Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Falluja and Guernica

This commentary in the Guardian today is an important addition to what ought to be an ongoing discussion of the costs of our war in Iraq. (For an on-line image of Pablo Picasso's Guernica, click here. For photos from the assault on Falluja, go here.)

Monday, April 25, 2005

Ten Disasters

I missed this when it first appeared a little over a week ago, but since none of the predictions have yet come to pass perhaps it's still worth passing along. The Guardian asked ten scholars to assess the biggest threats to the Earth over the course of the next seventy years. Viral pandemic is on the list, as is terrorism, nuclear war, and a few things you probably hadn't thought to worry about--like telomere erosion.

Eliminating the Investigators

In 1992, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 780 to authorize the investigation of "grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other violations of international humanitarian law" in Bosnia. The Commission of Experts appointed to conduct the investigation was headed by DePaul University Professor of Law Cherif Bassiouni. Over the course of two-and-a-half years, Bassiouni and the Commission of Experts produced an extraordinarily thorough report that laid the foundations for the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

In 2004, the U.N.'s Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights appointed Professor Bassiouni as the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan. Recently, Professor Bassiouni issued a report critical of the United States Government for its policy of holding detainees in Afghanistan without trial and without permitting human rights monitors to have access to them. Now The Independent reports that Professor Bassiouni has been forced out of his U.N. job as a result of pressure from the United States. (See also this Los Angeles Times note on Bassiouni's ouster.)

[Via Laura Rozen at War and Piece.]

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Bob Herbert, in today's New York Times, reminds us how terrible war is, whether just or unjust. To date, there have been 1,573 American military fatalities in the Iraq War. Over 20,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the war thus far.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Powell vs. Bolton

While President Bush was urging the Senate to "put politics aside" in order to confirm John Bolton, a prominent Republican was expressing his concerns to two key members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell had telephone conversations with Senators Lincoln Chafee and Chuck Hagel in which he expressed his concerns about Bolton's temperament. Will Powell's opposition seal Bolton's fate? It may depend on the integrity of a few Republican senators. The Washington Post story is here.

Papal Politics

The cardinals who participated in the papal conclave were sworn to "perpetual secrecy" concerning their deliberations. Nonetheless, the Washington Post offers a fairly thorough account of how Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. Read it here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Leaving Guantanamo

Eighteen more detainees were released from Guantanamo yesterday, according to the Washington Post. Seventeen were sent to Afghanistan and one was sent to Turkey. "The detainees had been through tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, where it was determined that they are no longer enemy combatants," according to the Post story. No doubt each one left with a wonderful impression of the United States Government and its firm commitment to democracy and human rights.

The Bolton Nomination

The nomination of John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is in serious trouble. Yesterday, Senator George Voinovich of Ohio surprised his Republican colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by announcing that, based on the arguments of Democratic Senators Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd, he was not prepared to support Bolton's confirmation. The vote scheduled for late yesterday afternoon, expected by both sides to be a straight party-line vote in favor of Bolton, was postponed until the first week in May.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that SFRC staff members say they've been "inundated with allegations about Bolton" since Carl Ford testified against Bolton last week, calling him a "serial abuser."

The Post also reports that "on Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told her senior staff she was disappointed about the stream of allegations and said she did not want any information coming out of the department that could adversely affect the nomination." Isn't threatening subordinates whose views call into question the party line precisely why Bolton's nomination is in trouble? Punishing those who tell the truth is not the way to generate a sound foreign policy. That, I suppose, is one of the reasons why the Bush Administration does not have a sound foreign policy.

Monday, April 18, 2005

How to Change the World

This is something that any activist would do well to read. Chris Rose, the former deputy director of Greenpeace UK, offers a twelve-step program for effecting change. See the article here.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Darfur: The Genocide Continues

We are not eager to have our country known as one that chooses to ignore the genocide occurring in Darfur, and yet it is happening. But perhaps we should clarify what is meant by the phrase "our country." Clearly, there are many people in the United States who are not ignoring the genocide in Darfur. Thanks to the efforts of Ashlee Hardesty, Bunnie Poullard, Ben Young, and others, in just the last month many more people at Pepperdine have been made aware of what is happening. And yet "our country"--our government--continues to act as if a few pre-election expressions of concern are an adequate response.

Nicholas Kristof, as he has on many occasions in the past, addresses Darfur in his column in the New York Times today. Kristof, noting that President Bush has yet to announce his position on the Darfur Accountability Act, which would seek to pressure Sudan's government into halting its support for the janjaweed militia, asks, "Does Mr. Bush really want to preserve his neutrality on genocide?"

