Posts Tagged ‘Convention on Torture’

Holder’s Investigations into Torture and Covert Operations Leaks–An Obama Cover-up?

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Barack Obama thinks he’s always “the smartest person in the room”, and that he is a lot smarter than we are. Or maybe, accustomed as he is to a sycophantic press, he just thinks he is more clever than we are, and that he can sneak things by us and we won’t notice.

Obama, the Torture Convention, and Holder’s Investigations into Cases of Torture

An early example of the foregoing was the way President Obama dealt with the issue of potential prosecution of past and present officials for their involvement in the torture policy of the Bush administration.

First, Attorney General Eric Holder initiated an investigation into cases of alleged use of harsh interrogation techniques by the CIA, on August 24, 2009. At the same time he exempted from eventual prosecution all those who had acted pursuant to legal advice from the Justice Department, stating:

On January 2, 2008, Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed Assistant United States Attorney John Durham of the District of Connecticut to conduct a criminal investigation into the destruction of interrogation videotapes by the Central Intelligence Agency. On August 24, 2009, based on information the Department received pertaining to alleged CIA mistreatment of detainees, I announced that I had expanded Mr. Durham’s mandate to conduct a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations. I made clear at that time that the Department would not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees. Accordingly, Mr. Durham’s review examined primarily whether any unauthorized interrogation techniques were used by CIA interrogators, and if so, whether such techniques could constitute violations of the torture statute or any other applicable statute.

Second, the Justice Department concluded in a report on February 19, 2010, that the legal guidance drafted by Justice Department officials authorizing the full range of “harsh interrogation techniques” did not constitute professional misconduct.

Third, Holder announced on June 30, 2011 that the review of cases was complete and that only two cases, which involved the death in custody of detainees, would be prosecuted. None of the other cases warranted prosecution, he concluded, stating:

Mr. Durham has advised me of the results of his investigation, and I have accepted his recommendation to conduct a full criminal investigation regarding the death in custody of two individuals. Those investigations are ongoing. The Department has determined that an expanded criminal investigation of the remaining matters is not warranted.
–”Statement of the Attorney General Regarding Investigation into the interrogation of certain detainees, National Journal, June 30, 2011 (full text of statement),

See Eric Lichtblau and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Widens Inquiries Into 2 Jail Deaths,” New York Times, July 1, 2011

The authors of the legal guidance authorizing torture (as it is defined in the Convention on Torture) were exonerated from “professional misconduct”. In other words, the Justice Department concluded that their drafting and approvals of legal memoranda authorizing torture did not constitute misconduct–i.e., that what appear to be clear violations of the torture convention do not constitute “misconduct”.  This is a rather extraordinary conclusion. 

The due obedience defense adopted by Holder protected all the individuals directly involved in executing acts of torture against detainees, with the two exceptions mentioned above. The policymakers at higher levels were never investigated for potential violations of the Torture Convention.

Obama and Holder thus avoided their legal duty, under both U.S. law and the Convention on Torture, to prosecute those responsible for the torture policy and its implementation. By June 30, 2011, the press and the media had long since turned their attention away from torture.  No one really cared about, even if they noticed, Obama’s and Holder’s legerdemain in excluding from the investigation both the principal policymakers involved in the formulation of the policy and those who actually carried it out.

The price paid by America in proceeding in this manner, in terms of international law, was high. The United States adopted the “due obedience” defense in cases involving torture (and by implication other international crimes), despite the fact that the “due obedience defense” was explicitly rejected in the Nuremberg Principles and at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals following World War II, and by the U.N. Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party. The Convention on Torture provides the following:

Article 2 (3). An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

In addition, the Defense Department acted to remove the issue of torture from public debate through an order on November 11, 2009, which prohibited the release of any photographs depicting torture from September 11, 2001 through January 22, 2009.

See also Alexander Abdo, “The White House’s blemished record of disclosure on Bush-era torture; Since publishing the ‘torture memos’, the Obama adminstration has obfuscated far too much about CIA interrogation techniques,” The Guardian, June 26, 2012.

