Monday, February 28, 2005

Invisible Children

To those of you who have seen Invisible Children, I would be very interested in seeing your comments. To those of you who haven't seen it, find a showing somewhere and see it. It is a very powerful film. (At least go to the web site and find out what it's about.)

Why is it so difficult to get Americans to care about Africans?

Peter Benenson (1921-2005)

Peter Benenson, the founder of Amnesty International, died Friday in Oxford, England at the age of 83.

It is a story of the sort that warms my heart because it is the story of one person fearlessly taking action against great injustices: In 1961, on reading of two students who had been jailed in Portugal for drinking a toast to liberty, Benenson wrote an essay for the Observer (London) suggesting that ordinary people turn their outrage over prisoners of conscience worldwide into action by writing letters of protest to the governments that were imprisoning, torturing, and executing people for their beliefs. What began as a one-year campaign turned into a global movement that evolved into the world's largest and most respected human rights organization.

Not only did Benenson demonstrate by his own actions the power of one person to change the world, he did it with humility. Consider this from the AI tribute to him:

Inordinately modest and self-effacing, the one-time lawyer who launched Amnesty International in 1961 would never claim credit for the sea-change of the last 40 years. He was offered knighthoods by almost every successive British Prime Minister but he never accepted.

Each Prime Minister who wrote to him received a personal response from Benenson--who typed his own letters until late in life--in which he would cite the current human rights violations Amnesty was confronting in the UK. He would suggest, without mincing his words, that if the government wished to take account of his work for human rights, what mattered was to redress those abuses.

Here, from the Observer, is an obituary. The obituary from the New York Times is here. Read, and be inspired to act.

Seeking Security in an Insecure World

That's the title of the book I've been working on with my colleague Dan Caldwell. The manuscript was sent off to our editor at Rowman and Littlefield today. We'll be eagerly awaiting her feedback concerning the publication schedule.

Now back to blogging! (Note to my students: Yes. Now I'll get those papers graded.)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Another Update

This is bad. I keep checking my blog to see if I'm finished editing the book. Apparently I'm not.

[Call me paranoid, but I'd like to emphasize here that I'm kidding. This post should not be construed as suggesting that (1) I'm waiting for someone else to finish the book or (2) I haven't been working my tail off lately.]

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

An Update on the Book

Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.

--Winston Churchill

We're about to fling the monster out to the public. That's why I haven't been blogging lately. I'm determined not to blog until the monster is gone--tomorrow! (Maybe)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

España dice

Voters in Spain have approved the new Constitution of the European Union. Turnout was a disappointing 42 percent (the lowest figure in any Spanish election since the dictatorship under Franco ended in 1975), but 77 percent of those casting votes voted in favor of the Constitution. (Of the remaining votes, 17 percent opposed the Constitution and 6 percent submitted blank ballots.)

Ignoring Genocide

In 1994, the United States evaded its obligations under the Genocide Convention by assiduously avoiding the use of the term "genocide" in reference to the violence in Rwanda. Today, the United States is evading its obligations by using the term "genocide" in reference to the situation in Darfur while ignoring the legal (and moral) implications of that determination. The difference says something important, I think, about the difference between Clinton and Bush's attitudes toward international law (although neither is commendable in these instances), but there is a more important point, expressed best as a question, that transcends partisan differences: How many different ways can the United States Government find to ignore genocide in Africa?

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Spain's Referendum

On October 29, 2004, the heads of state or government of the 25 member states of the European Union signed the Treaty establishing the Constitution for Europe. All 25 states must ratify the Constitution by October 29, 2006 for it to enter into force. Three states--Hungary, Lithuania, and Slovenia--have already ratified by means of parliamentary votes. Tomorrow Spain will become the first EU member state to hold a referendum on the Treaty.

Stay tuned for the result.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Jefferson on Patience

A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt. . . . If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake.

--Thomas Jefferson (on the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts [1798])

[via Dissent, Winter 2005, p. 100]

Syria: Friend or Foe?

Earlier this week, the United States withdrew its ambassador to Syria to protest the Syrians' alleged involvement in the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister. In today's New York Times, however, Bob Herbert makes an excellent point. This is the same Syrian regime to which the United States Government delivered Maher Arar for torture. Is it really possible that the United States is condemning the behavior of a government that, when convenient, it employs precisely because of its lack of scruples? And that there's no demand from Congress (or from the public) for accountability?

