Monday, April 30, 2007

April 30, 2007 -- The Count

For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of the “mission accomplished” announcement – the end of major combat operations in Iraq as proclaimed by President Bush and the end of major combat in Afghanistan as announced by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

In the first 6 weeks of the Iraqi operation, 139 U.S. troops died.

In the ensuing 4 years, 3,212 more U.S. troops have died, more than 24,000 have been wounded, and two remain missing.

In Iraq:

U.S. fatalities totaled 104, making April 2007 the deadliest month so far this year and the sixth most deadly month for U.S. troops .

Total U.S. fatalities since March 2003 now stand at 3,351.

The 3,000th U.S. fatality occurred December 31, 2006. The most recent time frame over which U.S. fatalities rose by 500 was 6 months and 2 weeks – from June 15 to December 31, 2006. With 351 deaths since the last “milestone,” with two-thirds of the current 6 month period gone, the fatality rate stands at 70.2% of 500. Translated, at the rate of current casualties, the 3,500th fatality will come in less than 6 months.

UK fatalities in the Iraq war total 146; all other allies have lost 125 killed.

Iraqi security forces killed: 155

Iraqi civilians killed (preliminary): 1,403

Since January 2005, at least 5, 245 Iraqi security personnel have been killed in violence.

A very conservative count of Iraqi civilian deaths in the last 26 months is 28,413

In Afghanistan, U.S. fatalities in 2007 so far are 27, with a total of 384 U.S. fatalities since October 7, 2001.

Coalition casualties this year are 23 and overall stand at 182.

Afghan civilian and security force killed are unknown.

The killing continues.

And the monetary costs keep rising, although a “temporary” hiatus will occur Wednesday when President Bush is expected to veto the latest bill to fund the war.

The dead will not notice.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Habeas That Corpus

Approximately 66 months ago and not quite a month after September 11, 2001, the Bush administration launched its retaliatory strike on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.

Simultaneously, it launched another strike, this one aimed at the array of civil and political rights guaranteed in the Constitution to citizens and others who are in the United States.

After getting a number of new powers and peeling back a number of constitutional guarantees, the administration seemed somewhat shocked when the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, struck down some provisions enacted into law and administrative decisions that violated human rights such as habeas corpus. And when the electorate issued its opinion last November, the looming change in the control of Congress must have sent the Justice Department into overdrive to work around both the legal and the electoral rebuffs.

What is puzzling about all the machinations and redefinitions and procedural about-faces of the administration is who the White House regards as “the enemy.” There is, of course, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. But the enemy also seems to include those, and in particular those in the Congress, who oppose the hot wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan and the “war against terror.” And the enemy also includes those being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, some approaching five years in detention.

Since the White House cannot throw everyone in jail who voted for the opposition candidates last November, and since citizens and legal residents still can criticize the conduct of the wars and other policies, the only classes of people who can be “made to pay” are those fighting day in and day out in Iraq and Afghanistan or those in prison in Cuba. These latter are the most vulnerable to injustice.

And the injustice soon surfaced in the renewed attack on what is the oldest human right in the Western world: habeas corpus. The military officers running the so-called “trials” at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, were caught flatfooted by the guilty plea from the “Australian Al-Qaeda” David Hicks, whose plea was an obviously part of a deal between Australian prime minister, John Howard, and George Bush that showed just how frivolous the entire Guantanamo process is. The next unlawful combatant to be tried would have to be a quick, sure prosecution. But their choice may again have backfired.

The second “enemy combatant” to be charged is Omar Khadr. Khadr, now 20, was only fifteen when the alleged crimes happened. And what were his crimes, or at least what does the government claim they are? There are four, two of which are conspiracy and providing material aid to the enemy. But the other two would never be charged as war crimes: murder and attempted murder. Murder is precisely why a country goes to war, and the understanding among countries, governments, and international organizations is that killing an enemy soldier is permitted on a battlefield as long as the enemy is prepared, preparing to, or is in the immediate act of trying to kill you.

