Monday, January 31, 2005

Sudan: An American Dilemma

A commission established by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to investigate the situation in Darfur has recommended referral of the Sudanese government to the International Criminal Court. The commission's report alleges that crimes against humanity have been committed by members of the Sudanese government and military. However, the report stops short of calling the crimes being alleged "genocide."

The Security Council is expected to discuss the report tomorrow.

The American dilemma is this: On September 9, 2004, former Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "genocide has been committed in Darfur." Rather than taking action itself, the United States Government urged the United Nations to act. The completion of the U.N. commission's investigation brings the U.N. to the point of acting, but the course being recommended is prosecution through the International Criminal Court. The Bush Administration has pledged total non-cooperation with the ICC. Consequently, the United States must either back down and support (at least tacitly) the use of the ICC to prosecute Sudanese officials or argue that something more (or at least different) needs to be done. The latter course will put pressure on the Bush Administration to take action itself against what Secretary Powell called "genocide." That is something the Bush Administration clearly wants to avoid.

The obvious--but absolutely cynical--solution would be for the United States to block the effort to refer the allegations to the International Criminal Court while simultaneously failing to offer an alternative. But that couldn't possibly happen . . . could it?

A Feminist on Human Rights

"Most people, no doubt, when they espouse human rights, make their own mental reservations about the proper application of the word 'human.'"

--Suzanne LaFollette (1893-1983)

Children and War

The impact of modern warfare on children is staggering. During the 1990s, as a consequence of war,

  • approximately 2,000,000 children were killed;
  • over 4,000,000 children were disabled;
  • over 10,000,000 children were psychologically traumatized;
  • over 1,000,000 children were orphaned;
  • approximately 20,000,000 children were displaced; and
  • 300,000 children were forced to serve armies as soldiers, spies, sex slaves, and more.

On May 25, 2000, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to outlaw military recruitment and the employment in combat of those under eighteen. The Optional Protocol entered into force on 12 February 2002.

Although the United States has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is a signatory and thus is eligible to be a party to the Optional Protocol. In fact, the U.S. ratified the Optional Protocol on 23 December 2002.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Amitai Etzioni on Collective Guilt

Amitai Etzioni offers some thoughtful comments--from a communitarian perspective, of course--on the question of collective guilt for the Holocaust.

(Via Brad DeLong.)

"The Meal from Hell"

Reuters reports that a dinner Friday night at the World Economic Forum that was intended to promote dialogue between the U.S. and Iran was instead "the meal from hell." Wine was served, offending the Muslims present. Senator Joe Biden was over an hour late. The discussion went poorly. On the other hand, there were no deaths reported.

Democracy by the Numbers

Last year, 1.1 billion votes were cast in legislative or presidential elections in the world's 119 democracies. This and a number of other interesting statistics are provided by a brief feature in today's Los Angeles Times.

Voting in Iraq

In spite of widespread violence, voter turnout in Iraq appears to have been between 55 and 60 percent of the eligible population. Some reports suggest that Shiites and Kurds voted in much higher proportions than Sunnis (a potential source of problems down the road), but the early evidence suggests that the election was far more successful than most observers had expected.

Iraq's election was to select representatives for a constitutional assembly. Another election is expected later this year to choose members of whatever legislative body is created by the constitutional assembly.

If democracy does in fact take root in Iraq, we will be a bit closer to seeing whether the Bush Administration has other motives for the American military presence there.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Geography Lessons

"War is God's way of teaching Americans geography."

--Ambrose Bierce

Friday, January 28, 2005

New Life for the ICTY

Following discussions with Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of Serbia, retired Serbian General Vladimir Lazarevic has agreed to turn himself over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to face war crimes charges stemming from the conflict in Kosovo in 1999. Lazarevic was one of four Serbian generals indicted in 2003.

One Australian Released

After three years and four months in custody, Mamdouh Habib was released from Guantánamo and returned to Australia today. Habib trained at al Qaeda bases prior to 9/11, but he appears to have provided no useful information to interrogators in spite of a trip from Guantánamo to Egypt for the purpose of torture.

The United States never charged Habib with a crime. According to this story by Raymond Bonner in tomorrow's New York Times, the Australian government began to press for Habib's release when it became clear that the United States had no intention of charging him with a crime. (Australians apparently think it's wrong to keep a suspect in prison without ever filing charges.)

There are 545 detainees remaining in Guantánamo (including one other Australian citizen). Sixty-two other Guantánamo detainees have been released into the custody of their governments with the largest group of those (29) going to Pakistan. Another 146 detainees were directly released from Guantánamo according to the Department of Defense.

The Nader Factor

Jay Leno: "Osama bin Laden has released yet another audiotape saying that any Iraqi voting in the January election will be considered an infidel and will be punished by God, and he also urged people not to waste their vote on Ralph Nader."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

"Irascible" or "Shrill"?

Margaret Carlson comments in today's Los Angeles Times (here via Common Dreams) on the Boxer-Rice confrontation in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week and asks whether a man would have been criticized on grounds of style the way Boxer was.

Condoleezza Rice was, of course, confirmed by the Senate this week on an 85-13 vote. Not since 1825 have so many senators voted against a nominee to the office of secretary of state.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A Party-Line Vote

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 to approve the nomination of Judge Alberto Gonzales to be Attorney General of the United States. All eight Democrats on the panel voted against the nomination due to concerns over the role Judge Gonzales played as Counsel to the President in developing and defending the administration's policy on torture. Several Democratic senators noted that Judge Gonzales had failed to condemn unequivocally forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment being practiced by the CIA and the military.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who had not announced a position on the nomination prior to the Committee vote, joined the seven other Democrats on the Committee in voting against the nomination. In a statement explaining her vote, Sen. Feinstein said,

Instead of taking the hearing as an opportunity to start an open and honest dialogue, [Judge Gonzales] tried to stonewall. Instead of condemning brutal interrogation techniques, like forced nudity and simulated drownings, he wrote to me that he “was not in a position to judge” whether they are “appropriate.” I believe confirming this nomination would send the wrong message to the world.

Anyone who watched the nomination hearings got the sense that our law and policy on interrogations is muddled at best. This is why I believe that this Committee should examine laws concerning interrogations, military detainees, and how we conduct ourselves in wartime and will be seeking hearings on the issue.

