Archive for the ‘U.N. Torture Convention’ Category

Order in the World: Things fall apart

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

One of the wisest and most-experieced journalists reporting on foreign policy, Roger Cohen, who writes an Op-Ed column for the New York Times, has published a thoughtful and deeply pessimistic article on the current state of world affairs.

See Roger Cohen, “The Great Unraveling,” September 15, 2014.

It was the time of unraveling. Long afterward, in the ruins, people asked: How could it happen?

It was a time of beheadings…

It was a time of aggression. The leader of the largest nation on earth pronounced his country encircled, even humiliated. He annexed part of a neighboring country, the first such act in Europe since 1945, and stirred up a war on further land he coveted. His surrogates shot down a civilian passenger plane. The victims, many of them Europeans, were left to rot in the sun for days. He denied any part in the violence, like a puppeteer denying that his puppets’ movements have any connection to his. He invoked the law the better to trample on it. He invoked history the better to turn it into farce. He reminded humankind that the idiom fascism knows best is untruth so grotesque it begets unreason.

It was a time of weakness. The most powerful nation on earth was tired of far-flung wars, its will and treasury depleted by absence of victory…. The nation’s leader…set objectives for which he had no plan. He made commitments he did not keep. In the way of the world these things were noticed. Enemies probed. Allies were neglected.. Words like “strength” and “resolve” returned to the leader’s vocabulary. But the world was already adrift, unmoored by the retreat of its ordering power. The rule book had been ripped up.

It was a time of disorientation. Nobody connected the dots…

Until it was too late and people could see the Great Unraveling for what it was and what it had wrought.

Regarding the weakening of international order, see

“Imagine: The Collapse of International Order: Syria, and Berlin in 1945,” The Trenchant Observer, February 20, 2013.

In this article, we observed,

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 some 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 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.

See also,

“A weak American president fails to lead, and anarchy is unleashed upon the world,” The Trenchant Observer, April 29, 2014.

“International Law and the Use of Force: Drones and Real Anarchy Unleashed Upon the World, The Trenchant Observer, July 17, 2011.

The only path that might lead us out of the present downward spiral of events, the Observer submits, is one that embraces the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter, including

(1) the prohibition of “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”(Article 2 paragraph 4),

(2) except in exercise of “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense” in the case of an “armed attack” (Article 51),

(3) and the international protection of human rights (Preamble and Aricle 55 (c) of the U.N. Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and many other human rights treaties).

That is the best starting point for halting and reversing the current process of a collapsing world order. If anyone has a better idea, let him or her come forth and state it.

Without a renewed dedication to upholding these cornerstone principles of the United Nations Charter, and international law, international order becomes increasingly difficult to conceive.

The world’s citizens, and their governments, must rededicate themselves to upholding these bedrock principles of international law, if international order is to endure.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama: “We tortured some folks…It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks (our law enforcement and our national security teams) were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.” (full transcript)

Friday, August 1st, 2014


Excerpt from President Barack Obama’s press conference today, Fiday, August 1, 2014:

Q What about John Brennan?


On Brennan and the CIA, the RDI report has been transmitted, the declassified version that will be released at the pleasure of the Senate committee.

I have full confidence in John Brennan. I think he has acknowledged and directly apologized to Senator Feinstein that CIA personnel did not properly handle an investigation as to how certain documents that were not authorized to be released to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff. And it’s clear from the IG report that some very poor judgment was shown in terms of how that was handled. Keep in mind, though, that John Brennan was the person who called for the IG report, and he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved.

With respect to the larger point of the RDI report itself, even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.

I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

And my hope is, is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard. And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line. And that needs to be — that needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.

–Transcript, Press Conference by the President, White House, James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, August 1, 2014 (2:45 P.M. EDT). The text of the transcipt is found here.

It’s hard to know what is more shocking: 1) the casual language the President used in admitting torture; 2) what he actually said (calling torturers “real patriots”; or 3) the fact that he seemed totally oblivious to the import and impact of what he was saying.

