Reporting on the launch of the new congressional "sovereignty caucus," a group of GOP senators opposed to international law and institutions, David Weigel writes about how the confirmation battle over Harold Koh could set the stage for a confrontation over the long-debated Law of the Sea treaty and a few others:
While Republicans and conservative activists were disappointed by the confirmation of Koh, the long delay leading up to the vote and its relative closeness — 65 to 31 to end debate on the nomination and 62-35 to confirm him — have boosted their hopes of successfully battling treaties that they characterize as threats to American rights and national interests. Treaties need the votes of 67 senators to be ratified, and can gum up the business of the Senate for weeks if they become flash points for controversy. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, for example, has convinced Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) — a member of the House Sovereignty Caucus — to introduce a Constitutional amendment protecting the right of American parents to discipline their children and send them to religious schools.
Those hopes are likely to be tested at least twice this year. According to staffers for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or the Law of the Sea Treaty — a 1982 treaty that governs the right of countries to use the oceans — could be reintroduced next month. And President Obama is in Russia this week in part to move forward the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the 1996 agreement on weapons testing that was rejected by the Senate in 1999, when the upper chamber contained 55 Republicans and 45 Democrats. Of the 16 treaties that the State Department included on its priority list in a May 11 letter to the committee, both sides agree that these two will be the first to face full votes. And both sides agree that the Koh vote provided a good idea of the support these treaties might command from a very skeptical Senate Republican conference.
“The vote against Harold Koh is probably the minimum vote against both of those treaties,” said John Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush, and who has been a forceful critic of both treaties. “I think that a lot of Republicans, whether they agreed or disagreed with Koh’s views, basically agreed that president had the right to appoint his own team. Whether they would also support these treaties, given their concerns about national sovereignty, is another question.”
Commander James Kraska of the Naval War College made the case for Law of the Sea on FP back in February, arguing that by holding up ratification, congress is only aiding China's efforts to unilaterally redefine international law. Law of the Sea is just one of those issues doomed by the fact that not that many people care about it, but those who, care about it a lot.
During the past two weeks, diplomats and experts have continued to watch nervously as a U.S. destroyer has shadowed the North Korean transport ship Kang Nam 1. Now, the ship has apparently turned around -- and nobody in the U.S. defense establishment knows what to make of it.
U.S. officials said Tuesday that a North Korean ship has turned around and is headed back toward the north where it came from, after being tracked for more than a week by American Navy vessels on suspicion of carrying illegal weapons.
The move keeps the U.S. and the rest of the international community guessing: Where is the Kang Nam going? Does its cargo include materials banned by a new U.N. anti-proliferation resolution?[...]
The U.N. resolution allows the international community to ask for permission to board and search any suspect ship on the seas. If permission for inspection is refused, authorities can ask for an inspection in whichever nation where the ship pulls into port.
North Korea has said it would consider any interception of its ships a declaration of war.
Two officials had said earlier in the day Tuesday that the Kang Nam had been moving very slowly in recent days, something that could signal it was trying to conserve fuel.
They said they didn't know what the turnaround of the ship means, nor what prompted it.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said Sunday that Washington was "following the progress of that ship very closely," but she would not say whether the U.S. would confront the Kang Nam.
Even before the unexpected reverse in course, some in Washington were beginning to doubt the whole operation:
Inside the White House, they are beginning to call it "The Cruise to Nowhere."
For more than two weeks now, White House officials have been receiving frequent updates on a rusting North Korean ship, the Kang Nam 1, as it makes its way dead-slow across the South China Sea. Earlier this month, Mr. Obama's aides thought the aging hulk - with its long rap sheet for surreptitious deliveries of missiles and arms - would be the first test of a United Nations Security Council resolution giving countries the right to hail suspect shipments, and order them to a nearby port for inspection.
But now some top officials in the Obama administration are beginning to wonder whether Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, ordered the Kang Nam 1 out on a fishing expedition - in hopes that a new American president will be his first catch.
"The whole thing just doesn't add up," said one senior administration official who has been tracking the cargo ship's lazy summer journey. "My worry is that we make a big demand about seeing the cargo, and then there's a tense standoff, and when it's all over we discover that old man Kim set us up to look like George Bush searching for nonexistent W.M.D."
With this kind of "made-you-look" trickery, perhaps Kim Jong Il has been taking lessons from Lucy van Pelt.
KHIN MAUNG WIN/AFP/Getty Images
As I wrote yesterday, one of the nice things about the post-Cold War era is that the leaders of military coups can no longer count on U.S. or Soviet support purely on the basis of ideology, and therefore, even in the rare instance that they do still succeed, have less of a chance of establishing dictatorships. Evidently, however, however, coup-plotters can still count on Charles Krauthammer's support.
The Washington Post columnist and Fox News commentator attacks the Obama administration in the above clip for taking the side of ousted leftist leader Manuel Zelaya and reccomends the following bizarre rule of thumb for U.S. Latin America policy:
Whenever you find yourself on the side of Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega and the Castro twins, you ought to reexamine your assumptions.
