Friday, November 16, 2007
A Portrait of Guantánamo
Thursday, November 08, 2007
The New Litmus Test
Rosa Brooks makes the point today in her Los Angeles Times column that, as a political litmus test, torture is the new abortion. You can read her argument here.
Updating a Classic
Yesterday, Maureen Dowd provided the revised version of George W. Bush's Second Inaugural Address--one that takes into account the new view of freedom and democracy necessitated by recent developments in Pakistan.
Here's a brief sample:
In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.
In the long run, there is justice without freedom, and there can be human rights once the human rights activists have been thrown in the pokey.
The best line in the revised version:
Police tear-gassing lawyers is really just a foreign version of tort reform, which I support.
You can read the whole thing here.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
"The List," a regular feature of Foreign Policy's excellent web site, this month includes six world leaders--five presidents and a prime minister--who have, on average, been in office over thirty years. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea is fifth on the list at twenty-eight years in power. Foreign Policy notes that Obiang is Africa's richest ruler with a net worth estimated at $600 million.
Corruption keeps Obiang in power. Oil makes him wealthy.
The Deadliest Year
More American troops have died in Iraq thus far in 2007 than in any previous year of the war. Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 3,857 Americans have died in Iraq. Of that number, 854 military fatalities have occurred this year.
For details, see the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
In the early years of the Cold War, the United States adopted a policy of denying entry visas to foreign nationals on the basis of their political beliefs, a policy now known as ideological exclusion. As the nation recovered from the self-inflicted wounds associated with McCarthyism and the "Red Scare," the policy of ideological exclusion was abandoned.
Now, however, ideological exclusion is back. Indeed, to borrow a phrase, the United States seems to have transformed the war of ideas into a war against ideas. Using authority granted by the USA PATRIOT Act, the Department of Homeland Security has been denying entry to scholars whose views don't match those espoused by the Bush Administration. Tariq Ramadan, a distinguished Swiss scholar who was offered a tenured appointment at Notre Dame in 2004, has been barred from the U.S. Adam Habib, a South African scholar and critic of the war in Iraq, was denied entry when he got off the plane at JFK International Airport in October 2006 en route to meetings at Columbia University and the Social Science Research Council. Ramadan and Habib are not the only foreign nationals who have been affected by the policy of ideological exclusion, but they have become particularly prominent as a consequence of lawsuits filed by professional organizations (the American Academy of Religion on behalf of Ramadan and the American Sociological Association on behalf of Habib) against the Department of Homeland Security.
For more on ideological exclusion, see the information provided by the American Civil Liberties Union here. For information on some of those who have been kept from teaching or addressing professional audiences in the United States since 9/11, see this article in Academe, a publication of the American Association of University Professors.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
I suffer more from the humiliations inflicted by my country than from those inflicted on her.
Mukasey and Waterboarding
It's almost as if Alberto Gonzales had never left.
Michael Mukasey, President Bush's nominee to head the Department of Justice in the aftermath of the Gonzales disaster, has told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee considering his nomination that he's not sure if waterboarding violates laws prohibiting torture.
In a four-page letter [.pdf] to the Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee, Mukasey stated:
I was asked at the hearing and in your letter questions about the hypothetical use of certain coercive interrogation techniques. As described in your letter, these techniques seem over the line or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me, and would probably seem the same to many Americans. But hypotheticals are different from real life, and in any legal opinion the actual facts and circumstances are critical.
Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) pinpointed the problem with Mukasey's letter:
We asked Judge Mukasey a simple and straightforward question: Is waterboarding illegal? While this question has been answered clearly by many others . . . Judge Mukasey spent four pages responding and still didn't provide an answer.
Let's spell this out for Judge Mukasey: Waterboarding is a type of torture. As such, it violates both domestic and international law.
Monday, September 24, 2007
More Protests in Burma
On the sixth day of anti-government marches in Burma, an estimated 100,000 protestors took to the streets of the capital, Yangon. The government's religious affairs minister today warned of a possible crackdown against the Buddhist monks leading the protests.
In 1988, as many as 3,000 students were killed in the crackdown on th anti-government protests that led to the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi. However, some observers believe that international attention combined with restraints imposed by China will make a repeat of the 1988 crackdown unlikely.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
The Dictator's Checkup
The March of the Monks
On August 26, 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi assumed the leadership of Burma's fledgling movement for democracy at a rally at Yangon's Shwedagon pagoda. The Burmese military crushed the movement and since then has kept Burma's only Nobel laureate under house arrest with only intermittent periods of freedom.
Today in Yangon, 500 Buddhist monks marched past Suu Kyi's home while another 1,000 monks assembled at Shwedagon pagoda and an estimated 10,000 people (including 4,000 monks) marched in the city of Mandalay to protest Burma's repressive military dictatorship. It was the fifth consecutive day of protests by monks against the regime.
Earlier this week, in a move designed to shame the government, monks began refusing the alms that are distributed by the military. Monks have reportedly been marching with their begging bowls held upside down to demonstrate their rejection of the regime.
Meanwhile, the Burmese military has responded by arresting pro-democracy leaders and using hired thugs to beat up marchers. While the monks involved in the protests are clearly supported by the populace (90 percent of which is Buddhist), thus far only a few non-clergy have been willing to march with them. The government clearly is capable of bringing great force to bear against the protests, although killing monks would risk enraging their silent supporters.
The recent protests were prompted by a fuel price hike imposed by the government in August. Bus fares have doubled in the cities creating great hardship in a country with a per capita income of $175 per year.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
President Bush has told reporters in Sydney that he may confront Chinese president Hu Jintao over Chinese efforts to hack into Pentagon computers. Recent cyber-attacks on government systems in Washington, London, and Berlin have reportedly been traced to China's military. The PRC says, of course, that such claims are "groundless."
For more on the story, see this brief article in the Economist.
Off the Reservation
It doesn't bother me that five Advanced Cruise Missiles armed with nuclear weapons were flown on a B-52 from Minot AFB in North Dakota to Barksdale AFB in Lousiana on August 30, but I am somewhat concerned that the Air Force didn't know it.
The appropriate military authorities are also concerned and have launched--check that--begun an investigation.
"Push and Push and Push"
According to The Terror Presidency, a new book by former head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (and current Harvard Law professor) Jack Goldsmith, attorneys within the Bush Administration pressed hard using faulty legal arguments to expand executive power at the expense of Congress and the courts. David Addington, Vice President Cheney's legal counsel at the time, said, "We're going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop."
The New York Times Magazine will publish a lengthy piece on Sunday (available here) about Goldsmith and the challenges he faced trying to resist the Bush Administration's legal maneuverings. According to Goldsmith, the president's lawyers adopted a "go-it-alone" perspective on the presidency "because they wanted to leave the presidency stronger than when they assumed office, but the approach they took achieved exactly the opposite effect. The central irony is that people whose explicit goal was to expand presidential power have diminished it."
Needless to say, similar ironies can be found in most of the Bush Administration's counter-terrorism policies.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
The Bush Administration's mistakes in Iraq--too numerous to count--have been the subjects of scores of books already. Many of the mistakes are also recounted in No End in Sight, an excellent documentary currently in theaters. Perhaps none of the many mistakes, however, was more significant than the decision to disband Iraqi security forces.
