Category Archives: Human rights

One Virtuous Man

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
In the late 1960’s a fellow officer of mine, an African-American, call him Captain Em, was quite upset that Dr. King had come out against the Vietnam War. King, Captain Em stated to me, was fully justified in seeking better civil rights but he had no business commenting upon the foreign policy of the United States, particularly the righteous campaign in Vietnam (which was to result in the deaths of 58,000 US troops, average age of 19, and millions of Vietnamese). I disagreed with Captain Em, but at the time I wasn’t sure why. Now I know better.
What are the responsibilities of citizenship, after all?
Henry David Thoreau, at a time when the US was invading Mexico, wrote about the functions of good citizenship in his essay on Civil Disobedience.

    What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot to-day? They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes the petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and God-speed, to the right, as it goes by them. There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man.

Dr. King, like Tolstoy and Gandhi, was familiar with Thoreau’s work, and also was particularly influenced by “Civil Disobedience.” So when King decided in 1967 to oppose the Vietnam War he was prepared for the enmity that naturally came from his regular supporters such as Captain Em. Thoreau had warned him:

    And very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.

Dr. King delivered his little-known speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City.

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The Bush administration on the Right to Food: Uncaring, tone-deaf, or both?

So at the end of November, just as most Americans were preparing the gargantuan feasts they have every year on “Thanksgiving”, the US representative in the UN’s Third Committee was the only representative there to vote against a resolution on the “Right to Food” under which the UN General Assembly,

    would “consider it intolerable” that more than 6 million children still died every year from hunger-related illness before their fifth birthday, and that the number of undernourished people had grown to about 923 million worldwide, at the same time that the planet could produce enough food to feed 12 billion people, or twice the world’s present population.

The vote on that resolution was 180 to 1. Only the US voted against it. (HT: B of Moon of Alabama.)
As a US citizen, I consider that vote a disgrace.
The UN record of the vote and discussion, linked to above, tells us that,

    After the vote, the representative of the United States said he was unable to support the text because he believed the attainment of the right to adequate food was a goal that should be realized progressively. In his view, the draft contained inaccurate textual descriptions of underlying rights…

So according to this representative of the Bush administration (and still, tragically, of all of us who are US citizens), it is quite alright that “more than 6 million children still died every year from hunger-related illness before their fifth birthday”… because his, completely over-lawyered “reading” of the international declarations on this subject somehow make it okay?
This is a travesty of humanity.
It is also yet another international political disaster for the US.
It’s not enough that the US has felt in recent years that it has the “right” to invade other countries unilaterally, and quite in contravention of the UN’s norms on resolution of international differences?
It’s not enough that the US has felt it has the “right” to export a major destruction of agricultural livelihoods worldwide through its maintenance of of hefty subsidies to US Big Ag, while using the IMF to ensure that poor countries don’t subsidize their farming systems at all?
It’s not enough that the US has felt it had the “right” to export its completely toxic financial flim-flam “products” to other countries, forcing them to open their financial systems to receive said products??
… But now, the Bush administration– alone of all the other governments around the world– tells us it’s quite okay that six million children die each year from hunger-related illnesses… And this at a time when, yes, there is still enough basic food in the international system to feed everyone quite adequately, if it were distributed more fairly…
Why does the figure “six million” seem familiar?
That was the number of Jewish people who– along with smaller numbers of Romas and gay and disabled people– ended up dead because of the deliberate policy of the Third Reich to exterminate them.
But that was during the entirety of the European Holocaust.
What the UN Third Committee is talking about six million children being condemned to death each year by an international “system” in which the US is still by far the most powerful actor.
How can this be, for a single moment, acceptable?
Back on December 10, I noted the gross anomaly that the US government, which has presented itself as a strong “advocate” for human rights around the world, has still not ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, in which the right to “adequate food, clothing and housing” is explicitly spelled out.
I also spelled out that this language has strong relevance to the current situation inside the US, as well as in other countries.
Our country’s longstanding refusal to join the ICESCR makes it something of a “rogue state” on these issues, since 159 other nations have all signed and ratified it.
It is in the ICESCR, which entered into force in 1976, that the reference to the “progressive realization” of the listed rights can be found.
But since the US government hasn’t even fully joined the ICESCR, it is quite hypocritical that the US representative on the Third Committee was using that language about “progressive realization” to try to justify his vote that, essentially, allowed the killing of six million innocents each year to go ahead into the future, as heretofore.
Anyway, back in 1976, maybe some people thought it would take a few more years to get to the stage where it would, indeed, be possible to feed all of the world’s people.
That was 32 years ago. Nowadays, there is plenty of food to go around… if it is properly distributed.
But Washington now tells the world No, that needn’t happen.
And people in other countries are supposed to like and admire our country???
Here’s a strong plea to President-elect Obama and the incoming US Congress: Please have our country rejoin the world by ratifying the ICESCR as speedily as possible. And then do everything possible to ensure that everyone in the US and around the world can have access to healthy, assured food supplies, including by the restoration of agricultural systems inb low-income countries that have been wiped out by US food subsidies.
And let’s embed the rights spelled out in the ICESCR into all of the programs designed to save our own country’s economy and society from the ravages of the current crisis.

