Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Threat to Human Rights

Human rights are constantly being threatened. In Kim’s North Korea, the news is heavily censored, dissent is punished harshly, and the basic needs of citizens are denied so that the state can maintain a grotesquely outsized military. In Putin’s Russia, human rights NGOs are closed down and investigative journalists are murdered. In Museveni’s Uganda, opposition candidates are arrested and detained while their supporters face police intimidation. In every corner of the world, there are governments that threaten human rights, often as a matter of policy, sometimes as a matter of expediency. Threats to particular rights, however tragic and outrageous, are in some sense normal; without such quotidian threats, there would be no need for human rights treaties, NGOs, UN monitoring bodies, or international tribunals.

The threat to human rights, however, has recently assumed a different character as the global consensus regarding the very concept of human rights has come under challenge. That the challenge is real--and profound--is apparent in the fact that it is being voiced by more and more voters in western democracies. The very societies that have well-established constitutions guaranteeing a range of individual rights have become battlegrounds where illiberal ideologies contend against the concept of human rights. In at least half a dozen democracies including the United States, election results have called into question the commitment to human rights of a substantial percentage of the electorate. Looming elections may widen the zones of concern.

Human rights are foundational commitments. They supersede--or at least ought to supersede--other policy concerns. A government like Rodrigo Duterte’s in the Philippines that seeks to address a serious drug problem by summarily executing suspected drug dealers is violating human rights, regardless of the supposed benefits to society from such a draconian approach to the enforcement of the state’s drug laws. A government like Xi Jinping’s in China that censors the news and impedes citizens’ access to information is violating human rights, regardless of the state’s legitimate interest in promoting harmony within a large and diverse population. A government like George W. Bush’s in the United States that waterboards prisoners in an effort to get information concerning potential terrorist plots is violating human rights, regardless of any security benefits that torture might provide. Put simply, human rights are what they are meant to be only if they establish limits on the authority of the state in the pursuit of its other policy goals.

But perhaps more to the point of the present threat to human rights is this: What makes certain rights human rights is their universality. One cannot, in assigning rights or making policy, draw distinctions between different groups of people on the basis of gender, race, nationality, religion, or other ascriptive characteristics without violating human rights. Policies that discriminate against Muslims, African Americans, Mexicans, or other religious, ethnic, or national groups violate human rights. Those who advocate such policies, whatever their justification, have parted company with those who defend human rights.

The threat to human rights in the United States lies not only in the fact that many racists, including the Ku Klux Klan itself, supported Donald Trump. The threat also lies in the fact that many who do not think of themselves as racists (and some who, in fact, are not) believed Trump’s overt appeals to racism were not a sufficient reason to reject him. It is true that voters in a democracy rarely have the luxury of supporting a candidate who represents their views perfectly. As a consequence, it is always necessary to weigh a candidate’s views on trade or welfare policy, for example, against his or her views on national security or environmental policy. But because human rights are foundational--because they define what government policies are out of bounds--the balancing act that voters normally engage in when selecting a candidate is inappropriate when certain policy preferences are being weighed against respect for human rights. That some Americans, acting out of racism, misogyny, homophobia, or xenophobia, rejected human rights completely while others decided that Donald Trump’s disrespect for humanity was not a deal-breaker indicates that there is a very real threat to human rights in the United States.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Raising Barriers

The Washington Post has begun a three-part online series on border walls titled "Raising Barriers." The first part, published yesterday, is available here.

According to the Post, there are currently 63 borders where states are separated by walls or other man-made barriers. Most of the world's barriers have been erected since 9/11. In Europe, the refugee crisis has triggered a new round of wall-building. In spite of this situation, the Schengen Area in Europe remains one of the world's most remarkable experiments in open borders.

The Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative

Morning Edition, the morning news program heard nationwide on National Public Radio, today featured a story on the U.S. Justice Department's Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. The story, reported by Jackie Northam, noted the Justice Department's case against property--including an estate in Malibu, expensive cars, and a collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia--that Teodoro Nguema Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea's dictator, purchased in the United States.