So why in a setting for war is Khadr charged with what are nominally criminal justice offenses? And why is this pattern set to be repeated with the other 8 of the 386 enemy combatants in Guantanamo? Because the government is so unsure of its case that it mixes criminal justice offenses with forms of war crimes that are highly questionable.

The other prong of the attack on habeas corpus is the administration’s efforts to curtail the right of detainees at Guantanamo to competent legal representation. Considering that the detainees have effectively been stripped of the right to confront their accusers (Oh! I forgot that this, formally, is the Attorney General) and to call witnesses and submit evidence in their defense, being able to speak with a lawyer as often as needed would be even more important than when the other rights are in force. But the government wants to limit visits by defense lawyers and their current clients to three and for new clients to one for the entire period up to the start of the “trial.”

In the petition to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department alleged that the presence of the civilian lawyers constituted a security threat to Guantanamo because the lawyers carried information about the detainee status back to the press and could provide the detainees with verbal accounts of what was happening in the world at large. And although most of the lawyers have security clearances, the Justice Department wants to be able to summarily preclude lawyers from seeing the “evidence” presented to the Combat Status Review Tribunals that classify detainees as dangerous or of intelligence value or as “illegal enemy combatants.”

One sentence seems to summarize the Justice Departments position: “There is no right on the part of counsel to access to detained aliens on a secure military base in a foreign country.”

Well, if the military base is secure, as the brief claims, and if the base is on an island, if the internal structure of the prison – let’s call it what it is – consists of at least five separate compounds for housing detainees, including at least two large solitary confinement facilities, how can the government claim that visits between lawyers and their clients poses a security threat?

Based on the so-called Hicks “trial” in which all charges other than “conspiracy” had been dropped before the proceeding began; the “mix and match” nature of the charges lodged against Omar Khadr and pending against some of the remaining eight who have been charged; the most logical conclusion as to why the Justice Department is pushing for limits on lawyer-client meetings is – again – the flimsy nature of the “evidence” on which many in Guantanamo are being held.

“Out of sight, out of mind” could be the Justice Department’s motto in these matters.
It could be, that is, except that should the Attorney General put something out of mind, he may never recall where he put his mind.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Seeing Blood-Red

“I am in blood stepped in so far that that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.”
Macbeth Act III

General David Petraeus, field commander of all coalition forces in Iraq, is in Washington to brief members of the House and the Senate in closed sessions on the current state of the Bush “surge” in Iraq. The increase of nearly 30,000, achieved largely through extending existing deployments by three months and accelerating new deployments, was originally targeted at the volatile Baghdad neighborhoods and al-Anbar province, but has had to be extended to Dayala province as well. The increase in troops will set a new baseline of 160,000-165,000 U.S. troops on the ground. General Petraeus will assure the Congress that these should be enough if they are in the right places and do more than simply squeeze one place and have the opposition pop up elsewhere.

Perhaps not coincidentally, John McCain picked today to announce formally that he is running for president in 2008. Earlier this month, at the Virginia Military Institute, McCain laid out his position on the wars in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in dozens of other countries across the globe in the so-called war on terror. McCain broke no new ground in his VMI remarks, nor did he at today’s official campaign kick-off in New Hampshire. He reaffirmed support of the “surge” tactic announced by President Bush January 10 in a prime time nationally televised presidential speech. And McCain did get some free coverage because his position on the surge was a natural follow-on to stories about General Petraeus who was picked specifically to go to Iraq and implement the policy.

General Petraeus had another job to do: convince the Congress to pass a supplemental appropriations measure that has no complicating provisions such as timelines for the beginning of troop withdrawals. Bush, other administration officials and spokespersons, and McCain have all been attacking the new Democratic majorities in Congress for “interfering” with the president’s powers and prerogatives as commander-in-chief. As Congress nears final passage of the FY2007 supplemental appropriation request submitted by the president in early February, the frequency and the stridency of the attacks by the war hawks in and out of government have increased. And while there is every reason to expect Bush to redeem his threat to veto this legislation when it reaches his desk, the very fact that he has been forced to employ his second veto demonstrates the extent to which political power is flowing from the White House to the Capitol. Moreover, the impetus for the power shift is a renewed bipartisan commitment to “due diligence” by Congress in exercising its responsibilities, a sharp contrast to the vast power void that had developed under the dome of the Capitol over the past six years.