We now know, based on letters released by L. Paul Bremer, that President Bush did not object to the plan, developed in the Defense Department, to "make it clear to everyone that we mean business"--Bremer's words--by dismantling Iraq's military. In fact, based on his reply to Bremer, the President seems to have shown very little interest in the issue.
The picture that emerges from more and more documentary evidence related to the Iraq War is one that should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the events of the last six years: The United States is governed by a clueless president surrounded by arrogant and venal advisors. This is hardly an original observation, but it is one that is well worth remembering as the Bush Administration tries to make the case for staying in Iraq.
(For more on Bremer-Bush correspondence, see this post by George Packer.)
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Jane Mayer, who has written about torture for the New Yorker on a number of occasions, has a story in the current issue on the CIA's "black sites" and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's numerous confessions. It's available here.
Wednesday's New York Times carried an op-ed by Gen. Wesley Clark and Kal Raustiala on the distinction between terrorists and combatants ("unlawful" or otherwise). It's an important distinction that the United States has been getting wrong since the beginning of the so-called "war on terror."
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
The First ECCC Indictment
In Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Khang Khek Ieu--"Comrade Duch"--was indicted by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. The former commandant of the infamous Tuol Sleng prison, where 14,000 people were tortured before being sent to their deaths in the killing fields near Phnom Penh between 1975 and 1979, was charged with crimes against humanity.
Duch's indictment was the first of five expected to come from the Introductory Submission presented by the Co-Prosecutors on July 18. Of the five who are believed to have been named in the Introductory Submission, Duch is the only one in custody and the only one to have confessed to crimes. His indictment, consequently, is less likely to present political problems or enforcement challenges for the tribunal than those yet to come.
For the ECCC's press release concerning the indicment, go here (.pdf). And for an excellent commentary in the Independent, see this brief essay.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
The United Nations Headquarters in New York City is about to undergo a major renovation, its first since the complex was begun in 1949. The project will include asbestos removal, extensive structural repairs, and implementation of energy-efficient design features. In all, the project is expected to cost approximately $1 billion.
For a virtual tour of the UN Headquarters, go here. Its history is described in this fact sheet.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Pogge on Obiang
Why did Russia's foreign minister pull an article accepted for publication in the September/October 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs? We have, on the one hand, an explanation from Russia's Foreign Ministry and, on the other hand, a statement from the editors of Foreign Affairs.
Curiously, the article as edited by Foreign Affairs, not as submitted by Foreign Minister Lavrov, has been posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
War Isn't Real
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Cambodia's Deadly Legacy
Cambodia, considered by some Americans at the time to be a sideshow of the Vietnam War, experienced almost uninterrupted warfare for over three decades beginning in the late 1960s. As a consequence, Cambodia today has one of the highest concentrations of explosive remnants of war (ERW)--land mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO)--of any country in the world.
In spite of the Cambodian government's desire to hide the problem in order to avoid negatively affecting tourism, the consequences of the ERW problem are visible everywhere. At roughly 1 in 250, Cambodia is believed to have more amputees per capita than any country in the world. According to the 2006 Landmine Monitor Report published by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, in 2005 there were 875 casualties (resulting in 168 deaths and 173 amputations) from landmines and UXO in Cambodia. Among those killed were 22 people involved in demining operations.
Musicians--all victims of landmines--near Angkor Wat (June 28, 2007).
In spite of persistent efforts by a variety of NGOs, there are believed to be 4 to 6 million landmines and other explosive remnants of war still to be cleared in Cambodia, most in areas near the Thai border. Tourists are safe in Cambodia, but many impoverished Cambodians, who must farm what little land they have available to them or starve, are not.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Marking a Milestone
Yesterday's post--Town and Country in Vietnam--appears to have been the 1,000th post on Swords Into Plowshares.
Please stop what you're doing and celebrate. (But make sure you celebrate responsibly.)
On July 2, in the Thai Hoc Courtyard of the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) in Hanoi, I witnessed an interesting ritual. A small but persistent stream of Vietnamese teenagers filed past the 82 tablets mounted on the backs of carved tortoises. Most touched each tortoise on the head; some left small offerings of money. The stone tablets (or steles) honor scholars who earned doctorates between the 15th and 18th centuries at Vietnam's oldest university, which was established by the emperor Ly Nhan Tong in 1076. Today's students were there to seek inspiration--or at least good luck--from the students of earlier generations in advance of Vietnam's highly competitive university entrance exams. Looking for an additional edge, many students (and some of their parents as well) moved from the tortoise stelae to the nearby Temple of Confucius to offer prayers for good exam results.
This year, 1.8 million Vietnamese students sat for the exams that determine who will get the 300,000 spots in the entering classes of Vietnam's 300 universities. In Hanoi, commercial traffic was restricted on roads near the examination sites in order to relieve the congestion created by students appearing for their exams.
According to a recent story in Time, Vietnam's impressive economic growth is already being imperiled by a shortage of skilled workers. There is, quite simply, not enough educational opportunity to meet the demands of the many young people who are eager to improve their ability to compete in the global economy. Nor is the system of higher education in Vietnam adequate to meet the demands of the nation's rapidly developing economy.
One foreign university--the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology--has established a presence in Vietnam. If Vietnamese authorities can be convinced that such arrangements do not unduly threaten the communist orthodoxy that prevails in their universities, there may be room for many more foreign universities to help Vietnam bridge the gap between higher education needs and opportunities. And unless something is done to increase Vietnamese teenagers' odds of getting into a university, the venerable tortoises in Hanoi's Temple of Literature will be in danger of being rubbed into dust.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Town and Country in Vietnam
Most of my brief stay in Vietnam was spent in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), although one day included a trip by car about 90 kilometers beyond Ho Chi Minh City. In both cities, I was impressed by the level of development and the amount of foreign investment.
Gross domestic product continues to grow at an impressive rate (8.6 percent in 2006), fed in part by Vietnam's membership in the ASEAN Free Trade Area and, since January 2007, the World Trade Organization. While Asian trading partners including Singapore, South Korea, China, Japan, Malaysia, and Taiwan provide most of the the direct foreign investment, American businesses are moving in as well. Some of the high-rise hotels that have sprouted up in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City bear familiar names. Today the term "Hanoi Hilton" can refer either to the Hoa Lo Prison Museum or to an actual Hilton hotel located near the Opera House. And KFC, complete with the smiling figure of Colonel Sanders (who, as Adrian Cronauer--played by Robin Williams--noted in Good Morning, Vietnam, looks a lot like Ho Chi Minh), now has several locations in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Even more exciting to at least one American I know who lives in Vietnam is the recent arrival of Pizza Hut.
As with most other countries that have experienced rapid economic development, costs and benefits are not being evenly distributed. The traditional mainstay of the Vietnamese economy, the agricultural sector, is rapidly declining in importance. Farmers are being squeezed economically; in fact, signs of Vietnam's modernization largely disappear once one leaves the cities behind. To make the situation even worse for those in the agricultural sector, corrupt officials in provincial governments have reportedly conspired with developers to force farmers to sell land at a fraction of its value.
