Longtime readers of JWN are aware that I have long been intensely skeptical about the value of “international” war-crimes courts, in general. Some of my concerns were spelled out in this Spring 2006 article in Foreign Policy: PDF; ignore the Latin and the blank space for ads. My criticisms were more fully spelled out in the concluding chapter to my 2006 book Amnesty After Atrocity? Healing Nations After Genocide and War Crimes.
And yes, just so that our many pro-Israeli readers understand my position, let me also spell out that some years ago, when my friend Chibli Mallat was working with survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacres to have their case against Ariel Sharon prosecuted in a Belgian court, I had severe misgivings about that effort, too. I felt then, and still feel today, that the Palestinians have something more important they need from Israel’s leaders than to have the short-lived satisfaction of seeing them in a courtroom: They need Israel’s leaders to end the occupation of the Palestinian lands that has continued far too long… And some time after that, there might be an all-round reckoning regarding everyone’s criminal acts of the past.
Trying to do criminal prosecutions before a conflict is ended is, generally speaking, to put the cart before the horse. Worse than that, even just bringing the criminal case puts the defendant into a “defensive crouch” and can thereby exacerbate tensions– as it certainly has done with Sudanese Pres. Omar Hassan al-Bashir. And the whole prosecution effort diverts time, attention, and other scarce resources away from the main goal, which should be a concerted effort at sustainable conflict termination.
After all– a point seldom mentioned in the law-books– atrocities on the scale that are prosecuted in these war-crimes courts take place only in the circumstances of intense and violent inter-group conflict. So first, the conflict(s) must be ended. Otherwise, the risk of further atrocities down the pike only continues.
All of which is a slightly lengthy introduction to the warm invitation I extend to all JWN readers to go and read this excellent article about the ICC’s Darfur case, which has just been published in World Affairs Journal.
The authors, Julie Flint and Alex De Waal, are both real (and much published) experts on Darfu; and they’ve voiced some criticisms before now of the wisdom of the indictment ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo issued against Pres. Bashir. In this latest article, which is lengthy and extensively researched, they delve in great detail into Moreno-Ocampo’s personal record at the ICC, and before that, too.
He really does look like a terrible pick, made somewhat hastily by ICC’s governing “Assembly of States Parties”, back in 2002.
Flint and de Waal hold out some hope that– most likely with a different Chief Prosecutor– the ICC can still some day start to live up to the hopes of the many millions (or, maybe, hundreds of thousands?) of rights activists who had worked so hard for its establishment throughout the 1990s.
A very high-octane group of 16 prosecutors and judges associated with various recent international atrocity investigations and prosecutions has now called for for a full international investigation into alleged abuses of international law during the recent Gaza conflict.
The letter’s signatories include Antonio Cassese, who is undoubtedly the dean of international criminal jurisprudence and was also the first President of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, Richard Goldstone, first chief prosecutor of ICTY, Dumisa Ntsebeza, a member of South Africa’s TRC, and Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Oh, and Archbishop Tutu, chair of South Africa’s TRC.
In a letter the group sent to UN Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon and the members of the Security Council, the group wrote,
We urge world leaders to send an unfaltering signal that the targeting of civilians during conflict is unacceptable by any party on any count. We call on them to support the establishment of a United Nations commission of inquiry into the Gaza conflict. The commission should have the greatest possible expertise and authority and: a mandate to carry out a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation of all allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict; it should not be limited only to attacks on UN facilities; act in accordance with the strictest international standards governing such investigations; if it finds sufficient evidence, it should provide recommendations as to the appropriate prosecution of those responsible for gross violations of the law by the relevant authorities.
The events in Gaza have shocked us to the core. Relief and reconstruction are desperately needed but, for the real wounds to heal, we must also establish the truth about crimes perpetuated against civilians on both sides.
Actually, as longtime readers of JWN are probably aware I am fairly skeptical about the value of international criminal prosecutions and international criminal investigations in general. I believe what the beleaguered people of Gaza and the also harmed (but far less armed) people of southern Israel need above everything else is a speedy and sustainable end to the conflict between their two peoples.
