"We are not saying that the three war crimes indictees, Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, are not in Serbia, but we cannot be 100 per cent sure that they are."
That's what Rasim Ljajic, the head of Serbia’s Council for Cooperation with The Hague Tribunal told reporters yesterday. Of course, Karadzic was captured that night right in Belgrade, where he has been practicing alternative medicine and even lecturing for years. The arrest seems to confirm what most observers had assumed all along, that Karadzic's arrest was being held up not by the difficulty of capturing him but by the lack of political will to do so. It's unclear whether handovers of Mladic and Hadzic will follow, but it's going to be a lot harder for Serbian authorities to plead ignorance now.
Some are describing today's developments as a triumph for the International Criminal Court, which is fair. But the bigger story is how effective a carrot the prospect of EU integration can be in the right circumstances. It was this carrot that largely swung the last Serbian elections (despite the outrage over Kosovo) in favor of the current pro-European government, making today's arrest possible.
The EU badly has badly needed a victory for a while now and this is a big one.
Update: Then again, perhaps it's all Barack Obama's doing.
Meet David Remes, a partner at the law firm Covington & Burling and pro bono attorney for 15 Yemenis held at Guantanamo. Since 2005, Remes, who is half Yemeni, has been a high-profile member of the legal team challenging captives' detention at Gitmo.
And now, click here -- if you dare -- to see Remes at a recent news conference where, for some inexplicable reason, he decided that dropping trou' was a good way to show the assembled press corps just what his clients have had to endure.
Just what comparison was he trying to draw? That his clients were made to stand around in their underwear? It's an utter mystery. But one enigma has been cleared up: He's not a boxers man.
FP contributor Doug Farah, who wrote the book on Viktor Bout, the world's most notorious arms dealer, has sources telling him that the Russians are offering the Thais (who are holding Bout pending extradition to the United States) just about anything to prevent Bout from being shipped off to trial in America:
After several diplomatic efforts to get Bout out of prison and back to Russia, the Russian government, or at least its military establishment, has decided to let some money and hardware do the talking.
My sources tell me the Russian ambassador in Thailand has met several times with the Thai prime minister, and has offered sweet heart deals on weapons systems, including fighter jets, in exchange for Bout.
In addition, the Russians are offering sweet heart gas and oil deals to sweeten the pot...The question is, why would Bout be so valuable to the Russians, and what is it that they fear he could or would say in a court?
The most obvious answer is that he is deeply in bed and protected by the Russian military establishment and its intelligence services.
What's curious about this situation is the fact that it seemed likely at the time of Bout's arrest in March that there was no way the Thais (and by extension, the Americans) could have gotten their hands on such a prized prisoner unless the Russians had given the go-ahead. Bout allegedly lived openly in Moscow, and if his connections to the Russian intelligence agencies are as strong as many believe, there's reason to believe that someone might have sacrificed him for other (higher) purposes. That said, this could be a case of luck and old-fashioned investigative work coming together and resulting in a major nab, in which case the Russians want him back, not least because of the fear he'll talk. As with all things Bout, this situation is as murky as they come.
Kudos to the Washington Post for looking into the mysterious behavior of the Yemeni government toward the guys implicated in the USS Cole bombing. As Newsweek reported last fall, Yemen even briefly let Jamal al-Badawi, the al Qaeda planner in charge of the operation, out of prison. All told, "all the defendants convicted in the attack have escaped from prison or been freed by Yemeni officials," according to the Post.
The Yemenis defend their actions, saying they have their own special approach to fighting terrorism. A few years, ago, some in the West were even seeing it as a model. But the Post article calls Yemen's terrorist rehabilitation program into question with this devastating quote:
Hamoud al-Hitar, a former Supreme Court justice... suggested that the government had turned lenient because the Cole defendants had participated in a "dialogue and reconciliation program" designed to de-radicalize al-Qaeda members.
Hitar, who oversees the program, claimed that 98 percent of graduates have remained nonviolent. Asked about two Cole suspects who escaped and went to Iraq to become suicide bombers, Hitar shrugged. "Iraq was not part of the dialogue program," he said.
Last week, Australia's government announced that it will formally apologize for its decades-long practice of stealing Aboriginal children and giving them to white families to raise. The practice, intented to destroy "Aboriginality" and force racial assimilation, was official government policy from 1915 to 1969. During these years, many children were raised in poor conditions in institutions, received little to no education, and suffered abuse at the hands of caretakers. Apologizing for it is an admirable step by the new Australian administration to move forward from a dark past. Australia aside, though, there has been a real lack of sincerity on the international apology front lately.