Over the course of the past month, peaceful protests by farmers upset by land seizures and government corruption in the provinces have been taking place in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Last Wednesday, police in Ho Chi Minh City reportedly moved in to break up the protest involving 800 to 1,000 people there. Human Rights Watch weighed in with a statement on Friday.
Vietnamese authorities are aware that violations of international human rights are not good for business. The initial impulse is to hide human rights violations by keeping reporters at bay when protests occur, but if that fails perhaps the next impulse will be to correct the human rights violations themselves. At least we can hope so.
Friday, July 20, 2007
All it takes is a little Twenty-fifth Amendment action.
[Via Talking Points Memo.]
Bush and Torture: "Trust Us"
President Bush today signed a long-awaited Executive Order that seeks to clarify which methods of interrogation are banned by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Here is the key section of the new guidance:
I hereby determine that a program of detention and interrogation approved by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency fully complies with the obligations of the United States under Common Article 3 [of the Geneva Conventions], provided that:
(i) the conditions of confinement and interrogation practices of the program do not include:
(A) torture, as defined in section 2340 of title 18, United States Code;
(B) any of the acts prohibited by section 2441(d) of title 18, United States Code, including murder, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, rape, sexual assault or abuse, taking of hostages, or performing of biological experiments;
(C) other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation, and cruel or inhuman treatment, as defined in section 2441(d) of title 18, United States Code;
(D) any other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment prohibited by the Military Commissions Act (subsection 6(c) of Public Law 109 §366) and the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (section 1003 of Public Law 109 §148 and section 1403 of Public Law 109 §163);
(E) willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse done for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the individual in a manner so serious that any reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, threatening the individual with sexual mutilation, or using the individual as a human shield; or
(F) acts intended to denigrate the religion, religious practices, or religious objects of the individual.
While the prohibitions listed are important, especially in light of the fact that many of them have not been observed in the past, it is worth noting that the Executive Order defines the exclusions of Common Article 3 in terms of other legal guidance that also has not been observed in the past by the Bush Administration. President Bush is, in other words, continuing to kickthe can down the road.
So what is now off-limits? Practices banned by the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the statute implementing the Convention (Section 2340 of Title 18) are banned by this Executive Order. So are practices that were banned by the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. And practices that were prohibited by the Military Commissions Act. And so on. But we knew this already. And we also knew already that America's torture problem was the way the Bush Administration was interpreting--or simply ignoring--these rules.
After all the bureaucratic warfare that allegedly occurred over this Executive Order, the only significant guidance that has emerged from it is this: "The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency shall issue written policies to govern the program" of interrogation.
Those written policies will, of course, be secret.
The Devil Came on Horseback
Beginning in January 2004, Brian Steidle served as a military observer monitoring the ceasefire in Darfur on behalf of the African Union. He left that post in September 2004 and returned to the United States to try to raise awareness about what was happening in the Sudan. Through public lectures and displays of his photographs, Steidle has provided eyewitness testimony to the genocide. In March, his book entitled The Devil Came on Horseback: Bearing Witness to the Genocide in Darfur, was released by PublicAffairs Books.
Now, a documentary based on Steidle's experience in Darfur (and bearing the same title as his book) is coming out. The film will be in limited release beginning on July 25. For more information, including the trailer and a list of scheduled screenings, go here.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Developments in the ECCC
The Co-Prosecutors for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) have recommended the indictment of five Khmer Rouge leaders for their role in the Cambodian genocide between April 17, 1975, and January 6, 1979. This recommendation (called the "Introductory Submission"), together with over 1,000 documents (including 350 witness statements) supporting the charges, will now be considered by the Co-Investigating Judges in the mixed United Nations-Cambodian court established by an agreement reached between the UN and Cambodia in June 2003.
While the Co-Prosecutors are prohibited from releasing the names of those against whom indictments are being sought or the details of the charges, the statement released in Phnom Penh yesterday [.pdf] indicates the nature of the crimes being alleged:
Pursuant to their preliminary investigations, the Co-Prosecutors have identified and submitted for investigation twenty-five distinct factual situations of murder, torture, forcible transfer, unlawful detention, forced labor and religious, political and ethnic persecution as evidence of the crimes committed in the execution of this common criminal plan.
The factual allegations in this Introductory Submission constitute crimes against humanity, genocide, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, homicide, torture and religious persecution. The Co-Prosecutors, therefore, have requested the Co-Investigating Judges to charge those responsible for these crimes.
The top leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, died in 1998 having never been indicted or imprisoned for his role in the genocide that is estimated to have resulted in the deaths of approximately two million people. The military leader of the Khmer Rouge, Ta Mok, died last year, also without ever having faced charges.
Khieu Samphan, who served as head of state for Democratic Kampuchea and was one of the leading intellectuals in the Khmer Rouge (he earned a doctorate in economics from the University of Paris in 1959), is among those expected to be indicted. Khieu is 76 years old.
Nuon Chea, known has "Brother Number Two" during the brief reign of the Khmer Rouge, has stated that he expects to be indicted, but he also has maintained his innocence. Nuon Chea is now 82 and living in northwest Cambodia, the region to which many members of the Khmer Rouge retreated after being driven out of Phnom Penh by the Vietnamese military in January 1979.
Ieng Sary, another Khmer Rouge leader facing a possible indictment, served as foreign minister in the government of Democratic Kampuchea. He was related by marriage to Pol Pot and was third in the Khmer Rouge hierarchy when the government of Democratic Kampuchea was established. Ieng Sary is in his late seventies and was reportedly hospitalized in Bangkok for heart problmems late last year.
The only person among those expected to be indicted who has admitted responsibility for his actions in the Khmer Rouge regime is the former commandant of S-21 (the infamous Tuol Sleng prison) Khang Khek Ieu (better known as Brother Duch). Duch is also the only major suspect who is currently in custody, although not as a consequence of charges brought by the ECCC.
Of approximately 14,000 prisoners who passed through Tuol Sleng between 1975 and 1979, only twelve are known to have survived. Most were tortured and later executed at the most notorious of Cambodia's "killing fields," Choeung Ek.
Like other Khmer Rouge leaders, Duch disappeared into the countryside after the Vietnamese invasion in 1975-1976. In 1998, journalist Nic Dunlop discovered Duch working in a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. Duch had been converted to Christianity in 1996 by a Khmer-American missionary and had begun doing humanitarian work along the border. After his identity was discovered, Duch turned himself in to authorities and has been imprisoned awaiting trial in a Cambodian national court in Phnom Penh ever since.
Unlike Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, and Ieng Sary, who were granted pardons in the late 1990s by the government of Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen (himself a former member of the Khmer Rouge), Duch was never pardoned. (Although the ECCC may have to consider arguments related to the pardons if Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, or Ieng Sary is indicted, it is expected that pardons granted by Cambodia's government will not be considered binding on the ECCC given its emphasis on internationally defined crimes.)
Who might the fifth person named in the Introductory Submission be? Some speculation has focused on Meas Muth, son-in-law of the late Ta Mok and himself a military commander in the Khmer Rouge. Meas Muth, however, joined the Cambodian military after his defection from the Khmer Rouge, which means his prosecution might present significant political problems.