Well, ok. But what if you also find yourself on the side of reliably pro-American conservatives like Colombia's Alvaro Uribe and Mexico's Felipe Calderon as well as influential moderate leftist leaders like Brazil's Lula Inacio da Silva, Argentina's Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Chile's Michelle Bachelet? Perhaps then you might come to the conclusion that the U.S. position on the events in Honduras should be decided not on where the players involved fall in the zero-sum, dialectical struggle for Latin America's soul, but whether this is really the best way to protect the country's democracy and the stability of the region.
Brooking Institution scholar and former Costa Rican minister of planning Kevin Casas Zamora, no fan of Zelaya, came to this conclusion in a piece for FP yesterday:
An illegal referendum has met an illegal military intervention, with the avowed intention of protecting the Constitution. Zelaya's civilian opponents, meanwhile, are celebrating. For the past week, the Honduran Congress has waxed lyrical about the armed forces as the guarantors of the Constitution, a disturbing notion for Latin Americans. At the very least, we are witnessing in Honduras the return of the unfortunate role of the military as the ultimate referee in political conflicts among civilian leaders, a huge step back in the region's consolidation of democracy.
That's why Zelaya, though he bears by far the greater responsibility for this crisis, must be reinstated in his position as the legitimate president of Honduras. The Organization of American States, the neighboring countries, and the U.S. government (which is still enormously influential in Honduras) should demand no less. They should also call upon all political actors in Honduras to take a deep breath and do what mature democracies do: allow the law to deal with those who try to step outside it. If Zelaya must be prosecuted for his harebrained attempt to subvert the Honduran Constitution, then let the courts proceed as rigorously as possible. And the same applies to the coup perpetrators. If Honduras is to have a decent future, its politicians and soldiers, in equal measure, must learn that the road to democracy and development runs through the rule of law.
Or you could just keep pretending that the Soviets are on the verge of taking over Latin America.
"Today, to be very blunt with you, I personally, and the leadership of my country is worried ... about the direction of your country and your future." ...
"The only real future is to join Europe," Biden said. "Right now you are off that path. You can follow this path to Europe or you can take an alternative path. You have done it before," Biden said, referring to the 1992-95 war.
"Failure to do so will ensure you remain among the poorest countries in Europe. At worst, you'll descend into ethnic chaos that defined your country for the better part of a decade."
The parliamentarians apparently cheered at the end of the speech, but given that Biden is already not exactly loved by ethnic Serbs who resent the strong anti-Serbian stance he took during the 1990s, I'm not sure that this kind of lecture is exactly productive.
What the vice president said is probably correct (and as Edward Joseph points out, he's probably the only one in a position to say it) but this is precisely the sort of thing you normally say in a closed-door meeting with a country's leaders, not in a public address before its parliament.
Biden's boss said last month that the United States has, in the past, "shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive" toward Europe and vowed to change the tone. But Biden essentially telling Bosnia to follow his recommendations or continue to be known as a violent, poverty-stricken hellhole is American arrogance of near-Rumsfeldian levels and seems very much at odds with the administration's stated approach to foreign policy.
Despite budget cutbacks at the foreign affairs ministry, Israel has announced that it will open an embassy in Turkmenistan following a round of secret talks. In addition to being a major source of natural gas, Turkmenistan shares a border with Iran.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has shown an interest in expanding Israel's footprint in Central Asia before, leading delegations to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan while he was interior minister. Israel is keen to promote security ties with Central Asian states to limit Iran's regional influence.
The U.S. has been making moves in the 'stans this week as well. As mentioned in yesterday's morning brief, the U.S. will once again be supplying troops Afghanistan through Uzbekistan, with an assist from South Korea. Josh Kucera also reports that the new State Department budget includes major aid increases for Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, with an eye on keeping supply lines to Afghanistan open.
Here at FP, we watched U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. John Kerry's speeches at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference. We parsed the response to the two-state solution proffered by both. We considered their call for a settlement-freeze. We read about Netanyahu's reception.
Israel and Palestine -- and AIPAC especially -- tend to be tinder-box issues, and we expected to find ourselves amid some policy or defense discussion (flamewar?) in the blogosphere.
Oddly, what we noticed most was the sound of crickets.
Why the silence? Barack Obama isn't speaking (the big reason for last year's spike), The Israel Lobby is old news, there's relatively little violence between Israel and its neighbors, and the Israeli elections are over; plus, no one has yet said anything too contentious. The issues that make AIPAC's conference hot are, for the moment, relatively cool.
An extremely unofficial measurement of the response -- Google Trends -- seems to bear the observation out.
