Sunday, December 30, 2007

Death Knell for the Death Penalty?

According to Foreign Policy's latest "web exclusive":

"Its critics call the practice barbaric. The United Nations General Assembly is voting to outlaw it. Yet, a closer look at the death penalty—and the countries that still use it—reveals that it’s far too early to pronounce a death sentence against capital punishment just yet."
When I first read this sentence I was eager to peruse the article, which I assumed would be a carefully-thought-out defense of capital punishment on empirical grounds. However, the sole evidence for this statement is to list a number of countries who have no intention of abolishing the death penalty including China, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and the United States. These are compared according to the number of people executed annually as well as the type of crimes.

So, the claim seems to be not that the death penalty shouldn’t be abolished, but that steps in the direction of total abolition are empirically insignificant since these five countries, among others, are definitely not on board.

I beg to differ. Many important advances in human rights law took place without the involvement of a few renegade countries, and almost all took place without US ratification. Secondly, for the practice to actually be abolished in 189 governments of the world would constitute an unprecedented historical shift, even if certain holdouts took longer to come around to the newest standard of “civilization.”

Indeed, the campaign to abolish the death penalty may affect the incidence or nature of the practice among pro-death-penalty states. For example, while the US insists on the right to execute its criminals, it continues to attempt to humanize the means by which this is done. As for China, Foreign Policy acknowledges that executions have declined by 40% since Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympics.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Israel's Use of Cluster Bombs Legal? Wrong.

So, according to BBC, an inquiry by the Israeli government has considered the evidence against generals who deployed cluster munitions in urban areas during the 2006 war with Lebanon, and concluded – wait for it – that this was wholly consistent with international law:

According to BBC, “The Israeli army announced there would be no indictments against officers who used them, after a year-long enquiry.
‘The use of the weaponry was a concrete military necessity,’ a statement said.”

Israel’s Judge Advocate General has accepted this finding.

Hmm. Let’s see, cluster munitions themselves aren’t technically banned under international law, but articles 49 and 51 of the first Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions do outlaw indiscriminate attacks, including those resulting from the use of weapons whose effects by their nature cannot be controlled or directed at military objectives.

How do cluster munitions measure up against these standards? The weapons work by fragmenting into small “bomblets” after launch, which litter the target area, creating many small explosions on impact rather than one big one (though “small” is relative: a single BLU bomblet will kill anyone within 50 meters and severely injure anyone within 100 meters).

The main problem is many of the bomblets fail to explode when dropped, and sit around waiting for civilians (such as unsuspecting children who are attracted to their bright colors) to tamper with them, sometimes after the war is over.

Because of the high fail rates (between 8-12% in Kosovo, leading to more post-hoc civilian deaths than those from land mines; and up to 20% in Afghanistan), cluster munitions are now generally considered an inherently indiscriminate weapon – not because governments mean to hit civilians with them, but because their effects cannot be controlled after they’re deployed.

So, Israel’s dropping of an estimated 4 million of these onto Lebanese urban areas is illegal under international law for sure, eh?

One problem: Israel never actually became a party to Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions, so arguably it’s not bound by those rules. Nor has it signed onto the 5th Additional Protocol to the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), which deals with Explosive Remnants of War. And even if they had, that treaty doesn’t ban the use of cluster munitions but only enjoins those states who’ve signed to clean up after themselves.

Nonetheless, the protection of civilians against indiscriminate attack is considered a part of customary international law, meaning that so many states agree it is wrong that it is to be considered criminal no matter whether the state that is responsible agrees it is or not.

Israel’s Judge Advocate General Avihai Mandelblit seems to accept as much, insofar as it he is not justifying the ruling on the basis of Israel’s non-party status to the relevant treaties. Instead, the public statement invokes a loophole in the language of humanitarian law that allows for carnage against civilians in cases of “military necessity.”

While no impartial war crimes court would likely consider this such a case – a settlement with Lebanon was already in the process of being reached when the weapons were used – the ruling does showcase the ambiguity of humanitarian law and the weakness of the legal protections that do exist for civilians (unlike the lengthy and detailed provisions for imprisoned combatants, go figure).

Actually, this ruling is probably good for the future of civilian protection, insofar as it will likely galvanize efforts to ban the use of these weapons outright. The Norwegian government has spearheaded an effort, now backed by 110 civil society organizations and 84 countries, including half the world’s stockpilers and half its producers, to draft an international treaty banning cluster munitions entirely by the end of 2008.

But the Israeli ruling also exposes another tremendous failing of the existing Geneva regime: that the only entities responsible for enforcing the rules are the very governments whose soldiers break them. No efforts on the horizo to draft a treaty to change this.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Why Was Bhutto Killed?