Over the past year, some in the U.S. Congress have attempted to force apologies from other nations on two occasions. First, the House of Representatives passed a resolution urging Japan to apologize for forcing thousands of women into sex-slavery during WWII. More recently, the House attempted a vote condemning Turkey for its treatment of Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century. And while I by no means wish to diminish these atrocities, I wonder: Would an apology elicited under pressure really contribute to the healing process?
Consider the case of Iraq. This past Sunday, controversial legislation to reintegrate former Baathists back into Iraqi government became law. It was one of the key "benchmarks" the U.S. Congress has been using to judge the Iraqis' progress. As Feisel al-Istrabadi, Iraq's former deputy ambassador to the U.N., pointed out in a recent Seven Questions interview, de-Baathification had gone horribly awry. The question, though, is not whether reconciliation is warranted, but whether it is real and sustainable given how the bill came about—under U.S. pressure. Can reconciliation be treated like just another benchmark? Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a top Sunni leader and influential member of the Presidential Council, certainly doesn't think so.
If you're a man in the Banda district of India who beats your wife, demands more dowry, or otherwise mistreats women, you'd better watch out. A posse of vigilante women clad in pink saris may soon come after you, and it's going to be ugly.
The "Gulabi Gang" (Pink Gang) uses sticks (lathis) and cricket bats to "teach erring men a lesson." In one instance, they chased a woman's abusive, alcoholic husband into a sugarcane field and sorely thrashed him. They also go after corrupt government officials. Last year, they stormed a police station after cops refused to register the case of a low-caste man simply because of his social standing.
This area of India, in the state of Uttar Pradesh (the same state from which the late "bandit queen" Phoolan Devi hailed), is notorious for its ill-treatment of women and people of lower castes. Only 24 percent of women can read (compared with 50 percent of men), domestic violence is rampant, and there are just 846 females per 1,000 males (compared with the state's average of 879). Bonded labor (a.k.a. slavery) is common, lower-caste children face open discrimination at school, and government officials are corrupt.
Given these circumstances, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. Gulabi Gang founder Sampat Pal Devi, who was married off at age 9 and had her first child at 13, says:
Nobody comes to our help in these parts. The officials and police are corrupt and anti-poor. So sometimes we have to take the law into our own hands. At other times, we prefer to shame the wrongdoers. But we're not a gang in the usual sense of the term. We're a gang for justice.
Until the rule of law can be established, it looks like justice will be have to administered via grrrl power.
When you hear the word "Canadian," what's the first thing that comes to mind? Someone who is hockey-crazed? Someone who says "eh" at the end of every sentence? Someone who is, dare I say it, nice?
How about someone who is black?
Now, naturally there are plenty of black Canadians. There are black Canadians who like hockey, say "eh", and are nice. But this blog post isn't really about black Canadians or white Canadians or any kind of Canadian at all. It's about certain people in the United States who have appropriated the word "Canadian" as code for someone who is black.
Earlier this month, an e-mail that had been circulating since 2003, written by a Houston assistant district attorney Mike Trent, resurfaced. The e-mail was short, only about 100 words, and was sent to the entire office. It started out by praising a junior prosecutor for a job well done. Then the message continued:
He overcame a subversively good defense by Matt Hennessey that had some Canadians on the jury feeling sorry for the defendant and forced them to do the right thing."
If you're wondering why Canadians were on a Texas jury when only U.S. citizens are allowed to serve, well, there weren't any. Other members of the D.A.'s office who got the memo were wondering the same thing themselves. They looked at an online database of racial slurs and found that "Canadian" was a term used to mask more openly racist terms. Trent claims that he was unaware of the meaning, overheard someone saying that there were Canadians on the jury, took that literally, and just repeated it in his e-mail.
There is just so much wrong with this situation on so many levels that I don't even know where to begin. So, you be the judge.
Someone please explain to me how this is supposed to be justice. A 23-year-old journalism student named Sayad Parwez Kambaksh supposedly goes online, finds an interesting paper, and prints it out. He supposedly brings it to class at Balkh University, discusses it with a teacher and some fellow students. The paper gets copied and distributed. Some students find it objectionable; they say it is offensive and that it insults Islam. They complain to the government.
Kambaksh is arrested in October and put in jail. He says he had nothing to do with the paper. His case goes to trial, but he has no lawyer. In fact, his family is not even aware that he's put on trial. A panel of three judges decides that he should be put to death because the paper he supposedly distributed "humiliates Islam." The Afghan Independent Journalists' Association reports that any paper in question may have downloaded from an Iranian blog, which contained articles questioning the origins of the Koran, among other controversial things.