On Rights Day: Yes to Social & Economic Rights!

Happy Human Rights Day, everyone!
On this day 60 years ago the UN General Assembly, meeting in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That was a signal development. However, the language of the UDHR was kept fairly general and proclamatory. The actual content of the universal rights it proclaimed was spelled out in two subsequent documents, the International Covenants on, respectively, (1) Civil and Political Rights, and (2), Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.
The United States, to our country’s great shame, has never ratified the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). When Jimmy Carter was president, in 1977, the US did at least sign it. But for the US to become a full party, that signature needs to be ratified by the Senate. By contrast, the US is a longstanding party to the covenant on civil and political rights.
The ICESCR spells out the universal right of all persons to such essential inputs for human wellbeing as a right to work, and the rights to housing, health care, education, and self-determination.
Given the threatening economic prospects that so many US citizens face today, it is more urgent than ever that we raise the demand that our country join the 159 states around the world that are full members of the ICESCR. You can see a map of them at the top of the page here. You can see the full listing of signatories and States Parties (right column), here.
What it would take for our country to become a full member of the ICESCR is that the US Senate should ratify the treaty.
Joining would have a number of clear advantages:

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On extra-judicial executions

Since when is it okay for a state (or an individual) to set out to kill a person based solely on accusations against him that have never been publicized and have never been tested against even the most basic norms of criminal procedure?
It is not okay. Extra-judicial killings, also known as assassinations, are always abhorrent. They shock the conscience of anyone who believes in the rule of law. When carried out by states they represent a quite unacceptable excess of state power.
Much worse than “judicial” executions, which are (imho quite rightly) strongly criticized throughout much of the world.
So how come so many political leaders, representatives of the western MSM, and other members of the western political elite seem to be completely unpeturbed– or even quietly supportive– when reports come out of US government operatives undertaking acts of extra-judicial killing?
Just because Israel has been carrying out such acts against alleged Palestinian opponents for many years now, does that make it somehow “okay”?
No.
Just because in the early days of the post-9/11 trauma, some mentally sick members of the Bush administration started handing out decks of playing cards with the “52 most wanted” on them, does that make setting out to kill those named individuals, or others later associated with them, somehow okay?
No.
It is time for us US citizens, whose government has carried out numerous acts of extra-judicial execution in recent years, to draw a firm line and say “No more!”
This week, we have had yet another shocking example of

    (a) our government– speaking through still unnamed “administration officials”– trying to “justify” the acts of lethal aggression it committed against Syria on Sunday by saying that they were aiming at (and indeed, also succeeded in) killing an alleged long-time operative of Al-Qaeda in Iraq called Abu Ghadiya; and
    (b) this explanation being reported by many branches of the media– e.g. the NYT, “Wired” magazine, and Britain’s ITVwithout those reporters also providing the essential background in national or international law, or in common morality, that would indicate that such acts of assassination constitute serious violations of the rule of law. And without seeking out and quoting the opinion of anyone who states anything to that effect… In other words, these acts of extra-judicial killing are treated by these reporters and the editors who stand behind them simply as “business as usual”, the kind of “normal” acts that a government carries out need that not be exposed to any particular questioning or criticism.