The Washington Post mothership has put up a very interesting piece from CFR's Julia Sweig scheduled for this Sunday's Outlook section which proposes a novel idea for breaking the U.S. stalemate with Cuba, giving them back Guantanamo Bay:
Whatever Guantanamo's minor strategic value to the United States for processing refugees or as a counter-narcotics outpost, the costs of staying permanently -- with the stain of the prisons, the base's imperial legacy and the animosity of the host government -- outweigh the benefits.
The time to begin this transition is now. By transforming Guantanamo as part of a broader remaking of Washington's relationship with Cuba, the Obama administration can begin fixing what the president himself has decried as a "failed" policy. It can upend a U.S.-Cuban stalemate that has barely budged for 50 years and can put to the test Raul Castro's stated willingness to entertain meaningful changes.
Returning Guantanamo Bay to full Cuban sovereignty and control is a win for the United States: Aside from the boon to America's credibility with the Cuban people and throughout Latin America, these first steps would probe the Cuban government's apparent disposition to use the base as a point of contact with the United States -- and gauge the regime's willingness to move the ball forward even more.
"As a president, I say the U.S. should go. As a military man, I say let them stay," Raul Castro quipped last year. It's hard to know exactly what he means. Floating these proposals would be a good way to find out.
I don't completely understand Sweig's desire to "test" or "guage" Raul Castro's intentions. The Obama administration's recent moves to lift some restrictions on Cuba could be viewed as a test as well, and Raul Castro has dismissed them as minimal and indicated no intention of reciprocating with political reforms. Following up minor concessions on travel and money transfers with something as big as closing Guantanamo would be a bit like handing a teenager the keys to a Porsche after he crashes the family station wagon.
The best case for engagement with Cuba is not that it will turn the island into a democarcy (it most likely won't) it's that after five decades we can fairly safely say that not engaging them isn't accomplishing a whole lot. Likewise, if, as Sweig argues, the U.S. presence in Guantanamo has outlived its strategic usefulness and serves only as a diplomatic and public relations liability, that alone seems reason enough to close it.
In any event, I'd be interested to see the military's case for why the base remains necessary.
Brennan Linsley-Pool/Getty Images
With a hat-tip to our incoming intern Michael Wilkerson, here's tape of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defending the Bush administration enhanced interrogation policies -- which she insists never led to torture -- speaking off-the-cuff at a Stanford University dorm. Here's a really quick transcript [updated] -- will correct for word-errors:
How are we supposed to continue promoting America as this guiding light of democracy and how are we supposed to win hearts and minds in the world as long as we continue with these actions?
Well, first of all, you do what's right. That's the most important thing -- that you make a judgment of what's right. And in terms of enhanced interrogation, and rendition, and all the issues around the detainees. Abu Ghraib is, and everyone said, Abu Ghraib was not policy. Abu Ghraib was wrong and nobody would argue with...
Except that information that's come out since then speaks against that.
No, no, no -- the information that's come out since then continues to say that Abu Ghraib was wrong. Abu Ghraib was. But in terms of the enhanced interrogation and so forth, anything that was legal and was going to make this country safer, the president wanted to do. Nothing that was illegal. And nothing that was going to make the country less safe.
And I'll tell you something. Unless you were there in a position of responsibility after September 11th, you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas that you faced in trying to protect Americans. And I know a lot of people are second-guessing now, but let me tell you what the second-guessing that would really have hurt me -- if the second-guessing had been about 3,000 more Americans dying because we didn't do everything we could to protect them.
If you were there in a position of authority, and watched Americans jump out of 80-story buildings because these murderous tyrants went after innocent people, then you were determined to do anything that you could that was legal to prevent that from happening again. And so I think people do understand that.
Now, as to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and so forth -- I agree with you. We have tried to use the trafficking in persons and all of those measures, human rights reports and so forth, to put a spotlight on the kinds of problems that you have in places like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Oman or other places. But you can't -- you don't have the luxury in foreign policy of saying, alright, I won't deal with that country because I don't like its human rights record. You don't have that luxury. So if you need Saudi Arabia to fight al Qaeda internally -- which is by the way where al Qaeda came from -- or if you need Saudi Arabia to be part of a coalition that's going to help bring a Palestinian state, you can't decide not to deal with Saudi Arabia because of its problems with human rights. Or, if you need to make sure that the Gulf is safe from Iranian influence -- you want to talk about human rights abusers? -- Iran.
I'm well aware.
I'm well aware.
So, foreign policy is full of tough choices. Very tough choices. The world is not a bunch of easy choices in which you get to make ones that always feel good.
I'm aware, but...[I'm sorry, we have to move]
Let him finish, let him finish.
Even in World War II, as we faced Nazi Germany -- probably the greatest threat that America has ever faced -- even then...
With all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States.
No, but they bombed our allies...
No. Just a second. Three thousand Americans died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
500,000 died in World War II, and yet we did not torture the prisoners of war.
And we didn't torture anybody here either. Alright?
We tortured them in Guantanamo Bay.