Nonetheless, under the Torture Convention other countries which are parties to the treaty have a continuing obligation to assume jurisdiction over individuals responsible for torture, including its planning and coordination, when such individuals are found within their territory. The second state must then inquire of the United States whether it wishes to prosecute the individual, and if it receives a negative reply, it is under a continuing obligation to prosecute the individual concerned.

At some point in the future, this requirement could complicate travel plans for U.S. officials from the Bush administration–including some still in the the government, such as John Brennan, the president’s counter-terrorism adviser.

See The Trenchant Observer, “The Clock is Ticking: U.S. Application of the Torture Convention,” February 20, 2010.

If one can draw one overriding lesson from the way the torture investigations were handled, it would have to be that Obama and Holder were using sleight of hand to give the impression they were investigating those potentially responsible for violating the Torture Convention, when they were not. They are clever lawyers, who need to be watched very carefully in order to fully understand what they are actually doing, and not just what they give the appearance of doing.

Obama’s Coverup of the White House Leaks?

Now, President Obama appears to be engaged in a similar act of legerdemain.

First, following a number of news stories in recent weeks and months which are obviously based on classified information, at a press conference on June 8, 2012, the president was asked by David Jackson of USA Today the following question:

Q Thank you, sir. There are a couple of books out with, essentially, details about national security issues. There are reports of terrorist kill lists that you supervise and there are reports of cyber-attacks on the Iranian nuclear program that you ordered. Two things. First of all, what’s your reaction of this information getting out in public? And secondly, what’s your reaction to lawmakers who accuse your team of leaking these details in order to promote your reelection bid?

In a lengthy (four minutes) but opague response, the president seemed to say that he would not tolerate such leaks, that mechanisms were in place to find and punish anyone guilty of leaking such classified information, which in some cases is even illegal, and that he would act to identify the source of the leaks.

For videos of his response, see White House Press Office, video, June 8, 2012.

The video also follows below:

Or see the C-Span video here.

The question and answer on this issue begins at minute 23:00 of the video.

A transcript of the question and answer regarding leaks follows:

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I just want to say a few words about the economy, and then I will take some of your questions.

All right. David Jackson.

Q Thank you, sir. There are a couple of books out with, essentially, details about national security issues. There are reports of terrorist kill lists that you supervise and there are reports of cyber-attacks on the Iranian nuclear program that you ordered. Two things. First of all, what’s your reaction of this information getting out in public? And secondly, what’s your reaction to lawmakers who accuse your team of leaking these details in order to promote your reelection bid?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I’m not going to comment on the details of what are supposed to be classified items. Second, as Commander-in-Chief, the issues that you have mentioned touch on our national security, touch on critical issues of war and peace, and they’re classified for a reason — because they’re sensitive and because the people involved may, in some cases, be in danger if they’re carrying out some of these missions. And when this information, or reports, whether true or false, surface on the front page of newspapers, that makes the job of folks on the front lines tougher and it makes my job tougher — which is why since I’ve been in office, my attitude has been zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks and speculation.

Now, we have mechanisms in place where if we can root out folks who have leaked, they will suffer consequences. In some cases, it’s criminal — these are criminal acts when they release information like this. And we will conduct thorough investigations, as we have in the past.

The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It’s wrong. And people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office.

We’re dealing with issues that can touch on the safety and security of the American people, our families, or our military personnel, or our allies. And so we don’t play with that. And it is a source of consistent frustration, not just for my administration but for previous administrations, when this stuff happens. And we will continue to let everybody know in government, or after they leave government, that they have certain obligations that they should carry out.

But as I think has been indicated from these articles, whether or not the information they’ve received is true, the writers of these articles have all stated unequivocally that they didn’t come from this White House. And that’s not how we operate.

Q Are there leak investigations going on now — is that what you’re saying?

THE PRESIDENT: What I’m saying is, is that we consistently, whenever there is classified information that is put out into the public, we try to find out where that came from.