For more on this story, see Seth Mydans' report in the New York Times or Ker Munthit's report for the Associated Press.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
The Law of the Sea Convention
Admiral Vern Clark, a former chief of naval operations, and Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, a former U.N. representative, weigh in today in the New York Times in favor of U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. "Our nation will be in a much stronger position to advance its military and economic interests if we ratify the treaty," Clark and Pickering write. "We can guide and influence the interpretation of rules, protecting our interests and deflecting inconsistent interpretations. The agreement is being interpreted, applied and developed right now and we need to be part of it to protect our vital interests in the area of security and beyond."
It might be a good time for the United States to be a part of the International Seabed Authority, which the Convention created, now that Russia is beginning to advance an ownership claim to thousands of square miles of oil- and gas-rich seabed near the North Pole.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Vietnam and Cambodia
I have been back from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia for almost a week now. Jet lag is no longer a reasonable excuse for not blogging; now I have to face up to the fact that it has simply been difficult to know exactly where to dive into the effort to describe and interpret what I saw.
Perhaps the best place to begin would be simply to note that the trip took me and a friend--I traveled with the Vietnam country director for the English Language Institute, a non-profit that provides English teachers for schools and universities throughout Asia--to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Hanoi, in that order. While in Ho Chi Minh City, we spent a day with a car and driver going to the Cu Chi tunnels and the Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh. We had an opportunity to see some of the Cambodian countryside on the five-hour drive from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and on excursions from Siem Reap to the ancient temples of Angkor and to Lake Tonle Sap.
Before commenting on what we observed on the trip, I want to begin by showing some of what we saw. Below is a brief slide show (Flash required) depicting Choeung Ek, one of Cambodia's "killing fields."
Please check back for additional slide shows and, when the muse finally permits, some comments on Vietnam and Cambodia.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
The Prosecutor Speaks
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The U.S. State Department released the 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report yesterday. Sixteen states were placed in Tier 3, which is reserved for the worst of the worst--those states that "do not fully comply with the minimum standards [to fight trafficking] and are not making significant efforts to do so."
Among the states making their first appearance in Tier 3 are Qatar, which has been the subject of recent scrutiny in the United States as a result of an ATS suit on behalf of camel jockeys and their parents, and Equatorial Guinea. Of the latter, the Report states,
Equatorial Guinea is primarily a destination country for children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and possibly for commercial sexual exploitation, though some children may also be trafficked within the country from rural areas to Malabo and Bata for these same purposes. Children are trafficked from Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, and Gabon for domestic, farm and commercial labor to Malabo and Bata, where demand is high due to a thriving oil industry and a growing expatriate business community. Reports indicate that there are girls in prostitution in Equatorial Guinea from Cameroon, Benin, Togo, other neighboring countries, and the People's Republic of China, who may be victims of trafficking.
The "thriving oil industry" noted by the report has been a catalyst for many forms of corruption in Equatorial Guinea and elsewhere.
For a brief report on the TIP Report, see this Washington Post story.
In preparation for an upcoming trip to Vietnam (about which I plan to write more later), I came across this bit of advice: "If you think that getting arrested may be a part of your itinerary, try to get your visa issued on a separate piece of paper from your passport."
It was intended to be a joke . . . I think.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Another General Speaks Out
According to The Onion, another military expert has decided to express his views on the Iraq War:
Breaking a 211-year media silence, retired Army Gen. George Washington appeared on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday to speak out against many aspects of the way the Iraq war has been waged.
Washington, whose appearance marked the first time the military leader and statesman had spoken publicly since his 1796 farewell address in Philadelphia, is the latest in a string of retired generals stepping forward to criticize the Iraq war.
The Onion really nails the Bush administration's response to expert critics:
White House response to the former general's criticism was swift and sharp. Spokesman Tony Fratto dismissed Washington as "increasingly irrelevant" and "a relic" who "made some embarrassing gaffes" during his own military career, such as the Continental Army's near destruction in the Battle of Long Island in 1776.
Read the whole thing here.
[Via Opinio Juris.]
Monday, June 11, 2007
The Beginning of the End
A federal appeals court today ruled that President Bush cannot indefinitely imprison a U.S. resident on suspicion alone, and ordered the government to either charge Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri with his alleged terrorist crimes in a civilian court or release him.
The opinion is a major blow to the Bush administration's assertion that as the president seeks to combat terrorism, he has exceptionally broad powers to detain without charges both foreign citizens abroad and those living legally in the United States. The government is expected to appeal the 2-1 decision handed down by a three-judge panel of the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which is in Richmond, Va.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, yesterday, on Meet the Press:
Guantanamo has become a major, major problem . . . in the way the world perceives America and if it were up to me I would close Guantanamo not tomorrow but this afternoon . . . and I would not let any of those people go. I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Camel Jockeys and the ATS
I don't have time to comment on this right now, but please note this article by Adam Liptak in Sunday's New York Times concerning a class-action lawsuit filed in Florida last September against a number of wealthy individuals in the United Arab Emirates. Asserting the federal court's jurisdiction under the 1789 Alien Tort Statute, attorneys for the plaintiffs--young camel jockeys who worked in the UAE, and their parents--allege that the owners of racing camels in the UAE abducted children from their homes in various South Asian countries and kept them in conditions of slavery, both violations of the law of nations as required by the Alien Tort Statute.
[Via Opinio Juris.]
Monday, June 04, 2007
Washington Post writer Laura Blumenfeld, whose book Revenge: A Story of Hope recounts her effort to find the terrorist who shot her father in Jerusalem in 1986, has an interesting story in today's paper about three interrogators (or "gators," as they're called in the U.S. military)--one who worked in Iraq, one who worked in Northern Ireland, and one who worked in Israel.
A Ruling at Guantánamo
A military judge at Guantánamo Bay has ruled that the military commissions there do not have jurisdiction over detainees who have not been declared "unlawful enemy combatants." Col. Peter Brownback's ruling halted--at least temporarily--the prosecution of Omar Ahmed Khadr, the Canadian national who was captured in Afghanistan five years ago.
For more on the ruling, see this story in the International Herald Tribune.
Saturday, June 02, 2007
"Military I," Five Years Later
The trial of Théoneste Bagosora and three co-defendants on charges of plotting the genocide that decimated Rwanda in 1994 has concluded in Arusha, Tanzania.
Considered "the most important genocide trial" since the adoption of the Genocide Convention in 1948 and designated "Military I" by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the trial spanned 408 trial days over the course of five years and involved 242 witnesses, 1, 584 exhibits, and over 300 written decisions from the bench.
Bagosora, who held a cabinet position in the Rwandan defense ministry at the time of the genocide, took over the armed forces on April 6, 1994, when President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane was shot down. The following morning, Bagosora allegedly ordered existing plans for the genocide to be carried out.
According to the Guardian, Bagosora never presented himself before the tribunal as a very sympathetic character: "Asked to illustrate how a subordinate would carry out an order, he gave the example of assigning someone to kill a member of the courtroom. Asked about a report that he had appeared at roadblocks alongside the death squads, he said it was an insult to a man of his rank."
Verdicts in the "Military I" case and in a number of other recently completed cases are expected later this year.
For more on the trial, see the Guardian story here and the ICTR website here.