Absent such a final peace settlement, the institutionalized violence of Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza will continue; resistance to that occupation will obviously continue, in ways that may include violence (and properly regulated violence is a quite legal way to end military occupation); and Israeli military actions of a frequently lethal and very harmful nature can also be expected to continue.
The most urgent goal is to end all that violence, the commission of which continues to this day. Once the direct violence of occupation and all the violence that flows from that situation, has ended: That will be, I think, the best time to start examining the “truth” about the past.
Some of my Black friends in South Africa used to say: “We already knew so many things about the violence that was been committed against us by the White colonial regimes. We didn’t need the TRC to ‘gain’ that knowledge. What we needed it for was to gain acknowledgment from our former tormenters about their past abuses.” The same may well be true of the Palestinians. But what they need, most urgently of all, is an end to the violence that continues to plague their every waking minute.
Still, these international-lawyer types like to have a job, and they like to be “relevant.”
Perhaps, too, in a context in which “international” courts are now pursuing a criminal indictment against one Arab president (Sudan’s Pres. Bashir) and a criminal investigation that might well get close to another (Syria’s Pres. Asad), while no-one is even considering any authoritative form of criminal investigation into the abuses the Bush administration committed in Iraq, in Guantanamo, and elsewhere, these jurists realize that the whole machinery of “international criminal justice” now looks very lopsided… a little bit too much like judicial colonialism?
Anyway, in Gaza as in Darfur, I still strongly believe that what’s needed above all is full support for effective peacemaking, rather than criminal prosecutions. Investigations and possible prosecutions can come later. But first, these conflicts need to be resolved.
(On Gaza, I think Amnesty’s recent call for an international embargo on the shipment of all arms into the theater of the recent war– that is, to Israel as well as to Hamas– makes a lot more sense than this call for an international investigation.)
The International Criminal Court started its work in 2002 with great fanfare and expectations. The hopes of its many supporters around the world (but concentrated particularly in rich western countries) was that this new court could bring a new day of “accountability” to the perpetrators of some of the most heinous mass crimes of our day.
Sadly, those hopes have not been realized. And not just because of the complete inability of the ICC to even start grappling with Pres. Bush’s perpetration of a monstrous Crime Against the Peace in 2003, and his administration’s perpetration of numerous serious war crimes subsequent to that big original crime.
But beyond that big lacuna, the way the ICC itself has gone about its business since 2002 has also been deeply, perhaps fatally, flawed… And one person who has certainly contributed to these mistakes has been the Chief Prosecutor, Argentina’s Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
Tragically, one of the main problems for this court that was meant to usher in this new era of “accountability” has been that the degree to which the court’s own major organs are– or even, can be– held accountable to the public they purport to serve is extremely limited; or, almost non-existent.
The veteran French expert on central Africa Gerard Prunier has an excellent piece on Open Democracy today that pulls together a lot of the essential political background to the tragically re-ignited fighting in eastern D.R. Congo.
Prunier notes in particular the extremely belligerent and damaging role the RPF government in Rwanda has played in DRC for many years, including the on-again-off-again support it has given to the leader of the current big armed rebellion in eastern DRC, Gen. Laurent Nkunda.
At the end of his article, Prunier writes:
Why do we see such zigzagging on Nkunda’s part? Mostly because there is not a single coherent policy in Kigali to either support or disown him. It depends on the fluctuation of the political atmosphere there… Since the well-organised electoral “victories” of the RPF [in Rwanda]… there is no Hutu opposition worth the name. Just mentioning such a term is labeled “divisionism” and can get you twenty years in jail. So the political game is played among Tutsi. And the Tutsi do not agree on how to deal with the Congo in general and with Laurent Nkunda in particular.
Some, like President Kagame himself, want to put the past behind them, develop Rwanda along extremely modernistic lines and turn the country into the Singapore of Africa. But others do not believe in such a possibility and still see the Congo as a mineral mother-lode waiting to be exploited; they include some of Kagame’s closest associates such as the semi-exiled ambassador Kayumba Nyamwasa and army chief-of-staff James Kabarebe…
The outcome of the United States presidential election on 4 November 2008 is an encouragement for the latter group. After all, it was the Africanists around Bill Clinton (who are now Barack Obama’s men and women) who supported the Kigali invasion of the DR Congo while it was Republican secretary of state Colin Powell who brought it to a halt in 2001. Have the Democrats changed their views on the region or do they still believe in the fiction that Rwanda only intervenes in the Congo in order to keep the ugly génocidaires at bay? In any case the situation in the DRC is now more serious than it has been at any point since the signature of the 2002 peace agreement.
