Earlier today, I spoke with veteran Washington Post reporter Dana Priest. My question was simple: At what point did it become clear that the United States' treatment of detainees in overseas prisons was harsh, and possibly illegal? (For more FP torture coverage, see here.)
Allegations of detainee abuse first started trickling out in January 2002 -- in essence, as soon as detainees came into U.S. custody. But it wasn't until eleven months later that Priest and fellow Post reporter Barton Gellman wrote the first definitive account of such abuse. On the day after Christmas, 2002, the Post described "stress and duress" tactics, extraordinary rendition to countries like Syria, and the harsh treatment of al Qaeda operative Abu Zubayda. The article used the word torture -- saying that the United States harshly interrogated prisoners, and sent them to foreign prisons to gain the "fruits" of torture without having to do it themselves.
According to one official who has been directly involved in rendering captives into foreign hands, the understanding is, "We don't kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them."
Back then, the CIA was Priest's beat. She says her tip-off on the "stress and duress" story came when she noticed a separate, unmarked compound near the main Bagram holding facility. "It wasn't in the military compound," she says. "But it was surrounded with triple concertina wire," the type used in high-security prisons. "I thought -- they have a separate facility, so are they working under separate rules? I knew the CIA and military were working in teams together, but at what?"
She and a team of Post reporters, among them Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Barton Gellman, working in parallel and in competition to New York Times writers like Tim Golden and Carlotta Gall, started piecing the stories together. "Really, there were just a handful of reporters who could make inroads on the subject," she says.
The reporting was painstaking. "It was a very decentralized thing. You weren't even sure what the questions were," she says. "We couldn't connect it up. We couldn't see the big picture. And there was no past reporting to go on. Everyone was making it up. We'd follow these little reports from Afghanistan, about people disappearing. That was it."
Crucial to the success of the early reporting were the teams of lawyers at organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights struggling to glean information on detainees. "We were all getting little teeny scraps and putting it together painstakingly," she says. "Nobody told you the whole story, or even a quarter of a story." One Post article on an extraordinary rendition came together because a someone happened to write down the number on the tail of an airplane. "You needed to keep those little scraps in your head," Priest notes.
Another big break -- for which she won a Pulitzer Prize -- came when she completed a story about the black sites, secret overseas prisons. The story took more than two years to report, and, she says, reporting on the subject still didn't get much easier -- it took years for Congress to devote as much attention to it as reporters and defense lawyers were.
"Congress did nothing," she says, "until political winds had changed, and the Democrats were feeling a little more at ease in the world. It's a new feeling for them. Because, before, there were Democrats in those meetings saying, ‘Do what you've got to do.'"
Alex Wong/Getty Images
With the glut of new information about "enhanced interrogations" and the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody -- the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee reports especially -- it's been very hard to keep track of who knew what and when.
To help sort it all out, I created a timeline showing new information in italics.
Look for more today...
By Mark Leon Goldberg
Hi Passport readers. I write the U.N. and global affairs blog UN Dispatch. The good folks at Passport asked me to respond to Matthew Russell Lee's selective lobotomy of U.N. Secretariat offices and functions.
Matthew and I have history. Every other week for the past two years we have sparred on BloggingHeads about U.N. issues and foreign policy more generally. I'm sure we'll take this beef to the airwaves this weekend when our program goes online. For now, though, it's to the keyboard. And in the interest of brevity, I'll limit my response to Matthew's recommendation that the U.N.'s Ethics Office be abolished in favor of a new "Office of Discipline" in order to punish miscreant peacekeepers.
As Passport's own Elizabeth Dickinson documents so elegantly in the current dead-tree version of Foreign Policy, there are over 100,000 peacekeepers from dozens of countries deployed to 19 missions around the world. The vast majority of peacekeepers conduct themselves professionally, but there have been instances in which peacekeeper impropriety has threatened to undermine the credibility of the U.N. in the eyes of the population that it is meant to serve. This is serious problem-and it is taken seriously at the UN. (See, this 2005 report Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, the Permanent Representative from Jordan and a former civilian peacekeeper himself.)
There are, however, certain structural problems in dealing with peacekeeper accountability that go beyond setting up or dismantling offices at U.N. headquarters.