If like many of us your mind is on the future of Pakistan right now, have a look at what Nolocontendre is suggesting over at Piglipstick about the reason behind the assassination.

We are instructed to "check out what she says in passing at the 6:10 mark."

Even though the conspiracy theory is probably a stretch, the video itself ought to give you a jolt for obvious reasons.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

US Deaths in Iraq at 3,900

So said the AP, a few hours before Bhutto's assassination overtook the headlines. (For a few good points about why Musharraf's cronies, not Islamists, may have been behind it, check out Shadow of the Hegemon.)

But let me not digress. The regular Americans-only body count is not just a distortion of the public's perspective, it's actually a violation of the Geneva Conventions, which mandate that an occupying force account for all casualties in the area under its control.

I liked One Pissed Off Veteran's take on the numbers, posted last Friday:

"Total American dead in the Iraq Illegal Occupation: 3896
Total coalition forces dead: 307
Total Iraqi Dead: 700,000+
Number of days since the illegal occupation of Iraq began: 1752
Number of days since "Mission Accomplished": 1695
Number of days between Pearl Harbor and the end of WWII: Only 1347."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

US Military, Stop Recruiting Children

I took my children to see National Treasure II this Christmas and was dismayed, as I often am, by the extensive military recruitment ads blasted at them in the pre-previews period while we waited for the movie. In this case, it was Three Doors Down's video “Citizen-Soldier” – replete with a National Guard logo during the song, with follow-up blurbs by the guy who asks you to turn off the cell.

Not that the video is itself objectionable (but, see "Kingdaddy" over at Arms and Influence); not that we shouldn’t be proud of our troops or acknowledge their sacrifice, valorize them even, as long as they do their jobs admirably. In fact compared to the quality of much popular music, it’s healthy to see political themes, whatever they are, as an antidote to the sappy mush that keeps our kids' focus on sex and fashion.

There is, however, an international law banning recruitment children under the age of 15 into the armed forces. Let me repeat that – the norm is against recruitment, not mere use, of children.

Surely this includes subjecting them to military recruitment ads.

So why is the US military permitted to buy ad space in theaters for films with lower than an R rating?

True, the United States has not signed the Optional Protocol on the Convention to the Rights of the Child banning child recruitment. (Oh, right, the US hasn’t signed the framework convention itself either.) But it doesn’t matter, because the Special Court for Sierra Leone has ruled that child recruitment is banned not only in treaty law but in customary law, meaning that so many countries agree its wrong and don’t do it anymore that even those who claim the right to recruit children are breaking international norms.

What would it take to get these ads out of movie theaters, I wonder?

For more on the military-entertainment-industrial complex, I recommend any of Cynthia Enloe’s books, the newest of which is Globalization and Militarization.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Most Under-Reported Story of the Year: Bush Paves Way To Stay in Office

Some stories Foreign Policy didn't include in their list of "Top Ten Stories You Missed This Year":

1) The establishment by the USG of a new Unified Combatant Command for Africa. While it is not clear to me yet what precisely Africom's scope of operations will be, it does suggest a growing awareness on the part of the USG that stability in Africa matters for America's own security.

2) Child mortality is at a historic low globally, largely because of orchestrated efforts by NGOs and the UN to vaccinate children against preventable diseases and provide mothers with basic education about child health. Anyone who doubts that foreign aid can make a difference in the security of human beings should take heed of these numbers.

And the most important story you may have missed this year:

3) President Bush has enacted a National Security Presidential Directive that would make it legal for him to remain in office as long as he declares a “catastrophic national emergency” first. Defined, according to the Directive, as:

“any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.”
The mainstream news ignored this since May, but bloggers didn’t. Here are some views on the issue:

One Pissed Off Veteran writes:

“How fucking vague is that? A hurricane in Mexico? An ice storm in Canada? Pakistan dropping the big one into the men's room at the Taj Mahal? Even a precipitous drop in the value of the dollar against the Euro.

Any and all of these can be interpreted within the broad confines of this directive.

Note that it doesn't have to be on American soil. Anywhere on the planet (and probably off of it) is fair game for this far-reaching directive.

This is nothing less than a blueprint for instituting martial law in the United State -- with Der Monkey Fuehrer himself at the top."
Show Us The Inherent Law quoted Matthew Rothschild as saying:
“Under this plan, [Bush] entrusts himself with leading the entire federal government, not just the Executive Branch. And he gives himself the responsibility “for ensuring constitutional government.”
A slightly less paranoid view comes from InformationClearingHouse :
“These are profoundly, potentially calamitously, broad terms. Who defines what is extraordinary? Who defines how severe severely is? Is there any procedure to challenge the junking of constitutional government? …Even if you don't believe the most sinister paranoid coup theories, the document does nothing to allay one's fears that it could be used in a sinister way.”
Read the directive and decide for yourself whether we are likely to see Bush leave office on schedule.

