In 2007, the London Review of Books published a piece entitled "Inconvenient Truths" about the conviction and subsequent appeals of Libyan intelligence agent Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan-Am flight 103. The article, written by Hugh Miles, explained that even at the time of the conviction there were many questions, and that al-Megrahi's appeal (which he withdrew in order to be released on medical grounds last week) had a chance of succeeding.
Lawyers, politicians, diplomats and relatives of Lockerbie victims now believe that the former Libyan intelligence officer is innocent. Robert Black QC, an emeritus professor of Scottish law at Edinburgh University, was one of the architects of the original trial in Holland. He has closely followed developments since the disaster happened and in 2000 devised the non-jury trial system for the al-Megrahi case.
Evenbefore the trial he was so sure the evidence against al-Megrahi would not stand up in court that he is on record as saying that a convictio nwould be impossible. When I asked how he feels about this remark now, Black replied: ‘I am still absolutely convinced that I am right. No reasonable tribunal, on the evidence heard at the original trial, should or could have convicted him and it is an absolute disgrace and outrage what the Scottish court did.’
In this context the outrage over al-Megrahi's release by Scotland last week--because he has terminal cancer --might need to be reevaluated. The same goes for resultant anger over Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's visit to the U.N. and New York in September. Following up on the London Review of Books' blog this week, Glen Newey makes the astute, if impolitic point that the release, and drop of al-Megrahi's appeal, was likely best for the political fortunes of everyone involved:
It served nobody’s interests to have the Lockerbie bombing conviction debated in open court. Hence the great good fortune of al-Megrahi’s terminal prostate cancer, which sped his release from Greenock. With a ‘compassionate’ wave of the biro, the SNP administration has rid itselfof a high-profile prisoner with an unsafe conviction and enhanced, orcreated, its international profile. The UK government can keep in withthe Libyans and protect its commercial contracts, on the plea ofrespecting devolved powers. Meanwhile, in a rerun of the Cold War great game, we need to oil our way into the Colonel’s tent ahead of the Bear: recently Russia has been angling for a naval base in Benghazi. So even the Obama administration has reason to mute its complaints. It’s almost enough to make one believe in divine providence.
None of this, of course, is any consolation to the families of the bombing victims, but it gives a very plausible explanation for what might be going on behind the scenes.
To be clear, it is unlikely officials could fake the cancer diagnosis and Al-Megrahi does not look very well in the photos of his departure from Scotland. But well, who knows? Maybe he'll make a miraculous recovery at home in Libya.
DANNY LAWSON/AFP/Getty Images
There's lots of good pirate drama on the high seas in the Gulf of Aden these days, giving a slew of international naval vessels and air-surveillance teams no shortage of things to do.
In fact, that's where the latest story begins. While surveiling a hijacked Taiwanese vessel this morning, the MV Win Far -- where 30 hostages are being held -- a U.S. helicopter team was fired upon by pirates using "large caliber" weapons. The shots missed, and all the Americans were fine. But it made for some pretty interesting video, which you can download here.
Of course, far better yet (if you're looking for drama) are the unofficial pirate cops: tourists seeking a good bit of fun. If this story from the British The Sun newspaper story is right, you could join the pirate fight -- under the protection of Russian ex-special forces -- for a mere £3,500 a day.
What a steal.
I must say, this is pretty ballsy:
Police in the Mexican border city of Tijuana say they have arrested six men for stealing pieces of the U.S. border fence to sell as scrap metal. [...]
The first two men caught cutting into the fence on Monday. An alleged accomplice was detained Tuesday with 11 pieces of fencing. The U.S. Border Patrol alerted police to three more suspects.
Police said Wednesday in a statement that the men may face federal charges because the fence area is considered federal property.
There really wasn't a less guarded fence in all of Tijuana?
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
In the Guardian, Jonathan Franklin provides a first-hand look at "cocaine tourism" in Bolivia:
"Tonight we have two types of cocaine; normal for 100 Bolivianos a gram, and strong cocaine for 150 [Bolivianos] a gram." The waiter has just finished taking our drink order of two rum-and-Cokes here in La Paz, Bolivia, and as everybody in this bar knows, he is now offering the main course. The bottled water is on the house.The waiter arrives at the table, lowers the tray and places an empty black CD case in the middle of the table. Next to the CD case are two straws and two little black packets. He is so casual he might as well be delivering a sandwich and fries. And he has seen it all. "We had some Australians; they stayed here for four days. They would take turns sleeping and the only time they left was to go to the ATM," says Roberto, who has worked at Route 36 (in its various locations) for the last six months.