Okay? Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

–Remarks by the President, June 8, 2012.

Subsequently, also on June 8, Attorney General Holder announced that he had appointed two Justice Department prosecutors (in the chain of command) to conduct investigations into at least some of the leaks. Republicans, meanwhile, have been calling for the appointment of an Independent Prosecutor.

Significantly, leaks relating to procedures employed and the president’s role in conducting “targeted killings” may not have been referred to Attorney General Holder for investigation, at least according to some reports.

See “White House adviser rebuffs questions on leak probe, amid warnings of security risk,” FoxNews.com, June 17, 2012. According to Fox News,

“Recent leaks on sensitive programs have contributed to two New York Times stories, one on the campaign of cyberwarfare against Iran and one on the president’s involvement in approving the “kill list” of terror targets for U.S. drone strikes — as well as the Associated Press newsbreak on a foiled bomb plot out of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

“Fox News has confirmed that investigations are currently looking into the leaks on the anti-Iran campaign and the bomb plot — it’s unclear whether any probe will examine leaks on the drone program.”

If true, this would appear to be a clear departure from what President Obama said he would do at the press conference on June 8, and to constitute either an admission that those leaks came from the White House or a coverup to hide the identities of the leakers.

In the meantime, judging from the time taken to conduct investigations into cases of individuals involved in torture, and the results, we are likely to be well past the presidential elections in November before any results of the investigations are announced. One can only speculate on what prosecutions, if any, might be undertaken, and when the corresponding individuals might be brought to trial.

The significant point here is not that the individuals who leaked this information must be tried, though certainly in the case of the cyber warfare against Iran a very strong case might be made.

It must be acknowledged that we as citizens depend on probing investigative reporting on covert and classified actions by our government, in order to have some sense of the policies the government is carrying out in our name. In general, journalists should not be prosecuted for gathering and reporting such information, or for maintaining the confidentiality of their sources.

The point is that Obama’s White House appeared to be leaking highly classfied information for political purposes, to portray the president as a strong and decisive leader on foreign policy. If this is true, it reflects the hubris and unprincipled partisanship of President Obama and his “foreign policy juggernaut”, as well as the incompetence of “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”.

We deserve to know, soon, if that was the case and who the leakers were.

We also deserve to know if the president, at the June 8 news conference, was telling the truth in responding to the reporter’s question, in general, and in particular with respect to leaks regarding “targeted killings”.

If he wasn’t, as we noted on June 10, we may be witnessing a “Watergate moment”. 

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.

Immunity or safe-conduct for al-Assad? Can Kofi Annan fail? Conference before cease-fire?—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #56 (June 23)

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

A lot of wasted time and diplomatic effort could be saved if the world’s leaders insisted on their top international lawyers sitting in on critical decisions affecting foreign policy and national security.

The latest example is provided by the floating of the idea of the United Kingdom giving Bashar al-Assad a grant of immunity from prosecution (“clemency”) for the crimes he has committed–and is committing today–against the Syrian people, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other grave violations of fundamental human rights.

See David Usborne and Alastair Beach (Mexico City), “Assad could be offered new clemency deal,” The Independent, June 21, 2012.

Patrick Wintour (political editor), “Assad may be offered clemency by Britain and US if he joins peace talks: Initiative comes after Cameron and Obama received encouragement from Putin during G20 talks in Mexico,” The Guardian, June 20, 2012.

According to The Guardian,

Britain and America are willing to offer the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, safe passage – and even clemency – as part of a diplomatic push to convene a UN-sponsored conference in Geneva on political transition in Syria.

The initiative comes after David Cameron and Barack Obama received encouragement from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in separate bilateral talks at the G20 in Mexico.

…Britain is willing to discuss giving clemency to Assad if it would allow a transitional conference to be launched. He could even be offered safe passage to attend the conference.

During talks at the G20, British and American officials were convinced Putin was not wedded to Assad remaining in power indefinitely, although even this limited concession is disputed in Moscow.