The Trenchant Observer

The qualities that are needed in a new CIA Director, Part I (with video links to Feinstein Senate speech and Brennan rebuttal)

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

(Developing story–check back for updates over the next few days)

John Brennan’s battle with the Senate Intelligence Committee over the Torture Report

Given his past associations with Bush’s torture and other scandalous programs, and his role in overseeing White House targeted killing lists and ensuing drone strikes with the president’s approval and/or participation, John Brennan should never have been confirmed as Director of the CIA.

Now he has become both the symbol of a rogue CIA and the primary obstacle to getting control of the agency and bringing it back under the supervision and control of a democratic state governed by law. Under the Constitution’s separation of powers, that supervision is the responsibility of both the president and the congress, including in particular the Senate Intelligence Committee which is chaired by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California).

She has now delivered an extraordinary speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate in which she lays out in detail the obstruction her committee has encountered in dealing with the CIA, particularly in connection with the drafting, declassification, and publication of a 6,000 word report on the CIA’s involvement in George W. Bush’s torture program, euphemistically referred to as one of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, or as Brennan referred to them in his Senate confirmation hearings, “EIT’s”.

For background on Brennan and his confirmation hearings, see the following article and the articles cited in it:

“Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel,” The Trenchant Observer, December 20, 2013.

As noted below, the Krass nomination was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 4, 2014.

It is difficult to imagine how John Brennan can continue to lead the CIA, now that he is involved in a very public and bitter dispute with the Senate Intelligence Committee and its Chair, Senator Feinstein–over matters that go to the very heart of what constitutes democratic government under the rule law.

Brennan’s hubris was once again revealed as he immediately gave a TV interview in which he contradicted Senator Feinstein.

Despite his extraordinarily close relationship with President Obama, to whom he served in many respects as a mentor and guide to the secret world of intelligence operations, Brennan should begin looking for a new job.

Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine and military seizure of the Crimea has been a wake-up call for Washington, demonstrating again how international law is important after all, particularly in terms of setting precedents, and of mobilizing coalitions and generating international support for collective action.

Russian intervention in the Ukraine has underlines the fact that unsanctioned violations of international law weaken its authority, and even its most important provisions including the prohibition of the illegal threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state.

It is now time for the United States to put its rogue actions behind it, and to bring its policies and actions into compliance with international law.

Brennan is a symbol and defender of these rogue policies from the past, and doesn’t fit the new requirements of the job. To cite but one example, at his confirmation hearings, he was unable to bring himself to admit that “waterboarding” constitutes torture.

A new kind of leader is needed at the CIA.

Links to Videos and Transcripts

For links to the video and transcripts of Senator Feinstein’s speech on the Senate floor, and Brennan’s response, see:

(1) “Sen. Feinstein Accuses CIA of Searching Congressional Computers,” C-SPAN, March 11, 2014. (CLIP FROM MARCH 11, 2014, Senate Session, Part 1, with informal transcript).

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee says the CIA improperly searched a stand-alone computer network established for Congress as part of its investigation into allegations of CIA abuse in a Bush-era detention and interrogation program. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California defended her committee’s work and challenged the CIA on Tuesday as she sought to set the record straight amid various reports of disputes between Congress and the agency.

For the YouTube video, click here.

(2) “CIA Director Denies Spying on Senate Intel Committee” NBC News, March 11, 2014 (with video link).

(3) The Senate Intelligence Committee approved the nomination of Carolyn Krass to be General Counsel of the CIA on March 4, it was announced on March 6, 2014, by a vote of 13-2. If approved by the full Senate, she will replace acting General Counsel Robert Eatinger, who has been at the center of a number of controversial issues and decisions related to the torture program.

The Qualities Needed in a New CIA Director

(To be continued)

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Obervateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

On floor of Senate, Senator Feinstein speaks of grave constitutional violations by CIA (with video link)

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014



Corine Lesnes (Washington), “Menacée par un rapport sur la torture, la CIA soupçonnée de piratage du Sénat américain, Le Monde, 12 mars 2012 (12.03.2014 (Mis à jour à 07h19).

Scott Wilson, “CIA feud with Senate panel puts lack of post-9/11 accountability in spotlight,” Washington Post, March 11, 2014.

