Friday, November 14, 2008

How Bush Saved Saakashvili

From today's Guardian:

In a reminder of tensions over Georgia yesterday, an adviser to French president Nicolas Sarkozy revealed details of a conversation between his boss and the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin. The two met in Moscow on August 12, just days after war had erupted between Russia and Georgia over breakaway South Ossetia. "I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls," Putin said of the Georgian leader, Mikheil Saakashvili. Sarkozy responded: "Hang him?" Putin responded: "Why not? The Americans hanged Saddam." Sarkozy replied: "Yes, but do you want to end up like Bush?" Putin said: "You have scored a point there."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More on the ICC and Darfur

Nicholas Kristof, while noting that China's response will be crucial, sees in the decision of Luis Moreno-Ocampo to go after Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir "a hint of historical progress."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Obama on Iraq

Senator Obama has a statement on Iraq in the op-ed pages of today's New York Times. It's available here.

Genocide Charges at the ICC

For the first time, the International Criminal Court's prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has brought genocide charges before the Court's investigating judges. The target is Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Moreno-Ocampo's action today also marks the first time a head of state has been charged at the Court.

The situation in Darfur was referred to the ICC by the United Nations Security Council in March 2005 under Resolution 1593 [.pdf]. The ICC was directed to investigate with a view to bringing charges such as those that were filed today, charges that include crimes against humanity and war crimes in addition to the genocide.

In the Summary of the Case [.pdf], Moreno-Ocampo asserts al-Bashir's personal responsibility in the following terms:

AL BASHIR controls and directs the perpetrators. The commission of those crimes on such a scale, and for such a long period of time, the targeting of civilians and in particular the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa, the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators, and the systematic cover-up of the crimes through public official statements, are evidence of a plan based on the mobilization of the state apparatus, including the armed forces, the intelligence services, the diplomatic and public information bureaucracies, and the justice system.

. . .

AL BASHIR controls the implementation of such a plan through his formal role at the apex of all state structures and as Commander in Chief and by ensuring that the heads of relevant institutions involved report directly to him through formal or informal lines. His control is absolute.

The ICC issued arrest warrants last year for two other individuals wanted in connection with crimes in Darfur: Sudan's former interior minister Ahmad Muhammad Harun and militia leader Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Repairing the Damage

Thomas Friedman writes in today's New York Times:

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Democrats’ nomination of Obama as their candidate for president has done more to improve America’s image abroad--an image dented by the Iraq war, President Bush’s invocation of a post-9/11 "crusade," Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and the xenophobic opposition to Dubai Ports World managing U.S. harbors--than the entire Bush public diplomacy effort for seven years.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

China's Military Strategy

The German news magazine Der Spiegel has an interesting interview with Chen Zhou, a PRC naval officer who teaches at the Academy of Military Sciences in Beijing. In it, Chen discusses the rationale for Chinese efforts to narrow the military gap between the PRC and the United States.
Here's an excerpt:
SPIEGEL: Why does China spend so much money on its military?
Chen Zhou: We understand very well that many countries are concerned when China grows not just in economic terms but also in military terms. But these fears are unfounded. We are not seeking a position of supremacy. We are in favor of peaceful development.
SPIEGEL: Then why the pronounced military buildup?
Chen: If we grow economically, we must also strengthen our military. We must protect our sovereignty, our unity and the country's security. Historically our military consisted primarily of land-based forces that were meant to protect our homeland. Since 1980, we have also been arming ourselves for other local conflicts and wars. Please do not forget the activities of the separatists in Taiwan ...
The complete interview is available here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bush, McCain, and Torture

Today Senator John McCain goes to the White House to pick up the endorsement of President George W. Bush. He will almost certainly go out of his way to avoid President Bush for the remainder of the campaign.

But given the timing of this brief meeting, it is worth thinking about where Senator McCain and President Bush have been in the "torture debate." James Carroll provides a helpful entry into the subject.

Carroll's column in the Boston Globe on Monday notes that President Bush is poised to veto the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2008 because it seeks to tie CIA interrogation methods to the standards articulated in the US Army Field Manual. This would prohibit "acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, or exposure to inhumane treatment."