Type rest of the post here

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not Sure That's What "Human Security" Means

In an article entitled “Japan’s Defense Minister Braces for Aliens,” Agence France-Press reports:

As Japan takes a more active role in military affairs, the defence minister has more on his mind than just threats here on Earth.

Shigeru Ishiba became the second member of the cabinet to profess a belief in UFOs and said he was looking at how Japan's military could respond to aliens under the pacifist constitution.

"There are no grounds for us to deny that there are unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and some life-form that controls them," Ishiba told reporters, saying it was his personal view and not that of the defence ministry.

Of course analysts will read this as a thinly disguised attempt to garner domestic support for altering Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, so that the country can deploy its armed forces for more wide-ranging tasks. Unless one assumes that Japan intends to embark on some offensive war against the putative little green men, it’s hard to see how simply acknowledging the possibility they may visit predetermines the need for any serious doctrinal change.

I think there’s a more logical explanation. For years political scientists have been debating the definition of “human security.” Invented by Boutrous-Boutrous Ghali as a way to shift the concept of security from the defense of territorial states to the defense of people, the idea was to get the Security Council to start taking seriously things like genocide, starvation and climate change. But no one can agree on exactly what the term means: is it freedom from fear of direct physical threats, or also freedom from want? Does it mean anything and everything and if so what good is it as an analytical concept?

Perhaps the Japanese government, long a champion of “human security” in multilateral forums, is simply contributing to this conversation anew by reframing the debate.

Ishiba could also just be nuts.

Alex Gibney has released a new documentary about the treatment of detainees in the Global War on Terror.

The film, "Taxi to the Dark Side," which has already won the best documentary award at the Tribeca film festival, will be released in January 2008. Not quite in time to enjoy it with your family over the holidays, but perfect to digest with impressionable middle-schoolers, now being fed a diet of "civics" that includes pledging daily their blind allegiance to our republic.

Of the film, Bill Larsen writes:

Have we, by pursuing such ruthless means, lost the moral high ground in the war on terror and made ourselves less safe? Even more important, have we compromised our own sense of humanity, our democratic values and our effectiveness as a world leader?

In my view, to even phrase these comments in the form of questions is to suggest a desperate naivete about the impact of our government's actions on our standing in the world. The truth is, we should all be more frightened than ever of our enemies.

Administration debates declaring "open season" in Iraq...

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Administration official admits that new measures must be taken to root out the approximately 2000 hardcore foreign Al Qaeda insurgents that stand between the Iraqi people and their realization of the American Dream.*

"Since shortly after the fall of Baghdad, we've been fighting these same 2000 insurgents," says our source. "The shock-and-awe tactics failed; the Army and Air Force couldn't beat them, so we brought in the Marines."

This escalation also failed to wipe out the handful of miscreants; "The Corps cleared Fallujah of all women, children, and old men, and yes, they did kill pretty much everyone who remained. But as you can see from headlines in 2005, those same core Al Qaeda operatives apparently eluded destruction."

Next, the Administration attempted to outsource the destruction of those 2000 insurgents, allowing foreign mercenaries a free reign. "I mean, you would think that if we let them kill just anyone, they would focus on the militants," our source said, rolling his eyes and shrugging. Instead, the death toll has included mainly doctors, lawyers, mechanics, and a lot of people who drive cars with bad brakes.

This week, responding to CIA reports obtained using the most robust of interrogation procedures, (codenamed "Nutcracker Suite") the US gave Turkey permission to bomb Iraq, in a last-ditch effort to eradicate the "New Immortals" as war-weary US troops have dubbed the last 2000 insurgents. (The old "Immortals" were crack Persian troops who were duly thrashed by Leonidas and his Spartans at Thermopylae in the days before Xerxes went all medieval on their asses, although at the time Xerxes considered himself pretty damned modern.)

These "New Immortals" were revealed in the CIA reports to be working hand-in-hand with the PKK, a Kurdish insurgent organization. But aren't the Kurds our friends? Not according to our source, who sarcastically replied "That was soooo last month." But why did the US give Turkey the go-ahead to attack Iraq, instead of scrambling their own jets? "We're out of bombs," shrugged the official, "at least until the House approves a new military spending bill."

However, battle damage assessments have shown the Turkish air strikes to be no more effective than the US air campaign of the last 4 years. But the Administration remains hopeful.