Video: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) spoke Tuesday on the Senate floor for almost 40 minutes about a controversy between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA. Here are the highlights.

“Key moments from Senator Feinstein’s soeech,” Washington Post, March 12, 2014 (video).

Mark Mazzetti and Jonathan Weisman, “Conflict Erupts in Public Rebuke on C.I.A. Inquiry,” New York Times, March 11, 2014.

For background, see also the following article and articles cited therein:

“Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel,” The Trenchant Observer, December 20, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Western diplomats stumble in the Ukraine—-Stop telephone diplomacy, let Germany lead, and publish serious international law memoranda

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Updated March 7, 2014

Western leaders have made three major blunders since the Russian military takeover of the Crimea first began on or around February 25.

Telephone Calls to Putin

First, they have engaged in a series of telephone calls to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. Obama’s calls to Putin, who is reliably reported to detest him, have had no positive effect and may well have stiffened his resistance to the conciliatory proposals from the West. Even Angela Merkel’s calls directly to Putin have probably been ill-advised.

Such calls may in some circumstances be useful if their occurrence and content is kept private. While they may satisfy a hunger for instant gratification in the age of the Internet, decisions to deploy tanks and military ships are not likely to be reversed by e-mails or telephone calls, which between heads of government are probably heavily scripted, and further distorted by the use of interpreters.

Moreover, formal written communications have the advantage of permitting a wider range of officials with different perspectives to participate in their review and offering suggestions for response. Both with Putin and with Obama, and probably other government leaders as well, the quality of the exchange is likely to be improved by wider internal review and additional time to formulate policy and decisions.

On the Charlie Rose show on March 5, Henry Kissinger provided a powerful explanation of why direct communications between heads of government is usually a poor idea. This seems to be all the more true in a crisis like the one in the Ukraine, folllowing Russian military intervention in the Crimea, which remains under Russian military control and occupation.

Today, again, we learn that Obama called Putin and during a substantive call made no progress.

See “Ukraine-Krise: Putin bleibt hart in Telefonat mit Obama; Eine Stunde lang haben Putin und Obama die Lage auf der Krim beredet. Doch an dem Kurs des russischen Präsidenten hat das nichts geändert – er sagt: Russland dürfe die Hilferufe aus der Ukraine nicht ignorieren,” Der Spiegel, 7. Marz 2014 (6:45)

Generally, particularly in the case of Obama, such telephone calls and background briefings on their content are used as part of a campaign to show others Obama is doing something and Putin is being unreasonable.

Urgent Advice: Take the telephone away from Obama. He has not charmed or persuaded Putin, and he isn’t going to.

(Quote from Kissinger)

Trying to Force the Russians to meet with Ukrainian Officials

The second mistake Western diplomats have made in recent days is to try to force the Russians to sit down at the same table and talk to representatives from the new government in Kiev. This has been a huge blunder, confusing the goals of process with those of substance. The substantive but secondary goal is to get Russia to recognize the government in Kiev. The primary goal should be to persuade the Russians to cease and desist from further provocative actions in the Crimea and in the Eastern Ukraine, whether executed directly by Russians or Russian-speaking supporters. Such actions could–whether by design or inadvertence–ignite the flames of war.

In short, the highest substantive goal in the next few days should be to halt the Russians’ provocations and inflamation of passions. The second substantive goal should be to obtain formal Russian acceptance of OSCE and other observers, and to provide formal guarantees of their physical safety.

The ill-advised efforts to force the Russians to talk to the Ukranians before the stage is set, and the Russians want to, only aggravates the circumstances in which substantive diplomatic activity can take place.

These attempts to force the Russians to talk to the Ukranians reflect the same demented logic according to which simply getting the al-Assad goverment to meet with the opposition at the Geneva II Conference in June would somehow produce a miraculous breakthrough. It didn’t, and it was foolish to think that it could.

American Efforts to Assert its Leadership in Rsponding to Russia

The third development, unfortunate in the extreme, is that the United States is now seeking the mantle of leadership of the West in relations with Russia in connection with the crisis.