Unfortunately for McCain, Bush, and the Washington hawks, the rhetorical blood-letting in the U.S. has mirrored the real bloodletting for coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for scores of families caught in one of the numerous “fronts” that the administration has opened. Consider that fourteen weeks have passed since the president’s announcement and then look at the costs.

In Iraq:
317 U.S. soldiers killed, bringing the total since March 20, 2003 through April 24 to 3,333;
18 coalition troops killed, 16 of whom were British, bringing allied fatalities to 270 and total coalition losses to 3,603 since March 2003;
Iraqi security forces count 576 soldiers and police killed in violence; and
5,406 – at least – Iraqi civilians killed, including 60 on the very day President Bush announced the “surge.”

Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reportedly was “not pleased” with the UN Assistance Mission Iraq (UNAMI) when, using Iraqi government figures, it estimated that nearly 35,000 Iraqis died violently in 2006. The Iraqis stopped distributing statistics about violent deaths, thus leaving a statistical hole in UNAMI’s first quarter 2007 report.

In Afghanistan:
24 U.S. soldiers killed, bringing the U.S. total since October 7, 2001 to 381;
23 coalition troops killed, 10 of whom were Canadian, bringing allied fatalities to 182
and total coalition losses to 563 ;
3,900 – at least – Afghans killed in 2006 alone.

Although Iraq and Afghanistan understandably are the Pentagon’s main foci, military spokespersons do not hesitate to point out that the U.S. has forces in 130 countries around the world. But because few of these are involved in countering insurgencies or in other combat-related activities, less information is routinely reported in the U.S. media than in European equivalents.

So death piles on death almost unnoticed in places like Mogadishu, Somalia, where Ethiopian forces supporting the Transitional government are battling the fundamentalist (and therefore “al-Qaeda-affiliated”) Islamic Courts movement which itself had seized power in south and central Somalia from U.S.-backed war lords. The new continental security organization, the African Union, continues to try to assemble a third peacekeeping contingent, relieving the Ethiopians of the stigma of “occupying power.” The sharp spike in fighting in Mogadishu just in April has already killed an estimated 1,250 Somalis, a figure that continues to climb daily and is coming to resemble the bloody course of events in Iraq.

Even more bloody – and bloody-minded – “front” in the U.S. global war on terror are the 200,000 killed and the 2.5 million refugees living in camps in Darfur, Chad, and the Central African Republic. Sudan’s leaders finally have agreed to allow as many as 3,500 non-military UN personnel to join the overwhelmed 7,000 African Union “peacekeeping” troops in a support role. But Khartoum still refuses to accept the third section of the UN Security Council resolution: to accept a larger (17,000 – 20,000) armed, regular UN peacekeeping contingent in the tri-border region.

Only unreconstructed war hawks still believe a military solution in Iraq and Afghanistan remain possible. But with an estimated 20,000 Iraqis active in death squads, insurgent groups, and “al-Qaeda-in Iraq”; with an unknown number of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden in Pakistan; with money supplied to all the factions for weapons, explosives, and ammunition; and with the acknowledgment that the presence of foreign occupiers is part of the problem, to remain in situ without setting an end date to the presence of this significant contributor to the mayhem that is also the enabling catalyst of the bloodletting that has been endemic to Islam for centuries.

In Act V of Macbeth, the last act, Lady Macbeth’s psyche has become overwhelmed by the enormity of the regicide and other bloodletting she helped set in motion but for which she has remained defiantly unrepentant. So complete is her breakdown that even her senses betray her: “What, will these hands ne’er be clean?...Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”

George Bush, Dick Cheney, and their advisors have cost more lives in a war they chose than were lost on September 11, 2001. Yet like Lady Macbeth, they are trapped in a recurring nightmare into which the entire country has been dragged. Congress must end this nightmare by ending war funding. Once that is done, we might then be able to say with Lady Macbeth’s doctor: “God, God forgive us all.”

Monday, April 23, 2007

When Saint Met Sultan -- An Object Lesson for Today?

