Archive for the ‘Nobel Lecture’ Category

REPRISE: Veterans’ Day, 2011: “Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?”

Monday, November 11th, 2013

First published, November 11, 2011

My uncle died in a field in northern France with a German bullet in his head. To him, and all the other veterans of America’s wars, I am immensely grateful for his, and their, sacrifice.

The Vision of Peace After World War II

At the end of World War II, the leaders of the world had a clear vision of the horrors of war, and acted with resolution to bring wars to a halt through the creation of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945, and by codifying the international law governing the use of force in Article 2 paragraph 4 and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. Article 2 paragraph 4 prohibited the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of members of the organization, a prohibition later extended to include all states. Article 51 provided for an exception in the case of an “armed attack”. These provisions have become customary international law and, importantly, also aquired the status of jus cogens or peremptory law from which there can be no exception or derogation by agreement.

A Vision of Perpetual War

Unfortunately, President Barack Obama and the United States are currently embarked on a policy based on the assumption of perpetual war. The implementation of this policy includes targeted assassinations through drone strikes and other means, the establishment of new drone bases throughout the northern part of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, and the development of new generations of drones some of which are as small as insects.

This policy has been implemented with little regard for the international law governing the use of force, and even less regard for the duty of the United States to contribute to the development of international law and institutions that can help ensure the security of the United States and other countries in the future.

These actions indicate that the United States has no current vision of peace as an overriding goal to be achieved, and no coherent strategy for actually achieving this objective.

Without the goal of peace, we are not likely to take the actions necessary to achieve peace, or to give those actions the urgent priority they should receive.

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?

In these circumstances, one is reminded of Pete Seeger’s famous song entitled “Where have all the flowers gone?” For the lyrics, click here.

Pete Seeger’s performance of this song is available on YouTube here.

See also, pasquetflowerponderings.blogspot.com, “Grandpa’s War – A Veteran’s Day Post,” November 11, 2011, which contains recollections of America’s recent wars, and a link to a clip of Pete Seeger singing ” Where have all the flowers gone” with a moving montage of photographs evoking American experiences of war, created by the TheSpadecaller in 2008.

Joan Baez, in a more recent performance of the song, can be found on YouTube here.

Marlene Dietrich’s recording of this song in English is also found on YouTube here.

For Dietrich’s performance of the song in French, see “Qui peut dire ou vont les fleurs?” here.

For her performance the German version of this song, see “Sag mir wo die Blumen sind”, here.

Marlene Dietrich, in a version of perhaps her most famous song, “Lili Marleen”, written in 1915 and later a hit among troops on both sides during World War II, takes us back to November 11, 1918 and the terrible war that preceded the armistice on that day. Her recording of the song, in English, is found on YouTube here. The original German version of the song is found here.

Obama’s Vision of Perpetual War and International Law

In his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech in Oslo, on December 10, 2009, President Obama said:

In the wake of such destruction (World War II), and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another world war. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations – an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this prize – America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

To begin with, I believe that all nations – strong and weak alike – must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I – like any head of state – reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.

Closely parsed, these statements are full of contradictions, as when President Obama affirms:

(1) “We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”
(2) “To begin with, I believe that all nations – strong and weak alike – must adhere to standards that govern the use of force.”
(3) “I – like any head of state – reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation”; and
(4) “Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.”

Affirmation (1) accepts violent conflict as inevitable. (2) states that all nations must adhere to the norms that govern the use of force. (3) states that he, the president, “like any head of state”, reserves the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend his nation; and (4) states he is convinced adhering to “international standards” strengthens those who do.

These contradictions in Obama’s thinking, it is submitted, have contributed to the incoherence of U.S. foreign policy, particularly when measured against the requirements of international law, and the historical burden of strengthening international law and building better international institutions, which is no less important today than it was in 1945.

Reading these excerpts and the whole speech reveals that the president does not have a clear vision of peace as the goal, or a strategy on how to achieve that goal. While he pays lip service to observing international law, he insists that he has the paradoxical right–”like any head of state”–to violate it if necessary, in his view. So much for the concept of international law governing the use of force.

Without the clear and overriding goal of peace or a strategy for achieving peace, it is hard to see how we and other nations can view as the highest priority taking the steps necessary to achieve peace.

President Obama and the United States currently seem to have no overarching vision of peace, or strategy for achieving peace. As a result, their policies and actions are not guided by the pursuance of this goal in a strategic sense, but rather only by the demands of meeting with expediency the challenges of the moment.

By way of contrast, consider, if you will, the vision of the founders of the United Nations in 1945, particularly as set forth in the Preamble and Articles 1, 2, and 51 of the Charter.

We in the United States, like citizens in other countries, need a strong vision of peace and a coherent strategy for achieving it. Consequently, we need a president who has such a vision, and is guided by it.

The Trenchant Observer

Smart drones, the goal of peace, and the future of mankind

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

In an Op-Ed piece by Bill Keller published in the New York Times on March 16, 2013, Keller describes the high probability that “smart drones” will be introduced in the future, in which the aerial-borne robotic machine and its computer will decide which targets and individuals and groups to fire upon, without human intervention. Keller notes that Israel, in fact, has already introduced such an aircraft, the Harpy. Keller notes,

Israel is the first country to make and deploy (and sell, to China, India, South Korea and others) a weapon that can attack pre-emptively without a human in charge. The hovering drone called the Harpy is programmed to recognize and automatically divebomb any radar signal that is not in its database of “friendlies.” No reported misfires so far, but suppose an adversary installs its antiaircraft radar on the roof of a hospital?

–Bill Keller, Op-Ed, “Smart Drones,” New York Times, March 16, 2013.

The entire op-ed piece speaks of advances in warfare based on the underlying assumption that continued warfare is inevitable, and that the most we can aspire to is to limit some forms of warfare or weapons used, such as land-mines. While there is a great deal to be said for international treaties and institutions that limit types and the extent of warfare–international humanitarian law or “the law of war” has precisely that aim, it seems that humanity has fallen into a downward spiral in its thinking and aspirations relating to war, and into what is in fact a profound moral abyss.

In 1945, no one doubted that the goal of international society and the new United Nations Charter and Organization should be the prevention of war, and the maintenance of international peace and security. This goal was almost self-evident to generations which had suffered the ravages of World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945).

But today our leaders no longer espouse the goal of international peace. Like President Barack Obama in his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech or Lecture in 2009, they have no vision of peace as an overriding goal to which other objectives should be subordinated. Rather, permanent war is in the minds of the leaders of today. Obama, in thinking about his pivot to Asia, is thinking about military deployments in the region to check China’s rising military power. In the stand-off with Russia and China in the United Nations Security Council over Syria, the larger question of the goals and vision of international society has been lost, primarily but not exclusively as a result of Russian and Chinese obstinacy.

At best, particularly under Obama, we have a dearth of American leadership in world affairs in general and in the maintenance of international peace and security in particular. Here, France has stepped into the vacuum, first acting as a catalyst in Libya and more recently, acting by introducing French forces into Mali to halt the fall of that country to Islamic terrorist groups and Tuareg guerrillas.

But who, and in which countries, dares today to articulate a powerful vision of peace and how to get there?

Without a powerful vision of peace, such as that originally laid out in 1945 in the Preamble and Articles 1 and 2 of the United Nations Charter, humanity will continue to stumble down the terrible path of war, now to be mechanized with smart drones, and also soon to be characterized by an imminent breakdown in the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

In five years, or at most 10, Iran will have nuclear weapons. In five years, or at most 10, North Korea will have weapons and delivery vehicles that can land a nuclear bomb in Seattle or Los Angeles, if not Washington, New York, Moscow or London.

Is it not time that we in the United States seek to purify ourselves of the flawed thinking of the Bush and the Obama administrations about the inevitability of war, about the malleability of our most sacred moral values such as the inviolability of the human person, about the central importance of respect for fundamental human rights, of every person–even enemy combatants–and begin to concentrate with all our mental, social and political powers on the question of peace, and how to achieve it?

Is not war, and the pursuit of war, evil, and are not the pursuit of international peace and the fundamental human rights of all persons in all countries goals which embody our highest moral values?

Should we, then, not act on the basis of those values, and turn all of our efforts to developing our visions of peace and our roadmaps on how to get there?

It is perhaps no exaggeration to assert that a positive future for mankind depends on our visions of peace and our efforts to achieve them, far more than it depends on the technological “advances” we might make in developing ever-better machines of war.

Now, let’s think one step further and ask whether peace can be established without international rules that are binding in nature. Is there any realistic vision of peace that does not rest, ultimately, on the development and observance of international law and institutions? That was the vision of the founders of the League of Nations in 1919, and of the founders of the United Nations in 1945.

Is it not time for a renewal of hope, of positive goals, of our own deeply-felt visions of peace, and of our own stalwart and courageous actions to secure that peace?

The Trenchant Observer

Imagine: The Collapse of International Order, Syria, and Berlin in 1945

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

There is nothing inevitable about international order.

The lessons of two world wars which informed the creation of the United Nations in 1945, and the maintenance of international peace and security for over 60 years, can be forgotten.

It is entirely conceivable that without decisive leadership from either Europe or the United States, the international order that has existed for many decades could start to wobble and even collapse.

And it is nearly impossible to conceive of such leadership emerging any time soon.

The rubble in Syria resembles the rubble in Berlin and the destruction in Germany in 1945, which occurred the last time the international order collapsed.

How bad could it get?

You could have wars like the one in Syria devastating countries in Africa, a nuclear attack on Los Angeles from North Korea, Iran with nuclear weapons and delivery systems within 5-10 years, and Israel surrounded by hostile Islamist states.

Things could fall apart.

Imagine a world without law, without international law governing the use of force which is generally observed and which states seek to uphold when it is violated.

Imagine true anarchy unleashed upon the world.

Imagine a  world in which states use force without acknowledging they have acted, and without any obligation to publicly justify the legitimacy of their actions by reference to international law.

That is the direction in which we are heading.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: “A time to break silence”: Dr. King on the Vietnam war, and President Carter on America’s human rights violations

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

[This is a lengthy article. The reader may wish to read it, and listen to the recordings, in three parts.]

Originally published June 27, 2012 (revised June 28, 2012)

“And I’ve long since learned that to be a follower (of) Jesus Christ means taking up the cross. And my bible tells me that Good Friday comes before Easter. Before the crown we wear, there is the cross that we must bear. Let us bear it–bear it for truth, bear it for justice, and bear it for peace. Let us go out this morning with that determination. And I have not lost faith. I’m not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven’t lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam,” Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967.