American policy in the Ukraine has not been an unqualified success, with Victoria Nuland’s “F… the EU” cell phone call revealing both deep American involvement with the opposition and disdain for EU leaders and their efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.

And it hasn’t stopped. Only days sgo, a high U.S. official (a woman) was quoted on background in the German press as being highly critical of Angela Merkel, who was far too slow and deliberative in this official’s view. Such American officials do not understand the requirements of diplomacy, and should be immediately removed from the policy making process.

On March 7, 2014, on the Charlie Rose show, Tom Donilon, the former National Security adviser, stressed the importance now of the United States’ reasserting its leadership of the West.

The problem here is that Obama and his foreign policy team have been largely incompetent in dealing with the most urgent foreign policy questions of the last five years. While John Kerry has his strengths (and weaknesses), and Samantha Power provides capable and clear-eyed leadership as Ambassador to the U.N., Obama continues to maintain tight White House control over the making and execution of foreign policy. We and the world, looking at the cumulative evidence, know he is not very good at it. For example, Angela Merkel shared with Obama her perception from talking to Vladimir Putin on the phone that he was “in another world”. Obama promptly leaked this quote to the world, which was probably not helpful in terms of influencing Putin.

With respect to the Ukraine, Obama’s “reset” of relations with Russia undid the measures George W. Bush had implemented to punish Russia for its military intervention in Georgia–without any change in Russian behavior or resolution of the issues in Georgia, where Russian troops remain in enclaves in what amounts to de facto recognition of the fruits of Russian aggression.

Moreover, if Obama had not blinked at the moment of truth when he needed to pull the trigger to launch missiles against Syria, following the use of chemical weapons by Syria at Ghouta on August 21, 2014, Putin in his calculations might have taken the U.S. more seriously and never launched his military takeover of the Crimea.

The Observer’s advice is, “If you’re going to drive from behind (or slumber in the back seat), stay in the back seat and let others who know how to drive drive the car.”

Only two and a half weeks ago, the German, Polish and French foreign ministers hammered out a transition agreement whereby Yanukovych would yield partial power to a transitional government. To be sure, the deal fell apart when the Ukrainian negotiators could not deliver the crowd at the Maidan, the regime collapsed, the parliament relieved the president of his office, and the latter fled first Kiev and then the country. Still, the agreement was a brilliant piece of statecraft.

In the present situation, Obama is in no position to give Vladimir Putin lectures on international law, a concept which the president has only recently introduced into his discourse. Obama’s failure to prosecute officials responsible for torture as required by the U.N. Convention against Torture, his continuing use of drone strikes frequently in apparent violation of international law (particularly outside the war theater of Afghanistan and Pakistan), the continued detention without trial of prisoners at Guantanamo, and NSA’s massive surveillance around the world in violation of constitutions and international law, all strongly suggest Obama is not the best leader to take the lead in the media in making the legal case against Russia.

The U.S. also has a troubled record of its own interventions, including those in the Dominican Republic (1965) and Grenada (1983) which were justified, at least in part, under the rubric of “intervention to protect nationals”.

Germany is a better choice. The U.S. can take the lead with France and Britain in the Security Council.

That is not to say the U.S. in the U.N. and elsewhere should not make the strongest possible legal arguments against the Russian military intervention, in writing. It only means that the U.S. should carefully coordinate its efforts with the Europeans, and avoid undercutting Angela Merkel’s leadership, in the media.

This is not a time for a lot of wordsmithing and speeches and statements by Barack Obama and his administration. The focus, instead, should be on presenting serious and detailed legal memoranda in relevant forums, and on taking concrete actions such as imposing sanctions with real teeth on Russia and Russians.

Consideration should also be given to imposing EU and U.S. travel bans, and more, on individuals in the Crimea who have actively collaborated with Moscow in its military takeover, and who have joined efforts to provoke a secession from Ukraine and annexation of the peninsula by Russia.

