federation in the conflict with Georgia. HRW published two reports which supposedly show evidence of such use. As argued and documented here, that evidence does not hold up.

HRW has now issued a 'clarification', and admits that the supposed evidence in one of the two reports is false.

As we had shown, objects in pictures in the report were misidentified as cluster ammunition of Russian origin, while a comparison with HRW's own cluster ammunition chart (pdf) evidently showed that the objects were a M85 submunition of 'western' origin. Additionally the Georgian government admitted that it had purchased GRADLAR 160 mm rocket systems with M85 submunition from Israel and used these in the conflict over South Ossetia.

HRW continues to insist that the 'evidence' in the first report it issues is correct. There is good reason to believe that this is false.

The HRW 'clarification' is quite vague:

On August 21, 2008, Human Rights Watch reported a series of attacks with cluster munitions around four towns and villages in Georgia’s Gori district. Human Rights Watch attributed all the strikes to Russian forces, but upon further investigation has concluded that the origin of the cluster munitions found on August 20 in two of the villages – Shindisi and Pkhvenisi – cannot yet be determined.

Human Rights Watch’s finding that Shindisi and Pkhvenisi were struck by Russian attacks on August 8 was based on the accounts of nearly a dozen witnesses, interviewed separately, who said that air strikes on Georgian armored units in the area were followed by extensive cluster munition strikes. There were no Russian ground forces reported in the area at that stage of the conflict. 

Human Rights Watch researchers in Shindisi on August 20 found unexploded cluster submunitions, commonly known as Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICMs), and initially identified them as Russian. However, those submunitions were later identified by the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (NDRE), based on Human Rights Watch’s photographs, as M85 DPICMs, which have not been reported to be part of Russia’s arsenal. NDRE is a government-sponsored institution that does research and development for the Norwegian Armed Forces and is recognized for its expertise in cluster munitions.

To say the source of the strike 'cannot yet be determined' when Georgia is the only party in the conflict that owned the weapon in question is, in my view, disingenuous. The chain of events described by the witnesses is consistent with an attack by the RF army against Georgian troops in Shindisi and a, probably miss-adjusted, counterattack by Georgian rocket artillery.

HRW also continues to claim that a different incident was caused by Russian clusterbombs:

This clarification does not affect Human Rights Watch’s findings on August 15 that Russia used aerial cluster bombs to attack the village of Ruisi and the town of Gori on August 12. Eleven civilians were killed and dozens more injured in these two locations. In Ruisi, Human Rights Watch researchers found submunitions that they identified as PTAB 2.5M, which are known to be in Russia’s arsenal. Human Rights Watch based its findings on visual identification of the submunitions and the cluster bomb carrier in Ruisi, craters typical of submunition impact, and accounts from Georgian victims in both towns, as well as doctors and military personnel. The Russian government has yet to adequately respond to these findings.

In the August 15 report "Human Rights Watch researchers found submunitions that they identified as PTAB 2.5M".

How believable is that identification when the (same?) Human Rights Watch researchers, as now admitted,  misidentified submunition in the August 21 report? Has HRW rechecked the identification capabilities of its researchers after those have been wrong?

While the 'clarification' states: "In Ruisi, Human Rights Watch researchers found submunitions that they identified as PTAB 2.5M", the original report only stated: "Photographic evidence on file with Human Rights Watch shows a civilian in Ruisi holding a PTAB submunition ...."  Which of these statements is correct? Have HRW researchers identified alleged PTAB submunition in Ruisi through pictures or through direct inspection as only claimed now?

The "cluster bomb carrier in Ruisi" as mentioned and shown in a photo within the August 15 report is definitely not a Russian RBU-250 gravity bomb as HRW now again claims. The diameter of the object in the photo is only roughly half the 325 mm diameter an RBU-250 has. The fin configuration of the debris HRW shows is inconsistent with a gravity bomb, but consistent with a tube launched missile like the ones used in Georgia's GRADAL system. (For evidence see the pictures in our prior critic.)

HRW issued a vague 'clarification' over one of its reports after professionals pointed out that HRW researchers have erred in the identification of submunition. HRW continues to hold up another report that is based HRW researchers identification of submunition and on photos of debris that is evidently not from the ammunition type HRW claims it is from.

When will HRW issue another clarification to clean up its mistakes in the August 15 report?

When will HRW issue an apology to the Russian Federation for the evidently false claims it made?

Posted by b on September 5, 2008 at 12:39 UTC | Permalink


Lie, lie, lie. Gulf of Tonkin, Saddam's WMDs, Georgia - wherever.

Defence contractorism, Darth rules. Nothing going to stand in the way of burning up our tax dollars in the most useless fashion humanly possible.

And no doubt now that when elected, McCain is going for the big one, viz. Iran is being remodelled at the RNC as this year's source of all uber-evil:

The first attack occurred in Iran. Four hundred and forty four days. America held hostage. Then again and again at our embassies, our Navy. They grew ever more bold. Their call was "on those who believe in God and hopes for reward to obey God's command to kill Americans. And kill us they did. This time on American soil. The date was September 11, Nine Eleven.

McCain thinks it's armageddon time, Palin thinks it's 1858, like Darwin never happened and creationism can make 2 + 2 = 5.

Fuck them all.