Senator John McCain (as noted here) voted against this provision, apparently sacrificing his principles to the demands of the Republican presidential primary process, which effectively ended last night as McCain secured enough delegates to win the Republican nomination and his one remaining challenger, Mike Huckabee, bowed out. As Carroll notes, Senator McCain explained his vote against the provision this way: "What we need is not to tie the CIA to the Army Field Manual, but rather to have a good faith interpretation of the statutes that guide what is permissible in the CIA program."

The former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Harry Soyster is not impressed by Senator McCain's reasoning: "As Senator McCain well knows, the Bush administration has never provided a good faith interpretation of laws prohibiting torture; instead it has produced--and continues to produce--legal opinions that downgrade the definition of torture to the point where the term becomes virtually meaningless and any conduct at all is permissible."

Carroll concludes:

That torture is even a subject of debate in this country is a flabbergasting development. That dozens of America's most admired military leaders find themselves openly opposing the commander in chief on such a question is equally surprising. Another astonishment is that McCain, avatar of military honor, finds it necessary, according to his perceptions of what politics requires, to trim his opposition to torture. It may be just that unthinkable now that Bush will sign the bill before him. But who knows? On torture, the shocks abound.

Monday, March 03, 2008

What's a Lover to Do?

This comes too late to provide any Valentine's Day relief, but, as a public service, I nonetheless want to recommend an article in the February 2008 issue of Human Rights Quarterly (vol. 30, no. 1): "Flowers, Diamonds, and Gold: The Destructive Public Health, Human Rights, and Environmental Consequences of Symbols of Love," by Martin Donohoe.

Donohoe writes:

On Valentine's Day, anniversaries, and throughout the year, suitors and lovers buy cut flowers and diamond and gold jewelry for the objects of their affection. Their purchases are in part a consequence of timely traditions maintained by aggressive marketing. Most buyers are unaware that in gifting their lovers with these aesthetically beautiful symbols, they are supporting industries which damage the environment, utilize forced labor, cause serious acute and chronic health problems, and contribute to violent conflicts.

Cutting to the recommendations, Donohoe touts and the Veriflora certification system for flowers, certified conflict-free diamonds (with that status ascertained through aggressive questioning of the jeweler selling the diamonds), and gold purchases consistent with the "No Dirty Gold" campaign. Of course, there are also alternatives to flowers, diamonds, and gold:

Substitute gifts include cards (ideally printed on recycled paper), poems, photos, collages, videos, art, home improvement projects, homemade meals, and donations to charities. Consider alternatives to the traditional diamond engagement and gold wedding rings, such as recycled or vintage gold: old gold can be melted down and made into new jewelry. Other options include eco-jewelry made from recycled or homemade glass and coconut beads. Purchasing handicrafts constructed by indigenous peoples from outlets that return the profits to the artisans and their communities provides wide-ranging social and economic benefits. Such tokens of affection will be rendered more meaningful through their lack of association with death and destruction and because they symbolize justice and hope for the future.

That's the advice, ladies and gentlemen. Good luck implementing it.

Darfur Update

This article by Lydia Polgreen in yesterday's New York Times warns that recent three-pronged attacks on villages in Darfur--attacks involving the janjaweed, aerial bombardment, and the Sudanese army--represent "a return to the tactics that terrorized Darfur in the early, bloodiest stages of the conflict."

Polgreen continues:

Aid workers, diplomats and analysts say the return of such attacks is an ominous sign that the fighting in Darfur, which has grown more complex and confusing as it has stretched on for five years, is entering a new and deadly phase--one in which the government is planning a scorched-earth campaign against the rebel groups fighting here as efforts to find a negotiated peace founder.

The NYT article includes recent photos from Darfur, as does this BBC News web page.

Meanwhile, Nat Hentoff, writing in today's Washington Times, chides President Bush for planning to attend the Beijing Olympics:

Last month, during his legacy tour showing how his compassionate conservatism has indeed benefited a number of countries in Africa, President Bush did not include Sudan, let alone Darfur, in his schedule.

And, in response to Mr. Spielberg's refusal to help glorify the amoral nation that buys two-thirds of genocidal Sudan's oil and provides much of its arms that kill thousands of black Africans in Darfur, Mr. Bush said firmly: "I'm going to the Olympics. I view the Olympics as a sporting event." This was the same person who then said in Rwanda that the genocide there "is a reminder that evil in the world must be confronted." He called on all nations to stop the killing in Darfur.