It is time for this to stop. Reporters, editors, and editorialists should probe such activities a lot more deeply. Editors should task reporters to go out and ask their US government sources whether they think that acts of extra-judicial killing are ever valid? And under what circumstances? What procedures are followed before a person is put onto a US government hit list? What safeguards are there to ensure against the use of malicious slander when such hit-lists are compiled? What safeguards are there to insure against cases of mistaken identity in either the placing of a name on a hit list, or the “execution” of the kill? Under what supposed “legal” authority are these assassinations carried out?
My understanding is that the “excuse” US military officials often make when they speak about their missions is that they say their orders are to “capture or kill” the named individuals. But including an explicit “kill” option in there would still require specific legal authority, no?
… As it happens, in the case of Sunday’s Sukkariyeh raid, no less august of a media outlet than the BBC has now thrown some doubt on the claim that it was all “about” targeting this shadowy AQI operative, Abu Ghadiya:

    US officials … are reportedly claiming that [Abu Ghadiyah’s] death in the raid will have a major impact on al-Qaeda’s capabilities.
    But this runs at odds with statements made by the militant’s organisation, al-Qaeda in Iraq, which announced his death on jihadist web sites over two years ago.
    According to an al-Qaeda obituary of the militant released in August 2006, Abu Ghadiya died on the Saudi-Iraqi border sometime after the US-Iraqi offensive on Fallujah in November 2004…

But whether the Sukkariyeh raid was indeed a deliberate attempt to extra-judicially execute this alleged miscreant or not, that fact makes no difference at all to the underlying illegality of the act. An extra-judicial killing is extra-judicial, period. Such an act carried out by the US inside Iraq would, at one level, be no less heinous than one carried out in Syria. But crossing an international border to do it, and violating Syria’s sovereignty in that way, certainly adds an additional level of illegality to the act under international law.
But my basic point here is: Extra-judicial killing is always wrong, and should be treated as such in the public policy discourse.

HRW revising its Russian cluster bomb accusations

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch started to step back from the claims it made very loudly last month that during the fighting in Georgia,”Russian aircraft dropped cluster bombs in populated areas in Georgia, killing at least 11 civilians and injuring dozens.” Those claims were first made August 15, and were repeated in two further public statements issued by the organization, this one on August 21 and this one on September 1. In addition, individual HRW staff members repeated these accusations against Russia– which it claimed were backed up by solid “evidence”– in a number of other signed articles, media appearances, etc.
I blogged here, on September 2, about the flawed nature of the “evidence” HRW had used in its accusations against Russia, and the impact that such accusations can have on raising tensions and galvanizing opinion for war. (Cf., the “Kuwaiti incubator story” of 1991.)
Yesterday’s statement was titled Clarification Regarding Use of Cluster Munitions in Georgia. Referring only to its report of August 21 on this matter, not the earlier August 15 report, it said:

    On August 21, 2008, Human Rights Watch reported a series of attacks with cluster munitions around four towns and villages in Georgia’s Gori district. Human Rights Watch attributed all the strikes to Russian forces, but upon further investigation has concluded that the origin of the cluster munitions found on August 20 in two of the villages – Shindisi and Pkhvenisi – cannot yet be determined.
    …This clarification does not affect Human Rights Watch’s findings on August 15 that Russia used aerial cluster bombs to attack the village of Ruisi and the town of Gori on August 12. Eleven civilians were killed and dozens more injured in these two locations. In Ruisi, Human Rights Watch researchers found submunitions that they identified as PTAB 2.5M, which are known to be in Russia’s arsenal. Human Rights Watch based its findings on visual identification of the submunitions and the cluster bomb carrier in Ruisi, craters typical of submunition impact, and accounts from Georgian victims in both towns, as well as doctors and military personnel. The Russian government has yet to adequately respond to these findings.