Historically, the executive branch of the United States Government has been restrained (to some degree) with respect to covert operations by the fear of exposure and public censure. Some former intelligence agency heads have said they based decisions concerning secret activities on whether or not they would be willing to defend the decision when and if the operations became public knowledge. That restraint will disappear if there are no negative repercussions when the veil of secrecy is lifted. Perhaps it already has.

Consider what we've seen recently:

  • Prisoners in U.S. custody are tortured in multiple locations and only a few low-ranking personnel from Abu Ghraib are prosecuted. There is no public outcry.
  • President Bush is reelected in an election campaign in which both candidates avoid talking about torture in spite of the prominence of the Abu Ghraib scandal.
  • The President asks Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who says he accepts responsibility for Abu Ghraib, to stay on. Only liberals seem outraged.
  • Alberto Gonzales, a principal architect of the American effort to define away torture, is confirmed by the Senate as the U.S. attorney general with support from every single Republican and six Democrats.
  • And the U.S. condemns Syria within weeks of revelations that a Canadian citizen--an innocent man--was sent by the United States to Syria to be tortured. No one seems to care.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer--a pacifist at the outset of World War II who, by the end of the war, supported the violent overthrow of Hitler's regime--said, "If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction." We're on the wrong train, but most Americans haven't even bothered to get up out of their seats.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Kyoto, 2005

The Kyoto Protocol enters into force today. The New York Times highlights the impact of the free-rider problem. (The United States is, of course, the biggest free rider.) The Guardian (London) notes Tony Blair's interest in getting the United States "back into dialogue" with the rest of the world concerning global warming. The Los Angeles Times notes that "the U.S. and Australia are the only large, developed nations not taking part" in the treaty. The Washington Post story emphasizes the point that the treaty's value is primarily symbolic as it appears unlikely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, the NHL has just announced that its season has been cancelled. Draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Conch'd Out

On the subject of separatist movements, Steve Serbalik mentioned the Conch Republic in class yesterday. Here's what Footnotes to History has to say about it.

In April of 1982, the U.S. Border Patrol blocked Highway 1, which connects the Florida Keys with mainland Florida. The purpose was to search for illegal aliens and drugs, but it also impeded the lucrative tourism industry in the Keys. The Key West City Council passed a resolution declaring the secession of the Keys as the Conch Republic, in order to protest the action. The Conch Republic declared war on the United States and then, taking their cue from The Mouse That Roared, surrendered and applied for economic aid. A few weeks later, the roadblock was removed and the crisis ended.

Adam Holdridge's comment on the post concerning separatist movements ("What about the People's Republic of Santa Monica?") made me think of the Conch Republic. Perhaps it could serve as a model for the PRSM.

Incidentally, for those who are unaware of this, Santa Monica has long been known for its progressive public policies. The "People's Republic of Santa Monica" label is generally considered a conservative put-down of a city that believes in rent control, legislation friendly to homeless people and so on.

And, on a lighter note--and one that bears only the most tenuous relationship to the former topics (although it does get us back to conchs, which, because "conch" is pronounced "konk," is spelled "conchs" and not "conches")--here's a link to the New York Times Magazine interview with Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. (Triumph, some of you will recall, said in reference to liberal talk-radio Air America, "I own a conch shell with more listeners.")

Government Fights Compensation for Torture Victims

It's not what you might think. The Los Angeles Times reports today that the Bush Administration is fighting in court to stop U.S. pilots captured and tortured by Saddam Hussein's government during the 1991 Persian Gulf War from collecting the punitive damages a U.S. judge previously awarded them.

Birds of a feather . . .

Monday, February 14, 2005

Legal Objections at Guantanamo

The New York Daily News reported yesterday that objections to harsh interrogations techniques raised by military attorneys at Guanatamo were brushed aside by Pentagon officials.

Judge advocates--uniformed legal advisers known as JAGs who were assigned to a secret war crimes task force--repeatedly objected to aggressive interrogations by a separate intelligence unit at Camp Delta, where Taliban and Al Qaeda suspects have been jailed since January 2002.