Michael Kinsley, writing in today's Washington Post, exposes a number of the inconsistencies in the arguments being made on behalf of continued support for the war in Iraq. Here's a sample:
There was a time, circa 1999, when Republicans considered it the height of naivete, irresponsibility and indifference to the fate of American soldiers to commit any troops to action in a foreign country without what used to be called an "exit strategy." That was when the president was a Democrat. Now it is considered the height of naivete, irresponsibility and indifference to the fate of American soldiers to suggest the possibility of any exit strategy short of triumph. If you do, you are betraying the troops. And no one sees actual triumph in the cards, so there is no exit strategy.
After noting the Wall Street Journal's suggestion that Democrats use the power of the purse if they really want to end the war--and pointing out that the same Wall Street Journal applauded the Reagan Administration's illegal efforts to get around congressionally imposed funding restrictions in the Iran-Contra affair--Kinsley parses the argument that Bush, being democratically elected, has a certain democratic legitimacy for his policy of going to war in Iraq:
Of course, the president is elected, and in that sense he is acting as proxy for the citizens when he decides to take our country into a war. Right? Well, not quite. Let's leave aside the voting anomalies of the 2000 election. When this president first ran for national office, he campaigned on a platform of criticizing his predecessor for engaging in military action (in Kosovo and Somalia) without an exit strategy. He mocked the notion of trying to establish democracy in distant lands. He denounced the use of American soldiers for "nation-building." In 2000, if you were looking for a way to express your disapproval of the policies and prejudices that later got us into Iraq, your obvious answer would have been to vote for George W. Bush.
Read Kinsley's essay. It's an important contribution to the current debate.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
A Private Contractor Talks
In today's Guardian, a British private security contractor writes about what it's like to work on a security detail in Baghdad.
The anonymous contractor, who describes the firm he works for as "basically a taxi service with guns," is part of a team that protects individuals moving through Iraq to various reconstruction projects.
After detailing his daily routine and telling what he makes (about £90,000 [$175,000], tax free, for eight months of work), he writes,
I will probably bin [trash] it fairly soon. I think the writing is on the wall for Baghdad. I think it is about to go ballistic. The Baghdad security plan is not going to work. Other people will no doubt stay because they want the money but I think there comes a time when you need to ask, is this sustainable?
You can find the entire account here.
"Nothing of Substance Has Changed"
Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of international politics at Boston University and author of The New American Militarism, one of the best books on foreign policy I've read in the last several of years, lost his son, 1st Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich, in a suicide bomb attack in Iraq on May 13. This past Sunday, Professor Bacevich wrote about that loss and about the war he has long opposed. His essay contains an important message for both Democrats and Republicans.
Read it here.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
"I am the man with the toughest job in the world."
So said John Ukec Lueth Ukec, the Sudanese ambassador to the United States, toward the end of an hour-long diatribe at the National Press Club in Washington, D. C. today.
Apparently the ambassador, whom the Washington Post's Dana Milbank is calling "Khartoum Karl" in homage to Iraqi propagandist "Baghdad Bob," doesn't think the difficulty of his job has anything to do with the policies of the government he represents: "See how many people are dying in Darfur: None."
The ambassador has apparently been in Washington long enough to learn a trick from another propagandist named Karl: When the truth won't work, blame the Democrats. His explanation for President Bush's decision to impose new economic sanction's on Sudan? Pressure from Democrats in Congress. "The Democrats do not want Bush to go through with the success he has made in Sudan."
So what exactly is going on in Darfur? According to Khartoum Karl, the situation there bears some resemblance to the range wars in the Old West: "The farmers are being squeezed by the herders, just like you had here in the 18-something, when the cowboys were fighting . . . with the farmers over land for grazing."
Grasping at straws--or at least a bottle of Coke--Khartoum Karl issued a threat that was unprecedented in the history of diplomacy: He threatened to bring Coca Cola to its knees by cutting off Sudan's exports of gum arabic, a key ingredient in soft drinks. I'd like to say there was an audible gasp from the reporters in the room, but it was probably just the sound of the Coke bottle being opened.
Read Milbank's account of Ambassador Ukec's performance. He subjects it to the ridicule it deserves.
[Update: Milbank has video here.]
Educing Information is the title of a new report commissioned by the Defense Department's Intelligence Science Board. The report argues, in the words of the New York Times story on the report, that "the harsh techniques used since the 2001 terrorist attacks are outmoded, amateurish and unreliable."
The report--along with a recent speech by Philip Zelikow (available here as a .pdf file), former adviser to Secretary of State Rice, that harshly criticized some CIA and Defense Department interrogation methods--comes at an important time. The Times story continues:
The Bush administration is nearing completion of a long-delayed executive order that will set new rules for interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency. The order is expected to ban the harshest techniques used in the past, including the simulated drowning tactic known as waterboarding, but to authorize some methods that go beyond those allowed in the military by the Army Field Manual.
President Bush has insisted that those secret "enhanced" techniques are crucial, and he is far from alone. The notion that turning up pressure and pain on a prisoner will produce valuable intelligence is a staple of popular culture from the television series "24" to the recent Republican presidential debate, where some candidates tried to outdo one another in vowing to get tough on captured terrorists. A 2005 Harvard study supported the selective use of "highly coercive" techniques.
Three years after the Abu Ghraib photos revealed to the world the serious problems with American interrogation methods--problems that have risen to the level of torture in many instances--the Bush Administration still can't get it right. Nor can the American citizens who continue to applaud politicians promising even more in the way of "harsh interrogations."
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Memorial Day 2007
James Carroll, in a column published yesterday in the Boston Globe, reflects on the meaning of another Memorial Day with the nation at war in Iraq:
"If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted," the Vietnam novelist Tim O'Brien wrote, "or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie." O'Brien says that the hallmarks of truth, when it comes to war stories, are obscenity and evil. "You can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you."
Such dark notes are struck by the chroniclers of every war, going back to Homer, but they seem especially apt when those being mourned have fallen in a war that, even before its end, has already shown itself to have been mistaken from its first trumpet.
Carroll concludes, "The proper memorial to the war in Iraq is its immediate end."
"Into the Shadows"
"This may be a victory for the Blackwater legal team but it is a defeat for the principle of transparency. This means that the shadow army will slip even further into the shadows."
--Eugene Fidell, President of the National Institute of Military Justice, commenting on a federal judge's decision to end the lawsuit against Blackwater Security Consulting by moving the case into arbitration [via Reuters]
Friday, May 25, 2007
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Pirates (No, Really)
With Pirates of the Caribbean returning to the big screen today, it might be a good time to see what's happening in the world of modern-day maritime piracy. (There was a time when the modifier "maritime" would have been considered redundant, but video, audio, and software piracy have become so common that many people now think of those crimes first--or at least they did before Johnny Depp came along and put a face on the old-fashioned form.)
Fortunately for those of us interested in such things, statistics compiled by the International Maritime Organization give us a pretty good look at what modern-day Jack Sparrows are doing on the high seas. Last month, the IMO published its annual Reports on Acts of Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships (available here as a .pdf file). Here are a few bits of data gleaned from the Reports:
- There were 241 "acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships" reported to the IMO in 2006, 25 fewer than in 2005.
