Friday, December 04, 2009

Detainee Dirty Tricks

Via the Dunn County (Wisconsin) News (November 25, 2009):

When detainees at Camp Cropper [in Baghdad] want to get under the skin of guard force soldiers from the 829th Engineer Company, they employ a tactic that would be more at home along the St. Croix River than inside a theater internment facility in Iraq: They needle the Wisconsin Guard troops about Brett Favre's success as a Minnesota Viking.

Detainees apparently realized they had a way to get under their guards' skin when guards began decorating the camp with Packers logos and team colors.

As Lt. Col. Tim Donovan, the public relations officer for the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, put it, "It's a small world."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Election" Day

This is election day in Equatorial Guinea. If past elections are any indication,Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo will win another seven-year term as the country's president with close to 100 percent of the vote.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Welcoming Kleptocrats

In spite of the fact that blogging here has been sporadic, I can't let this story in the New York Times go without notice.

Notwithstanding a federal law and a presidential proclamation designed to bar corrupt foreign officials from entering the United States, Teodoro Nguema Obiang has no trouble visiting his Malibu estate whenever he wants to. His father, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, also manages to visit the United States regularly, most recently in September when he was featured at an event at the Baker Institute at Rice University in Houston. This is the gist of a story that once again reminds us just how bad some of America's leading oil suppliers are.

One of the most important aspects of this story is the inclusion of links to a Justice Department memorandum and an ICE presentation to the French government requesting assistance in investigating President Obiang and his family.

(Roger Alford has blogged the story here at Opinio Juris.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blackwater Bribes

On September 16, 2007, employees of the private military corporation Blackwater (now called Xe Services) shot and killed seventeen Iraqis in Baghdad. In a tragic episode, Blackwater employees began firing at Iraqis in response to gunfire that American officials say came from other members of their own unit. An FBI investigation determined that at least fourteen of the deaths involved unjustified killings. Last December, five Blackwater employees were charged with manslaughter in connection with the case; all pleaded not guilty. A sixth employee, also charged with manslaughter, pleaded guilty.

Today the New York Times reports that four former executives at Xe Services allege that the company approved $1 million for secret payments to Iraqi government officials in an effort to calm the furor over the 2007 killings. If payments of this nature were in fact made, they would constitute a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars the payment of bribes by American companies to foreign officials.

Xe Services was denied a license to operate in Iraq in January 2009, forcing the State Department to terminate its $1 billion security contract with the company.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Italian Case

In Milan today, an Italian court found 23 Americans guilty of kidnapping a Muslim cleric and sending him to Egypty for interrogation in 2003. All of the defendants were working for the CIA. All were tried in absentia. It is the first conviction gained anywhere in the world against Americans on charges related to extraordinary rendition, the policy of sending terrorism suspects abroad to be interrogated, often with torture, beyond the reach of U.S. or international legal protections.

If prosecutors obtain international arrest warrants, the Americans convicted today, most of whom have retired from the CIA, could be subject to arrest in virtually any country to which they might travel outside the United States.

Simon Mann's Pardon

Simon Mann, the leader of the "Wonga Coup" that sought to oust Teodoro Obiang from power in Equatorial Guinea in March 2004, has been pardoned and is returning to the United Kingdom. He was in the second year of a 34-year prison term.

A statement released by the Equatoguinean government through Qorvis Communications and Cassidy and Associates, the Washington lobbying firms being paid to burnish the country's image in the United States, suggested that Mann's release is part of an ongoing campaign to reform human rights conditions in Equatorial Guinea:

Our government is committed to continuing to address the protection of human rights and today's release is an important step in this process. While Simon Mann has admitted to participating in a coup attempt, he has also genuinely repented. We have taken this extraordinary measure to prioritize his health and well being and recognize that Mann's medical care would be bestoffered in his home country. The Government of Equatorial Guinea is in the midst of an ambitious effort to reform our judicial process and humanitarian conditions. Today's release is just one of the proactive steps that we havebeen taking as part of this process and demonstrates the sincerity of our efforts.

Others have suggested that Mann's release was part of a deal he made with the regime to gain his freedom by fingering the financiers of the coup attempt, including Mark Thatcher, the son of former British PM Margaret Thatcher. Upon his release, Mann said that he would be willing to testify against Thatcher in a British court.

Mann can be seen expressing gratitude for his pardon and for the good treatment he received while in prison in Malabo in the BBC clip available here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Trafficking in Toxic Waste

Transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) make money both by trading in illegal commodities (e.g., drugs and endangered species) and by violating regulations related to legal forms of commerce (e.g., weapons sales using false end-user certificates). According to an informant, the Mafia is now making money by contracting for the disposal of toxic waste and illegally scuttling the ships that transport it.