This past weekend I happened on an email that outlined a little remembered encounter between two men, one Christian and the other Muslim, whose names are immediately recognized in their own traditions.

The context is the Fifth Crusade (1215-1221 CE), called by Innocent III and pursued by his successor Honorius III. Unlike prior crusades where western armies were commanded by kings, emperors, and princes who often had their own agendas, in the Fifth Crusade the papacy succeeded in forcing secular field commanders to accept what amounted to a papal “golden vote” over strategy and tactics.

The bulk of the crusader forces land at Acre in 1216 and 1217 in an attempt to strike south and recapture Jerusalem, but they are stymied by the resistance mounted by the Ayyubid armies. The crusaders decide on another plan: topple the new Ayyubid sultan, Malik al-Kamil, by attacking his capital in what is modern day Egypt. Having made an alliance with the Muslim Seijik ruler of Anatolia (modern Turkey) who was a rival of the Ayyubids for control of Syria, the main crusader army sailed for the Nile River Delta where it lay siege to the fortress city of Damietta (modern Damyat) from late May 1218 to November 1219. According to the chronicles of the period, only 3,000 of the city’s estimated population of 70,000 survived. Less than twenty months were to pass before al-Kamil reclaimed Damietta and then decisively defeating the crusaders in late August 1221 at the Battle of al-Mansurah.

Kamil also had to deal with another Christian “invasion.” This time there was no army, no military arms, no killing. His opponent – perhaps challenger is a better term – was Saint Francis of Assisi. Francis had long wanted to try to convert Muslims to Christianity, but ill health and a ship wreck stopped the first two attempts. But when the crusaders invaded the Nile Delta in 1218, Francis joined them and then, with a companion, crossed the battle lines. Discovered by al-Kamil’s troops, the two Franciscans were taken to the sultan, where Francis declared his intention to convert all the inhabitants of the Ayyubid caliphate. When al-Kamil responded that he had a book and a God in whom he believed as much as Francis did his book and God, Francis proposed a Medieval “trial by fire” to see whose belief system was “true.” By some accounts, the Islamic “priests” demur by “fleeing” the court.

All the sources for the actual encounter between saint and sultan are Christian. Some suggest the sultan’s mildness and openness to Francis’ gambit reflects his own status as a Sufi or Islamic mystic who senses immediately in Francis a fellow-mystic. This “spiritual bonding opened to Francis the right to visit any Christian holy place under the sultan’s control and the right to proselytize without fear of reprisal.

Just as he could not move the sultan on the spiritual plain, Francis also failed to convince Cardinal Pelagius, the pope’s legate – who seems to have assumed command of the Christian army – to halt the fighting. Pelagius wanted no talk of peace; he had, in fact, turned down an offer from Al-Kamil to restore the “Kingdom of Jerusalem” to the Christians in return for lifting the siege of Damietta.

Like so many others, both cleric and laic, Pelagius managed to pluck abject defeat from the fire of assured victory by summarily dismissing a bid for peace not only at Damietta but throughout Palestine. And it is this refusal to accept proffered peace that accentuates the ironic symbolism of al-Kamil’s decision at al-Mansurah to let the flooding Nile undermine the crusader defenses – as if to wash the land of any trace of the bloody invader.

Is there in all this a lesson for today? One commentator sees Francis’ journey to meet and speak with al-Kamil as the equivalent of efforts to find a peaceful resolution of the ethnic, tribal, and sectarian warfare raging in Iraq and Afghanistan. Especially when leaders refuse even to explore peaceful alternatives to war, it becomes all the more necessary for ordinary people to keep alive the flame of peace, to maintain a commitment to peace, and to continue the struggle against the ravages that war inflicts on the body-politic and on the human psyche and spirit.

Friday, April 20, 2007

There is Time With Iran


It is a precious, fleeting commodity, something we all say we want and complain we never have enough of. It is what our clocks and watches measure on the assumption (“close enough for government work”) that it is uniform throughout the universe – or at least on our small planet – Einstein notwithstanding.