The biggest case brought thus far by the Justice Department under this program was announced in July. It involves the misappropriation of $3.5 billion from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), an $8 billion government fund intended to promote economic development in Malaysia. The U.S. Government alleges that $1 billion from the fund was spent in the United States on yachts, hotels, and art works. Some of the money even went toward the financing of The Wolf of Wall Street, a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio that was released in 2013.

The FBI website describes the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative in these terms:
The Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative was established in 2010 to curb high-level public corruption around the world. Led by a team of Department of Justice prosecutors working in tandem with the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies, its mission is to forfeit the proceeds of corruption by foreign officials and, where appropriate, to use recovered assets to benefit the people who were harmed.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Case in France

On Thursday, the French corruption case against Teodoro Nguema Obiang--second vice president of Equatorial Guinea and heir apparent to his father, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo--cleared a procedural hurdle as prosecutors signaled their willingness to move forward. A 36-page indictment has been filed and may now be reviewed by both the defense and the prosecution before a panel of judges determines (in about a month) whether to allow the case to proceed to trial.

The French investigation into the financial affairs of the ruling families of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Cameroon--known informally as les biens mal acquis (the ill-gotten gains) case--began in December 2010. In February 2012, cars, art works, wine, and other goods were seized from Obiang's Paris home. Five months later a warrant for Obiang's arrest was issued.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Patricia Derian (1929-2016)

Much of our history has been created by women whose names most people don't remember or never even knew. One of those women, Patricia Derian, died late last week.

Derian was Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs under President Jimmy Carter. She was the second person to hold that office, but the first to make it matter. Derian was noted for her willingness to speak truth to power, both in confronting dictators abroad and in addressing her colleagues within the U.S. government who were skeptical of the need for, or the wisdom of, a human rights policy. She once walked out of a dinner being hosted in her honor by Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos to go to the prison where Benigno Aquino, a Filipino democracy advocate, was being held. It is no exaggeration to say that thousands of people around the world owe their lives to Derian's insistence, sometimes over the opposition of more cautious officials in the State Department or the White House, on naming and shaming the leaders of repressive regimes.

On two recent research trips to the Carter Library, I have seen ample evidence of Ms. Derian's impact on U.S. foreign policy--and on world events. I have also seen evidence of the obstacles that she had to overcome in order to ensure that the United States was on the side of the oppressed rather than their oppressors. Patt Derian deserves to be remembered.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Daniel Berrigan (1921-2016)

Father Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest best known for his opposition to the Vietnam War, has passed away in New York City just days short of his 95th birthday. He is regarded as one of the most influential American Jesuits of his time both for his protests against war and nuclear weapons and for his writings, which included a body of poetry as well as works on theology, spirituality, and social protest.

In 1967, Berrigan, his brother Philip, and two others--"the Baltimore Four"--were arrested for pouring blood on draft records in protest against the war in Vietnam. In 1968, he joined a tax protest against the war. Then, on May 17 of that same year, he participated--with "the Catonsville Nine"--in the destruction of draft records using homemade napalm outside the offices of the Catonsville, Maryland draft board. He was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison but escaped and spent four months as a fugitive--in order to draw more attention to his protests against the war--before being captured at the home of theologian and activist William Stringfellow. Berrigan was released from prison in 1972.

In 1980, Berrigan turned to anti-nuclear protests at a General Electric nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Berrigan, his brother Philip, and six others--"the Plowshares Eight"--hammered the nosecone of a nuclear missile (symbolically beating swords into plowshares) and poured blood on files. The group was charged with a wide range of crimes, but after ten years of trials and appeals, all were sentenced to time served. The 1980 protest was the beginning of the Plowshares Movement, with which Berrigan was active throughout the remainder of his life.

Even after he had turned 80, Berrigan continued to protest war and injustice. He protested the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the U.S. prison at Guantanamo. He also participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hearing from the Candidates (UN Version)

For the first time in its seventy-year history, the United Nations is engaged in an open and transparent process to select a secretary-general. Ban Ki-moon's term ends on December 31, 2016. The UN is widely expected to select a woman as its next leader and, in fact, four of the nine announced candidates are women.