Eighteen miles off the coast of Calabria in southwestern Italy, a robotic camera has photographed a sunken ship that appears to be loaded with toxic waste containers. The information told an Italian judge that the ship was one of three that he blew up as part of a Mafia scheme to profit from lucractive toxic waste disposal business.

If the waste aboard the ship proves to be radioactive, the Italian government has promised to search for up to 30 additional ships that may have been sunk by the Mafia in recent years. Greenpeace maintains a list of ships with suspect cargoes that says have disappeared off the coasts of Italy and Greece.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Another Torture Report

A 2004 report by the CIA's inspector general detailing interrogation methods used against suspected terrorists will be released next week under a court order. Newsweek has been briefed by two sources familiar with its contents and reports that one individual, Adb al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was threatened with a gun and a power drill and was exposed to a mock execution in the room next to where he was being interrogated. (The Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 prohibits threatening any person under U.S. custody, whether in the U.S. or abroad, with death.)

CIA director Porter Goss and Gen. Michael Hayden reportedly argued against the release of the report on the grounds that doing so would damage the reputation of the United States abroad. Yes . . . well. That is precisely why Adm. Stansfield Turner, who directed the CIA during the Carter administration, argued that the question of whether a particular covert operation ought to be undertaken should include consideration of the consequences of its revelation to the public.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

First and Third

We tend to do a lot of aggregating in international relations. While this is largely unavoidable, it's worth reminding ourselves from time to time that ascribing particular characteristics to the entities we study may cause us to overlook significant variations within them. States, which are still the entities we study most intensively, are commonly labeled "free" or "unfree," "democratic" or "authoritarian," "developed" or "developing," and so on. But a "free" state may have pockets of oppression (think of the period of racial segregation in the United States) and a "democratic" state may have subunits that fail to respect democratic norms (think of machine politics in Chicago or in South Texas a generation ago). Likewise, a "developing" state may have elites who control enormous wealth (think Equatorial Guinea) and a "developed" state may have pockets of poverty that mirror conditions in the developing world.

This point has been brought home by the visit of the Remote Area Medical Foundation to Los Angeles. For one week--August 11-18--an organization that began in 1985 with the objective of bringing medical care to distant parts of the developing world is offering free services to people in Los Angeles who, because they are uninsured or underinsured, have no way to pay for the care they need. Thousands of people have lined up each day at the Forum, the former home of the Lakers, to wait for tooth extractions, eye exams, diagnoses of illnesses, and treatments for chronic conditions.

Los Angeles Times columnist (and author of The Soloist) Steve Lopez has been spending some time at the Forum. In a column today, he reports that a number of the doctors who are volunteering at the Forum have noted parallels between their volunteer experiences in the Third World and what they are seeing at the Forum. One of them, Dr. Greg Pearl, when asked to note the differences between what he has seen in the developing world and what he is seeing at the Forum said, "Here, the patients speak English."

The United States is among the "rich fat few" rather than the "skinny poor many" (to use expressions I recall from a lecture by Inis Claude), but it has its pockets of Third World conditions. One of these pockets is populated by close to 50 million people without access to routine health care. Lopez's column--which is well worth reading--is aptly titled: "At free clinic, scenes from the Third World."

Monday, August 03, 2009

Thirty Years of Misrule

It was thirty years ago today that Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo overthrew his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema, and took control of the government of Equatorial Guinea. Macías, Equatorial Guinea's first ruler after independence, was a brutal dictator responsible for the death or exile of roughly one-third of the country's population and the complete ruin of its economy. (Those who paid any attention at all to Equatorial Guinea at the time referred to Macías as "Africa's Caligula.") His fall from power seemed to offer a better future, particularly given his successor's promises to institute democracy, but for most Equatoguineans little has changed.

In spite of the adoption of a new constitution drafted in 1982 with the assistance of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and presidential elections held in 1989, 1996, and 2002, Obiang has never relinquished power. The elections of 1996 and 2002, which were widely criticized by opposition parties and international observers, produced 97 and 98 percent majorities for Obiang. (Another election is scheduled for December of this year. Obiang has announced his intention to seek yet another seven-year term.)

The discovery of oil in Equatoguinean territorial waters in the 1990s, together with major investments by foreign oil and gas companies, have produced dramatic economic growth (an increase in real GDP averaging 14.9 percent annually from 2003 to 2008), but little of the wealth has benefited the general population. Instead, Equatorial Guinea has become one of the world's worst kleptocracies. Transparency International's most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (for 2008) ranks Equatorial Guinea among the most corrupt countries in the world (171st of 180 states ranked). Furthermore, the most recent (2009) survey of freedom in the world by Freedom House puts Equatorial Guinea among the "worst of the worst," the eight countries deemed to have the world's worst human rights conditions. Furthermore, a special report released by Human Rights Watch last month concludes that the government of Equatorial Guinea "is setting new low standards of political and economic malfeasance."