But does it actually mean the situation has returned to that of 1998, and the DR Congo is about to explode into another civil war? Probably not. Why? Because there are several fundamental differences:
* Rwanda, even if it is involved, is involved at a marginal and contradictory level .
* in 1998, pro-Kigali elements controlled large segments of the Forces Armées Congolaises (FAC), the then Congolese national army. The initial onslaught was carried out through an internal rebellion of the armed forces. Not so today. Nkunda controls only an army of unofficial militiamen
* in 1998 the regime of Laurent-Désiré Kabila was very weak, hardly legitimate and did not have any serious international support. Today his son Joseph Kabila is strongly supported by the internal community after overseeing a flawed but clearly democratic election
* the Congolese economy was at the time in complete disarray while today it is only in poor shape, with possibilities of picking up
* President Kagame could count on the almost unlimited sympathy of the world which felt guilty for its neglect during the genocide. Not so today. His moral credibility has been seriously damaged by the horrors his troops committed in the DR Congo during 1998-2002 and his political standing is increasingly being questioned, both by legal action going back to the genocide period (reflected in the French indictment and Frankfurt arrest) and by his electoral “triumphs” (which are a throwback to the worst days of fake African political unanimity)
* the diplomatic context, reflected in the current visit to the region of the United Nations envoy (and Nigeria’s former president) Olusegun Obasanjo, is more favourable to negotiation
* In 1998 there was no United Nations peacekeeping force in eastern DR Congo. If the international community decides to straighten out its act, Monuc could make the difference.
I am glad to see that even such a seasoned old pro as Prunier thinks there is some hope that MONUC might make a real difference to the situation in Congo. I certainly hope so. But I largely share the misgivings he expresses about the pro-RPF sympathies of those who seem likely to emerge as important figures in the next US administration.
Another very significant aspect of the present fighting in DRC is the fact that– as I had forgotten, but Prunier reminded me– Laurent Nkunda is an indicted war criminal, having been indicted by the DRC government for a 2002 incident in Kisangani in which more than 160 persons were summarily executed. (Prunier wrote, mistakenly, that Nkunda had been indicted by the ICC. But it is Nkunda’s chief of staff, Bosco Ntaganda, who has been indicted by the ICC.)
To a certain extent, then, the situation in eastern DRC might well mirror that in northern Uganda, where the issuing and pursuit of criminal indictments against leaders of insurgent forces makes the conclusion of a working peace agreement that much harder– if not, actually, impossible so long as the indictments are outstanding.
I could note, too, that the northern Uganda situation is very closely linked to that in eastern DRC, since the bulk of Joseph Kony’s Ugandan-insurgent force, the LRA, is currently holed up in the rain forests of northeastern DRC, just a few hundred kilometres north of the spot where Nkunda is creating his current havoc.
Bottom line on all the many conflicts roiling the central-Afircan interior these days: the governments and peoples involved and the powerful nations of the world all need to get together on a stabilization and socio-economic reconstruction plan for all these countries that aims at saving and improving the lives of their peoples, including through the provision of effective and accountable mechanisms to ensure public security, ending all the outstanding (and often inter-linked) conflicts in a “fair enough” way, and extensive investment in DDR activities.
Memo to the incoming Obama-ites: There is NO military “solution” to any of these conflicts! Don’t even think that supporting the continued militarization of central African societies will bring anything other than continued atrocities and carnage.
The excellent (though sporadic) blogger China Hand has a great new post today tracking the degree to which extensive use of extra-judicial killings has been incorporated into the “standard operating procedures” of the counter-insurgency forces fielded by Gen. Petraeus in Iraq and his former counterparts– now subordinates– running the US-led war in Afghanistan.
As I wrote in this recent JWN post,
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.