For example, when a U.S. Marine is accused of misconduct he or she is subject to Courts Martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The United Nations does not have a similar capacity to pursue criminal investigations against peacekeepers; there are no criminal prosecutors in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations nor are there judges, courts or prisons. Rather, when a peacekeeper is accused of misconduct, the most the U.N. Secretariat can do is send him or her home. It is the responsibility of the troop contributing countries to launch the criminal probes.
This is clearly problematic because it leaves open the possibility that peacekeepers accused of a crime may go unpunished once sent home. However, since 2007 the United Nations has used inserted provisions in Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) between troop contributing countries and the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations that compel the troop contributing country to treat the prosecution of repatriated peacekeepers as it would should a similar offense occur in its territory.
This is a welcome development, but the question of what to do should a troop contributing country violate this provision of the MOU remains. Should the UN summarily reject peacekeepers from countries that do not follow the letter of this MOU? If so, whole peacekeeping missions in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur, and Haiti could threaten to fold should, say, Pakistan fail to prosecute a small handful of its approximately 11,000 blue helmets in the field. I would argue that this is a worse outcome than having a relatively few number of peacekeepers go unpunished.
What to do about civilians accused of misconduct on a peacekeeping mission is an even more difficult nut to crack. Many times, civilians operate under diplomatic immunity. Immunity can be waived by the Secretary General but then there is the problem of jurisdiction. Under what penal code should civilians be subject? Generally, an individual would be tried where the crime occurs. But peacekeeping missions are often in countries without a functioning judiciary or without one that is up to international standards.
The aforementioned Zeid Report recommends a number of ways in which this accountability gap can be closed. The most straightforward of these is setting up a new "convention on the criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission," which spells out how nationals of states that are party to this convention could be criminally prosecuted.
A draft text of this convention exists, but has not yet been adopted by UN member states. And even if this convention were adopted, only nationals of countries that have ratified the convention would be subject to its jurisdiction. Does that mean the U.N. should prohibit civilians from states that are not party to the convention from participating in peacekeeping missions? Again, such a rule would prevent a number of civilian experts from lending their skills and expertise to peacekeeping operations.
The point is these are complex issues that cannot, contra Matthew, be fixed simply by abolishing the Ethics Office and setting up a new "Disciplinary Office." Rather, U.N. member states - not the UN Secretariat itself - must to take the initiative.
Like I said, stay tuned for a longer discussion about this and the other issues Matthew raises on BloggingHeads. Our diavlog will be posted on Sunday.
There's been a wealth of information released on the treatment and torture of detainees in U.S. custody in the past days. Here's a capsule of the new news:
I asked Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch and a former Clinton administration official, to work through some of the foreign policy implications of the newly released torture memos with me.
We discussed whether the Bush administration memos encouraged other countries to torture, or led to any global uptick in "enhanced interrogation" practices. "I've always tried to be careful not to suggest that countries like Egypt or China or Uzbekistan would be torturing more because the United States was setting a bad example. Obviously, dictatorships torture for their own reasons, and they didn't need [former U.S. President] George W. Bush to show them how," he says.
But, the Bush administration torture of detainees and disavowal of the Geneva Conventions did preclude diplomacy on many occasions, Malinowski says. He testified before the Helsinki Commission in 2007 to make the point:
A couple of years ago, Human Rights Watch was meeting with the Prime Minister of Egypt, and we raised a case in which hundreds of prisoners rounded up after a terrorist bombing were tortured by Egyptian security forces. The Prime Minister didn't deny the charge. He answered, "We're just doing what the United States does." We've had Guantanamo and the administration's interrogation policies thrown back in our face in meetings with officials from many other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and Lebanon. U.S. diplomats have told us they face the same problem. A U.S. ambassador to a leading Middle Eastern country, for example, has told us that he can no longer raise the issue of torture in that country as a result.
Malinowski says the detainee abuse made it difficult for the White House to negotiate any human rights provisions or issues, broadly. "Issues beyond torture were effected, because it enabled authoritarian governments to say, ‘You have no right to lecture us,'" he says. "They were delighted to tweak the United States on it."
The biggest offender? Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who Malinowski described as a "world champion" of chiding the United States via its own policies.
Nevertheless, Malinowski thinks that, despite the horrible details revealed by the Bush administration and International Committee of the Red Cross memos, ultimately their release is a very good thing for the Obama administration.
[Obama] can go to a country like Turkey or Indonesia or Egypt and say, "Look, I know what it's like to face real security threats, and we as Americans understand the temptation to give up some of our liberties and principles to defend ourselves against those threats. But what we've learned the hard way in the last eight years is that those liberties and principles actually make us stronger. You could learn from our example."