- The South China Sea, where there were 66 "incidents," was the most dangerous part of the world (although the Malacca Strait, with 22 "incidents," probably had the most attacks per square mile.
- Ten ships were hijacked. Four of the ten hijackings occurred in the waters off East Africa.
- Thirteen crew members died at the hands of pirates; another 112 were injured.
- There were 180 crew members kidnapped or taken hostage, of which 37 remain unaccounted for.
- The peak month for piracy was April. Like Congress, pirates seem to go into recess in August.
The Via Francigena
An Update from Zambia
Monday, May 21, 2007
More on Obiang
The Independent (London) reports today on President Teodoro Obiang's corruption and brutality (including his reputation for cannibalism).
Little Teodoro's place in Malibu gets a mention, along with the role of major oil companies in facilitating the Obiang family's exploitation of Equatorial Guinea's wealth:
When he wants to travel, the president has a choice of six personal planes, the most recent of which has a king-size bed and a bathroom with gold-plated taps. Destinations include the mansion in Maryland or the holiday home in Cape Town. Meanwhile his son, Teodorin, has managed to build an impressive fleet of Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Bentleys, despite claiming to earn an official salary of only £30,000 a year. Many are in Paris, where he lives in a luxury hotel.
And if Paris or Cape Town become too dull, Little Teodoro, as some in Equatorial Guinea call him (although possibly not to his face), can always retire to his $35m Malibu mansion, where his neighbours include Britney Spears and Mel Gibson.
According to US investigators, much of the wealth was funnelled from American oil majors to Obiang's family through a once-prestigious US bank, Riggs. A Senate inquiry found that $700m had been deposited with Riggs, and that the oil companies were fully aware that the money was going to Obiang's private bank accounts. In one case, $450,000 in rental fees for office space was paid to a 14-year-old relative of Obiang.
Is this guy really only the tenth worst dictator in the world?
A federal judge in North Carolina last week ordered the wrongful death lawsuit pending against Blackwater into binding arbitration.
After appealing unsuccessfully all the way to the Supreme Court, Blackwater now appears to have found another way to derail what promised to be a landmark lawsuit brought by the families of four security contractors killed in a convoy ambush in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.
This week, on orders of a federal judge, the dispute is scheduled to be taken up out of court by a three-man panel of arbitrators.
By steering the case into arbitration, Blackwater has shifted a legal showdown over issues of battlefield accountability and presidential authority into a non judicial arena where the proceedings occur behind closed doors and the outcome is confidential.
One of the three arbitrators is William Webster, a Reagan-era director of the FBI and CIA with personal and business ties to several Blackwater lawyers.
See the full story here.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
The New York Times reports today that at least 146 private contractors died in Iraq during the first quarter of 2007. The total death toll for contractors in Iraq is now at least 917; another 12,000 have been injured or wounded.
According to the Times, this is the first time that specific figures--based on claims filed with the Labor Department and on interviews with insurers and others--have been reported. Private military firms (PMFs) are, of course, not eager to talk about employee casualties. As the Times notes, "Companies that have lost workers in Iraq were generally unresponsive to questions about the numbers of deaths and the circumstances that led to casualties."
The extent of the U.S. military's dependence on PMFs in Iraq is staggering:
Nearly 300 companies from the United States and around the world supply workers who are a shadow force in Iraq almost as large as the uniformed military. About 126,000 men and women working for contractors serve alongside about 150,000 American troops, the Pentagon has reported. Never before has the United States gone to war with so many civilians on the battlefield doing jobs--armed guards, military trainers, translators, interrogators, cooks and maintenance workers--once done only by those in uniform.
In the Persian Gulf war of 1991, for example, only 9,200 contractors--mostly operating advanced weapons systems--served alongside 540,000 military personnel. But at the end of the cold war, Congress and the Pentagon were eager to seize on the so-called peace dividend and drastically scale back the standing Army. The Bush administration expanded the outsourcing strategy to unprecedented levels after the invasion of Iraq.
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA), chairman of the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, has announced that he will schedule hearings on the use of PMFs this fall. Meanwhile, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Rep. David Price (D-NC) (a former Duke University political science professor) have introduced legislation to require the government to provide information on private contractors in Iraq. (The House passed their legislation in the form of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday.) At present, "unless there is something specifically stated in the contract about accounting for personnel, there is no requirement for the U.S. government to track these numbers," as military spokesman Lt. Col. Joseph M. Yoswa notes.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Blackwater: "It's Classified"
Blackwater is suing a former employee for allegedly passing trade secrets to a startup private security firm based in Northern Virginia. More interesting than the late-night police raid in which a computer and some papers were seized from the defendant's home in Virginia Beach is this excerpt from a deposition related to the case in which Blackwater executive vice president William Matthews is being questioned about a former Blackwater employee:
Q: Okay. And what was Mr. Mullis' position when he became an employee for Blackwater?
A: He was the program manager for I think OGA programs.
Q: And OGA programs stands for what?
A: Other government agency.
Q: What does that include?
A: I don't know, or if I do know, it's classified.
Q: Okay. So was he working on classified, without giving me the content of any classified information, was Mr. Mullis working on classified projects at that time?
A: I don't know, or if I do know, it's classified.
Q: I've got to know which is which, I think. Do you not know or is it classified?
A: I don't know, or if I do know, it's classified.
Q: Okay. If that's your answer, we'll see where it goes. Okay. What were Mr. Mullis' duties and responsibilities as program manager for the OGA programs?
A: He would have overall responsibility and oversight for anything in his purview.
Q: And what was in his purview?
A: I don't know, or if I do know, it's classified.
It's time for Congress to assert control over private military firms. Blackwater's executives appear to believe that the normal rules don't apply to them.
Historian Robert Dallek describes the parallels between Iraq and Vietnam in this astute essay in the Washington Post. Here's a brief sample:
Like Johnson and Nixon, President Bush is hoping that adding troops will turn a civil war around, is relying on local, U.S.-trained forces to stave off defeat, and is worried that failure will undermine America's international credibility. Bush also disdains antiwar voices and is determined to prove them wrong in the long view of history. But unlike Johnson and Nixon, he doesn't seem to realize that his war is lost. Instead of learning from his predecessors, Bush seems to be replicating their mistakes.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
It's time to check in on the Obiang family again.
A recent article by Joshua Kurlantzik in Mother Jones on the use of American public relations firms by dictators reports that Equatorial Guinea has been paying the high-powered Washington lobbying firm of Cassidy & Associates at least $120,000 per month since 2004 to improve its image in the United States. A brief look at available Department of Justice reports on foreign agent registrations suggestts that Kurlantzik has understated Equatorial Guinea's spending on PR--at least for 2005.
Over the course of six months in 2005, Equatorial Guinea paid C/R International, L.L.C. $154,469.37, Cassidy & Associates, Inc. $1,020,000.00, Farragut Advisors (E.G.), LLC, $57,735.00, JWI, L.L.C. $22,500, and Sidley Austin LLP $139,577.27, for a grand total of $1,394,281.64, or $232,380.27 per month. (Department of Justice Foreign Agents Registration Act records are not up to date on the Department's website, perhaps due to a congressional mandate that will result in a searchable online database soon.) There were foreign governments that spent more than Equatorial Guinea did on lobbying and PR services (for example, Saudi Arabia more than quadrupled Equatorial Guinea's spending), but not many.