I was writing that in response to the bland, non-questioning reception by members of the US’s elite MSM corps of the spin that the recent US killing raid into Syria was somehow “okay” because it was part of a (possibly) “targeted” killing raid against a named individual.
That is an absolutely unacceptable argument.
What China Hand has done, though is review the evidence that is already widely available that the use of deliberate, extra-judicial killings has been deeply integrated by the US military into its conduct of “counter-insurgency” operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan.
He refers mainly to two easily available sources: the Wikipedia entry on Gen. Petraeus (which CH describes as “adoring”), and Bob Woodward’s latest book on the Bush administration’s conduct of the war, titled The War Within.
One thing CH does effectively is unpack the mendacious, though apparently highly “technologized”, language that “people in the know” use to talk about such operations… They do that to hide the fact that, as he states straightforwardly, in the end their policy relies simply on deploying some form of “death squads.”
One of these terms is “targeted kinetic activity.” Personally, when I hear a slimy euphemism like that, I want to vomit.
I guess we’ll just have to take General Petraeus’s word for it that there was some kind of vetting and due process, that people were not improperly killed because of those death squad doppelgangers, greedy and grudge-holding informants, that non-violent opponents of the occupation weren’t targeted as a matter of COIN doctrine, and that “collateral damage” was accidental, avoided when at all possible, and not used as a tool to intimidate the local populace into turning against the insurgents.
For my part, I am not prepared to take anybody’s word that such hush-hush, quite opaque deliberations have any integrity or justifiability to them at all. At all. (And to be fair to China Hand, I think he was writing there with ironic intent.)
President-elect Obama: Please pay attention to this question of extra-judicial killings! They are exactly what the word says: extra-judicial, that is, quite inimical to any concept of the rule of law.
Yes, our country has found itself in a situation where a certain number of people are working actively to harm it. There are many ways to deal with that challenge that do not involve actions that directly undermine the concept of the rule of law.
At a purely utilitarian level, there is absolutely no way the US military can ever “kill” itself successfully out of the many problems and challenges it currently faces in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan.
But beyond that, at a moral/political level, embracing the use of extra-judicial killings (i.e. death squads) as an integral part of what our troops are doing in those distant countries is directly inimical to our own self-understanding and our own interests.
So please: Stop the death squads!
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”?
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?
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 ITV— without 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.
Are Uganda’s talented people about to unlock the riddle of “peace versus justice” that has confounded so many other peoples around the world in recent times?
As long-time JWN readers are aware, I have a longstanding interest in the complex intersection between working for peace and working for ‘justice’, however the latter might be defined. (Hint: In my view, it is not co-terminous with “the orderly working of a western-style criminal court,” shocking as that thought might seem to some readers.)
Two years ago, I spent a little time in Uganda, trying to learn about the complex interaction there between the workings of the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), which then had five arrest warrants outstanding against Ugandan citizens who were in the leadership of the long-standing Lord’s Resistance Army movement, and the peace process the Government of Uganda had been pursuing with– yes– exactly that same leadership of the LRA.
The ICC’s actions had caused the peace process to freeze in place, since LRA Joseph Kony and his colleagues feared that if they left “the bush”, that is, the inaccessible areas of northeastern DRC where they and their remaining fighters were hiding out, and came forward to complete the negotiation, then they would be arrested and whisked off to The Hague.
I did some interviews with members of the ethnic group most affected by the continuing insurgency, the Acholi. The vast majority of their numbers had by then been shut by the government into vast sprawling encampments described by the government and the “international community” as “IDP camps”, but which could more accurately be described as strategic hamlets or concentration camps. You can read some of my reporting from that trip, and from the interviews I had done immediately beforehand with ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, here.
Bottom line: The vast majority of the Acholi people seemed clearly to want to have the peace settlement with the LRA concluded, including by getting Kony “out of the bush” and bringing him back to be reintegrated in some way into civilian society.
That was two years ago. Moreno-Ocampo had a number of ways he could have withdrawn or suspended his indictments, but he chose not to pursue those paths. Of course, he was not living in a concentration camp for all that time.