Franklin reports that in addition to the low prices a number of reasons conspire to make Bolivia the perfect location:
This new trend of 'cocaine tourism' can be put down to a combination of Bolivia's notoriously corrupt public officials, the chaotic "anything goes" attitude of La Paz, and the national example of President Evo Morales, himself a coca grower.
While the rest of the article is great, I'm not sure about the "national example" factor of Morales. I'm pretty sure the president is not selling his crops for processed cocaine. Morales did want to destigmatize coca crops when he won the presidency, but it was to restore the leaf's role in Bolivia's cultural heritage, not to give the thumbs up to full scale cocaine production.
Obviously more coca crops make more cocaine much easier, but I wouldn't quite say Morales is explicilty in approval.
AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images
A great crumb from the Washington Independent's Dave Weigel: nearly four in five Americans agreed, in a Fox News poll, that former President Bill Clinton's trip to North Korea -- during which he successfully lobbied for the release of jailed journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee -- will not encourage the kidnapping of more Americans.
One comment, though. Ling and Lee -- and John Yettaw, the American released from Myanmar over the weekend -- were not kidnapped. They were arrested and put in prison. Seems an important distinction to make.
Over the last six months, more than 170 luxury cars have been set on fire in Berlin. Authorities are blaming the mysterious crime spree on left-wing radicals. But this is Google-age radicalism, as Australia's The Age explains:
A mysterious, single page website, brennende-autos.de (Burning Cars of Berlin), shows the number of cars set alight and where the crimes occurred, revealing clusters in ‘‘richer’’ areas, or in suburbs where gentrification and redevelopment are changing the demographic of local neighbourhoods.
Here a link to the page. Weird stuff.
Hat tip: Boing Boing
A new bill approved by Mexico's congress would effectively decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Under the new law, treatment programs would be suggested for the first two offences and mandated for the third. Visiting U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske seems not quite sure how to feel about it:
"I guess if I was looking at it strictly from our viewpoint, the use of the government as a strong sanction is often pretty helpful in getting people into treatment," said Kerlikowske, who heads the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy. "If the sanction becomes completely nonexistent I think that would be a concern, but I actually didn't read quite that level of de-facto (decriminalization) in the law."
"I would actually give this a bit of a wait and see attitude," said Kerlikowske. "I've always found about laws, whether they've been enacted by states or our own federal government, is that it is the application and the use of the law and how it's actually done" are key.
Kerlikowske was much more enthusiastic about Mexican President Felipe Calderon's tougher proposal, which would mandate treatment for first offenders through special drug courts. Still, the fact that a U.S. drug czar is this open to any decriminalization program from its drug-war ally, does seem significant. The United States publicly criticized a similar bill in 2006.
Kerlikowske disappointed marijuana legalization advocates last week by saying, "Legalization is not in the president's vocabulary, and it's not in mine." But Kerlikowske has previously explained that he does not in any way support legalization, but favors a treatment model over a law-enforcement approach.
The question is whether the drug czar is going to back up his rhetoric with any real reform, especially at a time when the Obama administration has little political capital to spare. His measured response to the Mexican bill and presence at the release of a UN report, which praises Portugal's decriminalization program, may indicate that he's dipping his toe into this debate while making it very clear that legalization is out of the question.
For now, drug law reform advocates will probably have to take a "wait and see attitude" toward him as well.
UIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
Meet the new head of the LTTE, or at least what's left of it:
Selvarasa Pathmanathan was the rebels' chief of international relations and allegedly ran an international weapons smuggling ring. The Sri Lankan government has appealed to foreign governments to find and arrest him. [...]
Pathmanathan said earlier the Tigers would abandon their armed struggle and use nonviolence to achieve their goals, and he promised the group would reorganize itself based on democratic principles - a major change from Prabhakaran's dictatorial leadership style.
