American citizen Furkan Dogan was killed by Israeli forces as they raided the Mavi Marmara ship on May 31, 2010. (Photo via Associated Press)
In May 2010, 18-year-old American citizen Furkan Dogan was shot at point-blank range by Israeli naval commandos as he was standing on the deck of a ship and filming the violent raid on the flotilla to Gaza. It took three days for the U.S. to contact his family–and that was after the U.S. made repeated inquiries to the government of Israel for information about his death.
That information was recently revealed by the Center for Constitutional Rights after obtaining documents that have now been published as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests to the U.S. government. The documents reveal new details on the U.S. government’s actions in the aftermath of the flotilla.
In the immediate aftermath of the flotilla raid, Ahmet Dogan, the father of Furkan, desperately called U.S. officials to inquire about the whereabouts of his son, who was a passenger on the flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza. Ahmet did not know where his son was, but was extremely worried after he saw news reports stating that the Israeli military had violently raided the ship in international waters and killed 9 passengers in the early morning hours of May 31, 2010. On June 3, 2010, Ahmet Dogan identified his son’s body as being amongst the dead after he saw his son’s body riddled with bullets in Turkey.
That same day, e-mail messages between U.S. officials in Istanbul and Washington concerning the death of Furkan Dogan were being sent back and forth. One morning message from Richard Appleton, the U.S. Consul General in Ankara, Turkey, confirms that by then the U.S. government knew about the death of Furkan. “Here is what we know,” wrote Appleton in an e-mail. “Turkish-American Furkan DOGAN DOB 20OCT91 was one of the killed in the Gaza Flotilla event.” In a separate e-mail sent in the afternoon of that day, Appleton wrote that “his family had been calling at least twice a day for several days…Before we contact we are going to get confirmation thru [the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs].”
Appleton and other U.S. officials repeatedly said they would speak with Ahmet Dogan only after talking to the Israeli government. (After the Israeli government failed to give details to the U.S. about the death of Dogan, Appleton finally decided to contact Ahmet Dogan.)
The e-mails are a telling snapshot of the larger story of how the U.S. government abandoned one of its own citizens who was killed by the Israeli military and deferred to Israel. And just as the U.S. failed to pressure Israel over the death of Furkan Dogan, they failed to pressure Israel over the returning of property, like electronic equipment, to American citizens who had also taken part in the flotilla. While this narrative is by now well-known, the documents show conclusively how the U.S. treats its citizens who challenge the Israeli government’s rule over Palestinians.
The e-mails from Appleton and other U.S. government documents were published by the CCR, which has been working with the Dogan family and other American citizens to try and obtain accountability for Israeli human rights violations committed in the course of the takeover of the Mavi Marmara. Other revelations include the fact that Federal Bureau of Investigation counter-terrorism squads had conducted research on 561 individuals involved with the flotilla, though the details of the FBI investigation are largely redacted.
“The documents related to Furkan reveal that the U.S. has an unquestioning deference to the government of Israel, even when the life of an American teenager is at stake,” Jessica Lee, a lawyer working with the CCR on the aftermath of the flotilla, told Mondoweiss. “Despite this barbaric murder…the U.S. declined to investigate and deferred to Israel.” Though Ahmet Dogan repeatedly demanded a U.S. investigation into his son’s killing–and at one point wondered whether the U.S. didn’t care about Furkan because he was a Muslim–the U.S. has refused to do so.
Another telling episode revealed by the documents was a February 23, 2011 meeting in Washington between Ahmet Dogan and James Pettit, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Overseas Citizens Services. Months earlier, the documents show, the State Department said that the Israeli government had “not yet provided detailed information” on Furkan Dogan’s death. But at the 2011 meeting, Pettit told Dogan that the U.S. would not conduct an investigation into Furkan’s death and was waiting for the UN Secretary General’s report on the flotilla incident. Pettit told Dogan that “as a rule” the U.S. does not conduct investigations into the deaths of citizens overseas, though State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said in June 2010 that “we have the option of evaluating the circumstances and if we think a crime has been committed, then working with the host government we have the option of our own investigation.”
At the meeting with Pettit, Dogan brought up the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) report (pdf) on the flotilla raid which said that Furkan Dogan was killed in a “summary execution.” The report states:
Furkan Doğan, a 19-year-old with dual Turkish and United States citizenship, was on the central area of the top deck filming with a small video camera when he was first hit with live fire. It appears that he was lying on the deck in a conscious, or semi-conscious, state for some time. In total Furkan received five bullet wounds, to the face, head, back thorax, left leg and foot. All of the entry wounds were on the back of his body, except for the face wound which entered to the right of his nose. According to forensic analysis, tattooing around the wound in his face indicates that the shot was delivered at point blank range.