Now, his case goes to the first of two appeal courts. But Fazel Wahab, the chief judge in the province where the trial took place, says that only President Hamid Karzai can pardon the student, since Kambaksh supposedly confessed to having violated tenets of Islam. Incidentally, Wahab has never read the paper (to be fair, he was also not on the panel that convicted Kambaksh).
Kambaksh isn't the only Afghan journalist who's gotten into trouble with the law. Ghows Zalmai was also arrested three months ago, charged with distributing a translation of the Koran that clerics did not accept. Religious scholars have also called for him to be put to death.
At any rate, all of this raises the question: Why did the U.S. go into Afghanistan and topple the Taliban, only to have it be replaced with a system like this? So far, no comment from Karzai, who is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos. But he'd better step up.
So, British teacher Gillian Gibbons is going to a Sudanese jail for 15 days for insulting religion by allowing her class of primary school children to name a teddy bear "Mohammed." (Since she has already served five days, she only has 10 left.) Gibbons escaped a far harsher potential punishment. If she had been found guilty of all three charges levied against her (the others were inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs), she could have faced 40 lashes and six months in prison.
British Foreign Secretary David Milband has already hauled the Sudanese ambassador into his office to express "in the strongest terms" his concern about her arrest. During their meeting, he also spoke on the phone to Sudan's acting foreign minister.
Will Prime Minister Gordon Brown also get involved? This case reminds me of the infamous Singapore case of 1994, when American teenager Michael Fay was sentenced to a fine and six lashes with a cane for vandalizing cars and stealing road signs. Two dozen U.S. senators wrote letters to Singapore asking for clemency. But it wasn't until after President Clinton complained to his counterpart in Singapore that Fay's sentence was reduced to four lashes.
At the time, Singapore protested that the United States shouldn't get involved with its domestic affairs. So far, the case of the British schoolteacher hasn't touched on the always-touchy issue of sovereignty, but will it? And should it?
It seems to me that in both cases, there's been a fair, but not necessarily satisfactory, result. In the case of Michael Fay, the laws were clearly laid out, the punishment was defined, and the sentence enforced, albeit at a softer level due to diplomacy. In the case of Gillian Gibbons, the laws may not have been laid out as clearly, but given the tensions between Islam and the West, Gibbons should have perhaps been more sensitive about what can be given the name "Mohammed" and acted more cautiously. Forty lashes and six months in prison—to say nothing of being shot, which is what some in Khartoum are calling for—would have been outrageous for an innocent mistake. But the fact that the Sudanese courts sentenced her to a few days in jail, given the alternative, seems to be an acceptable compromise that shows a modicum of respect for Sudanese sovereignty. Better yet would be if they would just release her right now and end this farce.
This is the best news I've heard all week:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Taxicabs in the nation's capital will switch to meters from the current confusing zone system of calculating fares, the mayor announced Wednesday. [...]
Visitors and residents have grumbled for years about the lack of meters in district taxis, saying the zone system is confusing and vulnerable to cheating.
Before [Mayor] Fenty's announcement, the District was the only major U.S. city without taxi meters.
The decision to switch to meters or keep the current system was required by a provision inserted in legislation last year by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., a longtime critic of zones.
The map used for calculating fares consists of 22 zones radiating outward from the U.S. Capitol. Each time a zone boundary is crossed, the fare goes up a few dollars. Surcharges are added for stops, rush hour travel and extra riders. The base price for a ride within one zone -- whether it's a few blocks or a few miles -- is $6.50.
When I moved to Washington last December and got in my first taxi, I thought I was back in Cairo, where having to haggle over the fare is a daily source of frustration for foreigners and locals alike. Very few people in D.C. have figured out the arcane zone system, which makes it easy for taxi drivers to charge nearly any price they want. Now, they won't be able to get away with it anymore.
Mark Jordan, FP's D.C. correspondent, writes in with a dispatch from our nation's capital:
All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected." That was George W. Bush, speaking on February 26, 2003.
On Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Senate demonstrated its commitment to this bedrock democratic principle. Unbeknownst to most Americans, despite its larger population than the state of Wyoming, the 580,000-plus residents of Washington, D.C., are not represented by any voting member in Congress. Nevertheless, District residents are required to pay federal taxes and serve in the United States military. Three District residents have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Earlier this year, a bill that would provide Washington with a voting representative in Congress passed in the House. And Tuesday, Republican Senators—with the explicit encouragement of the Bush administration—blocked consideration of that legislation in the Senate, leaving over half a million Americans without a voice, and without their rights protected.