No, no dear, you're wrong. Alright. You're wrong. We did not torture anyone. And Guantanamo Bay, by the way, was considered a model "medium security prison" by representatives of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe who went there to see it. Did you know that?
Were they present for the interrogations?
No. Did you know that the Organization -- just answer me -- did you know that the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe said Guantanamo was a model medium security prison?
No, but I feel that changes nothing...
No -- Did you know that?
I did not know that, but that changes absolutely nothing.
Alright, no -- if you didn't know that, maybe before you make allegations about Guantanamo you should read.
Now, the ICRC also had access to Guantanamo, and they made no allegations about interrogations at Guantanamo. What they did say is that they believe indefinite detention, where people didn't know whether they'd come up for trial, which is why we tried with the military commissions system to let people come up for trial. Those trials were stayed by whom? Who kept us from holding the trials?
I can't answer that question.
Do your homework first.
I have a question...
Yes. The Supreme Court.
I read a recent report, recently, that said that you did a memo, you were the one who authorized torture to the -- I'm sorry, not torture, waterboarding. Is waterboarding torture?
The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations, under the Convention Against torture. So that's -- and by the way, I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency. That they had policy authorization subject to the Justice Department's clearance. That's what I did.
Okay. Is waterboarding torture?
I just said -- the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Conventions Against Torture.
That's the most articulated defense of enhanced interrogation -- now, we call it torture -- we have from a high-ranking Bush official.
Hamas, in the eyes of the United States government, is a terrorist organization. It is illegal for the Palestinian Islamist party to receive American aid because it fails to meet three criteria established by U.S. law: it refuses to acknowledge Israel, renounce violence, or abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. In the event of the formation of a coalition government between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, this fact would prevent American aid from being delivered to the PA. To sidestep this problem, Secretary of State Clinton pressed Congress last week to amend a law, in order to keep money flowing to the PA should there be a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
The Obama administration’s plan would allow the PA to receive American aid as long as the Hamas members of the coalition government met America’s three criteria, even if Hamas as an organization did not. Clinton noted that the United States continues to provide aid to the Lebanese government, despite the fact that Hezbollah is a member. She argued that cutting all of America’s financial strings to the PA would deprive it of the ability to affect a gradual change in Hamas’s behavior.
In addition to an ethical dilemma, this scheme also presents a bevy of political ones. Opinions of Democratic and Republican members of Congress have ranged from skeptical to hostile, with one Republican Congressmen describing it as similar to supporting a government “that only has a few Nazis in it.” An anonymous Israeli political source stated that the proposal was “painful and worrying.”
Obama deserves credit for bravery in putting forth a plan which will inevitably be portrayed as benefiting Hamas, an organization easily and deservedly vilified. However, the widening rift between the rival Palestinian factions makes the question of a unity government purely hypothetical, and suggests that Obama’s plan will have a greater impact in Washington and Jerusalem than it ever will in Ramallah.
In 2007, Kiriakou famously went on television to describe waterboarding, and discussed the single incidence in which Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded. After just 30 or 35 seconds, Kiriakou said, Zubaydah started singing and never needed to be tortured again.
But Kiriakou wasn't there for the waterboarding -- he was half a world away, in Langley -- and Zubaydah was waterboarded more than 80 times. The New York Times first noted the difference in the two stories.
I remember wondering at the time why Kirkiakou was allowed to come forward and talk about interrogations so sensitive the Bush administration created a special "top secret" designation for them. Why didn't the CIA revoke his pension and prosecute him for leaking?
The New York Times writes:
The C.I.A., which considered legal action against Mr. Kiriakou for divulging classified information, said last week that he "was not - and is not - authorized to speak on behalf of the CIA."
Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, said: "This agency did not publicly disclose the frequency with which the waterboard was used, noting only that it was employed with three detainees. If reporters got that wrong, they weren't misled from here."
The CIA didn't do much to repudiate or discredit Kiriakou at the time, despite the fact that he broke a central covenant of his profession. Here's the CIA response, as reported by ABC News:
The former CIA intelligence official who went public on ABC News about the agency's use of waterboarding in interrogations, John Kiriakou, apparently will not be the subject of a Justice Department investigation, even though some CIA officials believe he revealed classified information about the use of waterboarding.
"They were furious at the CIA this morning, but cooler heads have apparently prevailed for the time being," a senior Justice Department official told the Blotter on ABCNews.com.
Gen. Michael Hayden, the CIA director, did sent out a classified memo this morning warning all employees "of the importance of protecting classified information," a CIA spokesperson told ABCNews.com.
Had they wanted to silence or punish him, surely they could have. It all seems a bit strange to me, and leads to one obvious possibility: John Kiriakou -- telegenic and well-spoken John Kiriakou, who never went to jail for blasting state secrets on television -- was told the story to tell and released onto an unsuspecting public. It's an impression the CIA will have difficulty dulling now.
For, Kirkiakou went on to act as a "paid consultant" for ABC news after the interview, Laura reports.
