GORDON: Human Rights NGOs Deserve Scrutiny Over Afghanistan Nightmare

Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

J. D. Gordon Former Pentagon Spokesman, George W. Bush Administration
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Americans are demanding accountability from four presidential administrations over the war in Afghanistan — especially the current one for such a disastrous withdrawal. Yet other key players who worsened dysfunction and added to suffering have escaped scrutiny. This ought to change.

In 2019, the human rights global market was reportedly worth about $16 billion per year. Major non-governmental organizations (NGOs) fundraised for two decades to help free captured terror suspects from U.S. custody. However, now that the Taliban has re-conquered Afghanistan and is reportedly going door to door hunting U.S. collaborators, killing women without a burqa, executing a comedian for jokes and folk singer for songs etc., they now fundraise against them.

During my four years as a Pentagon spokesman, I witnessed human rights NGOs act in bad faith towards the U.S. and allies over Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo.  The reverse was true with international governmental organizations (IGOs) like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which generally preferred constructive criticism over hyperbole.

The War on Terror, launched after the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on U.S. soil, had its flaws, of course. However, considering close to 3 million American service members deployed to fight shadowy enemies in combat zones worldwide, myself included, there were extraordinarily few instances where our troops failed us on human rights. Such incidents were thoroughly investigated, and when applicable, vigorously prosecuted and individuals severely punished — even when circumstances remain murky in the fog of war.

Yet top NGOs continuously hyped horror stories about the U.S. military anyway — ad nauseam tales of the same isolated incidents at places like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram.

This is despite DoD internal investigations which showed statistically few detainees faced abusive and degrading treatment. Shocking imagery of nude, hooded Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib in 2004 was horrendous, yet an anomaly perpetrated by a young, poorly trained prison guard force “freelancing” on the night shift. An Afghan driver named Dilawar died in 2002 from an interrogation gone terribly wrong at Bagram. His story depicted in “Taxi to the Dark Side” won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary Film.

Three detainees — 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and two other al-Qaida leaders were waterboarded by the CIA during interrogations to prevent another 9/11-style attack, not unlike what our troops underwent during survival training. Yet watching NGOs and surrogates on television, you’d think thousands of innocent people were subjected to it arbitrarily.

Despite few instances of actual abuse by our forces, far left NGOs advanced a Taliban talking point that it was the Americans carrying out terror and torture.

There’s a similar playbook at work today with nationwide calls from Democrats to defund the police. It’s based on relatively rare incidents when enforcing the law takes a deadly turn with unarmed civilians. It’s so uncommon, those killed become household names like George Floyd, Michael Brown and Breonna Taylor.

Since NGOs couldn’t realistically defund the U.S. military, they advocated for freeing terror suspects instead. Even though about 1/3 of detainees released from Guantanamo are confirmed or suspected of returning to terrorism according to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), in 2014 NGOs pushed the Obama administration to free five top Taliban leaders in exchange for an Army deserter named Bowe Bergdahl. That list included two former governors, a deputy defense minister and deputy intelligence minister — the worst prisoner exchange in history.

The surreal plot twist from anti-U.S. to anti-Taliban activism by NGOs is best described in their own words:

Amnesty International, 2005: “Guantánamo is the ‘gulag of our time’”

Amnesty International, 2021“Afghanistan: Taliban responsible for brutal massacre of Hazara men — new investigation”

Human Rights Watch, 2005: “U.S. operated secret ‘Dark Prison’ in Kabul”

Human Rights Watch, 2021: “The fragility of women’s rights in Afghanistan”

Human Rights First, 2015: “Guantanamo and Torture: The Deterioration of American Ideals”

Human Rights First, 2021: “Steps to Protect Your Online Identity from the Taliban”

Maybe they don’t believe in cause and effect. Or maybe it’s just one big grift. How can they be held accountable? Since the federal government hasn’t done much, state and local authorities can and should step in — not unlike their recent challenges to Big Tech.

Some NGO fundraising seems dubious and could be investigated for defrauding donors in 50 states. How can they claim to help Afghans on human rights when ex-Gitmo detainee Adbul Qayyum Zakir, a man they arguably helped to free, is now Afghanistan’s Acting Defense Minister? Public charities have been prosecuted by DOJ for less. Families of those killed by war-zone refugees in places like in Boulder, Boston, Chattanooga, Orlando and San Bernardino could conceivably seek damages from NGOs in civil courts if their resettlements have proven links.

So while the past 20 years of destructive behavior by several major NGOs hasn’t been seriously challenged, that doesn’t mean we should tolerate it moving forward.

J.D. Gordon is a former National Security & Foreign Policy Advisor to Republican leaders Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee and Herman Cain.  Previously, he served as a Pentagon spokesman during the George W. Bush Administration and is a retired Navy Commander.