So much for leading by example.
I asked Brian Calvert, a reporter for Voice of America Khmer in Washington, to weigh in on today's news that a key lieutenant of the notorious Pol Pot had finally been taken into custody. Here's Brian's take:
The indictment and detention Wednesday of Nuon Chea, Pol Pot's chief lieutenant in the Khmer Rouge, for war crimes and crimes against humanity is the most significant action taken so far by a bedeviled tribunal that was established more than a year ago.
Whether or not his arrest will spell justice, and for whom, remains to be seen.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP
Nuon Chea, also known as Brother No. 2, was flown by helicopter Wednesday morning from his home in the mountains of northwest Cambodia and questioned in Phnom Penh, the capital, by judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the official name of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Nuon Chea has said he will happily face a trial. But it’s not because he regrets his actions. Rather, he sees a trial as a chance to exonerate his role in the Khmer Rouge, which called itself Democratic Kampuchea. In his view, Pol Pot’s regime was only defending the Cambodian people from Vietnamese agents and American bombs.
In reality, the Khmer Rouge used the fear of a Vietnamese takeover and of U.S. fighting in Indochina as fuel for their insurrection. After they took power, as many as 2 million people starved to death or were executed. The legacy of that regime and the civil strife that followed its ouster has been a war-battered people, a devastated infrastructure, and a country that still hasn't recovered.
Nuon Chea is widely believed to be a chief architect of the regime's murderous policies. According to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which has been gathering evidence in Cambodia for potential trials for a decade, Nuon Chea held posts as deputy secretary of the Cambodian Communist Party's Central Committee and as a member of the Party's Standing Committee, the bodies most responsible for policies of the regime.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP
Given Cambodia’s bloody history, it may be hard for many to imagine why it has been so difficult to bring Khmer Rouge figures like Nuon Chea to justice. The joint tribunal has struggled since its inception, hamstrung by bickering among U.N.-appointed international jurists and their Cambodian counterparts. Nuon Chea is only the second man to be taken into court custody. Since July, the courts have been holding Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his revolutionary name, Duch, the head of S-21, Cambodia's infamous torture center. Also known as Tuol Sleng, it's now a genocide museum for tourists.
The courts are investigating at least three more suspects for war crimes and crimes against humanity, but their names have not been released.
Will there be justice for the Khmer Rouge's victims? We just don't know. The U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, Joseph Mussomeli, recently told VOA Khmer that over the next one or two years, "we'll have at least, I would guess, somewhere around a dozen people being brought up on charges of genocide."
"There were hundreds of people who were guilty of genocide, but, frankly, you have to draw the line somewhere," he added. "You can't have the trial last for 20 years or 30 years, you can't spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the trial, but you have to find at least the most responsible for genocide and bring them to trial, and I think we are now on the way to doing that."
We'll know soon enough if he is right.
Mohamed Haneef, the Indian doctor who was detained for 25 days in Brisbane for allegedly providing "reckless support" in the recent London terrorist bombing attempts, may soon be able to return to Australia after leaving the country for India when his work visa was revoked. Australia's hardline immigration minister, Kevin Andrews, canceled Haneef's work visa because he found Haneef's character to be suspicious—though the Australian Federal Police ultimately dropped charges against him. The chief prosecutor admitted "a mistake has been made." Yet Andrews apparently has no regrets about his decision.
Now, the Australian Federal Court, the second highest court in Australia below the High Court, has ruled that Andrews decision was, in fact, legally wrong: The visa was wrongfully revoked and should be reinstated. Justice Jeffrey Spender found that Andrews made a "jurisdictional error," and that the "alliance" between Haneef and UK terror suspects Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed were not sufficiently strong. Haneef simply left his cell phone's SIM card with his second cousins, who were implicated in the case. Police initially believed it was found in the burning car in Glasgow, but it was actually found 185 miles from the city in his cousin's flat.
But the Federal Court's decision is unlikely to deter Andrews from seeking to prevent Haneef from returning from Bangalore to his job on the Gold Coast. He's already signaled the possibility that he will challenge the Court's decision, with Australian Prime Minister John Howard adding, "We haven't heard the last of this because the government's appealing." In such a politicized case in the lead up to Australia's election season, it's a relief that at least the courts can offer some hope for a fair outcome.
Islamabad, PAKISTAN: Pakistani lawyers celebrate the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry by offering sweets to each other outside the Supreme Court building in Islamabad, 20 July 2007.