"We have at least 2 hole cards we can play," reports our source. The first is to actually free "Chemical Ali", still held by US forces despite a warrant for his execution by the Iraqi courts. "We figure we could trade a pardon and immunity, plus 600 lbs of nerve agent, and he could probably settle this PKK issue once and for all. He's done a bang-up job in the past, so we have high hopes that this could work."

And if it doesn't?

"Then it's time to get serious," he says, "and call on the Michigan Game and Fish Department."

Say what?

"That's right, the Michigan Game and Fish Department. If you haven't heard about them, it's because they're so damned good at what they do. In 2003, roughly the same time we began having our problem with the insurgents, Michigan had a problem with a deer herd that was skyrocketing out of control. Accidents on the freeway, crop destruction, territorial bucks attacking people - you name it. Game and Fish declared an open season, held a lottery, and a horde of camouflage-clad rednecks fixed the problem over the course of the winter."

Could this work where all else has failed? The Administration thinks it could. "Your average soldier knows the is a "long war" - they're here for 4 years, and getting paid whether they get anything done or not. A Michigan hunter? He's paid thousands of dollars for his equipment and his Al Qaeda license. He's got a wife and kids to get home to, not to mention a 4x4 up on blocks in the front yard. He's got a week off of work to track down and bag his militant; and unlike Blackwater, he's incentivized not to kill anyone else; I mean, can you imagine if all your buddies had fullgrown militant heads on their walls, bushy beards, long turbans, and you just had a runty kid or even a woman? Sure you could tell them she had a bomb under her abaya, but do you really think they'll believe you? Come on. Plus, Michigan laws are pretty harsh on people who kill does, fawns, or harvest more than their legal limit.

Could the Administration be on to something? Perhaps.

Only time will tell.

*The American dream where you make six figures, have a loving wife and a beautiful girlfriend, own 3 cars, 2 houses, and hire an illegal immigrant to do your cleaning - not to be confused with the American dream where you make six dollars an hour, beat your wife and got herpes from your girlfriend, owe money on 1 truck, 1 motorcycle, and 1 mobile home, and beat up illegal immigrants when you're drunk on a Friday night because they're taking all the "good" jobs away from hardworkin' 'merikins like you.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Turkey Bombs PKK; BBC Misconstrues International Law

From BBC this morning:

"Turkish officials said the warplanes had targeted the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), in areas near the border.

But officials in northern Iraq said the planes had struck several villages. There were reports that one woman was killed, although this was unconfirmed.”
Here is a classic example of the media using the wrong indicators to gauge whether air attacks are targeting military objectives: the sex of the victims. So the story goes, if there are “women and children” dead, then the attack has hit civilians.

The assumption – quite wrong in the case of the PKK, with its 40% female fighters – is that if you’re a woman, you’re definitely a civilian. On the other hand the bodies are “battle-age males” all is fair game, irrespective of whether those males were involved in the fighting.

The same grisly logic was behind Ratko Mladic’s careful separation of “women and children” from men and boys at Srebrenica, prior to massacring 8,000 unarmed “battle-age” males (some as young as twelve); and the US government’s refusal to allow “battle-age” males to flee Fallujah with their families in 2004. These are, of course, illegal acts, since civilians are protected under the Geneva Conventions irrespective of sex, and that immunity is lost only when one takes up arms during an attack.

Anyway, by acting as if sex and age are some kind of proxy for “civilian status,” the news media is fomenting this faulty assumption that so often results in war crimes. Its reporting would be better to emphasize whether the victims appeared to be close to military objectives, or whether they were armed or otherwise doing something associated with the lawful target of the attack.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Worth Watching

Without endorsing any particular Republcian presidential candidate's overall platform, I must say the the following video is worth watching on its own merits:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Say WHAT???

According to the Washington Post, "Evidence from Waterboarding Could be Used in Military Trials":

"The top legal adviser for the military trials of Guantanamo Bay detainees told Congress yesterday that he cannot rule out the use of evidence derived from the CIA's aggressive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, a tactic that simulates drowning.

"Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, who oversees the prosecutors who will try the detainees at military commissions, said that while "torture" is illegal, he cannot say whether waterboarding violates the law. Nor would he say that such evidence would be barred at trial."

It was bad enough when the USG practiced waterboarding, allegedly to gain "actionable intelligence" in extreme cases, in violation of international and domestic law. But out and out claiming it is defensible as a means of gathering evidence for military trials must constitute some kind of bizarre tipping point.

What is the deal with this guy? Is he actually representing the policy of the USG or has just committed a political and legal blunder that will cost him his career? Let's hope the latter: distancing itself quickly from this argument and seeking the Hartmann's resignation would seem to be a no-brainer for the Bush Administration.