That's a much more effective way of arguing the point than going to those same countries and saying, look at our perfect system and our glorious morality, and maybe someday you can be as good as we are. So I think if he uses the experience as a cautionary tale, it will actually make our country a more effective and compelling champion of human rights around the world, ironically.
Here's to hoping so.
Photo: Entrance to Bagram Air Base by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
One of the most interesting things about the four newly released Bush administration memos on the “enhanced interrogation” of detainees in overseas secret CIA prisons has been what isn’t in there, rather than what is. The truly grotesque caterpillar revelation aside, the memos weren’t very revelatory. We already knew about the SERE techniques. We knew that medical professionals attended them -- and that Jay Bybee, then an administration lawyer, now a federal judge, felt the presence of medical professionals meant it wasn’t torture.
But Tom Malinowski, of Human Rights Watch, pointed me to one truly new detail, in a footnote in the May 2005 memo from Steven Bradbury to John Rizzo, a CIA lawyer. Here’s footnote 28:
“This is not to say that the interrogation program has worked perfectly. According to the IG Report, the CIA, at least initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not actually have the information….On at least one occasion, this may have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the unnecessary use of enhanced techniques. On that occasion, although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements within CIA headquarters still believed he was withholding information. [REDACTED PORTION.] At the direction of CIA Headquarters, interrogators therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah.”
Which marks the first time a memo has admitted that waterboarding was “unnecessary.”
It's been a tense day for constitutional lawyers, national security reporters, and foreign policy wonks. Why? This afternoon, the Obama administration intends to release memos relating to the controversial "enhanced interrogation" policies of CIA officers in overseas prisons.
There have been careful negotiations between the CIA, Justice Department, and White House over the contents of the release, and it seems the officers involved have been granted immunity from prosecution as a result.
The full set of documents should be released here sometime within the hour.
Update: The only redactions are the officers' names.
Update: Read the memos here.
Writing in the Washington Times, Audrey Hudson and Eli Lake report that the Department of Homeland Security has produced and disseminated a nine-page report on the threat of "rightwing extremist activity," spurred by the global economic crisis, election of a black president, and the return of "disgruntled war veterans."
The nine-page document was sent to police and sheriff's departments across the United States on April 7 under the headline, "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment."
It says the federal government "will be working with its state and local partners over the next several months" to gather information on "rightwing extremist activity in the United States"....
"Most statements by rightwing extremists have been rhetorical, expressing concerns about the election of the first African American president, but stopping short of calls for violent action," the report says. "In two instances in the run-up to the election, extremists appeared to be in the early planning stages of some threatening activity targeting the Democratic nominee, but law enforcement interceded."
In producing the report, the United States joins numerous European countries facing possible right-wing nationalist activity. But Europe's long-struggled with nationalism stoked by immigration from ethnic minorities; it has right-wing anti-immigration political parties, mainstreaming sentiment which might otherwise be considered or become extremist.
Sen. Russell Feingold sent an interesting letter to Barack Obama about Somalia yesterday, cc-ing Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and Dennis Blair. The senator, a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, urged the U.S. president to engage Somalia, but carefully: work with the Somali government; improve support for the country's internal security apparatus. No quick fixes here:
[There is an] essential need to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy to stabilize Somalia and support effective governance. With the strategic review now underway, I reiterate my belief that expanded U.S. support for the new unity government must be a central component of that strategy. Furthermore, we must seize the opening that lies before us by publicly declaring our commitment to high-level, sustained engagement that could help Somalia overcome the many challenges to peace and stability."
Feingold proposes stronger U.S. engagement with the Somali government -- not only to stamp out piracy but to "establish security and functional, inclusive governance within the country." Obama, he suggests, should start by calling Somali President Sheikh Sharif.
Most interesting of all, though, is Feingold's reference to the last time that piracy was notably halted in Somalia -- under the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. That regime, later ousted by Ethiopian troops (with U.S. support...) brought the only calm to the seas that the country has seen in recent years.
The ultimate solution to the problem of piracy, then, is the establishment of a functional government that can enforce the rule of law. During the rule of the Council of Islamic Courts in 2006, there was a notable decline in piracy that can be attributed, in large part, to the rise of a central authority in southern Somalia.
Without replicating the repressive rule of the Courts, we must keep in mind that establishing a central governing structure in Somalia is critical to resolving, not just stopping, the problem of piracy."