A former weapons smuggler certainly makes an unlikley candidate for the Tamil Gandhi. Peru's Sendero Luminoso -- which has largely made the transition from Marxist guerrilla movement to cocaine cartel -- might be an instructive model though.
The 35 million people that make up the bustling metropolis of Tokyo experience unique comfort caused by a strange lack of crime -- bicycles can be left unlocked, lost possessions are returned to owners. For this reason, it is understandable that Tokyo police don't resemble stereotypical Officer Krupkes: swinging their billy clubs, waiting for the troublemakin' youth. Recently, however, the fuzz has been faced with a real challenge: Kitashikahama Park in Adachi Ward acts as a social space for rowdy teens to express themselves through vandalism and raucous midnight hijinks.
The Tokyo authorities are attempting to differentiate themselves by fighting crime creatively--by assaulting young ears. A British-made Mosquito MK4 Anti-Vandal system has been installed on the premises. The machine emits a high-frequency whine that only teens can hear.
Seven days a week, the whining begins at 11 p.m. and continues until 4 a.m. Video surveillance cameras monitor park buildings. And Kitashikahama Park empties out.
Except for television news crews.
"We see them on the surveillance videos, and there are too many of them to count," said Haruyuki Masuda, head of park management in Adachi Ward. "They hide behind trees and bushes, They are waiting for kids to come. I think they have scared off the kids."
Neighbors report that the park has quieted down at night, if you don't count the television news trucks and the TV-news-watching busybodies who descend on the park after 11 p.m. to find out whether they are too old to be irritated by the whining."
It's too soon to say if the Mosquito system is the real cause of the preliminary decrease in crime. Masuda commented, "We hadn't planned on this being a news sensation. We need things to calm down before we can decide if it really works. We need the TV crews to stop sneaking around."
On Friday, Britons Lady Joan and Sir Edward Downes, a prominent orchestral conductor, committed suicide with barbituates provided by the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. According to British newspapers, Joan, 74, was suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer and had but weeks to live; Edward, 85, was going blind and deaf and did not want to live without her. The couple had been together for 54 years.
The story has reignited the debate over assisted suicide in Britain -- where every family that makes that horrific trip to Zurich commits a political act.
Indeed, in a brief interview with the Evening Standard, the Downes' son said, "It is a very civilized way to end your life, and I don’t understand why the legal position in this country doesn’t allow it." He also mentioned that he and his sister rang the police themselves to inform them of the deaths.
British police are questioning them, as assisting a suicide is illegal in Britain. But the justice system is unlikely to do anything. At least 117 Britons have committed suicide in Switzerland, where it has been legal to help terminally ill people end their life since 1998. No members of their families have ever been prosecuted. Britain, in essence, turns a blind eye.
I don't have much to say about the validity of assisted suicide laws. But one thing about the story struck me.
It's an expensive way to die -- it costs 4,000 Euros for Dignitas' services, plus the cost of bringing out one's family. And, because it is so expensive, only the wealthy seem to choose to do it. The titled Downeses. Businesspeople. University professors. Doctors.
One can imagine other terminally ill patients, in extraordinary pain and with no quality of life, wishing to end their life in a manner of their choosing, but being unable to do so because of the cost.
Britain's laws, de facto, make it possible for the rich to die via assisted suicide, but impossible for the poor to do so.
It reminds me of one of the common arguments over abortion laws. Women in countries like Portugal (which has restrictive abortion laws) or states like South Dakota (where virtually no clinics provide the service) often need to travel far distances to obtain the service. Which means the rich are able, and the poor aren't.
And access to such services should be determined by law, not class.
A new United Nations report released Tuesday has spurred international law enforcement into action in West Africa. As many as four UN bodies, ECOWAS, and Interpol are involved in what is to become a concerted effort aimed at stopping organized crime.
Among other conclusions, the 90-page UN report finds that up to half of all medication used in the region may be either "substandard or counterfeit," and that "80 percent of the cigarette market ... is illicit, meaning that cigarette sales in those countries chiefly profit criminals."
In particular, reports the BBC, the new campaign targets Guinea-Bissau, the Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Observers can expect strengthened border security as well as attempts to improve local judicial systems.