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
For the past few days, FP's been calling and emailing some of our favorite foreign policy thinkers to get their grades on U.S. President Barack Obama's first 100 days in office. We have all the responses here, but here's a cheat-sheet of the marks:
Walter Russell Mead
Jose Manuel Calvo
Fawaz A. Gerges
Ted Galen Carpenter
Incomplete or None Given
David J. Kramer
We're getting more trickling in, and we'll be posting them on the blog, along with some of our favorite insightful foreign policy critiques.
What grade would you give Obama so far?
Torture: it's a byzantine tale that unraveled over the course of eight years, and is only reaching its denouement this week. There are two strands, both vitally important, to follow. One's the story of what happened and when (for that, see FP's torture timeline). The other is the story of when we knew it.
Indeed, this week, it seems like the torture story's just breaking through. But, allegations of abuse and even prisoner death started emerging as soon as the United States had prisoners in custody. And reporters have doggedly covered it since then.
One of the first Washington Post stories on the treatment of detainees from the War on Terror arrived in January 2002, just months after 9/11 and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Already, there were 158 detainees from 25 different countries held in Guantanamo Bay, and two congressional delegations had traveled there to review conditions. The detainees were getting 2,400 calories a day, the Post story reported. "Some of them are getting medical attention for the first time in their lives," Senator Bill Nelson proudly noted.
There were also already allegations of prisoner abuse. Photos showing bound, blindfolded, and shackled detainees on their knees appeared as soon as prisoners arrived in Gitmo -- the International Committee of the Red Cross censured the U.S. for the photos, which violated the Geneva Conventions.
The following month, in February, President George W. Bush issued an executive order denying detainees the privileges and protections of the Geneva Conventions. The United States started down the road that culminated in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram, and the black sites -- secret overseas prisons, in countries like Egypt, where prisoners were sent via "extraordinary rendition" and the worst detainee abuse may have happened.
Reports of U.S. soldiers abusing persons they detained in Afghanistan emerged that winter as well -- kicking and beating them after they'd already been shackled. The military went on the defensive. "I don't believe that any of the detainees...were subject to beatings or rough treatment after they were taken into custody," General Richard B. Myers told the New York Times. "All 27 detainees were medically screened upon arrival in Kandahar, and there were no issues of beatings or kickings or anything of that sort."
Over the next year, the trickle became a stream. The military admitted using harsh techniques on Abu Zubayda and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, high-ranking al Qaeda operatives we now know were repeatedly waterboarded.
At the time, officials told the New York Times "physical torture would not be used against Mr. Mohammed...They said his interrogation would rely on what they consider acceptable techniques like sleep and light deprivation and the temporary withholding of food, water, access to sunlight and medical attention."
It took the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, broken by veteran reporter Seymour Hersh and CBS News, to blow the door open -- that happened in April 2004.
It spawned a glut of media attention, as well as congressional hearings and a series of governmental reports: the Taguba report (on the Abu Ghraib scandal), the Schlesinger report (which described how harsh techniques from Afghanistan crept into Iraq), the Fay Jones report (on the Army personnel responsible for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib), the Church report (71 cases of abuse, six deaths). Over the next years came the Schmidt report (which said treatment at Guantanamo was humane, in 2005, after the waterboarding of Abu Zubayda and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed), as well as the Senate Armed Services Committee Report released this week.
So, most of the foundational reporting on torture happened in late 2003, 2004, and 2005 -- by reporters like Dana Priest of the Washington Post and Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, describing extraordinary rendition and the black site prisons.
But it's crucial to remember that a small group of reporters -- at the New York Times, McClatchy, the Washington Post, Time magazine, Newsweek magazine, and the New Yorker -- had the story before it was a story. They worked with a slight and growing handful of congressional, White House, military, Justice Department, legal, and other sources. They used a list-serv started by lawyers working on detainee cases to learn information. And they opened the door for Abu Ghraib to open the door further.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Lots of big, depressing, IMF-related news this morning:
I asked Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch and a former Clinton administration official, to work through some of the foreign policy implications of the newly released torture memos with me.
We discussed whether the Bush administration memos encouraged other countries to torture, or led to any global uptick in "enhanced interrogation" practices. "I've always tried to be careful not to suggest that countries like Egypt or China or Uzbekistan would be torturing more because the United States was setting a bad example. Obviously, dictatorships torture for their own reasons, and they didn't need [former U.S. President] George W. Bush to show them how," he says.
But, the Bush administration torture of detainees and disavowal of the Geneva Conventions did preclude diplomacy on many occasions, Malinowski says. He testified before the Helsinki Commission in 2007 to make the point:
A couple of years ago, Human Rights Watch was meeting with the Prime Minister of Egypt, and we raised a case in which hundreds of prisoners rounded up after a terrorist bombing were tortured by Egyptian security forces. The Prime Minister didn't deny the charge. He answered, "We're just doing what the United States does." We've had Guantanamo and the administration's interrogation policies thrown back in our face in meetings with officials from many other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and Lebanon. U.S. diplomats have told us they face the same problem. A U.S. ambassador to a leading Middle Eastern country, for example, has told us that he can no longer raise the issue of torture in that country as a result.