Other countries--or at least other governments--have been equally (if not more) passive about addressing the genocide in Darfur. This, however, does not excuse the United States' failure to act. After all, "with great power comes great responsibility" (as Uncle Ben put it to Peter Parker in Spiderman).

Kristof concludes with a simple appeal to our common humanity:

On each of my three visits to Darfur, the dispossessed victims showed me immense kindness, guiding me to safe places and offering me water when I was hot and exhausted. They had lost their homes and often their children, and they seemed to have nothing--yet in their compassion to me they showed that they had retained their humanity. So it appalls me that we who have everything can't muster the simple humanity to try to save their lives.

Read Kristof's column and ask yourself if there's something else you can do to save 10,000 lives a month in Darfur.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Bolton: Off the Reservation?

Steve Clemons, quoting at length an article from The Economist, raises an important question about John Bolton's proclivity to cause trouble for those who make U.S. foreign policy. Increasingly, the question about Bolton is not just why Republican senators would be willing to confirm his appointment to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, but why President Bush appointed him in the first place.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Globalization and Money

Molly Ivins addresses the way the rich move money around the world (to evade taxes) and the dilemma this presents for those who think the government ought to be able to track terrorist financing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Questioning the War

Congressman Ron Paul gave a speech in the House of Representives last week that is well worth reading in its entirety. Here are the first two paragraphs:

Whenever the administration is challenged regarding the success of the Iraq war, or regarding the false information used to justify the war, the retort is: “Aren’t the people of Iraq better off?” The insinuation is that anyone who expresses any reservations about supporting the war is an apologist for Saddam Hussein and every ruthless act he ever committed. The short answer to the question of whether the Iraqis are better off is that it’s too early to declare, “Mission Accomplished.” But more importantly, we should be asking if the mission was ever justified or legitimate. Is it legitimate to justify an action that some claim yielded good results, if the means used to achieve them are illegitimate? Do the ends justify the means?

The information Congress was given prior to the war was false. There were no weapons of mass destruction; the Iraqis did not participate in the 9/11 attacks; Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were enemies and did not conspire against the United States; our security was not threatened; we were not welcomed by cheering Iraqi crowds as we were told; and Iraqi oil has not paid any of the bills. Congress failed to declare war, but instead passed a wishy-washy resolution citing UN resolutions as justification for our invasion. After the fact we’re now told the real reason for the Iraq invasion was to spread democracy, and that the Iraqis are better off. Anyone who questions the war risks being accused of supporting Saddam Hussein, disapproving of democracy, or “supporting terrorists.” It’s implied that lack of enthusiasm for the war means one is not patriotic and doesn’t support the troops. In other words, one must march lock-step with the consensus or be ostracized.

Rep. Paul should not be dismissed as a weak-kneed liberal. On the contrary, he is a Republican--from Texas, no less (the 14th District)--with a lifetime rating of 83 (out of 100) from the American Conservative Union.

Read the whole speech.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Marburg Fever

In 1967, workers in a laboratory in Germany began contracting a previously unknown hemorrhagic fever. Twenty-five percent of the workers who contracted what came to be called Marburg fever died. The disease was traced to a group of monkeys that had been brought to the lab from Uganda.

Marburg fever is currently spreading through a portion of Angola. The New York Times reports that 193 people have died so far. According to the World Health Organization, the mortality rate associated with this outbreak has been 90 percent. As with the closely related Ebola virus, stopping the spread of Marburg fever requires preventing healthy people from coming into contact with the bodily fluids of those who have been infected.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It was sixty years ago yesterday--April 9, 1945--that the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was killed in a Nazi concentration camp. A pacifist, Bonhoeffer gave up opportunities to lecture in the safety of the United States as World War II approached in order to return to Germany to minister to the Confessing Church, which was struggling to remain faithful to the Gospel in spite of the repression of the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer ultimately joined a group that conspired to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He was arrested by the Gestapo and hanged along with his co-conspirators less than a month before Germany surrendered to the Allies.

For more information on Bonhoeffer's life and works, see the web site of the International Bonhoeffer Society, this online exhibition about Bonhoeffer presented by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, or this web site associated with the PBS film, Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Blocking Bolton

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's hearings on President Bush's controversial nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations have been delayed to accommodate those senators traveling to Rome to attend the funeral of John Paul II. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that a former State Department official will testify that John Bolton sought to intimidate intelligence officials who disagreed with his views on such matters as the WMD program that the Bush Administration presented as a casus belli with Iraq. The hearings could become very interesting if senators begin asking questions journalists have avoided about how politics might have shaped pre-war intelligence.