Opium farmers in the Australian state of Tasmania are learning the dangers of leaving their product out in the open:
Wallabies eating in Tasmania's legally grown opium poppy fields are getting "high as a kite" and hopping around in circles, trampling the crops, a state official said.
Tasmania's attorney-general, Lara Giddings, told a budget hearing yesterday that she had recently read about the marsupials' antics in a brief on the state's large poppy industry. Tasmania is the world's largest producer of legally grown opium for the pharmaceutical market.
"We have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting as high as a kite and going around in circles," the Mercury newspaper quoted Giddings as telling the hearing. "Then they crash. We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high."
Whether the UN wants to treat the problem as an illness or a crime is at this point unknown.
The new UN world drug report has some good news - worldwide cocaine and opium production are down:
Opium cultivation in Afghanistan, where 93% of the world's opium is grown, declined 19% in 2008, according to the UN world drug report. In Colombia, which produces half of the world's cocaine, cultivation of coca fell 18% while production declined 28% compared with 2007. Global coca production, at 845 tonnes, was said to be at a five-year low, despite some increases in cultivation in Peru and Bolivia[...]
The world's most popular drug, though, is still going strong, and getting more dangerous:
Cannabis remains the most widely cultivated and used drug around the world, although estimates are less precise. Data also show that it is more harmful than commonly believed, said the report.
The average THC content (the harmful psychotropic component) of hydroponic marijuana in North America almost doubled in the past decade. "This has major health implications as evidenced by a significant rise in the number of people seeking treatment," said the report.
The world's biggest markets for cannabis were North America, Oceania, and western Europe. For cocaine, North America and some parts of western Europe remain the main markets, with the UK having the highest number of users and Spain the highest number per capita and the largest number of seizures.
The biggest headlines, though, came from the new approach for dealing with users:
"People who take drugs need medical help, not criminal retribution," said Antonio Maria Costa, director of [the UN Office on Drugs and Crime], calling for universal access to drug treatment. Since people with serious drug problems provided the bulk of drug demand, treating this problem was one of the best ways of shrinking the market.
His call for international law enforcement to target traffickers rather than users came as it was announced that there is a worldwide growth in synthetic drugs.
Drug law reformers saw Costa's words as a significant sign in the debate over the "war on drugs". However, he said that legalisation was not the answer.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Michael Schwirtz of the New York Times reported Tuesday on some, uh, innovative crime fighting techniques of Russian police in St. Petersburg. To catch a man seeking to kill his boss, police faked the murder in public, all the way down to staged blood and media reports, and arrested the culprit when he delivered money to an undercover officer for the completed hit.
As Schwirtz highlights, this could be why so few Russians trust the media or the police.
Such elaborate sting operations are not uncommon in Russia, where the police routinely manipulate the news media in criminal investigations, said Yevgeny Vyshenkov, a former police detective here who is now the deputy director of a St. Petersburg Internet news agency, fontanka.ru. In his previous career, Mr. Vyshenkov said, he once had a journalist agree to publish a fake article to coax a suspect to divulge information about accomplices.
Another question: where was all this creative crimefighting after the broad daylight murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya? On Monday, the Russian Union of Journalists released a report condemning Russian authorities for failing to protect journalists.
Remember those movies with such convoluted plot twists that make you say "there's no way that would happen in real life?" Yet, in Australia, the Melbourne gang war continues to prove that fact can be just as improbable.
A vicious gangland struggle that has gripped Melbourne for more than a decade took a surprising twist this week when the matriarch of the city’s most powerful criminal clan was charged in connection with the murder of her brother-in-law.
Behind the image of friendly suburbia the city presents to the world, a battle for control of the lucrative drugs trade has led to the deaths of more than 30 people and brought mayhem to the streets.
The past two years have been quiet — relatively speaking — but that all changed with the killing of Des “Tuppence” Moran, 61, on Monday. He was shot a number of times, at close range, by two masked men as he sipped his daily coffee in a café in the busy Ascot Vale area[...]
About 15 minutes after the shooting, Judy Moran — whose two sons, Jason and Mark, and husband Lewis (Des’s brother) have all been killed in the gangland wars — arrived at the crime scene in tears, screaming his name[...]