Needless to say, a symbolic gesture is not what the victims of the Sudanese government's scorched-earth policy need most at this point. It may be, however, the most they can expect from President Bush--and the least he can do.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Water Tortures, Then and Now

Karen J. Greenberg, the executive director of the NYU School of Law's Center on Law and Security and the editor of three books on torture and the war on terror, looks at the history of waterboarding as it is depicted in Prague's Torture Museum and finds that neither the practices nor the rationalizations have changed much from medieval Europe to modern America.

Monday, February 18, 2008

"Baseball Brings Smiles to Their Faces"

Today's Los Angeles Times brings the story of a Cambodian genocide survivor who is working to ensure that baseball will take root in his homeland.

Joe Cook, who was born Joeurt Puk in Cambodia just five years before the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975, has raised over $300,000--much of it his own money--to take a sport he came to love as a young refugee in the United States back to his home. The Times' Kevin Baxter writes:

Cook . . . has spent the last five years trying to turn the former killing fields of his homeland into fields of dreams for a generation that has known little more than war, poverty and despair.

Along the way he's lost his life savings, his car and nearly his marriage. And, Cook insists, some people in Cambodia would like to see him dead.

"I want to walk away from this. I do. But these kids," he said, pointing to a photo of three shoeless children in torn clothes toting bats and gloves through a rice paddy, "baseball brings smiles to their faces."

In December, thanks to Cook, Cambodia fielded a national baseball team for the first time in the Southeast Asian Games in Thailand. It was a milestone as inauspicious as it was historic: Cambodia's first four hitters struck out without even touching the ball, and it took four games for the team to get its first hit.

But, as Cook noted, "winning is nothing. The biggest deal is we showed up."

Read the whole story here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Backtracking on Torture

John McCain squandered his reputation as a principled opponent of torture with his vote earlier today on the Intelligence Authorization bill. Kevin Drum tells us why he had to do it.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Waterboarding the Mentally Ill

Michael Hayden, director of the CIA, testified before Congress today that the United States waterboarded three terrorism suspects in 2002 and 2003: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks; Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the Al Qaeda operative who allegedly planned the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, and Abu Zubaydah.

Who is Abu Zubaydah? On April 9, 2002, speaking to the Connecticut Republican Committee, President Bush had this to say about him:

The other day we hauled in a guy named Abu Zubaydah. He's one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States. He's not plotting and planning anymore. He's where he belongs. (Applause.)

Journalist Ron Suskind, however, found a different assessment of Abu Zubaydah among the experts. According to Suskind (in The One Percent Doctrine), the FBI's principal Al Qaeda expert, Dan Coleman, told one of his superiors, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality." And yet he was tortured--or waterboarded, for those who, unlike Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, don't mind a little water up their noses--and his coerced testimony was thought to be trustworthy. In fact, Director Hayden told reporters today that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah provided a quarter of the CIA's information on Al Qaeda derived from human sources.

FBI Director Robert Mueller was also present at today's hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Someone should have asked him if his agency concurred with the CIA in its assessment of the utility of waterboarding the mentally ill.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Modern Genocides and Global Responsibility

Cal State University-Long Beach is hosting a conference February 11-13, on "Modern Genocides and Global Responsibility." Speakers will include Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Child Soldier; Dr. Francis Deng, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities; Immaculee Ilibagiza, a Rwandan genocide survivor; filmmaker Socheata Poeuv; and film director (Screamers) Carla Garapedian. The conference will also include panel discussions, music performances, and film screenings. All event are free and open to the public.

For a complete schedule and other details, see the conference web site here.

Mann in Malabo

As expected, Simon Mann was extradited to Equatorial Guinea early Thursday morning shortly before his attorney filed a final appeal with Zimbabwe's Supreme Court. Mann is believed to be in the notorious Black Beach Prison in the capital city of Malabo.

Mann once told his attorney that if he were to be extradited to Equatorial Guinea, "I will be a dead man."

