When a former Obama administration legal advisor delivers a tough criticism of the president's prosecution of the war on terror, what do you see? Evidence of the manifest illegality of the White House's drone program? An example of Obama's lack of political will? An invocation of frightening Bush-era legal theories of presidential power?
Welcome to the Rorschach test that is Harold Koh's recent speech to the Oxford Union.
On Tuesday, Koh, until January the chief legal advisor at the State Department, criticized the White House's lack of transparency with regard to its drone program, which Koh said has resulted in "a growing perception that the program is not lawful and necessary, but illegal, unnecessary and out of control." That jab was part of a three-part plan laid out by Koh to extricate the United States from the "Forever War" (1. Disengage from Afghanistan; 2. Close Guantánamo; 3. Discipline drones).
Prior to joining the administration, Koh was an outspoken critic of the Bush administration. But once inside government, he served as one of the chief legal architects of the Obama administration's national security policies, many of which bore a striking resembling to Obama's predecessor's. Now, Koh is firing back -- if rather gently -- at his former employer. But beyond his rather straightforward policy recommendations, it's not entirely clear how to interpret Koh's speech. And the varied responses it provoked offer something of a primer on the current state of thinking about Obama's prosecution of the war on terror.
Over at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf sees the secrecy surrounding the drone program and Koh's call for its dismantling as proof positive of the program's illegality. In order to "discipline drones," Koh called on Obama to make public the legal rationale for drone strikes and targeting American citizens overseas, clarify its method for counting civilian casualties, and release the threat assessments behind individual drones strikes. Additionally, Koh called on the White House to send its officials before Congress to testify about the program. All in all, sensible reforms aimed at transparency.
But, as Friedersdorf argues, the fact that none of these things -- moves all within Obama's power to carry out -- have happened reveals the drone program's shaky legal basis, if not its outright illegality:
If Koh believes all that is what should happen, then he believes the Obama Administration's current approach is deeply wrongheaded, and not just because of its indefensible dearth of transparency. It is not "consistent with due process" to target American citizens. The way Team Obama counts civilian casualties is not "consistent with international humanitarian law standards." Obama can't demonstrate that its strikes were all directed against imminent threats. Being more transparent about any of those things will in fact be discrediting, not redemptive.
Hence the secrecy.
And although he precedes everything with, "as President Obama has indicated he wants to do," Koh knows that Obama could do everything Koh endorses, but has in fact chosen not to do it.
Writing for her blog Emptywheel, Marcy Wheeler interprets Koh's argument about how to close Guantánamo as evidence of Obama's lack of political will to finally erase this stain on America's human rights record. In his speech, Koh urged Obama to designate a senior White House official with sufficient weight to close down the prison. But that plan, Wheeler contends, bears remarkable similarities to Obama's failed effort to close Gitmo early in his first term:
Now, I'm all in favor of closing Gitmo and this might be one way to do it. Koh actually improves on the prior plan by admitting the indefinite detainees will have to be released as the war is over, which is legally correct but misapprehends why they're not being released and why we have to have a Forever War to justify keeping them silent and imprisoned forever.
But Koh's map for closing Gitmo also misrepresents why appointing Greg Craig himself to carry out the Gitmo task didn't work. As I traced in real time (see, here, here, and here), to get Obama's ear, Craig had to fight through Rahm Emanuel. And Rahm preferred to sell out Obama's human rights promises in exchange for an eventually failed attempt to appease Lindsey Graham. Rahm won that fight. After Rahm won that battle, he scapegoated Craig. Ultimately, when asked why he left, Craig pointed to Rahm.
It wasn't enough to appoint Greg Craig. Closing Gitmo either required appointing someone with the bureaucratic chops to beat Rahm or someone like him in battle, or someone whom Obama actually entrusts such a battle with. And Holder's fate - where Obama continues to have trust in him even while he ultimately reversed his decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in NYC - shows that's not enough. Heck, Koh stayed on for almost four years, but even battles he presumably thought he had won, like drone rules, he now appears to have lost. Ultimately, then, it's going to take a really shrewd fighter or ... it's going to take the President wanting to invest political capital in these things more than he did three years ago.
Koh's emphasis on the need to close Guantánamo reflects the degree to which the Bush administration's shadow still hangs over the Obama White House -- a fact highlighted in the blog Lawfare commentary on Koh's conception of presidential power. "Look who has discovered inherent presidential powers," Benjamin Wittes observes sarcastically (elsewhere on Lawfare, Steve Vladeck defends Koh against the charge of hypocrisy).
What do you see in this ink blot of a speech?
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Indonesia has a witchcraft problem. Belief in the supernatural is widespread in the Southeast Asian archipelago -- and not just among the underclasses. But like many post-colonial societies, its inherited legal system leaves victims of sorcery unable to seek judicial relief. That may be about the change, however, if the country's parliament OKs a number of amendments to its Dutch colonial-era criminal code. The Financial Times has more:
Indonesia would make it illegal for anyone to "declare the possession of mysterious powers" or "encourage others to believe that by their actions they can cause mental or physical suffering of another person." The crime would be punishable by a jail sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to Rp300m ($30,700).
The amendments, which have been in the works since 2008, would put an end to the perceived bias of the state in favor of witches and sorcerers (the difference: witches possess innate mystical powers, whereas sorcerers have come to acquire them). Critics have denounced this kind of bias not only in Indonesia, but also in numerous other post-colonial societies that have since moved to outlaw black magic. As Michael Rowlands and Jean-Pierre Warnier explained in a 1988 article about witchcraft in Cameroon:
Cases of sorcery were to be brought to court. But the courts dismissed them for lack of evidence against the accused. Once acquitted, the latter often sued the defendants for libel and won their case. The sorcerers were thought to go unchecked and the victim felt betrayed by the colonial authorities who appeared to side with the sorcerers.
Unchecked sorcery has become a major issue in Indonesia, where hundreds of people have been killed by anti-witchcraft vigilantes who have taken the law into their own hands. Even President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono claimed in 2009 that ''[m]any are practising black magic. Indeed, I and my family can feel it.''
But not everyone is in favor of outlawing the dark arts. Indeed, one of the country's best known warlocks has proposed harnessing the power of black magic to solve other, more pressing problems. "This is the heritage from our ancestors and we need to preserve it," he told the Financial Times. "Rather than banning it, we should use black magic to punish those who are corrupt."
Several news outlets, including the pro-reform Shargh daily, said French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre is in Iran for talks with officials over how and where to file the lawsuit. She is also the lawyer for notorious Venezuelan-born terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as Carlos the Jackal.
This isn't the first time the Iranian government has complained about the film's portrayal of the Iranian people during the 1979 hostage crisis. In February, the government even organized a conference to highlight the anti-Iranian ideology behind Ben Affleck's film and other movies. The lawsuit was discussed on Monday during yet another conference in Tehran for Iranian cultural officials and movie critics entitled "The Hoax of Hollywood."
While the details of how (and if) Iran will go about suing Hollywood have yet to be released, one can't help but wonder: Does Iran actually have a case?
The short answer? Not really. "The threshold for a defamation suit in this context is pretty steep," Cory Andrews, senior litigation counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, told FP. To prove defamation, you have to not only establish that what is presented as fact is actually false (a difficult task when dealing with a partially fictionalized movie), but also that the plaintiff's reputation was injured, causing financial damages. "I'm not sure how the current Iranian regime would go about proving damages," Andrews notes. "The film is loosely based on events from 1979, not 2013. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is dead, and as a general rule of law you cannot libel the dead."
Even if Iranian officials choose to pursue a case of group libel -- a controversial legal theory, typically raised in cases of racial hate speech -- they would still have to prove that the regime suffered an injury to reputation and measurable damages as a result of the film.