But Pentagon officials "didn't think this was a big deal, so they just ignored the JAGs," a senior military source said.

[Via Balkinization.]

Embedded in Iraq

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist David Leeson spoke at Pepperdine tonight. Leeson won the Pulitzer for photos taken in Iraq in 2003 while embedded with Task Force 2-69 Armored of the Army's 3rd Brigade.

You can read some of Leeson's reflections on his work and see thirty of his photos here. (Click on the link at the bottom of the essay to go to the photographs.)

Dr. Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919)

Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, an ordained minister, medical doctor, and leader of the American women's suffrage movement, was born on this date in 1847. Although she was born the year before the Seneca Falls Convention and lived to be seventy-two years old, Dr. Shaw did not live to see the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote.

Dr. Shaw graduated from the Theological School of Boston University in 1878. She was ordained by the Methodist Protestant Church in 1880. In 1885, she earned an M.D. from Boston University. That same year she began to work full-time for women's suffrage and for temperance.

In 1904, Dr. Shaw became president of the organization founded by Susan B. Anthony, the National Woman's Suffrage Association. She served in that position until 1915.

As a minister, Dr. Shaw never performed a marriage ceremony using the word "obey." She liked to point out that, notwithstanding that fact, she knew of no divorces among couples she had married.

Dr. Shaw's obituary from the New York Times (with many more details of her life) is here.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Dresden, 1945

On February 13, 1945, the Royal Air Force bombed Dresden, a German city once known as the "Florence on the Elbe." Over 800 bombers dropped over 2,500 tons of bombs. The resulting firestorm, similar to one generated in Hamburg during a July 1943 bombing raid, killed perhaps 40,000 to 50,000 people. (No official death toll has ever been established. Estimates range from 25,000 to 400,000.)

The next day, Valentine's Day, American B-17s dropped another 771 tons of bombs while the fighter planes accompanying the bombers strafed traffic on the roads leading into and out of the city in order to compound the chaos. Still more bombing raids occurred on February 15 and March 2 as the Allies endeavored to break Germany's ability to defend itself in the final months of World War II. Many today believe the terror bombing of German cities so late in the war to have been morally unjustifiable.

Next year Dresden will mark the 800th anniversary of the city's founding.

Separatist Movements

A few days ago, in a post related to states that didn't make it, I linked to the web site of the Republic of Texas. Today's New York Times has a story about the movement to reestablish the Republic of Texas.

The organizers of the Republic of Texas "government" headquartered in Overton, Texas are--and I say this as a Texan with considerable sympathy for Texan nationalism--a couple of tacos short of a combination plate. Their movement has no chance of doing anything more than making Texas law enforcement officials wary. (Eight years ago, members of the group took hostages and were involved in a dramatic standoff with police in the mountains of West Texas. These days, members sometimes present Republic of Texas passports rather than drivers' licenses during traffic stops.) But don't all independence movements invite casual dismissal in the beginning?

To put the question differently, what does it take for a separatist movement to go from being entertainment buried deep in the paper to being front-page news? Violence is the easiest way to get attention, but it is not necessarily efficacious. Basque separatists, after all, have tried for decades to bomb their way to autonomy. What is required both for the success of a separatist movement and for eventual international recognition of the state that results is popular support. The Texans clearly lack popular support at this point.

Popular support is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for independence. There remains the requirement of success in a revolution--or the political will of the existing sovereign to accept devolution. The Chechen rebellion probably meets the requirement of popular support; it has not (yet) broken the will of the Russian government to rule over Chechnya.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Mamdouh Habib's Story

Raymond Bonner recounts Mamdouh Habib's story of torture as a detainee in the "war on terror" in tomorrow's New York Times. Habib is the Australian citizen who was released by the United States from Guantanamo on January 28.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have requested that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigate the CIA's treatment of detainees. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the committee, is reviewing the request.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Yemeni Approach to Terrorism

Yemen has just announced plans to close 4,000 privately operated religious schools (madrassahs). In addition, eighteen Muslim clerics have been banned from giving sermons in Yemeni mosques. Both initiatives are intended to clamp down on religious sources of violence.