However, within 24 hours Mrs Moran, 64, and her friend Suzanne Kane, 45, were charged with being accessories to the murder, with Ms Kane’s partner, Geoffrey Amour, being charged with the killing.
Police told a court that officers saw Mrs Moran dumping the getaway car and a rifle used in the murder, while phone taps caught her discussing the disposal of other items used in the killing. A search of Mrs Moran’s home uncovered three handguns, a loaded shotgun, stolen numberplates, clothing and a wig matching the description of those worn by the gunmen who carried out the hit.
In a further twist, Mrs Moran’s house was damaged severely on Tuesday night in a fire described by police as suspicious.
Thinking this would be a great TV show? Too late to get credit for that: the gang war has already been turned into a critically and commercially successful show in Australia. In fact, it was so popular that the program was banned from being broadcast in one Australian state, for fears of swaying a murder trial. Ironically, many people ended up seeing the series anyways--through illegal copies.
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
I knew that drug smugglers were starting to use semi-submersible vessels but carry cocaine into North America, but it seems this is more than a freak occurrence. The Washington Post reports that more than a third of the Colombian cocaine smuggled into the United States now travels by submarine:
The subs are powered by ordinary diesel engines and built of simple fiberglass in clandestine shipyards in the Colombian jungle. U.S. officials expect 70 or more to be launched this year with a potential cargo capacity of 380 tons of cocaine, worth billions of dollars in the United States. ...
U.S. officials and their Colombian counterparts have detected evidence of more than 115 submersible voyages since 2006. They have apprehended the crews of more than 22 submersibles at sea since 2007. Six crews have been arrested this year. The Colombian navy has intercepted or discovered 33 subs since 1993.
ROLANDO AVILES/AFP/Getty Images
Chinese authorities have burned (in a single industrial furnace) over 860 pounds of smuggled drugs after a three-year effort to track and arrest more than 16,000 suspected dealers. But that's not all. A government spokesperson said drug enforcement agents only destroyed "about half" of the stockpile that was created as a result of the 2006-2008 operation.
Yesterday marks the 170th anniversary of China's Humen Opium Destruction, in which another government official had 1,000 tons of foreign drugs burned. Today's event was held in honor of the original.
The LA Times reports on an uptick in drug violence in Mexico and that Colombia's FARC rebels are increasingly operating on the Panamanian side of the border:
Over the last decade, the leftist insurgents have regularly spilled over into Panama, seeking rest and respite from pursuing Colombian armed forces. But rarely have they appeared as frequently or penetrated so deeply into Panamanian territory as in recent months, say residents and officials here in Darien province.
And guns aren't all they're bringing with them.
Panamanian and U.S. officials say it's no coincidence that drug-related violence has risen in tandem with the more frequent sightings of the guerrillas, whom the State Department labels drug traffickers and terrorists.
U.S. counter-narcotics officials believe that the FARC and other Colombian traffickers are shipping more drugs from Colombia overland across Panama to avoid tighter control of Pacific and Caribbean coastal waterways by the Panamanian and U.S. naval forces. ...
Whether it's because of the drug trade or more aggressive pursuit by Colombian troops, the increased presence of the FARC on Panama's side of the Darien rain forest is indisputable, several locals said.
That Alvaro Uribe's aggressive offensives against the FARC in Colombia have led to an uptick in rebel violence across the border in Panama (as well as Ecuador) sounds quite plausible. It's in some ways similar to how Chechnya's rebel violence spilled over into Dagestan and Igushetia after the Russian crackdown there. Or how the Taliban expanded its influence in Northwest Pakistan after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Or even the increase in drug violence in the southwestern United States since Felipe Calderon's crackdown on Mexican cartels.
It's certainly never safe to border a country in the midst of a violent insurgency, but in the short-term, aggresively fighting the insurgency can make life painful for the rest of a country's region. Something governments probably should keep in mind before demanding that their neighbors squeeze the balloon.
The Olympics torch for the 2010 winter games in Vancouver is officially supposed to evoke "the cool, crisp and modern lines that are left behind in the snow and ice from winter sports." But a lot of people are saying the 37-inch white torch, with crimped ends and twist in the middle, resembles a hand-rolled marijuana joint, especially when it's lit (and viewed in the horizontal position).
It doesn't help that Vancouver is a major marijuana-producing area. The Olympic torch has now been dubbed the Olympic Toke.