Has the spending paid off? Perhaps. President Teodoro Obiang was warmly welcomed to Washington by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in April 2006. More importantly, the Bush Administration continues to ignore its own anti-kleptocracy initiative and to encourage American investment in Equatorial Guinea's oil and natural gas industry.
Incidentally, the Cassidy & Associates website claims the company helps "foreign governments to design and implement comprehensive campaigns to ensure successful relations with the U.S. government." Indeed. Like Los Angeles realtors, Washington lobbyists don't mind doing business with dictators.
It may be time for me to watch Thank You for Smoking again so I can hear Nick Naylor say, "My job requires a certain . . . moral flexibility."
Globalization, Development and . . . Baseball
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Jerry Falwell (1933-2007)
What if Ann Coulter, the mistress of hate-filled invective, carried with her whatever credibility comes from being the minister of a suburban mega-church?
Jerry Falwell, founder of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia and of the Moral Majority, died yesterday in his office at Liberty University. In death as in life, Falwell was a polarizing figure. In fact, I've read comments that can only be described as "fighting words" from pacifists who have felt compelled to respond to the news of Falwell's death.
But why is Falwell's passing being noted here--on an IR blog?
I could point to Falwell's support for the repressive right-wing government in El Salvador during the 1980s or his opposition to sanctions against the South African apartheid regime. I could also point to his noxious comments in the aftermath of 9/11. Instead, I want to focus on his attitude toward women and its impact on U.S. human rights policy.
Let's start with an instructive contrast: Two Southern Baptists--Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Carter--came to prominence in the United States at about the same time. The two men differed on almost everything--including women's rights.
President Carter supported the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. His administration signed the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). He appointed more women and minorities to federal courts than all of the presidents who preceded him combined.
Falwell, on the other hand, was a misogynist.
In 1989, Falwell said,
I listen to feminists and all these radical gals. . . . These women just need a man in the house. That's all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home. And they blew it and they're mad at all men. Feminists hate men. They're sexist. They hate men; that's their problem.
Truly a Coulter-esque comment.
Falwell was a consistent opponent of equal rights for women. Key Republican leaders, including Senator Jesse Helms, later the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, were encouraged by the support they received from Falwell's Moral Majority to steadfastly oppose ratification of CEDAW.
It would be a gross over-simplification to say that Falwell was responsible for the failure--right down to the present day--of the United States to ratify CEDAW, but religiously based opposition to feminism in all its forms (including the very basic form of support for gender equality) is part of what he has left us. James Dobson and Focus on the Family (along with its political arm, the Family Research Council) carry Falwell's misogynistic mantle today. Falwell may no longer have the ear of Republican senators and presidents, but Dobson does and he follow's Falwell's script.
It will be difficult for the United States to reclaim a position of leadership on human rights until CEDAW and the Convention on the Rights of the Child are ratified. And it will be difficult for that to happen until the Christian Right understands that Falwell and his successors have been wrong about women's rights.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense on Thursday. The text of his remarks is available here.
In his testimony, Scahill noted that private contractors in Iraq sometimes make in a month what an active-duty soldier makes in year. This, of course, creates resentment and envy. It also creates an incentive for experienced military professionals to leave the armed forces of the United States in order to go to work for private contractors. Scahill stated, "There is slang in Iraq now for this jump. It is called 'Going Blackwater.' To put it bluntly, these private forces create a system where national duty is outbid by profits."
Read the entire statement.
The Inner Voice
"Great leadership often involves putting aside self-doubt, bucking conventional wisdom, and listening only to an inner voice that tells you the right thing to do. That is the essence of strong character. The problem is that bad leadership can also flow from these same characteristics: steely determination can become stubbornness; the willingness to flout conventional wisdom can amount to a lack of common sense; the inner voice can become delusional."
--Francis Fukuyama, America at the Crossroads, 60-61
Visitors were temporarily cleared out of Tienanmen Square in Beijing today after a vandal threw a burning object at the oversized portrait of Mao Zedong that adorns the Forbidden City. An unemployed man from the Xinjiang region was detained by police.
A Chinese journalist who threw paint-filled eggs at the portrait during the 1989 Tienanmen Square protest was imprisoned for over sixteen years and was mentally ill when released last year.
For more, see the Reuters story here.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
The End of the Blair Era
Tony Blair is returning to the place where he announced his campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party in 1994 to announce that he is stepping down. Before ceding his post as prime minister, Blair is expected to push for international agreements on climate change and aid to Africa.
The Guardian has more here.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Out of Sight
Monday, May 07, 2007
The Triumph of Good
There is no reason good cannot triumph over evil, if only angels will get organized along the lines of the Mafia.
--Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), A Man Without a Country
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Twenty-one Problems; Solutions Included
Foreign Policy has asked twenty-one experts to suggest one thing that would make the world a better place. In response, Joseph S. Nye, Jr. addresses anti-Americanism, Jeffrey D. Sachs considers global poverty, and Lt. Gen. William E. Odom takes on nuclear proliferation--to name just a seventh of the experts and their issues.
See the complete collection here.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Japan and the ICC
The Japanese Diet approved legislation on April 27 that will pave the way for Japan to join the International Criminal Court. Final accession to the Rome Statute is expected in October.
Barring an earlier entrant, Japan will become the 105th state to join the ICC. It will also become the largest financial contributor to the Court with a share of the ICC's budget that is expected to be approximately 16 percent.
For more on Japan's accession, see this Amnesty International press release, this Reuters news story, and two posts--here and here--by Kevin Jon Heller at Opinio Juris. The ICC's web site is located here.
A Disturbing Survey
This, on the front page of today's Washington Post, is disturbing:
More than one-third of U.S. soldiers in Iraq surveyed by the Army said they believe torture should be allowed if it helps gather important information about insurgents, the Pentagon disclosed yesterday. Four in 10 said they approve of such illegal abuse if it would save the life of a fellow soldier.
In addition, about two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed said they would not report a team member for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. "Less than half of Soldiers and Marines believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect," the Army report stated.
The Post reports that the Army has responded by changing its training to place more emphasis on battlefield ethics.
[Update: A redacted version of the report is available here.]
Friday, May 04, 2007
Climate Change and National Security
This week the House Intelligence Committee provided a dramatic illustration of the difference between what Dan Caldwell and I called the "new paradigm" and the "traditional paradigm" in security studies as Democrats and Republicans clashed over whether the American intelligence community should be asked to assess the security implications of climate change.
Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), who led the majority in approving a requirement for a formal National Intelligence Estimate on environmental impacts on security, said, "Climate change can have a serious impact on military operations and exacerbate global tensions." In contrast, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) stated, "Our government should not commit expensive spy satellites and human intelligence sources to target something as undefined as the environment."
What do those who work in the intelligence community think? According to CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano, "The intelligence community has for a long time studied the impact that environmental factors--things like scarce resources and natural disasters--can have on global security. Those are real issues."