In spite of President Obiang's poor health (he reportedly has prostate cancer), prospects for change in Equatorial Guinea appear poor. Obiang's profligate oldest son is poised to assume power (as the late Omar Bongo's son, Ali-Ben Bongo, seems certain to do in the Gabonese presidential election scheduled for August 30). The country's importance as an oil and gas producer--with a production rate of roughly 400,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day--deters most governments from exerting pressure on Obiang. And if the United States and the European Union were to decide to try to punish the Equatoguinean government for its crimes, the People's Republic of China would be eager to step in with no scruples.

For what might be the worst country in the world, there is no obvious path to democracy and development.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What IR Theory Can Teach Us about Parenting

Just in time for Father's Day, Stephen M. Walt offers "The IR Guide to Parenting."

My favorite insight is this one that Walt draws from the theory of asymmetric conflict:

The whole field of asymmetric conflict can prepare you for another aspect of child-rearing: your superior education, physical strength, and total command of financial resources will not translate into anything remotely resembling "control." A two-year old who is barely talking can destroy a dinner party or a family outing just by being stubborn, and a smart, loving, strong and wealthy parent can be damn near helpless in the face of a sufficiently willful son or daughter.

Walt's piece reminds me of my own essay on this subject, one written several years ago but never published (perhaps because there is no journal called Parenting and International Politics). I offer it here in an effort to further the discussion of what IR theory can tell us about parenting (and vice versa).

Testing the Limits of the Domestic Analogy

Daniel, my oldest son, recently turned eighteen, which means that the time has finally come for me to write up the results of a long study involving him and his younger brother, Stephen. For those who might be wondering, I've checked: No institutional oversight of experimentation involving human subjects is necessary if those subjects are one’s own children. My parents ought to be relieved about that.

The experimental design was developed in the summer of 1987 when I returned to Charlottesville to defend my dissertation. My wife was six months pregnant at the time. Inis L. Claude, Jr., who doubled as my dissertation advisor and my special consultant on fatherhood, recommended that I read the work of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, pediatrician to the Claude family some years earlier and author of What Every Baby Knows. I also had in mind the work of Dr. Benjamin Spock whom I had heard lecture at the University of Virginia a few months earlier (albeit on the subject of nuclear disarmament). Nonetheless, it seemed to me that there was a great opportunity at hand to test some of the major theories of international politics.

For the first couple of years after Daniel was born, not much happened, to be perfectly honest. Other parents suggested (often with a note of concern in their voices) that the situation needed to be analyzed in terms of some development model. I insisted that the experiment had to deal with IR rather than economics (no IPE in my family, thank you very much) and so we compromised in that early period on dependency theory. But, as IR theory goes, it was boring. Clearly it was time to introduce a new variable.

Stephen was born in 1990. We had, at last, a system. Within months, it became apparent that it would be a system characterized by conflict. In fact, I probably didn’t need to mix passages from Hans Morgenthau's Politics Among Nations into bedtime stories like The Cat in the Hat (Dr. Seuss’s gloss on The Prince) and Curious George (H.A. and Margaret Rey’s eerily prophetic description of U.S. foreign policy). Nonetheless, my wife and I soon had in our nursery–my laboratory–a "war of each against all," or at least brother on brother.

Taking a page from Professor Claude’s analysis of international organizations in Swords Into Plowshares, I determined that, as parents, my wife and I should play the role of the United Nations Security Council in our household. To keep things simple–-her degree was in English literature-–we decided to confine our options in maintaining fraternal peace and security to collective security and peacekeeping. The rules were simple: unprovoked aggression by either boy would be met, if the facts could be accurately determined, with the collective punishment of the parents against the aggressor. However, in those circumstances-–and they were numerous-–in which the truth of charges and counter-charges was impossible to establish, we the parents operated as peacekeepers, separating the combatants, avoiding judgments concerning culpability, and seeking, through various measures of preventive diplomacy, to prevent subsequent outbreaks of violence.

One might suppose, given the power imbalance existing between two brothers almost three years apart in age, that acts of aggression, when they occurred (like clockwork) would invariably consist of attacks by the older and stronger brother, Daniel, against Stephen. Such attacks, while not unusual, were accompanied by a surprising number of preemptive attacks by Stephen. In fact, it came to appear that the institutional constraints keeping large-scale violence in check (i.e., parents) actually made Daniel and Stephen's relationship safe for limited war.