Now that's an idea, unlike airstrikes, that I feel militantly supportive of.
The International Maritime Bureau, a division of the International Chamber of Commerce, keeps up-to-the minute maps of global piracy, with linked data on the attacks. It's definitely worth checking out.
Above, the purple tags denote "suspicious vessels," the yellow "attempted attacks," and the red "actual attacks."
Parsing the data, I counted that of 45 attempted attacks in the Gulf of Aden, 7 succeeded; in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia, of 31 attempts, 11 succeeded. This implies a pirate strike's more likely in the Gulf, and more likely to succeed in open waters.
Peter Pham takes a closer look at the technicalities of pirate attacks, and stopping them, today on FP's website.
(Hat tip: Global Dashboard)
The U.S. military is considering attacks on pirate bases on land and aid for the Somali people to help stem ship hijackings off Africa’s east coast, defense officials said.
Does the United States know what they're getting into? Piracy experts have long suggested that the root of the problem is indeed on land. But air strikes on Somali bases would be dangerously close to a U.S. military operation in Somalia -- the kind that the country has avoided since Blackhawk down in 1994.
Let's think hypothetically about what might happen if strikes go ahead. U.S. onland intervention will surely anger al Shabaab, the Islamist militant wing that controls an alarming percentage of Somali territory and is the biggest single threat to Somali stability. Already, the Somali government is struggling to convince the country that its relatively pro-Western stance is for the greater good. That argument will lose all weight if and when the U.S. starts airstrikes. Forget about the government's effectiveness, and forget about any hopes that al Shabaab will disarm. This would fuel the fire. No, we shouldn't kneel to the demands of al Shabaab, but nor should we ignore that their ire will be taken out on the already dilapidated Somali population.
Talk about an escalation.
To be fair, the rumored U.S. plans includes the creation of a Somali coast guard, and support for the Somali government. U.S. Congressman Donald Payne, long a Somalia pragmatist, made a daring visit to Mogadishu today to talk about how the U.S. can help the Somalis fight piracy. But the fact that his plane was shot at only proves how difficult a situation we are walking into.
If we have learned anything about Somali over the last two decades, surely it is that military escalation (this one included) will inevitably breed more chaos. And if we have learned anything about the pirates, it is that chaos on land breeds impunity at sea.
Photo: MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
Mike Allen of Politico's Playbook fame seconds our idea of renaming the pirates. "Pirates go from curiosity to crisis for 1600 and the Pentagon," his headline screamed, the suggestion of renaming them "maritime terrorists" within.
Matt Yglesias criticizes the letter of the suggestion, if not the spirit, with the rather unimpeachable logic that pirates are...pirates.
The point I made last week -- that calling pirates "pirates" allows for a certain romanticization and fueled a media frenzy which too often overlooked the realities of the situation and the circumstance of failed-state Somalia -- thankfully seems passe.
This weekend's rescue, which involved U.S. naval warships, millions of dollars, and pirate and civilian deaths, spurred an examination of the why and how behind the pirates. The sheen's worn off. They're criminals and a security concern. They redouble Somalia's problems.
Or, as someone will inevitably put it somewhere on the internet: pirates totally jumped the shark.
There's a lot of competition for top crises these days -- what with Somali pirates going overboard, Pakistan and Afghansitan looking increasingly perilous, Mexico's chaos scarily peering over the border...
But I vote for adding Nigeria to that very pressing list of concerns.
A new report released today, puts last year's death toll from unrest in the oil-producing Niger Delta region at 1,000. The almost-guerrilla war dragged the economy down by $20.7 billion in lost oil revenue, with little sign of abating in 2009. With oil prices already lower, government revenues are falling. More worrisome -- the rebels in that region who earn most of their cash from oil bunkering will be short on dough, inspiring more of the kidnappings-for-ransom that already breached the 300 mark in 2008. NGO workers on the ground tell me that things will really heat up if the prices (or the oil production levels) drop much lower.
To add another twist, the main rebel group in the region, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), today e-mailed a statement rejecting an amnesty offer that members of the ruling party allegedly proposed. In classic form, the rejection is colorful:
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta rejects this evil agenda by the [ruling party] PDP and its cohorts and vow never to sell our birth right [to Nigeria's oil] for a bowl of porridge."