"I believe confirming this nomination would send the wrong message to the world." Sen. Feinstein is exactly right about that. (She's also right about the need for hearings on the legal underpinnings of the administration's "war on terror.")

If This Is a Man

Roughly 1.5 million men, women, and children died at Auschwitz; somewhere between seven and ten thousand were alive in the camp when the Red Army liberated it on January 27, 1945. One of those who survived, thanks to his training as a chemist and his utility to his captors, was an Italian Jew named Primo Levi. After making his way home to Turin, Levi began to write about his experiences. Over time, he became one of Italy's most celebrated poets and novelists.

The following poem--"If This Is a Man"--is perhaps Levi's most profound and anguished literary response to his experience of the Holocaust. It challenges the reader--or the hearer--to acknowledge the comfort of her circumstances and then to consider whether another in radically different circumstances can even be considered a man or a woman. It poses a problem--in a form that is at one and the same time both historical ("reflect on the fact that this has happened") and yet almost unimaginable--that forces us to think about the nature of our common humanity. It forces us to acknowledge the necessity of empathy while also confronting the limits of our capacity to empathize. It is, in short, a poem that challenges us to think seriously about our commitment to humanity. And then, in the end, with language based on the shema (see Deuteronomy 6), it challenges us to remember.

Here, then, is my translation from the Italian of Primo Levi's "If This Is a Man":

You who live safe
In your warm houses;
You who find on returning in the evening
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a bit of bread
Who dies because of a yes and because of a no

Consider if this is a woman,
Without hair and without name
Without enough strength to remember
Vacant eyes and cold womb
Like a frog in the winter:

Reflect on the fact that this has happened:
These words I commend to you:
Inscribe them on your heart
When staying at home and going out,

Going to bed and rising up;
Repeat them to your children:
Or may your house fall down,
Illness bar your way,
Your loved ones turn away from you.

Tomorrow evening at 7:30 in CCB 140, I will give a brief talk about Primo Levi, this poem, and the challenges it poses to our ideas about humanity. All are welcome.

Auschwitz Sixty Years Later

Tomorrow marks the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Army near the end of World War II. To commemorate the event, a large number of Auschwitz survivors and current world leaders will convene at the camp--the most notorious of the Nazi death camps--for a memorial ceremony. Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel (an Auschwitz survivor) is scheduled to speak.

Representing the United States will be Vice President Dick Cheney and all of the living former presidents: Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter. Thirty heads of state--including the presidents of Israel, Germany, France, and Russia--will attend. Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's newly inaugurated president, will also be present. His father was imprisoned at Auschwitz during World War II.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, referring to the dwindling numbers of Holocaust survivors, said yesterday at the United Nations that "we are on the brink of that moment when this terrible event will change--from memory to history."

The Guardian (London) provides a number of excellent stories on the Holocaust and current remembrances here. Included is an account by Yakov Vinnichenko, one of five surviving soldiers from the Soviet force that liberated Auschwitz, of the day the Red Army entered the camp.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Terrorism in Europe

Frontline, the PBS documentary series, aired a program tonight entitled "Al Qaeda's New Front" that examines the terrorist threat in Europe. KCET will rebroadcast the program on Sunday at 5:00 p.m. Beginning on Friday, the program will also be available in its entirety on-line here.

The program offers some important insights into the way the terrorist threat has evolved since 9/11, including a point noted here back in September. Increasingly, Islamic terrorists appear to be operating without central direction of any kind. Al Qaeda has become, primarily, an inspiration for an ever-expanding network of jihadi.

The web site associated with the program provides a great deal of helpful material, including a discussion of some of the differences between the U.S. and European approaches to terrorism. Consider this excerpt:

The United States approaches terrorism as a war and has detained nearly 600 men at Guantánamo with neither the rights of criminal suspects nor of prisoners of war. Unknown numbers of other detainees are held at U.S. bases around the world, and according to the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism , the war on terror will not return to the criminal domain until Al Qaeda has been reduced to an isolated, local, less lethal threat.

In Europe, by contrast, governments widely consider terrorism to be largely a law enforcement matter. Even when intelligence agencies like Britain's MI5 disrupt a terrorist cell, they are still required to treat detainees the way police treat suspects, so that detainee testimony remains valid in court.

This difference has added tension to a largely cooperative international relationship against terrorism. In several European cases, the difference between American interrogations of enemy combatants and European courtroom requirements could allow accused terrorists to go free.

Jonathan Winer, a top State Department antiterrorism official in the Clinton administration, faults both sides. "European concerns about civil liberties are incompatible with protecting people from terrorists," he said. "We need more sensitivity from civil liberties people that we're confronting very evil people. And we need more sensitivity from law enforcement that due process is needed. Extrajudicial processes are not the way to bring the rule of law to people threatened by terrorism."

Watch the program if you can, either on-line (after Friday) or when it repeats on the air on Sunday on KCET.

Rumsfeld's Prior Commitments

Two months ago (as I noted here), the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a criminal complaint with the German Federal Prosecutor's Office in Karlsruhe against U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and nine other American officials. The complaint alleged that the officials were responsible for war crimes that included the torture of four Iraqi citizens who had been held in American custody in Iraq.

Now Deutsche Welle reports that Secretary Rumsfeld, citing prior commitments, has decided not to attend the Munich Security Conference next month. It is possible that Rumsfeld fears the possibility of arrest if he goes to Germany. This, in fact, is the spin on the story as it is reported on the blog of the progressive American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. (The post is headlined "Rumsfeld Cancels Trip Out of Fear of Arrest.") It is more likely, however, that Rumsfeld's decision merely reflects his irritation that German authorities have not summarily dismissed the complaint.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, who is not named in the criminal complaint, is scheduled to attend in Rumsfeld's place. Horst Teltschik, the head of the conference, said that Rumsfeld's decision not to attend "will disappoint many people in Europe, because there is a real need for discussions about the Iran crisis." (That's not a typo. The Iraq crisis is yesterday's news.)

Monday, January 24, 2005

Making Money

Last night, during the intermission of the Los Angeles Master Chorale concert at Walt Disney Hall, I reached deep into the pocket of my coat and found a one-Euro coin. Today it's worth $1.30 at official exchange rates, compared to only $1.19 when I returned from Italy back in April. Needless to say, I wish all the pockets of all the clothes I brought with me from Italy were filled with foreign currency.