Fast forward to today. Numerous Acholi community leaders have been working hard, along with representatives of both the government of Uganda and the LRA leadership to try to find a way to integrate into the country’s national legal system provisions of the Acholi traditional conflict-resolution mechanisms that would allow the reintegration of the vast majority of LRA people into their home communities in the context of the Final Peace Agreement, the return of the IDP/concentraion camp residents to their ancestral homes and lands, and the submission of Kony and his high-level colleagues to some form of national-level judicial process. This would get Ocampo and the ICC off all their backs, since the ICC is supposed to be subsidiary to national-level justice efforts.
In May, the excellent, Kampala-based Justice and Reconciliation Project held a very important workshop in Kampala, with high-level representatives of both the government and the LRA taking part, at which the questions around how exactly these accountability and reconciliation processes might be designed to work together in the interests of allowing the peace to proceed. The good people at the JRP recently put the Final Report of that workshop up onto their website. I found it a little hard to get the link to the actual report. But if you go to their website’s front-page, you can currently click there on the link that says “On Accountability: Agreement III, Juba Peace Talks,” and that will take you to it.
I regret I don’t have time right now to write out most of the comments I have on the report, which I read about a week ago. Suffice it to say, for now, that I think the JRP did a great job in convening the workshop, which looks as if it resolved numerous really important questions, including about the the relationship between the newly formed “Special Division” of the Ugandan judiciary and the ICC. (There will be none.)
I hope I can write some more about this later. But since the Uganda case is so very important in the whole, rather sad history of the ICC to date, I wanted to make sure this report gets the attention it deserves. Maybe some of you who have more time available than I do, or who have knowledge of the whole issue that’s more up-to-date than mine, can chime in here with some comments and move the discussion along a bit further.
What is the ICC’s showboating Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo up to regarding Darfur?
I admit I haven’t been watching either the ICC or the Darfur situation quite closely enough in recent weeks. But this op-ed in Saturday’s WaPo certainly caught my eye. Not least because it’s written by Ju;ie Flint and Alex de Waal, two of the people who know the most about Darfur of any of the hundreds of westerners who have taken it up as their “celebrity-riven cause celebre” (or, as their way to try to change the topic of conversation in the US from Iraq, where the US does have direct responsibility, to Darfur, where it certainly doesn’t.)
Flint and de Waal start their piece thus:
Is the International Criminal Court losing its way in Darfur? We fear it is. Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s approach is fraught with risk — for the victims of the atrocities in Darfur, for the prospects for peace in Sudan and for the prosecution itself.
We are worried by two aspects of Ocampo’s approach, as presented to the U.N. Security Council early this month. One concerns fact: Sudan’s government has committed heinous crimes, but Ocampo’s comparison of it with Nazi Germany is an exaggeration. The other concerns political consequences: Indicting a senior government figure would be an immense symbolic victory for Darfurians. But Darfur residents need peace, security and deliverable justice more than they need a moment of jubilation. And with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his men still in power, a high-level indictment would probably damage all these objectives.
While addressing the Security Council on June 5, Ocampo described a Darfur we do not recognize. He spoke of a vast, single crime scene where “the entire Sudanese state apparatus” has been mobilized “to physically and mentally destroy entire communities.” He said he would seek to indict a senior government official — whom we infer may be Bashir — next month. He outlined a criminal conspiracy within government to destroy the social fabric of Darfur with, as he has said, the first stage being the massacres of 2003-04 and the second the destruction of the refugee camps and the ethnic groups housed there.
We were among the first to document the massacres in Darfur — in 2002, even before the rebels announced their uprising — and to call for accountability. We see grave continuing violations of human rights there. But we do not see evidence for the two-stage plan Ocampo described. Yes, there are great obstructions of relief efforts and much violence in and around the camps (not all of it by the government). Government functionaries and soldiers abuse civilians with impunity. But defining today’s violations as a “systematic” campaign to destroy “entire” communities goes too far.
Many, many of the points Flint and de Waal make– especially those I underlined above– are very similar to points that I have made about Darfur over the past couple of years.
Sudan’s government has only itself to blame for the difficulties it faces. But the ICC prosecutor also is erring. Many crimes have been committed in Sudan. The systematic eradication of communities today is not one of them. Bringing charges of this nature against the highest echelons of government, at this moment, would be gambling with the future of the entire Sudanese nation.