Comments on this article from the Post blog suggest such a move would have widespread support:

"This filthy sonofabitch should be drummed out of the military on his totalitarian fascist derriere. Even Republican Lindsay Graham can't stand him."

"With your support of using "evidence" obtained by torture you have smeared America, our constitution and our honor with your feces."

"God help this country. Can someone help me out with what to tell my kid about this, about what this country stands for?"
In reponse to that last, tell your kid this country stands for speaking out when your leaders predictably become corrupted by power. We as a people are not defined by the barbarism of our government's practices, so long as we actively oppose it. Let's hope the Senate Judiciary Committee remembers this.

Kosovo Redux

More evidence that rumors of a new blood-bath in the Balkans, following Kosovo’s recent pledge to declare independence have been greatly exaggerated:

Al Jazeera reported today: “The Serbian government has threatened to go to the International Court of Justice to prevent Kosovo from being recognised as a state.”
This move, an appeal to an international body that has less power than the Pet Court, underscores Serbia’s unwillingness to prevent Kosovar secession by force.

Negotiators could not have openly agreed to independence, but nor will the central government revisit 1998-1999 through a military effort to prevent it. Too much is at stake with efforts to join the EU. The Kosovoar Albanians know this and had no incentive to compromise, which is why talks failed.

What we are likely to see here is a peaceful transition overseen by the international community. Nations that opposed the JNA’s suppression of the Kosovar Albanians’ uprising in the 1990s will recognize an independent Kosovo. Those that fear setting a precedent vis a vis their own secessionist movements will hem and haw in the General Assembly and fail to recognize Kosovo. And life will go on.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Blowing the Whistle on Torture

Ian over at The Agonist follows Michael Froomkin in berating lawmakers who knew of water-boarding as early as 2002 for failing to raise their concerns on the floor of the House and Senate. Froomkin makes an interesting point that:

"The emerging consensus in the blogosphere seems to be that even if they had the presence of mind to object, the Representatives and Senators who were briefed were in a bind: as members of the Intelligence Committees or the leadership, they signed various secrecy pledges which stopped them from going public... All this misses a critical aspect of our constitutional structure. Thanks to the Speech and Debate Clause there was a way for any Senator or Representative who wanted to blow the whistle to do so in a way that involved no risk of jail or fines – at worst they might have lost their security clearances (and even there the law is a little murky)."

To support his argument, Froomkin excerpts Article 1 of the US Constitution which reads:

"The Senators and Representatives... shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place."

Note, however, the exemption for acts of “treason,” defined in Article 3 of the US Constitution:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

Who supposes a government who can claim water-boarding is not torture wouldn’t happily call such whistle-blowing “aiding and comforting the enemy” and thus the construct the whistleblowers as traitors?

I endorse the idea that any right-minded congressperson should have gladly gone to prison if necessary to blow the whistle on these practices. But let’s not “misunderestimate” the gravity of the personal choice they may have faced.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Genocide and the Crime of War...

The doomed are transported in rickety boxcars. Though they must know in their minds what awaits them at the end, they do not rebel against the small cadre of grim-faced officers armed with pistols who oversee them. The trains arrive; the walking dead are disembarked, formed in to orderly groups, and marched off. It is still night; by the time the dawn breaks, they are arrayed in neat lines in front of the machineguns. The graves that many will occupy have already been dug in the muddy ground. The order is given. A whistle blows. The first rank clambers onto the killing field. At first they maintain their order, walking slowly. The machineguns begin to cut men down with short, ordered bursts. The rest begin to run. The machineguns fire faster. Over 5000 will die here today; but tomorrow is another day, and one can only bury so many bodies in one place.

Genocide scholars (and I shall deal with this lot in a later post) spend a great deal of time focused on the 5 million European Jews that died at the hands of the Nazis. What one never hears discussed is the OTHER 5 million German citizens who were sent to their deaths by the German government.

I speak, of course, of the German army; conscripted, forced by their own government to endure conditions that, imposed in any other setting than war, would be considered the height of cruelty- Starvation, exposure to extreme heat and cold, the mental torment of repeated bombardments; the mercy of death, when it came (as it did to 30% of these unfortunates) tended not to be surgical or methodical in nature. A bullet in the back of the head or a dose of VX sounds like a walk in the park compared to being shot in the guts and left to writhe for a few hours, being crushed to death by the tank treads, burned alive by a flamethrower, or being literally dismembered by a high-explosive artillery shell.

Of course, Germany was not alone, in World War II, or throughout history, in sending its citizens to a certain (and certainly horrific) death. Consider the spectacle described in the begininng of this piece; that was the British 8th Division on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

As Leon Trotsky wrote: "An army cannot be built without reprisals. Masses of men cannot be led to death unless the command has the death penalty in its arsenal. So long as those malicious tailless apes that are so proud of their technical achievements — the animals that we call men — will build armies and wage wars, the command will always be obliged to place the soldiers between the possible death in the front and the inevitable one in the rear."