There is a powerful connection between the April, 1967 sermons on Vietnam of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Jimmy Carter’s recent New York Times op-ed piece on American human rights violations, and the policies currently being carried out by President Barack Obama. It is important to understand this connection, details of which are set forth below.

I. Jimmy Carter’s Op-Ed in the New York Times, Criticizing America’s Violations of Human Rights

Ex-president Jimmy Carter published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times on June 24, in which he hashly criticized President Obama, and also former president Bush, for “the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade, (which) has been a dramatic change from the past, signifying the fact that “the United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights.”

See Jimmy Carter, “A Cruel and Unusual Record,” New York Times (op-ed), June 24, 2012.

Carter continued,

Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues.

These policies and actions, he wrote, signaled “a dramatic change from the past”, when the United States exercised bold leadership in securing the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Its adoption, wrote Carter,

…was a bold and clear commitment that power would no longer serve as a cover to oppress or injure people, and it established equal rights of all people to life, liberty, security of person, equal protection of the law and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention or forced exile.

The declaration has been invoked by human rights activists and the international community to replace most of the world’s dictatorships with democracies and to promote the rule of law in domestic and global affairs.

But, he continued,

It is disturbing that, instead of strengthening these principles, our government’s counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the declaration’s 30 articles, including the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Recent legislation has made legal the president’s right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations or “associated forces,” a broad, vague power that can be abused without meaningful oversight from the courts or Congress (the law is currently being blocked by a federal judge). This law violates the right to freedom of expression and to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, two other rights enshrined in the declaration.

He noted further, that

(R)ecent laws have canceled the restraints in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow unprecedented violations of our rights to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications…

Carter harshly criticized the use of drone attacks, writing that

Despite an arbitrary rule that any man killed by drones is declared an enemy terrorist, the death of nearby innocent women and children is accepted as inevitable. After more than 30 airstrikes on civilian homes this year in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has demanded that such attacks end, but the practice continues in areas of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen that are not in any war zone. We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington. This would have been unthinkable in previous times.

These policies were counterproductive in terms of American foreign policy, he observed, noting that

Top intelligence and military officials, as well as rights defenders in targeted areas, affirm that the great escalation in drone attacks has turned aggrieved families toward terrorist organizations, aroused civilian populations against us and permitted repressive governments to cite such actions to justify their own despotic behavior.

The 39th president of the United States also criticized the fact that the Guantánamo Bay facility remains open, with 169 prisoners still detained there. While “about half have been cleared for release,” their chances of ever obtaining their freedom are slim, he asserted.

Some of those being tried have been tortured, Carter noted, writing:

American authorities have revealed that, in order to obtain confessions, some of the few being tried (only in military courts) have been tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers. Astoundingly, these facts cannot be used as a defense by the accused, because the government claims they occurred under the cover of “national security”. Most of the other prisoners have no prospect of ever being charged or tried either.

In conclusion, former president Carter argued,

At a time when popular revolutions are sweeping the globe, the United States should be strengthening, not weakening, basic rules of law and principles of justice enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

U.S. violation of international human rights is counterproductive, he asserted, because it “abets our enemies and alienates our friends.” As “concerned citizens”, we must now persuade Washington “to reverse course and regain moral leadership according to international human rights norms that we had officially adopted as our own and cherished throughout the years.”

This forceful critique of American human rights violations made by Jimmy Carter, the American president most closely associated with U.S. leadership in the field of human rights, will undoubtedly have a significant impact over time, both abroad and at home.

II. Dr. King and Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence—Bearing the Cross for Truth, Justice and Peace

When I read ex-President Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece in the New York Times on June 24, calling out President Barack Obama for his human rights violations, both domestic and foreign, I was reminded of the afternoon I was driving in my car and first heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also a Nobel Prize winner, deliver a powerful speech criticizing President Johnson and his conduct of the Vietnam war.

The feeling then, in 1967, was one of enormous relief. At last there was a figure of great and almost unparalleled national and international prominence, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, who had the courage to speak the truth as he saw it, according to his best lights, and his deep faith, however unpopular that truth might be.

Martin Luther King, Jr. gave two sermons on Vietnam in April, 1967. The first, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” is a detailed but courageous speech that draws on many of the details of the history of Vietnam and the war which were familiar to his audience. It is delivered in a calm, reasoned tone. The second, a sermon delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where he was pastor, is a strong sermon delivered in the cadences of the powerful preacher who King was. Entitled, “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam,” it hits the main points of the April 4 sermon, with greater emotional emphasis. It is probably more accessible to readers and listeners not familiar with the history and details of the Vietnam conflict. Links to both are found below. See

Rev. Martin Luther King, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City).

The text is found here.

The audio is found here.

David Bromwich, “Martin Luther King’s Speech Against the Vietnam War,” Antiwar.com, May 16, 2008 (summary and analysis, with extensive excerpts).

See also:

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam,” Sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, April 30, 1967. Excerpts from the audio and text are found here.

The complete audio (in RealAudio) is found here.

The original written text is found here.

NOTE: The two sermons are often confused, with the audio for the April 30 sermon often being attributed to the April 4 “Beyond Vietnam” sermon.

“The Obamians”, as James Mann has termed President Obama and his younger group of closest foreign policy advisers, in his new and revealing book on the foreign policy team in the White House, would especially benefit from listening to King’s speech, and his April 30, 1967 sermon. Their eyes reportedly glaze over when other advisers, usually older, refer to the Vietnam war and its lessons. They, and particularly the most important Obamian, President Obama himself, should listen to Martin Luther King’s speech and sermon, and reflect on what they hear, taking the moral authority of the speaker into account.

They might also bear in mind and take to heart the famous dictum,

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George de Sanayana, from “Life of Reason I”).

Mann’s book is fascinating. See

The Obanians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power (Viking Penguin/The Penguin Group, 2012)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, exactly one year after his speech or sermon entitled, “”Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”

III. Jimmy Carter’s Contribution to Human Rights

Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece should grab the public’s attention in the United States.

But the coverage in the U.S. press suggests the public may have become far too accustomed to the targeted killings, or “assassinations” in the words of Jimmy Carter–which is the correct term when the killings are conducted outside the framework of international law, far too accustomed to the debate over the efficacy of torture, far too complacent over the violation of bedrock principles of the U.S. Constitution, to pay much attention.

The press reaction in different countries is quite revealing, even if it takes a lot of work to uncover, due to the “filter bubble” Google and most other search engines now use, displaying search results only from our own country and in our own language. If you are in the United States and Google “Jimmy Carter” you won’t see the incisive articles published in the United Kingdom in The Guardian, The Telegraph or The Independent. You’ll see articles and blogs published in the United States.

We now live in information ghettos, where the opinions of those in other countries are filtered out of our consciousness. Moreover, due to the use of our previous search histories to filter the results that are displayed in, e.g., a Google search, within this subset of news and opinion we may even see news that leans more to the left or the right, depending on who we have read in the past.

Jimmy Carter has demonstrated in his op-ed that there are still Democrats in the United States with the courage to defend our civil liberties, and to fight for a foreign policy based on furthering human rights and democracy abroad, and compliance with the basic norms of international law, including those relating to human rights.

When historians of the future write about this period, they may mention Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece, and wonder how the people of this time in the U.S. went along with such egregious violations of the U.S. constitution and the most fundamental norms of international law.

Now the question is whether others will have the courage to speak out, even if the president committing these violations is from their own party–and the party they want to win in the November elections.

It is a stark moral choice. Listen to the audio of Martin Luther King’s April 4, 1967 speech and especially to the audio of his April 30, 1967 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. He speaks of stark moral choices.

One is reminded not only of Martin Luther King, Jr., but also of those other defenders of civil liberties and democracy, such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Vacslav Havel, and Lech Walensa. One is also reminded of humanity’s project of building international peace through the establishment of international law and institutions, and compliance with their norms.

In the field of human rights, President Jimmy Carter was one of those men. His support of human rights started a process in Latin America (and elsewhere) which led to the end of dictatorships and authoritarian rule, and the gradual consolidation of democracy throughout the hemisphere.

His push for human rights led to the ratifications of the American Convention on Human Rights which resulted in its entry into force on July 18, 1978. His support of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the establishment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José Costa Rica, pursuant to the provisions of the American Convention, strengthened in the Americas a system of international protection of human rights similar in form to that established in Europe under the European Convention on Human Rights, in force since 1953.

Regrettably, the United States has never ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, which President Jimmy Carter signed and submitted to the Senate for ratification. Nonetheless, the U.S. is still bound to observe the rights set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights of Man, adopted by the members of the newly founded Organization of American States in Bogotá in April, 1948, months before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10 of that year.

But the Inter-American system was called upon to protect human rights in the face of social and political realities that were vastly different from those in Europe in 1978, though one must recall that the European system too had its origins in tumultuous times following the end of World War II. The European Convention entered into force on September 3, 1953, establishing a Commission which functioned until 1998, and the European Court of Human Rights to which citizens since 1998 may now appeal directly without going through the Commission, which was abolished in 1998.

The Inter-American system, with that of Europe, also set a powerful example for Africa, which adopted the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which entered into force on October 21, 1986. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has established an important body of precedent, and now the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, created pursuant to a protocol to the Charter which entered into effect on January 25, 2005, has also been established, and may one day soon merge with the African Court of Justice. The African Commission and Court are having an increasing impact on the achievement and consolidation of democracy and the rule of law on the continent.

All three of these regional systems were inspired by, and gave further expression to, the ideals and norms contained in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Worth noting is that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded on December 10 of each year.

In supporting these developments, and continuing his struggle for democracy and human rights since he left office in January, 1981, Jimmy Carter deserves the most profound respect and thanks of the world community, including the people of the United States. During his time in office, while mistakes were made, he carried forward the torch of human rights. For his work, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

For speaking out now against violations of the most fundamental norms of human rights and international law, and even and particularly when those violations were and are committed by his own government, Jimmy Carter deserves our highest praise.

Thank you, President Carter.

And thank you, Dr. King. For your example, moral clarity, and courage, which we hope will guide us now.

The Trenchant Observer

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls for prosecution of Blair and Bush for Iraq invasion; Torture investigations end in U.S.