As for where Iran could file its lawsuit, Noah Feldman, a professor of international and constitutional law at Harvard, tells FP, "The Iranianans could bring suit in any place where the film is shown, I suppose, and rely on anti-defamation laws." Still, he adds, "it seems highly unlikely to go anywhere in any credible jurisdiction."
Then again, Andrews reminds us, "it's the easiest thing in the world to file a suit." So while Iran might have an exceedingly difficult time proving their case, that won't necessarily stop them from giving the makers of Argo a minor headache in the process.
© 2012 - Warner Bros. Pictures
As Yemen's National Dialogue approaches -- an ambitious effort to reconcile the country's many tribal, political, and sectarian factions as part of its transition from Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule -- Human Rights Watch has pushed a new issue onto an already crowded agenda: death sentences and executions of juvenile criminals in violation of Yemeni and international law.
In its new report, HRW notes that there are currently "at least 23 young men and women await[ing] execution under death sentences in Yemeni prisons despite having produced evidence indicating they were under 18 at the time of the crimes for which they were convicted." HRW cites an additional 15 potentially underage individuals executed by the government since 2007.
Just as disturbing as the reports of juvenile executions are the descriptions of the juveniles' treatment in prison, which included torture and forced confessions. One imprisoned Yemeni man sentenced to death, who claims he was falsely convicted of a murder he witnessed when he was 15 or 16 years old, told an HRW interviewer:
They beat me with their hands, sometimes they would electro-shock me until I fell down. At that point if they had asked me, "Did you kill one-thousand?" I would have said, "Yes," out of fear.
Another prisoner told HRW:
They'd shackle us like a chicken, put metal between our legs and do falaka. This means beating you with a wooden stick on the bottom of your feet. Of course you'd want to confess anything. They also broke my fingers ... So of course I told them I did it.
The National Dialogue is scheduled to begin on March 18, on the two-year anniversary of a massacre of protesters that inflamed Yemen's protest movement. With two weeks remaining before the Dialogue, concerns remain about the representation of various factions and whether or not enough groups will participate for the Dialogue to be considered credible by most Yemenis.
Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images
When the government of the Philippines announced last month it was taking China to court over territorial claims in the South China Sea, it was seen by some as a surprising but savvy move -- a first step toward establishing some sort of law and order in East Asia's waters, which, up until now have been a sort of aquatic Wild West, with nations planting flags on rocks, roping off shoals, and building up tiny reefs to stake their claims.
The hearing was to determine the validity of China's claims to a wide swath of ocean that encompasses waters near the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, among other countries. Manila even generated some buzz by hiring D.C. lawyer Paul Reichler to argue its case, a man who's made his name as a "giant-slayer" in the world of international law for his often-successful track record of suing the U.S. Russia, and Britain on behalf of countries like Nicaragua, Georgia and Mauritius.
Then, on Tuesday, China made clear it had no plans to participate in any international court arbitration. Though the hearing will go on without China's participation, the decision, some may think, doesn't bode well for hopes that China might abide by a ruling that doesn't go its way.
Still, Reichler, who was hired by the Philippines last year, thinks the rising power could come around.
"They're very smart people," he said in an interview last week. "And I think they might come to understand that in the long run their best interests are served by being a responsible member of the international community."
Reichler's faith in the power of international law to wrangle even the largest of powers comes from his success suing the United States. He took America to The Hague on behalf of the Sandinista government of Nicaragua in the 1980s, over U.S. support of the Contras, and won -- an effort that earned him the ire of figures like John McCain. As a result of the victory - and the international pressure that accompanied it -- he says, Congress cut off funding for Contra support.
"It's a very high cost to prestige to be branded as an international wrongdoer and then not comply," he said.
The decision not to take part in the arbitration is "unfortunate," Reichler said in an email (China has long said it doesn't want to its territorial conflicts "internationalized"). "They had an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the international legal order, to show respect for its procedures, and to agree to be bound by its rules. Had they seized this chance, they would have proven that they are not only a great power, but a responsible one."
But the pressure on Beijing to comply with an unfavorable ruling - even if it doesn't participate - will still be there, Reichler said.
"To me, China has always denounced imperialism, denounced unilateralism, has denounced violations of the U.N. Charter," he said. "This is an opportunity for China to really show its true colors."
We hear plenty about drugs and conflict diamonds; but the international black market for timber -- a global trade that has been plaguing the forests of South America, Central America, and Asia for years, and one that is estimated to be worth anywhere from 30 to 100 billion dollars a year -- gets a lot less attention.
Illegal wood had a rare moment in the spotlight on Feb. 19, when Interpol reported the results of its first international operation to target timber trafficking. "Operation Lead," which brought together law enforcement agencies from twelve Latin American countries, was carried out over a month late last year and resulted in the seizure of the equivalent of 2,000 truckloads of timber (worth millions of dollars) and the arrests of more than 200 people.
While individual countries in the region, such as Columbia and Brazil, have cracked down on the illegal trade in the past, the transnational nature of the crime makes it difficult for domestic law enforcement agencies, which are limited in their jurisdiction, to be very effective. An international approach has the potential to be more successful. According to the head of Interpol's Environmental Crime Program, Operation Lead has laid the foundations for future efforts to combat the global trade.
So why timber? It is not as lucrative as the drug trade, but it still brings in a fair amount of cash. According to a recent Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report, in Laos, rare rosewood logs can fetch $18,000 per cubic meter. The EIA also notes that traffickers can earn $1,700 for a high-quality mahogany tree on the Peruvian black market, and about $1,000 for a cedar tree. In 2006, illegal logging in Peru was bringing up to $72 million in profits per year. Some estimates put the yearly profits in Columbia as high as $200 million.
In Latin America, the drug and timber trades aren't mutually exclusive. Though the extent of the connection is not yet clear, timber trafficking overlaps with organized crime and the drug trade in interesting ways in countries like Colombia and Peru.
For one, it has been suggested that timber offers drug traffickers an opportunity to invest in a new illegal market -- to "diversify their portfolios" -- as some governments become more successful (however slightly) in cracking down on the drug trade.
In Peru, where an estimated 80 percent of total timber exports are illegal, the wood trafficking network has become so sophisticated that drug traffickers are now piggybacking on the timber trade -- literally. In 2006, a U.S. State Department cable (later released by WikiLeaks) reported that drug traffickers in the Andes moving coca paste and opium "appear to be getting involved in transport of illegal timber, for both its profitability and its utility as concealment." In 2010, Peruvian police seized nearly 400 kilos of cocaine and coca base hidden in a single shipment of Sinaloa cedar.
Logging may also be viewed as a profitable way to open land for the farming of coca. According to a 2011 UN report, since 1981, more than 3,000 square miles of Columbia's forests have been cut down illegally to make way for coca crops. In 2008, then Columbian Vice President Francisco Santos Calderon announced, "If you snort a gram of cocaine, you are destroying 4 square meters of rainforest."
All considered, it isn't surprising that the illegal logging trade has taken a violent turn in some countries. Last year in Cambodia, an anti-logging activist and a reporter covering the illegal trade were both murdered. Three Brazilian activists were killed in 2011 -- just three out of dozens that have been murdered over the past several years.
It should be noted that illegal logging is not entirely run by timber kingpins and "wood mafias." Local communities also cut down wood illegally (to use, not to sell), and have probably been doing so for generations.