On the basis of these discussions, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, will now seek to persuade the former UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, to change the format of his plans to construct a contact group on Syria, and instead host a conference using the transition on Yemen as the model.

Participants would include representatives of the Syrian government, leading figures in the opposition, the five permanent members of the UN security council and key figures in the region, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Russia has been pressing for Iran to be able to attend.

The meeting, under Annan’s chairmanship, would be held by the end of the month with an objective of establishing a broader-based government leading to elections in 18 months time.

A Small Problem: The U.N. Convention Against Torture

The United Kingdom, the U.S. and Switzerland are all parties to the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“the Convention on Torture”).

The Convention defines “torture” as follows:

Article 1
(1) For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity….

Article 2 establishes:
(2) No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

Article 4 provides:
(1) Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.
(2) Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.

Finally, and of particular relevance here, Article 5 establishes:
(1) Each State Party shall take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over the offences referred to in article 4 in the following cases:
(i) When the offences are committed in any territory under its jurisdiction or on board a ship or aircraft registered in that State;
(ii) When the alleged offender is a national of that State;
(iii) When the victim was a national of that State if that State considers it appropriate
(2) Each State Party shall likewise take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over such offences in cases where the alleged offender is present in any territory under its jurisdiction and it does not extradite him pursuant to article 8 to any of the States mentioned in Paragraph 1 of this article.

Al-Assad’s pervasive use of torture is well-documented.

While the United States is quite accustomed to not prosecuting individuals involved in violations of the Torture Convention, the same cannot be said for the United Kingdom and Switzerland (the site of the proposed conference), who do not share the Obama administration’s disdain for international law. In the case of the U.S., a number of officials directly involved in the Bush torture policy have not been prosecuted, in violation of Article 5(2) of the Convention. These include, notably, John Brennan, President Obama’s direct assistant in selecting targets (and advisor on “just war theory”) in decisions regarding targeted executions.

In a word, the idea of granting safe passage and even clemency to Bashar al-Assad, to enable him to attend a conference in Geneva being arranged by Kofi Annan, is a total non-starter.

It would be the height of folly to begin an attempt to resolve the Syria question by committing violations of the U.N. Convention on Torture.

Obama and Cameron would know this if they were listening to their top international lawyers. The fact that Obama isn’t is not very surprising. But the fact that the British Prime Minister is apparently similarly unadvised is, in the context of British politics, somewhat shocking.

These leaders should do their homework before they start leaking to the press about the latest bright idea they have had.

For that matter, they might also bear in mind, in seeking to emulate “the Yemen model”, that Yemen itself is a party to the Convention on Torture and that, further, Saleh’s amnesty in Yemen is not only highly dubious under international law, but also not likely to stand up over time, as precedents in other countries such as Argentina and Chile suggest. Russia is also a party to the Convention on Torture.

Hiding Behind the Kofi Annan Smokescreen

As for the idea of organizing a conference under Kofi Annan’s leadership, the effort is just a continuation of the 6-point peace plan and the smokescreen the U.S., the U.K. and others have thrown up to give the impression they are doing something to stop the killing in Syria, when they are not–at least not publicly.

Kofi Annan and the Security Council’s adoption of his six-point peace plan, and the subsequent establishment of the UNSMIS monitoring mission in Syria, have been a total disaster. Nothing has been achieved, while thousands more have died and the country hurtles toward an all-out sectarian civil war as a direct result of the time that has been lost.

It is interesting to try to identify the indicators that would constitute a failure of the Kofi Annan plan, of his failure as a mediator, or of the failure of his latest effort to keep control of the action (acting on Russia’s behalf, many would say) by creating a “contact group” or organizing a political transition conference.

If these indicators or parameters of failure cannot be identified, we must necessarily conclude that the Kofi Annan plan is a plan that cannot fail, that Kofi Annan is a mediator who cannot fail, and that his next act, whether a “contact group” or a conference in Geneva, cannot fail either.

