Archive for the ‘Human rights’ Category

Working against a deadline, so a couple of quick links will have to do for now:

At Foreign Policy, Marc Lynch pours cold water on the rapturous reception of Iraq’s provincial elections, with special emphasis on Anbar.

At Jihadica, Anne Stenersen looks at the lack of a unified strategy by AQ and its affiliates on how to target Germany.

At Boston Globe, Richard Clarke offers a concise explanation of what ‘extraordinary rendition’ actually means.

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I consider myself reasonably well versed in the intricacies of the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation policies, but I long ago lost count of the numerous memos — by John Yoo, Jay Bybee and others — that the OLC spewed out to justify detainee mistreatment and other lawlessness. So I’m happy to report that Pro Publica now has a list of (almost) everything, including the still-secret legal opinions, and a neat timeline to boot. And in case you missed it, here’s Jack Balkin’s op-ed on why they should be made public.

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As Obama moves to shut down Guantánamo — even if he is, in the immortal words of Peter Feaver, just “kicking the can as far down the road as he possibly can without being penalized for delay of game” — we all suddenly find ourselves trying to figure out whether we can somehow pitch in.

Because Gitmo is such a stain, and because we all failed to stop it from happening, there is enormous political pressure even in an unlikely place like Finland to at least consider granting asylum to some of the detainees who’ve been cleared of charges, whatever they may be, but cannot go home.

While this is only natural, and while I sympathise with the sentiments, I’d like to advise against such hasty acts of penitence. Here’s why:

  • The Americans themselves don’t know what they’re dealing with. According to the Washington Post, the Guantánamo case files are a mess, and even the new administration will have a hard time sorting out who’s who, why they’re there and — most importantly — what, if anything, they’ve done.
  • Seven years in a cage is bad for a person. Regardless of whether or not one believes Bush’s claims of recidivism among former inmates (I have my doubts), radicalisation is something we’d be foolish to overlook. By all accounts, Gitmo is a place that turns innocent men into potential terrorists, and we simply couldn’t be sure whether we’d be welcoming Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.
  • You don’t send torture survivors to a cold and lonely place. Finland is a highly homogenous, xenophobic and inward-looking society where outsiders in general, and non-Whites in particular, are not welcome. After years behind bars, the detainees deserve better.
  • You don’t send potential jihadists to a country that’s not equipped to deal with them. Finland simply doesn’t have the intelligence infrastructure to keep tabs on the releasees. Maybe one isn’t needed; maybe the poor guys will just find a girl and get a job and disappear into the crowd. But what if one doesn’t?

None of this is to say we shouldn’t help Obama solve his conundrum. But let him first gauge the extent of the mess he’s in.

[UPDATE: New info on Gitmo files here.]

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At the risk of going Biblical, I wonder if for once the word ‘evil’ would be appropriate:

Combatants of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) brutally massacred at least 620 civilians and abducted more than 160 children between December 24 and January 13 in northern Democratic Republic of Congo, said Human Rights Watch and Justice Plus, a Congolese human rights organization. Many of the victims were killed or abducted in three simultaneous attacks on December 24 and 25, 2008.


In the village of Batande, three miles from Doruma, near the Sudanese border, the LRA killed at least 80 people on December 25 when village residents had gathered for Christmas lunch after the morning church service. LRA members surrounded the people, tied them up with rope or rubber strips from bicycle tires, and then separated the men and boys from the women and girls. They took the men and boys about 40 meters from the church and killed them immediately with blows to the head. They took the women and girls into the forest in small groups and raped many of them before crushing their skulls.


The rebels waited until December 24 for the most devastating of their attacks, waiting until people had come together for Christmas festivities, then surrounding and killing them by crushing their skulls with axes, machetes, and large wooden bats. Most of the few who survived also had head wounds, but two 3-year-old girls had serious neck injuries, suffered when LRA combatants tried to twist off their heads.

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Of Obama’s many smart picks, one of the most significant, yet the one least likely to attract public attention, is the nomination of Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

You may recall that during the Bush years, the OLC, which is supposed to advise the president on how to obey the law, was overrun by ambulance chasers like John Yoo, who used the office’s influential legal opinions to shape profoundly misguided policies.

In case you’re wondering how much of an “anti-Yoo” Johnsen is, here’s a Slate blog post she wrote last April about the infamous torture memo. Money quote:

Where is the outrage, the public outcry?!  The shockingly flawed content of this memo, the deficient processes that led to its issuance, the horrific acts it encouraged, the fact that it was kept secret for years and that the Bush administration continues to withhold other memos like it–all demand our outrage.

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Phew. After the blogger-concocted “Brennan scandal”, it must come as a great relief to Team Obama that the same virtual vetters are wholeheartedly endorsing the president-elect’s choice of Leon Panetta as CIA chief.

Here’s Salon’s Glenn Greenwald recycling his own narrative:

I don’t have any particular thoughts, one way or the other, about Panetta himself, but — particularly in the wake of the Brennan controversy — it does seem clear that the Obama team was serious about avoiding anyone who had any connection at all to the Bush torture, surveillance and detention programs.  Not only did they want to avoid anyone with any formal connection, but also anyone who (like Brennan) advocated or supported those programs.

At Harper’s, Scott Horton calls the choices — Panetta and Blair –“not merely good, but inspired”:

[…] Panetta has one other key trait. When he tells the nation and the world that the torture and mistreatment of prisoners and the program of torture by proxy has ended, people will believe him.

It’s not that I disagree. But here’s the thing: neither Greenwald nor Horton, nor any of the other bloggers who doomed John Brennan’s appointment by cherry-picking stuff out of a couple of googled interviews, ever produced a shred of proof that John Brennan was an advocate of anything more than harsh words. And I’m pretty sure they will be equally selective in taking the rap, should Panetta prove a dismal failure.

UPDATE: Here’s an endorsement that should make Greenwald and Horton’s hair stand on end:

The Panetta choice also makes sense to him, said Philip Zelikow, a former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice […]. ‘The issues of presidential trust and clean hands are, at this moment in history, most important,’ Zelikow said by e-mail. ‘And even an ‘intelligence professional’ would have to rely on others in many ways. … So Obama and his team have made a certain kind of tradeoff.’

You may recall that Zelikow is the guy who, at his friend Condi Rice’s request, wrote the overview of Bush’s “preemptive war” and later served as the Bush mole on the 9/11 Commission.

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There is little in the new Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse that we didn’t already know. Still, when a bi-partisan report, co-released by Carl Levin and John McCain, says that top administration officials were responsible for the mistreatment of prisoners in Gitmo, Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s… kind of breathtaking:

Conclusion 1: On February 7, 2002, President George W. Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. Following the President’s determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.

Conclusion 2: Members of the President’s Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed. National Security Council Principals reviewed the CIA’s interrogation program during that period.

Conclusion 19: The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.

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