The countries affected are going to have to take strong action if they want to save their forests, because the problem is not going to fix itself. The world's appetite for high-value wood is high and is only getting higher. In its report entitled "Appetite for Destruction: China's Trade in Illegal Timber," the EIA states that between 2000 and 2011, the quantity of global log imports tripled, with a value that increased fivefold. China -- with wood product exports that have increased almost sevenfold in the past decade, with new construction projects beginning every day, and with a new bourgeoisie that covets fancy rosewood lounge sets (which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars), cars with wood-embellished interiors, and yachts -- comprises a large part of that demand. According to the EIA, China is the world's top importer of illegal timber. "More than half of China's current supplies of raw timber material are sourced from countries with a high risk of illegal logging and poor forest governance," including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Madagascar, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea.
Nicaragua in particular has seen enormous growth in its illegal timber market thanks to Chinese demand. In 2008, Nicaraguan exports of granadillo totalled about $127,000. In 2011, after other Central American countries enacted stricter wood export regulations, that number grew fifty fold, to $6 million.
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Egypt's increasingly influential Salafis won a victory this week by pressuring the government to finally implement a 2009 court ruling, enacted under former President Hosni Mubarak, to ban pornography. On Wednesday, Egyptian Prosector Abdel Maguid Mahmoud instructed authorities to "to take the necessary measures to block any corrupt or corrupting pornographic pictures or scenes inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state."
There are already strong reactions, with many on twitter using #EgyPornBan to either advocate mass downloading before the ban is enacted or to question the legitimacy of restricting freedom of expression.
While it has not been made public how and when the ban will actually be enforced, there are those like journalist and presidential advisor, Ayman El-Sayad, who think that the government should be "more concerned about the drafting of Egypt's new constitution" and other more pressing issues.
The ban does have serious consequences, however, as it upholds the ruling that the "freedom of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism." How Egyptians decide to tackle the issue of who gets to decide what their values are, could have far reaching consequences down the road. There is also the dangerous precedent set by countries such as Russia, China and the United States, who have been accused of using anti-child-pornography laws to implement web censorship.
Egypt's porn ban will make it harder to spread "harmful" content on the internet, but for the Islamist's moral purposes, it probably won't work.
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
The recently deposed president of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed was scheduled to be tried Monday, Oct. 1, under charges of abuse of power. Instead of making an appearance, he skipped his trial and left in a fishing boat to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Nasheed was previously put under "island arrest," on Sept. 25, which restricts his travel to Malé, the 2 square mile capital of the 1,192 island archipelago. The current government cites this as standard procedure following charges where Nasheed has been accused of misusing his office to order the arrest of a senior judge, Abdullah Mohamed in January.
Nasheed, a former democracy activist who was arrested over 20 times as an opposition leader, became president in 2008. His presidency marked the end to 30 years of rule by autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed claims that his resignation and Feb. 7 transfer of power was a politically motivated coup d'état orchestrated by Gayoom supporters. In a March article for Foreign Policy, Nasheed detailed the violent situation prompting his resignation and how his warrant for judge Mohamed's arrest was made on charges of corruption in an effort to overhaul the governance of Maldives. He was replaced by former Vice-President, Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, who was involved in the "coup" but will hold elections in 2013. Nasheed's recounting of his coerced resignation directly contrasts with a Commonwealth supported government inquiry which has accepted the resignation as legal though does acknowledge the occurrence of a police mutiny. The United States also accepts the transfer of power as legal.
Prior to the abuse of power charges filed in July, the "Mandela of the Maldives" took a trip to the United States where he made a case for efforts to combat climate change, while also trying to bring attention to the political situation in Maldives. In a particularly frank exchange on The Daily Show in April, Nasheed joked that with coverage by Jon Stewart, "hopefully they won't murder me." With the travel ban in place, it will very difficult for Nasheed to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Members of Nasheed's legal team have also claimed that the three judges presiding over the trial have been picked in violation of legal norms. A conviction would also bar him from being a presidential candidate.
In addition to criminal charges he also faces two defamation lawsuits to be tried in the future. Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has taken the stance that it will not adhere to court rulings till there is a reform of the judiciary system in accordance with international recommendations.
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Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir stands accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. But on Sunday, he met with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy in Cairo, where he received a dignified welcome at the presidential palace. A number of human rights organizations including Amnesty International urged Morsy to cancel the meeting -- which covered regional concerns as well as important bilateral issues like livestock trade and water rights in the Nile basin -- or arrest the Sudanese leader upon his arrival. "If Egypt welcomes Omar Al-Bashir it will become a safe haven for alleged perpetrators of genocide," Amnesty wrote in a press release.
Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2009 for crimes against humanity and then again in July 2010 for three counts of genocide, cannot travel in much of the world for fear of being extradited to the Hague. But Egypt is not a signatory to the Rome Statute -- Jordan, Djibouti, and Comoros are the only members of the Arab League to ratify the ICC's founding charter -- and U.N. Security Council 1593, which referred the Sudanese crisis to the ICC's special prosecutor, merely "urges" non-signatories to "cooperate fully" with the criminal investigation.
In theory, Bashir should fear extradition from all 121 parties to the Rome Statute, but in practice he has been able to travel more or less freely in Africa and the Middle East. Here's a look at the genocidal jet-setter's travel itinerary since he was indicted back in 2009.
ERITREA - March 2009
Only weeks after the ICC issued its first arrest warrant for Bashir, the Sudanese president ventured to Eritrea to visit President Issaias Afeworki, who had invited Bashir in a display of anti-Western solidarity. In his invitation, Afeworki declared the ICC "anti-people" and the indictment a "defamatory conspiracy on the part of external forces."
EGYPT - March 2009
Two days after his visit to Eritrea, Bashir touched down in Cairo for a state visit with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "There is an Egyptian, Arab, African position that rejects the way the court has dealt with the status of the president of Sudan," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in a press conference.
QATAR - March 2009
Following his visit to Cairo, the Sudanese leader traveled to the annual Arab League summit in Qatar, where Arab foreign ministers endorsed a draft resolution rejecting the ICC's arrest warrant. The week before, Amr Moussa, then the secretary general of the Arab League, had cleared the way for Bashir's arrival when he said, "We in the presidency of the Arab League have a clear position on this request and we totally reject it."
SAUDI ARABIA - April 2009
CHAD - June 2010
Bashir travelled to Chad -- the first Rome Statute signatory to host the Sudanese president since the arrest warrant was issued -- in June 2010 in an attempt to mend relations with its eastern neighbor. Khartoum had previously accused Chad of aiding anti-government rebels fighting in Darfur, but Bashir declared the problem "solved" during his visit, adding that he and Chad's President Idriss Deby "are brothers."
KENYA - August 2010
Kenya, which ratified the Rome Statute in 2005, invited Bashir to witness the signing of its new constitution. An assistant foreign minister later defended Kenya's decision to defy the ICC warrant on the grounds that "Sudan's stability is vitally linked to Kenya's continued peace and well being."
DJIBOUTI - May 2011
After Ismail Omar Guelleh won a third term as Djibouti's president, Bashir attended his inauguration ceremony in May. Djibouti, which was the third Rome Statute signatory to flout the ICC arrest warrant, was referred, along with Chad and Kenya, to the U.N. Security Council for failing to arrest the Sudanese leader.
MALAWI - October 2011
Malawi, which signed the Rome Statute in 1999, hosted the Sudanese president for a trade summit last October. When the ICC demanded an answer for why Bashir had not been arrested, President Bingu wa Mutharika said that it was not his country's "business" to enforce the ICC's ruling. Malawi's new president, Joyce Banda, apparently does not share her predecessor's zeal for flouting international law, and denied Bashir permission to attend the African Union summit in Lilongwe in July 2012.
CHINA - June 2011
Chinese President Hu Jintao welcomed the Sudanese president to Beijing in June 2011. There, in a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People, he gushed about the two countries "traditionally friendly relations" before diving into talks with Bashir about how to keep the oil flowing to China following Sudan's impending partition. Interestingly, Bashir's flight to Beijing was delayed because he was forced to avoid Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, both of which denied him access to their airspace. China is not a signatory to the Rome Statute.