Perhaps the most unusual means of dealing with terrorism in Yemen is the religious debate. The Christian Science Monitor recently reported the story of a Yemeni judge, Hamoud al-Hitar, who is working to address the roots of Islamist terrorism by debating the Koran with convicted terrorists. Hitar went into a prison a couple of years ago to begin the exercise.

"If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle," Hitar told the militants. "But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence."

The prisoners eagerly agreed.

Now, two years later, not only have those prisoners been released, but a relative peace reigns in Yemen. And the same Western experts who doubted this experiment are courting Hitar, eager to hear how his "theological dialogues" with captured Islamic militants have helped pacify this wild and mountainous country, previously seen by the US as a failed state, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Since December 2002, when the first round of the dialogues ended, there have been no terrorist attacks here, even though many people thought that Yemen would become terror's capital," says Hitar, eyes glinting shrewdly from beneath his emerald-green turban. "Three hundred and sixty-four young men have been released after going through the dialogues and none of these have left Yemen to fight anywhere else."

"Yemen's strategy has been unconventional certainly, but it has achieved results that we could never have hoped for," says one European diplomat, who did not want to be named. "Yemen has gone from being a potential enemy to becoming an indispensable ally in the war on terror."

Read the rest of the story here.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Strong Words

Bob Herbert, writing in the New York Times and describing what happened to Maher Arar at the hands of the United States, uses some strong words:

Any government that commits, condones, promotes or fosters torture is a malignant force in the world. And those who refuse to raise their voices against something as clearly evil as torture are enablers, if not collaborators.

Raise your voice. Use some strong words.

More on Madness

Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (arguably one of the most important books of the past five years), has a must-read column in today's New York Times. The situation she discusses, which I've written about here and here, is one that ought to be met with outrage among Americans. (As a friend of mine said last night during a discussion of the U.S. Government's outsourcing of torture, "I can't understand why Americans aren't protesting in the streets.")

Power's column makes me believe even more strongly that Ambassador Pierre Prosper should resign. He can no longer make the argument--which we can only hope he has made privately since he hasn't made it openly--that going along with the administration on the ICC, on Guantanamo, on the conduct of the war on terror, and so on is serving a higher purpose by allowing him to stay on the job and fight for other issues of international justice. What is there that he's doing that would make any American proud?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

North Korea's Announcement

North Korea has just announced that it has manufactured nuclear weapons and that it does not plan to participate in multilateral talks sought by the Bush Administration. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "We had already taken the resolute action of pulling out of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and have manufactured nukes to cope with the Bush administration's evermore undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the DPRK (North Korea)."

The Bush Administration's anti-proliferation policy appears to be faltering in both Iran and North Korea. Meanwhile, the just-released FY 2006 budget cuts U.S. contributions to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. The CTBTO has responsibility for global nuclear weapons test monitoring.

An Apology

Governments--or, to be more specific, political leaders--have a notoriously difficult time apologizing for official mistakes. And, no, this is not a post about the failure to find WMD in Iraq or about the confirmation hearings for Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales. It is, instead, a post about an apology that was actually offered.

Prime Minister Tony Blair apologized publicly today to those who were wrongfully imprisoned for an IRA bombing in 1974. The sentences were overturned for four of the defendants--the "Guildford Four"--by a British court in 1989. The remaining defendants had their sentences overturned in 1991.

Here's the story in The Guardian.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Outsourcing Torture

Jane Mayer writes about this outrageous practice in the new issue of The New Yorker. She begins with the story of Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer who was arrested at JFK Airport on September 26, 2002 and flown to Jordan.

Ten hours after landing in Jordan, Arar said, he was driven to Syria, where interrogators, after a day of threats, “just began beating on me.” They whipped his hands repeatedly with two-inch-thick electrical cables, and kept him in a windowless underground cell that he likened to a grave. “Not even animals could withstand it,” he said. Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say. “You just give up,” he said. “You become like an animal.”

Arar was released a year later without ever having been charged with a crime.

Can somebody please explain to me how U.S. practice in this regard differs from that of the regimes we have repeatedly condemned over the years?