In May 2009, Japan will adopt a jury-style system to settle criminal cases—the first time since 1943. But rather than feeling empowered by the prospect of participating directly in Japan's traditionally opaque justice system, 80 percent of Japanese are dreading the change and do not want to serve as jurors.
In the 500 mock trials that have been held across the country to help people get used to the idea of serving on juries, most participants have been left feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Robert Precht, an American defense lawyer who has been advising the Japanese on how the American jury system works, is concerned about how the Japanese will react to the new system:
I think people are seriously going to start panicking next year, as citizens actually face the very real possibility of being summoned, and then have to go into this very strange environment, speak in front of authority figures and actually be questioned about their own opinions. And I'm concerned that's going to freak people out."
Japanese jurors will actually sit on the bench next to judges and decide cases with them, in contrast to the U.S. system where juries are separated from judges. In a culture where "to not speak is considered a virtue" and respect for authority is deeply valued, this change will clearly take a great deal of getting used to. But given Japan's 99.8 percent criminal conviction rate, which is widely seen as the result of forced confessions, any change toward greater transparency is probably a good thing.
Monday marked the start of the murder trial of Hrant Dink, the editor of a Turkish-Armenian newspaper who was shot in broad daylight outside his Istanbul office in January.
Dink's writings on the Armenian genocide had made him a target for both the Turkish government and ultra-nationalist groups. His assassination by an angry 17-year-old six months ago sparked something remarkable in the Turkish public: Thousands gathered to express solidarity with the Armenian minority and outrage against restrictions on free speech and growing ultra-nationalist sentiment. And for a fleeting second, the government seemed dedicated to real reform and perhaps even the eventual abolishment of Article 301, which was used to try to silence Dink and other famed writers such as Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak for allegedly "insulting Turkishness."
But when it finally comes time for justice to be served for Dink, things get messy. The trial, which will take place behind closed doors since the main defendant is a minor, is already attracting heavy scrutiny. Human Rights Watch warned recently that evidence presented at the trial may raise questions about possible collusion or negligence on the part of security forces. The real test for the Turkish judiciary will be if it can adequately prosecute all those involved—even if this means lifting the huge rock off some dirty internal dealings. In an article in the New York Times, Fethiye Cetin, the Dink family's lawyer, expressed his concern:
The gang does not consist of these suspects only," Ms. Cetin said of the 18 defendants, according to the news agency. "It is far more planned and organized. There is almost an intentional misconduct of the gendarmerie and police in this incident."
Ensuring that all those involved in Dink's murder are exposed and punished is essential not just for his family, but for Turkey as a country. I'm pretty sure the folks in Brussels will be following this case closely. After all, the last thing Turkey needs is another excuse for Europe to slam the door shut on Turkish membership.
As Blake pointed out earlier today, the most surprising bit of last night's Republican debate was Gov. Mitt Romney's declaration that the United States should "double Guantanamo" and should routinely make use of what he calls "enhanced interrogation techniques."
After the debate last night, Romney expanded on that thought in an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News. It is worth watching the video in order to understand Romney's precise thinking here. It appears to be this: The nature of the enemy determines the morality with which you fight.
[W]e're dealing with terrorist nations," Romney told Hannity. "They're not following any procedures of this nature."
So neither should we, was Romney's point. Hannity then asked Romney how far he would go in torturing suspected terrorists.
I don't think any president of the United States is wise to say here's how far I'll go," Romney responded. "I think you always keep that to yourself."
We'll take that as an "I don't know." And, apparently, Romney won't be engaging in a public debate about where that line should be, either:
We're not going to project the kind of line that represents torture or not torture."
One has to wonder whether Romney understands the fundamental nature of the war the United States is fighting. It is a war of ideas. You don't win that kind of war by sinking to the terrorists' level, or by forfeiting the principles that separate enlightened, modern society from the dark, desperate world of radical Islamists.
I also worry that Romney's remarks are further evidence of how profoudly lost the Republican party is today. On the stage last night was a leading candidate for the party's nomination, droning on endlessly about his deep and profound "respect for life" —and advocating torture in the same breath. The only thing more disappointing was the room full of party faithful who seemed to miss the irony.
What's your kidney worth to you? Prisoners in South Carolina may soon find that one of theirs is worth six months of freedom. In a new bill before the state legislature, prisoners will be given 180 days off their jail sentences if they donate a kidney or bone marrow.
The problem is that U.S. federal law prohibits giving donors "valuable consideration" in exchange for organs. In other words, patients in need of kidneys (or middlemen) are prohibited from giving donors money or property in order to prevent an organ market from emerging.