Who could oppose a peace plan that cannot fail, and a mediator who cannot fail? How, indeed, could anyone oppose a conference in Geneva that cannot fail?

Of course, one’s perspective could influence one’s answer. Unfortunately, those who have died and who will die in Syria as a result of the peace plan that cannot fail, the mediator who cannot fail, and the peace conference in Geneva that cannot fail, cannot speak. So, we cannot really know what they would have to say.

But we can use our imaginations.

It is as if one were living in and directly experiencing the war crimes and crimes against humanity of Adolf Hitler during the Third Reich, in 1943, and at the same time calling for a peace conference in Switzerland with representatives of all the participants in Germany and the leading outside powers to reach an agreement on the future of Germany.

It will not work, and much time will be lost.  The proposal plays directly into the hands of al-Assad, who can drag out the negotiations forever as he continues his atrocities. Similarly, it plays directly into the hands of the Russians, who seem to be able to keep the Americans and the British on the hook by continually dangling in front of their eyes the illusion that someday, somehow, Russia might go along with a Security Council resolution with some teeth in it.

If the U.S., NATO, the Arab countries and the other civilized countries of the world have not yet learned that any agreement signed by al-Assad would not be worth the paper it was written on, they have taken historical stupidity to a new height.

As the head of the editorial page of  the Daily Star, Michael Young, wrote on February 23, 2012, some months and many thousands of lives ago, the policy of the U.S. in Syria is “pathetic”.

It consists of cynically pretending there is a community of interests with respect to Syria among Russia, China and Iran, on the one hand, and the United States, NATO, the Arab countries and rest of the civilized world, on the other, while unbridled barbarism continues to unfold before our eyes.

To be sure, in the shadows (but leaked to the press), the United States is now actively assisting and coordinating the provision of arms to the rebels in Syria, together with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other countries including Turkey.

This covert policy is being pursued without any public legal justification, which as we have suggested in previous articles is readily available. Whatever relative weaknesses such a legal justification might have, they would pale in comparison with the defects in the U.S. legal justification for the use of drones in Somalia and Yemen, in general, and for their use in “signature strikes” against unknown individuals, in particular.

Will the U.S. strategy of overtly supporting Kofi Annan and his hopeless plans while at the same time coordinating the supply of weapons to the insurgents in Syria help President Obama get past the finish line of the November elections? Or will it lead to Syria blowing up, a powerful Republican challenge to Obama on foreign policy, and his losing the election? Republican candidate Mitt Romney has been relying on kind of a Team B for foreign policy advice up until now. Once the party’s foreign policy heavyweights, from Henry Kissinger to Condi Rice, enter into the fray, joining John McCain, a formidable challenge to Obama could arise. Stay tuned.

You don’t negotiate a cease-fire or an armistice at a peace conference. The idea of trying to do so is absolutely wrong-headed, as wrong-headed as trying to use 300 unarmed peace monitors to force al-Assad to stop the killing.

The assumption that you can negotiate with al-Assad, and that if he agreed to any settlement it would mean anything, is contradicted by every piece of evidence that we have.

The whole idea of Kofi Annan and a conference in Geneva, or a “contact group”, is just one more installment in the U.S. foreign policy fiasco in Syria brought to you by President Obama, “the covert commander-in-chief”, and his foreign policy juggernaut, “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”.

Somehow, the word “pathetic” seems too weak.

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.

Update: Torture, The STL in Lebanon, and Obama’s “Way Forward” in Afghanistan

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Today we introduce a new feature in The Trenchant Observer, an occasional column commenting on some of the more important events of the previous weeks in international affairs, as seen by the Observer.

This week’s stories include U.S. policy toward torture prosecutions, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and President Obama’s speech on “the way forward” in Afghanistan.

The United States’ Adoption of the “Due Obedience” Defense in Cases of Torture

This week the Justice Department announced that it would pursue investigations into two cases involving the deaths of detainees who were preseumably subjected to “harsh interrogation techniques” that went beyond the types of torture (as defined in the U.N. Convention Against Torture) that were permitted under the George W. Bush Administration’s “legal guidance”on “harsh interrogation technicques”.