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

South African Archbishop Tutu Withdraws from Conference, Suggests Blair and Bush should be Prosecuted for Invasion of Iraq

Former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the renowned anti-apartheid leader and recipient of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, has written an op-ed piece in The Observer explaining why he withdrew from attending the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg last week, a conference attended by Tony Blair.

“As the date drew nearer, I felt an increasingly profound sense of discomfort about attending a summit on “leadership” with Mr Blair. I extend my humblest and sincerest apologies to Discovery, the summit organisers, the speakers and delegates for the lateness of my decision not to attend.”

–Desmond Tutu, “Why I had no choice but to spurn Tony Blair; “I couldn’t sit with someeone who justified the invasion of Iraq with a lie,” The Observer, September 1, 2012 (opinion).

See also Tony Helm (Political Editor) “Tony Blair should face trial over Iraq war, says Desmond TutuAnti-apartheid hero attacks former prime minister over ‘double standards on war crimes’”, The Guardian, September 1, 2012.

In his op-ed piece, Archbishop Tutu wrote:

The immorality of the United States and Great Britain’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.

Instead of recognising that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.

Explaining that he had called Condolezza Rice on the eve of the invasion asking for more time for the U.N. weapons insprectors to complete their tasks, and that she had responded that there wasn’t enough time, the former Archbiship of Cape Town asked, “If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth?”

The 1984 Nobel Peace Prize laureate continued:

The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of its by-all-accounts despotic and murderous leader has been staggering, beginning in Iraq itself. Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs, according to the Iraqi Body Count project. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.

On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague.

Returning to the theme of why he had withdrawn from the conference, Archbishop Tutu argued,

Leadership and morality are indivisible. Good leaders are the custodians of morality. The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.

If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?

My appeal to Mr Blair is not to talk about leadership, but to demonstrate it….

U.S. Attorney Gerneral Announces End of Last Torture Investigations

Ironically, just days earlier, on August 30, 2012, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the last torture investigations had been concluded, and that the last few individuals under investigation would not be prosecuted.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Thursday that no one would be prosecuted for the deaths of a prisoner in Afghanistan in 2002 and another in Iraq in 2003, eliminating the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the C.I.A.

–Scott Shane, ” No Charges Filed on Harsh Tactics Used by the C.I.A., New York Times, August 30, 2012.

See also

“Justice Department Ends Investigation on Alleged Use of Torture by CIA,” PBS Newshour, August 31, 2012.

“ACLU Comment on Closure of Justice Department’s CIA Torture Investigation,” ACLU.org, August 30, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, previous articles on torture (find using the SEARCH box in the upper right-hand corner of the home page).

As a result of Holder’s decision, domestic investigations into the Bush torture policy and those responsible for torture as it is defined in the U.N. Convention Against Torture have now concluded, opening the way for other countries to apprehend and try U.S. officials responsible for torture when they are found within their jurisdiction.

The outrageous irony here is that Holder has concluded that not even these lower-level officials can be prosecuted due to the lack of sufficient “admissible evidence” to secure a conviction. In the United States justice system, evidence obtained through the use of torture is not admissible, and evidence relating to the administration of such torture may not be admissible because it is “classified”. If this phalanx of legal defenses is not sufficient to bar prosecution, the government can always invoke the relatively new state secrets doctrine in order to secure the dismissal of the case.

So, this U.S. administration is not going to prosecute those responsible for the Bush torture policy or for carrying it out. As the Attorney General previously announced, the Justice Department excluded from its investigations all cases where the acts using so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (i.e., torture under the terms of the U.N. Convention on Torture) were carried out pursuant to legal guidance by the Department of Justice.

Until reversed, these decisions stand for the acceptance by the United States of the “due obedience” defense to international crimes.

This defense was explicitly rejected at Nuremberg, in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and in numerous prosecutions against those responsible for international crimes in a number of countries and before a number of international tribunals.

It is a shameful policy for the United States to uphold.

Now, over the coming years and decades, it will fall upon the initiative of other countries which are parties to the U.N. Convention Against Torture to bring to justice those responsible for the torture policy of the Bush years.

Bush administration officials involved in those policies and their execution desiring to avoid accountability under international law would be well-advised to carefully consider their foreign travel plans in the future.

The Trenchant Observer

South Africa strays from Mandela’s vision, abstaining in Security Council vote on Syria— Update #69 (July 27)

Friday, July 27th, 2012

The following article is divided into five sections or parts. Due to its length, the reader may wish to read one or more different sections at different times. The sections are:

(1) South Africa’s Abstention in the Vote on Draft Resolution S/2012/538
(2) South African Statements in Defense of its Abstention in the Vote
(3) Statement of Ian Davidson, Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Alliance
(4) The Text of Security Council Draft Resolution 538
(5) Mandela’s Vision

South Africa’s Abstention in the Vote on Draft Resolution S/2012/538

South Africa abstained in the July 19 vote on Security Council draft Resolution S/2012/538 on Syria, sponsored by France, Germany, Portugal,the United Kingdom and the United States. The resolution would have extended the UN observer mission in Syria (UNSMIS) for 45 days, and threatened but did not specify the imposition of sanctions by the Security Council (pursuant to a future vote) if the al-Assad government did not comply with key provisions of the Security Council’s 6-point peace plan (also known as the Kofi Annan 6-point peace plan).

Forgetting that its own liberation struggle had benefited from economic sanctions imposed by the Security Council, South Africa gave tacit support to Russia and China and their argument that the Security Council had no right to interfere in the domestic affairs of Syria.

South African Statements in Defense of its Abstention in the Vote

In a statement in the Security Council following the vote and South Africa’s abstention on draft resolution S/2012/538, the South African representative, Mr. Mashabane, stated the following:

Mr. Mashabane (South Africa): South Africa strongly condemns the continuing violence and the huge loss of life in Syria. It is now 16 months since the crisis began, and there is no end in sight. Instead, the security and humanitarian situations have become worse. The deteriorating situation in Syria highlights the urgency for all sides to stop armed violence in all its forms, implement the six-point plan presented by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, and move rapidly towards a political dialogue and a peaceful, democratic, Syrian-led transition.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has just classified the situation in Syria as meeting the conditions of an internal armed conflict. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has made a similar statement. This means that the situation has reached the threshold of a civil war, in which all parties have responsibilities and obligations under international humanitarian law.

The highest priority should be to stop the killing and end the suffering of civilians. The suicide bombing in Damascus yesterday, which killed the Syrian Defence Minister and others, coupled with frequent horrific massacres in various parts of the country, clearly indicates that there is more than one party to the conflict. This volatile situation has also become fertile ground for terrorist groups. Acts of violence committed by any party are unacceptable and a clear violation of their commitments under the six-point plan, and should be condemned. Reports of the continued use of heavy weapons by the Syrian security forces are also of serious concern to us.

South Africa strongly supports the efforts of Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan and believes that his plan is the only credible mechanism that could deliver a positive and realistic outcome. Coupled with the Annan plan is the final communiqué of the Action Group for Syria (S/2012/523, annex), adopted in Geneva on 30 June. It constitutes a significant proposal on the way forward in Syria and has been supported by all permanent members of the Security Council. We should not fail to support Mr. Annan, as his efforts may be the only branch to which to cling before the seismic currents of a bloody civil war push Syria over the brink into a state of total collapse.

South Africa is disappointed that, because of the divisions among the members of the Council, the Council has been prevented from executing its responsibilities. Differences within the Council should be addressed in a spirit of compromise and mutual respect, and with the Council’s broader responsibility in mind. All members of the Council have consistently expressed their support for the Kofi Annan plan, the Geneva action plan communiqué and the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria UNSMIS).

Yet the common cause that we affirmed when we adopted resolutions 2042 (2012) and 2043 (2012) three months ago has not seemed to prevail. We should have shown the utmost maturity in strategically executing these crucial tasks, taking into account the realities of the situation on the ground. Instead, we allowed narrow interests to destroy our unity of purpose.

We agree with the Joint Special Envoy that the Council must insist that these decisions be implemented, that a strong message should be sent to all parties involved, and that there will be consequences for their non-compliance with its decisions. We fail to see, however, how the text that was submitted today by the sponsors would end the violence or contribute to the implementation of the six-point plan. Instead, the text, in an unbalanced manner, threatens sanctions against the Government of Syria without realistically allowing any action to be taken against the opposition, which would be permitted to defy the six-point plan without consequence. In similar situations where the international community, including the Security Council, has preferred one side over the other, such bias has resulted in the polarization of the conflict. This is especially true for such fractious societies as Syria’s.

The failure of the Council today to reach a balanced agreement threatens the Kofi Annan plan and undermines the possibility of finding a peaceful political solution to the Syrian crisis. Our failure to renew the mandate of UNSMIS — the only functional tool for verifying and corroborating information on the ground and supporting the Annan plan, as recommended by the Secretary-General — is disappointing. While we are concerned about the safety of the observers, South Africa continues to believe that UNSMIS has been a critical part of our effort to find a solution to the Syrian crisis, and should therefore continue its work in one form or the other when conditions on the ground so permit. SouthAfricais therefore deeply disappointed that the future of UNSMIS is under threat because of the divisions in the Council.

It is for these reasons that South Africa abstained in the voting on draft resolution S/2012/538. SouthAfricastands ready to work with all members of the Council to achieve a strong, balanced outcome in support of Kofi Annan’s efforts and a renewal of the UNSMIS mandate.

In conclusion, for the time being South Africa supports the proposal for a possible technical rollover of UNSMIS for a very short term.

–United Nations Security Council, 6810th meeting, 19 July, 2012, U.N. Doc. S/PV.6810, at pp. 11-12.

The Deputy Foreign Minister, Ebrahim Ebrahim, made virtually the same points in a statement issued on July 20, arguing that the resolution was not balanced.

See

SAPA, “South Africa speaks out on violence in Syria; South Africa voices concern over killings of civilians in Syria as resolution that would have extended UN observer mission is vetoed,” Business Live (South Africa), July 19, 2012.

Khadija Patel, “Analysis: Tracking South Africa’s Syria policy,”
Daily Maverick (Johannesburg), July 23, 2012.

Mandy Rossouw, “Pretoria takes soft stance on Syria,” City Press (Pretoria), July 22, 2012.

Oluwaseun Oluwarotimi (NewsWorld), “Syria; UN Security Council, A Failure- South Africa,” Leadership (Abuja), July 23, 2012.