Malinowski says the detainee abuse made it difficult for the White House to negotiate any human rights provisions or issues, broadly. "Issues beyond torture were effected, because it enabled authoritarian governments to say, ‘You have no right to lecture us,'" he says. "They were delighted to tweak the United States on it."
The biggest offender? Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who Malinowski described as a "world champion" of chiding the United States via its own policies.
Nevertheless, Malinowski thinks that, despite the horrible details revealed by the Bush administration and International Committee of the Red Cross memos, ultimately their release is a very good thing for the Obama administration.
[Obama] can go to a country like Turkey or Indonesia or Egypt and say, "Look, I know what it's like to face real security threats, and we as Americans understand the temptation to give up some of our liberties and principles to defend ourselves against those threats. But what we've learned the hard way in the last eight years is that those liberties and principles actually make us stronger. You could learn from our example."
That's a much more effective way of arguing the point than going to those same countries and saying, look at our perfect system and our glorious morality, and maybe someday you can be as good as we are. So I think if he uses the experience as a cautionary tale, it will actually make our country a more effective and compelling champion of human rights around the world, ironically.
Here's to hoping so.
Photo: Entrance to Bagram Air Base by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Here at FP, we don't always pay much attention to U.S. domestic policy, obviously, and the tax-day tea parties confused us a bit. Why weren't the protesters dressed up as Native Americans (like in the Boston Tea Party) or Mad Hatters? Weren't top-bracket taxes higher under Reagan?
Regardless, we've glommed onto a U.S. domestic issue which suggests a foreign-policy disaster: the U.S. state of Texas threatening to secede. Texas Governor Rick Perry, angered, like the tea-bag-partiers, over Obama's spending and tax policies, has implied that Texas might leave the Union.
So what would Texas look like as a foreign country?
It would be the world's thirteenth largest economy -- bigger than South Korea, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia. But its worth would crater precipitously, after NAFTA rejected it and the United States slapped it with an embargo that would make Cuba look like a free-trade zone. Indeed, Texas would quick become the next North Korea, relying on foreign aid due to its insistence on relying on itself.
On the foreign policy front, a seceded Texas would suffer for deserting the world superpower. Obama wouldn't look kindly on secessionists, and would send in the military to tamp down rebellion. If Texas miraculously managed to hold its borders, Obama would not establish relations with the country -- though he might send a special rapporteur. (We nominate Kinky Friedman.)
So, Texas would need to court Mexico and Central American nations as a trading partners and protectors. Those very nations would also pose a host of problems for Texas. President Perry might find friends in anti-U.S. nations like Venezuela and Cuba, but their socialist politics would rankle the libertarian nation.
And Texas would become a conduit for drugs moving north to the United States from Mexico, maybe even becoming a narco-state. It would need to invest heavily in its own military and policing force to stop drug violence within its borders -- taking away valuable resources from, oh, feeding its people, fending off U.S. border incursions, and improving its standing in the world.
In short: the state of Texas would rapidly become direly impoverished, would need to be heavily armed, and would be wracked with existential domestic and foreign policy threats. It would probably make our failed states list in short order. Probably better to pay the damn taxes.
And of course -- Texas isn't seceding. Only regions in civil war or self-governing areas in very weak states manage independence. Perry was floating a piece of asinine political rhetoric, running a heated race against fellow Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson and courting small-government conservatives of all stripes. Plus, more importantly, Texas can't secede, according to the 1869 Supreme Court Case, Texas v. White. Ah well.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Chuck Norris has offered to be President of Texas, greatly reducing the possible internal threat of unionists or external threat of U.S. military forces to the seceded country. (H/t Ezra Klein.)
Photo: Flickr user Susan E. Gray
Your must-read of the day is David Ignatius's column on how U.S. officials helped defuse last month's political crisis in Pakistan. According to Ignatius and his anonymous sources, "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, joined by [Af-Pak envoy Richard] Holbrooke and [Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike] Mullen, helped coax the Pakistani officials back from the brink."
I wonder, though, if Ignatius is making too much of the U.S. role and too little of that of Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, Pakistan's Army chief of staff. Consider this bit:
The lawyers' movement began its march on March 12, pledging to occupy Islamabad until the government restored [ousted Chief Justice Iftikhar] Chaudhry to his post. [Pakistani President Asif Ali] Zardari sent a police force known as the Rangers into the streets of Lahore, apparently hoping to intimidate [former Prime Minister Nawaz] Sharif and the marchers. But Sharif evaded the police and joined the protesters as they headed north toward Islamabad.