LIBYA - January 2012
Bashir traveled to Libya to meet with Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) officials last January in order to discuss immigration, among other issues. Libya is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, but the visit sparked outrage from human rights activists who called it "disturbing" and questioned the NTC's "commitment to human rights and the rule of law."
IRAQ - March 2012
Bashir attended the Arab League summit in Baghdad in 2012.
IRAN - August 2012
Bashir made an appearance at the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran in August, where, in one of the event's least-publicized moments of irony, he met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Correction: Omar al-Bashir has also travelled to Ethiopia several times, the most recent being for the funeral of Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi in September.
Early this morning, Hungarian law enforcement detained accused Nazi war criminal Laszlo Csatary. The judge in the case ordered him placed under house arrest.
Csatary was a commander for the Royal Hungarian police force in Kassa, in modern-day Slovakia, where he served as commander of the Jewish ghetto during the Second World War. While in this capacity he was allegedly responsible for the deportation of 15,000 Jews to concentration camps. Csatary is also accused of assaulting prisoners.
In 1948, Csatary was convicted in absentia and sentenced to death in Czechoslovakia, but fled to Canada where he obtained citizenship. He remained there until 1997 when he escaped back to Hungary after his Canadian citizenship was revoked for providing false information to immigration authorities and deportation hearings were underway.
Csatary was identified and located by Hungarian authorities almost a year ago using information provided by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, but further investigation was required to make the arrest possible. Csatary had been living in Budapest under his real name for 15 year.
The attention his identification drew forced Csatary to move apartments in the past year, according to his attorney, but authorities worried this might be an effort to evade capture. During questioning, Csatary, who is now 97 years old, claimed innocence and insisted that he had only been carrying out orders.
In 2011, the Simon Wiesenthal Center reported that there are over 800 investigations underway and 21 new indictments filed against suspected Nazi war criminals in 2010. Csatary was one of the top-ten most wanted. Last year, Hungary arrested the top name on the most-wanted list, Sandor Kapiro, for his role in a massacre in Serbia during the War, but later acquitted him of all charges shortly before his death in September.
If he is indicted, Csatary's trial would take place in Hungary and could involve testimony from survivors, if they can be located.
Fifty years after Kenya's independence, the British high court opened the second part of a case brought by three Kenyan nationals against the British government today. The trial sheds light on Kenya's gulags, a largely forgotten dark corner of England's colonial legacy.
The plaintiffs -- Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambuga Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara -- were formerly rebels during the Mau Mau uprising against colonial rule. They allege that they were the victims of torture and brutality at the hands of the British administration during the "Kenya Emergency" that lasted from 1952-1960.
According to the BBC, the "claimants' lawyers allege that Nzili was castrated, Nyingi severely beaten and Mara subjected to appalling sexual abuse in detention camps during the rebellion."
The fourth claimant in the original case, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, died in the interim between when the test case was ruled arguable in July 2011 and the opening of the trial.
The lawyers for the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) have argued that the case should be struck down because the lapse in time between the end of the insurgency and the current proceedings is too great. However, a new cache of secret British documents unveiled in April 2012 has shed new light on crimescommitted in Kenya, as well as other former colonies -- and the decades-long effort to cover them up.
The files - which had been purposely withheld from the National Archives and illegally hidden at Hanslope Park, an intelligence station -- were uncovered by historians working on the Kenyans' case. Subsequently, the Foreign Office released all of the records.
The documents include accounts of British officials "roasting detainees alive" in Kenya. The colony's attorney general in 1953, Eric Griffith-Jones, described the internment camps as "distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia" -- yet nevertheless endorsed British policy, claiming that "if we are going to sin, we must sin quietly."
The Kenyans first requested the release of these documents in 1967, according to an internal FCO review from February 2011 that was made public in May. The review, which explains how the Kenyan request served as a blueprint for refusing such information to all former colonies, details that the files were consciously concealed by the government. They reasoned that releasing any information would set "a dangerous precedent" which would make it "difficult to withhold un-reviewed and potentially sensitive papers from other former colonies."
The Guardian confirmed that the most incriminating of the documents were systematically destroyed. Nevertheless, the remaining incriminating files -- known within the FCO as the 'migrated archives' because they were whisked out of colonial territories before the post-independence administration could take power - total 8,800 files. The Kenyan documents alone total 294 boxes.
As the trial progresses, government fears of "a dangerous precedent" may prove well-founded: this case might very well open up avenues for other colonies to bring legal cases against the former empire.
SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images
The International Criminal Court handed down its first sentence on Tuesday to Congolese war criminal Thomas Lubanga for the use of child soldiers. After over three years at trial, and following his conviction in March of this year, the court issued a 14-year sentence, with one judge dissenting on the grounds that the nature of the crimes warranted a longer sentence. The court has not yet decided where Lubanga will serve out his term.
This is the court's first conviction and sentencing after nearly a decade in existence. But others are in the works, including the first head of state to be tried, Cote D'Ivoire's former president, Laurent Gbagbo, who was transferred to the ICC for trial in November 2011. (Sudan's current president Omar al-Bashir has also been indicted but has yet to be arrested). Gbagbo is charged with crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, for acts committed after the 2010 election when electoral disputes erupted into violence as Gbagbo refused to relinquish the presidency. The next step in his trial, the confirmation of charges, is expected in August 2012.
Under the tenure of Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo -- who was replaced earlier this month by new Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda -- the court has issued open (public) indictments against 28 individuals from seven countries -- all in Africa. The list is a who's who of notorious political leaders, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Saif al-Qaddafi, and military officials. The Court relies on national law enforcement, Interpol and the UN to arrest those charged, and only five of those indicted are currently in custody. 15 cases are currently before the Court, though trials are only scheduled for those in the Court's custody (some pre-trial proceedings are underway in absentia).
The Court's summer schedule shows proceedings will continue against the Central African Republic's Jean Pierre Bemba accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes; Sudan's Abdallah Banda and Saleh Jerbo for war crimes, including attacks on peacekeepers, and Gbagbo. Nearly a decade elapsed between Lubanga's crimes and his sentencing by the court, so don't expect speedy proceedings for any of them.
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The first plane carrying South Sudanese "returnees" out of Israel arrived in Juba, South Sudan, on June 19.
Amidst escalating tensions over African migration to Israel, Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai described the eventual "return to their homes and countries" of [migrants] as "inevitable." Of Israel's 60,000 African migrants, the majority come from Eritrea and the two Sudans.
Greeting the plane in Juba, Joseph Lual Achuil, South Sudan's minister of humanitarian affairs, claimed that the process of return was voluntary: "People are not being deported. We have agreed with the Israeli government for our people to be peacefully and voluntarily repatriated," he said. While ‘returnees' are being offered a stipend of $1300 per adult and $500 per child by the Israeli government, the degree to which repatriation is truly a matter of choice is debatable.
While those who left Israel on the first plane volunteered to do so, the crackdown, known under the code name "Operation Going Home," has rounded up and arrested hundreds of migrants so far. The usually bustling neighborhood of ‘Little Africa' in South Tel Aviv is reportedly deserted. New laws allowing migrants to be jailed for up to three years without trial or deportation came into effect on June 3. In addition, any Israeli citizen harboring or helping migrants can now face jail time of up to 15 years.
The current government campaign to stem the flow of African migrants has begun with newly independent South Sudan -- the only one of the top three source countries which maintains diplomatic relations with Israel.