The U.S. should work to coordinate its actions with the EU, and to persuade EU leaders behind closed doors, but should let Angela Merkel lead and coordinate the European response to Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in the Ukraine. The Germans and the Poles know the Ukraine, and Putin, far better than does the U.S., and should be allowed to lead. Merkel is the most powerful and respected leader in Europe, has an important relationship with Putin, and also has the experience and insights gained from having grown up in East Germany when it was a police state under Soviet domination.

As suggested above, even as Merkel leads, the U.S can push hard on implementing sanctions while still setting forth its international law arguments in written form, presenting them to the Security Council and also publshing them elsewhere.

Summary of Recommendations

In sum, the Observer’s advice is:

1. Stop the telephone diplomacy with Putin.

2. Don’t try to force the Russians to talk to the Ukrainians before the stage is set, and the Russians have assumed a more conciliatory posture as a result of pressure from the EU and the U.S. The Ukraine’s fate will be decided by the major powers, though the actions of the Ukrainian government will have great import. The biggest challenge for the West is to forge unity behind strong positions, avoiding disarray which can only work to Russia’s advantage.

3. Obama should let Germany, and France and Poland, lead. Obama has important cards to play, but he should keep them close to his vest, and not go channeling his thought processes to the press on background or on TV, through Ben Rhodes or other government officials. He should speak instead with actions, as he did today with the announcement of the first sanctions against Russia and Russians, to take immediate effect.

Among the most important of these actions would be to publish serious and detailed legal memoranda rebutting Russian legal justifications and setting out clealy how its military intervention in the Ukraine has violated international law’s most important prohibitions, as well as treaties and agreements such as the 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteeing the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence of the Ukraine.

The Trenchant Observer

(Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter)
(L’Obervateur Incisif)
(El Observador Incisivio)

Michael Young of The Daily Star (Beirut): “Give Syria’s dead a chance to speak out.”

Friday, January 31st, 2014

More details of the atrocities in Syria continue to emerge. See:

Michael Young, “Give Syria’s dead a chance to speak out,” The Daily Star, January 23, 2014 12:25 AM.

Mark Landler and Ben Hubbard, “State Dept. Learned in November of Photos Said to Show Torture in Syria,” New York Times, January 22, 2014.

ian Black (Middle East editor), “Syrian regime document trove shows evidence of ‘industrial scale’ killing of detainees; Senior war crimes prosecutors say photographs and documents provide ‘clear evidence’ of systematic killing of 11,000 detainees,” The Guardian, January 20, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel

Friday, December 20th, 2013

The Trenchant Observer noted, quite some time ago, that torture will not be done with Obama, or with us, until we are all done with torture.

See The Trenchant Observer, “The Clock is Ticking: U.S. Application of the Torture Convention,” February 10, 2010.

That is because torture is an international crime, and there is no way it can be simply forgotten without first going through a process involving publication and admission of the facts and a judicial process or transitional justice process under judicial oversight.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Senate Intelligence Committee is now demanding public release of a 6,000 page classified report containing the details of the Bush Adninistration’s torture policy and its implementation, and release of the legal memoranda prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department purporting to uphold the legality of the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

It is of course not inevitable that this step in the justice process take place at this precise time, but rather only that–in a democracy–it will take place sooner or later.

What is going on in the Carolyn Krass confirmation hearings to be the top lawyer at the CIA is that the Senate Intelligence Committee is — finally — insisting that the secret legal memoranda that were used to justify the use of torture as an official policy of the United States be turned over to the Committee.

Those who apparently had knowledge of the program–CIA Director John Brennan first and foremost among them–are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the public release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report.

See “Editorial: Release the Torture Reports,” New York Times, December 19, 2013.

Much is at stake, including the core priniples of a democratic state governed by law, which require public legal justification of state actions, including those that are carried out in secret.


Spencer Ackerman (Washington), “Senate intelligence committee presses CIA to release torture report; Secret 6,300-page report details ‘enhanced interrogation'; “Lawyer nomination brings contention into public view,” The Guardian, December 20, 2013 (11.40 EST).

“The Carolyn Krass nomination to be General Counsel at the CIA, secret legal justifications and memos, and democratic government under the rule of law,” The Trenchant Observer, December 18, 2013 (updated December 19, 2013).