The selection process has historically involved much behind-the-scenes negotiating as aspirants have worked quietly to secure the support of Security Council member states, who must nominate a secretary-general candidate, and General Assembly member states, who must actually elect the secretary-general. According to the UN's informal system of geographical rotation, the next secretary-general should come from Eastern Europe. Seven candidates are from Eastern Europe, but former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and Portuguese diplomat Antonio Guterres are defying the convention with their candidacies.

This year, secretary-general candidates are engaging in informal dialogues with permanent representatives. The sessions, lasting two hours each, are being conducted today through Thursday in the Trusteeship Council chamber and are being televised live on UN Web TV.

To hear Antonio Guterres, the Portuguese candidate, present his opening statement--primarily in English but moving smoothly into French and Spanish as well--go here. Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, the current director-general of UNESCO and a candidate for secretary-general of the UN, can be seen interacting with the press here.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Lethal Autonomous Weapons and the CCW

Today in Geneva the CCW (Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons) Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems got underway. The primary purpose of the meeting is to develop recommendations regarding potential controls on lethal autonomous weapons system (LAWS) to be considered by the Fifth Review Conference, a regularly scheduled meeting of parties to the CCW that will occur in December 2016.

Lethal autonomous weapons systems are, in effect, robots programmed to kill without direct human guidance. Just as self-driving cars have advanced to the point where no human interaction is required beyond the point of identifying a destination, weapons systems are now at the point where a mission, including the use of weapons, can be programmed by humans and then executed by the machine without further human interaction. Clearly there are many technological, political, legal, and ethical questions to be considered in the face of such an important development.

There is no shortage of scholars, NGOs, IGOs, and governments interested in weighing in on lethal autonomous weapons and their implications. A range of papers and presentations prepared for this week's Meeting of Experts is available on the UNOG (United Nations Office at Geneva) website here. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a key contributor to international humanitarian law, has weighed in with an argument for preserving human responsibility in decisions to kill. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a project that brings together a number of NGOs including Human Rights Watch and the Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs, has articulated a similar position.

There are many reasons to hope that the Fifth Review Conference in December will be able to make progress toward a ban on fully autonomous lethal weapons systems.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

North Korea's "Ghost Ships"

Strange--and tragic--stories out of North Korea are not unusual: the regime's brutality at times overwhelms its secrecy so that credible accounts of starvation, torture, arbitrary execution, and other crimes make their way beyond its tightly sealed borders. But this latest story, even by North Korean standards, is macabre.

The Los Angeles Times reports today that since last November at least fourteen North Korean boats carrying over thirty partially decomposed bodies have floated ashore along Japan's west coast. Initial speculation centered on the possibility that the "ghost ships" were carrying defectors who had tried to escape North Korea on boats instead of attempting the overland crossing into China. But when a Japanese scholar, North Korea expert Satoru Miyamoto, examined photos of the boats, he realized that they had belonged to the military's commercial section. The dead, he believes, were members of the military pressed into service as fishermen in an effort to alleviate North Korea's dire shortage of food. Miyamoto's theory suggests that those found on the boats perished as a consequence of their own inexperience as fishermen--and, no doubt, the pressure of unreasonable demands being made on them.

Last summer, the North Korean government spoke openly about the impact of drought on the country's rice production. UN assistance to North Korea has declined over the course of the last decade as a consequence of the international community's efforts to punish the regime for its nuclear activities.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Remembering Bonhoeffer

On this date in 1945, less than a month before Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allies, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at the Flossenbürg concentration camp. One of Germany's most famous theologians and best loved pastors, Bonhoeffer had been arrested two years earlier for plotting to assassinate Hitler.

Bonhoeffer said and wrote many things worth remembering, not only for Christians but for all people. Here are a few of his comments on our responsibility to work for justice:
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
If I see a madman driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders, then I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe and then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.
We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.
If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.
The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Karadžić at the ICTY

Late last week in the presence of victims, journalists, diplomats, and representatives of civil society groups, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) delivered guilty verdicts in Radovan Karadžić's trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. From 1992 to 1996, Karadžić was president of the Republika Srpska, or Bosnian Serb Republic. His leadership of the breakaway group spanned the four-year-long siege of Sarajevo and included the massacre at Srebrenica in which 8,000 Bosnian men were killed in the worst crime of its kind in Europe since World War II. Bringing to an end legal proceedings that had first begun with an appearance before the court on July 31, 2008, the ICTY sentenced Karadžić to forty years in prison.