Kiyani then faced the moment of decision. According to U.S. and Pakistani sources, Zardari asked the army chief to stop the march and protect Islamabad. Kiyani refused, after discussing the dilemma with his friend Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Meanwhile, Kiyani called Sharif and told him to return home to Lahore, according to one source. And he called the leader of the lawyers' movement, Aitzaz Ahsan, and told him to halt in the city of Gujranwala and wait for a government announcement.
On the one hand, Kiyani appears to have handled the crisis with wisdom and aplomb. On the other, I think the incident makes it clear once and for all just who the real power broker in Pakistan really is.
If the country continues to deteriorate, it's not too hard to imagine a scenario in which Kiyani pulls a Musharraf and seizes formal power -- but not before calling "his friend Mullen" to explain how he has the situation under control and will be working to restore democracy as soon as possible, etc. Many in Washington would probably welcome this development.
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.
Scott Horton reports that Spanish prosecutors will indict high-ranking members of the Bush administration over allegations of detainee abuse and torture.
The six are: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; former head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee; former OLC lawyer John Yoo; former Defense Department lawyer William J. Haynes II; David Addington, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith.
Horton explains the context of the case:
The case arises in the context of a pending proceeding before the court involving terrorism charges against five Spaniards formerly held at Guantánamo. A group of human-rights lawyers originally filed a criminal complaint asking the court to look at the possibility of charges against the six American lawyers. Baltasar Garzón Real, the investigating judge, accepted the complaint and referred it to Spanish prosecutors for a view as to whether they would accept the case and press it forward. [They found sufficient evidence.]
The case won't come before Judge Real, though; he also was involved in a terrorism case against the five Spaniards held in Guantanamo.
What does it all mean?
Well, John Yoo won't be vacationing on the Costa del Sol this summer. Were any of the Bush Six to step foot in Spain, they would be arrested.
More importantly: Spain has said that it would drop the cases if the United States would investigate the claim. Thus far, the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House haven't responded. But the indictment may force the administration's hand, spurring a response to the allegations.
For, ultimately, the issue may have more political potency than judicial importance. It's up to U.S. President Barack Obama to dictate whether and how the strong allegations of legal abuses in the Bush administration will be resolved.
In my five pirate predictions yesterday, I wondered if the pirates would become more audacious and brazen, or if they would humble at their recent defeat at the hands of the U.S. Navy. This morning, I seem to have my answer:
Undeterred by U.S. and French hostage rescues that killed five bandits, Somali pirates brazenly hijacked three more ships in the Gulf of Aden, the waterway at the center of the world's fight against piracy.
A greek ship and two Egyptian fishing vessels are now added to the handful of ships and 260 hostages the the Somali pirates claim on the coast. True to form, the hijackers adapted their tactics in defiance of the international naval patrols, this time striking at night.
Also yesterday, I worried about an escalation on the part of the world's navies -- moving from naval patrolling into all out battle. Now it appears that escalation is coming from both sides.
If this attack is indeed in retaliation against the Americans, the world might be entering into a whole new kind of asymmetric warfare. Stay tuned on FP today.
In a widely publicized move, the Obama administration is due to finally and officially announce its easing of restrictions to Cuba. U.S. citizens will now be able to travel and send money to the country more easily. (See FP's photo essay on Cuba for more details; and this FP article by Nestor Carbonell for a convincing argument against rushing into engagement.)
The Miami Herald says the announcement, to be made this afternoon, is meant to coincide with the Summit of the Americas, which starts on Friday in Trinidad and is attended by heads-of-state from North and South American countries.
Thankfully -- apparently the pet-poisoning revelation hasn't hurt relations.
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
The Hill reports that in 2007 Cuba poisoned the pet animals of U.S. diplomats working in the country:
The 64-page report written in 2007 states that the life of U.S. diplomats serving in the U.S. Interest Section (USINT) - which issues visas and performs other diplomatic services in Havana - was laden with poor morale "in part because USINT life in Havana is life with a government that ‘let's [sic] you know it's hostile'"....
"Retaliations have ranged from the petty to the poisoning of family pets. The regime has recently gone to great lengths to harass some employees by holding up household goods and consumable shipments. The apparent goal has been to instigate dissension within USINT ranks."
The report comes just as the Obama administration is attempting to strengthen relations and ease strictures on the Communist country. Which begs the question: who decided it release it now?
Speaking with the New York Times, a top Chinese economist explained why China is cutting its holdings of U.S. bonds by quoting John Maynard Keynes: “If you owe your bank manager a thousand pounds, you are at his mercy. If you owe him a million pounds, he is at your mercy.”
With that reasoning in mind, China sold U.S. Treasuries and other foreign bonds in the first two months of the year; it returned to buying them in March. Around two-thirds of China’s foreign reserves are held in dollars.
That bulk holding has complicated relations between the two economic super-powers during the Great Recession. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and the central bank governors have expressed concern about the U.S. economic situation and their exposure to it -- though the resumption of purchases in March suggests they may believe the outlook is better.