So, does freedom count as money or property? Hard to say. But I think the scheme in South Carolina clearly violates the law because it incentivizes donating a kidney in a coercive fashion, just as a monetary payment would. It preys upon the prisoners' situation, in the same way that offering a poor person money for his kidney does. And since prisons are disproportionately full of low-income people, this is just another way of getting one class of society to provide for the health of a wealthier class—the reason why we don't want an organ market in the first place.
Of course, the recipient rolls are still beating out the donor rolls by a mile. Perhaps there should be amendments to the law that allow incentives for dead people. Pennsylvania tried to implement a program a few years ago that would reimburse a person's family for funeral expenses if the newly deceased became a donor. Donate a kidney, let your family avoid debt for your goodbye party. Everyone's a winner.
In a development that's getting far too little press, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a limited amnesty bill into law this weekend.
The bill absolves most individuals of any wrongdoing (read: war crimes) in the fight against the Soviets and the country's bloody civil war in the 1990s. Warlords and militia leaders can still be prosecuted, but the burden of proof is solely on the accuser. And with the lower house of parliament totally dominated by former militia commanders (unsurprisingly, they were the authors of the bill), the idea that victims will now come forward and charge some of the most powerful men in the country with wrongdoing seems preposterous.
The bill's authors argue that war crimes tribunals for deeds going back decades would tear the country apart. But it's interesting that those authors had the most to lose if the tribunals went forward. And now it's clear who (still) pulls the strings in Afghanistan.
Much has been made of what a bad recent stretch this has been for the White House. First, there was the Walter Reed debacle, then the Scooter Libby verdict. Senior Democrats on Capitol Hill plotted ways to limit President Bush's leverage in Iraq, even as the Bushes were greeted as war criminals on the first leg of their Latin America tour in São Paulo, Brazil.
Certainly, those were all blows to a White House that is, by most accounts, already demoralized. But maybe they were also the sour points that the White House wanted us to see. Even as Walter Reed and Scooter Libby received all the press, what may be the biggest and baddest scandal of the Bush presidency to date began to percolate this week, mostly under the radar.
Early in the week, we learned that two Republican members of New Mexico's Congressional delegation may have pressured former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias on cases that involved investigating Democrats. This brought more attention to the fact that Iglesias was one of eight U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration late last year. Seven were let go for failing to follow administration policy, and one was fired so that a politically ambitious former aide to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove could take his place, the administration has said.
At the center of all this is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who had the authority to appoint replacements that could serve indefinitely. Today, New York Times scribe Paul Krugman, who admittedly has conspiratorial tendencies, uses his column to reveal data that suggests a wider scandal may involve Gonzales and the U.S. attorneys still in office. Here's the gist:
Donald Shields and John Cragan, two professors of communication, have compiled a database of investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power. Of the 375 cases they identified, 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats.... Democrats were seven times as likely as Republicans to face Justice Department scrutiny."
Yesterday, Gonzales announced that he was removing himself from the hiring process for U.S. attorneys. As Andrew Sullivan notes, that's "an astonishing concession to the gravity of the charges." Sure, to say nothing of the fact that this is a guy who, less than two years ago, was short-listed to become a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The days of the mainstream media being hands off when it comes to Gonzales are over. If more evidence of unethical and potentially illegal actions comes to light, Gonzales may have little choice but to resign. And that would make all the hype over Scooter Libby look pretty silly.
Hugh nicely summarized the International Court of Justice's (ICJ) ruling on Bosnian genocide today. To my mind, the most remarkable thing about the ruling is that it is appearing in 2007, almost twelve years after the Bosnian war ended. Bosnia originally filed the case in 1993, but a variety of procedural maneuvers and jurisdictional questions delayed actual arguments until last year.
That time lag itself is quite a commentary on the impending irrelevance of the ICJ. Don't get me wrong: It's not that international law is dead, it's just that this particular court—which handles only certain disputes between sovereign states, and does so at a glacial pace—has little to contribute. The new International Criminal Court is handling crimes against humanity and genocide, and the World Trade Organization covers most economic disputes. The ICJ has become a dusty relic, and this verdict's tardiness is the proof.
As noted in today's Morning Brief, The International Court of Justice, the U.N.'s highest legal body, has cleared Serbia of direct responsibility for what it ruled was a genocide during the 1990s war in the former Yugoslavia. However, the court did rule that Serbia violated international law by not preventing the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Muslim men and boys. The court, which rules on disputes between U.N. member states, has been deliberating on the case since May of last year. In a nuanced statement that took nearly two hours to read, British judge Rosalyn Higgins said the Srebrenica genocide "cannot be attributed to the respondent's (Serbia's) state organs."