Beginning in April 1992, first the Yugoslav People's Army and later the irregular forces of the Republika Srpska took up positions outside Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. Over a period of 1,425 days--a full year longer than the Germans' siege of Leningrad in World War II--Serbian forces lobbed mortar shells into the city from nearby mountains and killed both citizens and soldiers with sniper fire on the streets. Roughly 14,000 people died during the siege (including over 5,000 civilians) and tens of thousands more fled the city. On the night of August 25, 1992, the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina was destroyed along with most of the two million manuscripts it housed. The library had been targeted by the Serbs for weeks. (For a brief UNESCO video on the National Library's destruction, go here.)

In the period before the massacre at Srebrenica, one of the most dramatic crimes committed under Karadžić's leadership was the shelling of the market in Sarajevo on February 5, 1994. A mortar fired from one of the hills surrounding Sarajevo exploded in a crowded outdoor market killing 68 people. Karadžić responded to the international outcry following the market bombing by claiming that the Bosnians had staged the scene to mislead the media. The bodies, Karadžić alleged, had been taken from the morgue and posed to look like victims of a mortar attack. Only the most ardent supporters of the Bosnian Serbs were fooled by these lies.

Although Sarajevo had been under attack at that point for almost two years, the manner and magnitude of the killing in the market shocked the international community and led to NATO intervention. NATO airstrikes targeted Serb positions surrounding the city and allowed Bosnian military forces to launch an offensive against the forces of the Republika Srpska. Following a ceasefire negotiated in October, the parties agreed to the Dayton Accords, an agreement brokered by the United States, on December 14, 1995. On February 29, 1996, the Bosnians declared the end of the siege as the last Bosnian Serb fighters withdrew.

Before his arrest in 2008, Karadžić managed to hide in plain sight in Serbia's capital, Belgrade. He grew a long white beard, tied his hair in a knot at the top of his head, and assumed the name "Dr. Dragan Dabic." As Dr. Dabic, Karadžić promoted alternative health care, lecturing publicly and even going on television. The government of Serbia for years showed little interest in arresting Karadžić, but pressure from the European Union (no cooperation with the ICTY, no membership in the EU was its message) eventually resulted in both Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Serbia, and Karadžić being arrested and delivered into the custody of the ICTY.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Law and Diplomacy in the South China Sea

We tend to distinguish, at least for analytical purposes, law, diplomacy, and the use of force as tools for the conduct of foreign policy. Each typically gets a separate chapter in the international relations textbooks and a separate week on the syllabus of the typical introductory IR course. But, as a story by Helene Cooper in today's New York Times illustrates, this can be misleading. In reality, the military may provide the means by which legal claims are asserted, naval officers may be required to engage in diplomacy while on alert, and a ruling by an international arbitration panel may nudge the world toward war.

Cooper's reporting from on board the U.S.S. Chancellorsville (CG 62), a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser, recounts the ship's participation in a freedom of navigation (FON) exercise in the South China Sea. Her story, which includes conversations between the Chancellorsville's officers and those on a Chinese ship tailing the Chancellorsville, provides a glimpse of the legal/diplomatic/military confrontations that are taking place with increasing frequency as China attempts to establish a claim to sovereignty over much of the South China Sea even as the United States attempts to rebut that claim.

Today U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work told reporters that the U.S. has told China it will not recognize an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea should one be declared there. "We have spoken quite plainly to our Chinese counterparts and said that we think an ADIZ would be destabilizing. We would prefer that all of the claims in the South China Sea be handled through mediation and not force or coercion," Work said. Transits through the South China Sea like the one conducted by the Chancellorsville are how the United States backs up its verbal representations to the Chinese.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Lawfare in Cyberspace

Attorney General Loretta Lynch today announced a federal indictment against seven Iranians believed to be responsible for distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks against several large American financial institutions. The attacks began in December 2011 but became much more intense in December 2012. The indictment also accuses one of the Iranians of hacking into the control system of Bowman Dam in Rye, New York in August and September of 2013, a more worrisome attack because of its potential to threaten lives.

