Literature is under attack in Turkey. Tomorrow, prize-winning novelist Elif Shafak will go on trial in Istanbul over comments about the Armenian genocide that a character makes in her best-selling novel, The Bastard of Istanbul. The offensive comment: "I am the grandchild of genocide survivors who lost all their relatives at the hands of Turkish butchers in 1915," says Dikran Stamboulian, a minor Armenian character in the book. And for that reference to a genocide, Ms. Shafak is being charged with insulting "Turkishness." The case against her is being led by ultranationalists, one of whom recently linked the possibility of Turkey's accession to the EU and Ms. Shafak's novel as stripping away Muslim identity in Turkey, mostly by those who, like Ms. Shafak, "support a more open Turkey,...world citizens, half-Turks."
Unfortunately, Shafak is hardly the first to be charged with this broad and ridiculous offense. More than 60 writers and publishers have been prosecuted under new laws introduced 18 months ago. And though Turkey has long had restrictions on its writers, it seems that, with Turkey undergoing a real identity crisis over whether to seek EU membership, there's never been more at stake. We'll be sure to watch the case.
Despite having the support of a majority of the Senate, the alternative plan for military commissions backed by Sens. McCain, Graham, and Warner might face a filibuster led by Sen. Bill Frist, who is seriously toeing the White House line on the treatment of detainees and warrantless wiretapping. But since the White House might ultimately get most of what its wants out of a possible compromise bill, why the threat of a filibuster? Could it be that Frist, who clearly harbors presidential aspirations, wants to steal McCain's spotlight?
In other news, the International Committee of the Red Cross will meet next week for the first time with the 14 high-level detainees now held at Gitmo who sparked off this current row in the first place.
This is Li Wufeng, China's top Internet cop.
A quiet man who fidgets in his seat and whose voice is at times nearly inaudible, Li is the director-general of China's State Council Information Office (SCIO), the agency in charge of regulating Internet content inside China. I and a handful of other Western journalists met with Li for an hour today in the SCIO's main office in Beijing.
Li started by giving us the latest stats on China's Internet presence. They are impressive, including 120 million Internet users and 30 million bloggers. Staggering numbers, particularly considering the extent to which the Chinese state continues to control the Internet. This is a subject Li pooh-poohs. In fact, by his account, China not only doesn't censor the Internet, it doesn't even know how.
We have neither the technology nor the manpower" to censor or filter the Internet, Li told us. "We have just dozens of people in the Internet affairs bureau. Half of them are here today [in the room]," he added.
It was a strange denial, especially considering the large amount of time Li spent more or less defending China's Internet censorship. Repeatedly pressed by the journalists in the room, Li said that "it is an international practice to regulate or filter the Internet" and that "China has adopted the international practice ... just like the United States." I told Li that I found it hard to believe that China does not have the technology or manpower to censor or filter the Web, particularly given the large number of high-profile cases, including, by some accounts, the blocking of nytimes.com and some human rights Web sites from within China. Li went on the defensive. "We have our own choice of the Internet content" within China, he said. "If someone is shouting bad things about me from outside my window, I have the right to close that window." Sound strangely like an admission? It did to me, too.
Won't the midterms be dirty. Bush has thrown down the gauntlet. In his speech today, the president announced that he is immediately sending legislation to Congress that would allow the United States to establish military tribunals for enemy combatants - the same tribunals that the Supreme Court struck down in June (finding them unconstitutional because Congress hadn't approved them). This move is predictable. Ever since the Supreme Court decision came down, the administration has been planning to seek congressional approval. But the announcement today that more than a dozen high-value enemy combatants - including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the architects of the 9/11 attacks - have been transferred to Guantanamo Bay puts anyone wishing to debate the legality, fairness, and sensibility of these tribunals - during the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and the run-up to the midterms - in a very unenviable position. Hence the brilliant political timing.