Many South Sudanese fled to Israel to escape the ongoing violence at home, often crossing the Sinai desert from Egypt by foot to reach Israel. Last week, an Israeli court ruled that 1,500 South Sudanese are no longer at risk in their homeland and can be returned home, giving the government the legal right to deport them.
Recent months have seen protests and acts of vandalism targeting African communities in Israel, an atmosphere that many claim has been instigated by the comments of some politicians. The deportation drive is also creating immense discomfort amongst many Israeli citizens, who are acutely of aware of their own identity as an immigrant nation founded by Jews fleeing persecution in Europe after World War II.
The subtext beneath the deportation process is a racial argument that cuts to the core of competing views about what Israel's identity as a ‘Jewish state' should entail. For the current government, identity is clearly framed by ethno-religious demographics. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu argues:
"If we don't stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state. This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity."
Whether such a view can be justified as commensurate with Jewish values remains to be decided.
Just days after announcing that it would back deputy leader Khairat El-Shater as a presidential candidate in Egypt's upcoming election, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party made a pit stop at Georgetown University on Wednesday as part of a "charm offensive." FJP representatives repeatedly emphasized the Islamist party's commitment to fulfilling "the demands of the young people who revolted in Tahrir Square" through promoting democracy, justice, freedom, and human dignity, and insisted that they intend to be "as inclusive as possible."
"With the new Egypt, it doesn't matter anymore what the party wants," said businessman and FJP adviser Hussein El-Kazzaz. "Our compass is not a movement that's internally inward-looking, our compass is now with the revolution.... Our distinct belief is that the country cannot be be run by one faction."
That's why, he explained, the Muslim Brotherhood flip-flopped on its decision to field a presidential candidate:
"We didn't want to nominate someone ... because we didn't want to be monopolizing positions of power at that time..... It's a very different reality now than it was 10 months ago."
Even though the FJP holds over 47 percent of the seats in Egypt's parliament, Member of Parliament Abdul Mawgoud Dardery from Luxor acknowledges that the parliament itself hasn't exactly been smooth sailing:
"It's very tough [to negotiate].... All of a sudden now we are expected to decide ... the fate of our country through a very, very democratic process from which traditions and figureheads are and history and so on are being created as we go."
He added that the members have tried to do "traditional things," like holding meetings and using mediators, but that it's not working "100 percent."
El-Kazzaz also argued that the Freedom and Justice Party seeks to take a "middle ground" when it comes to the existential struggle between secular liberalism and traditionalism:
"We have a tradition that needs to be respected ... but we cannot ignore human civilization ... Europe has great things to offer, the United States has great things to offer, let's look at them and choose what we like, leave what we don't like."
If only it were that easy. Unfortunately for the FJP's philosophies of inclusion and finding a middle ground, it appears that Islamists are set to dominate Egypt's constitutional committee, a crisis that's already alienating the country's minority groups.
KHALED ELFIQI/AFP/Getty Images
Just one week after the acquittal of fiery far-right politician Geert Wilders, the Dutch parliament struck another blow against multiculturalism in the Netherlands yesterday with the passage of a bill banning ritual animal slaughter. The bill requires that all animals be stunned before being slaughtered, a requirement that conflicts with halal and kosher stipulations that animals be fully conscious.
The bill was initially proposed by the Party of the Animals, which holds two seats in the 146-seat Dutch parliament and maintains that ritual methods of slaughter are inhumane. It gained support from centrists on similar grounds, but Wilders's Freedom Party has also been a longtime proponent. In fact, it was Wilders who first raised the issue in 2007 when he objected to halal meat being served at a public school in Amsterdam.
The ban has provoked a furious reaction from Jewish and Muslim leaders in the Netherlands and Europe. From Reuters:
"The very fact that there is a discussion about this is very painful for the Jewish community," Netherlands Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs told Reuters. "Those who survived the (second world) war remember the very first law made by the Germans in Holland was the banning of schechita or the Jewish way of slaughtering animals."
It should be noted that a last-minute amendment attached to the bill states that halal and kosher slaughterhouses will be able to apply for special permits if they can show that their methods do not cause more pain than non-ritual methods. But some are skeptical of the permit process's efficacy, and the European Jewish Congress is already considering challenging the law in court.
The bill awaits confirmation in the parliament's upper house, though it passed easily in the lower house and enjoys widespread public support. If passed, it will put the Netherlands in the company of a handful of countries that have outlawed ritual animal slaughter. Revisions to New Zealand's animal welfare code made kosher slaughter illegal as of this May, while bans in a number of Scandinavian and Baltic countries date back to anti-Semitic measures passed before World War II.
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While Ai Weiwei's surprising release dominated the headlines yesterday, the Chinese government took the chance to detain one of China's most important civil rights lawyers, Xu Zhiyong. Rumors of his disappearance on Wednesday were confirmed first on Twitter and then in a Financial Times article today. However, a post on his Twitter feed suggests that he has since been released. A rough translation:
Thanks everyone for your concern. I've returned home. Last night I was taken away in order to prevent me from taking non-registered permanent residence parents in Beijing to the Ministry of Education to petition for the 12th time.
The last sentence refers to his recent efforts to push for reforms in China's hukou (residency permit) system, which makes it extremely difficult for children of migrant workers to attend schools in the cities to which their parents have moved.
Xu first gained fame as a legal reformer in 2003, when he successfully pushed to end China's extrajudicial system of "black jails." As the head of the Open Constitution Initiative, his clients have included the families of the victims of the China's recent tainted-milk scandal. This spring, he has also been providing legal assistance to the independent candidates' movement gathering steam in China. He himself mounted successful runs in 2003 and 2006 as an independent candidate for a seat in the People's Congress of his home district in Beijing.
Two down, 130 to go.
The old saw goes that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Omar Bakri seems to have leapfrogged over that first step.
The radical Sunni Islamist sheikh, who fled to Lebanon after being banned from Britain in 2005, was just sentenced to life in prison by a Lebanese court on charges of inciting murder. Bakri was tried in absentia, and has 15 days to appeal the verdict before being arrested.
Sheikh Omar currently lives in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli and, as it happens, hasn't changed his phone number in three years. "I will never, ever give myself up to any non-Islamic court," he told FP. "They have no evidence, not a shred of proof."
Bakri also said that he has an escape plan. "If worse comes to worse, I will go to Beirut and ask Hezbollah for protection," he said. He added that he was planning to leave for Beirut tonight to discuss with Hezbollah the terms of any protection that they would be willing to offer him.
This may all sound very nefarious, but it's actually rather difficult to take seriously. Bakri likes to talk a big game -- particularly to Western journalists in nice Beirut cafes -- about his admiration for Osama bin Laden, but his actual influence among Sunni youth in Tripoli is suspect. Given his vocal statements, it was inevitable that a Lebanese court would eventually pin charges on him, but among the many cause of instability in the country, Bakri is small potatoes.
Bakri insisted that Hezbollah would be willing to ensure his safety because he shared their anti-Israel and anti-American bona fides. Perhaps, but I'm not so sure. The Party of God is allowed to operate outside the normal rules of society because many Lebanese think it serves as a necessary defense against the threat posed by Israel and their other enemies. Many Lebanese are already chafing at Hezbollah's current impunity; if the party extends their security umbrella to a loudmouth with no obvious constituency, it will make the status quo even more difficult to justify.
Bakri and Hezbollah may share some political views, but there is one important difference -- only one of them is able to put their words into action.
Dear Pakistani military officers Maj. Ali Sameer and Maj. Iqbal: You may want to delay that long-planned vacation to London. You see, Interpol has just issued warrants for your arrest over your alleged roles in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Interpol's action will further affirm many analysts' suspicion that the Pakistani military played a crucial role in planning the deadly attacks, which resulted in the deaths of 175 people. But to be clear, this isn't proof positive that the two Pakistani officers were involved: Interpol issued what is known as a red warrant, which calls for the "provisional arrest" of an individual based on another country's investigation.
