Monday, December 19, 2005

Christmas Break

In spite of the fact that I have a lot more I want to say about the President Bush's determination that the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply to his administration, I must leave the commenting to others for now. The grades are all in and it's time for a break. I'll resume posting on or about January 1.

Thanks for stopping by. Have a very merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Fool Me Once

No matter how things turn out in Iraq--and all people of good will must hope that a generation of Iraqis that has lived through three devastating wars and a long and brutal dictatorship will find peace and freedom--we must not forget that the United States initiated its current war in Iraq under false pretenses. The war, we were told, was necessary (even if preemptive or, more accurately, preventive) because Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction and was in league with Al Qaeda. Iraq, in short, posed a serious threat to the United States--if not directly, then through the medium of transnational terrorist organizations in common cause with Saddam Hussein.

Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction. It did not have ties to Al Qaeda. These facts have been definitively established. For present purposes, it does not matter whether President Bush lied or was merely mistaken. It does not matter because, after the President's defiant admission today during his weekly radio address that he did in fact order surveillance of Americans without judicial authorization, we need only be reminded of the consequences of being wrong--for whatever reason--when dramatic claims are made in the name of national security.

President Bush said today that he had authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. He called the secret program "crucial to our national security" and said it was intended to "detect and prevent terrorist attacks against the United States, our friends and allies."

Just to be clear, President Bush acknowledged giving orders that violate the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. His claim that the authorization was "consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution" has no more validity than his administration's many attempts to define out of existence both domestic and international prohibitions against torture. His claim that his action was, and continues to be, "critical to saving American lives" is unverifiable.

The President initiated a war against Iraq in defiance of international law, the United Nations Security Council, and just war principles. He did so on the basis of claims, later proven false, that the war was necessary to protect American lives.

The President has also authorized--by his own admission at least thirty times--a program of domestic surveillance that clearly violates the Constitution (and for which legal alternatives are available). He claims, once again, to be doing so in order to save American lives.

Americans need to remember the President's own words: "Fool me once, shame on--shame on you. Fool me--you can't get fooled again."

Friday, December 16, 2005

Seeking Security in an Insecure World

Seeking Security in an Insecure World has been released. You can order it here from the publisher at a 15 percent discount. (Amazon and Barnes & Noble have not yet updated their information on the book.) It would make a great gift for everyone on your Christmas list!

For Pepperdine's press release concerning the book, go here.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bush Relents

President Bush has agreed to accept the McCain Amendment barring cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees.

Unfortunately, some people still don't get it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bipartisan, Bicameral Support

The House of Representatives voted today, by a 308 to 122 margin, to support the McCain Amendment. The measure, approved 90-9 by the Senate in October, is part of a $453 billion defense appropriation currently in conference committee. The vote today was on a non-binding resolution to instruct House members of the conference committee to support inclusion of the McCain Amendment in the bill reported out by the committee.

It's a modest step toward restoring America's integrity. Now what will it take to get the Bush Administration to concede that cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is wrong?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Right Question

"Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular--but one must take it simply because it is right."

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Torture: Recent Comments

Anthony Lewis's recent essay in The Nation, entitled "The Torture Administration," is a must-read piece. Here, via Common Dreams, is a brief sample.

The pictures from Abu Ghraib, first shown to the public on April 28, 2004, evoked a powerful reaction. Americans were outraged when they saw grinning US soldiers tormenting Iraqi prisoners. But it was seeing the mistreatment that produced the outrage, or so we must now conclude. Since then the Bush Administration and its lawyers have prevented the release of any more photographs or videotapes. And the public has not reacted similarly to the disclosure, without pictures, of worse actions, including murder.

Maureen Dowd's skewering of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's doubletalk in Europe is also well worth reading. Here is Dowd parsing the Secretary's assurances regarding torture:

"The United States government does not authorize or condone torture of detainees," [Rice] said.

It all depends on what you mean by "authorize," "condone," "torture" and "detainees."

(This also comes via Common Dreams.)

Finally, Naomi Klein points out (in an article entitled "'Never Before!' Our Amnesiac Torture Debate") that the United States has a history with torture that we ignore all too readily. It's worth a read.

* * *

Why are most Americans so willing to ignore the atrocities--certainly that is what we would call them if any other government were responsible--that are being committed by their government? Is fear really that strong? Or are we just not as good as we suppose ourselves to be?

Sunday, December 11, 2005


This site logged its 10,000th visit at 7:19 a.m. Pacific Time today. Ten thousand visits is a bad day for a lot of blogs, but it's not about the numbers. I'm grateful for all the visitors I get.

Thanks to all of you who stop by from time to time.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Condi and the Media

Tim Rutten, who writes a column on the media for the Los Angeles Times, has an exceptional piece in today's paper in which he laments the tendency of American journalists today to "make a fetish of that faux-fairness that housebreaks reporting by rendering it a subset of stenography."

What is it that provoked Rutten to alliterate? It's the media's coverage of Secretary of State Rice's comments on torture during her European travels.