The Turkish government’s investigation told a similar story. The UN HRC report also said that, while activists involved with the Turkish organization IHH prepared to defend the ship from a takeover by Israeli forces and did so with makeshift weapons, the commandos had fired from helicopters before landing on the Mavi Marmara. The report concludes that “much of the force used by the Israeli soldiers on board the Mavi Marmara and from the helicopters was unnecessary, disproportionate, excessive and inappropriate and resulted in the wholly avoidable killing and maiming of a large number of civilian passengers.”
But Pettit dismissed the UN report as “rushed.”
Still, no U.S. investigation was launched even after the UN Secretary General-backed Palmer Report stated that “Furkan Doğan, was shot at extremely close range. Mr. Doğan sustained wounds to the face, back of the skull, back and left leg. That suggests he may already have been lying wounded when the fatal shot was delivered, as suggested by witness accounts to that effect.”
The U.S. government’s insistence that the Israeli government was up to the task of the investigation came despite past U.S. disapproval of how the investigation into Rachel Corrie’s death was carried out. Corrie, an American, was run over by an Israeli military bulldozer in Gaza as she was trying to protect a Palestinian home from being demolished. In 2004, a year after Corrie’s death, “Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, wrote that Israel had not fulfilled its promises of a thorough, credible and transparent investigation,” according to the Washington Post.
The deference to Israel “happened with Rachel Corrie. This happened with Furkan Dogan. And unfortunately from what we’re seeing, this might happen again, because the U.S. is not taking the safety of its citizens seriously,” said the CCR’s Lee.
The U.S. trust in the Israeli investigation (the Turkel Commission) into the flotilla incident, which said that Furkan Dogan wanted to be a martyr based on a Turkish media report, also came despite early indications that Israel may have been trying to hide something. (Asked by Haaretz about the media report that Furkan wanted to be a martyr based on a diary entry Furkan wrote, Ahmet Dogan said: “As far as I know, his last entry was written that night, when it was feared that something bad was about to happen. Under normal circumstances, he never would have written anything like that. If my son had planned to become a martyr, he would not have gone out of his way to ask me to submit his university application forms in the event that he got held up in Gaza. He had big plans, he was very ambitious. You think he all of a sudden forgot about all of his plans for the future and decided to die?”)
U.S. government documents show that the day after the flotilla raid, a consular official named Eve Zuckerman trained in the identification of remains visited the morgue in Israel where the victims were taken.
A CCR analysis of the flotilla documents states that “instead of viewing the bodies of the deceased passengers, she was shown what she was told were photos of nine men killed during the attack, which were frontal photos from the shoulders up. None of photos of the deceased showed evidence of bullet wounds, damage, or distortion, except for bruises and hematomas.” After returning to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Zuckerman was shown a photo of Furkan Dogan, but said that she did not see anybody that looked like him at the morgue in Israel.
“It seems that Israel was hiding the fact that he was killed,” said Lee.
Lee insists that the U.S. could have done more to demand adequate Israeli action on Furkan’s death, even if the U.S. did not want to launch its own investigation. “We don’t see a lot of high-level pressure to ensure that this [Israeli] investigation was carried out in an appropriate and non-biased manner,” said Lee.
Part I of the Israeli investigation into the flotilla concluded that the Israeli naval forces had the right under international law to raid the ship and that Israeli forces used appropriate force and that the activists on board the ship had engaged in violence against the Israeli commandos. But Human Rights Watch, and other human rights organizations, cast doubt on the credibility of the internal Israeli investigation. Amnesty International said that the report “certainly appears like a ‘whitewash’, with the Israeli authorities exonerated of wrongdoing although their actions left nine people dead.”
In addition to documents relating to Furkan Dogan’s death, the CCR published additional documents related to the electronic equipment taken from American passengers on the flotilla. While U.S. officials repeatedly inquired about the status of the electronic property and expressed frustration at the Israeli response, there was no high-level pressure to ensure that it was returned.
The electronic property held by Israel included the video camera Furkan Dogan was holding on the ship, which may contain evidence as to what transpired on the Mavi Marmara. A CCR analysis concludes: “As of February 2013, property belonging to the U.S. passengers aboard the 2010 Gaza flotilla remains missing, presumably within Israeli custody.”
Lee said: “It’s very troubling that the United States wasn’t able to get this property back.”