See Eric Lichtblau and Eric Schmitt, “iU.S. Widens Inquiries Into 2 Jail Deaths,” New York Times, July 1, 2011

With that, the Justice department has ended its investigation into the broad class of cases that appear to qualify as cases involving the commission of torture under the terms of the Torture Convention, to which–it must always be stressed–the United States is a party.

By taking the position that it will not prosecute individuals for acts of torture if they were permitted under the legal guidance provided by their superiors in the Bush Administration, the United States has in effect accepted the “due obedience” argument rejected by the Nuremburg Tribunal in its trials of Nazi war criminals following World War II. This rejection of the “due obedience” defense is universally accepted in international law. It is expressly confirmed in the Torture Convention in Article 2 paragraph 3, which provides:

Article 2 (3). An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

Other countries parties to the Torture Convention may now proceed to prosecute individuals suspected of committing torture found within their territory, without much concern that the U.S. will rquest their extradition for trial in the U.S., given the Justice Department’s position.

This signals a clear and final decision by the Obama administration not to pursue other cases of torture committed during the Bush administration.

It is significant for two reasons. First, it represents a final decision not to prosecute cases of torture by the state with primary jurisdiction, in violation of U.S. international legal obligations under the Torture Convention.

Second, it further opens the way for other states that are parties to the Torture Convention to prosecute U.S. officials for acts of torture they may have committed.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has now issued arrest warrants and delivered the same to the Government of Lebanon for it to carry out the arrests.

In an earlier article, published on March 3, 2011, The Observer wrote:

In Lebanon, Hezbollah withdrew in January from the unity government of Sa’ad Hariri, among thinly-veiled threats of civil war, if the government of Lebanon does not break ties with the U.N. International Tribunal for Lebanon, established by the Security Council to investigate and try those responsible for the assassination of Hariri’s father, Rafiq Hariri, in 2005. Hezbollah is militating against the United Nations Security Council, international law, and the tribunal established by the Security Council because, according to reports, it fears the Tribunal will issue indictments against Hezbollah members in the coming days or weeks.

The Tribunal itself has a statute which establishes due process of law for the hearing of the charges which may be brought by the Prosecutor of the Court. Hezbollah is arguing, if effect, that the Court is biased before any judicial proceedings against its members are initiated, and without regard to the fact that they will have a chance for a fair hearing, the questioning of evidence and of witnesses, in any proceedings that might be brought. With black shirts menacing and threatening to take physical control of West Beirut and large parts of the country, Hezbollah has positioned itself as an anti-democratic force opposed to the struggle for the rule of law within Lebanon, and one opposed to the United Nations, the Security Council and international law.

Outside parties have rushed to mediate. A Saudi-Syrian initiative has now been replaced by a Qatari-Turkish mediation effort. Democracy is in the balance.

What is at stake is the authority of the U.N. Security Council, the United Nations Charter, and international law. If Hezbollah can halt the cooperation of the government of Lebanon with the STL by threats of civil war and dividing the country in two, its success would not bode well for the future of the International Criminal Court or other international tribunals that might be established in the future to deal with issues such as the Hariri assassination or issues of transitional justice.

We will now see whether Hezbollah has changed it position, and is willing to turn away from its opposition to international law, the United Nations, and the authority of the Special Tribunan for Lebanon established by the Security Council.

Democracy and the rule of law in Lebanon hang in the balance.

Obama’s “Way Forward” in Afghanistan

Recently Ambassador Carl Eikenberry completed his term as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. He is being replaced by an extraordinarily skilled deplomat with deep experience in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, Ryan Crocker, the former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.

Eikenberry’s departure should not go unnoticed, however. A former head of the coalition forces in Afghanistan before becoming Ambassador in 2009, Eikenberry headed an able diplomatic team. In 2009, toward the conclusion of President Barack Obama’s much-touted review of Afghanistan policy, cables written by Eikenberry in November, 2009 were leaked to the press.