Photo: © VANOC/COVAN
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox is the latest Latin American leader to advocate the legalization of marijuana (or at least open the debate) in an interview with CNN's Jim Clancy, comparing Mexico's current war on drugs to prohibition in the United States during the 1920s:
His predecessor Ernesto Zedillo, along with former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria and former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso also recently advocated decriminalization.
I breathed a great sigh of relief with the Iranian government's announcement of the release of journalist Roxana Saberi, who Tehran convicted of spying for the United States.
Saberi was initially arrested in January for buying a bottle of wine. When in custody, officials realized she had no press credentials (which had been revoked in 2006). Her trial lasted only an hour, and she was sent to the infamous Evin prison with an eight-year sentence.
And, joining Spencer Ackerman here, I hope that Saberi's release will draw attention to the plight of two other imprisoned journalists: Euna Lee and Laura Ling of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's Current TV.
North Korea has held the pair incommunicado since the end of March. The Wall Street Journal reports:
U.S. officials have said less about Ms. Lee and Ms. Ling than they have about an American reporter, Roxana Saberi, who was recently convicted of espionage in Iran. The strategy is partly a gamble that not provoking the North Koreans may lead to a speedy resolution, analysts say, but it's also a sign of the increased uncertainty in dealing with Pyongyang.
U.S. officials have said little about the journalists' situation, but have indicated they aren't making progress with Pyongyang. A person not in government who is familiar with the situation said that North Korea isn't talking to the U.S. at all.
Here's from a McClatchy story (h/t Andrew Sullivan):
North Korea appears to be holding the women in a protocol house in Pyongyang.
"The rumor was that they are being housed at one of the guest villas," said Han S. Park, a University of Georgia expert who was visiting North Korea as part of a private U.S. delegation after the women were captured. Park told CNN International that the North Koreans scoffed at any suggestion that the Americans were receiving harsh treatment.
"They laughed. 'We are not Guantanamo.' That's what they said," Park said.
Still, it's a worrisome situation. Washington has far more dialogue and slowly warming relations with Tehran. More importantly, both governments had something at stake in ensuring the Saberi incident didn't become the Saberi fiasco.
Not so with Lee and Ling, and the U.S. and North Korean governments. Even if the Swedish diplomat who conducts relations for the U.S. managed to negotiate for their release, he'd have few obvious carrots or sticks to reach for, and the DPRK would have little reason to be magnanimous.
I also hope the U.S. considers releasing or charging the foreign journalist it has in custody in Iraq. The U.S. says that Reuters photographer Ibrahim Jassam, arrested in a raid on his home in September, poses a threat to security and continues to hold him -- despite an Iraqi court ruling this winter that he should be freed.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
Today, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and President Barack Obama laid out a plan to create and enforce stricter tax regulations for U.S. corporations. Obama's opening salvo from the presser:
Most Americans meet their responsibilities because they understand that it's an obligation of citizenship...and yet, even as most American citizens and businesses meet these responsibilities, there are others who are shirking theirs.
He went on to describe the U.S. tax code as "full of corporate loopholes that [make] it perfectly legal for companies to avoid paying their fair share."
That's right. He was talking about "tax havens": not just countries in which major U.S. corporations hide from U.S. taxes, but a big fat open season sign for fire and brimstone metaphors and sword of Damocles swinging. Democratic speechwriters must adore tax havens. They're like the Newt Gingrich of tax policy: always there to beat up.
Rhetorical fury aside, tax havens really do allow U.S. companies to shore up a whole lot of money, money which Obama hopes to use to revamp the U.S.'s healthcare system, among other things. Interesting factoids from the Treasury release:
The closing of three major tax haven loopholes should garner $190 billion in tax revenue for the government in the next ten years.
Another big beneficiary of the changes? Lobbyists. Corporate America isn't going to like this -- and they're going to pay a lot of money to see the repeal of these changes.
With the glut of new information about "enhanced interrogations" and the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody -- the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee reports especially -- it's been very hard to keep track of who knew what and when.
To help sort it all out, I created a timeline showing new information in italics.
Look for more today...
I asked Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch and a former Clinton administration official, to work through some of the foreign policy implications of the newly released torture memos with me.