The dollars is taking a pounding and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Enormous budget and trade deficits are to blame. The current account deficit is accumulating at the rate of $600 billion per year. The budget deficit for FY 2004 was $412.3 billion.

For American exporters, the weak dollar is good news. It's not such good news, however, for me and my plan to return to Italy soon.

Excuse me for a moment while I go search all my pockets.

A Matter of Definition

Do Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales condone torture? No, not if we use their definition of torture. The problem, however, is that no one outside the Bush Administration believes their definition of torture is reasonable. Sonni Efron explains in yesterday's Los Angeles Times.

The Threat to Civil Aviation

Tomorrow the RAND Corporation will release a study that finds that although shoulder-fired missiles pose a serious threat to civil aviation in the United States, available counter-measures are prohibitively expensive. The study states, "Al Qaeda and its affiliates have both the motive and the means to bring down U.S. commercial aircraft with shoulder-fired missiles." Nonetheless, the $11 billion that RAND researchers believe would be necessary to equip civilian airliners with existing defenses against such missiles is almost three times what is currently being spent on transportation security by the government.

Last November, American intelligence officials revealed that there are an estimated 6,000 light anti-aircraft missiles in circulation outside the control of governments. Some of these are leftover Stinger missiles supplied by the United States to the mujahidin during the Afghan War of the 1980s. Steve Coll, in Ghost Wars, describes the CIA's failed effort to buy back unused Stingers shortly after the Taliban captured Kabul. Today, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles are thought to sell for approximately $5,000 on the black market.

As the Los Angeles Times noted back in December, LAX and other urban airports are virtually impossible to secure against the threat given the range of newer shoulder-fired missiles and the population density of the areas surrounding urban airports. The Department of Homeland Security has been looking at various means to address the threat, but progress has reportedly been slow. In fact, the Air Force initiated a secret program early in 2004 to develop defenses for civilian airliners because of its frustration with the pace of DHS efforts.

ESI Rankings

The United States ranks 45th in the world in the latest Environmental Sustainability Index. The report, produced by scholars at Yale and Columbia for the World Economic Forum, uses 75 measures of environmental sustainability, including water quality and the emission of greenhouse gases, in order to rank 146 of the world's states.

The top ten this year are:

  1. Finland
  2. Norway
  3. Uruguay
  4. Sweden
  5. Iceland
  6. Canada
  7. Switzerland
  8. Guyana
  9. Austria
  10. Argentina

Dead last this year among the 146 states surveyed? North Korea.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Tsunami Damage Assessment

A report prepared by the World Bank and the government of Indonesia estimates property damage in Aceh and North Sumatra at $4.4 billion. The report was presented recently at a conference in Kobe, Japan. Among the other findings (pertaining only to Indonesia):
  • 700,000 people left homeless;
  • 37 percent of the 110,229 people killed (the official figure as of January 14) were under 18; 13 percent were infants;
  • 40,457 children lost at least one parent;
  • 80,000 small businesses that had provided income to 140,000 people were destroyed.

The Guardian reports the story here.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Abu Ghraib: Blame Women in the Military

An organization in Livonia, Michigan called the Center for Military Readiness says that the Abu Ghraib scandal can be traced back to the pernicious practice of co-ed basic training in the Army. It appears (according to CMR) that co-ed basic training, "imposed on the Army in 1994," produces soldiers with less discipline. "The irreplaceable process of 'soldierization'--which transforms immature young people into disciplined soldiers--must compete with hours of 'sensitivity training.'" It gets worse. "Drill sergeants have to spend time keeping the boys and girls apart"--I am not making this up--"and distracted trainees fail to learn essential lessons about respect for legitimate authority and restraints on military power." Read it for yourself.

CMR is a non-profit organization that focuses on military personnel issues. It believes that "the armed forces should not be used for political purposes or social experiments that needlessly elevate risks, detract from readiness, or degrade American cultural values." (For the uninitiated, "social experiments" and "cultural values" are strong code words.) To be more specific, CMR opposes allowing gays in the military. (It called the admission of gays, some of whom were later dismissed, into the Defense Language Institute to study Arabic an "unconscionable waste of time and resources.") It also opposes equal opportunity for women in the military.

That there is an organization opposed to women in combat is understandable. Even feminists are divided on the issue (although feminists' reasons for opposing women in combat would ordinarily differ from those advanced by CMR). What is not reasonable is using the Abu Ghraib scandal in an effort to score points in an ongoing debate over the role of women in the military. It would be laughable if what happened at Abu Ghraib did not absolutely foreclose the possibility of laughter. Instead, it is simply absurd.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

What Is Wrong with Torture

Jonathan Schell is exactly right and well worth reading.

Why It Matters Who Interprets the Law

In a comment responding to my letter to Senator Boxer concerning the nomination of Judge Alberto Gonzales to be Attorney General of the United States, I was asked about my view of a recent piece in the National Review Online by Professor Douglas Kmiec of the Pepperdine School of Law. I had glanced at Professor Kmiec's essay yesterday; the comment prompted me to read it. While responding to everything that Professor Kmiec writes would be a full-time job (even as professors--and lawyers--go, he is, shall we say, prolix), and not a job that I would want, it seems worth it to address his comments on torture. Professor Kmiec demonstrates what I think is wrong with the defense of the Bush Administration's "war on terror" and, especially, the treatment of detainees in the "war on terror." Conservatives ought to be concerned about the accumulation of unchecked power in the hands of the executive like that which has occurred since the beginning of the "war on terror." Conservative law professors ought to be concerned about imaginative interpretations of law designed to support pre-ordained policy positions. Professor Kmiec's loyalty to the President seems to be more important than his conservative principles. And so, like many conservatives today, he condones loose interpretations of law that lead to unprincipled behavior, which he then calls "inexcusable."

If you're interested in Professor Kmiec's views on torture, go read this. Then, if you're interested in my response, come back here and read on.

Let's begin with the trial of Specialist Charles Graner, about which I've written several times recently (here, here, and here). Professor Kmiec writes that the court martial "established gross and indecent abuse for sport, unrelated to the acquisition of intelligence." True, but it also established–even through the testimony of prosecution witnesses–that there was abuse of detainees that was most definitely related to the acquisition of intelligence (or at least to attempts to acquire intelligence from detainees who likely had no useful information to offer). Guards were encouraged to "soften up" detainees for interrogators. They were also complimented by their superiors for some, if not all, of the abuse they perpetrated. Not surprisingly, we learned shortly after the Graner court martial that some of the officers involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal may also face charges.