In a remarkable vindication of realists' most fervent hopes, the level of violence in the household dropped dramatically when Stephen experienced a sustained growth spurt at age eleven that allowed him to match Daniel's hard power capabilities. With a balance of power established, war became much less common, although far more destructive when it did occur.[1] Diplomacy, in fact, became the norm. This was fortuitous as the boys' mother and I divorced (an episode I refer to as the collapse of the Evil Empire[2]), leaving me with my own "unipolar moment" and a concomitant unwillingness to play the U.N. Security Council game any longer.


1. Guys, I'm still not happy about that lamp.

2. Lighten up, Anne. It's a joke.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Bongo: The Obituary

The Independent provides an excellent overview of Omar Bongo's life that opens with this trenchant observation: "Omar Bongo was so successful at the art of holding on to power that by the end of his life there was no one left in his country with enough authority to pronounce him dead."

The complete obituary is here.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Death of Omar Bongo

It was an unusual announcement. This morning, the government of Gabon stated that "the President of the Republic, the Head of State, His Excellency Omar Bongo is not dead." The official statement, like the off-the-cuff comment of Prime Minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong who had declared that Bongo was "alive and well," was wrong. Bongo, 73, died of cardiac arrest in a hospital in Barcelona, Spain.

Bongo's death ended a run of almost forty-two years at the head of the Gabonese government. In fact, he and his mentor, Leon Mba, are the only two men to have ruled Gabon since the West African state gained its independence from France in 1960.

At the time of his death, Bongo was under investigation for corruption in France where Transparency International and Association Sherpa had recently succeeded in convincing an investigating judge to examine whether he and two other West African leaders, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Congo, had acquired their vast wealth by embezzling public funds. Bongo's wealth, which included fifteen luxury properties in Paris and seventy bank accounts in France, appears largely to have been produced by his corrupt handling of Gabon's oil wealth.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that Bongo's demise will lead to greater democracy and development in Gabon. Many expect the current defense minister of Gabon, Bongo's son Ali, to seize power.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Place at the Table

Charity depends on the vicissitudes of whim and personal wealth; justice depends on commitment instead of circumstance. Faith-based charity provides crumbs from the table; faith-based justice offers a place at the table.

--Bill Moyers

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Justice for Torturers

"To read the four newly released memos on prisoner interrogation written by George W. Bush’s Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity." Thus begins the lead editorial in today's New York Times.

The Times points out that the memos "were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values." If the values they violate are to be vindicated, those who wrote the memos--including one attorney appointed to the federal bench by Bush--must be punished. Thus the Times calls--appropriately--for the impeachment of Jay Bybee.

On Thursday, Amnesty International executive director Larry Cox said, "The president said today that this is 'a time for reflection not retribution.' The United States has had plenty of time for reflection--there is very little information in the newly released material that hadn't leaked out long before. He also said that the United States is a nation of laws. But laws only have meaning if they are enforced."

The United States has often called for justice for torturers in other countries. An important test of our integrity as a nation is now upon us as we determine whether we are willing to pursue justice for torturers at home.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Don't Forget to Read the Reviews

The toy alone is funny, but some of the reviews are hilarious. Take a look here. (Thank you, David.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Right Tone

"Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."

--President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Press and African Dictators

Ken Silverstein, who refuses to let Teodoro Obiang operate below the radar in Equatorial Guinea, today points out some of the problems with American press coverage of dictatorships. As he puts it, "If the U.S. government deems a country to be a hostile state, the American media will devote significant time and energy reporting on that country's political and economic problems. But if you're on our side, and especially in you're providing us with oil, you can get away with murder (literally)."

What, exactly, is the problem? Equatorial Guinea, which hosts significant investments by American oil companies and is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, is absent from both the news and editorial pages of America's leading newspapers in spite of its appalling human rights record. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, which is regularly condemned by the United States Government, is covered (and criticized) regularly by the American media.

Silverstein notes that a piece in today's Washington Post "decried China's support for Zimbabwe." Furthermore, Silverstein says,

It called Beijing a "Mugabe enabler," and said it was about time that China began practicing "mature diplomacy" and halted its "hands-of"” policy that has "allowed Mugabe to stay in power." Just change the relevant words so that we're talking about the United States and Equatorial Guinea, and you'd have a very sensible editorial about a situation over which the United States actually has some control, given its great influence over the regime of Major General Teodoro Obiang.

Change Begins--A Day Early

On Tuesday--fittingly, the Feast of the Epiphany celebrating the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus--the web site was launched. The site is designed to facilitate a national day of service affiliated with President-elect Barack Obama's Renew America Together initiative.

Community groups and service organizations all over the United States have posted information about events taking place on January 19, which is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as well as the day before Obama's inauguration.

Barack and Michelle Obama and Joe and Jill Biden will be engaged in service activities in Washington, D.C. on the 19th. can help you find useful service projects in your own community.