The deal itself was even more interesting: the government would provide fighter amnesty, prisoner release, and huge payouts to MEND in exchange for a rebel promise to help rig the coming elections in favor of the ruling party. That offer may well be an exaggeration on the part of the rebel spokesman. Then again, given Nigeria's rather wretched election history... it might not.
Why should this mess end up in the top echelon of global worries? Don't forget: Nigeria is the third largest oil supplier to the United States. And when regional powerhouses go down in flames, it can't bode well for any of the unlucky neighbors -- many of whom are recovering from their own bouts of conflict.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP
The United States is scrambling this morning to save a hostaged captain from Somali pirates -- calling in back up that includes FBI hostage negotiators, more warships, and just about every high-profile military and diplomatic figure who will reassure the American press. The drama is being scrupulously reported elsewhere (most recent update: the pirates want booty), so I'll save you the repetition.
I'm interested in a different question: Just how exactly have pirates managed to out-scramble the world's top navy? If neither the U.S. Navy, nor the EU, NATO, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian vessels were able to spot this pirate attacker coming on the vast seas... how do the Somali pirates find the ships they hijack? In theory, the sea is equally vast and equally sparsely populated on both sides of the looking glass.
One interesting theory comes from NightWatch:
Several commentators highlighted the changed tactics by which some Somali pirate groups manage to seize ships far from the coast. What they do not provide is the hypothesis that this proves the existence of a well organized criminal syndicate with modern communications that link pirates to agents in port authorities from
Kenyato the Suez Canal. The business is too big and rich to fail simply because modern frigates are present.
It makes good sense. Why? Pirates have money and they can pay for tips. Port authorities, particularly in Kenya, are likely paid irregularly and poorly (particularly in comparison to pirate rates). The pirates have also shown that they are willing and able to infiltrate government authorities -- as they often do in their home in Puntland, Somalia.
No good news there. Cracking down on internal corruption among port authorities would be about as easy as, say, stopping a piracy epidemic in the Gulf of Aden.
Photo: U.S. Navy
Somehow I don't think this suggestion from Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is going to go very far:
"I cannot condone violations of our sovereignty even when they are done by allies and friends. We would much prefer that the US share its intelligence and give us the drones and missiles that will allow us to take care of this problem on our own."
This morning, Politico reports on a Rasmussen poll taken two days before North Korea's botched rocket launch. The release leads with the alarming line: "Fifty-seven percent (57%) of U.S. voters nationwide favor a military response to eliminate North Korea’s missile launching capability."
The poll shows that both genders support military intervention equally, and that two-thirds of Republicans and just over half of Democrats do. Only 15 percent oppose it.
Still, it's not convincing evidence that most Americans are clamoring to send in the troops. The question read:
If North Korea launches a long-range missile, should the United States take military action to eliminate North Korea's ability to launch missiles?
Thus far, North Korea hasn't shown a lot of success with long-range missiles. The question also came immediately after one about concern over North Korea's nuclear capacity.
The most interesting finding of the poll, perhaps, shows a 14-point drop in people considering North Korea an enemy, and a massive skew along political lines over whether the Stalinist collectivist state is an enemy, ally, or something in between:
Sixty-four percent (64%) of Republicans consider North Korea an enemy of the United States. That view is shared by 50% of unaffiliateds and 28% of Democrats. Most Democrats (57%) place North Korea somewhere between ally and enemy.
Photo: Flickr user Borut Peterlin
Der Spiegel is reporting that a raid by U.S. Delta Force commandos in Northern Afghanistan this month was set up by an Afghan drug clan to eliminate a rival:
The Americans stormed a guesthouse belonging to the local mayor, who had previously been friendly towards German forces, killing his driver, cook and bodyguard, as well as two of his guests. The US commandos also seized four people. According to the US military, one of those captured was the "target" of the operation, a "high-ranking" member of the terrorist organization al-Qaida.
However, sources in the intelligence community have told SPIEGEL that the US forces were apparently used by a drug clan to take out one of its rivals, who was reportedly one of the men who was killed or detained. The tip-off regarding the location of the al-Qaida terrorist had come from a source close to a member of the Afghan government in Kabul who is reputed to be deeply involved with the illegal drugs trade in Afghanistan.
The German forces who operate in the area are now furious that they're being blamed for the incident.
With a NATO summit being held later this week, Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany will step up its training of Afghan police but ruled out committing more troops.