Secretary Rice has been reported to have set things right regarding torture thanks to her clear condemnations of illegal practices. Rutten suggests, to the contrary, that Rice's words did nothing of the sort and that the only way one would come away thinking they did is by completely ignoring the context of her remarks. As Rutten puts it in his conclusion, "Facts plus context equal truth."

What context does Rutten suggest is missing? He lists some facts to supply context:

Fact: As the [Washington] Post previously has reported, the United States has been operating a network of clandestine CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, where suspected terrorists and adherents of Islamo-fascism are tortured.

Fact: U.S. intelligence agents have repeatedly kidnapped people and handed them over to third countries to be tortured in a process called "extraordinary rendition."

Fact: As the New York Times has reported, U.S. officials believe that information obtained from one of Al Qaeda's most infamous operatives--Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who planned the 9/11 atrocities--cannot be used in American legal proceedings because it was obtained by torture. Similarly, false information regarding purported links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, which the administration used to make the case for invading Iraq, was obtained under torture from another terrorist, Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured by the CIA in Afghanistan and turned over to the Egyptians for interrogation.

Fact: As the Post's editorial pointed out, Rice continues to argue that "'It is also U.S. policy that authorized interrogation will be consistent with U.S. obligations under the Convention Against Torture, which prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.' What she didn't explain is that, under this Administration's eccentric definition of 'U.S. obligations,' cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is not prohibited as long as it does not occur on U.S. territory."

Rutten then notes, "Had all these facts and voices of rational authority--like [former State Department legal adviser Abraham] Sofaer's--been made part of the day-to-day reporting on Rice's tour, all her deliberate ambiguity would have come into focus for what it was: a convoluted defense of the indefensible."

Parsing the words spoken by the Bush Administration about torture is pointless and unnecessary. Actions speak louder--and far more truthfully--than words.


Today is International Human Rights Day. It marks the fifty-seventh anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the seed from which modern international human rights law has grown.

Paul Gordon Lauren, in The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen (2nd ed.), a magisterial account of the origins of our modern understanding of human rights, describes the signficance of the Universal Declaration this way:

In creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an international body representing the community of nations for the first time in all of history agreed on a universal vision of human rights on behalf of all men, women, and children everywhere in the world. The participants remarkably joined together to both reflect and transcend their many different political and economic systems, social and judicial structures, religious and cultural backgrounds, philosophical and ideological beliefs, stages of development and cultural settings, and histories of exclusive national sovereignty in such a way as to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that spoke of the "human family" as a whole and to establish a set of normative standards for all peoples and all nations. The fact that there was no single author, but rather hundreds--or, arguably, even thousands--who contributed to drafting the text, gave the proclamation and its vision even greater authority and prestige. . . . This vision proclaimed that all people everywhere possessed certain basic and identifiable rights, that universal standards existed for the world as a whole, and that human rights were matters of legitimate international concern and no longer within the exclusive domestic jurisdiction of nation-states as in the past. Yet, as those familiar with the long struggle for human rights knew from experience, tremendous distances often existed between abstract theory and actual practice. In fact, at the time of the adoption of the Univeral Declaration of Human Rights no state--not one--regardless of location, system of government, level of development, or culture, could meet its standards of achievement. Champions and opponents of human rights alike thus wondered what would happen and what it all would mean. The answer, of course, lay in the future and ultimately would depend on if, when, and how the world decided to transform this proclaimed vision into reality. (232)

Friday, December 09, 2005

"Emissions Accomplished"

You had to read all the way to the end of Andrew Revkin's story in today's New York Times about the American walkout during the climate change discussions in Montreal to find this description of a clever lobbying tactic by an NGO:

The National Environmental Trust distributed custom-printed noise-making rubber whoopee cushions printed with a caricature of President Bush and the words "Emissions Accomplished."

The rest of the story describes the effort made by the United States during the two-week-long Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to ensure that nothing would be accomplished. "Emissions Accomplished" indeed.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


U.N. Ambassador John Bolton today told U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour to back off. Arbour, in a statement closely related to her recent commentary in the International Herald Tribune, said the United States is eroding respect for the international prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Having apparently slipped his leash, Bolton said,

Today is Human Rights Day. It would be appropriate, I think, for the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights to talk about the serious human rights problems that exist in the world today. . . . It is disappointing that she has chosen to talk about press commentary about alleged American conduct. I think the secretary of state has fully and completely addressed the substance of the allegations, so I won't go back into that again other than to reaffirm that the United States does not engage in torture.

Bolton also said, "I think it is inappropriate and illegitimate for an international civil servant to second-guess the conduct that we're engaged in in the war on terror, with nothing more as evidence than what she reads in the newspapers."

"Alleged American conduct"? "Reaffirm that the United States does not engage in torture"? "Nothing more as evidence than what she reads in the newspapers"? Did Bolton somehow miss the photos from Abu Ghraib? Has he not read the reports conducted by military investigators? Is he unaware that American soldiers have been convicted of charges related to the abuse of detainees? Does he think that hundreds of stories in the world's most respected newspapers are all without foundation?

Or is he just intent on causing American credibility to go even lower?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

When the United States Speaks

Skepticism abounds.

Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, currently in Europe, has been telling British and German representatives that "the United States does not condone torture."

Many of those representatives have been skeptical.

"It's clear that the text of the speech [in London] was drafted by lawyers with the intention of misleading an audience," said Andrew Tyrie, a Conservative MP interviewed by the New York Times.

No Exceptions

Louise Arbour, the former chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and, since July 2004, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, writes today in the International Herald Tribune on torture.

Her argument is not that of an activist, a polemicist, or even a lawyer. Instead, Ms. Arbour writes--simply, dispassionately, and authoritatively--as an expert on international human rights with a single point to make: "The right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment . . . may not be subject to any limitation, anywhere, under any condition." The right not to be tortured is, to use the term favored by human rights lawyers, non-derogable.

While Ms. Arbour does not cite the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in support of her position, Article 2 (2) looms large. It states, "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

Ms. Arbour concludes with an admonition:

On Human Rights Day, I call on all governments to reaffirm their commitment to the total prohibition of torture by:

Condemning torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and prohibiting it in national law;

Abiding by the principle of non-refoulement and refraining from returning persons to countries where they may face torture;

Ensuring access to prisoners and abolishing secret detention;

Prosecuting those responsible for torture and ill-treatment;

Prohibiting the use of statements extracted under torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, whether the interrogation has taken place at home or abroad;

Ratifying the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol, as well as other international treaties banning torture.

"He who has ears to hear . . ."

Monday, December 05, 2005


To be perfectly honest, the real point of this particular post is to make a few comments regarding web-based sources in general and Wikipedia in particular that might be helpful to my students. But because Swords into Plowshares is about international politics, a few preliminary comments may help to keep readers who aren't a part of the student population from tuning out.

Wikipedia, the web-based encyclopedia that is written, edited, and updated by any Internet user who cares to contribute, is an amazing phenomenon. Launched in 2001, the project generated over 20,000 encyclopedia articles in its first year and over 250,000 in English alone by April 2004. Another 600,000 articles in 50 additional languages were also online by that date. Today there are over 800,000 articles in English alone.

As I write this, is the 35th most commonly visited web site in the world, according to It gets more hits each day than the New York Times and the Washington Post web sites put together.

Tom Friedman, in his bestseller The World Is Flat, uses Wikipedia as an example of open-sourcing, one of the "ten forces that flattened the world." On page 95, Friedman quotes Andrew Lih, author of an essay in YaleGlobal, who notes that Wikipedia

provides a manifold view of issues from the World Trade Organization and multinational corporations to the anti-globalization movement and threats to cultural diversity. At the same time malicious contributors are kept in check because vandalism is easily undone. Users dedicated to fixing vandalism watch the list of recent changes, fixing problems within minutes, if not seconds. A defaced article can quickly be returned to an acceptable version with just one click of a button. This crucial asymmetry tips the balance in favor of productive and cooperative members of the wiki community, allowing quality content to prevail.

But is there really quality content in Wikipedia? How trustworthy is the information it dispenses? Anyone wanting a general introduction to any of the hundreds of thousands of topics listed would probably be quite satisfied. But those whose lives (or grades) depended on their research might prefer to consult a more reputable source.

Recently, the Guardian (London) asked a number of experts to check the Wikipedia articles on the subjects they know best. Entries on composer Steve Reich, the Basque people, British diarist Samuel Pepys, and encyclopedias were among those evaluated. Most of the experts found problems with the articles devoted to their specialties. Some were trivial errors, some were more consequential mistakes, and a few of the problems were stylistic rather than factual. (Two evaluators thought the writing was poor.)

Essentially, the problem with Wikipedia from an academic standpoint is the same as the problem with the Internet in general. Its openness (open-sourcing) means that some of its content will be outstanding, some will be mediocre, and some will be very poor. Unfortunately, discerning the difference between the good, the bad, and the ugly may require a level of expertise beyond what is available to a reader who, we shouldn't forget, probably came to the Internet looking to be educated.

In theory, the peer-review process and the editing that occurs in the world of academic publishing serve to ensure that what is published is, if not outstanding, at least reliable. Of course, all scholars can point to peer-reviewed articles or books that they think represent a waste of paper. (I'm reminded of Dorothy Parker's famous comment about a work of fiction: "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.") But, generally speaking, scholarship is scholarship not because it is produced by scholars but because it is scrutinized (and deemed acceptable) by scholars.

My opposition to the use of Wikipedia as a scholarly source was put to the test at a recent conference. Among the half dozen or so papers that I picked up, two cited Wikipedia articles. Both papers were written by well established scholars. I had to ask myself if my own standards for quality research might be too high. But, after seeing this, I've decided they're not. With Wikipedia, it's caveat lector.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

One Thousand Executions

On Friday, December 2, Kenneth Boyd was executed in North Carolina. It was the one thousandth execution in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

According to Amnesty International, a majority of the world's states--122 of them--have abolished the death penalty. Only China, Iran, and Vietnam executed more people than the United States last year.

Security and Liberty

Security is like liberty in that many are the crimes committed in its name.

--Justice Robert H. Jackson, dissenting opinion in Knauff v.