Bosnia's case rested on the argument that Serbia incited ethnic hatred within Bosnia, armed ethnic Serbians, and actively participated in the war, which killed over 100,000 people between 1992 and 1995. Serbia has always denied the charge, insisting the war was an internal Bosnian conflict. Indeed, Serbia disputed the legality of the whole proceedings, as the U.N. had suspended Yugoslavia's membership at the time in question. Today, however, Judge Higgins ruled that Serbia had inherited Yugoslavia's "legal identity," and was thus bound by the Geneva Convention at the time of the massacre. It's doubtful that most Bosnian Muslims—who were looking for justice, not legalisms, and likely see an ethnic Serb as inseparable from the Serbian state—will be satisfied by this result.
In the current issue of FP, we flagged the Terror Trial Report Card, a report by NYU's Center for Law and Security that tracks the U.S. government's courtroom response to the war on terror. NYU's findings are striking: Of more than 500 terror cases filed by the U.S. Justice Department since 9/11, just four individuals have been convicted of terrorism. NYU found that in the vast amount of cases, terror links that were often announced at big news conferences were later discreetly dropped before the cases reached court. The evidence for terror links often just didn't stand up.
Now, an independent government audit has come to the same conclusion, accusing the Justice Department of routinely counting cases as terrorism-related even when there are no evident links to terrorism. Republican Senator Charles Grassley even suggested there may be a nefarious motive behind the inflated statistics. Because Justice uses the numbers to cite successes in the war on terror and request resources from Congress, there may be something to his suggestion.
At the same time, what do the stats really reveal? Robert Chesney, a law professor at Wake Forest who blogs at National Security Advisors, suggests that numbers tell us very little. Simply knowing the number of prosecutions detracts from the allegations in them, and that obscures what trends and crimes are emerging and keeping Justice officials up at night. In other words, I have little doubt that there's a stronger incentive to label a case as terrorism-related than not, but at the end of the day, I'm more interested in the facts of certain cases than the bottom-line statistics. What do you think?
Don't get me wrong. I think Wikipedia can be a great resource for fast information, like background on the Karbala shrine in Iraq or the name of Qaddafi's son that you can't remember. But when we check facts at FP, we deliberately exclude the community-built encyclopedia. There's just too much room for error there, and we've all found inaccuracies at one point or another—some major and some minor, but enough to leave Wikipedia off the list of reliable first sources.
Which is why I'm slightly mortified that U.S. courts are using Wikipedia articles as the basis for decisions. The NYT did a simple search recently and uncovered more than 100 judicial rulings in the past few years that rely on Wikipedia, including more than a dozen in U.S. courts of appeal (the last step before the Supreme Court). The facts gleaned from Wikipedia range from the definition of "beverage," to the official language of the Republic of Guinea, to DHS threat levels (that last one in a case about illegal searches of anti-war protesters).
But the mere fact that Wikipedia can be unstable and continually edited (admittedly with an attribution trail, but a complicated one that's susceptible to manipulation) makes it terribly vulnerable to error. It just shouldn't be used in official decisions, particularly because, as legal scholar Cass Sunstein suggested to the NYT, articles could be deliberately edited in order to influence the outcome of cases. I'm all for the courts embracing the Information Age, and I've always believed that the Constitution is a living document. But Wikipedia is just a little too dynamic for the likes of Lady Justice.
It was five years ago today that the first detainees in the war on terror left Afghanistan on a flight to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They arrived at Gitmo in the early morning hours of January 11, so most of the major protests against the facility will actually take place tomorrow on the official anniversary of their arrival. Doesn't it seem so long ago, before the hunger strikes, the detainee suicides, the release of so many prisoners without comment, the international outrage, the Supreme Court rebuke, and Bush's trump card of making the place home to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind? Despite Bush's admission last summer that he'd like to see Gitmo closed, new buildings are going up to house more prisoners and the military tribunals for them. It looks like Gitmo will be blowing out six candles next year.
Saddam Hussein is dead and buried, and the charges against him for the murder of as many as 180,000 Iraqi Kurds have been dropped. Nevertheless, the former dictator held center stage at yesterday's court proceedings for the remaining defendants in the Anfal case. John F. Burns reports for the NYT on how recordings played of Saddam coldly advocating the use of chemical weapons on Kurdish villages prove that the world just said goodbye to a brutal despot.