John Moore/Getty Images
Over at The Atlantic, Marc Ambinder offers a peek into President Barack Obama's Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy -- to be unveiled tomorrow. Among the highlights:
In what appears to be a response, the U.S. Navy is keeping a pair of destroyers in the East Sea, following joint exercises with the South Koreans. At least one of those ships, the USS John S. McCain, is capable of shooting down ballistic missiles.
The North Korean space launch vehicle, dubbed the Unha-2, is supposedly derived from the TaepoDong 2 (TD-2) missile. Pyongyang has been developing the thing since the 90s, but has never successfully shot one off. If that's right, it means the North Korean launcher is substantially bigger than the one Iran used. Tehran's Safir-2 has a mass of 26 tons. The Union of Concerned Scientists' David Wright thinks the TD-2 is more like 80 tons, more than three times the mass. (MIT's Geoffrey Forden comes up with a similar figure.)
If those estimates are on target, it means that a successful North Korean missile test could be much more destabilizing than the Iranian launch. Forden calculates it could send a "1000 kilogram warhead over the pole a distance of almost 12,000 kilometers," or 7,200 miles. The satellite the Iranians put in orbit was only 27 kilograms. And, of course, Kim Jong-Il already has nukes; the mullahs don't, yet.
The A.P. reports:
Two U.S. Navy vessels—a nuclear-powered submarine and an amphibious ship—collided before dawn Friday in the mouth of the Persian Gulf, one of the world's most important sea passages for oil supplies.
There was no damage to the sub's nuclear propulsion system and no disruption to shipping in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world's oil passes, said Navy spokesman Lt. Nate Christensen, with the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet.
Still, the unusual collision between members of the same navy sparked a sudden rise in oil prices—which had been declining on the day—even though the strait remained open. [...]
The incident occurred around 1:00 a.m. local time Friday (5 p.m. EDT, Thursday), when the USS Hartford, a submarine, and the USS New Orleans, an amphibious ship, collided into each other in the narrow Strait of Hormuz, the 5th Fleet said in a statement.
This is the second collision involving nuclear submarines in as many months. In February, British and French subs carrying nuclear warheads bumped into each other in the North Atlantic. Here's what Ian Bremmer wrote about that crash over at The Call:
First, this is not as unlikely an accident as you might think. These subs tend to pass through regions of the Atlantic where the Gulf Stream is strongest and they're, therefore, hardest to detect.
Second, both countries are extremely secretive about the positions of their submarines. On board, only the captain and senior officers generally know with much precision where they are. France will finally rejoin NATO's military structures this April, but that's unlikely to make them any more forthcoming about the nuclear submarine force.
Finally, stealth sonar technology works. Neither of the submarines would have detected the other--even at close quarters. These are the main reasons why this collision was merely really, really, really unlikely rather than virtually impossible.
Sounds reasonable. But I would imagine that it's even more unlikely for a submarine to crash into a ship from its own navy on the surface. The New Orleans doesn't look all that stealthy.
In case you missed it, Laura Rozen has updated her already blockbuster Cable post from yesterday on Christopher Hill's delayed appointment as Iraq ambassador with a devastating on-the-record quote from Defense Secretary Robert Gates' chief spokesman. Here's what Geoffrey Morrell had to say about the senators holding up Hill's confirmation:
“Generals Odierno and Petraeus have come out very publicly and very forcefully in support of Amb. Hill’s nomination. I know they support it. They know him from previous assignments, they like him, they believe he is well suited to the job and are anxiously awaiting his confirmation because they do need help, frankly. ...It’s what’s in the best interest of the Iraqi people and the American people.
“With regards to [Senate] members who have issues with him, I would say this," Morrell added. “We appreciate their steadfast support of the Iraq mission. But you can’t be bullish in support of that mission and not send an ambassador in a timely fashion.”
Just a few week's after the close encounter between Chinese naval vessels and the USN Impeccable, China has announced that it is converting old ships in order to boos the number of naval patrols in the South China sea:
Wu Zhuang, director of the Administration of Fishery and Fishing Harbour Supervision of the South China Sea, said: “China will make the best use of its naval ships and may also build more fishery patrol ships, depending on the need.”
He did not specify if the boats would be armed when they are sent out into a region of atolls, islands and reefs that are some or all disputed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. The boats will be sailing in some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. More than half the globe’s oil tanker traffic passes through the South China Sea since it offers the shortest route between the Pacific and Indian oceans for ships bringing energy from the Middle East to China and Japan.