Monday, February 07, 2005

A Lot of Wheat

In a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 16, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower said,

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. . . . We pay for a single fighter plane with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

How many bushels of wheat would it take today to pay for a single fighter plane? At three dollars per bushel (check the Kansas City Board of Trade wheat futures market for exact prices), it would take 86 million bushels to buy one F/A-22 Raptor at its projected cost of $258 million per plane. That's 172 times the cost that Eisenhower calculated for a single plane in 1953. Incidentally, U.S. wheat production in the coming season is expected to be 2.16 billion bushels. At three dollars per bushel, America's wheat farmers could buy twenty-five F/A-22 Raptor fighter planes. (But then there's the fact that buying only twenty-five would dramatically increase the cost per plane, meaning . . . never mind.)

No doubt America's wheat farmers could wreak quite a bit of havoc on their global competitors with twenty-five F/A-22s.

Gone (and Mostly Forgotten)

What do Icaria, Minerva, Ciskei, the Republic of Natal, Tortuga, and the Kingdom of Tavolara have in common? All made brief appearances on the world stage as independent states. James L. Erwin's Footnotes to History is a fascinating web site that lists scores of short-lived countries. It's a reminder that self-determination is difficult and that it takes more to make a state than a piece of real estate and high ideals--or low ideals in the case of Tanna, Galveston, and many others. Even the august Republic of Texas lasted less than ten years (although some Texans seem to be intent on changing that).

Friday, February 04, 2005

A Self-Inflicted Wound

Yesterday, speaking in a forum at the San Diego Convention Center, Lt. Gen. Jim "Mad Dog" Mattis said, "Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling." He continued: "You go into Afghanistan, you've got guys who slapped women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

One can almost envision Lt. Gen. Mattis as Lt. Col. Kilgore (played by Robert Duvall) in Apocalypse Now delivering that famous line: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." But the napalm line was a screenwriter's creation--in an antiwar film, no less. Mattis, on the other hand, spoke his lines in a public forum and in an age when news travels fast. Based on a check of English-language sources only, the remarks have already been published in Australia, China, India, and Bulgaria, not to mention on the CNN International site. The comments have no doubt made it into the news (and into anti-American propaganda) in the Middle East as well.

Weapons sold to Iraq and to the mujahideen in Afghanistan by the United States have already been used against Americans (and may be yet again). Mattis's words are no different. They are ammunition delivered on a silver platter to those who want to attack the United States. For this reason, if for no other, the response of Lt. Gen. Mattis's superiors should have been much harsher than it has been thus far. (Defense Secretary Rumsfeld declined to comment on the remarks at a Pentagon briefing yesterday. Gen. Peter Pace, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Hagee, has "counseled" Mattis.)

No doubt Lt. Gen. Mattis can believe that "it's fun to shoot some people" and still understand that it is wrong, even in war, to shoot prisoners, soldiers who are hors de combat, and others who are not taking part in hostilities. Perhaps Gen. Pace was correct when he said that Lt. Gen. Mattis's conduct in war proves him to be a commander who "understands . . . the value of human life." Mattis's comments will inevitably raise questions about that. But, more importantly, it is a sad fact of warfare that innocents are often killed. To those who subscribe to the war convention (that is, the traditional just war theory and the laws of war that have been constructed on that moral framework), the intent of those who kill noncombatants (or those who order attacks that result in the killing of noncombatants) is morally and legally significant. One must never intend the deaths of noncombatants even where those deaths are foreseeable.

It would be easier for the whole world to believe that the thousands of deaths of innocents in Iraq and Afghanistan due to American action were unintended if Mattis had said, as many soldiers before him have said, that although killing is sometimes necessary, it is always to be lamented.

Thursday, February 03, 2005


That was the vote to confirm Alberto Gonzales today in the Senate. Six Democrats voted for confirmation.

A First in the Senate

Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) spoke in Spanish yesterday on the floor of the United States Senate in favor of the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general. His speech is believed to be the first delivered on the Senate floor in a language other than English.

Although I disagree with Sen. Martinez's position on the Gonzales nomination (as anyone who has read this blog lately knows), I think his decision to address the Hispanic community from the floor of the Senate is significant and a sign of things to come. Politically, it suggests that Republicans (some of them, at least) know that the political future lies with Hispanic voters rather than with "English only" nativists.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A Reply to Delahunty and Yoo

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed piece concerning the nomination of Judge Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general. (Read it here.) I've responded with this letter:

Re: "Rewriting the Laws of War for a New Enemy"

Professors Delahunty and Yoo ("Rewriting the Laws of War for a New Enemy," Feb. 1) have completely missed the point regarding opposition to the nomination of Judge Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general. Whether or not the Geneva Conventions protect particular combatants, the law prohibiting torture is absolute--"non-derogable" in the language of international lawyers--and universal in the same way the ban on slavery is universal.