For more on this see The Washington Note.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Taco Bell and Human Rights

Diana Rozendaal--she's the one on the left--is much too nice to challenge me directly, but because I know both the goodness of her heart and her well-articulated views on animal rights, she challenges me nonetheless (in a good way). Specifically, she challenges the choices I make about food three times a day--sometimes more, if the truth be told. (Perhaps I should make it clear that I don't eat bears.)

Some choices we make about food--steamed or stir-fried, for example--are matters of preference, but, whether we recognize it or not, many of our choices related to food are moral choices. Some even involve human rights rather than animal rights so that even vegetarians (and vegans) are not off the hook. Eric Schlosser makes the point very persuasively in Fast Food Nation. In an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, he demonstrates that our commitments regarding human rights are tied up in some of the choices we make concerning what--and where--we eat. Fortunately (for some fast food junkies), Taco Bell has finally done the right thing for farm workers in Florida.

Honoring John Paul II

Nicholas Kristof writes today of the lip service being paid to the principles espoused by John Paul II:

President Bush and other world leaders are honoring John Paul II in a way that completely misunderstands his message. We pay him no tribute if we lower our flags to half-staff and send a grand presidential delegation to his funeral, when at the same time we avert our eyes as villagers are slaughtered and mutilated in the genocide unfolding in Darfur.

The column recounts some of the atrocities that are still occurring in Darfur and notes, yet again, the need for a security force and not just humanitarian aid.

Kristof is not one to mince words. He concludes, "If there is a lesson from the papacy of John Paul II, it is the power of moral force. The pope didn't command troops, but he deployed principles. And it's hypocritical of us to pretend to honor him by lowering our flags while simultaneously displaying an amoral indifference to genocide."

If you want to honor the memory of John Paul II this week and you don't have the kind of public relations budget the White House has, do what Kristof recommends: Write or call to urge your representatives in Congress to pass the Darfur Accountability Act, introduced at the beginning of March by Democratic Senator John Corzine and Republican Senator Sam Brownback. Perhaps those men and women who recently met at midnight on a Sunday in an effort to save the life of one woman in Florida could be troubled to spend a few minutes during a regularly scheduled session of Congress to try to save tens of thousands of lives in the Sudan. It's worth asking about.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Bolton Hearings

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will conduct hearings on the nomination of John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. Bolton's nomination should be rejected by the Senate for reasons that Suzanne Nossel, who served at the U.N. with Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, condenses for us in a top ten list here.

Kissinger's Angioplasty

I'm a bit slow reporting this news, but the Los Angeles Times noted last week that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger underwent angioplasty in a New York hospital. Angioplasty is a procedure designed to improve blood flow to the heart. Doctors would not say what purpose the surgery served in Kissinger's case.

[Via Arms Control Wonk.]

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Global Oil-Production Peak

James Howard Kunstler details the implications of the global oil-production peak in a new book entitled The Long Emergency. Rolling Stone has an excerpt that is very definitely worth reading if you don't mind having your day ruined. (Of course, if petroleum problems can ruin your day and you already know that oil prices reached another all-time high yesterday, then perhaps you might as well go ahead and read Kunstler's article.)

John Paul II, 1920-2005

Pope John Paul II has died at the age of 84. There will be many analyses of his papacy in the coming days, but a few points from an international relations perspective are worth noting here.

As a native of Poland, John Paul brought to the Vatican an uncommon combination of qualities. He was finely attuned to the principles of power politics--realism--but, at the same time, strongly convinced of the significance of human rights. These characteristics merged in what might have been the defining feature of the first half of his papacy, his staunch opposition to communism. In Eastern Europe, his anticommunism provided moral support (although little else) for those who were determined to end Soviet domination. In Latin America, however, it caused him to be suspicious of those trying to overthrow right-wing dictatorships. Like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, John Paul seemed far less concerned about authoritarian regimes than about communist dictatorships.

The Catholic Church under John Paul's leadership made common cause with Muslims and evangelical Protestants against all proposals to control population growth or slow the spread of HIV/AIDS that were not based on sexual abstinence alone. Africa, where the Catholic Church experienced its greatest growth during John Paul's papacy, experienced enormous human suffering during the same period due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. While Catholic teachings on birth control are generally ignored in the United States and Europe, they have generally been accepted, often with disastrous results, by new converts in Africa.