It is also something that we are very good at “wasting.” But like Einstein’s theory of relativity by which time is extendable from the perspective of a “static” reference, “wasting time” in the eyes of one person might be productive introspection for another.

For example, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, traveling in the Middle East, has reiterated his belief that the multi-strand diplomatic approach to dealing with Iran’s nuclear “problem” is “working” and should be given enough time to reach a successful conclusion.

The calls to “give negotiations a chance” have been growing within the Congress and even within the Pentagon. The sentiment is hardly unique either in its subject matter – Iran’s drive for a nuclear arsenal, possibly as a bargaining chip with the west – or in the subtle rewording of a warning to the Iraqi government that the commitment of a combat force is not forever, just as the U.S. public’s patience for foreign wars is not unlimited.

The “Axis of Evil” hawks still in (and still in charge of) the Bush administration undoubtedly relegated Secretary Gates’ conclusion to the trash bin as soon as it reached them – no wasting time, from their perspective, talking with “extremists” in Tehran about not doing something the U.S. “extremists” say is Iran’s real purpose – a nuclear weapon. Better to move ahead now with military force, they contend, and end the “threat” to the region. Never mind that the consensus outside the White House and the National Security Council (NSC) “extremists” is that the U.S. military has been so over-extended by the long struggles to pacify Afghanistan and Iraq that it would be a costly endeavor – and an unacceptably risky one – to initiate a third active war front in the Gulf region.

Mr. Gates himself is a man in a hurry. He came into his current position with a clear direction from the U.S. public (but alas, one seemingly not acknowledged by the president) to find a way to at least begin, if not complete, the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq in the 24 months remaining in Bush’s second term. That is just over half the time that his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, expended (44 months) in creating the black hole that is today’s Iraq, a terrestrial phenomenon that every day consumes hundreds of lives and squanders billions in national treasure and natural resources that could have gone to productive ends instead of destructive ones.

While the Defense Secretary may not have the support of some important White House and NSC staff, he and Secretary of State Rice seem attuned to the same message: the necessity to thoroughly explore all non-military avenues for engaging Iran on the nuclear issue. Moreover, Gates and Rice can point to the progress (breakthrough might be too strong) in slowing North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal as a model of what is possible in negotiations like the “Six Party Talks” with direct DPRK – U.S. talks held initially “on the margins” and later “mainstreamed.”

Sometimes, help comes fortuitously and from unexpected quarters – and it did again earlier this month. The former head of military studies at Israel’s Armament and Development Authority blasted Israeli media for exaggerating the nuclear and missile threat posed by Iran to the Israeli state. The former official, Dr. Yitzhak Ravid, also criticized the Israeli media for printing and then touting a photograph of four Iranian “missiles” – purportedly Shihabs (latest model with an estimated range of 1,500 kms.) – being fired at the same time. According to Ravid, not only have the Iranians never fired more than one Shihab at a time, the photo of the four “Shihabs” is actually a photo of four rockets.

One of the points being pushed by Rice and Gates is the necessity of involving all the countries in the Gulf in the search for an enduring security regimen for the entire region – virtually a pre-condition for the more critical follow-on, sustained (and sustaining) involvement of geographic, religious, trade, and cultural organizations with interests in the Gulf.

Although the western media were represented at the on-going “Doha” Round of trade negotiations of the World Economic Forum, little attention was paid to an April 9-10 “meeting on the fringe” of 150 political, business, and other public figures at the Arab World Competitiveness Roundtable. At that gathering, Hassan Rowhani, who directs the Center for Strategic Studies of Iran’s Expediency Council and is widely regarded as Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s man on Iran’s National Security Council, presented Tehran’s solution for stabilizing the Persian Gulf region. The proposal divides into three sections as follows.

Conventional security. The plan would employ the existing Gulf Cooperation Council, which consists of all the countries on the Arabian Peninsula, as the security base, but adding Iraq and Iran so as to include all countries on the Persian Gulf littoral. The plan also calls for the withdrawal of all foreign (non-Gulf) military forces and assumption of the “full security mission” by the “Persian Gulf Cooperation Council.