So, it looks very likely that the administration will get to keep its closed tribunals - where those prosecuted and their counsel can be prohibited from even learning the evidence against them. I haven't yet seen the legislation in question, which could be vastly different from what ultimately emerges from Congress. But the tribunal the administration wanted initially looked a little something like this:
Reports from Pakistan suggest that much of the intelligence that led to the raids came from that country and that some of it may have been obtained in ways entirely unacceptable here. In particular Rashid Rauf, a British citizen said to be a prime source of information leading to last week's arrests, has been held without access to full consular or legal assistance. Disturbing reports in Pakistani papers that he had "broken" under interrogation have been echoed by local human rights bodies. The Guardian has quoted one, Asma Jehangir, of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, who has no doubt about the meaning of broken. "I don't deduce, I know - torture," she said. "There is simply no doubt about that, no doubt at all." If this is shown to be the case, the prospect of securing convictions in this country on his evidence will be complicated. In 2004 the Court of Appeal ruled - feebly - that evidence obtained using torture would be admissable as long as Britain had not "procured or connived" at it. The law lords rightly dismissed this in December last year, though they disagreed about whether the bar should be the simple "risk" or "probability" of torture."
As I've mentioned before, if the case collapses there would be the most almighty stink in Britain. It would introduce into British politics U.S. style judge-bashing. Calls for Britain to scrap the Human Rights Act would grow ever louder.
The 24 suspects arrested by the British authorities can be held for 28 days before they are charged. Their prosecution will create a politically charged debate about the trade-offs between security and liberty. Any defense lawyer worth his salt is going to challenge the evidence being used against them, claiming that suspects implicating them in the plot were likely tortured in Pakistan. (Information obtained in this manner is inadmissible in British courts.) Considering that Pakistan was instrumental in the arrest and the year long investigation into the 24, this could be a fertile furrow for the defense.
One can just imagine the row that would follow if the case against these men collapsed because key prosecution evidence was deemed inadmissible. In the past, members of the judiciary have shown themselves to be willfully blind to the dangers posed by terrorism, with Law Lords making glib statements about how the "real threat" comes not from terrorism, but from anti-terror laws. All of which makes one wonder if the combative Home Secretary John Reid was launching a pre-emptive strike when he lashed out on Wednesday at judges, among others, for failing to "understand the depth and magnitude" of the terrorist threat to Britain and bemoaned that we are "unable to adapt our institutions and legal orthodoxy as fast as we need to."
Israel's defense minister, Amir Peretz, might soon face another challenge in addition to the wars in Gaza and Lebanon. This week, a team of three Morrocan lawyers filed a lawsuit against Peretz for war crimes.
The lawsuit charges Peretz with a long series of crimes, including the destruction of communication sites, undermining general health and the environment, deliberate attacks on women and children, and crimes against humanity.
The lawyers claim Peretz, who still holds Moroccan citizenship after emigrating to Israel in 1956, is subject to Morrocan law. The team may ask Interpol to aid in bringing Peretz to justice in Morroco. Because most of Israel's population is a mixture of immigrants, many from Arab states, this move could set a precedent for more war crimes lawsuits against Israelis with dual citizenship.
What happens when 10,000 lawyers get together in Hawaii? I don't know either, but I'm sure someone is going to get sued. And apparently, the American Bar Association thinks so too.
The ABA is holding its annual meeting in Honolulu starting tomorrow, but it won't be sponsoring the previously-scheduled longboard surfing contest. It seems the ABA lawyers are a little too afraid of the liability. But never fear: The litigators will still surf. The Hawaii State Bar Association and LexisNexis have just agreed to sponsor the event in the ABA's place. And just in case, they'll have lifeguards on duty.
On Monday, for the first time ever, a U.S. federal court provided online access to nearly all the exhibits submitted in a recent criminal case. The case? United States v. Zacarias Moussaoui. Several of the exhibits are still classified and under seal (including one entitled "schizophrenia video" submitted by the defense), but there are nearly 1,200 other documents, videos, and photographs available - everything from Moussaoui's report cards from 1975, photographs of the inside of a flight simulator, and "1 box cutter". There's also the "substitution for testimony" from several terror detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks. I'm guessing that releasing all of the exhibits is kosher despite Moussaoui's pending appeal of his life sentence, but it just makes every armchair attorney out there able to now render an opinion on whether he should be able to withdraw his guilty plea.
