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Paper Tiger: State Dept. Speech Texts Include Tough Talk, but Speeches Didn't

The Obama administration has fallen into an unfortunate habit in its desperation to burnish strong foreign policy credentials: claiming its representatives have made robust statements to an international audience, when they have not.

On June 18, the State Department posted what was alleged to be a hard-nosed speech delivered by UN Human Rights Council Ambassador Eileen Donahoe in Geneva at the opening of the Council’s latest session. Here is what the State Department claims Obama’s ambassador said:

The United States demands an end to the Assad regime’s outrageous crimes against the people of Syria. Those who committed these atrocities must be identified and held accountable.

She did not include this. Here is another passage from the posting that Donahoe did not actually speak:

Some believe that the Human Rights Council should not address country-specific situations. We disagree. The credibility of the UN’s human rights machinery depends on its capacity to address urgent and persistent human rights situations where and when they emerge; to make a difference in the lives of the people who suffer under oppressive governments; and to protect those around the world who work to advance the cause of human rights.

This isn’t the first time the speech record has been doctored. In September 2010, two months after a series of systematic mass rapes began in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an informal meeting on the subject was held during a Human Rights Council session lunch break. Deliberately, it was not a meeting of the Council itself: there was no advertisement in the UN bulletin, no webcast, no recording service, and no UN press release on the event. Yet the U.S. mission to Geneva issued a press release with the title: “United States Welcomes Engagement by Human Rights Council on Abuses in DRC.”

The press release included a large file photo of a full meeting in the Council chamber -- the “informal dialogue” had purposely not been scheduled in that chamber. The press release also quoted Ambassador Donahoe as saying:

Today’s meeting demonstrated that the Council can react to events in real time.

A few days later, Donahoe wrapped up the Council session with praise:

I also recognize the forward movement made on other important human-rights issues this session. … I welcome the council’s engagement on the issue of the mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This showed the council’s ability to react to real events in real time and to contribute its voice to this important issue.

Not only is two months later not “real time,” but the Council itself had not reacted at all.

In September 2010, the U.S. UN mission to Geneva gave UN officials a copy of a Donahoe speech to the Human Rights Council. The speech, posted on the UN website, contained a spirited defense of Israel. At the time, Israel was under attack for having prevented Turkish-backed thugs from breaking its lawful blockade of Hamas-run Gaza.

Donahoe did not deliver this passage:

In contrast to the unbalanced mechanisms adopted under this agenda item, Israel has been conducting its own process of credible investigations, and Israeli officials have been actively engaged in scrutinizing doctrinal issues. Israel has also established an independent public commission to examine the Israeli mechanism for investigating complaints and claims raised in relation to violations of the laws of armed conflict. This commission is headed by respected Israeli jurist Yaakov Turkel and includes two international observers: Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lord David Trimble and former Canadian Judge Advocate General Kenneth Watkin. This commission, along with the ongoing inquiries and changes in combat doctrine demonstrate Israel's ability to conduct credible investigations and serious self-scrutiny, and we urge this Council to consider these factors as it deliberates.

Another example: the Council continued its Turkish flotilla discussion in September 2010; the State Department website claims that Donahoe delivered a speech in which she said:

 We have received the lengthy report of the fact-finding mission. We are concerned by the report’s unbalanced language, tone and conclusions.

What she actually said:

On an initial reading, we are concerned by the report’s unbalanced language, tone and conclusions.

In June 2010, the State Department posted a speech supposedly delivered at the Human Rights Council on the subject of Iran by the Norwegian ambassador on behalf of a group of countries, including the United States. Yet after being interrupted by fourteen separate points of order and a two-hour suspension of the meeting, the ambassador carefully omitted the word “Iran” three times from the original written text:

We call on *the aforementioned government* to live up to the commitments it has undertaken … and to fulfill its obligations. … [We] wish to see an improvement in the human rights situation of individual people *in this country.*

Donahoe even acknowledged the walking back, telling Reuters:

[The statement] is intended as a show of solidarity with the human rights defenders, rather than a condemnation of the government.

The alleged tough rebuke of Iran still graces the Obama administration website.

Team Obama has given new meaning to the old directive, which they don’t bother to use: “Check Against Delivery.”