In this case, a New Delhi court is calling for their arrest based on evidence Indian investigators gathered from their inquiry into the network of David Coleman Headley, a U.S. citizen who pleaded guilty to involvement in the attacks in March. The Indians are claiming that Maj. Iqbal was Headley's Pakistani handler when he traveled to India to scout out potential targets for a terrorist attack. This may or may not be true, but the arrest warrants are not based on anything other than the allegations of Indian investigators, which have long suspected Pakistan of complicity in the attacks.
With those caveats firmly in place, there does appear to be some agreement from the United States that Pakistani officers played a role in the attacks. As FP contributor Simon Henderson recently pointed out, the sole footnote in Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars noted that the CIA received "reliable intelligence" that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, the country's main spy agency, were involved in training the militants who went on to wreak havoc in Mumbai.
LORENZO TUGNOLI/AFP/Getty Images
All eyes in the Middle East are on Iran, but it may be Lebanon that is closer to war. On Sunday, the former head of Lebanese General Security, Gen. Jamil al-Sayyed, announced that he had been informed by his lawyer that a Damascus court had issued arrest warrants for 33 figures for misleading the international tribunal charged with bringing the killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri to justice. One of those individuals was a former chief investigator of the U.N.-led investigation itself, Detlev Mehlis. But in comments to Foreign Policy, Mehlis poured cold water over the truth of Sayyed's claims, and suggested that he has no intention of backing down from his work in Lebanon.
Sayyed has a particular axe to grind in this case: He was imprisoned for over four years on suspicion of being involved in Hariri's killing. And the man partially responsible for putting him behind bars was none other than Mehlis, who asked Lebanese authorities to arrest him along with three other pro-Syrian generals.
"I should mention that I am not aware of any investigation against myself and members of my previous UNIIIC-team anywhere in the world," Mehlis said. "I realize that Mr. Sayyed has brought up the story of an arrest warrant, just as he brought up the story of a French arrest warrant a year ago, and I do not believe a word of what he is saying. "
The Syrian government has so far yet to confirm whether an arrest warrant has been issued. But even if one has, Mehlis left little doubt about the opinion of such a document. "If indeed there is a Syrian arrest warrant, it would be baseless, illegal, and politically motivated, without any practical implications," he said.
As the showdown over the tribunal heats up, Mehlis's work has been fiercely attacked by the court's critics in an attempt to discredit the entire enterprise. As Syria and Hezbollah attempt to use their increased leverage within Lebanon to scuttle the court entirely, there is no doubt that such condemnations will continue. The only real question is whether anyone will speak out against them.
JOSEPH BARRAK/AFP/Getty Images
Russians have long since thought of ways to cope with the frigid cold (think over-buttered bread and over-flowing shot glasses), but weathering the blistering heat is a newer challenge. Record temperatures across the country -- in the low nineties! -- might make Washingtonians trapped inside the beltway scoff, but for those more accustomed to donning fur coats than string bikinis, the high heat has brought out unusual (and not altogether admirable) behavior this summer.
Perhaps most alarming is the spike in drowning among summer sufferers desperate to escape the heat wave. In one July week alone, over two hundred Russians reportedly drowned -- deaths that are being chalked up to ill-advised drinking before diving. The summer-long toll would make any suburban lifeguard fall off his chair: 1,244 deaths in June, and 400 so far in July. (Moral of the story? One clear liquid at a time is best: sips of vodka or splashes of water, but never both.)
These numbers are troubling, but may not be all so surprising -- Russia typically reports five times the number of drowning deaths than the United States, regardless of thermometer readings. The real jaw-dropper of the summer made headlines last week, when a money-making project in southern Russia quickly went from cool to cruel to criminal. The story is another case of near-drowning, but this time the victim is one you wouldn't expect to find along the beachfront: a parasailing donkey. What's now being condemned as a flagrant case of animal cruelty began as an advertizing ploy. Several businessmen launched the donkey into the air in hopes that the unusual sight would lure prospective sunbathers to their private beach. The stunt instantly attracted attention -- just not the kind the beach-owners had in mind. The donkey, not surprisingly, didn't take to his new elevation, and instantly raised complaints (what some spectators described as "screaming"). Alarmed children below added their cries to the ruckus, and concerned swimmers (or at least those with un-clouded senses) did their best to rescue the tortured animal upon its landing.
Though "no one had the brains to call police" right away, the backlash in the days that followed has been unequivocal. The story was broadcast on Russian national TV, and investigations, a precursor to criminal charges, have been launched against the offending entrepreneurs.
Some say the stunt is merely another example of widespread Russian insensitivity toward animals. Even so, the verdict is out on these misguided businessmen: just a couple of real asses.
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
The Chinese government has instituted a new anti-crime measure dubbed "sealed management." In less euphemistic terms, it's a handy new policy of effectively putting migrants on nighttime lockdown in their already decrepit villages. Though the targets of the policy are themselves Chinese, it's enforcement is reminiscent of some of the world's harshest immigration laws.
How has it worked in practice? Beijing officials have installed gates around migrant communities and forcibly locked the residents in from 11pm to 6am, all with the goal of reducing the city's hike in crime rates -- which the officials conveniently attribute to low-income civilians. Lest the padlocks and security cameras provide insufficient protection from the artificial enemy, the government has taken an additional cue from Jan Brewer: police patrol the gated neighborhoods at all hours to check the migrants' identification papers. Now there's xenophobia at its finest.
Only sixteen neighborhoods have been enclosed and locked down so far, but local officials are campaigning ardently to expand the system throughout the city. The ruling Communist Party has disseminated propaganda to portray the neighborhood compounds as a mutually beneficial social program (rather than, say, a thinly veiled quarantine of the poor):
"Closing up the village benefits everyone," read one banner which was put up when the first, permanent gated village was introduced in April.
"Eighty percent of the permanent residents applauded the practice," said Guo Ruifeng, deputy director of Laosanyu's village committee. He didn't say how many migrants approved, though they outnumber the locals by 7,000 to 700.
"Anyway, they should understand that it is all for their safety," he said. Guards only check papers if they see anything suspicious, he said.
"If they see anything suspicious?" But the assumption underlying the creation of the gated communities is that the migrants themselves are inherently suspicious -- and the police aren't likely to deviate from that deeply flawed rationale when choosing who to hassle. We've watched the descent down this slippery slope before, and it isn't pretty.
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If you think a day in the life of a British school kid is all about matching knee socks, "smart" ties, and a good dose of old-fashioned law and order (just think Professor McGonogall and those no-nonsense glasses) -- think again. Last year alone, 2,230 students were "permanently excluded" from school (a punishment that sounds worthy of Azkaban) for physically assaulting their teachers or classmates. In light of these statistics -- and increasing grumbling from the bruised and battered professors themselves -- schools minister Nick Gibb has proposed a four point plan to make British classrooms the decorous and disciplined places they once were (at least in our imaginations).
The proposal includes measures that would permit more knuckle-rapping and ruler-wielding in schools: the new standards would "encourag[e] teachers to make greater use of physical force to ‘maintain good order.'" As British law currently stands, there's nothing stopping fed-up teachers from (forcefully) putting know-it-alls back in line, "provided pupils are not injured." But, according to Gibb, teachers have grown wary of exercising their well-enshrined right to move beyond time-outs, fearful of lawsuits or even, as the harrowing saga of Peter Harvey persistently reminds them, the possibility of a life behind bars. (Harvey, on trial for lobbing a dumbbell at a student's head while shouting "die, die, die," was ultimately acquitted -- but not before prompting tirades from fellow teachers about the injustices of not being able to smack those ungrateful little brats.)