“Senate confirms John Brennan as CIA Director—with tally and breakdown of vote,” The Trenchant Observer, March 8, 2013.

“Brennan’s wristbands, McCain’s hold, and assertions of legality under international law based on secret operations and secret legal memoranda (with links to Brennan confirmation hearing video, transcript, and written questions and answers),”The Trenchant Observer, February 25, 2013.

“Secret Laws, the John Brennan vote, and the rule of law,” The Trenchant Observer, February 24, 2013.

The Senate Intelligence Committee now has an opportunity to take a major step toward restoration of the full rule of law in the United States.

The Trenchant Observer

Commentary on Syria and the response of the West

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

Latest News Reports and Commentary

Aus Deutschland

(1) Stefan Kornelius (Kommentar), Obama spürt die Kraft der zwei Mahlsteine, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 7. September 2013 (9:34 Uhr).

Die Völkergemeinschaft hat sich nach dem G-20-Gipfel in Sankt Petersburg ein erschreckendes Zeugnis ihrer Kraflosigkeit ausgestellt. Um Obama wird es dabei immer einsamer: Putin bleibt stur und auch zu Hause schlägt dem US-Präsidenten Widerstand entgegen. Dabei könnte ein Luftschlag zu einer Wende im Bürgerkrieg führen.

Über den Autor, die Redaktion schreibt das Folgendes:

Stefan Kornelius leitet seit 2000 das außenpolitische Ressort der Süddeutschen Zeitung. Zuvor arbeitete er als stellvertretender Leiter des Berliner Büros und berichtete während der Clinton-Präsidentschaft als Korrespondent aus Washington. Von 1991 bis 1996 war Kornelius als Korrespondent im Bonner Bundesbüro der SZ für die Berichterstattung über Verteidigung und sicherheitspolitische Themen sowie über die CDU zuständig. Kornelius absolvierte die Henri-Nannen-Journalistenschule und studierte an der Universität Bonn und der London School of Economics. Er ist Mitbegründer der Zeitschrift Medium Magazin./blockquote>

(2) Bernd Ulrich (Kommentar), “Syrien: Der Tiefpunkt von Merkels Kanzlerschaft; Ein ungeheurer Vorgang: Als einzige europäische Regierungschefin hat Merkel auf dem G-20-Gipfel Obama die Unterstützung seiner Syrien-Strategie verweigert,” Die Zeit, 6. September 2013 (21:44 Uhr).

Der scharfsinniger Beobachter
(The Trenchant Observer)

Moral cowardice in Europe and elsewhere: Bad-faith arguments on Syria by Germany and other countries lacking the courage to act

Friday, September 6th, 2013

(Developing article)

Following are the statements and ways German and other European and world leaders use to disguise the moral cowardice of nations that give lip service to universal ideals of truth and justice, but are nowhere to be found when action is required to put those ideals into practice.

1. Military action against Syria would violate the U.N. Charter unless it were backed by an authorization from the Security Council.

Is there anyone making this argument who sincerely believes it will help solve the Syrian crisis, and bring to a halt the atrocities being committed by al-Assad in that country?

Is there anyone unaware of the Russian and Chinese vetoes of draft resolutions in the Security Council, and Russia’s current role in the Council of blocking any effective action?

2. What is needed in Syria is a negotiated solution, which should be achieved through the Geneva II peace conference backed by U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

Has no one studied the history of Kofi Annan’s “castles in the sky”, or failed to understand how he was helping the Russians defer any outside action through his illusory peace proposals, and his last illusion of convening a peace conference in Geneva, to which everyone gave lip service on June 30, 2012—not because they thought it would work, but rather to gain diplomatic cover for looking the other way and doing nothing?

3. Arguments about Syria that proceed from the assumption of a tabula rasa, as if there were no history of what has happend in Syria in the last two and a half years.

So, we can debate whether the rebels gassed their own people, despite the overwheming evidence of this and previous attacks by the Syrian government, and the entire history of al-Assad’s armed forces’ actions in the conflict since 2011.

