Farah Stockman at the Boston Globe:
For the past five years, researchers in a modest office overlooking the New Haven green have carefully documented cases of assassination and torture of democracy activists in Iran. With more than $3 million in grants from the US State Department, they have pored over thousands of documents and Persian-language press reports and interviewed scores of witnesses and survivors to build dossiers on those they say are Iran’s most infamous human-rights abusers.
But just as the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center was ramping up to investigate abuses of protesters after this summer’s disputed presidential election, the group received word that – for the first time since it was formed – its federal funding request had been denied.
“If there is one time that I expected to get funding, this was it,’’ said Rene Redman, the group’s executive director, who had asked for $2.7 million in funding for the next two years. “I was sur prised, because the world was watching human rights violations right there on television.’’
Many see the sudden, unexplained cutoff of funding as a shift by the Obama administration away from high-profile democracy promotion in Iran, which had become a signature issue for President Bush. But the timing has alarmed some on Capitol Hill.
“The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center is at the forefront of pioneering and vitally important work,’’ said Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, in a statement yesterday. “It is disturbing that the State Department would cut off funding at precisely the moment when these brave investigations are needed most.’’
Michael Rubin at NRO:
I’ve got to say, even for the Obama administration, this is a real shocker.
The Clinton State Department has decided to cut off all funding for the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), which was compiling lists of protestors imprisoned in this summer’s unrest, as well as those who were killed in the crackdown.
IHRDC is what human-rights advocates should be: methodical, precise, and apolitical in their work. And yet, the Obama administration has, without explanation, cut off all federal funding to the group which has consistently fulfilled its mandate.
Anyone, across the political spectrum who has any interest in human rights in Iran keeps the IHRDC reports on their desks.
This is truly a breathtaking step. Obama has signaled that he doesn’t care at all about human-rights abuses, and that he in fact cares more about making the ruling mullahs happy than in how they treat the subjects of their oppression. After all, the mere documentation of abuses doesn’t constrain Obama’s policymaking choices; it merely informs them. He can choose any direction he wants, but one would expect an American President to make those choices on the basis of intelligence and research.
Instead, Obama has made it clear that those issues won’t even enter into his calculations, and will stop spending money on collecting that data. That will save us a few million dollars a year, but will cost us much, much more in credibility in the long run. It’s a setup for appeasement.
There are excellent reasons for not being seen to fund opposition groups inside Iran since American funding can only prejudice their cause. But this seems a rather different matter. Perhaps there’s an innocent explanation but if so it would be good to hear it. Because otherwise this looks shabby and, actually, terrible. Realism is fine but realism doesn’t have to be granite-hearted to the point it becomes embarrassed by talk of human rights and the careful documentation of such abuses.
Michael Crowley at TNR