However, the statements of the South African Security Council Representative and the Deputy Foreign Minister seeking to justify South Africa’s abstention do not stand up to close scrutiny, in the light of the actual text of Security Council draft resolution S/2012/538.

This is evident from a comparison of their remarks and the actual text of the draft resolution itself.

The full text of Ebrahim’s statement follows:

Statement by the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ebrahim Ebrahim, on the UN Security Council vote on the extension of the mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), 20 Jul 2012

South Africa deplores the violence and the tremendous loss of life in Syria, which is spiraling out of control. I reiterate that our highest priority is to stop the killing. We feel that the only way to achieve this is through the Annan plan for a political transition.

The bomb in Damascus earlier this week, which resulted in the death of senior government officials including the Defence Minister, Daoud Rajha, coupled with the many horrific massacres that have taken place over the past few weeks, clearly shows that there is more than one side to the conflict. It is also obvious that all sides are heavily armed.

We have noted the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s classification of the escalating situation in Syria as meeting the conditions of an internal armed conflict. The United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights also stated that: “there are indications that the situation in Syria, at least in certain areas, may amount to a non-international armed conflict thus entailing obligations on both sides under international law”.

This confirms that the situation has reached a threshold of a civil war in which all parties have responsibilities and obligations under international humanitarian law.

It is therefore essential that the Security Council address this dire situation in line with the United Nations Charter. The Charter determines that the Council should make recommendations for conflict resolution and take account of failures of implementation with its decisions: “without prejudice to the rights, claims and positions of the parties concerned”. Chapter VII of the UN Charter therefore mandates the Security Council to address the conduct of all parties to a conflict equally.

During the past week, Kofi Annan, in response to the escalating violence and lack of movement in the peace process, requested the Council to send a strong message to all parties that there would be consequences for their non-compliance with the Annan plan.

It has been incorrectly reported that South Africa was opposed to sanctions on the Syrian government. I wish to emphasise that South Africa fully supports the request of the Joint Special Envoy for stern action. Our problem with the resolution voted on yesterday was not the issue of sanctions on the government per se, but the fact that the text did not provideformeasures against the opposition for non-compliance with the Annan plan. (emphasis added).

It was on this basis that South Africa made recommendations to balance the text. These proposals were rejected by the drafters of the resolution, leaving South Africa no option but to abstain in the vote

This was not merely an issue of language. South Africa takes it responsibility as a member of the Security Council extremely seriously, because its decisions impact the lives of ordinary people. Our view is that a one-sided resolution would only make the situation on the ground worse, pushing the government to further pursue the military option and emboldening the opposition to continue to reject talks. In a complex, divided society such as Syria, there can be no military solution.

We saw this clearly in Iraq. Ultimately, the parties in Syria will have to negotiate a settlement. The question is whether they do so now or after a bloody and protracted civil war. We are therefore deeply disappointed that the Council was not able to apply pressure to both sides to bring an end to the violence.

The outcome of the vote reflects the deep divisions and narrow interests of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council. These divisions and the inability of the Security Council to address the realities of the appalling situation on the ground in a balanced and mature manner, is a failure by the Security Council to execute its primary mandate, namely the maintenance of international peace and security.

South Africa continues to call for a Syrian-led negotiated all-inclusive dialogue to establish a politicaltransitionthat will reflect the will of the Syrian people. This is the ultimate aim of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Mr Kofi Annan, and the only hope for the Syrian people.

While we are concerned about the safety of observers, South Africa continues to believe that UNSMIS plays a critical role in supporting the efforts of Mr Annan, including through verification and facilitating local-level cease-fires. The withdrawal of UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) will only result in the conflict on the ground spiraling into an all-out war, which will have a severe impact on the stability of the entire region. South Africa is deeply concerned about such a prospect.

Currently there are two competing resolutions before the Security Council to extend the mandate of UNSMIS, which South Africa supports. We hope the Security Council will be able to rise above its deep divisions and adopt the extension unanimously.

(Statement issued by Department of International Relations and Cooperation, July 20, 2012)

Statement of Ian Davidson, Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Alliance

Ian Davidson, the shadow minister for foreign affairs of the Democratic Alliance, expressed his disagreement with the Zuma government’s abstention in the Security Council in a statement issued on July 20, 2012.

See “DA: Statement by Ian Davidson, Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister of InternationalRelationsand Co-operation, on the Department of International Relations and Co-operation’s stance on Syria, Polityorg.com, July 20, 2012.

The full text of Davidson’s statement follows:

While the death toll in Syria continues to rise, South Africa’s representatives in the United Nations (UN) Security Council have once again abstained from voting in support of decisive UN action in Syria. Once again, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) is allowing autocratic regimes with poor human rights records to dictate South Africa’s foreign policy.

After recognising yesterday that the violence in Syria is “spinning out of control”, South Africa has yet again abstained from voting on the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution aiming at de-escalating conflict in Syria.

UN action was effectively neutered by vetoes from Russia and China. By abstaining from the vote, South Africa has sided with its fellow BRICS members. While the Syrian people are being bombed by their own government and the increasing armament of both the government forces and rebel groups has turned the Syrian conflict into an international security crisis, South Africa chose to remain on the fence.

DIRCO defends this decision by claiming that the world requires a “balanced” intervention which recognises the wrongdoings of all parties to the conflict and paves the way for negotiation.

The proposed UN resolution stipulated a deadline for an end to the use of heavy weapons, called for the withdrawalofSyrian forces from towns and cities and proposed sanctions should this deadline not be met. The dream of a negotiated settlement will never be realised without more decisive initial steps to de-escalate the violence.

South Africa should not be caught on the wrong side of history again, as with our infamous flip-flop on Libya. In abstaining from this vote, we are losing credibility as a country which believes in human rights and a just international order and we are alienating the West and Arab League nations more directly affected by the Syrian conflict.

Instead of using our position as a member of BRICS to encourage China and Russia to do the right thing, we are being caught in the slipstream of their bad decisions. Our association with China and Russia in this regard will undermine our legitimacy in the UN Security Council and could derail our efforts to reform this structure to the benefit of smaller and developing nations.

DIRCO fence-sitting raises questions about our capacity to make tough decisions that may offend some of our more dubious friends.

The Text of Security Council Draft Resolution 538

Draft Resolution 538 was in fact quite balanced, in view of the events of the last year and the atrocities Bashar al-Assad has committed and is committing against his opponents, who began their protest peacefully in March, 2011. The actual text of draft resolution 2012/538 follows:

Security Council: Text of draft resolution on Syria
Jul 19, 2012
(France, Germany, Portugal, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and United States of America: draft resolution)

The Security Council,

Recalling its Resolutions 2043 (2012) and 2042 (2012), and its Presidential Statements of 3 August 2011, 21 March 2012 and 5 April 2012,

Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, and to the purposes and principles of the Charter,

Reaffirming alsoits support to the Joint Special Envoy for the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Kofi Annan, and his work, following General Assembly resolution A/RES/66/253 of 16 February 2012 and relevant resolutions of the League of Arab States, aimed at securing full implementation of his six-point plan in its entirety, as annexed to resolution 2042 (2012),

Condemning the Syrian authorities’ increasing use of heavy weapons, including indiscriminate shelling from tanks and helicopters, in population centres and failure to withdraw its troops and heavy weapons to their barracks contrary to paragraph 2 of resolution 2043 (2012),

Condemning the armed violence in all its forms, including by armed opposition groups, and expressing grave concern at the continued escalation of violence, and expressing its profound regret at the death of many thousands of people in Syria,

Condemning the continued widespread violations of human rights by the Syrian authorities, as well as any human rights abuses by armed opposition groups, and recalling that those responsible shall be held accountable,

Condemning the series of bombings that have made the situation more complex and deadly, some of which are indicative of the presence of well-organised terrorist groups,

Deploring the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the failure to ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting contrary to point 3 of the Envoy’s six-point plan, reiterating its call for the Syrian parties to allow immediate, full and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to all populations in need of assistance, in particular to civilian populations in need of evacuation, and calling upon all parties in Syria, in particular the Syrian authorities, to cooperate fully with the United Nations and relevant humanitarian organizations to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance;

Condemning the continued detention of thousands of Syrians in networks of Government-run facilities and deploring that there is no freedom of assembly contrary to points 4 and 6 of the six-point plan, and recalling the urgency of intensifying the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons, and reiterating the need for Syrians to enjoy the freedom to assemble, including to demonstrate peacefully and freedom of movement for journalists throughout the country, as part of the necessary conditions for a political transition,

Having considered the Secretary-General’s report on UNSMIS dated 6 July 2012, commending United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) personnel for their continued efforts in a dangerous and volatile environment, and deploring that, due to the failure of the parties to implement the six-point plan and to the level of violence, monitoring access restrictions and direct targeting, the Mission’s operational activities were rendered unworkable, and supporting the Secretary-General’s recommendation that a shift in Mission structure and focus should be considered,

Stressingthat rapid progress on a political solution represents the best opportunity to resolve the situation in Syria peacefully, welcoming in this regard the Final Communiqué of the Envoy’s 30 June Action Group meeting, and noting that progress towards an atmosphere of safety and calm is key to enabling a credible transition,

Welcoming the Syrian Opposition Conference held under the auspices of the League of Arab States in Cairo on July 3, 2012, as part of the efforts of the League of Arab States to engage the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition, and encouraging greater cohesion among the opposition,

Noting the Secretary-General’s 6 July 2012 call on the Security Council to provide the necessary support and ensure sustained, united and effective pressure on all concerned to ensure compliance with its decisions and create conditions for the success of a political solution envisaged by the Action Group,

Determining that the situation in Syria constitutes a threat to international peace and security,

Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,

1. Expresses grave concern at the escalation of violence, and the failure of the parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, to implement the Envoy’s six-point plan as annexed to resolution 2042 (2012), thus not permitting the creation of a political space that would allow for meaningful political dialogue, and calls upon all parties to recommit immediately and without waiting for the actions of others to a sustained cessation of violence in all its forms and implementation of the six-point plan;

2. Endorsesin full the 30 June Action Group Final Communiqué and its underlying guidelines and principles (Annex);

Enabling Transition: Immediate implementation of the Envoy’s six-point plan

3. Demandsthe urgent, comprehensive, and immediate implementation of, all elements of the Envoy’s six-point proposal as annexed to resolution 2042 (2012) aimed at bringing an immediate end to all violence and human rights violations, securing humanitarian access and facilitating a Syrian-led politicaltransitionas outlined in the Annex, leading to a democratic, plural politicalsystem, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations, ethnicities or beliefs, including through commencing a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian authorities and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition;