Why does anyone even listen to the arguments of Russia, Syria and Iran? How stupid can we be?

4. Failure to speak frankly and forthrightly about what is really going on in Syria. and in the United Nations and the Security Council. (Bravo! to Samantha Power for speaking out!)

See Jennifer Rubin, “Hats off to Samantha Power,” Washington Post, September 6, 2013 (8:45 a.m.)

5. Failure to interrupt and immediately rebut statements that are no more than propaganda–propaganda which falls far short of the standards set by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister.

No nation bears greater responsibility for its silence than does Germany, as no nation has a darker history of violating these universal ideals in the past–until 68 years ago, in fact, until 1945. Nor should we forget how Germany blocked decisive action in the Balkans prior to Srebrenice and the Dayton Accords in 1995.

German complacency about war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria reminds us, sadly, of how complacent Germans were when these same crimes were taking place in their midst.

Obama and other leaders of the feckless West share a huge responsibility for shaping public opinion to support their policies of looking the other way and doing nothing when faced by the utter barbarism of Bashar al-Assad.

Now they must explain to their populations what has actually happened in Syria since 2011, in great and bloody detail, and rally their peoples to confront the greatest threat to Western values of our time.

This threat also engages our most vital national security interests. Tel Aviv is only 134 miles from Damascus. Damascus is closer than we think:

Beirut, Lebanon — 53 miles
Amman, Jordan — 110 miles
Tel Aviv, Israel — 134 miles

If Germany and NATO want to stand idly by, at this critical moment, then the U.S. should give the most urgent consideration to withdrawing from NATO–both militarily and financially.

It is time for the moral cowards in Europe and elsewhere to wake up, and to seek to hear, to speak and, above all, to act upon the truth regarding the situation in Syria, and what has been going on there for two and a half years, as the world averted its eyes.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama’s failure to justify military action against Syria under international law, and its pernicious impact

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

President Barack Obama has so far failed to offer a well-developed justification under international law for taking military action against Syria.

While not a “slam dunk”, such a justification can be crafted. Yet Obama has remained silent on the issue. One result is that when Vladimir Putin offers the argument that military action against Syria would violate the U.N. Charter’s prohibition against the use of force without Security Council authorization, his argument goes unanswered.

If we take reality into account, and not just textbooks, Putin’s position in essence amounts to an argument that a government can commit war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, with absolute impunity from military action aimed at protecting civilian populations from the commission of such crimes, so long as it has the political support of a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council which can block Security Council action through the use of its veto.

In the present case, moreover, Russia, whose veto–together with that of China–provides al-Assad with absolute impunity, is itself complicit in the commission of the very war crimes and crimes against humanity of which the Syrian regime is accused.

A key consequence of Obama’s failure to articulate a fully-developed legal justification for military action against Syria is that potential allies in Europe and elsewhere are left to Putin’s version of legality, or that of others who take a wholly literal and mechanistic approach to the U.N. Charter–regardless of the consequences. That lets other nations off the hook, far too easily, without forcing them to look at the realities on the ground in Syria and the compelling legal arguments that support military action to halt al-Assad’s atrocities, which include the use of chemical weapons.

It could be that Obama doesn’t want to complicate the process of securing Congressional approval for military action in Syria. It could be that he doesn’t appreciate how the affirmative use of international law can win supporters and undermine opponents in the international political and military sphere. Whatever the cause of his restraint or delay, if it continues he will have lost critical time on the diplomatic front in using his legal case to build a coalition, as well as valuable and timely opportunities to rebut the utterly cynical legal arguments of Putin and the Russians.