Mr Wu said that the situation in the region was becoming increasingly complicated. "Faced with a growing amount of illegal fishing and other countries' unfounded territorial claims of islands in China’s exclusive economic zone, it has become necessary to step up the fishery administration's patrols to protect China’s rights and interests.”
As James Kraska and Brian Wilson wrote on FP's The Argument last week, China is currently engaged in a campaign to redefine international law to give it exclusive navigational rights in its "exclusive economic zone". So far, the battles have mostly been fought at international law conferences and symposia, but China seems to be increasingly taking its fight to the high seas.
Some fantastic (and alarming) pictures emerging from the coup that isn't officially a coup in Madagascar...
Soldiers loyal to the opposition broke into the office of the president, who had earlier sought refuge outside the capital. The president has now officially stepped down, handing over the reins to the military until the political crisis can be resolved.
The soldiers used tanks in the military take over of the presidential offices as well as the central bank.
Crowds have filled the streets of the capital in Antananarivo.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Andry Rajoelina is living up the moment... he better enjoy it, as governing the now divided country will not be nearly as fun as his former gig as a radio DJ.
After several months of opposition protests, now, Madagascar president Marc Ravalomanana has been forced to camp outside of the capital while tanks and gunmen break into his presidential compound. Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina has proclaimed himself leader, having appointed prime ministers and a cabinet. And he has called for the current president's arrest with the apparent support of at least part of the army.
Rajoelina claims all this is not a coup d'etat, but... can he suggest a better name?
Desperate to improve things, President Ravalomana offered to call an election over the weekend -- letting the voters decide who is really in change. Rajoelina, however, looks in no mood to negotiate. This wave of popular support is probably the best shot he has at power, and the opposition is keen to ride it to its fullest. African Union and United Nations calls for calm are falling on deaf ears.
What next? A worst case scenario will see a coup -- and one that promises to be bloody. On top of the 100 already killed in protests, more would certainly fall victim to the president's toppling. Ravalomanana supporters are gathering sticks and makeship weapons to defend his final stand outside the city.
The worse case could also see the exit of some of Madagascar's recent international investors -- mining companies and Korean giant Daewoo. Now is not the best time to be losing foreign cash, as developing countries are expected to see a $700 billion shortfall in the financial crisis. But somehow, I doubt all that is on Rajoelina's mind. He has a different kind of capital control to worry about.
In a press release, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice announce the withdrawal of the "enemy combatant" definition of Gitmo detainees. The memo says that, under President Obama's orders, the department is reviewing detention policy:
In a filing today with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice submitted a new standard for the government’s authority to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The definition does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’s specific authorization. It draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase "enemy combatant."
The Department also submitted a declaration by Attorney General Eric Holder stating that, under executive orders issued by President Obama, the government is undertaking an interagency review of detention policy for individuals captured in armed conflicts or counterterrorism operations as well as a review of the status of each detainee held at Guantanamo. The outcome of those reviews may lead to further refinements of the government’s position as it develops a comprehensive policy.
The memo states that the government will no longer detain combatants who provided "insignificant or insubstantial" support to al Qaeda or the Taliban. (The Bush administration came under fierce criticism for holding persons with little or no connection to the terrorist organizations.) More than 200 remain incarcerated at Camp Delta; it's unclear if any -- or how many -- will be released under the new legal standards.
Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
Keeping up their reputation for packing the latest and greatest high-tech pirate-fighting gear, U.S. forces and their European allies are sprearheading a computer-based coordination system meant to allign the efforts of an entire coalition of navies working in the region. Instant messages (not all that different from your Gchat dispatches) convey the positions of pirate-fighting ships, reports of incidents and threats, and incoming intelligence. So popular are the coordination systems that even Chinese and independent and vessels are signing on.
Something the coalition is doing seems to be working; pirates' boat seizures have fallen noticeably from their peak last fall. Still, the anti-piracy push is not out of the woods. Bad weather so far this year is one explanation for the slowdown, the AP reports. Asian countries seem to recognize this and have dug in their heels. Japan sent its first vessels this week, and China announced that its 800-soldier anti-piracy mission was in for the long haul.
Of course, real military success on the high seas will depend heavily on the situation on land in Somalia. No instant gratification there (or instant messaging for that matter), but as FP found out in Seven Questions this week, at least there's a squint of hope...
In the long meantime, the Navy will be online.