4. Decidesthat the Syrian authorities shall implement visibly and verifiablytheir commitments in their entirety, as they agreed to do in the Preliminary Understanding and as stipulated in resolution 2042 (2012) and 2043(2012), to (a) ceasetroopmovements towards population centres, (b) cease all use of heavy weapons in such centres, (c) complete pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres, and to withdraw its troops and heavy weapons from population centres to their barracks or temporary deployment places to facilitate a sustained cessation of violence;

5. Demands that all parties in Syria, including the opposition, immediately cease all armed violence in all its forms, thereby creating an atmosphere conducive to a sustained cessation of violence and a Syrian-led political transition;

6. Expresses grave concern at the increasing numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons as a result of the ongoing violence, and reiterates its appreciation of the significant efforts that have been made by the States bordering Syria to assist those who have fled across Syria’s borders as a consequence of the violence, and requesting UNHCR to provide assistance as requested by member states receiving these displaced persons,

Transition

7. Demands that all Syrian parties work withthe Office of the Joint Special Envoy to implement rapidly the transition plan set forth in the Final Communiqué in a way that assures the safety of all in an atmosphere of stability and calm;

Accountability

8. Recalls that all those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, including acts of violence, must be held accountable;

9. Decides that the Syrian Government shall provide the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and individuals working on its behalf immediate entry and access to all areas of Syria, decides that the Syrian authorities shall cooperate fully with the Commission of Inquiry in the performance of its mandate;

UNSMIS

10. Decides to renew the mandate of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) for a period of 45 days, on the basis of the Secretary-General’s recommendation to reconfigure the Mission to increase support for dialogue with and between the parties, and enhance attention to the political track and rights’ issues across the six-point plan;

11. Requests the Secretary-General to retain the minimum military observer capacity and requisite civilian component necessary to promote forward steps on the six-point plan through facilitation of political dialogue and to conduct verification and fact-finding tasks;

12. Condemns all attacks against UNSMIS, reaffirms that perpetrators of attacks against UN personnel must be held to account, demands that the parties guarantee the safety of UNSMIS personnel without prejudice to its freedom of movement and access, and stresses that the primary responsibility in this regard lies with the Syrian authorities;

13. Demands that the Syrian authorities ensure the effective operation of UNSMIS by: facilitating the expeditious and unhindered deployment of its personnel and capabilities as required to fulfil its mandate; ensuring its full unimpeded, and immediate freedom of movement and access as necessary to fulfil its mandate, underlining in this regard the need for the Syrian authorities and the United Nations to come rapidly to an agreement on appropriate air transportation assets for UNSMIS; allowing its unobstructed communications; and allowing it to freely and privately communicate with individuals throughout Syria without retaliation against any person as a result of interaction with UNSMIS;

Compliance

14. Decides that, if the Syrian authorities have not fully complied with paragraph 4 above within ten days, then it shall impose immediately measures under Article 41 of the UN Charter;

Reporting and Follow-Up

15. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council on the implementation by all parties in Syria of this resolution within 10 days of its adoption and every 15 days thereafter;

16. Expresses its intention to assess the implementation of this resolution and to consider further steps as appropriate;

17. Decides to remain seized of the matter.

Curiously, the text of draft Security Council resolution S/2012/538 is not yet available on the United Nations web site. The link to the document does not lead to the document. All of which reminds the Observer of a story once told him by a former American high official in the United Nations during the early years of the Cold war. The Soviets, he recounted, had always placed a high value on controlling the printing presses at the U.N., through the appointment of the offical with authority over them. This gave them considerable leverage within the organization. Could there be a vestige of this old Cold War strategem still at work in the bowels of the U.N.?

South Africa’s Leadership of Democratic Forces in Africa, and Beyond

As pointed out in a previous article, with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma now heading the African Commission, it is even more important than it was before that South Africa take seriously its responsibilities as a leader of the democratic forces in Africa–and beyond.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Security Council adopts Resolution 2059 extending mandate of UNSMIS for 30 days (with text); fighting and risks intensify—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #67 (July 20),”
July 20, 2012.

Ironically, on July 22 it was reported by News24 that the staff of the South African embassy in Damascus had been forced to flee the fighting in Damascus, and that the embassy was moving its personnel to Lebanon for safety. According to an earlier SABC report, Shaune Byneveldt, ambassador to Syria, had arrived back in South Africa as fighting intensified in Damascus.

See

“SA embassy staff flee Syria,” News24 (South Africa), July 22, 2012.

Karl Gernetskysa, “SA moves staff to Lebanon as violence worsens in Syria; Observers have questioned if South Africa’s lack of a firmer stance on Syria could lead to embarrassment similar to that caused by indecision over Libya,” Business Day, July 24, 2012.

The bottom line is that South Africa adopted the position of Russia and China, even though it “abstained” on the resolution instead of voting against it. The argument that draft Resolution was unbalanced because it threatened sanctions only against the Syrian government and not against the rebels is specious, as a close reading of operative paragraphs (4) and (5) of the resolution makes clear.

Paragraph 4 calls on the government to “(a) cease troop movements towards population centres, (b) cease all use of heavy weapons in such centres, (c) complete pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres, and to withdraw its troops and heavy weapons from population centres to their barracks or temporary deployment places to facilitate a sustained cessation of violence.”

Operative paragraph 5 states clearly that the Security Council:

5. Demands that all parties in Syria, including the opposition, immediately cease all armed violence in all its forms, thereby creating an atmosphere conducive to a sustained cessation of violence and a Syrian-led political transition;

There is absolutely nothing unbalanced about the draft resolution, and to argue otherwise is to argue in generalities that depend for their persuasive force on the ignorance of those to whom they are addressed. That not only Russia and China could make such arguments, but also South Africa (and Pakistan) is shameful and defenseless.

In the context of events in Syria, the fact that Russia and China had blocked effective Security Council action since vetoing a Security Council resolution in October, 2011, and after four months of Kofi Annan’s “six-point plan” producing absolutely nothing in terms of results, South Africa’s vote (like that of Pakistan, which also abstained) can only be interpreted as supporting the Russian and Chinese position.

This vote of abstention represented a complete abdication of South Africa’s responsibilities, as a democratic nation and leader of the democratic forces in Africa, and beyond, to support concrete action by the Security Council to deal effectively with the Syrian crisis.

Draft Resoluiton 538 was in fact quite balanced, in view of the events of the last year and the atrocities Bashar al-Assad has committed, against opponents who began their protest peacefully in March 2011.

Nelswon Mandela’s Vision

July 19, 2012 was a shameful day for South Africa.

One day after Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday, which was celebrated throughout the country by schoolchildren singing “Happy Birthday” to him, South Africa deviated sharply from Mandela’s vision, articulated in his 1993 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech as follows:

We live with the hope that as she battles to remake herself, South Africa, will be like a microcosm of the new world that is striving to be born.

This must be a world of democracy and respect for human rights, a world freed from the horrors of poverty, hunger, deprivation and ignorance, relieved of the threat and the scourge of civil wars and external aggression and unburdened of the great tragedy of millions forced to become refugees.

The processes in which South Africa and Southern Africa as a whole are engaged, beckon and urge us all that we take this tide at the flood and make of this region as a living example of what all people of conscience would like the world to be.

We do not believe that this Nobel Peace Prize is intended as a commendation for matters that have happened and passed.

We hear the voices which say that it is an appeal from all those, throughout the universe, who sought an end to the system of apartheid.

We understand their call, that we devote what remains of our lives to the use of our country’s unique and painful experience to demonstrate, in practice, that the normal condition for human existence is democracy, justice, peace, non-racism, non-sexism, prosperity for everybody, a healthy environment and equality and solidarity among the peoples.

Moved by that appeal and inspired by the eminence you have thrust upon us, we undertake that we too will do what we can to contribute to the renewal of our world so that none should, in future, be described as the “wretched of the earth”.

Let it never be said by future generations that indifference, cynicism or selfishness made us fail to live up to the ideals of humanism which the Nobel Peace Prize encapsulates.

Let the strivings of us all, prove Martin Luther King Jr. to have been correct, when he said that humanity can no longer be tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war.

Let the efforts of us all, prove that he was not a mere dreamer when he spoke of the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace being more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.

Let a new age dawn!

Thank you.

–Nelson Mandela, 1993 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance and Nobel Lecture, December 10, 1993.

The Trenchant Observer

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“A time to break silence”: Dr. King on the Vietnam war, and President Carter on America’s human rights violations (revised June 28)

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

“And I’ve long since learned that to be a follower (of) Jesus Christ means taking up the cross. And my bible tells me that Good Friday comes before Easter. Before the crown we wear, there is the cross that we must bear. Let us bear it–bear it for truth, bear it for justice, and bear it for peace. Let us go out this morning with that determination. And I have not lost faith. I’m not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven’t lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam,” Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967.

There is a powerful connection between the April, 1967 sermons on Vietnam of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Jimmy Carter’s recent New York Times op-ed piece on American human rights violations, and the policies currently being carried out by President Barack Obama. It is important to understand this connection, details of which are set forth below.

I. Jimmy Carter’s Op-Ed in the New York Times, Criticizing America’s Violations of Human Rights

Ex-president Jimmy Carter published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times on June 24, in which he hashly criticized President Obama, and also former president Bush, for “the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade, (which) has been a dramatic change from the past, signifying the fact that “the United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights.”

See Jimmy Carter, “A Cruel and Unusual Record,” New York Times (op-ed), June 24, 2012.

Carter continued,

Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues.

These policies and actions, he wrote, signaled “a dramatic change from the past”, when the United States exercised bold leadership in securing the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Its adoption, wrote Carter,

…was a bold and clear commitment that power would no longer serve as a cover to oppress or injure people, and it established equal rights of all people to life, liberty, security of person, equal protection of the law and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention or forced exile.

The declaration has been invoked by human rights activists and the international community to replace most of the world’s dictatorships with democracies and to promote the rule of law in domestic and global affairs.