Was Graner a bad apple? Most definitely. Published accounts of the court martial suggest that the jury at Fort Hood rightfully convicted him on charges stemming from the abuse of prisoners. Soldiers have a right–-an obligation, in fact–-to disobey unlawful orders and so his defense (that he was merely following orders) could not have been entirely exculpatory. But, sadly, the story doesn’t stop with Specialist Graner. Nor does it stop at Abu Ghraib. Or even at Guantanamo. This is where Professor Kmiec misses the point. Or rather it is one of the places where he misses the point. What numerous investigations, one of which Professor Kmiec refers to in his article, have made absolutely clear is that there has been a consistent pattern of abuse in the way the United States has treated detainees in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Afghanistan. It seems rather unlawyerly to be aware of a pattern and not to ask questions about the design that produced the pattern.

After calling what happened at Abu Ghraib "inexcusable, counterproductive, and well below the American character"--What, incidentally, is wrong with saying "well below the standards of international law" or even "well below the standards of human decency"? Is Professor Kmiec unable to concede even that much to the notion of international human rights?–-he suggests that we face a dilemma and that "necessity" may compel us to do some things that we might not ordinarily do. Here are his words: "And yet we have to come to grips with the necessity of subduing fanatical outlaws who show little respect for human life and seem well inured to any interrogation method that lacks some element of anxiety or fear."

Beware whenever "necessity" makes an appearance in a moral argument. It is a trump card and what it trumps is precisely whatever morality dictates. As Milton put it in Paradise Lost (bk. IV, l. 393),

And with necessity,
The tyrant’s plea, excused his devilish deeds.

There are in fact situations in which necessity is a legitimate plea, a plea available to those who are not tyrants. It is, however, a special plea and one that makes consequentialists of us. Is Professor Kmiec correct in suggesting that we face a situation in which the ends justify the means? The necessity, he writes, is to "subdu[e] fanatical outlaws who show little respect for human life and seem well inured to any interrogation method that lacks some element of anxiety or fear." (Beware, too, whenever euphemisms show up in a moral argument. By "any interrogation method that lacks some element of anxiety or fear," Professor Kmiec means "any interrogation without torture.") The argument is this: On the one hand, the abuse at Abu Ghraib was "well below the American character," but on the other hand we’re dealing with terrorists–-terrorists whom we may have no choice but to torture if we hope to "subdue" them.

Think for a moment about the logic of Professor Kmiec’s position. If "fanatical outlaws" (let’s call them "terrorists") are more inured to interrogation without torture than innocent people mistakenly transported from Afghanistan (or elsewhere) to Guantanamo, then terrorists are going to respond to interrogation much like innocent people who have absolutely no information to divulge. One can imagine the conversation between interrogators bound to such a view: "We’ve kept the detainee bound naked in a stress position for fourteen hours and he still won’t tell us anything about Al Qaeda’s plans." "Yeah. He’s definitely a hardened terrorist." It’s the same logic used by our less enlightened forebears to determine whether or not a woman was a witch. As Matthew Hopkins put it in a seventeenth-century treatise on witchcraft, witches could be inured to normal interrogation techniques. "Loathe they are to confess without torture. This in itself, witnesseth their guilt."

The moral problem might be mitigated if we could be sure that all of those who have been subjected to "harsh interrogations" (another euphemism) were in fact terrorists. (At least then a coherent argument about the ends justifying the means could be produced.) President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld have, at various times, assured us that all of those being held in Guantanamo are terrorists-–the worst of the worst, in fact. And yet, some of the Guantanamo detainees are being released in a tacit acknowledgment that not all of them belonged there in the first place.

Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul are two of the Guantanamo detainees who have been released. Both are British citizens, born and raised in Tipton. They made the mistake of being away from home (for Iqbal’s wedding) when 9/11 occurred. They were taken by an Afghan warlord soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, transferred into U.S. custody (probably in exchange for money or weapons), and then transported (bound, hooded, and forced to urinate on themselves) to Guantanamo on January 14, 2002. After what they estimate were over 200 interrogation sessions and a great deal of anxiety and fear, the United States Government determined that Iqbal and Rasul were not terrorists. In March 2004, they were returned to their homes.

Iqbal and Rasul were repatriated after they had confessed to an association with Al Qaeda. Their "confessions" were proved by British intelligence--MI5--to have been false as, in fact, many coerced confessions are.) Other detainees have similar stories. Some will never be able to tell those stories. (At least six detainees in Afghanistan have died in American custody.) There are three other British citizens who were released and repatriated along with Iqbal and Rasul.

It is worth noting (as I did here several months ago) that Lt. Col. Anthony Christino, a twenty-year veteran of military intelligence, has insisted that claims of useful intelligence coming from Gitmo interrogations are grossly exaggerated.

But what of Professor Kmiec’s arguments concerning the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questioning of Judge Gonzales last week? He characterizes much of the questioning–-the critical part, that is-–as "posturing." Judge Gonzales’s Senate critics were off base, Professor Kmiec suggests, in questioning him about a Justice Department memorandum he "requested but didn’t write on torture." How Judge Gonzales views the opinions expressed in that memorandum (that "physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death") seems to me to be a very important question to ask of someone nominated to be not just the President’s chief legal adviser but the Attorney General of the United States.

Professor Kmiec defends Judge Gonzales’s reading of the Geneva Conventions and their applicability to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. I agree that Judge Gonzales was correct in suggesting that members of Al Qaeda did not qualify for protection under the Geneva Conventions. He was wrong, however, with respect to the Taliban. Professor Kmiec applauds Judge Gonzales’s reliance on the authority of the President to decide legal questions that the President asks his legal counsel to assist with. (Judge Gonzales practically said in his legal analysis, "Whatever you say, boss," and for this Professor Kmiec commends him.) What Professor Kmiec does not do is defend Judge Gonzales’s analysis of the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to the Taliban. Instead, he says that President Bush made it a moot point on February 7, 2002 by deciding to apply Geneva to the Taliban, even though he was not legally obliged to do so. (But, of course, what we know about conditions in Guantanamo since that time indicate that the President didn’t really mean it. If Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applied to the Taliban as the President said it would, then Americans have been committing war crimes at Guantanamo.)