Gibb contends that the newly proposed standards -- which would also provide greater leeway to search students and grant accused teachers anonymity when under investigation -- will help to erode this atmosphere of fear by "removing red tape so that teachers can ensure discipline in the classroom and promote good behaviour." By his account, it's all just one big misunderstanding: students simply became too "aware of their rights." Once that confusion gets cleared up, it's only a matter of time before Snape-for-Principal posters start popping up....
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Is it that time of year for a haircut? If you're in Iran, take a walk to your nearest barbershop, plop in a swively chair, and peruse through the catalogue of hairstyles on the counter. But make sure to survey the clean-shaven coifs and gel-infused buzzcuts in the catalogue carefully -- you now must select one of them for yourself, at your government's behest.
These sartorial sanctions are the latest crackdown on what the government percieves to be a more modern, Western aesthetic proliferating in Iran's popular culture. State-imposed restrictions have been growing steadily more stringent to combat "bad hijab" -- the improper veiling of men and women alike -- and clothes and makeup that, the government claims, contradict Islamic principles. But the multicolored mohawks, rockstar-inspired ponytails, and unkempt mullets popping up around Tehran recently seem to have been the final straw: the Culture Ministry has now banned a number of "decadent Western cuts" and issued a catalogue of permissible hairdos from which male salon-goers must choose.
Take a look at the pictures of the epic style summit where the catalogue was created: barbers, clerics, and government officials came together, visualizing proportions of beard to hair on mannequin faces and taking painstaking care to engineer the proper haircuts. While shaggy bangs have fallen victim to the blacklist, styles resembling the 1950's flattop -- a widespread fashion faux pas from the era of Elvis -- are deemed perfectly fine.
Though these constraints may seem superficial, be on the lookout for some serious backlash from the country's constituents. In the thirty-one years since the Iranian Republic was established, the power struggle between young Iranians -- fighting to maintain their freedom of expression -- and the government -- fighting to crush it -- has only escalated. The suppressed one-year anniversary of Iran's 2009 elections has already begun to amass a repository of unleashed defiance; not to mention some Iranians just won't be happy flipping through their barber's catalogue and asking, "Can I have the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?"
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As foreign moles in suburban America, the "Murphy's" of Montclair -- two of the recently exposed Russian "illegals" (read: spies with boring long-term assignments) -- were charged with the difficult task of acting less Russian. Meanwhile, back in Moscow, migrant workers have been forced to take on precisely the opposite challenge: acting more Russian.
Ire toward foreign arrivals in Moscow is nothing new (double-digit murders of foreigners are standard each year in the capital city), but the recent proposal of a "Muscovite Code," a set of measures designed to encourage cultural assimilation, highlights just how intense the pressure to conform truly is. The rules, to be developed by city officials with input from local residents, would outline the "dos and don'ts" of traditional Russian culture; everything from speaking Russian-only in public (a do) to turnstile-hopping "like goats" (a don't). Supporters of the new measure note that these rules would not be mandatory, but would instead serve as a helpful resource for foreigners unfamiliar with the city's unspoken code of conduct. As Mikhail Solomentsev, head of the Moscow city government's Department for Inter-Regional Communications and Regional Policies explained:
"At the moment, there are unwritten rules that residents of our city have to adhere to... For instance, people shouldn't slaughter sheep in a courtyard, make shashlyk on their balcony or walk around the city in their national dress - and they should speak Russian."
Many, however, don't consider the proposal quite so benign. The new rules, they say, are simply one more way to reinforce Moscow's already entrenched culture of xenophobia. Of course, after Monday's revelations, Moscow officials might be wise to consider another (unintended) use of the Code: a how-to guide for "illegals" doing their best to blend in...
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Looking at the opening statements of the Republican members of the Senate judiciary committee, it appears that, as expected, Elena Kagan's description of former Israeli Supreme Court President Aharon Barak as her "judicial hero" is going to be the "wise Latina" of her confirmation hearings.
Here's Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.):
She clerked for Judge Mikva and Justice Marshall, each a well-known liberal activist judge. And she has called Israeli Judge Aharon Barak-who has been described as the most activist judge in the world-her hero.
These judges don’t deny activism; they advocate it. And they openly oppose the idea of a judge as a neutral umpire.
“Ms. Kagan has called Israeli Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak her ‘judicial hero.’ Justice Barak is widely acknowledged as someone ‘who took an activist approach to judging.’
“One respected judge, Richard Posner, described Barak’s tenure on the Israeli Supreme Court as ‘creat[ing] . . . a degree of judicial power undreamed of even by our most aggressive Supreme Court justices.’
Your judicial hero is an interesting guy. You’re going to have a lot of explaining to do to me about why you picked Judge Barak as your hero because when I read his writings, it’s a bit disturbing about his view of what a judge is supposed to do for society as a whole, but I’m sure you’ll have good answers and I look forward to that discussion.
I'm not. In fact I'm willing to bet good money that Kagan and the White House have prepared aswers to the Barak question that shed absolutely no light on her views on judicial activism. The whole Barak issue may be a little strange, but if the Obama administration is going to pick a Supreme Court nominee whose views on a range of key issues are largely a mystery, they can't really complain when Senators go on these fishing expeditions.
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The Parisians who flooded the streets of France's capital city this morning -- part of a countrywide push-back against President Nicolas Sarkozy's proposed austerity plan (which includes, among other simply intolerable measures, a new retirement age of 62) -- are grabbing headlines this week, but their attempts at mobilization pale in comparison to the budding subversion of another, surprising set of malcontents: unhappy -- and, as it turns out, unlawful -- commuters.
Recently, turnstile hoppers (hardly a new breed of traveler in the Parisian subway system) have ratcheted up their disdain for transit regulations, coming together in so-called mutuelles des fraudeurs to protect themselves against fare-dodging fines -- and, while they're at it, to stick it to the man. The mutuelles resemble a hybrid insurance agency and support group: Members pay monthly dues of about $8.50 and, in return, are guaranteed full reimbursement for any fines they receive for "forgoing" the proper subway fee. (Typical fares are $2; typical fines are $60.) There are a few technicalities, of course: For example, members are strongly urged to pay their fines to officials upfront and are only assured compensation by the mutuelle if they show up in person at weekly meetings (usually held in avant-garde coffee shops).
Fare-dodging may look like a straightforward variation on petty theft -- a money-saving technique that regrettably comes at the expense of the law -- but the "fradeurs" insist they're not just pinching pennies: They're taking a stand. "Gildas" (a mutuelle leader who, in the true style of a subversive, declines to give his last because "we don't like this type of questions") has a surprisingly well-thought-out -- if ill-reasoned -- explanation for his behavior.
"There are things in France which are supposed to be free - schools, health. So why not transportation? It's not a question of money.... It's a political question."
He fashions himself as a historic revolutionary, not an everyday criminal: "It's a way to resist together," he says. "We can make solidarity."
Lest any American commuters (or communists) start getting ideas, be warned: At least in Virginia, Metro miscreants pay for their mistakes with a visit to court.
LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images
Love was momentarily in the air in Saudi Arabia -- until the cops showed up. AP reports this morning that a young Saudi man from Riyadh will face 90 lashes and four months in the slammer as punishment for "engaging in immoral movements" (read: kissing) at a local mall. The unnamed culprit and his female companions (who have yet to be sentenced) are the latest victims of Saudi Arabia's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice -- a moniker that seems best suited to the pages of an Orwellian novel, not the text of a modern legal system. And, unless he can prove royal lineage of some kind, he certainly doesn't have the clout to make his prosecutors backtrack -- a feat a Saudi tribesman managed last year after being beaten for smooching his wife in public.