Still, numerous economists and policy experts have suggested careful, controlled, slow draw-down would be a good thing for both countries.
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.
Not such a good Friday for Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
Just last week, her name emerged as a possible ambassador to the Vatican. News outlets reported that Senator John Kerry (the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) recommended her for the role, lobbying U.S. President Barack Obama, who makes the appointments, on her behalf.
The rumor sparked outrage among Catholic groups, because Kennedy, who is Catholic, supports abortion rights, which the church vehemently opposes. One called it an "insult," saying, "It's inappropriate to appoint someone who pretends to be a Catholic but rejects the fundamental teachings of the church."
It seems that the Vatican has crossed names off of Obama's list. "At least three names...have been 'burned' even before the proposal of nomination could be made formally, because they were unwelcome to the church," one Italian journalist wrote, as translated by the Washington Times. (The Vatican denies the allegation.)
The United States has never appointed a pro-choice ambassador to the Holy See.
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
In an interview with the BBC before the G-20 summit last week, Mexican President Felipe Calderon responded to charges that his country is becoming a failed state.
The president cautiously admitted that there is a drug problem, but placed most of the blame on his country's geographic proximity to the world's largest drug market: the United States. More blame falls on the U.S. as well: for allowing weapons to flow across the border. And Calderon theorizes that U.S. corruption is also partly to blame. He theorizes that if corruption allows drugs on the Mexican side of the border, it also must be true that corruption in the U.S. has something to do with the continuing passage of narcotics into that country. Hmm. Does he have a point?
For all those pondering the much-talked-of question of Mexico's stability, it's a must watch.
The six-person U.S. congressional delegation visiting Cuba yesterday reported a productive first session of discussions on how to normalize the two countries' relations. That will be a long, long road, but the momentum is growing. Restrictions on travel and remittances are rumored to be on the policy chopping block soon. The delegation from the Congressional Black Caucus was not sent from President Obama -- though carrying the self stated goal to "listen and talk" -- they became the first lawmakers to speak with Cuban officials since the president took office.
Praising Richard Lugar's call to amend U.S.-Cuba policy:
those capable of serenely analyzing the events, as is the case of the senator from Indiana, use an irrefutable argument: The measures of the United States against Cuba, over almost half a century, are a total failure."
Calling for dialogue with the U.S.:
There is no need to emphasize what Cuba has always said: We do not fear dialogue with the United States. Nor do we need confrontation to exist, as some foolish people think. We exist precisely because we believe in our ideas and we have never feared dialogue with the adversary. That [discussion] is the only way to build friendships among people."
But remaining staunch on the Cuban revolution:
The Cuban revolution, which the embargo and the dirty war were not able to destroy, is based upon ethical and political principles; it is for this reason that it has been able to resist [attempts to destroy it]."
As I said, it's a long -- if increasingly well-lit -- road ahead.
Indispensible financial blogger Felix Salmon, Liam Halligan for The Telegraph, and the New York Times have been parsing the fine print of the G-20 Communique, which promised $1 trillion in additional funding to help ease the financial crisis and get countries growing again.
They note that countries, including the United States, are behind on their IMF funding -- the crux of the program -- and require various sorts of congressional approval; therefore, the funding push may be illusory. The NYT concludes: "Some of the money has yet to be pledged, some is double-counted and some would be counted in a 'synthetic currency' that is not actually real money."
In some sense, none of this should come as a surprise; the "$1 trillion" number hardly represented the sum of an ordered and pledged budget. The Communique included massive sums with little fine print. Member-states' contributions to international organizations always become backed-up. And the ink isn't dry on the page yet -- there's been little time to sort out which commitments will come to fruition first.
The New York Times notices a specific potential problem:
In perhaps the most novel move, the Group of 20 authorized the monetary fund to issue $250 billion in Special Drawing Rights, known as S.D.R.’s — a “virtual currency” whose value is set by a basket of real currencies like the dollar, euro and British pound. The I.M.F. will issue the S.D.R.’s to all 185 of its members, and they in turn can lend them out to poor countries.
Special Drawing Rights are not cash but a form of credit, against which a country can borrow. The Obama administration, which conceived the idea and sold it to the Group of 20, figures it would create between $15 billion and $20 billion in additional credit for the poorest countries.But there is a caveat here as well. For the program’s benefits to be felt globally, the United States and Europe will need to lend out their Special Drawing Rights. In the United States, that will require Congressional approval.
To say that the SDRs aren't a real currency is both true and false. They are a unit of exchange eventually backed with actual cash; the IMF collects money from the member-states to fund them.
And countries like Russia and China, as well as IMF representatives themselves, have called for massive revisions to the outmoded program, to make it useful for alleviating the recession. How that will work remains to be seen.
Plus, it seems early days to be sounding the death knell for the G-20 spending promises. Will the $1 trillion number prove correct? No. But that isn't to say the IMF won't massively expand to aid ailing countries -- ultimately the point of the summit.
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
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