By Caleb Newton
Eyewitness testimony relies on one single and highly vulnerable variable: the witness. The eyewitness is a person, and the assumption that persons operate according to no force other than the truth is highly questionable. The proposition follows the International Relations (IR) theory of Liberalism, that is, that the person is the primary actor in the world system (unlike Realism and Constructivism that look at states and social forces as primary actors). As such, operating under the single assumption that a person operates independently is an ideological rather than an empirical method of analysis. A more stable and less ideological method of analysis involves looking at a situation to see which theory may apply.
With that in mind, even the casual observer of the often extremely biased world media can find social forces, and other entities, that could work on the witnesses in question to make possible weapons at UN Schools “disappear.” Hamas has been cited by the Global Community for numerous public executions in connection to the summer war, designed to strike fear into the population and prevent dissent. The force of Hamas and its Islamism, in the Gaza Strip, is overwhelming on the inhabitants. Their entire existence, geopolitically and socially, revolves around intrapersonal trust that denies the legitimacy of much of the outside world. They are a tightly knit totalitarian society, and their belief against the world order could have led to yet another correlate force: blatant lying because of distrust and perhaps outright fear of the United Nations. Certainly the Board and its Representatives identified themselves to the witnesses as from the United Nations - a method sure to skew the results.
More scientifically speaking, in the 1950s, Psychologist Solomon Asch studied the way that people’s truth-telling was influenced by the truthfulness of their group. In short, he found that an overwhelming majority of experimental group participants, around 75%, told the obviously wrong answer to a question when their colleagues told the wrong answer. Imagine then how the answers of one small group of participants in the UN Inquiry may have affected the answer of around 75% of other participants if, affected by forces like fear, they gave the wrong answer - assuming that they were not separated for extended periods of time. Even more remarkable research comes from Elizabeth Loftus, who documented the remarkable flexibility of the memories of eyewitnesses to an event. Through mechanisms like subtle reinforcement of answers and “the power of suggestion,” she was able to document a large portion of participants acquiring totally imaginary memories of an event while believing that their memories were in fact true.
In conclusion, according to all of the research presented herein, the UN Gaza Report operates on dangerously flawed logic. Such reliance on eyewitnesses has been documented in the United States Justice System to have had extensively damaging results: according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School, in some categories as high as 80% of the United States convictions reversed since 1989 were due to witness errors. Such dangerous practices as relying on witnesses should certainly not be applied to de facto convictions of entire peoples. The UN Gaza Report operates on dangerous assumptions; therefore, it should not be trusted.
(Caleb R. Newton is a Global Affairs Analyst who has joined the Dissecting Society Team)
[The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dissecting Society]