What caused HRW to step back from the accusations regarding Shindisi and Pkhvenisi had been, the statement said, communications “from the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (NDRE), based on Human Rights Watch’s photographs.” The NDRE had identified the submunitions in the photographs as “M85 DPICMs, which have not been reported to be part of Russia’s arsenal.”
On August 31, as HRW told us September 1, the government of Georgia informed them that it had had a stockpile of ground rocket-launched cluster munitions that contained M85 submunitions. The Georgian government also told HRW it had used some cluster bombs “during an attack on Russian military forces near the Roki tunnel.” That tunnel is at South Ossetia’s northern border, quite a long way away from Gori.
It occurs to me that one explanation for what HRW’s witnesses in the Gori area saw is that the Russian aircraft might have blown up some of Georgia’s cluster bombs stockpiled in the area.. In HRW’s August 21 statement, and in the latest “Clarification”, the eye-witnesses to the attacks are quoted as saying that “Russian air strikes on Georgian armored units located near Shindisi and Pkhvenisi were followed by extensive cluster munition strikes that killed at least one civilian and injured another in Shindisi.” Would this description not be consonant with (a) the Russians having bombed ground targets in these areas– hopefully only legitimate military targets, and then (b) some of those strikes, hitting units equipped with cluster bombs, had caused secondary explosion of those cluster bomb munitions?
I looked at the video of one such attack that HRW has on its site, and this could be an explanation of what I was seeing.
If this is what happened– and I would welcome any comments on that from experts– then it’s very tragic. Well, whatever the explanation, it’s very tragic for all those noncombatants who were hit.
I note, though, that HRW’s “Clarification” is still far from satisfactory. It still maintains that the submunitions found in Ruisi and in Gori itself were of the the (Russian-owned) PTAB 2.5M type– though it gives us absolutely none of the evidence on which this finding is based. The photos of submuntions in the August 21 statement– published with no provenance given, though they seem to have been from Shindisi or Pkhvenisi– had been identified in the text as “Russian” too, though as NDRE noted, they actually were not.
So we still need to see HRW’s “evidence” regarding Ruisi and Gori.
The latest “Clarification” is also insufficient in the following ways:

    1. It expresses no apology to the Russians or anyone else for the inaccurate nature of the organization’s earlier allegations against the government of Russia. Indeed, it explicitly states its continued support for the allegations made on August 15, regarding Russian cluster-munition attacks in Ruisi and Gori– even though it also says it will “continue its investigation into the use of cluster munitions in Shindisi and elsewhere by all sides during the armed conflict.” So presumably that means it will continue its (re-)investigation into what happened in Ruisi and Gori. … But even before those investigations are completed, HRW still maintains a defiant, accusatory attitude toward Russia (but not Georgia), saying, “The Russian government has yet to adequately respond to [HRW’s allegations regarding Rusisi and Gori].”
    2. It says nothing about any internal investigation, within HRW, into the issue of how the organization could have earlier gotten the facts so very wrong about Shindisi and Pkhvenisi. Without such a thorough, transparent, and credible investigation, why should anyone believe what they say…. on anything?

HRW remains a frustratingly unaccountable organization, as I noted in my September 1 post.

HRW’s flawed ‘Research’ on Georgian cluster bombs

On August 15, Human Rights Watch issued a statement— still published on their website without comment– saying its researchers “have uncovered evidence that Russian aircraft dropped cluster bombs in populated areas in Georgia.” On that same page is a photo of Georgian men standing around a crater pointing to what is described in the caption as “the remnants of an RBK-250 cluster bomb dropped by Russian aircraft on the village of Rusisi…”
This story about “Russia’s use of cluster bombs in Georgia” got huge play in the western MSM, many of whose leading contributors have come to treat HRW with almost oracular reverence.
On August 21, HRW issued another statement on the same subject, adding that despite Russia’s denials that it had used these weapons, its researchers had “documented additional Russian cluster munitions attacks during the conflict in Georgia.”
It turns out, though that the “research” in question was considerably less than expert or thorough, and that HRW’s much-lauded lead “researcher” on this topic, Marc Garlasco, may have fallen victim– or worse– to a Georgian disinformation campaign.
Bernhard of Moon of Alabama is just one of those who’ve been pointing out that the bomb remnants in the photos published by HRW in those two releases are very different from those of a Russian “RBK-250 cluster bomb”, or its submunitions. Indeed, they’re not items of Russian manufacture at all… but Israeli, as can easily by seen by comparing them with stock weapons-ID photos and charts.
However… At some point in late August, the Georgian government finally confessed to HRW that it had used cluster bombs during the recent conflict– and that these had indeed been of Israeli manufacture. That news was posted on the HRW website yesterday, here.
The latest HRW news release does nothing to retract or raise questions about its earlier “reports” about Russian use of cluster bombs in Georgia. Instead it says this:

    In August, Human Rights Watch documented Russia’s use of several types of cluster munitions, both air- and ground-launched, in a number of locations in Georgia’s Gori district, causing 11 civilian deaths and wounding dozens more. Russia continues to deny using cluster munitions.
    “Russia has yet to own up to using cluster munitions and the resulting civilian casualties,” said Garlasco.