Posted by: Dismal Science | Sep 5 2008 12:55 utc | 1

Is is possible to tell if an M-85 submuntion came from intentional release: ie as a MLRS strike, or if it came from a Russian attack on a MLRS launcher or ammo dump? I'm thinking release of control surfaces, wings, that kind of stuff....

Thanks for covering this!

Posted by: FkD | Sep 5 2008 12:59 utc | 2

@FkD - Is is possible to tell if an M-85 submuntion came from intentional release: ie as a MLRS strike, or if it came from a Russian attack on a MLRS launcher or ammo dump? I'm thinking release of control surfaces, wings, that kind of stuff....

The pictures shown by HRW are consistent with an intentional release. The submunition is undamaged and shows no outer sign of an exterior explosion. The debris of the rocket shows that the fins were extended as they should be when launched from the tube. There are also no outer burn marks etc. visible that point to an outer explosion.

In my opinion (with an engineering background and some military experience) it is unlikely that the submunition as well as the rocket debris would have reached the documented end-state in the case of an exploding launcher vehicle or missile depot.

Posted by: b | Sep 5 2008 13:11 utc | 3

Please see also Helena Cobban's postings on the HRW issue:
HRW's flawed 'Research' on Georgian cluster bombs and
HRW revising its Russian cluster bomb accusations

Posted by: b | Sep 5 2008 13:18 utc | 4

Along these lines, in other words, similarly related...

Biden rejects pursuing Bush in courts

Biden denies report: 'No one's talking about pursuing Bush criminally'

David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Thursday September 4, 2008

The possibility that Barack Obama might seek to bring criminal charges against President Bush or members of his administration has been a recurring theme during the presidential campaign, especially since the Obama campaign has attempted to stress themes of bipartisanship. For that reason, Democrats have been quick to downplay any hints of possible criminal prosecutions.

Sen. Joe Biden aroused fresh speculations on Wednesday, when he suggested, "If there has been a basis upon which you can pursue someone for a criminal violation, they will be pursued, not out of vengeance, not out of retribution, out of the need to preserve the notion that no one, no attorney general, no president -- no one is above the law."

Brian Kilmeade of Fox & Friends raised that issue with Biden on Thursday morning, asking about "a report that if you guys are elected ... you're actually going to pursue criminal charges against President Bush's administration and different people that served there."

"That's not true," Biden immediately replied. "I don't know where that report's coming from. What is true is the United States Congress is trying to preserve records on questions that relate to whether or not the law has been violated by anyone. Anybody should be doing that."

Biden emphasized that "no one's talking about President Bush. ... I've never heard anybody mention President Bush in that context." He noted that "there's been an awful lot of unsavory stuff that's gone on ... but I have no evidence of any of that. No one's talking about pursuing President Bush criminally."

Biden concluded his comments by explaining that possible misdeeds are
"being looked into now, just so it never happens again in any other administration. ... The Obama-Biden administration is not going to start off saying, 'God, let's go take a look at what this --.' The American people want to know what we're going to do, not what happened."

Biden was also lavish in his praise for Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night, saying, "The governor was impressive. She was strong, she was tough, and she delivered that speech extremely well. ... I think it's going to be a tough debate. I think she's going to be an incredibly skillful debater. I was impressed."

"I'm not going to attack her," Biden emphasized. "You look at that family that she brought out last night. It was a beautiful family. ... Every family has difficulty as they're raising their children. ... I think she has a fine family."

Asked if some of the criticism aimed at Palin has been sexist, Biden said, "Yes, by you guys in the media." He then went on to insist that it "is sexist to imply a woman is incapable of being a mother and being a great leader."

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Sep 5 2008 13:53 utc | 5

Georgians having a little fun in Tskhinvali. Shooting civilian homes

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Sep 5 2008 14:22 utc | 6

HRW is a tricky kettle of fish for the "left" or "progessive" person because on one hand yes they are composed of people who by and large really DO care about human rights.

On the other hand, HRW is essentially the "left" version of the neocon/PNAC way of doing things - i.e. it's the Clinton slash "bomb Serbia" form of imperialism where the "good Americans know best" for what the rest of the world should do.

A little outdated (from 2004) but a good introduction is here of some of the history and bias of HRW.

There are several well-sourced criticisms of HRW's bias all over the web as well including this one about Venezuela and this one about Israel/Palestine.


Posted by: Soj | Sep 6 2008 6:26 utc | 7


Posted by: zIM zAm | Sep 6 2008 6:39 utc | 8

Truth about South Ossetia Wars

Truth about South Ossetia Wars

Fox News: 12 Year Old Girl Tells the Truth about war Georgia
Sorry Video Censorship For the Americans
The answer Condoleeza Rice - Video
Truth about South Ossetia War
Saakashvili's crimes in S. Ossetia
As made a video in Gori Georgia
Saakashvili Dog of Bush
And more truth ......

Posted by: Sergu | Sep 6 2008 10:59 utc | 9

HRW is primarily funded by George Soros, who is also the chief architect and money bags behind the various "color revolutions" in the former Russian provinces. Soros is also virulently anti Russian.

HRW is fundamentally under the thumb of those, like Soros, who pay its bills. To consider it unbiased is a great mistake. It isn't and hasn't been since it made the decision to get on the Soros gravy train without realizing the strings that would be attached to such a decision.

Posted by: John D. | Sep 7 2008 23:59 utc | 10

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