While the indictment does not specifically accuse the Iranian government of being behind the attacks, it does note that the accused "were employed by two Iran-based computer companies, ITSecTeam (ITSEC) and Mersad Company (MERSAD), that performed work on behalf of the Iranian Government, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps." At the time of the attacks, computer security experts speculated that Iran was retaliating for a series of sophisticated cyberattacks (beginning with Stuxnet but also including Duqu and Flame) most likely engineered by the U.S. and Israeli governments. Those attacks destroyed centrifuges being used to enrich uranium for Iran's nuclear weapons program.

The indictment was brought some time ago by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York but only unsealed today. It is possible the indictment was sealed in order to avoid complicating the negotiations that resulted in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action last July by which Iran agreed to halt efforts to develop nuclear weapons. January 16, 2016, marked "Implementation Day" when, having verified Iran's compliance with the JCPOA, the other parties to the agreement (the United States and other UN Security Council and European Union states) lifted a variety of sanctions against Iran.

Today's announcement suggests that the United States intends to continue to use legal means to address cyberattacks emanating from state or state-sponsored actors. It follows on an indictment announced in May 2014 of five Chinese military officers affiliated with the 61398 hacker group, a unit of China's People's Liberation Army. Similar uses of the law in conflicts are addressed in a recently published book by Orde F. Kittrie entitled Lawfare: Law as a Weapon of War (Oxford University Press, 2016).

For more on the indictment unsealed today, see this story in the New York Times by David Sanger.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Fair Warning

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have suggested that torture works. If by "works" they mean that it dehumanizes both the tortured and the torturers, they're right. That, at least, is the conclusion that Eric Fair, who worked as an interrogator for the U.S. Government in Iraq, draws in this op-ed piece published in the New York Times.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Berta Cáceres (1973-2016)

Ilisu (Turkey) . . . Three Gorges (China) . . . Glen Canyon (United States) . . . Itaipu (Brazil/Paraguay) . . . Sardar Sarovar (India). These are some of modern history's most controversial dam projects. Each one promised electrical power, flood control, water for irrigation, and more. But each one also threatened to destroy human communities, wildlife habitats, cultural artifacts, and more.

Add to the list Agua Zarca (Honduras), a planned series of four large dams on the Río Gualcarque. On Thursday the river lost one of its most determined defenders, Berta Cáceres. In a town called "Hope" (La Esperanza), Ms. Cáceres was assassinated by armed men who invaded her home as she slept.

Cáceres was the co-founder of an organization called the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (Copinh). A member of the Lenca ethnic group--the largest in Honduras--Cáceres led Copinh through years of protests against the plan to dam a river the Lenca deemed sacred. At times, Copinh filed legal challenges and lobbied the government to try to prevent the dams from being built. At other times, protesters physically blocked construction crews from gaining access to work sites. The efforts Cáceres made to try to stop the project gained international recognition last year when she was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize

Ms. Cáceres, who was 44 at the time of her death, had four children. She had been threatened with rape and death, she had been followed, and several of her supporters had been killed. No suspects had ever been arrested for the killings or for the threats. After a visit in December 2013, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights noted "a complete absence of the most basic measures to address reports of grave human rights violations in the region." As in Nigeria, Ecuador, Sudan, and Myanmar where oil interests colluded with corrupt governments to violate the rights of indigenous peoples, those supporting the Agua Zarca project in Honduras appear to have turned the government against its own people. Regardless of who actually killed Berta Cáceres, the Honduran government bears responsibility for its failure to protect her and for its failure to pursue justice in the cases of the other peaceful protesters who have been murdered.

For more on the work done by Cáceres and Copinh in an effort to stop the construction of dams on the Río Gualcarque, watch this brief video portrait from the page dedicated to Cáceres on the Goldman Environmental Prize website.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Power Outage

The power is out on my street today. The outage was announced well in advance and the reason for the outage is clear: a Southern California Edison crew is replacing a transformer in a vault beneath the street. But even as Edison upgrades the local network's hardware, the Department of Homeland Security is again warning U.S. power companies about software vulnerabilities.