On legal justifications for military action to halt Syria’s commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including through the use of chemical weapons, see the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

U.K. publishes legal justification for taking military action in Syria (full text and link)
August 29, 2013

A strong but narrow legal justification for military action in Syria: The key to building a strong coalition
August 27, 2013

Fine intellectual distinctions involving the use of force are likely to fail in Syria
August 26, 2013

New strategy and accompanying military action needed in Syria; Justification under International Law
August 25, 2013

Syria: Russia and Iran complicit under International Law in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity
June 16, 2013

Syrian Options: The White House’s sophomoric understanding of International Law
June 14, 2013

Imagine: The Collapse of International Order, Syria, and Berlin in 1945
February 20, 2013

In Washington, new voices urging no-fly zones; France reportedly supports “liberated zones”, moves towards supply of weapons—Obama’s Debacle in Syria
— Update #84 (September 5)
September 5, 2012

The U.N. Charter, International Law, and Legal Justifications for Military Intervention in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria
— Update #83 (September 1)
September 1, 2012

Continuing massacres in Syria, at Daraya and elsewhere; legal justification for military intervention — Obama’s Debacle in Syria
—Update #78 (August 26)
August 26, 2012

REPRISE: Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Without Security Council Authorization—Obama’s Debacle in Syria
— Update #68 (July 25)
July 25, 2012

REPRISE: Goals to guide the international community in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria
— Update #62 (July 11),
July 11, 2012 (originally published May 29, 2012)

“By all necessary means”: Syria is closer than you think, and the hour is late—Obama’s debacle in Syria
— Update #25 (April 9)
April 9, 2012

Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Without Security Council Authorization—Obama’s Debacle in Syria
— Update #24 (April 8)
April 8, 2012

Limited military action to halt crimes against humanity: A new template to halt terror in Syria, and elsewhere—Obama’s Debacle in Syria
— Update #18 (March 28)
March 28, 2012

The Nuremberg Principles and Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria
— Update #5
March 5, 2012, updated March 6, 2012

Military Intervention to establish “no-kill zones” and humanitarian corridors—Syria Update #9
February 24, 2012

U.N. Commission Report on Crimes Against Humanity in Syria; Military Action; Unilateral Humanitarian Intervention in Syria and International Law
February 24, 2012

Repression in Syria, and the spread of universal ideals throughout the world
May 11, 2011

For opposing views, concluding that military action against Syria would constitute a violation of the U.N. Charter and international law, see

Dago Akande, The Legality of Military Action in Syria: Humanitariian Intervention and Responsibility to Protect, EJIL: Talk (Blog of the European Journal of International Law, August 28, 2013.

Rosa Brooks, “So you want to intervene in Syria without breaking the law? Good luck with that,” Foreign Policy (blog), June 20, 2013.

Obviously, there is diasagreement among international legal scholars on the legality under international law of military intervention in Syria.

On U.S. deliberations regarding a potential legal justification for military action against Syria in response to al-Assasd’s use of chemical weapons, see

Colum Lynch and Karen DeYoung, “U.S. explores possible legal justifications for strike on Syria,” Washington Post, August 28, 2013.

For Barack Obama, the United States, and its allies, however, the final choice will come down to whether to offer a legal justification or not. Some argue that military intervention may be “illegal” yet still “legitimate”. This argument is wholly specious. It ignores the nexus between law and legitimacy. Moreover, it opens up a much broader exception in practice to the prohibition against the use of force than does the narrowly-tailored legal justification set forth in the most recent articles by The Trenchant Observer listed above.

The United States will be in a much stronger position, both legally and politically, if it sets forth a strong but narrow legal justification for any military action against Syria.

Let us bear in mind, also, that the United States (and Israel) frequently undertake covert actions which are not even acknowledged as being actions of the state, thereby violating the most fundamental norm of international law of all. Nor do they comply with the requirement of Article 51 of the U.N. Charter that actions taken in purported exercise of the right of self-defense be immediately reported to the Security Council.

So, we don’t live in a perfect textbook world. In the real world, over 110,000 human beings have been killed in a conflict in Syria characterized by the commission by the al-Assad government of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale over a period of some two and a half years. These atrocities have included the use of chemical weapons on a number of occasions, and on a large scale in Ghouta (Ghuta) on August 21, 2013.

Modern international law, it is submitted, does not require that civilized nations stand idly by while chemical weapons are used again and another 100,000 people are killed in Syria. Military action is required to stop the commission of these crimes, now.

Such action should be justified by a fully-developed legal opinion which explains why such action is lawful, and therefore legitimate, under international law.

The Trenchant Observer