We discussed whether the Bush administration memos encouraged other countries to torture, or led to any global uptick in "enhanced interrogation" practices. "I've always tried to be careful not to suggest that countries like Egypt or China or Uzbekistan would be torturing more because the United States was setting a bad example. Obviously, dictatorships torture for their own reasons, and they didn't need [former U.S. President] George W. Bush to show them how," he says.
But, the Bush administration torture of detainees and disavowal of the Geneva Conventions did preclude diplomacy on many occasions, Malinowski says. He testified before the Helsinki Commission in 2007 to make the point:
A couple of years ago, Human Rights Watch was meeting with the Prime Minister of Egypt, and we raised a case in which hundreds of prisoners rounded up after a terrorist bombing were tortured by Egyptian security forces. The Prime Minister didn't deny the charge. He answered, "We're just doing what the United States does." We've had Guantanamo and the administration's interrogation policies thrown back in our face in meetings with officials from many other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and Lebanon. U.S. diplomats have told us they face the same problem. A U.S. ambassador to a leading Middle Eastern country, for example, has told us that he can no longer raise the issue of torture in that country as a result.
Malinowski says the detainee abuse made it difficult for the White House to negotiate any human rights provisions or issues, broadly. "Issues beyond torture were effected, because it enabled authoritarian governments to say, ‘You have no right to lecture us,'" he says. "They were delighted to tweak the United States on it."
The biggest offender? Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who Malinowski described as a "world champion" of chiding the United States via its own policies.
Nevertheless, Malinowski thinks that, despite the horrible details revealed by the Bush administration and International Committee of the Red Cross memos, ultimately their release is a very good thing for the Obama administration.
[Obama] can go to a country like Turkey or Indonesia or Egypt and say, "Look, I know what it's like to face real security threats, and we as Americans understand the temptation to give up some of our liberties and principles to defend ourselves against those threats. But what we've learned the hard way in the last eight years is that those liberties and principles actually make us stronger. You could learn from our example."
That's a much more effective way of arguing the point than going to those same countries and saying, look at our perfect system and our glorious morality, and maybe someday you can be as good as we are. So I think if he uses the experience as a cautionary tale, it will actually make our country a more effective and compelling champion of human rights around the world, ironically.
Here's to hoping so.
Photo: Entrance to Bagram Air Base by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Here at FP, we don't always pay much attention to U.S. domestic policy, obviously, and the tax-day tea parties confused us a bit. Why weren't the protesters dressed up as Native Americans (like in the Boston Tea Party) or Mad Hatters? Weren't top-bracket taxes higher under Reagan?
Regardless, we've glommed onto a U.S. domestic issue which suggests a foreign-policy disaster: the U.S. state of Texas threatening to secede. Texas Governor Rick Perry, angered, like the tea-bag-partiers, over Obama's spending and tax policies, has implied that Texas might leave the Union.
So what would Texas look like as a foreign country?
It would be the world's thirteenth largest economy -- bigger than South Korea, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia. But its worth would crater precipitously, after NAFTA rejected it and the United States slapped it with an embargo that would make Cuba look like a free-trade zone. Indeed, Texas would quick become the next North Korea, relying on foreign aid due to its insistence on relying on itself.
On the foreign policy front, a seceded Texas would suffer for deserting the world superpower. Obama wouldn't look kindly on secessionists, and would send in the military to tamp down rebellion. If Texas miraculously managed to hold its borders, Obama would not establish relations with the country -- though he might send a special rapporteur. (We nominate Kinky Friedman.)
So, Texas would need to court Mexico and Central American nations as a trading partners and protectors. Those very nations would also pose a host of problems for Texas. President Perry might find friends in anti-U.S. nations like Venezuela and Cuba, but their socialist politics would rankle the libertarian nation.
And Texas would become a conduit for drugs moving north to the United States from Mexico, maybe even becoming a narco-state. It would need to invest heavily in its own military and policing force to stop drug violence within its borders -- taking away valuable resources from, oh, feeding its people, fending off U.S. border incursions, and improving its standing in the world.
In short: the state of Texas would rapidly become direly impoverished, would need to be heavily armed, and would be wracked with existential domestic and foreign policy threats. It would probably make our failed states list in short order. Probably better to pay the damn taxes.