On one recording, Mr. Hussein presses the merits of chemical weapons on Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, his vice-president, and now, the Americans believe, the fugitive leader of the Sunni insurgency that has tied down thousands of American troops. Mr. Douri, a notorious hard-liner, asks whether chemical attacks will be effective against civilian populations, and suggests that they might stir an international outcry.
"Yes, they're very effective if people don't wear masks," Mr. Hussein replies.
"You mean they will kill thousands?" Mr. Douri asks.
"Yes, they will kill thousands," Mr. Hussein says. [...]
Mr. Hussein sounds matter of fact as he describes what chemical weapons will do. "They will prevent people eating and drinking the local water, and they won’t be able to sleep in their beds," he says. "They will force people to leave their homes and make them uninhabitable until they have been decontaminated." [...]
But it was Mr. Hussein's chilling discussion of the power of chemical weapons against civilians that brought prosecutors and judges to the verge of tears, and seemed to shock the remaining defendants. One of the recordings featured an unidentified military officer telling Mr. Hussein that a plan was under development for having Soviet-built aircraft carry containers, packed with up to 50 napalm bombs each, which would be rolled out of the cargo deck and dropped on Kurdish towns.
"Yes, in areas where you have concentrated populations, that would be useful," Mr. Hussein replies.
Remember when Jose Padilla was arrested at O'Hare airport in May 2002? A few weeks later, then Attorney General John Ashcroft made a big show of interrupting a trip to Moscow to hold a press conference:
I am pleased to announce today a significant step forward in the war on terrorism. We have captured a known terrorist who was exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device, or "dirty bomb," in the United States.
But the dirty bomb charge didn't stick. After being held without any charges for three years in military custody, Padilla, an American citizen, was transferred to civilian court in 2005 and formally charged with the much less heinous crime of conspiracy. The Feds just couldn't back up their contention that Padilla posed a grave threat to national security.
Deborah Sontag's must-read about the flimsy evidence the government intends to present at Padilla's criminal trial later this month - even for just the conspiracy charge - is chilling. They're relying largely on tapped conversations to prove their case, yet not all of them are of Padilla and in none of them does he discuss violent plots.
And the government has still gone ahead with charging a detainee at Guantanamo with conspiring to detonate a dirty bomb with Padilla, the same charge the government couldn't make stick earlier.
That Mr. Mohamed faced dirty bomb charges and Mr. Padilla does not speaks to the central difference between being a terrorism suspect in Guantánamo and a criminal defendant charged with terrorism offenses in the United States....
David Cole, a professor of law at Georgetown University and author of books on terrorism and civil liberties, sees the difference between the two systems more critically: "What this says clearly is that they feel that they can get away with using tainted evidence in the military commission system that they can’t use in the criminal court system."
We'll, of course, be watching the case - if it even goes forward. Padilla is undergoing evaluation this week as to whether he is mentally fit to stand trial. His lawyers contend that his long period of detainment and harsh interrogation have left him mentally damaged.
Tunisian blogger Sami Ben Gharbia has created this fascinating Google Maps mashup of the prisons where political dissidents have been locked up by the Tunisian government. When you click on a marker, legal details about the prisoners' cases pop up, along with video from the dissidents and their families.
Tunisia has a long history of human rights abuses and harsh conditions in its network of secret prisons, so publishing this much politically sensitive and hard-to-obtain information has earned Gharbia plaudits from human rights advocates... along with the inability to return home from his exile in The Hague. The Tunisian government maintains one of the strictest online censorship regimes in the world, so it's hard to know to what extent Gharbia's map is reaching Tunisians inside the country.
Hat tip: Boing Boing
Four years after Muktaran Mai (check out her blog) was gang-raped with the sanction of a tribal council (a punishment for her 13-year-old brother's alleged affair with another man's sister), Pakistan has just revised its "rape law." Unfortunately, the new law changes little. It does, however, reveal much about the state of Pakistan.
The bill has been seen as a barometer for Musharaf's commitment to a moderate Muslim state. But threats of a government walkout and nationwide protests by religious parties forced the government to walk back the original bill a good deal.
The old law (here's the actual legislation - frightening) requires four Muslim male witnesses to verify actual penetration for a conviction in a rape case. Without four witnesses, the victim could be prosecuted for adultery, which carries a death penalty by public stoning. The new law moves rape and adultery out of the Islamic courts and into civil ones. But the judge in civil court still has the discretion to block the case from going to trial.
Keep reading after the JUMP.
I think that such fairs are needed," said one communist deputy, Victor Ilyukhin, "so that we can put snipers around the outside and shoot all of the visitors like parasites. None of them have made their money honestly."
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