Commerce. The plan calls for the gradual and complete removal of all artificial limitations and restrictions on cooperation in non-military areas and for an eventual internal free-trade bloc.

Energy Security. The plan calls for rationalizing energy production and export policies that benefit all countries, the development of transparent nuclear energy programs that cannot be surreptitiously converted to weapons programs, and creating a regional nuclear enrichment consortium accountable to and under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

These same ten points had been presented by the former president of Iran, Mohammad Khatame, to a delegation of leaders of U.S. church organizations that traveled to Tehran in late February 2007. But there was no apparent U.S. government response when the delegation held a post-trip press conference on their discussions in Tehran.

Washington doesn’t want to talk to Iran at all, but has been forced to sit down with Tehran on the nuclear standoff. This may account for the apparent dismissal of the Iranian ten-point plan in February.

It is now almost two-thirds of the way through April, and the U.S. “solution” to Iraq – the “surge” – is in trouble. Maybe it’s time for the administration to make time to look at and to think about the plan now.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Inverting Justice

“Justice will not come to Athens until those who are not injured
are as indignant as those who are injured.”

Having made liberal use recently of the Romans in general and Julius Caesar in particular – both the historical figure and Shakespeare’s play of the same name – I thought to give both the real and the fictional empires a rest.

Yet the very universality of the Bard’s themes make this difficult, especially the use and abuse of power, the injustices such abuses create, and the inevitable struggle to rectify the abuses – either through the medium of accountability to the rule of law, the moral high ground – or through exacting vengeance, a remedy better left to the gods, as the ancient Greeks cautioned so many centuries ago.

And that, more or less, brought me to Thucydides and Athens, whose history is punctuated by both the legal defense of its democracy from the Persian empire (which included present-day Iraq) and by its own aggression against neighboring city-states until it, too, was subjugated by others.

I had anticipated that the most senior justice official in the cabinet, Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales, would have testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on why eight federal prosecutors were fired late last year and why his earlier testimony conflicts with documents and sworn statements from other Justice officials. His appearance was postponed when the extent of the carnage at Virginia Tech – the slaying of 32 teachers and students – became known.

The events Monday raise questions, very different ones, of individual and collective justice, of accountability for one’s actions, and of the obligations of community to help those who are injured bear their burden. Psychological support undoubtedly will be available for the families of those killed and wounded and their friends for as long as it is needed. But for the survivors, April 16, 2007 will remain a day of unexpected tragedy and injustice for the rest of their lives. It is, in a fundamental sense, the equivalent of September 11, 2001—not just for the relatives of the dead, but for the faculty and students past, present, and future; for the town of Blacksburg; and for the wider, surrounding Virginia community.

But should we then continue to broaden our conceptual horizon beyond the U.S. and take in other countries and regions of the world, what comes into sharp relief is the plethora of violent injustices inflicted on thousands of ordinary people every day who lack community support. Today Iraq seems to have gone mad; in mid-afternoon Washington time, the death toll just in Baghdad from six car bombs had already gone over 175, with, according to one reporter, 120 dead from a single blast. This comes on top of the 150 Iraqis whose lives were unjustly taken on Monday and Tuesday. Then there are the thousands killed everyday in Sudan, Somalia, Colombia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Sri Lank, West Africa – wherever armed struggle is being waged – as well as those who die from malnutrition, starvation, exposure, or war-induced illness.

Intellectually, we know of these injustices and that Thucydides’ analysis of how justice is to be secured – by developing the institutions and the procedures that are indispensable for implementing the rule of law – is quite rationale. Moreover, it is quite Greek in the sense that ultimately it is the gods or their spirit agents who exact vengeance and right injustices. What Thucydides’ maxim does not do – because it cannot – is provide the emotive release that has become part of the U.S. (and the wider Occidental) sense that justice is due not only to those who actually suffered the harm but to those left behind when the injury was fatal. For the ancients, the question was simply that of justice sought, justice rendered

What I think has changed is the substitution of the Hebraic lex talionis for the less emotive (because less “humanistic) Greek caution to leave retribution to the gods. Not only did this Hebraic code overshadow and eventually supplant the Greek admonition to leave vengeance to the deities, it trumped the similar Biblical assertion that vengeance belonged to Yahweh. But if the gods do not dispense justice to those injured, that burden becomes that of fallible humans in the unfamiliar role of arbiters of justice.