The Obama administration may actually dodge a battle over that Air Force refueling tanker controversy that former Undersecretary of Defense Jacques Gansler weighed in on for FP by simply not buying it at all. Of course, this is going to set off an even bigger battle with congress. CQ's Josh Rogin reports:
The White House has given the Pentagon guidance to delay procurement of aerial refueling tankers by five years and cancel plans for a new long-range bomber, according to three sources close to the discussions. [...]
If OMB’s recommendations are enacted, the largest battle in Congress will be over the Air Force’s contract for a new fleet of midair refueling tankers, which the Pentagon delayed last September following a protest backed by the Government Accountability Office.
The competition, which ultimately will be worth as much as $100 billion, has pitted Boeing Co. against a consortium of Northrop Grumman Corp. and the North American arm of the European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co.
Lawmakers from states representing both companies reacted with dismay to the prospect that the tanker competition could be delayed again, especially for five years.
Sen. Jeff Sessions , R-Ala., said Congress would fight back against a delay in the tanker contract if it is submitted in the formal budget request. The Northrop Grumman contender for the contract would be assembled largely in his state.
“For a group who has been in the OMB for just a matter of weeks to come in and suggest the cancellation of the No. 1 Air Force priority for procurement is stunning, and I don’t think Congress will accept that,” Sessions said.
Sen. Sam Brownback , R-Kan., whose state would benefit if Boeing won the contract, called the OMB guidance “deeply disturbing
I'm not enough of an expert to know how much the Air Force actually needs this tanker (and they seem pretty unlikely to give a straight answer on budget questions) but I do wish the U.S. had a procurement strategy aimed at getting the military the best equipment for the best price rather than getting congressmen reelected.
(Hat tip: Danger Room)
Last night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow interviewed the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano. Her first question: Should her job even exist, or should the 22 federal agencies and 200,000 employees under the D.H.S. banner disaggregate?
Napolitano, the former governor of border-state Arizona, didn't get defensive at Maddow's question, she just calmly explained her plans for the agency. Surprisingly her top priority seems to be Mexico.
Sounding sensibly hawkish, Napolitano stressed the importance of federal agencies working together to systematically to stop the flow of guns and money south and give Mexican authorities the shot in the arm they desperately need.
What's so weird about this? Two things.
First, Janet Napolitano is the secretary of homeland security, not defense or state. But rather than ineptly responding to natural disasters and taking a lot of flak for airport lines, Napolitano has taken leadership over the U.S. response to the burgenoning crisis, which may include sending troops across the border. She's acted as point-person for local politicians and leadership from the White House, State, Defense, and the Attorney General's office. Texas Governor Rick Perry turned to her to ask for a thousand more troops.
Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
One European company seems to be surviving the global economic downturn just fine. EADS, the pan-European aerospace conglomerate best known as the parent company of Airbus, has recovered from a dismal 2007 to record a $2 billion profit in 2008.
Travis Sharp's new piece for FP, might offer a hint for why things are looking up for EADS. While the world's economy contracts, countries everywhere are investing in expensive military systems like those built by EADS:
Despite its overwhelming dominance in overall spending, the United States did not have the fastest growing defense budget in the world between 2005 and 2007, the most recent period for which an accurate assessment is possible. That distinction belongs to Kazakhstan, which saw its defense budget increase by 84 percent. Other countries with booming budgets during this period included Angola (80 percent), Ukraine (57 percent), Jordan (57 percent), and Slovakia (55 percent). The United States, China, and Russia had more modest growth rates of 17 percent, 27 percent, and 33 percent, respectively.
But EADS's good times may not last forever, particularly if U.S. Democrats enact "Buy American" policies to limit the amount of equipment the U.S. military buys from overseas. The main flashpoint for this debate is an Air Force refueling tanker contract that Airbus and U.S. rival Boeing have been fighting over for years with Congress acting as an increasingly incompetent referee. Former Undersecretary of Defense Jacques Gansler believes military protectionism is bad for dense and ultimately bad for the economy:
The Defense Department is not a social welfare organization, and its sole responsibility is to supply U.S. war fighters with the best equipment at the best price. Luckily, though, these two goals aren't mutually exclusive: Military globalization is in fact a blessing for Americans.
The United States is still the world's largest military customer, and it's in the interest of international weapons manufacturers to do business where the buyers are. In the past decade, a number of major international firms have set up shop in the United States. In fact, the Northrop deal would have created tens of thousands of U.S. jobs.
JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
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