But, he continued,

It is disturbing that, instead of strengthening these principles, our government’s counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the declaration’s 30 articles, including the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Recent legislation has made legal the president’s right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations or “associated forces,” a broad, vague power that can be abused without meaningful oversight from the courts or Congress (the law is currently being blocked by a federal judge). This law violates the right to freedom of expression and to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, two other rights enshrined in the declaration.

He noted further, that

(R)ecent laws have canceled the restraints in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow unprecedented violations of our rights to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications…

Carter harshly criticized the use of drone attacks, writing that

Despite an arbitrary rule that any man killed by drones is declared an enemy terrorist, the death of nearby innocent women and children is accepted as inevitable. After more than 30 airstrikes on civilian homes this year in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has demanded that such attacks end, but the practice continues in areas of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen that are not in any war zone. We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington. This would have been unthinkable in previous times.

These policies were counterproductive in terms of American foreign policy, he observed, noting that

Top intelligence and military officials, as well as rights defenders in targeted areas, affirm that the great escalation in drone attacks has turned aggrieved families toward terrorist organizations, aroused civilian populations against us and permitted repressive governments to cite such actions to justify their own despotic behavior.

The 39th president of the United States also criticized the fact that the Guantánamo Bay facility remains open, with 169 prisoners still detained there. While “about half  have been cleared for release,” their chances of ever obtaining their freedom are slim, he asserted.

Some of those being tried have been tortured, Carter noted, writing:

American authorities have revealed that, in order to obtain confessions, some of the few being tried (only in military courts) have been tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers. Astoundingly, these facts cannot be used as a defense by the accused, because the government claims they occurred under the cover of “national security”. Most of the other prisoners have no prospect of ever being charged or tried either.

In conclusion, former president Carter argued,

At a time when popular revolutions are sweeping the globe, the United States should be strengthening, not weakening, basic rules of law and principles of justice enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

U.S. violation of international human rights is counterproductive, he asserted, because it “abets our enemies and alienates our friends.”  As “concerned citizens”, we must now persuade Washington “to reverse course and regain moral leadership according to international human rights norms that we had officially adopted as our own and cherished throughout the years.”

This forceful critique of American human rights violations made by Jimmy Carter, the American president most closely associated with U.S. leadership in the field of human rights, will undoubtedly have a significant impact over time, both abroad and at home.

II. Dr. King and Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence—Bearing the Cross for Truth, Justice and Peace

When I read ex-President Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece in the New York Times on June 24, calling out President Barack Obama for his human rights violations, both domestic and foreign, I was reminded of the afternoon I was driving in my car and first heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also a Nobel Prize winner, deliver a powerful speech criticizing President Johnson and his conduct of the Vietnam war.

The feeling then, in 1967, was one of enormous relief. At last there was a figure of great and almost unparalleled national and international prominence, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, who had the courage to speak the truth as he saw it, according to his best lights, and his deep faith, however unpopular that truth might be.

Martin Luther King, Jr. gave two sermons on Vietnam in April, 1967. The first, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” is a detailed but courageous speech that draws on many of the details of the history of Vietnam and the war which were familiar to his audience. It is delivered in a calm, reasoned tone. The second, a sermon delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where he was pastor, is a strong sermon delivered in the cadences of the powerful preacher who King was. Entitled, “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam,” it hits the main points of the April 4 sermon, with greater emotional emphasis. It is probably more accessible to readers and listeners not familiar with the history and details of the Vietnam conflict. Links to both are found below. See

Rev. Martin Luther King, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City).

The text is found here.

The audio is found here.

David Bromwich, “Martin Luther King’s Speech Against the Vietnam War,” Antiwar.com, May 16, 2008 (summary and analysis, with extensive excerpts).

See also:

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam,” Sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, April 30, 1967. Excerpts from the audio and text are found here.

The complete audio (in RealAudio) is found here.

The original written text is found here.

NOTE: The two sermons are often confused, with the audio for the April 30 sermon often being attributed to the April 4 “Beyond Vietnam” sermon.

“The Obamians”, as James Mann has termed President Obama and his younger group of closest foreign policy advisers, in his new and revealing book on the foreign policy team in the White House, would especially benefit from listening to King’s speech, and his April 30, 1967 sermon. Their eyes reportedly glaze over when other advisers, usually older, refer to the Vietnam war and its lessons. They, and particularly the most important Obamian, President Obama himself, should listen to Martin Luther King’s speech and sermon, and reflect on what they hear, taking the moral authority of the speaker into account.

They might also bear in mind and take to heart the famous dictum,

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George de Sanayana, from “Life of Reason I”).

Mann’s book is fascinating. See

The Obanians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power (Viking Penguin/The Penguin Group, 2012)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, exactly one year after his speech or sermon entitled, “”Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”

III. Jimmy Carter’s Contribution to Human Rights

Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece should grab the public’s attention in the United States.

But the coverage in the U.S. press suggests the public may have become far too accustomed to the targeted killings, or “assassinations” in the words of Jimmy Carter–which is the correct term when the killings are conducted outside the framework of international law, far too accustomed to the debate over the efficacy of torture, far too complacent over the violation of bedrock principles of the U.S. Constitution, to pay much attention.

The press reaction in different countries is quite revealing, even if it takes a lot of work to uncover, due to the “filter bubble” Google and most other search engines now use, displaying search results only from our own country and in our own language. If you are in the United States and Google “Jimmy Carter” you won’t see the incisive articles published in the United Kingdom in The Guardian, The Telegraph or The Independent. You’ll see articles and blogs published in the United States.

We now live in information ghettos, where the opinions of those in other countries are filtered out of our consciousness. Moreover, due to the use of our previous search histories to filter the results that are displayed in, e.g., a Google search, within this subset of news and opinion we may even see news that leans more to the left or the right, depending on who we have read in the past.

Jimmy Carter has demonstrated in his op-ed that there are still Democrats in the United States with the courage to defend our civil liberties, and to fight for a foreign policy based on furthering human rights and democracy abroad, and compliance with the basic norms of international law, including those relating to human rights.

When historians of the future write about this period, they may mention Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece, and wonder how the people of this time in the U.S. went along with such egregious violations of the U.S. constitution and the most fundamental norms of international law.

Now the question is whether others will have the courage to speak out, even if the president committing these violations is from their own party–and the party they want to win in the November elections.

It is a stark moral choice. Listen to the audio of Martin Luther King’s April 4, 1967 speech and especially to the audio of his April 30, 1967 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. He speaks of stark moral choices.

One is reminded not only of Martin Luther King, Jr., but also of those other defenders of civil liberties and democracy, such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Vacslav Havel, and Lech Walensa. One is also reminded of humanity’s project of building international peace through the establishment of international law and institutions, and compliance with their norms.

In the field of human rights, President Jimmy Carter was one of those men. His support of human rights started a process in Latin America (and elsewhere) which led to the end of dictatorships and authoritarian rule, and the gradual consolidation of democracy throughout the hemisphere.

His push for human rights led to the ratifications of the American Convention on Human Rights which resulted in its entry into force on July 18, 1978. His support of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the establishment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José Costa Rica, pursuant to the provisions of the American Convention, strengthened in the Americas a system of international protection of human rights similar in form to that established in Europe under the European Convention on Human Rights, in force since 1953.

Regrettably, the United States has never ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, which President Jimmy Carter signed and submitted to the Senate for ratification. Nonetheless, the U.S. is still bound to observe the rights set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights of Man, adopted by the members of the newly founded Organization of American States in Bogotá in April, 1948, months before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10 of that year.

But the Inter-American system was called upon to protect human rights in the face of social and political realities that were vastly different from those in Europe in 1978, though one must recall that the European system too had its origins in tumultuous times following the end of World War II. The European Convention entered into force on September 3, 1953, establishing a Commission which functioned until 1998, and the European Court of Human Rights to which citizens since 1998 may now appeal directly without going through the Commission, which was abolished in 1998.

The Inter-American system, with that of Europe, also set a powerful example for Africa, which adopted the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which entered into force on October 21, 1986. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has established an important body of precedent, and now the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, created pursuant to a protocol to the Charter which entered into effect on January 25, 2005, has also been established, and may one day soon merge with the African Court of Justice. The African Commission and Court are having an increasing impact on the achievement and consolidation of democracy and the rule of law on the continent.

All three of these regional systems were inspired by, and gave further expression to, the ideals and norms contained in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Worth noting is that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded on December 10 of each year.

In supporting these developments, and continuing his struggle for democracy and human rights since he left office in January, 1981, Jimmy Carter deserves the most profound respect and thanks of the world community, including the people of the United States. During his time in office, while mistakes were made, he carried forward the torch of human rights. For his work, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

For speaking out now against violations of the most fundamental norms of human rights and international law, and even and particularly when those violations were and are committed by his own government, Jimmy Carter deserves our highest praise.

Thank you, President Carter.

And thank you, Dr. King. For your example, moral clarity, and courage, which we hope will guide us now.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then use the “Search” Box or consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here. The Articles on Targeted Killings page can also be found here.

Passivity in the Face of Terror in Syria, Threats of War in Iran — Obama’s Debacle in Syria—Update #2 (March 3, 2012)

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

For earlier articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.

A Hard Truth:  Obama is a Weak Leader on Foreign Policy

The truth is hard to accept:  President Obama is a very weak leader on foreign policy issues.

This is a painful admission, because like many others the Trenchant Observer had high hopes and expectations for Obama when he assumed office in January, 2009.  He is still far and away superior to any of the candidates in the Republican primaries who could potentially challenge him for the presidency in 2012.

But he stumbled badly in Libya, and was saved only by the intitiative of France and England which led to him getting involved, “leading from the rear.”  America’s “leading from the rear” resulted in great delay before military action was taken, and consequently the loss of many civilian lives in Libya.

Now, he is stumbling badly again–in Syria.  Nicholas Sarkozy is consumed by the first-round presidential elections soon to be held in France, and has declared that France will only act militarily pursuant to Security Council authorization. David Cameron is unable to assume the mantle of leadership on his own. 

So, in effect, following the Russian and Chinese vetoes of a mild U.N. Security Council resolution on February 4–which explicitly ruled out the use of force–and a General Assembly resolution on February 16 which harshly condemned the widespread commission of grave human rights abuses by the Syrian government.

China and Russia have burned their bridges in the Middle East, probably for a generation. Both have shamelessly vetoed the Security Council resolution on February 4 endorsing in part the Arab League’s peace plan–which ruled out the use of force. Both voted against a General Assembly Resolution on Frebruary 16 condemning al-Assad’s continuing butchery in Syria, and calling for its immediate halt. Amazingly, both China and Russia also voted against a Human Rights Council resolution on March 1 which concdemned the killing and called for access for humanitarian relief.