From the start, Uganda has been a tricky case for the International Criminal Court. The ICC issued indictments for several Lord's Resistance Army leaders last year, but prominent voices in the country have argued all along that the indictments are getting in the way of a negotiated settlement. As we've discussed on Passport recently, there has been a lot of talk about amnesty for LRA fighters who come in from the field. As we mentioned in the Morning Brief today, there is now news that the familar peace versus justice dilemma has become even more acute: The Ugandan government is actually seeking a waiver from its international obligation to arrest LRA leaders so that it can negotiate with them. So far, the ICC appears to be standing its ground.
The precise motivations of the Ugandan authorities in the unfolding saga are unclear. The government, we should recall, formally asked the ICC to investigate LRA atrocities. So its current stance is a dramatic reversal. It could be that the government is now wary that the court's investigators might be nosing into the conduct of government officials and so would prefer to pull the plug. Whatever their calculations, it's important to recognize that the ICC's founding document, the Rome Statute, offers a way out: The UN Security Council has the power to suspend investigations in the interests of international peace and security. It would be an embarrassing climb-down, but it may yet happen.
The International Criminal Court may have a warrant out for his arrest, but that didn't stop Uganda from offering full amnesty to the rebel leader Joseph Kony, head of the infamous Lord's Resistance Army.
It's a strange move on the part of the Ugandan government, as their military - and the United Nations - have long been trying to capture Kony, considered responsible for the death and kidnapping of thousands of civilians, especially children, during the 19-year civil war. Perhaps the Ugandan government is hoping the offer could facilitate peace at talks that begin next week in Sudan. But Kony has already rejected the amnesty deal, calling it irrelevant since it has no effect on the ICC proceedings against him.
Yesterday's election in Kuwait was a resounding disappointment for female candidates, who were permitted to compete against men for the first time in the history of Kuwait's parliament. Although women make up 57% of the 340,000-strong electorate, that didn't translate into any seats for them. However, many remain hopeful that the increased presence of reformist candidates, who will now hold 33 of the 50 seats, will make it easier for women to win next time around. But reformists will have to tread carefully; despite a reputation for standing up to the ruling family, the parliament always faces the possibility of being dissolved at the emir's pleasure.
You have to hand it to the Supreme Court. Yes, the Hamdan decision this morning was a rebuke to the Bush administration, and Justice Breyer again invoked the lack of a "blank check" from congress after 9/11. And yes, the justices stated in no uncertain terms that treaties and statutes matter - and that they apply in the war on terror. That's not a small victory for people who believe that the Bush administration has usurped more power than is constitutionally authorized to the president. But what the court has NOT done is tell the president he can never have his military tribunals. He can simply go to congress and ask for more authority, and if congress agrees to alter the Uniform Code of Military Justice, those military tribunals are still a possibility. Jack Balkin calls it a democracy-forcing decision. The president can't decide on his own, and congress has always had the authority to regulate military justice - so the court is using the democratic process as a lever to enforce that power balance.
So, the big question: Would congress pass such an alteration to the UCMJ allowing military tribunals for enemy combatants? Will the administration even pursue such a change before the midterms? How ugly will those campaigns be if this is an election issue?
The BBC has pulled back from its earlier report today that an impending Fatah-Hamas deal would include the provision that Hamas implicitly recognizes Israel's right to exist. They are now reporting that while Fatah and Hamas have agreed to a common political strategy, the accord has no mention of recognizing Israel. Despite this new accord - the text of which hasn't been released - Israel has stated that it has no bearing on the current crisis. Israeli troops and armed Palestinian militants are massing on either side of the Gaza border. Progress that seemed to be made after the meeting between Olmert and Abbas last week appears naive in hindsight.