So Garlasco is still in good favor at HRW’s New York headquarters, in spite of the clearly flawed nature of his earlier “documentation”?? And the two August reports about Russian use of cluster bombs remain in their original positions on the HRW website, with no clarificatory comment attached?
We need to understand what Garlasco’s original “research” or “documentation” on the cluster-bomb remains in Georgia consisted of.
Here’s what the first of the reports on the HRW website said about the research methodology:

    Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed numerous victims, doctors, and military personnel in Georgia. They examined photos of craters and video footage of the August 12 attack on Gori. Human Rights Watch has also seen a photo of the submunition carrier assembly and nose cone of an RBK-250 bomb in Gori. The Gori video showed more than two dozen simultaneous explosions during the attack, which is characteristic of cluster bombs. Two persons wounded in Gori described multiple simultaneous explosions at the time of the attack. Craters in Gori were also consistent with a cluster strike.
    … Photographic evidence on file with Human Rights Watch shows a civilian in Ruisi holding a PTAB submunition without realizing it could explode at the slightest touch…

So the researchers don’t even claim that they’ve actually traveled to see the cluster bomb remnants in situ, and document where they had been found. All they did was rely on “photographic evidence” about them. All talk about photographic “evidence” is quite meaningless unless we have a well identified provenance for these items. Whose word are we being asked to take that these photos were taken “in Gori” or wherever it was listed as? And whose, that these cluster bombs were seen being delivered “by Russian aircraft”?
Garlasco also considerably– perhaps fatally– undermines his own credibility by stating that the cluster bomb remnant in the photo is that of a “cluster bomb dropped by Russian aircraft”, since the remnant in question not only isn’t Russian but also was not dropped by any aircraft, since its fins have the distinctive curving of the ‘pop-put’ fins of an artillery-launched bomb.
Garlasco seems guilty of, at the very least, considerable professional slipshoddiness as a researcher. And how could his superiors at HRW have accepted– and agreed to publish– as “evidence” for his claims, just a few photos whose provenance, timing, and other attributes have not been thoroughly checked and cross-checked? The professional slipshoddiness at HRW goes considerably higher than just Marc Garlasco. And it also extends to those media outlets that just reproduced all his/HRW’s arguments and claims about “Russian” use of cluster bombs– for which we still have no actual evidence, at all– without interrogating and trying to understand the extremely flimsy nature of the “evidence” he was using.
This incident reminds me a lot of the time in January 1991 when Amnesty International got “used” by the Kuwaiti hasbara machine in Washington to give its stamp of approval to Kuwait’s fabricated story about the Iraqis throwing babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital. Then, as now– and as very frequently happens when people are trying to beef up public support for a war venture– the “bloody shirt” of the civilian losses inflicted by the other side is waved to try to persuade people of “our side” to support confrontation, escalation, and war.
Was Marc Garlasco used, or did he connive in the Georgian disinformation? Either way, why is he still apparently regarded by HRW-NY as a credible researcher on these matters?
This matters to me because I still sit on the Middle East advisory committee of HRW. HRW’s work in the Middle East has certainly been the location of a lot of disagreement about priorities and policies, but overall the Middle East division has done some excellent, ground-breaking work. Work that has always– with one notable exception, back in November 2006– been painstakingly researched, documented, and reviewed long before it is released for publication.
What happened to that whole extensive documentation and review process this time round? HRW has some very serious questions of methodology and internal procedures that it now needs to address.
Also, HRW, which is one of many organizations around the world calling for greater accountability by all kinds of public bodies, needs to become much more accountable, itself.
The November 2006 incident occurred when the organization rushed out a statement criticizing– on grounds allegedly derived from international humanitarian law– an action of mass nonviolence undertaken by Palestinian organizations in Gaza. I was one of those who prominently and publicly called them out on it, noting that nothing in IHL provided any basis for criticizing the action in question. HRW then took more than three weeks to issue a correction. And when it did so, it did it without fanfare and without even distributing the correction to the whole of the same list that had received the original accusation.
That is not good accountability.
This time around, HRW needs to assemble a high-level team of credible people– not including Marc Garlasco– to investigate the performance of the whole organization regarding these accusations of Russia’s use of cluster bombs, and other aspects of its work during the Russian-Georgian war, and then in a timely manner to issue a public report on what was done well and what was done badly during this work. This report should also contain concrete recommendations regarding methodology and internal procedures, to ensure that slipshod and potentially inflammatory work like that done by Marc Garlasco does not appear in the organization’s name again.
I quite understand that, being a privately-funded organization, HRW has a lot of motivation to have “something to contribute” to the public discussion on the latest issues of the day. They probably think this is necessary in order to keep their funding flowing in. (And it also lets HRW’s leaders appear to be “big players” on the international scene.) But there can be no substitute for careful, painstaking, and thoroughly well documented research. Human rights work should never seek to be “flashy”, and should absolutely never allow itself to become politicized.
Wake up, Ken Roth and the rest of the HRW leadership. This issue is most likely your “Kuwaiti incubator story,” and you need to deal with it effectively, honestly, and well.
And yes, if you invite me to sit on your “Georgia incident special investigation team”, I would be happy to do so.