Now, on March 4, China proposes something very similar to what the February 4 Security Council provided for. Unfortunately, thousands have died since then, the butchery continues, and measures short of the authorization of military force or its use are unlikely to stop Bashar al-Assad’s raging commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

In a word, no forceful action has been taken to stop the killing in Syria, and none is yet in sight. Obama’s actions have been marked by their passivity, and by his absolute failure to deal in a serious way with the ongoing carnage on the ground in Syria. As in Libya, he has been a commander in chief notable primarily for his absence from the center of decision-making during a crisis of great importance to the United States and the world. He has not assumed the mantle of leadership, and even reportedly vetoed this last week proposals from within hhis administration for the use of force.

The World–Leaderless and Helpless Before the Ongoing Terror in Syria

The world stands leaderless and helpess before the ongoing terror and commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes by Bashar al-Assad and his government in Syria.

This week the U.N. official in charge of humanitarian assistance was refused entry to Syria.  Al-Assad refuses to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent to enter Homs with humanitarian assistance and to remove the wounded.  Having been promised access, they now begin their third day of waiting.  Bombardments of Homs and other cities and towns continue.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has been reduced to an almost tragic figure, pleading publicly with Al-Assad to allow humanitarian aid in and to stop the killing. It is almost as if he expects that the Syrian Dictator might be swayed by appeals to reason and to humanitarian considerations–at this point in time, after all such previous appeals have failed spectacularly.

Leaders from civilized nations and their populations have trouble believing that true evil exists.  They need to grasp that it does exist, now, in Syria.  Hitler existed.  Stalin existed.  They were real.  So is Al-Assad.

Ban Ki-Moon recently made a horrendous mistake when he appointed Kofi Annan to mediate the dispute in Syria, in effect to “mediate” the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  How you can even negotiate with such a murderer without bringing to bear credible threats of the use of force is beyond the Observer’s understanding.  The idea of mediating the commission of such crimes is a fundamentally flawed concept, and how it ever got out of the Secretary General’s office defies comprehension. It was an act born of desperation, a desperate ploy, it would seem.

In the event, as was to be expected, Kofi Annan has not even been able to get into to Syria to meet with al-Assad, who continues his commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Homs and elsewhere in the country.

It is a sad spectacle, when the world community faces the commission of such horrendous crimes without a leader, helpless.

Obama’s Dangerous Drift and Lack of Leadership on Syria and also on Israel and Iran

Obama should be that leader, but he seems driven only by factors that might affect his re-election in October.  Instead of leading efforts to mobilize effective action against al-Assad, including military action if required, he is on the stump giving political speeches, even if they aren’t called that, fighting to win the daily news cycle as if he were in the last two weeks of the presidential campaign in October.

The world is leaderless, and Obama is stumbling on Syria, and also on Israel and Iran.

His talk of “all options are on the table” with respect to Iran has now become an oft-repeated mantra, whose force has become so weakened that the president himself feels constrained to assure the world that he is “not bluffing”.  Once you have to tell people you are not bluffing, your credibility is already on very weak ground indeed.

His foreign policy attention is riveted on Netanyahu’s visit to the Washington next week, where the Israeli Prime Minister will meet with Obama and also with the leading Israeli lobby in the country. Netanyahu and Israel do have an impact on the elction, through their impact on American supporters and political contributors. That’s one reason why Obama is paying such close attention.

Yet the one nagging problem, far from the lights and noise of the political arena, remains. That problem is that Syria, and Israel and Iran are part of the real world, outside of U.S. electoral politics and the 24-hour news cycle in the U.S. Obama’s decisions will have far-reaching impacts on what happens on the ground in each of these countries, wholly aside from whatever impact they might have on the American presidential elections.

Obama’s Blind Spot: International Law

Obama seems to have it exactly backwards in terms of principle, talking of the option of Israel–with U.S. acquiescence or assistance–attacking Iran to put their nuclear weapons program out of business, at least for a while.

Under international law, there is no basis whatsoever for a military attack on Iran in the absence of Security Council authorization. To argue that Israel is acting in self-defense would stretch that concept (contained in Article 2(4) and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter) far past the breaking point.

Moreover, U.S. military assistance to Israel generally contains the condition that the weapons may only be used for self-defense. No argument that an attack on Iran was justified by self-defense could be made with a straight face, without completely eliminating the meaning of that term in domestic legislation (which applies to military assistance to many countries), not to speak of its lack of foundation under international law and the U.N. Charter.

At the same time, Obama should be aware that the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which Iran is a party contains a withdrawal clause that Iran might well invoke in order to withdraw from the NPT after an armed attack by Israel (with or without the acquiescence or support of the United States).

Article X(1) of the NPT provides:

Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.

–For a short but insightful discussion of the withdrawal clause and its history, see Jenny Nielsen and John Simpson, “The NPT Withdrawal Clause and its Negotiating History,” in Mountbatten Centre for International Studies, MCICS NPT Review Issue (2004).

In sharp contrast, military action to relieve civilian populations from attacks by tanks, anti-aircraft guns and artillery in Syria, and the blocking of humanitarian relief, could probably be justified under international law, even without the authorization of the Security Council. This  in effect was the position taken by the United States with the support of NATO and other countries when it bombed Serbia in 1999, to bring to a halt the crimes against humanity being committed in Kosovo.

In short, international law would arguably permit military action in Syria under the present extraordinary conditions that exist there, whereas an Israeli armed attack on Iran to halt its nuclear program would be a flagrant violation of the U.N. Charter, international law, and U.S. domestic legal restrictions on the use by Israel of weapons purchased from the U.S. or with U.S. funds.  Moreover, an attack on Iran might well lead to Iranian withdrawal from the NPT, making resolution over the longer term of the Iranian nuclear question even more problematic. 

The Consequences of Drift and Inaction in Syria, Israel, and Iran

Obama’s drift and lack of leadership are, in view of the foregoing, extremely consequential.  By not leading the international community in efforts to halt al-Assad, by force if necessary, in accordance with international law, and by verbally allowing the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran, in a manner which could actually lead the Israelis to think they might have a green light, he is in a position to cause an extraordinary reversal of fortunes for the United States, and a much broader war in the Middle East.  Obama’s lack of strategic sense also makes it hard for him to see how opposing al-Assad could have the additional benefit of weakening Iran’s reach into Syria, Gaza (with Hamas) and Lebanon (with Hezbollah). 

Al-Assad’s butchery could continue, while Israel attacks Iran, igniting a regional conflict. At that point it would not only be China and Russia excercising their vetoes in the Security Council to protect al-Assad and gain time for him to finish wiping out his opponents, but also the United States invoking its veto to avoid condemnation and action against Israel and the U.S. under Chapter VII of the Charter, for violation of the prohibition against the threat or use of force contained in Article 2 (4) of the U.N. Charter–the most important norm in the Charter.  Come to think of it, President Obama might usefully reread that language, particularly the part about the “threat..of the use of force”.

Obama has paid little attention to international law.  This is evident, to cite but a few examples, from his failure to apply the provisions of the Convention Against Torture to prosecute those responsible for crafting and implementing the Bush torture policy, in his support of targeted killings and failure to prosecute those responsible for extraordinary renderings, and finally through his adoption of an expansive military doctrine and practice of using drones to execute individuals put on a targets list.  The latter has even included U.S. citizens, and the targeting of unknown individuals who meet certain “parameters” that indicate they belong to the Taliban, Al Queda or other terrorist groups.

He did not use the words “international law” in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, on December 10, 2009.  We can now see, much better than we could at the time, how extremely significant that omission was.

Obama and administration officials speak of ”red lines” when they are telling other governments what actions might provoke a military response.  Foreign officials have even begun to use the term of ”red lines”.  This is the way states communicated with each other in the 19th century.  Obama doesn’t use the language, grammar and vocabulary of international law, which has evolved  into a highly developed form of precise communication built on the legitimacy and acceptance of the principles involved.  He should. 

As the Butchery Continues in Syria and Israel Threatens to Attack Iran, What is to be Done?

What is to be done?P

Leadership of the world must come from somewhere, if chaos is to be avoided. Preferably that leadership should come from the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.

But if it doesn’t, if Obama falters, other states or groups of states must come forward, not only to lead military action in Syria if required to halt the killing, but also to prevent an Israeli attack–with or without U.S. backing–on Iran.

International peace and security hang in the balance.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobswerver.com
twitter.com/trenchantobserv

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Obama’s foreign policy juggernaut, including Tom Donilon, and the risks of hubris (updated)

Friday, January 27th, 2012

jug[ger[naut  n.  (altered < Hindi Jagannath < Sans Jagannatha, lord of the world < jagat, world + natha, lord)
1 an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, whose idol, it was formerly supposed, so excited his worshipers when it was hauled along on a large car during religious rites that they threw themselves under the wheels and were crushed
2 (sually j-) anything that exacts blind devotion or terrible sacrifice
3 (usually j-) any relentless, destructive, irresistible force

–Webster’s New World Dictionary

Jug·ger·naut   /ˈdʒʌgərˌnɔt, -ˌnɒt/ Show Spelled (juhg-er-nawt, -not) noun
1. ( often lowercase ) any large, overpowering, destructive force or object, as war, a giant battleship, or a powerful football team.
2. ( often lowercase ) anything requiring blind devotion or cruel sacrifice.
3. Also called Jagannath. an idol of Krishna, at Puri in Orissa, India, annually drawn on an enormous cart under whose wheels devotees are said to have thrown themselves to be crushed.

Origin:  1630–40; < Hindi Jagannāth < Sanskrit Jagannātha lord of the world (i.e., the god Vishnu or Krishna), equivalent to jagat world + nātha lord

–dictionary.com

Tom Donilon appeared on the Charlie Rose television program for an hour on January 27, during which he expounded on the outstanding successes of President Obama’s foreign policy decisions and the process (led by Donilon) for reaching important foreign policy decisions.

Donilon was brilliant, and was it was not hard to see why President Obama chose him to be National Security Advisor after Gen. James Jones left in October, 2010, given his intellectual brilliance and highly articulate presentation of his views. Undoubtedly, Donilon is the kind of person Obama likes to be briefed by, someone with the intellectual brilliance to engage the president.