Toward the end of his essay, Professor Kmiec lauds Senator John Cornyn’s questioning. (Cornyn "turned to the substance of Gonzales’s legal thinking.") Cornyn’s brilliance was evident, Professor Kmiec seems to suggest, when he asked the witnesses critical of Judge Gonzales if "they agree[d] that all lawful means to gather intelligence likely to save American lives should be permitted." "They all answered affirmatively," Professor Kmiec notes. Gotcha! What Professor Kmiec fails to point out–-and this is the crux of the matter--is that "lawful" means something different to the Bush Administration than it did to witnesses who are experts in international law.

It matters a great deal who determines what is "lawful" in the United States. Judge Gonzales is on record having determined that, with respect to the "war on terror" at least, "lawful" is whatever the President wants it to be. And with respect to interrogations, Judge Gonzales permitted a very tortured definition of "torture" to stand as "lawful" for over two years. The confirmation of Judge Gonzales as Attorney General will send a very bad message to the world.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

MLK on Dissent

"A time comes when silence is betrayal. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought, within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world."

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

(Via Sojourners.)

Second Term

The JibJab guys have a new film on-line.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Casing Iran

There's a story in the New Yorker by Seymour Hersh that is currently creating a bit of a stir. It concerns U.S. preparations for a war against Iran. Kevin Drum offers a Cliffs Notes version (with a few comments) here. (Thanks to Ben Young for the tip and the link.)

Monday, January 17, 2005

The Role of the Siloviki

Today's New York Times has a fascinating story about the efforts of Ukrainian intelligence agencies to support the "Orange Revolution" and prevent Viktor Yanukovich from stealing the election. Senior intelligence officials (the siloviki) provided opposition candidate Viktor Yuschenko evidence of election fraud during the election and, on November 28, thwarted government plans to disperse demonstrators in Kiev in what might otherwise have become a crackdown comparable to the events in Beijing's Tienanmen Square in 1989.

Read C. J. Chivers' story here.

Sending the World a Message

17 January 2005

The Honorable Barbara Boxer
United States Senate
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Boxer:

I write on the day set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of our nation’s greatest advocates of human dignity for all, to urge you to act vigorously to help restore the respect for human rights that Dr. King did so much to promote. Soon after the Senate reconvenes on January 20, you will be asked to exercise your constitutional responsibility to give "Advice and Consent" to the nomination of Judge Alberto Gonzales to be Attorney General of the United States. I urge you to act on behalf of your constituents (and, indeed, the vast majority of Americans) who reject the repeated and persistent violations of human rights with which Judge Gonzales has been associated by voting against the nomination.

The Senate, I believe, should tell President Bush to defer the appointment of Judge Gonzales until there has been an independent investigation of the torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment that have occurred at the hands of Americans in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, Afghanistan, and other locations around the world. Only if such an investigation can establish that the August 1, 2002 memorandum that Judge Gonzales prepared for the President played no role in promoting the behavior that has shamed the United States should his nomination even be put to a vote.

Quite apart from the matter of the torture memorandum, there is much in Judge Gonzales’ record on the bench in Texas that should give us all pause. Nonetheless, his rise from poverty as the son of migrant workers is rightly praised as a great American success story. This and the symbolism of his status as the first Latino nominated to be Attorney General of the United States would ordinarily be a cause for celebration of our nation’s commitment to equality and support for the human dignity of all. Unfortunately, Judge Gonzales has come to represent, both in the United States and perhaps even more so overseas, American disregard for the human rights of our enemies and disdain for fundamental norms of international law. Judge Gonzales’ carefully rehearsed (but also frequently qualified) responses before the Senate Judiciary Committee to questions about torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment cannot undo the damage his previous efforts to find legal warrant for such activities has done to his own reputation and, more importantly, to the reputation of the United States.

I would remind you that the first question put to Judge Gonzales by the Judiciary Committee (by Senator Specter) was this: "Do you approve of torture?" When in the history of the United States Senate has it been necessary to put such a question to the President’s nominee to be Attorney General of the United States?

Senator Boxer, the world is looking to the United States Senate to determine whether or not there remains any part of our government willing to speak–and, more importantly, to act–unequivocally against torture and against those who promote it. Sadly, many people around the world see the United States now being gripped by the "arrogance of power," in the phrase made famous a generation ago by the late Senator J. William Fulbright. I urge you not only to vote against the confirmation of Judge Gonzales to be Attorney General but to do everything in your power to see that the nomination is defeated so that we may begin to restore the reputation that Dr. King helped to create for our country as a place where human dignity is respected.

Sincerely yours,

Robert E. Williams

Up the Chain of Command

Although the superior orders defense failed to convince the jury in the court martial of Specialist Charles Graner to exonerate the defendant, the proceedings increased the prospect that some officers involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal may face charges according to today's New York Times. No one, however, is yet suggesting that prosecutions--or even investigations--will involve those who were not actually present at Abu Ghraib. As was the case with the Graner trial, there is always the possibility that military trials will reveal the existence of unlawful orders thus prompting investigators to move up the chain of command.

"The higher up they go, the more problems they have with people leading to the Pentagon," said Harvey Volzer, who represented Megan Ambuhl, who was discharged from the military as part of a plea bargain in the Abu Ghraib abuses. "[Col. Thomas M.] Pappas gives them [Gen. Ricardo] Sanchez, and they don't want that. Sanchez can give them Rumsfeld, and they don't want that.

"Rumsfeld can lead to Bush and Gonzales, and they definitely don't want that," Mr. Volzer said, referring to President Bush and to Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel and attorney general nominee, who argued in a memorandum that parts of the Geneva Conventions were "quaint" and "obsolete."

The Center for Constitutional Rights, meanwhile, is calling for a special prosecutor to investigate Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's role in establishing the policies that led to prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

More Trials to Come

The Guardian notes that more military trials are on the way:

The Pentagon plans to put at least 20 more US troops before military courts for abuse of detainees in the wake of last week's high profile trial of the ringleader in the Abu Ghraib scandal, military spokesmen said yesterday.