In those cables, Ekenberry, who had a deep knowledge of Afghanistan before assuming his post as Ambassador, set forth his thinking about President Hamid Karzai’s government, the narrow limitations of the Afghanistan policy review, and his own cautionary words about the risks of proceeding with the “surge” of over 30,000 U.S. troops without a broader review.

Today, his words seem prophetic, and read more like the history of the last two years than the risk assessment they were originally intended to be.

See The Observer’s previous columns on this subject:

Eikenberry Memos Place Spotlight on U.S. Dilemmas in Afghanistan
January 27th, 2010

Commentary on Eikenberry Cables, Intelligence on Afghanistan
January 28th, 2010

On June 22, 2011, President Obama delivered an important speech to the nation setting forth his thoughts and policies on “the way forward in Afghanistan.”

Adminral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated publicly that Obama’s new strategy of withdrawal represented more risk than he had originally been propared to accept. The military, including Petraeus, did not agree with what in all likelihood will represent an abandonment of the modified and limited counter-insurgency or COIN strategy Petraeus had led. Toby Harnden of The Telegraph reported, for example,

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, said: “Petraeus loses, Biden wins. And I respect the vice president, but I think that we have undercut a strategy that was working. I think the 10,000 troops leaving year is going to make this more difficult.”

The Pentagon fought a rearguard action to prevent the surge force ordered into Afghanistan by Mr Obama in December 2009 from being pulled out by early spring next year but the withdrawal plan announced by Mr Obama, which had initially been tabled as a “compromise” by Robert Gates, the defence secretary, was not supported by Gen Petraeus.

There were reports of heated discussions during the month before Mr Obama’s prime-time speech on Wednesday night.

White House officials, aware of the soaring costs of the war and its questionable progress could be a political liability in the 2012 election, are said to have clashed with Gen Petraeus, who argued that with more time he could repeat his success in Iraq.

Harnden reported further that Obama had rejected Petraeus’ proposal to move thousands of troops from the south to the east “in order to build a counter-insurgency campaign there.” Obama also overrode Petraeus’ request to keep some of the 33,000 troops to be withdrawn by this spring until 2013.

Two military officers with close ties to Petraeus told “National Journal” that Gen Petraeus disagreed with Mr Gates’s compromise proposal and had not endorsed Mr Obama’s drawdown plan.

–Toby Harnden, “Admiral Mike Mullen says withdrawal plan is a risk,” The Telegraph, June 23, 2010

To those who have followed developments in Afghanistan over the last five to eight years, including readers of The Trenchant Observer, there was nothing new in his speech.

Rather, the Observer’s appraisal of Obama’s approach to international affairs, offered in an analysis of his failed leadership in Libya, seems to describe his Afghan policy as well:

When one looks hard at the decisions he has made, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the president’s primary objective is “to manage” international conflicts and affairs, as domestic affairs, in a manner that will enable him to be reelected in 2012.

Reelection is probably a goal of almost all politicians. Certainly there are exceptions. Winston Churchill comes to mind. But with Presdent Obama, it appears to be the primary and overriding goal.

It is perhaps the prism through which the president’s actions can best be understood. In this sense, Obama’s current policy towards Libya seems to be succeeding.

For commentary on the president’s speech, see

Jennifer Rubin, “Liberals give thumbs down on Obama’s speech,” Washington Post, June 23, 2011

A “conditions based” withdrawal of 10,000 troops is meaningless. The “conditions based” withdrawal of additional troops from the surge will meet its test if and when one or more provinces fall to the Taliban.

A collapse of the Afghan government is not to be ruled out. It could come at a most unexpected moment. If it were to come before the presidential elections in 2012, it could have a decisive impact on their outcome.

The folly of following a strategy in foreign policy that is decisively determined by domestic political considerations is likely to have hard lessons to teach its authors.

The Trenchant Observer

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