The arrest is a telling indicator of the slow-pace of modernization in Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah has professed to support more lenient law enforcement, much to the chagrin of his hard-line cohorts. Short of throwing out ancient practice altogether (which, as Juan Cole explains, would flout a long history of Islamic tradition on the Peninsula), Saudis are looking for incremental ways to ease some of the kingdom's most stringent guidelines.
Just this week, two prominent clerics proposed an innovative -- and downright bizarre -- strategy for loosening the prohibition against gender mixing among unrelated men and women. In a newly released fatwa, they urged Saudi women to distribute their breast milk to adult males. That's right: for drinking. According to Islamic law, women can mix unveiled in the presence of men they have breast-fed (because nursing precludes future sexual relations). By donating their milk, women in essence "adopt" their male acquaintances, opening the door for greater, not to mention more modern, interaction.
Regardless of whether or not Saudi men and women embrace the edict, I see a great new "got milk?" ad somewhere down the road...
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If the recent contentious confirmation hearings of judicial nominee Goodwin Liu and State Department legal advisor Harold Koh are any evidence, the question the role of international law and whether it is proper to use foreign judgements in deciding cases, has quickly joined issues like abortion and executive privelege as a lightning-rod topic that nominees can expect to be grilled on.
With little in the public record to suggest what Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee thinks about the issue, I spoke with Diane Marie Amann, director of the California International Law Center at UC Davis, and founder of the popular legal blog IntLawGrrls, about how much we can tell about how Elena Kagan sees the world:
JK: What evidence from Kagan's career, might shed some light on her views on international law?
DMA: It's really hard to read the tea leaves. She's done two stints now in the executive branch, in the Clinton and Obama administrations. Both of those administrations have dealt with transnational criminal law, either in the context of the war on drugs or the campaign against terrorism. The positions that would have been taken there would have been very much in favor of expanding the reach of U.S. law enforcement to deal with those issues. The role that she played in helping craft those policies, and most recently [as Obama's solicitor general] in making those arguments in front of the Supreme Court, have to be an important part of trying to assess her stance on these issues.
At the same time, she's not an international lawyer. Her specialty in academia was domestic constitutional law, the law of the U.S. federal court. She did not write on issues related to international law. It's probably fairest to say she comes to the confirmation hearings with an almost clean slate on these issues.
JK: What about the debate over citing foreign case law and using international standards to inform judgements. Do we know anything about she comes down on that?
DMA: Well she certainly is aware of the debate and the controversy around it. In the early 2000s, she invited justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to defend the practice at a women's leadership summit at Harvard, but she didn't tip her hand. I'm sure she knew Justice Ginsburg would defend it, but she didn't offer any follow-up comment.
JK: If you could question Kagan at her confirmation hearing, what would you ask to find out more about her position on these issues?
DMA: I would be curious to know if she had any training in international law as a law student, in briefs that she's written or policy discussions she's been involved in, or in her work as the law dean, and what the nature of that training was. Then also, her attitude toward it: the question of whether it's appropriate for U.S. courts to look to foreign context and foreign judicial decisions to figure out how to interpret similar provisions in American law is an important question.
I have no doubt that she'll be asked that question. If you look at the recent panel hearing for Goodwin Liu, the nominee to the 9th circuit, a number of senators repeatedly asked Liu that question. In many ways, watching that hearing seemed to me to be a preview to what we can expect with the Kagan hearing. There's not doubt she'll be asked the question. What's open is whether she'll answer it. Justice Sotomayor's hearing last year indicates that she'll probably try to deflect that question.
JK: It does seem like the question of foreign case law has become much more controversial lately, in the confirmation of Harold Koh as legal advisor to the State Department, for instance.
DMA: There's a certain segment of the senate that is extremely concerned about what they perceive as a judicial inclination to follow foreign law. Personally, I believe that they're wrong on their understanding of what the court has been doing. What the Supreme Court did, even in the most noteworthy cases like the juvenile death penalty case, was to try to interpret very open terms like "cruel and unusual punishment" to interpret what those words mean in contemporary society, including within their survey what they call "civilized society," allies of ours and countries that share our traditions - taking their experiences into account but not by any means, being required to follow suit. For a number of senators, the belief is that the justices have been feeling beholden to those foreign judgements.
JK: What are some of the biggest international issues that might come before the court in coming years?
DMA: We know that the U.S. campaign against terrorism will continue for the foreseeable issues. This will raise all kinds of issues that intertwine American domestic law and American obligations under international law, such as the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. There's no question that she would be dealing with these issues, perhaps even in her first term.
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Spanish investigative judge Baltasar Garzon has made a name for himself by prosecuting human rights abusers around the world -- including former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet -- using universal jurisdiction to get around national amnesties. But Garzon is now himself being charged with abuse of power relating to an investigation of murder's and disappearances under the Franco regime. His supporters are now fighting back:
Lawyers representing Argentine relatives of three Spaniards and an Argentine killed during the 1936-39 war will ask the federal courts here Wednesday to open an investigation, and hope to add many more cases in the months to come.
So Garzon's supporters now hope to launch the same investigation - citing the same principles of international law - from Buenos Aires. And while Garzon limited the scope to crimes committed until 1952, the Argentine rights groups hope to address any state terror in Spain from 1936-1977, when its democracy was restored.Attorney Carlos Slepoy, a specialist in human rights law, told The Associated Press the plaintiffs are invoking the principle of universal jurisdiction, which provides that genocide and crimes against humanity "can be prosecuted by the courts of any country.
The choice of Argentina is interesting since it was Garzon who led the charge to prosecute military figures there for crimes committed during the 1976-83 dictatorship.
Garzon is currently being charged with violating a 1977 amnesty law designed to help Spain move on from the Franco years. I don't know nearly enough to weigh in on the legal questions involved here, but politically it doesn't look very good that Spain was willing to let Garzon prosecute abuses in other countries for years, but became uncomfortable with his tactics as soon as he started poking around in his own country's dirty laundry. This type of challenge should have been expected.
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When Justice John Paul Stevens retires this summer he will have served longer than any Supreme Court Justice in history save one -- William O. Douglas. In his decades on the court, Stevens has had a profound influence on several issues -- including one of the central aspects of recent U.S. foreign policy: the "War on Terror".
Stevens has made a couple landmark decisions regarding alledged terrorist detainees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first one, Rasul v. Bush, was decided in 2004. He wrote the majority opinion in the case, finding that foreigners held in Guantanamo Bay are under the jurisdiction of federal courts, saying, "They have never been afforded access to any tribunal, much less charged with and convicted of wrongdoing; and for more than two years they have been imprisoned in territory over which the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction and control." This meant that prisoners could now challenge their detainment through legal channels.
Two years later, in 2006, Stevens wrote the majority 5-3 decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. The ruling curbed executive power by arguing that the government had to follow U.S. laws and the Geneva conventions when detaining prisoners of war. Moreover, because neither the president nor Congress has the authority to authorize military tribunals when they can be avoided, they are illegal in this case. When speaking about the use of military tribunals, Stevens argued:
The danger posed by international terrorists, while certainly severe, does not by itself justify dispensing with usual procedures.
Because the procedures adopted to try Hamdan do not comply with the uniformity requirement of Article 36(b), we conclude that the commission lacks power to proceed.
For similar reasons, the commission lacks power to proceed under the Geneva Conventions, which are part of the law of war under Article 21 of the UCMJ.
Common Article 3 of those conventions, which we hold applicable to this case, prohibits the passing of sentences without previous judgment by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples."
With the legal questions surrounding Gitmo far from settled, Stevens' absence will certainly be felt.
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