One can make no excuses for the "volunteer" armies of today, except to say that to call them "mercenary armies" may be more accurate; a $40,000 bonus for 4 years of work is a prettier penny than Rome paid her barbarian mercenaries before the Fall of the Empire.

But most countries still maintain it is their sovereign right to impress men into service (the dubious service of killing and being killed) at their whim; I should propose that the root of all war crimes, and in fact the crime against humanity that is war itself is the notion that any State has the sovereign right to make war, either against it's own citizens, or the citizens of other States.

As long as the world at large accepts this foolishness, it's no use decrying the cruel depradations of war and all that goes along with it (including the narrowly-defined genocide term over which so many likes to wail and gnash their teeth, but so few are willing to act).

Anyone foolish enough to live in a State which they have acknowledged has the right to imprison or kill its own citizens (we call this Law) or the citizens of other States, (we call this War) deserves what they get, and would be well advise to situate themselves in a position of wealth, power, and authority, so that when the time comes for the strong to do what they will, and the weak to suffer what they must, they can hand out the medicine rather than take it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Congo's Gend-orilla-cide or, How Much Worse Can It Get?

If three million dead humans in central Africa isn’t enough to capture the interest of the international community, perhaps the fact that as many as 18 endangered gorillas have been killed will, suggests Sebastian Berger in an article entitled “Congo Conflict Threatens Endangered Gorillas.”

Meanwhile, the Council on Foreign Relations reprinted CFR fellow Michael Glerson’s emotional op-ed from The Washington Post in their weekly e-newsletter. “A Different Kind of Genocide” details the rape and sexual mutilation of various women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The focus of his piece seems to be proving not that these are bodily integrity violations against human beings, but that somehow the rapes constitute “genocide” – and, perhaps, that somehow this is "different" from regular genocides.

Three problems with his argument:

First, the use of rape as a tool of genocide (to say nothing of regular old terrorizing) is hardly new.

Second, since genocide is a crime against groups, not individuals, saying rape is “genocide” hinges on depicting women not as individuals but as exemplars of group identity, as if being raped as an ordinary person for any of a variety of other reasons women get raped in war isn’t bad enough. Presumably, the “real” crime here is that some “nation” is being destroyed.

Third, he’s not clear about which ethnic or racial group is trying to destroy which – rather important for a claim of genocide. No surprise considering the complexity of this conflict, which has involved seven state armies and numerous militias fighting for a variety of reasons.

Glerson’s claims of “genocide” are not based on any serious socio-cultural, gender, or legal analysis. What we have here, I think, is simply an effort to draw attention to the DRC and to sexual violence.

His aim is laudable, but his method has pitfalls.

Claims of genocide are like an epithet people fall back on out of desperation to condemn acts of political violence. But they rarely have the desired effect. (The crisis in Darfur was labeled a genocide years ago and no meaningful military intervention materialized.) And such claims have an important consequence: that of diluting people’s understanding of what the term “genocide” actually means.

By the way, the legal definition can be found here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Why Would Jesus Not-Torture?

Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has admitted he is firmly against torture, after meeting in Des Moines with a group of human-rights-minded military personnel. He includes waterboarding in his definition, though it's unclear whether he would also include needles inserted beneath fingernails or all other "unpleasant" interrogation techniques.

Ironic, though, that the candidate some believe is “too moral” to be President would oppose torture not because it’s immoral, but because it supposedly wouldn’t work. (Hear his logic in this stream from NPR.)

“If only” torture were effective, no problem; Christian ethics per se be damned.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Make Love, Not Greenhouse Gases

In my classes on global governance, I sometimes try valiantly (though often with mixed results) to convince my students of the connection between micro-level gender relations and political outcomes.

As if the impact of the gay ban on military effectiveness wasn't proof enough, I now have evidence that the "defining security threat of our time" is caused by rampant divorce rates.

USA Today reports, in an article entitled "Marriage: Eco-Friendlier Than Divorce":

"Divorce isn't green, says a study being published today. The research... looked at international data comparing utility consumption and housing space per capita in married and divorced households. He found that divorce creates more households with fewer people, using more energy and water and taking up more space."

In addition to technology transfer, adaptation and new emissions targets, should world leaders at the new round of Kyoto talks in Bali consider marriage incentives as a way to offset a nation's carbon emissions?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

If the Gods be for us, who be for them?