The Senate Judiciary Committee's questioning of Judge Gonzales focused on the issue of torture from the very first question posed by Sen. Specter: "Do you approve of torture?" When in our history has it ever been necessary to ask an attorney general nominee that question?

Judge Gonzales answered Sen. Specter's question the way any humane person must, but when questioned about specific techniques, he waffled. Perhaps we can tolerate an attorney general nominee who waffles on the exclusionary rule or federal sentencing guidelines or even the scope of the Geneva Conventions, but waffling on torture is intolerable. That is why those who care about human rights oppose Judge Gonzales.

Robert E. Williams

Gonzales Update

The Washington Post reports that, while there will be no filibuster, Democrats are beginning to line up solidly against the confirmation of Judge Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general. Here's the key paragraph in the WaPo story:

Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), the minority leader, said a "low" forecast was that 25 or 30 Democrats would vote against Gonzales, but it appeared yesterday Gonzales was in danger of receiving even more than the 42 "no" votes John D. Ashcroft got in 2001, the most opposition ever to a nominee to head the Justice Department.

If this means that Democrats are being obstructionists, so be it. Someone needs to obstruct legal opinions that condone torture.

An Irony

"Of all the ironies in the history of human rights since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the one that would most astonish Eleanor Roosevelt is the degree to which her own country is now the odd one out."

--Michael Ignatieff (in “The Attack on Human Rights,” Foreign Affairs [November/December 2001])

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Yesterday I posed the question of whether the Bush Administration might block the U.N. Security Council from referring the matter of crimes against humanity in Darfur to the International Criminal Court without offering an alternative with a chance of stopping the killing. If Nicholas Kristof, writing in tomorrow's New York Times, is correct (and he usually is), the Bush Administration is moving strongly in that direction:

Two weeks ago, President Bush gave an impassioned speech to the world about the need to stand for human freedom.

But this week, administration officials are skulking in the corridors of the United Nations, trying desperately to block a prosecution of Sudanese officials for crimes against humanity.

It's not that Mr. Bush sympathizes with the slaughter in Darfur. In fact, I take my hat off to Mr. Bush for doing more than most other world leaders to address ethnic cleansing there--even if it's not nearly enough. Mr. Bush has certainly done far more than Bill Clinton did during the Rwandan genocide.

But Mr. Bush's sympathy for Sudanese parents who are having their children tossed into bonfires shrivels next to his hostility to the organization that the U.N. wants to trust with the prosecution: the International Criminal Court. Administration officials so despise the court that they have become, in effect, the best hope of Sudanese officials seeking to avoid accountability for what Mr. Bush himself has called genocide.

Mr. Bush's worry is that if the International Criminal Court is legitimized, American officials could someday be dragged before it. The court's supporters counter that safeguards make that impossible. Reasonable people can differ about the court, but for Mr. Bush to put his ideological opposition to it over the welfare of the 10,000 people still dying every month in Darfur--that's just madness.

Columnists for the New York Times don't ordinarily use words like "madness" to describe a president's policies. Kristof is right to do so, though. The arguments against the ICC cannot begin to justify a policy that might mean impunity for Sudan's killers. This is especially true given the fact that, internationally, the Bush Administration has lost the argument over the ICC. It's a done deal. The United States can no longer prevent its creation.

So now the strategy appears to be to sabotage the Court in any manner possible. Unbelievable.

Today I have to pose a new question: What happened to Condoleezza Rice's promise during her confirmation hearings--just two weeks ago--to build better relationships with the rest of the world?

Another question seems pertinent: How long will the rest of the world put up with American petulance?

[Update: I seem to be behind the curve on this story. According to Human Rights Watch, last week U.S. Ambassador for War Crimes Issues Pierre Prosper presented to members of the Security Council a proposal for a new ad hoc tribunal for Darfur because, he said, "We don't want to be party to legitimizing the ICC." It doesn't get much plainer than that.]