From that same Monticello portico: a sale

Amid writings about Jefferson and Bush, a friend alerted me to a compelling essay in our local “The Hook” weekly paper — about another irony on the very portico where President Bush spoke. The essay’s author is David Ronka, a gifted guide at Monticello.
In his tours, “Professor” Ronka provides brilliant, well chosen phrases to describe the reasons why we still celebrate Jefferson. Yet David also helps us contemplate his unfinished work, the perplexing paradoxes of the human named Jefferson:

“For as this year’s honored guests are called one by one to the mansion’s West Portico to be welcomed into a future bright with America’s promise, I’ll be reminded of a starkly different event 181 years ago at that same portico.”

While “the sage” of Monticello was profoundly wise in many realms, personal finance was not one of his better suits. After he retired from public life, various schemes to make his estate prosperous, to train and emancipate his own enslaved community, foundered amid repeated economic downturns. Former Presidents then received no pensions, did no speaking tours, had no Presidential libraries. Jefferson knew before his death that he had become insolvent.

“Thus on a frigid January day in 1827, six months after his death, crowds of people flocked to the mountaintop from near and far, drawn by the prospect of purchasing something that had belonged to America’s third president and author of the Declaration of Independence.
On the auction block that day, and highlighted in large boldface on the bill of sale published in the local newspaper: 130 VALUABLE NEGROES, Thomas Jefferson’s slaves.”

Oh ironic wretched fate indeed, that the most valuable “asset” in Jefferson’s failed estate was human flesh. (See actual reproduction of the bill of sale)

“This Fourth of July, from Monticello’s parlor…. I’ll see the ghosts of those 130 men, women, and children huddled against the bitter cold of that distant January day, waiting for their names to be called, not to the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as Jefferson famously declared, but into an uncertain and foreboding future.”

Thank you David for the sobering reminders:

“The Fourth of July celebrates America’s birthday, but it also reminds us that there’s still work to be done in perfecting our Union. And that work demands nothing less than our persistent willingness to open our arms– and our hearts– to each other.
We owe that much to the men, women, and children who answered the auctioneer’s call at Monticello 181 years ago. We owe that much to the people we’ll welcome there as new American citizens this Fourth of July. And we owe that much to America’s Founding Fathers, who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in the cause of the freedoms we enjoy today.”

US Diplomats and Boumediene Case

I too am encouraged by the US Supreme Court’s Boumediene v. Bush ruling that detainees held at Gunatanamo Bay are entitled to Habeas Corpus protection — the right to challenge their detention in a US Court. I also appreciate this LA Times analysis on the “internationalist” considerations that likely influenced the Boumediene majority. Yet I’ve also been perplexed by the fury of the dissents and the hyperbolic claim by presidential candidate John McCain that the ruling was “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.”
Three complaints stand out: First, dissenting Justice Scalia darkly warns that the ruling will “almost certainly” result in more American being killed. Second, because the US is deemed to be at”war” with those who don’t respect our values, we should not extend such rights to them. Cast as an inhuman “enemy,” they only understand the “language of force.”
Third, the critics condemn the Court for subjecting our laws to the dictates of international opinions — to the norms recognized by the rest of the world. That’s “judicial cosmopolitanism;” it’s “too French.” Or worse, it’d be like Thomas Jefferson in the first sentence of the US Declaration of Independence waxing about “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”
In researching case background (and hat tip to Helena for this resource) I came across a timeless and eloquent response to such concerns, in the form of a Friend of the Court filing, prepared last year by some of America’s best career diplomats. Endorsers include former US Ambassadors to Israel (and elsewhere) Sam Lewis, Thomas Pickering, and William (C) Harrop, as well as Bruce Laingen and the late William D. Rogers and our recently departed Charlottesville friend and mentor, David D. Newsom. (bless his memory)
Among their sage observations: (emphasis added):