The Guardian also points out that "informal polls by newspapers on US army bases found troops believed low-ranking troops such as Graner have been singled out for exemplary punishment, while senior officers--who knew of the abuse for months--have gone free." Only one soldier facing charges in the detainee abuse scandal is known to be an officer.

Ten Years

Specialist Charles Graner (now demoted to private), described as the "ringleader" of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Martin Luther King, Jr.

On this date in 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Named at birth Michael Luther King for his father, his name was legally changed when he was a child (along with his father's) to honor the leader of the Protestant Reformation.

Of his leading role in the American Civil Rights Movement, King said, "History has thrust me into this position. It would be both immoral and a sign of ingratitude if I did not face my moral responsibility to do what I can in this struggle."

Contrary to the expectations of many, both black and white, that such a strategy would not succeed, King led a non-violent struggle. Addressing himself to those responsible for racial injustice, he said, "We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. We will not hate you, but we cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws. . . . We will soon wear you down by our capacity to suffer. And in winning our freedom we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process."

Of his belief in the morality of non-violent resistance, King said, "I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law."

In 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Four years later, on April 4, 1968, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

On Wednesday, January 19, at 10:00 a.m., Martin Luther King III, one of four children of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, will be speaking at Pepperdine.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Torture and Public Opinion

Last weekend, USA Today conducted a poll that, among other things, asked about attitudes toward some of the issues that have been raised in connection with the prisoner abuse scandals in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere. How would you respond to these questions?

Here is a list of possible interrogation techniques that can be used on prisoners. Do you think it is right or wrong for the U.S. government to use them on prisoners suspected of having information about possible terrorist attacks against the United States?

A. Forcing prisoners to remain naked and chained in uncomfortable positions in cold rooms for several hours

B. Having female interrogators make physical contact with Muslim men during religious observances that prohibit such contact

C. Threatening to transfer prisoners to a country known for using torture

D. Threatening prisoners with dogs

E. Strapping prisoners on boards and forcing their heads underwater until they think they are drowning

F. Depriving prisoners of sleep for several days

To compare your responses with the poll results, go here (and look for question #38).

A Verdict at Fort Hood

Earlier today, Specialist Charles A. Graner, Jr. was found guilty on all charges (with one charge reduced) by the ten-person jury in his court martial at Fort Hood, Texas. The sentencing phase of the trial began immediately. Graner faces up to fifteen years in prison for his role in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

No Regrets

In an interview with Barbara Walters to be aired tonight on ABC's 20/20, President Bush says that he has no regrets about invading Iraq in spite of the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found. He also states that "the removal of Saddam Hussein has made America safer."

The President does, however, admit regretting saying in July 2003 (with respect to the insurgency in Iraq), "Bring it on." Insurgents have recently used the phrase in an English-language propaganda video, which can be viewed here.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Never Admit a Mistake

Incredibly, the list of statements cited here in The RS Blog is not exhaustive.

On Power and Secrecy

"Power always has to be kept in check; power exercised in secret, especially under the cloak of national security, is doubly dangerous."

--Sen. William Proxmire

Human Rights Watch World Report 2005

Each year, Human Rights Watch issues a report based on the organization's investigations into global human rights abuses. The 2005 edition, released today, leads with essays focused on "large-scale ethnic cleansing in Darfur in western Sudan, and detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, symptomatic of a broader problem of torture and mistreatment of detainees by U.S. forces."

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The End of the ISG

The Washington Post reports today that the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq ended before Christmas. The White House and the Pentagon determined that, with the U.S. presidential election having passed without incident the previous month, there was no further political benefit to be gained from a charade that cost hundreds of millions of dollars and nearly a dozen lives of those working with weapons inspectors.

There are several disturbing aspects of this story, beyond the obvious point that the United States waged a preemptive war, spent almost two years searching for WMD, and now owns the world's most dangerous insurgency all for the purpose of confirming what U.N. weapons inspectors were telling the Bush Administration all along. The Post reports, for example, that "Congress allotted hundreds of millions of dollars for the weapons hunt, and there has been no public accounting of the money. A spokesman for the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency said the entire budget and the expenditures would remain classified." Also, the Post notes that in spite of the fact that the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) determined over a year ago that none of the Iraqi scientists being held had worked on WMD since the Persian Gulf War, some continue to be imprisoned by the U.S. without having been charged with a crime.

Those who have supported the war in Iraq should read this plain, factual statement from the Post story--"President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials asserted before the U.S. invasion in March 2003 that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, had chemical and biological weapons, and maintained links to al Qaeda affiliates to whom it might give such weapons to use against the United States."--and then click on the Post's link to "Faces of the Fallen."

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The "Salvador Option"

Newsweek reported over the weekend that the Pentagon is considering a plan for Iraq that would involve the creation of Iraqi death squads to target insurgent leaders. The name of the proposal recalls the government's use of death squads in El Salvador's civil war from 1980 to 1992. Recalling that tragic story should have put an end to any discussion of American-trained death squads, but Newsweek indicates that "the Pentagon is intensively debating" the proposal.

Consider the following:

  • One victim of the death squads was Archbishop Romero, gunned down while celebrating mass in the chapel of a hospital on March 24, 1980. (In September 2004, a federal court in Fresno, California entered a $10 million judgment in a civil suit filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act against Alvaro Saravia for the death of Romero.)
  • The human rights organization Americas Watch estimated that 30,000 Salvadorans (in a country with a total population of 5 million) were murdered by the government of El Salvador from 1980 to 1983.
  • In 1985, after international pressure had been put on the Salvadoran government to improve its human rights record, President Jose Napoleon Duarte boasted that there were "only" about 30 murders per month being committed by death squads. Outside observers placed the figure much higher.

For almost ten years I have been associated with El Rescate, an organization founded in 1981 to assist the thousands of Salvadorans who fled to the United States to escape war, political repression, and death squads. During the 1980s, the organization accumulated an enormous archive of materials documenting human rights abuses in El Salvador, including the thousands of murders committed by death squads. Thousands of people living in Los Angeles today--including some who work for El Rescate--left their homes in El Salvador because they were threatened or because loved ones had disappeared. When I traveled to El Salvador in 1994 to work as an election monitor in the first postwar presidential election, the fear of political violence remained palpable.

Perhaps someone in the Pentagon should ask a Salvadoran about the "Salvador Option."