A cyberattack--as yet unattributed, although Russia is clearly the primary suspect--caused the power outage that affected 225,000 people in Ukraine on December 23, according to investigators in the United States. Hackers stole the credentials of system operators and used their access to the industrial control systems of three regional energy distribution companies to flip breakers and shut off the flow of power. A denial-of-service attack simultaneously blocked phone calls into energy distribution centers (to keep operators from knowing the extent of the outage) and malware prevented those centers from switching to backup power supplies.

The basic design of the attack on Ukraine's power grid, which involved infiltrating a network, mapping it, and gaining control of a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, resembles the Stuxnet attack that damaged centrifuges being used in Iran's nuclear weapons program in 2010. Stuxnet is widely believed to have been the work of the U.S. and Israeli governments, although neither has acknowledged responsibility.

The warning distributed by Homeland Security's Industrial Control Systems-Cyber Emergency Response Team follows similar warnings issued by analysts in the private sector. The possibility of taking down a power grid via a cyberattack has long been theorized. Last year, a study co-produced by the University of Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies and insurance giant Lloyd's calculated that a cyberattack on the power grid in the northeastern United States could result in financial losses of a trillion dollars or more. It is worth noting, however, that the attack in Ukraine in December is the first actually to cause a power outage.

No one thinks it will be the last.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


The centennial commemorations associated with World War I come almost daily, and they are important to note lest we become complacent about the distance humankind has traveled. One hundred years ago this past Sunday, the Battle of Verdun began. Over the course of the next ten months, the German and French armies blasted away at each other in what appears in retrospect to have been one of those set pieces characteristic of the Great War, one in which tens of thousands of troops were killed--perhaps 300,000 altogether--with no significant advantage being gained by either side.

Paul Jankowski, a historian at Brandeis University and the author of a book on the Battle of Verdun, considers the battle's meaning in an essay published over the weekend in the New York Times Sunday Review. The battle, Jankowski concludes, in the end controlled the generals who had hoped to control it. This offers a lesson worth remembering when we hear the intemperate talk of war from presidential candidates who seem to know little about history.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Reviving Torture

On April 28, 2004, the CBS News program 60 Minutes II aired a story revealing in graphic detail--with photos supplied by a U.S. soldier who had chosen to blow the whistle on prisoner abuse--the torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of Iraqi captives at the U.S. Army's detention facility at Abu Ghraib. The story led to multiple investigations, the removal of Brig. Gen. Janet Karpinski from her command, and the court-martial of several low-ranking soldiers involved in the mistreatment of prisoners. Those at the highest levels of government denied responsibility, argued that "enhanced interrogation" was not torture and therefore was not illegal, and claimed that getting rough with detainees was necessary to get actionable intelligence for the "war on terror." In November of that same year, President George W. Bush became the first Republican candidate for the presidency since 1988 to win a majority of the popular vote. Respect for human rights was apparently not among the American electorate's priorities at the time.

In the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire back on February 6, Donald Trump said, "I would bring back waterboarding and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding." The line won the applause of many of those in the audience, a group older but apparently no wiser with respect to fundamental human rights norms than those who had voted for Bush in 2004.

To be clear, waterboarding is torture. It has been rightly condemned as torture by the United States Government in the past, at least when it was being employed by others. It violates every reasonable construction of the terms of the the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1984 Convention on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Its use is forbidden by the U.S. Army Field Manual. And as a result of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Obama on November 25, 2015, it is now a clear and unequivocal violation of federal law. The U.S. Constitution, of course, requires the president to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," whether he or she agrees with those laws or not.

Just days after Trump's embrace of waterboarding and, in the same debate, Ted Cruz's denial that waterboarding is torture, John McCain took to the floor of the Senate to condemn such loose talk. His remarks should be carefully noted by the Republican candidates vying, or so it appears, to be torturer-in-chief.

Ignoring the pleas of human rights groups, President Obama opted not to prosecute--or even investigate--the violations of federal and international law by those in the George W. Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, who advocated the use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques, including waterboarding. In retrospect, that may have been a mistake. Perhaps it would not now be so easy for some to talk of reviving torture if more had been punished for actually practicing it.