Taking a brisk constitutional around the blogosphere, I came across this note from the Armchair Generalist; it seems that Hollywood has earmarked 100 Million dollars to produce an epic World of Warcraft movie. To put this in perspective, this is more than the GDP of the world's poorest country, Kiribati, but that's not what has me curious.

What perspective would the movie be shot from? Unlike traditional fantasy war epics, like Lord of the Rings, it's hard to put your finger on the "bad guy" in World of Warcraft. Whether a scowling crc hunter or a comely human sorceress is your best friend or your worst enemy depends, on, well, whether you're a member of the inhuman Horde (orcs and minotaurs and the undead, oh my!) or the more normal (looking) humans, elves, dwarves and gnomes that make up the Alliance.

The word on Wikipedia is that the movie will be shot from the Alliance perspective; potentially alienating the approximately 3.4 million active members of the Horde (for an interesting look at how in-game demographics map to the real world, check out The Daedelus Project).

This is an interesting parallel with the real-world media, which rarely shows both sides of the story; and to a real world still so hung up on national identities that we oft forget that, as Mark Twain wrote in "The War Prayer", when we call upon our God to guide and guard our soldiers in battle, we ask in the same breath that "O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead..."

And who do you suppose they are praying to, in their final hours?

Blizzard Entertainment, which created the game, has sometimes created threats to the game world that have required the Horde and Alliance to, if not work together, then at least to set aside their differences and fight a common foe.

Could this be an option for the producers as they begin the process of writing and refining this script? At this point, about all that can be said with certainty is that there'll be at least one ill-tempered dwarf grumbling in that traditional dwarven Scottish accent.

More on Justice in the Middle East

Hmmm, if 50-1000 lashes is a suitable punishment for rape in Saudi Arabia, what's a fair penalty for stealing some lumber in Iraq... Let's see what these US Army tankers have to say... ... Oh, wait, the title of this note should probably have been "More Injustice in the Middle East"... Rubbish...

Friday, November 30, 2007

Quote of the Day

"CNN films the launch of the missile. Al Jazeera films what happens where it lands.”

- Josh Rushing, former US Marine Captain, now Al Jazeera’s U.S. defense and military correspondent.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Prince Faisal: International Community "Unfairly" Denigrates Saudis

Prince Faisal has distanced the Saudi government from a court's condemnation of a gang-rape victim to 200 lashes, but said "the judgment was being used to vilify the Saudi government." However ridiculous this statement is, it does tell concerned citizens something about the audience they need to persuade with their letters and phone calls.

Why not lobby the Saudi government on its own terms? One hardly must invoke Western standards of women’s rights or universal human rights to oppose this ruling: the sentence is unjust even according to Saudi standards (for a discussion of her lawyers' arguments click here). The ruling challenges (and justifies) King Abdullah’s efforts at judicial reform. And since the rapists were Sunni and their victim Shi’a, failing to commute the sentence will only make the “Girl from Qatif” a flashpoint for ethnic tensions in the Kingdom - something the authorities might care to defuse.

If advocates were to play on these concerns rather than invoking Western notions of gender justice or calling for invasion, they are likeliest to provoke a constructive response, rather than defensiveness.

In between calling the Saudi embassy, they might also lobby the Western media to stop giving a bully pulpit to the Justice Ministry’s claims that the victim has “confessed to adultery,” which if true can carry a sentence of death, rather than flogging.

Instead, reporters should focus on other under-reported aspects of the story:

The courage demonstrated by the victim’s husband in standing up for his wife in a culture where he is expected to kill her himself.

The fact that she is at as much risk from members of her extended family as from the state.

And how about the politically incorrect fact that both her companion and their rapists face flogging (up to 1000 lashes) as well? These too are human beings, eh?

Human rights? We've got your rights, now where's the human?

While breaking my fast today, I idly scanned the latest headlines, and was both amused and saddened (though hardly surprised) to find the State Department tap-dancing around whether the Geneva convention applies to those interned in Guantanamo Bay, our very own latter-day Hanoi Hilton.

The Administration's stance remains that because the prisoners are "non-state actors", that is, they were alleged to be fighting with a guerrilla group at the time of their capture, that we needn't trouble ourselves with the Geneva Convention, not to mention the Constitution, the Magna Carta, or the Ten Commandments.

Consider the reverse implications; we've bewailed the treatment of US servicemen captured in Vietnam, but by our own interpretation of the "rules", there should have been two very different standards applied to US prisoners during the Vietnam War; those captured by the NVA, the military branch of a recognized state, should in fact have received their rights under the Geneva Convention (including between 8 to 75 Swiss francs monthly, depending on their ranks) - while those prisoners captured by the Viet Cong, an unrecognized insurgent group, could have been tortured, errr, I mean of course, questioned with no regard to any pesky "rights"...