Monday, January 10, 2005

Specialist Graner's Court Martial

The trial of Specialist Charles Graner began today at Fort Hood, Texas with prosecutors showing previously unseen photographs from Abu Ghraib. While the prosecution portrayed Graner as a sadist who went far beyond what was authorized in the way he treated prisoners, the defense maintained that Graner merely followed orders and that his superiors often complimented his work.

The defense case was bolstered by the testimony of one of the prosecution witnesses, according to the Washington Post:

Army officers and CIA operatives at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison condoned the beatings and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners there and repeatedly praised the enlisted soldiers who abused the inmates, a former guard testified as the first military trial stemming from the prison scandal got underway Monday.

Pvt. Ivan L. Frederick was called as a prosecution witness in the Army's criminal case against Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., the alleged ringleader of the abusive guards at Abu Ghraib. But his testimony tended to support a key element of Graner's defense--that he was following orders from higher-ranking officers when he punched and beat the prisoners and forced them to wallow naked in freezing mud outside the prison.

(The Post also provides Abu Ghraib prison photos and a brief video clip.)

Although many of the Americans at Abu Ghraib committed crimes and deserve to be punished (even if they were following orders), it is worth remembering that there were also those who acted courageously.

Witnesses said that most of the soldiers at the prison responded to abuse of inmates by laughing and joining in the mistreatment. But two soldiers--Spec. Matthew Wisdom and Spec. Joseph Darby--testified that they were so disgusted by the conduct of their fellow soldiers that they reported it to superiors. Wisdom's warning, in November 2003, was ignored. But two months later, Darby gave Army investigators photographic evidence of the abuse. That led to the public scandal, the congressional hearings and Graner's court-martial.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Iraq Update

By the time President Bush declared an end to "major combat operations" on May 1, 2003, 140 Americans had been killed in action. Since then, 1,213 Americans have died in combat in Iraq. According to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, the total now stands at 1,353 killed and 10,252 wounded in Iraq since the beginning of the war. Seven American troops were killed in a single roadside bomb explosion on Friday.

Determining how many Iraqis have died remains a matter of conjecture or statistical analysis. However, the United States admitted yesterday that a 500-pound bomb was mistakenly dropped on a residence near Mosul killing at least five "possibly innocent" people. The owner of the house claims that fourteen people were killed, including seven children.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Emily Greene Balch

On this date in 1867, Emily Greene Balch was born. Balch was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946, only the second American woman so honored.

A member of Bryn Mawr College's first graduating class in 1889, Balch went on to study economics at Harvard and the University of Chicago. She taught economics and sociology at Wellesley College until World War I when she became a founder of the Women's International Committee for Permanent Peace, an organization that would later become the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Balch worked for--and on behalf of--the WILPF for much of her life. She donated her share of the Nobel Peace Prize money to the WILPF as well. Vladimir Simkhovitch, Professor of Economic History at Columbia University, said, "I have never met anyone who has, as she has done, for decade after decade given every minute of her life to the work for peace between nations."

During the 1920s, Balch participated in many activities of the League of Nations, and in the 1930s she worked to assist those who were persecuted by the Nazis. Her opposition to fascism led her to put aside her earlier pacifism in exchange for a more militant approach to the defense of human rights.

Emily Greene Balch died on January 9, 1961, one day after her ninety-fourth birthday.

Post-Tsunami Satellite Photos

If you haven't already seen before and after satellite photos of the region affected by the tsunami, take a look at these.

(Thanks to Larry Crino for passing along the link.)

Original Sin

It is, I believe, increasingly apparent that the Bush Administration's first mistake after 9/11--and the one from which all others have flowed--was the decision to declare a general (but very ill-defined) "war on terror." With different leadership--more restrained leadership--such a determination might have been acceptable given the enormity of the crime committed on 9/11. But the neocons are not realists and do not understand the dangers of moral crusading. Nor are they idealists who understand the dangers of unrestrained power.

In Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War (p. 8), James Carroll indicates one of the reasons why declaring a "war on terror" was a mistake:

Instead of perceiving unconnected centers of inhuman violence–tribal warlords, mafia chieftains, nationalist fighters, xenophobic Luddites–President Bush projects the grandest and most interlocking strategies of conspiracy, belief, and organization. By the canonization of the war on terrorism, petty nihilists are elevated to the status of world-historic warriors, exactly the fate they might have wished for. This is why the conflict readily bleeds from one locus to another–Afghanistan now, Iraq then, Iran or some other land of evil soon–and why, for that matter, the targeted enemies are entirely interchangeable–here Osama bin Laden, there Saddam Hussein, here the leader of Iran, there of North Korea. They are all essentially one enemy–one "axis"–despite their differences from each other, or even hatred of each other. (italics added)

In Iraq, we are engaged in an bloody struggle with "petty nihilists," but every time the President speaks about the war, he suggests that our enemies are the enemies of freedom and the sole obstacles to peace and justice in the world.

There are other reasons why the "war on terror" is Bush's Original Sin. I will discuss some of them in the next several weeks. Meanwhile, William Butler Yeats' famous line from "The Second Coming" seems appropriate: "Things fall apart; the centre will not hold."

Friday, January 07, 2005

Superior Orders?

Jury selection was completed today at Fort Hood, Texas in the court-martial of Specialist Charles A. Graner, Jr., who stands accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. Graner's attorney, Guy Womack, insists that Graner was merely following orders to "soften up" prisoners for interrogators.

Whether Womack has plans to mount a superior orders defense is unclear. Such a defense would be difficult. (One need only recall how lucky Tom Cruise was to get Jack Nicholson to admit on the witness stand that he had ordered a "Code Red" in A Few Good Men.) As Dr. Michael Nutkiewicz pointed out in a lecture at Pepperdine last November, orders to torture prisoners are rarely explicit.

