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The U.S. Must Answer: What Did it Know, and What Has it Done About the Attack On the Gaza Flotilla?

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More than four months ago, the Freedom Flotilla bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza and seeking to breach the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza was attacked by Israeli commands, leaving one U.S. citizen and eight other passengers dead. The passengers who survived the attack, including 15 Americans, were forcibly taken to Israel, detained and then deported.

Last week, a U.N. appointed fact-finding mission reported to the Human Rights Council that the attack on the civilian passenger ships was "unlawful" and that lethal force employed by the Israeli forces was "unnecessary, disproportionate, excessive and inappropriate." It labeled the killing of 19-year-old Furkhan Doğan, who was shot five times, including twice in the head and once in the back at point blank range while lying on the ground, as "an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution." The U.S. response? Criticism of the report, not the Israeli attack. And its response to the qualification of the killing of a U.S. citizen as a summary execution? Silence.

This week, thirteen U.S. passengers from the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and Ahmet Doğan, whose son Furkhan was killed during the Israeli attack, submitted an open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing their anger "at the lack of any visible, active effort on the part of any agency in our government to conduct and release an independent investigation of the killing of one and assaults on other Americans by a foreign military force, the Israeli commandos." In their letter, the U.S. passengers assert that "the State Department has allied itself with Israel, ignoring its responsibilities to its own citizens."

Ann Wright, the author of the letter, said, "As a former US diplomat, I am appalled at the protection that successive US administrations have given to the criminal acts of the State of Israel. As a passenger on the Gaza flotilla, I am outraged that my own government is relying on the Israeli "investigations" without doing its own investigation which would include formal statements from U.S. passengers on the flotilla."

The passengers demand to know what steps, if any, the U.S. has taken to investigate the death of Furkhan Doğan, who was born in upstate New York. Upon release of the letter, Furkhan's father said, "Up to this moment, I still do not understand why the United States government is deaf to what has been done to my son, an American citizen. I urge the U.S government to act to defend the rights of my son."

The U.S. passengers highlighted the findings of the UN Human Rights Council's fact-finding mission, which included that the blockade of Gaza is illegal and constitutes "collective punishment" of the people of Gaza, that the flotilla did not present an imminent threat and that the Israeli treatment of the passengers constituted "totally unnecessary and incredible violence [that] betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality." In Geneva last week, the U.S. delegation criticized the report in general terms but provided no examples to support its claims that the report contained "unbalanced language, tone and conclusions." Ahmet Doğan expressed his frustration with the U.S. response. "I would like to know why the US voted against the Gaza Flotilla Report of the UN Fact Finding Mission at the Human Rights Council last week, as that report included information about the execution of my son," he said.

The passengers also expressed anger that the United States has not pressed Israel to return the property that was seized from them. Of particular concern is the electronic equipment seized, including cameras, mobile phones and computers, which could contain evidence relevant to the attack -- if it has not already been destroyed. The passengers wrote, "[i]f the Israeli government insists that we pay for the eventual return of our property, we expect that the United States government will deduct the costs from the $3 billion given to it each year."

The Center for Constitutional Rights has sought to receive answers to some of the questions raised by the U.S. passengers through the filing of Freedom of Information Act requests to various U.S. agencies, including the Department of State. To date, no information has been released from the State Department.

We all must continue our efforts to get answers from the U.S. government about what its role in, or knowledge of the attack on the flotilla, and what it has done since the attack to protect and vindicate the rights of its citizens, including Furkhan Doğan, the other passengers on the flotilla, and the people of Gaza who continue to suffer under the illegal Israeli blockade.

To read the letter sent by the U.S. passengers and Ahmet Doğan to Secretary of State Clinton and for more information on the Center for Constitutional Rights response to the attack on the Gaza flotilla, go to: CCRJustice.org/gaza-flotilla.