His extensive travels, his efforts to communicate in the local language wherever he went, and his obvious concern for the downtrodden made John Paul II enormously popular among Catholics all over the world. He was not, however, responsible for the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. In fact, it would be closer to the truth (although still hyperbolic) to say that, with the rise of abortion as a wedge issue in American politics, he was responsible for the decline of the Democratic Party in the United States.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Darfur - ICC Update

The U.N. Security Council voted yesterday to refer the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court prosecutor. The United States, in a reversal of its previous position on the matter, decided not to block the referral. The U.S. was one of four Security Council members to abstain on the vote.

Human Rights Watch describes the Security Council vote and its significance here. The U.N. News Centre story is here.

The Security Council press release on the vote includes the text of the resolution by which the referral was accomplished and this description of the U.S. representative's explanation of the American abstention:

Following the vote, ANNE WOODS PATTERSON (United States) said her country strongly supported bringing to justice those responsible for the crimes and atrocities that had occurred in Darfur and ending the climate of impunity there. Violators of international humanitarian law and human rights law must be held accountable. Justice must be served in Darfur. By adopting today’s resolution, the international community had established an accountability mechanism for the perpetrators of crimes and atrocities in Darfur. The resolution would refer the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation and prosecution.

While the United States believed that a better mechanism would have been a hybrid tribunal in Africa, it was important that the international community spoke with one voice in order to help promote effective accountability. The United States continued to fundamentally object to the view that the Court should be able to exercise jurisdiction over the nationals, including government officials, of States not party to the Rome Statute. Because it did not agree to a Council referral of the situation in Darfur to the Court, her country had abstained on the vote. She decided not to oppose the resolution because of the need for the international community to work together in order to end the climate of impunity in the Sudan, and because the resolution provided protection from investigation or prosecution for United States nationals and members of the armed forces of non-State parties.

The United States was and would be an important contributor to the peacekeeping and related humanitarian efforts in the Sudan, she said. The language providing protection for the United States and other contributing States was precedent-setting, as it clearly acknowledged the concerns of States not party to the Rome Statute and recognized that persons from those States should not be vulnerable to investigation or prosecution by the Court, absent consent by those States or a referral by the Council. In the future, she believed that, absent consent of the State involved, any investigations or prosecutions of nationals of non-party States should come only pursuant to a decision by the Council.

Although her delegation had abstained on the Council referral to the Court, it had not dropped, and indeed continued to maintain, its long-standing and firm objections and concerns regarding the Court, she continued. The Rome Statute was flawed and did not have sufficient protection from the possibility of politicized prosecutions. Non-parties had no obligations in connection with that treaty, unless otherwise decided by the Council, upon which members of the Organization had conferred primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

She was pleased that the resolution recognized that none of the expenses incurred in connection with the referral would be borne by the United Nations, and that instead such costs would be borne by the parties to the Rome Statute and those that contributed voluntarily. That principle was extremely important. Any effort to retrench on that principle by the United Nations or other organizations to which the United States contributed could result in its withholding funding or taking other action in response.

The Council included, at her country’s request, a provision that exempted persons of non-party States in the Sudan from the ICC prosecution. Persons from countries not party who were supporting the United Nations’ or African Union’s efforts should not be placed in jeopardy. The resolution provided clear protection for United States persons. No United States person supporting operations in the Sudan would be subject to investigation or prosecution because of this resolution. That did not mean that there would be immunity for American citizens that acted in violation of the law. The United States would continue to discipline its own people when appropriate.

A Military Perspective on Prisoner Abuse

The abuse, including torture and murder, of prisoners in U.S. custody is still not getting the attention it requires. In a column aptly titled "We Can't Remain Silent," Bob Herbert writes about the responses of two retired officers, Rear Admiral John Hutson and Brigadier General James Cullen, to the scandal. To put it briefly, both are supporting the lawsuit filed against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by Human Rights First and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Herbert correctly notes that, in the absence of a serious high-level investigation of prisoner abuse, the problem is likely to get worse rather than better.

A report released this week by Human Rights First said that the number of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan has grown to more than 11,000, and that the level of secrecy surrounding American detention operations has intensified.

Burgeoning detainee populations and increased secrecy are primary ingredients for more, not less, prisoner abuse.

What needs to happen next? How about the appointment of a special counsel to investigate torture by Americans in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, and elsewhere?