I hope that everyone in the western “Save Darfur” campaign reads this article and thinks deeply about it. I know these are not easy issues. But I certainly believe that Flint and de Waal know (and understand, which is a slightly different matter) a lot more about the situation in Darfur than Ocampo.
As they say, “Darfur residents need peace, security and deliverable justice more than they need a moment of jubilation.” What we also need to look much more at is what kind of justice the Darfuris really need. Return to their homes and the reconstitution of their lives, livelihoods, and communities– that is, the satisfaction of core issues of economic and social justice– is probably, for them as for other populations wracked by atrocity-laden inter-group conflict, their first and most pressing need.
Todd Pitman, whose name has bylined many of AP’s stories out of Iraq over the past few years, has written a beautiful and reflective piece (also here) about the death-by-fire in May 2007 of his friend and colleague, the Russian news photog Dmitry Chebotayev, 29.
Pitman starts by describing nightmares that he still has about what he recalls happening in the immediate aftermath of Dmitry’s killing, which took place in the midst of what sounds like a fierce fire-fight:
When the gunshots ease, I survey the scene nervously.
I circle around one body in particular: a man in a maroon shirt, lying face up. Carefully, deliberately, I take photo after photo, capturing it at different angles. The Stryker is just behind, shadowed by a large golden-domed mosque across the street. I think this is an Iraqi civilian in a dishdasha gown, perhaps one of the attackers.
I am expecting Dmitry to come running with his camera, but he does not appear. I think soldiers are keeping him back — photographing American casualties is often taboo.
Inside an abandoned house where we seek shelter, I ask where he is.
“Out front,” a soldier says. “You OK?”
I am relieved, thankful.
I know we will share these stories later: a dangerous time, a brush with death, but we escaped unharmed.
Desperate to talk to Dmitry, I wander outside again. I still can’t find him, and ask somebody else where he is.
Inside the house, a dozen red-eyed, mourning soldiers are sitting against the walls, staring angrily toward the harsh light outside.
Until this moment, I am an observer.
When a soldier answers, I become one of them.
I am numb.
Dmitry is outside on the ground near the door — the one wearing the maroon shirt. His blue flak jacket, helmet and sunglasses are gone. His smashed camera is on the ground beside him. His face is covered in dust.
When I gain the strength to go out and look, he is gone. Soldiers have carried him away.
Now I want to ask him: Can you forgive me taking your picture?
And I ask myself: Why was I taking his picture, any of these pictures, at all?
For a journalist, the world unfolds as an infinite stream of events. Your job is to witness them, capture them, explain them.
But they build up inside you.
I traveled to Iraq half a dozen times for the Associated Press over the years. I saw families crouching in their homes while Americans fought on their rooftops. I heard the screams of a dying Iraqi soldier as we crawled on a roof under a boiling midday sun. I watched helicopter gunships fire rockets across a twilit sky at insurgents holed up in palm groves below.
Unlike everybody else, I was always able to hop on a plane and leave it all behind, returning to a world where you did not cringe, where you could walk — not run — down the street, without worrying about trip wires or bombs or snipers.
I was always able to leave it all behind — until Dmitry was killed.
That day, I crossed through a kind of looking glass, and saw the war in Iraq from another side.
To the daily churn of news, it was just one more tragic story.
To me, it was far more profound. It reverberated through lives thousands of miles away, changing them forever.
I think about all the stories we have written — all the headlines and statistics that comprise the daily death tolls.
I do not look at them so casually anymore.
At the end of May, I traveled to Moscow for Dmitry’s funeral and met his parents, sister and girlfriend.
They didn’t really know what had happened, and telling them, between shots of ice-cold vodka, was one of the hardest things I have ever done. (Dmitry, it turned out, had never told his parents he was going to Iraq. They thought he was in Jordan, shooting pictures of refugees).
His death forced me to slow down my 100 mph life. In less than a year, I had traveled to Iraq twice, with 20 countries and a coup in Thailand in between.
My fiancee and I took a long vacation visiting family and friends, swimming with giant turtles in a sapphire-blue Hawaiian bay. We got married. And now she is pregnant with our baby boy.