And of course -- Texas isn't seceding. Only regions in civil war or self-governing areas in very weak states manage independence. Perry was floating a piece of asinine political rhetoric, running a heated race against fellow Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson and courting small-government conservatives of all stripes. Plus, more importantly, Texas can't secede, according to the 1869 Supreme Court Case, Texas v. White. Ah well.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Chuck Norris has offered to be President of Texas, greatly reducing the possible internal threat of unionists or external threat of U.S. military forces to the seceded country. (H/t Ezra Klein.)
Photo: Flickr user Susan E. Gray
Ukraine says its security service says it caught three persons attempting to sell radioactive material, which they said was plutonium-239, for $10 million. A government spokesperson said the material could possibly have been used in a "dirty-bomb" attack, and that it was of Soviet origin.
Relatedly -- Jeffrey Lewis and Meri Lugo discuss the draw-down of nuclear weaponry in an excellent FP Argument post today.
Writing in the Washington Times, Audrey Hudson and Eli Lake report that the Department of Homeland Security has produced and disseminated a nine-page report on the threat of "rightwing extremist activity," spurred by the global economic crisis, election of a black president, and the return of "disgruntled war veterans."
The nine-page document was sent to police and sheriff's departments across the United States on April 7 under the headline, "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment."
It says the federal government "will be working with its state and local partners over the next several months" to gather information on "rightwing extremist activity in the United States"....
"Most statements by rightwing extremists have been rhetorical, expressing concerns about the election of the first African American president, but stopping short of calls for violent action," the report says. "In two instances in the run-up to the election, extremists appeared to be in the early planning stages of some threatening activity targeting the Democratic nominee, but law enforcement interceded."
In producing the report, the United States joins numerous European countries facing possible right-wing nationalist activity. But Europe's long-struggled with nationalism stoked by immigration from ethnic minorities; it has right-wing anti-immigration political parties, mainstreaming sentiment which might otherwise be considered or become extremist.
Scott Horton reports that Spanish prosecutors will indict high-ranking members of the Bush administration over allegations of detainee abuse and torture.
The six are: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; former head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee; former OLC lawyer John Yoo; former Defense Department lawyer William J. Haynes II; David Addington, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith.
Horton explains the context of the case:
The case arises in the context of a pending proceeding before the court involving terrorism charges against five Spaniards formerly held at Guantánamo. A group of human-rights lawyers originally filed a criminal complaint asking the court to look at the possibility of charges against the six American lawyers. Baltasar Garzón Real, the investigating judge, accepted the complaint and referred it to Spanish prosecutors for a view as to whether they would accept the case and press it forward. [They found sufficient evidence.]
The case won't come before Judge Real, though; he also was involved in a terrorism case against the five Spaniards held in Guantanamo.
What does it all mean?
Well, John Yoo won't be vacationing on the Costa del Sol this summer. Were any of the Bush Six to step foot in Spain, they would be arrested.
More importantly: Spain has said that it would drop the cases if the United States would investigate the claim. Thus far, the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House haven't responded. But the indictment may force the administration's hand, spurring a response to the allegations.
For, ultimately, the issue may have more political potency than judicial importance. It's up to U.S. President Barack Obama to dictate whether and how the strong allegations of legal abuses in the Bush administration will be resolved.
In my five pirate predictions yesterday, I wondered if the pirates would become more audacious and brazen, or if they would humble at their recent defeat at the hands of the U.S. Navy. This morning, I seem to have my answer:
Undeterred by U.S. and French hostage rescues that killed five bandits, Somali pirates brazenly hijacked three more ships in the Gulf of Aden, the waterway at the center of the world's fight against piracy.
A greek ship and two Egyptian fishing vessels are now added to the handful of ships and 260 hostages the the Somali pirates claim on the coast. True to form, the hijackers adapted their tactics in defiance of the international naval patrols, this time striking at night.
Also yesterday, I worried about an escalation on the part of the world's navies -- moving from naval patrolling into all out battle. Now it appears that escalation is coming from both sides.
If this attack is indeed in retaliation against the Americans, the world might be entering into a whole new kind of asymmetric warfare. Stay tuned on FP today.
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