Colonel Allen Batschelet, one of the two potential jurors dismissed by the judge in the Graner case, explained to reporters the reason for his inability to be impartial: "As an Army officer, I was embarrassed by what I saw in the media. The values I hold dear as a soldier were called into question by the whole affair." This explains why twelve former generals and admirals, including the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, took the unprecedented step of writing a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging the rejection of the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general of the United States.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Significance of Alberto Gonzales

I have recently begun reading Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror by Mark Danner. The first part of the book consists of several essays that Danner wrote for the New York Review of Books in 2004. The bulk of the book, however, consists of primary sources: the "torture memos," the Abu Ghraib photographs, and the various investigative reports that have been completed thus far. In the introduction to the book, Danner says,

As I write, less than five months after the [Abu Ghraib] photographs were first broadcast, few of the major facts about what went on in Abu Ghraib remain hidden. Thanks to investigations, but even more to the leaks that occasioned them, we know, certainly in broad outline, what happened at the prison and how what happened there derived from decisions made in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and, ultimately, Washington, D.C. This makes Abu Ghraib a peculiarly contemporary kind of scandal: like other scandals that have erupted during the Iraq war and the war on terror, it is not about revelation or disclosure but about the failure, once wrongdoing is exposed, of politicians, officials, the press, and, ultimately, citizens to act. The scandal is not about uncovering what is hidden, it is about seeing what is already there--and acting on it. It is not about information; it is about politics.

Today on the op-ed page of the New York Times, Danner makes the same point with respect to the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general of the United States. Danner suggests that

perhaps it is fitting that Mr. Gonzales be confirmed. The system of torture has, after all, survived its disclosure. We have entered a new era; the traditional story line in which scandal leads to investigation and investigation leads to punishment has been supplanted by something else. Wrongdoing is still exposed; we gaze at the photographs and read the documents, and then we listen to the president's spokesman "reiterate," as he did last week, "the president's determination that the United States never engage in torture." And there the story ends.

Gonzales is going to be confirmed by the Senate. And when he is, those senators who vote for him will be sending the message to the world--in the name of the people they represent--that although the United States may investigate acts of torture committed by its citizens, it will not punish those who are ultimately responsible. On the contrary, the United States in 2005 rewards those who advocate torture.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Good Question

Josh Marshall asks an interesting question:

We know that Al Gonzales has been White House Counsel for the last four years and that he's played an instrumental role in several legal findings and memos which have given legal sanction to torture (or what I guess we might call "the act formerly known as torture"). What if Gonzales had had some roughly equivalent position in Argentina or Chile in the late 1970s? Would he have faced subsequent legal vulnerability and/or consequences?

Of Job and the Tsunami

Once again, James Carroll offers words of wisdom in the face of tragedy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

No to Gonzales

The Senate Judiciary Committee holds hearings on the nomination of Alberto R. Gonzales to be Attorney General on Thursday. While the nomination of a Latino to serve as the nation's highest law enforcement official would ordinarily be good news, the Senate should reject Gonzales because of his role in promoting the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere. Torture is a violation of U.S. and international law and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. In legal terms, the right not to be subject to torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment is non-derogable.

As Counsel to the President, Gonzales wrote a memo dated January 25, 2002, that argued that the Geneva Conventions (one of the legal foundations of the international prohibition of torture) were "obsolete" and "quaint." Gonzales later argued that even U.S. citizens could be detained and denied the basic rights belonging to those accused of crimes for as long as the president considered it necessary. This position was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004 in the case of Rasul v. Bush.

The president has a right to get legal counsel from a trusted friend and experienced attorney. The president also has the right to nominate whomever he wants to serve as Attorney General of the United States. The Constitution, however, gives the Senate the right to judge the fitness of the president's nominees to high executive and judicial offices. Because Alberto Gonzales, acting as Counsel to the President, urged President Bush to violate both domestic and international law (with disastrous consequences for the United States), the Senate should not hesitate to exercise its constitutional prerogative and declare Gonzales unfit to serve in the nation's highest law enforcement post.

Now would be an opportune time to call or e-mail the senators from your state about this important matter. Once again, the reputation of the United States as law-abiding nation is at stake.

Monday, January 03, 2005

A Warning on Nuclear Security

Lawrence J. Korb, who served as an assistant secretary of defense under Reagan (and who spoke at Pepperdine last fall), wrote yesterday in the Boston Globe about the Bush Administration's record on nuclear security. As Korb points out, one thing that George Bush and John Kerry agreed on during the presidential campaign was the need to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists. Read what Korb has to say about the Administration's record on what President Bush said, in the first presidential debate, was "the biggest threat facing this country."

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Chisholm and Matsui

Two individuals who fought in the United States Congress for human rights died this weekend. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, was a strong advocate for the rights of women and minorities during a congressional career that lasted from 1968 to 1982. In 1972, she sought the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Once when she was asked how she wanted to be remembered, she said, "I'd like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts. That's how I'd like to be remembered."

Robert Matsui, who experienced internment as a Japanese-American during World War II, was a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Sacramento. At his death, he was one of the highest-ranking Asian-Americans in the history of the U.S. Congress. In 1988, Rep. Matsui spear-headed the effort to legislate an official apology and token compensation to those who had been interned during World War II.

The South Asian Disaster

The enormous (9.0 on the Richter scale) earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated so many coastal areas in the Indian Ocean basin occurred at a time when many of us were focused on family and not on the wider world. In fact, initial aid efforts were hampered by the fact that many western NGO representatives who normally live and work in the region were away on holiday vacations when the disaster struck. The tragedy is too enormous to try to recount. Photo essays in the New York Times and the Washington Post (just click on "Interactive graphics and photos" and "Photos," respectively, under the papers' front-page stories on the disaster) are useful sources for those trying to gauge the enormity of what happened. (Be sure to see the satellite images.)

Indonesia, where officials are now estimating that over 100,000 people were killed, and Sri Lanka, with roughly 25,000 killed, bore the brunt of the disaster. But there were also fatalities related to the tsunami in Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Tanzania, and Somalia.

States and international lending agencies have pledged $2 billion in humanitarian assistance with the government of Japan accounting for a quarter of that amount. The U.S. initially pledged $15 million, then hastily upped that amount to $35 million before settling on the significantly higher sum of $350 million. Those experienced in coordinating responses to humanitarian disasters are skeptical concerning how much of the money pledged will actually be delivered. Of $1.1 billion pledged by for the reconstruction of Bam, the Iranian city devastated by an earthquake exactly one year before the Indian Ocean tsunami, only $17 million has been delivered thus far. Governments, like individuals, do not always make good on their pledges.

Equally troubling is the fact that, historically, disaster relief contributions tend to come at the expense of existing humanitarian commitments. For this reason, humanitarian efforts in Sudan and the Congo are expected to suffer.