I could not be happier — except when I think about what happened.
I have not returned to Iraq, but I’ve been back many times in my mind.
Often, I see Dmitry smiling.
Often, I see him dead.
In my dreams, I lean down and hold what is left of him. I do not care about the blood.
I press my forehead to his — as I did not have the chance to do — then tell him I am sorry, and say goodbye. It is important for me to recognize him, to treat him as a human being — not the object of a camera lens.
I take no pictures, and I am finally at ease.
But this is not a peaceful place.
Nearly a year later, I still wonder what we could have done differently. I feel stupid for seeking the war out. And I’m haunted by the words — “Be careful what you wish for” — that one soldier said to us the day before Dmitry died, as we resolved to go out with the Strykers again.
Now I am left with questions, memories and hundreds of digital photographs that I can no longer look at, that I cannot show anyone and cannot throw away. ..
Pitman asks some absolutely crucial questions about the role of journalists in war situations. I know, because for several years after I finished working as a war correspondent in Lebanon in the 1970s I suffered from several symptoms that today would be classified as PTSD. At times it was only, really, the grinding daily need to be there as the (single) mother for my kids that me going. (The therapeutic effects of folding a pile of laundry made up of small kids’ clothes has never, I feel, been explored as deeply as it should have been.)
Journalists are trained to be professionally present in the most harrowing of situations while keeping their souls and their emotions absent from these situations. Actually, if you’re in a stressful situation, then having something to do is certainly better than not having something to do. So chalk up going out there with a notebook and pen– or, as in Pitman’s case that night, a notebook, pen, and camera– in the middle of a stressful situation as being another excellent coping mechanism, too.
But of course, as Pitman, Elizabeth Rubin, and a host of other fine war correspondents have discovered, you can’t absent your emotions and your soul from these situations. They will come back and bite you later.
So I really admire, certainly, all the journalists who– quite literally– have put their lives on the line in order to tell the world about the grisly and horrendous realities of war. But I think I have special admiration for those who also take the huge professional and personal risk of trying to tell us what it feels like, to them, as they do so.
Thanks, Todd Pitman, for a great and sensitive writing job. I really sympathize about your loss of your friend.
Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema has expressed himself foursquare against all use of extra-judicial executions (EJE’s). He did this in an interview with Gigi Riva of L’Espresso that was published yesterday.
(See what I wrote about EJE’s earlier in the week, here.)
Here, with lots of help from Google Translate, is what D’Alema said in the relevant part of the interview:
Q: Lebanon. Nasrallah announces war after the murder of Mughniyeh in Damascus.
A: A car-bomb in the centre of a city I call terrorism.
Q: Some people said it was the Mossad.
A: Whoever has done it, it is terrorism. I find it also serious that the man was in Syria, which feeds suspicions on the regime.
Q: The car bomb killed the person responsible for some of the most (?) atrocious (nefande) actions that the Middle East has seen over the past 30 years.
A: I am against the death penalty imposed legally, so imagine how one should think about a death decided and undertaken in an extrajudicial way.
Q: [Is that statement] Valid even for the targeted killings of Hamas leaders by the Israelis in Gaza?
A: It is valid for all murders. It is an unacceptable practice. In combatting terrorism we must respect the rule of law. Extraordinary rendition, like targeted killings, has not enhanced the image of the West and has given an alibi for the terrorists.
Q: Returning to Lebanon, there are winds of war.
A:There are worrying signals, but our presence there makes things less bad. UNIFIL is acting also as a deterrent against possible outbreak of a civil war between Lebanese [HC: Really? Interesting that he thinks that… ]and is a key factor for the security of Israel.
Q: About Israel: One scenario would see an invasion of Gaza followed by an international mission to bring security to the area.
A: I shall not comment on scenarios. At some point it might be useful to establish an international force, but as a result of an agreement between the parties, not after an attack.
Okay, it’s still a highly imperfect translation, so if anyone can suggest an improvement for all or part of the above, please do contribute it.
I am just delighted to see an EU Foreign Minister being so clear about both the moral quality and the pragmatic disutility of a policy that condones– or of course, even worse, actually undertakes– extra-judicial executions.