But in a new ForeignPolicy.com exclusive, former Swedish diplomat Mathias Mossberg has a radical proposal for ending the territorial stalemate in Israel and the occupied territories. What if Israelis and Palestinians abandoned the seemingly endless and bloody road to a two-state solution, and instead adopted a completely original form of statehood? What if they adopted not two states next to one another, but states on top of one another? Check it out.
Voters in the West African country of Mauritania overwhelmingly approved a new constitution for their country this past weekend, less than a year after a bloodless military coup gave the boot to two decades of autocratic rule.
Under the watchful (and approving) eyes of African Union and Arab League observers, 80-90% of those who cast ballots favored the new constitution. Among the provisions of the document are a timetable for elections, presidential term and age limits, and the requirement that future heads of state swear an oath not to try to extend their term of office beyond that constitutionally permissible.
With economic growth a solid 5.5% last year and the territorial dispute with Western Sahara dormant for the time being, things could be looking up for Mauritania. And in a country where 20% of the population unemployed, a little stability could go a long way. Next issue on the national agenda: slavery. Rights groups say it's still practiced, despite being abolished in 1981.
The ICC's chief prosecutor says his office has so far documented "a significant number of large scale massacres," each "with hundreds of victims," as well as hundreds of cases of alleged rapes in Darfur, according to a report to the UN released yesterday. The report goes on to state that Sudanese authorities have failed to investigate or prosecute cases currently under investigation, which means the ICC would have jurisdiction to proceed with prosecutions. Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo says he expects to file charges, presumably in the next few months, but Sudanese officials said today that the ICC doesn't have authority and that Sudanese trials have simply been slowed by logistical factors.
The ICC moving forward on Darfur is good news not just for Darfur, but for the ICC. If the court can bring Darfur war criminals to justice, it may signal to the Bush administration that their cold-shoulder stance toward the court deserves a rethink.
Guantanamo Bay has closed its doors to the media. Editor & Publisher reports that reporters from the Los Angeles Times and the Miami Herald are being booted off the island after writing stories about last weekend's detainee suicides. A reporter from the Charlotte Observer is allowed to stay until Saturday, but is being denied access to the prison camp. A Pentagon spokesperson is quoted as saying that the camp cannot accommodate all the reporters who want access, and so it is only impartial and fair that no reporters be allowed at the camp. Note to the Bush administration: Nice try, but in this case, the world's ignorance is not bliss.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that Google founder Sergey Brin admitted his company may have acted a little too hastily in censoring results for its China search engine, and that it might consider reversing course. Brin said,
"It's perfectly reasonable to do something different, to say, 'Look, we're going to stand by the principle against censorship and we won't actually operate there.' That's an alternate path," Brin said. "It's not where we chose to go right now, but I can sort of see how people came to different conclusions about doing the right thing."
I wonder if Brin read the current issue of FP, in which David Vise questioned Google's commitment to its principles. At any rate, Google can't have been happy about all the backlash when it decided to do business in China. Personally, I'm on the fence about this. Censorship is clearly wrong, but I don't know if it helps the Chinese for Google to completely withdraw. At any rate, I do think that Brin has expressed some thoughtfulness with his statements yesterday. Too often, you hear corporate execs unequivocably touting free market principles without considering other implications. It will be interesting to see if Google actually does revamp its China policies. To keep up with all things search engine-related, check out Danny Sullivan's outstanding Search Engine Watch blog. By the way, I'm surprised that there hasn't been more about this in today's news, but I guess with British Parliament closing and gearing up for the World Cup, people have been otherwise distracted.
A group of Israeli diplomats are still smarting over Ahmadinejad's wish to wipe Israel off the map. They're so mad, in fact, that they've decided to get litigious. A group of officials, including a former cabinet minister and past Israeli ambassadors to the UN and the US, is planning to sue the Iranian president for "incitement to genocide" under the 1948 UN convention for his repeated comments about an Israel-less world. Mahmoud, expect a call from Ramsey Clark any moment now.
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