Friday, February 01, 2008

Missing Mann

A day after losing an appeal in his effort to avoid extradition to Equatorial Guinea, Simon Mann has disappeared from the maximum security prison in Zimbabwe where he was being held. There is concern that authorities in Zimbabwe may have flown Mann to Equatorial Guinea overnight without notifying his family or his attorney.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Nicholas Kristof writes in today's New York Times about an issue ("The Dynastic Question") that has troubled me. Here's his comparative politics angle on Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy:

We Americans snicker patronizingly as "democratic" Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Singapore, India and Argentina hand over power to a wife or child of a former leader. Yet I can’t find any example of even the most rinky-dink "democracy" confining power continuously for seven terms over 28 years to four people from two families. (And that's not counting George H.W. Bush's eight years as vice president.)

On the other hand, at least the countries Kristof mentions--except for Singapore--have had female presidents or prime ministers. The United States lags behind much of the world in this respect.

Mann in Zimbabwe

Simon Mann, the leader of a failed 2004 plot to use mercenaries to overthrow the corrupt government of Equatorial Guinea, has had his latest effort to avoid extradition to Equatorial Guinea denied by the High Court of Zimbabwe where he is being held. Mann, who will now appeal to Zimbabwe's Supreme Court, has claimed that he will likely be tortured if sent to Equatorial Guinea. His fear is very reasonable given the documented human rights abuses in Equatorial Guinea, but Zimbabwe's judiciary seems unlikely to place human rights considerations above politics.

The story of Mann's coup attempt was detailed in The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs and a Ruthless Determination to Create Mayhem in an Oil-Rich Corner of Africa by Adam Roberts.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Responding (or Not) to Genocide

Eric Reeves, the author of A Long Day's Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide, has a passionate commentary in today's Christian Science Monitor on the international community's failure to act in the face of genocide. He argues that the United Nations "desperately requires a substantial, robust standing force, prepared to deploy urgently to protect civilian populations facing genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity."

Unfortunately, even if the will to create such a force existed among the UN Security Council members needed to make it a reality, it seems unlikely that the will to authorize its use in Darfur and elsewhere could be mustered when the time comes. The inaction of states--including the United States--in the face of genocide and other serious human rights abuses is rooted in much more fundamental problems, one of which is the failure of democratic polities to hold governments accountable for moral failures in foreign policy.

If I seem overly pessimistic, it may be a result of having read Samantha Power's "A Problem from Hell:" America and the Age of Genocide, a work that details the many ways the United States has evaded its moral and legal responsibilities to prevent and punish genocide. I wish various UN reform proposals could, if implemented, solve the problems that have crippled the world's response to Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and other modern crimes, but I fear that focusing on those reforms diverts too much of the responsibility from those of us living in democracies who ought to be doing more to ensure that our own governments do not get away with indifference to human suffering wherever it occurs.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Africa's Oil Boom

Today's Financial Times reports on the growing importance of oil production in Africa. Between 2002 and 2006, publicly-traded oil companies tripled their investment in Africa. By 2012, total production on the continent is expected to reach 16 million barrels per day.

As FT points out, however, this massive investment has not helped the development picture in Africa as much as might be expected. High oil prices, a key factor in the investment boom, have seriously damaged the economies of the thirteen African states with no oil resources to develop. In some states with significant production, an absence of refining capacity has meant high fuel import bills have cut into the economic gains from oil exports. Furthermore, government corruption and mismanagement of oil revenues have resulted in many states' failure to achieve export-led economic development.

When one adds to these problems the aggressive positions being taken in Africa by state-run oil companies from China and other Asian states, "one has the recipe for a new scramble for Africa," according to FT.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Taylor on Trial

The war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor began in the Hague on Monday. Taylor is accused of a variety of crimes associated with his support for the rebels in the bloody civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone, crimes that include enslavement and the use of child soldiers.

For live-blogging of the trial and links to trial documents (including a report on the role of the diamond trade in Sierra Leone's civil war [.pdf] submitted into evidence by the prosecution), see this site sponsored by the Open Society Institute. The BBC is providing some of the best coverage of the trial, including this background story posted on Monday and this summary of Charles Taylor's career here.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Iraq: Casualties in 2007

Today's New York Times provides an interesting graphic representation of deaths among security forces in Iraq during 2007. The conclusion: "For those in uniform [both Iraqis and Americans], 2007 was the deadliest year since the invasion."