Let's decipher the State Department's pontificating. What they're really trying to say is "When is a human not a human?" When kidnapping becomes "extraordinary rendition", when torture becomes "robust interrogation", when politicians and state-sponsored lawyers begin rewriting the lexicon; when Nationalist sentiment is on the rise, when you're a Jew in Berlin in the 1930s, when you're a Muslim in Iraq just after the turn of the millenium, it makes you wonder.

To paraphrase the Bard; "If you prick me, do I not bleed? If you tickle me, do I not laugh? If you torture me, do I not scream?"

Apparently, there are no screams in Guantanamo, just the hearty exclamations of "robust answers".

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gitmo Psychologists

Earlier this month, Wikileaks publicized the USG's operations manual for the running of the Gitmo detention center. Last weekend, Stephen Soldz of Psyche, Science and Society and Julian Assange penned an op-ed about the document, entitled "Guantanamo Document Confirms Psychological Torture: Will the APA Protest?"

They write:

"It is time for the APA to stop word parsing and make clear, unequivocal statements about what in their view is and is not ethical. I, for one, feel that the use of isolation, is well over the line into unethical territory. Does APA agree?"

While the use of psychological expertise to abet human rights violations is certainly unethical, one wonders what these authors hope the APA will accomplish by taking a position on broader matters of US policy. The purpose of such associations are to provide guidelines for practitioners in a profession, not to pronounce on national security matters.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Ender's Game" and Human Security

A funny thing happened when I first told some friends and family about this blog and explained the title and epigraph: some were shocked.

This is because the epigraph is drawn from a book that apparently "glorifies child soldiering." [Admittedly, in Card’s Ender’s Game, Ender Wiggin enters “Battle School” at age six and battle itself at age nine, and by age ten is a full-fledged, if unwitting, xenocidaire.] My admiration for the story puzzles people because I run with a pack that tends to lobby against child recruitment as it is practiced by certain countries and rebel groups today.

The easy answer to this question (besides: "duh, it's just a book") is that the Ender series doesn’t so much promote the conscription of children as suggest that children can be and are moral and political actors much like adults.

But this frame does indeed have political implications. These will no doubt be revisited by critics once the Ender’s Game film, now in the screen-writing stages, hits the box office. After all, if the original novel can be interpreted as pro-child-recruitment (debatable), it’s certainly easy to suppose a bastardized film version will.

An obvious “negative” side-effect from a human security perspective is that images of child combatants as heroic political agents could adversely affect international standard-setting against child recruitment. It might do so by problematizing the simplistic stories transnational advocacy groups trade in: stories that tell us children are victims not actors, abductees rather than willing volunteers, and innocents rather than strategic, rational actors.

Then again, isn’t challenging stereotypes also perhaps a good thing?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Welcome, For Better or Worse.

We are a junior political scientist and a soldier of misfortune who have been arguing since childhood about political ethics and global social order. The basic question that informs our discussions is how, whether and on what terms the gap might be closed between national and human security. Can global governance "as if people mattered" be achieved?

As you will see, this range of interests gives us plenty of room to maneuver. Besides military doctrine, international law, and global civil society do not be surprised if you find the topics on this blog to include, among others: 1) the care and feeding of young megalomaniacs; 2) the relationship of science fiction and video games to geopolitics 3) and the so-called universality of human rights (cannibalism: barbaric primitive practice, or the other, other white meat?).

Why blog at all, and why now? We have different reasons.

Diodotus: "Political science today prizes abstract theorizing and number crunching over practical wisdom for citizens and statespersons. But as Einstein said, 'Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.' Theory may be my bread and butter, but one hungers to be of use to the real world. It has taken me a few years and some inspiration from other academic bloggers to recognize that six hours a week with students is not enough."

Cleitus the Black: "Why, I choose to blog so the radiance of my inspired eloquence may illuminate the the grey matter of the downtrodden masses, of course! People should actually thank me for doing their thinking for them; it's "outsourcing" at its very best!"

Our blog’s name reflects the influence of Orson Scott Card, who foresaw the political blogosphere back in the late ‘80s when writing his famous novel Ender's Game. In the story, two brilliant middle-schoolers manage to influence world events by writing polemical commentaries under the pseudonyms “Locke” and “Demosthenes.” Of course all possible variations of those derivative titles were snapped up by other Card fans long before we took to the blogosphere ourselves, so we drew on one of our favorite Card quotes instead.

As for our own psuedonyms, interpret them as you please. We hope you enjoy reading and participating in our virtual debates, and if you find the material useful or illuminating, please feel free to recommend this page to your friends and enemies alike.

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