If the mounting cost to American diplomatic interests is finally to be curbed, it is imperative, at minimum, to restore meaningful judicial review for prisoners at Guantanamo. Our nation cannot credibly champion the rule of law in the world, while being seen to disregard it in our own affairs….
[O]ur professional experience convinces us that American diplomatic credibility and effectiveness in many areas of international relations suffer greatly from the widely shared perception that, by denying prisoners at Guantanamo access to habeas corpus, our country has lost sight of its historic commitment to independent and effective judicial review of the lawfulness of detention…..
We have come to believe, in our representation of this country to other nations, that those nations are more willing to accept American leadership and counsel to the extent that they see us as true to the principle of freedom under the law. Indeed, the matter has rarely been better put than by President Bush in signing the Torture Victims Protection Act on March 12, 1992:

In this new era, in which countries throughout the world are turning to democratic institutions and the rule of law, we must maintain and strengthen our commitment to ensuring that they are respected everywhere….

(Perhaps this entire subject ought to be re-framed as, “Bush vs. Bush.”)

The admiration and respect for this nation abroad is a function of our own commitment to liberty under law. In this, we have led the world. The success of our interests in the wider arena turns importantly on the extent to which this nation is perceived as continuing to abide by these principles. Any hint that America is not all that it claims, or that it is prepared to ignore a “nonnegotiable demand of human dignity,” that it can accept that the Executive Branch may imprison whom it will and do so beyond the reach of the due process of law, demeans and weakens this nation’s voice abroad.
We have taken it as our duty to so state to this Court. There is no doubting America’s power at this juncture. But values count too. And, for this nation, there is no benefit in the exercise of our undoubted power unless it is deployed in the service of fundamental values: democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and due process. To the extent that we are perceived as compromising those values, to that extent will our efforts to promote our interests in the wider world be prejudiced. Such at least is our collective experience.
George Kennan’s Long Telegram from the American Embassy in Moscow to the State Department in 1946 defined the authoritarian bestiality of the Soviet system and its aim to break “the international authority of our state.” It was perhaps the most important American diplomatic communication of the last century. In closing, Kennan spoke for us all and for all time:

[T]he greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet communism, is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.

I recommend this document as an enduring resource for policymakers, educators, and citizens alike, challenging us to consider that we don’t have to toss aside our values to defend them, that our values are a component of our potential influence abroad, that defending our principles need not detract from our “power.”

Weissglas, son of Earl Butz?

Longtime Israeli National Security Advisor Dov Weissglas, who in February 2006 argued openly for applying the “Weissglas diet” to the entire population of Gaza, certainly wasn’t the first bullying imperial ruler to argue that starving citizens of another nation might be a handy way to force them to submit. As I just noted here, Raj Patel recalled that Richard Nixon’s Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz argued openly in the 1970s that,

    Hungry men listen only to those who have a piece of bread. Food is a tool. It is a weapon in the US negotiating kit.

Indeed, just about all the histories of various European colonial ventures around the world, or Japan’s colonial venture in mainland Asia, etc., mention the use of forced impoverishment and imposed hunger as key weapons in forcing the compliance of the conquered nations.
Butz was forced to resign as Secretary of Agriculture in 1976 after making a remark that was both racist and sexually demeaning. He died a few weeks ago, aged 98.
Maybe the Israeli government– as well as all those economists and policymakers who are still trying to argue that the so-called “free market” should always be allowed to reign supreme in everything– should be reminded that it is the agreed stance of the governments and peoples of the world that everyone in the world has the right “to have access to safe and nutritious food.” No exceptions.

Human Rights Watch opposes Egypt’s political arrests

Kudos to Human Rights Watch for having issued a strong statement criticizing the Egyptian government’s continuing mass round-up of opposition activists and would-be candidates. This campaign, HRW said, “puts the legitimacy of upcoming local and municipal council elections in serious doubt.”
It is an excellent statement. Go read it.
Condi Rice is currently in the Middle East. She should be peppered with questions as to why strong US aid to Egypt continues under these circumstances.