Thursday, May 03, 2007
AIDS and Abstinence Education
Laurie Garrett, author of The Coming Plague and a leading expert on the security implications of disease, published an excellent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times yesterday on the Bush Administration's preference for sexual abstinence programs in its anti-HIV/AIDS program funding. The entire essay is worth reading, but here is the conclusion for those wanting the bottom line only:
Designing foreign policy to stamp out sexual activity among consenting adults is a fool's errand and a waste of taxpayers' money. When it comes to AIDS policy, we should stop pushing a moral idea about the circumstances in which sex should occur and instead push what works: condoms, clean needles, sex education and making sure that women have equal power to say no, or yes, to sex.
After all, we know we can slow the spread of HIV and maybe even stop it. We'll never end extramarital sex, prostitution or even "escort services." Just ask the "D.C. Madam" and her clients.
Read the whole thing here.
Against the World
Sometimes I get the feeling the whole world is against me, but deep down I know that's not true. Some smaller countries are neutral.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
This Los Angeles Times editorial today urges both the White House and Congress to take the steps necessary to end Guantanamo's long-running status as a "legal black hole." The Times particularly urges Congress to pass the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007, a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA).
"At Sea Off the Coast of San Diego"
The "Mission Accomplished" banner that provided the backdrop for President Bush's remarks aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln four years ago today is what most people usually remember of that Karl Rove-inspired photo op. It is an image that epitomizes the hubris and miscalculation of the Bush Administration. But some of the President's words on May 1, 2003, are also worth recalling on this anniversary:
Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.
If only that were true.
President Bush took advantage of the opportunity to repeat one of the war's false pretenses:
The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding.
According to the 9/11 Commission Report (see page 66), there was "no evidence" that contacts between Iraqi officials and representatives of al Qaeda "ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence," the Commission continued, "indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States." Since the "liberation of Iraq," that country has become what Afghanistan was in the 1980s--a training ground for terrorists.
In most respects, President Bush and his advisers were clearly "at sea"--and even adrift--"off the coast of San Diego," as the transcript of the speech notes. But on one important point President Bush's words were prophetic: "Americans, following a battle, want nothing more than to return home."
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Warlords and Child Soldiers
Today's New York Times "Week in Review" includes an important story on child soldiers by Jeffrey Gettleman. Here's the introduction:
In the early 1980s, in the lowlands of Mozambique, a new technology of warfare emerged that would sweep across Africa and soon the rest of the world: the child soldier.
Rebel commanders had constructed a four-foot tall killing machine that cut its way through village after village and nearly overran the government. Its trail was smoking huts and sawed off ears.
The Mozambicans learned that children were the perfect weapon: easily manipulated, intensely loyal, fearless and, most important, in endless supply.
Today, human rights groups say, there are 300,000 child soldiers worldwide. And experts say the problem is deepening as the nature of conflict itself changes--especially in Africa.
Here, in one country after another, conflicts have morphed from idea- or cause-driven struggles to warlord-led drives whose essential goal is plunder. Because those new rebel movements are motivated and financed by crime, popular support becomes irrelevant. Those in control don't care about hearts and minds. They see the local population as prey.
The result is that few adults want to have anything to do with them, and manipulating and abducting children becomes the best way to sustain the organized banditry.
Read the complete story here.
Friday, April 06, 2007
Voting Rights in Florida
Two months before the 2004 presidential election, I noted in this post that approximately 4,700,000 Americans would be ineligible to vote because of state restrictions on voting by convicted felons. The disenfranchisement of felons, which is a matter of state rather than federal law, has been most common in the South where it is a legacy of the Jim Crow era. It is generally viewed as a violations of international human rights law.
Yesterday, Florida's clemency board voted to allow most of the state's 950,000 disenfranchised ex-felons to regain their right to vote. The decision, pushed by Republican governor Charlie Crist, leaves only Virginia and Kentucky on the list of states with lifetime bans on voting by ex-felons.
Before the vote, Gov. Crist said, "This is Holy Week, a week that is all about forgiveness. Restoring civil rights is the right thing to do."
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Comfort Women: Why Now?
Why is the issue of the Japanese military's use of "comfort women" roiling Asian politics over sixty years after World War II ended? Foreign Policy gets answers from Columbia University's Gerald Curtis in this installment of "Seven Questions."
Monday, April 02, 2007
Returning to Form
I haven't had time to check the stats, but I suspect March 2007 was the lightest month ever for posting on Swords into Plowshares. Rather than make excuses, I'll simply announce my return and promise to do at least a little better in April.
Thanks for checking in.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
James Carroll offers a critique of all types of fundamentalism in this column published yesterday in the Boston Globe.
After defining fundamentalism and noting its troublesome effects, Carroll considers his own faith's version of the tendency. Noting Pope Benedict's recent "Apostolic Exhortation" and its assertion that certain values are "not negotiable," Carroll writes that "culture consists precisely in negotiation of values, and change in how values are understood is part of life. Moral reasoning is not mere obedience, but lively interaction among principles, situations, and the 'human limitations' referred to in the 1993 Vatican statement," which condemned religious fundamentalism.
Consider some of the values that good people might consider "not negotiable." Consider opposition to abortion or the defense of marriage as an exclusively heterosexual union. Or consider the promotion of democracy or of free-market economic principles. Consider support for human rights or opposition to all forms of war.
Steadfast defense of a principle without regard to circumstances--"mere obedience"--is easy. It absolves the one engaged in such a defense of the need to think about contexts or consequences. On the other hand, recognizing that values may come into conflict or that ends and means are both important--engaging, that is, in "moral reasoning"--is more difficult because it entails responsibility. It forbids the excuse that is so common among those who do evil without even realizing it: "I was just following orders."
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
If you've ever wanted to create your own utopian state (or maybe a dystopia is more your style), you can do it online here.
(Someone please let me know if it's worth messing around with. I don't have time to try it right now.)
[Thanks to Chelsea McCollum for the tip.]
Hyping the DPRK Threat
Joseph Cirincione makes a compelling case that the Bush Administration handled intelligence on North Korea's nuclear weapons program with the same disregard for inconvenient facts that it displayed with respect to Iraq. He writes:
What once appeared the exception now seems the rule. Officials in U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration are gingerly walking back from claims that North Korea was secretly building a factory to enrich uranium for dozens of atomic bombs. The intelligence, officials now say, was not as solid as they originally trumpeted. It does not seem that the North Korean program is as large or as advanced as claimed or that the country's leaders are as set on building weapons as officials depicted.
If this sounds familiar, it should. The original claims came during the same period officials were hyping stories of Iraq's weapons. Once again, the claims involve aluminum tubes. Once again, there was cherry-picking and exaggeration of intelligence. Once again, the policy shaped the intelligence, with enormous national security costs. The story of Iraq is well known; that unnecessary war has cost thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and an immeasurable loss of legitimacy. This time, the administration's decision to tear up a successful agreement--using a dubious intelligence "finding" as an excuse--propelled the tiny, isolated country to subsequently build and test nuclear weapons, threatening to trigger a new wave of proliferation.
This is just the introduction; Cirincione provides many specifics in the paragraphs that follow.
The charge of cherry-picking intelligence on the subject of North Korea's nuclear weapons program adds a new dimension to the consensus expressed by proliferation experts at a recent conference hosted by the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA: The Bush Administration has failed miserably in its handling of North Korea.