Still, the Oberver was left with a strange, intuitive feeling after watching the interview.

Absent from Donilon’s interview was any expression of self-doubt, any suggestion that the policy decisions made by Obama could be problematical in some ways, and could even potentially produce catastrophic results.

Areas where the foreign policy of the United States is open to serious questions, as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, were quickly addressed in an intellectually authoritative manner.

There was no doubt that Donilon thought Obama was doing a brilliant job on foreign policy, was an unusually effective “executive”, and that Donilon himself, by the way, was doing an outstanding job for his boss.

After mulling these intuitive and inchoate misgivings over for a day, it all came together and “clicked”.

Here, on full display, was the enormous hubris of Obama and the foreign policy juggernaut he has created.

For his part, Charlie Rose failed to raise and insist on real responses to probing questions about the foreign policy of the United States. This is not an unusual role for Rose to assume, but last night–given the opportunity–it was particularly disappointing.

That’s it: hubris.

“The smartest guys in the room,” like at Enron. The overweening confidence of a foreign policy team that believes they are smarter, faster, and know better than all of their critics combined.

In view of these perceptions, it is useful to reconsider some earlier comments about Donilon, to see whether the characteristics they evoke appeared also to come through in the interview.

For a critical take on Tom Donilon, citing criticisms by Robert Gates and former National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones, see Marcus Baram, “Tom Donilon Would Be A ‘Disaster’ As National Security Adviser, Robert Gates Reportedly Said,” The Huffington Post, October 8, 2010, updated May 25, 2011.

Baram quotes Bob Woodward who, in his book Obama’s Wars, reported the following regarding Donilon:

Donilon, who previously worked as a vice president for floundering mortgage giant Fannie Mae … was known for his strong views and opinions, once offending Defense Secretary Robert Gates so much during a meeting that the Pentagon chief almost walked out, according to Woodward.

He also reports that Woodward’s book quotes Gates as asserting that Donilon would be a “disaster” as National Security Advisor.

According to Woodward, in a meeting in his office in 2010, Jones had told Donilon he had three major shortcomings:

First, he had never gone to Afghanistan or Iraq, or really left the office for a serious field trip. As a result, he said, you have no direct understanding of these places. “You have no credibility with the military.” You should go overseas. The White House, Situation Room, interagency byplay, as important as they are, are not everything.

Second, Jones continued, you frequently pop off with absolute declarations about places you’ve never been, leaders you’ve never met, or colleagues you work with. Gates had mentioned this to Jones, saying that Donilon’s sound-offs and strong spur-of-the-moment opinions, especially about one general, had offended him so much at an Oval Office meeting that he nearly walked out.

The third criticism was that Donilon was insensitive with his dealings with his staff at the National Security Council.

So, there you have it. Donilon, the gatekeeper for Obama, full of the same hubris that the president himself exhibits.

To be fair to Donilon, perhaps he is only reflecting–to some extent, at least–the hubris of his boss. Also, all things being equal, we are fortunate to have a brilliant and highly articulate national security adviser.

Having said that, if Donilon still has shortcomings such as those suggested by his critics, procedures need to be put in place to ensure that Obama hears cogent dissenting views.

Though it would not be easy, perhaps President Obama urgently needs to establish an independent channel through which he can hear and discuss the views of outside critics and observers on a regular and recurrent basis, and even those from within the government whose views have not prevailed. A kind of team B could be set up, independent of Donilon, so that the preseident would be certain to hear the dissenting views on the most critical issues.

The difficulty the president might have in hearing this suggestion, and giving it serious consideration, points to the underlying problem.

Perhaps it is time for President Obama to reread, once again, David Halberstam’s brilliant book on John F. Kennedy and the decisionmakers he surrounded himself with, The Best and the Brightest. Obama is believed to have read the book before he became president or during his first days in office.

Other books that the Observer would suggest he reread again now, include the following:

The Guns of August

The March of Folly

Groupthink

Essence of Decision (2nd edition)

Good movies to watch, once again, include:

Blackhawk Down

The Quiet American

The Candidate

Midnight Cowboy

Missing

“Z”

Among the subjects not discussed in any significant way last night on the Charlie Rose program were those indicated by the following questions:

(1) It was notable in President Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptace speech in Oslo on December 10, 2009 that he studiously avoided the words “international law”, and did not articulate a coherent vision of the role that international law and institutions can and should play in the nation’s strategy for achieving peace.

What should that role be, and what should be the strategy of the United States not only for reacting to threats and using its military force, but also for creating a world at peace?

(2) Do you believe that the incredible weapons and capabilities the United States has developed, combining real-time intelligence with drone strikes and special forces operations, will never be developed by other major powers such as Russia, China, India Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other technologically advanced countries?

(3) Do you believe that in the long term the security of the U.S. can be assured by developing and using high-tech weapons, without the development and observance of international law frameworks and norms to govern their use?

(4) How do you view the impact of recent developments in national security doctrines, laws and policies on the safeguarding of fundamental rights protected by the Constitution and by International Human Rights treaties and conventions?

(5) What should be the role of the United States in developing and observing the international law governing the use of force? Is it performing that role now? What needs to be done to improve its performance?

The fundamental shortcoming in President Obama’s foreign policy and foreign policy decision making clearly appears to be hubris.

For example, the United States government asserts the right to unilaterally place an individual who is in a foreign country on a special targets list, and to proceed to execute him or her, whether by drone strikes or special operations forces.  It asserts further that this policy may apply to U.S. citizens, notwithstanding the 5th amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

On the other hand, the U.S. has been adroit in its multilateral diplomacy, both at the U.N. Security Council and in forging consensus among its alliance and coalition partners. The Security Council resolution authorizing the protection of civilians in Libya “by all necessary measures” is one example. Its success in forging consensus on sanctions against Iran, both in the Security Council and among other states, represents another.

Significantly, in the case of the Security Council, Ambassador Susan Rice has been unusually effective. Rice was Obama’s chief foreign policy advisor during the 2008 campaign.

To be sure, in the case of Iran, policy makers also need to bear in mind as we go forward the unpredictable impact of oil sanctions that pose an existential threat, such as those against Japan which were an important factor in the runup to Pearl Harbor.

Even with these qualifications, key foreign policy decisions appear to be made by an inner circle which reflects the supreme self-confidence of the President. The entire defense strategy and budget presented to the Congress is based on the assumption that drone strikes, targeted killings, and special operations can deal with military challenges in the Middle East, and elsewhere. This should perhaps not come as a surprise, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was reported to have personally authorized each drone strike for a very long time when he was at the CIA. It represents the grand triumph of Vice-President Joseph Biden’s anti-terrorism approach in the Afghanistan policy review in 2009. It amounts to betting the farm on a policy whose effects on the ground have not yet been proven. What if the theory is wrong? The foreign policy team is very short on members in the inner circle who have experienced “the fog of war”.

There certainly appears to be a lot of hubris at the White House and on Obama’s foreign policy team.

It is a juggernaut, not attentive to outside views, and tending to crush its opponents. True to its etymology, “the American juggernaut” appears to see itself as “Lord of the World”.

The Trenchant Observer

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Obama’s New Year’s Resolutions for Foreign Policy in 2012

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

The Observer has been trying to get inside President Obama’s head for over two years. Recently, he may have succeeded, or had a very strange dream, in which the following was revealed:

Obama’s 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Foreign Policy in 2012

1. Ok, I will finally try to read through the impenetrable legalese of Philip Alston’s Report to the Human Rights Council on the legality under international law of U.S. drone attacks.

2. Admitting that public international law was not my favorite course in law school—in fact I can’t remember if I even took it—I will accept State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh’s longstanding offer to lead me in a weekly tutorial on the subject for, as Koh puts it, “as long as it takes for (me) to get it.”

3. I accept the challenge to deliver a speech based on a rewrite of my Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo which includes the themes of “a vision of peace” and “how to get there”.

4. To make my rewrite of the Oslo speech easy for everyone to understand, I will even stop avoiding the use of the words “international law”, which should be easier after (2), if not (1).

5. I will ask Ambassador Koh to explain to me in plain English what some of these European and European-influenced international lawyers keep referring to as “dédoublement fontionnel”, which I think has something to do with the idea that nations should try to build and strengthen international law, instead of just trying to see what they can get away with. I don’t really get the point, but maybe I’ll understand better if it is spelled out in English.

6. I agree that we don’t really want to be giving a lot of money to governments who murder outspoken journalists like Syed Saleem Shahzad. I think Admiral Mullen said something about this. Dexter Filkins made a pretty compelling case that the murder was ordered by the highest officials in the Pakistani military in his New Yorker article on September 19. (Letter From Islamabad: The Journalist and the Spies–The murder of a reporter who exposed Pakistan’s secrets. The New Yorker, September 19, 2011.)

There are even reports that the Pakistani Ambassador to Washington, until recently, fears for his life in Pakistan as a result of “memogate”. But, as Richard Holbrooke used to stress, we have to deal with the Pakistanis, unsavory as that may be. I will agree to cutting U.S. aid to the military there by one half—from $1.3 billion to $650 million. Once they’ve arrested and tried the general(s) allegedly responsible for the order to murder Syed Saleem Shahzad, the other half of the aid will be restored.

7. I will enlist the CIA, with Leon Paneta’s help if necessary, in a secret program aimed at persuading the top civilian and military officials involved in Bush’s torture program to retire. Attorney General Eric Holder has concluded that none of them except a few low-level types should be prosecuted for torture, but if he has new evidence and wants to take up the issue again, I’ll let him. If other parties to the Torture Convention arrest some of these officials while they are traveling abroad, and ask us if it is OK for them to try them themselves, I’ll let the Attorney General make the call.

8. Ok, guys, I will finally issue an executive order that confirms my interpretation of U.S. laws banning torture as banning all kinds of torture, as that term is defined in the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

9. After completing (2) and (1), I will reconsider the position that U.S. citizens may be executed by drones or special commando operations without trial if they have been placed on a special targets list. I don’t really get the point about the fifth amendment language that “no citizen will be deprived of …life..without due process of law” and I don’t see how these guys can be given the right to an attorney, but I will commit to not invoking the “state secrets” doctrine to block further consideration of these issues by the courts.

10. Ok, while I think we already examined our strategy in Afghanistan in 2009, ad nauseum, I promise I will reread Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s memos from November, 2009, for whatever that’s worth.

The Trenchant Observer

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