The assumption of this role as fallible arbiter inevitably fed the sense that justice sought no longer was justice rendered. But the inversion did not become clear until a new reality burst into our collective consciousness. We saw it in Kenya and Tanzania in the late 1990s. It hit us in the face in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. It has surfaced strongly in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Blacksburg, Virginia. In all these cases – and others – the person who caused the injury deliberately died in the act of inflicting the injury. In fact, it appears that THE motivating or inspirational power impelling the actor was the expectation that his or her death is “justice in action.” In his or her mind, the individual inflicting the injury sees the community as the source of injustice while she or he is transformed into the injured party.

Which, or course, is backwards to a western mind, for in dying in the act of inflicting injury, the perpetrator undercuts the whole notion of present accountability for one’s actions. Yet it is the expectation of accountability for one’s actions (or inactions) that is the ultimate restraint on injustice as much as it is a catalyst motivating the community to act to uphold justice and to sustain the rule of law.

Should we lose this level of community, justice become little more than “every person for herself or himself.”

Monday, April 16, 2007

U.S. North Korean Snapshot

While possible to go back to the early 1990s for the start of the now-common look of dismay when the two words “North Korea” are uttered by a U.S. government official, in the last six-plus years in particular the White House reaction when U.S. unilateral policy intersected with a claimed North Korean interest – similarly unilateral – the context and “spin” by White House spokespersons has invariably been 100% negative.

Moreover, when diplomats from Pyongyang and Washington happened to be at multilateral meetings, happened to wander into the same room, happened to encounter each other and politely exchanged the proverbial time of day, administration briefers could be counted on to frame the happenstance as something akin to stalking.

If there is a positive aspect to the debacle that is Iraq, it is this: the lack of resolution of the Iraq conflict and the prospects that fighting there will absorb the last 21 months of the George W. Bush presidency, has finally compelled the administration to change emphasis from verbal and physical confrontation that could spark “war-war” to multilateral “jaw-jaw,” as Winston Churchill so inelegantly phrased it. Even so, Bush resisted this change, initially resorting to devices such as the “Six Party Talks” hosted by Beijing where there were no direct negotiations between U.S. and North Korean diplomats but “non-talks” were held “on the margins.” After a series of baby steps by both sides and even setbacks that included lengthy interludes between meetings, a deal was reached. The U.S. agreed to unfreeze North Korean financial and monetary assets held in United States banks and promised to fund deliveries of heavy oil to the North to produce electricity. In return, North Korea agreed it would re-shutter is experimental heavy water nuclear reaction that has been the source of the plutonium Pyongyang has amassed for its nuclear weapons

So when the news broke that Governor Bill Richards (NM) would travel to Pyongyang to meet with Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) officials, this seemed to be added, encouraging news. As it turned out, Richardson was going to North Korea to receive from the regime the remains of six U.S. servicemen who died in the Korean War. This was the first visit to the North for this purpose by any U.S. official – Governor Richardson was Secretary of Energy in the Clinton White House years – in nearly two years.

Reportedly, Governor Richardson took the opportunity to speak with the leaders of North Korea about the importance of both sides keeping to their pledges made in the Six Party talks. As it is, this latest deal almost unraveled before it got off the ground as the administration ran into unexpected hurdles unfreezing the North’s money and the North Koreans missed the April 14 deadline to begin shutting down the nuclear reactor.

Still, things between North Korea and the U.S. may actually be on a more solid base than those between South Korea and the U.S. On April 15, the Pentagon admitted that, in making public the results of its 2001 investigation of the infamous No Gun Ri massacre of civilians by U.S. troops early in the Korean War, it deliberately failed to disclose relevant documents – including one from the then U.S. ambassador to Seoul to the State Department – that said it was U.S. Army policy at that time to shoot refugees of any age and of either gender approaching U.S. lines from the North. In 2001, the Army had flatly denied there was such a policy, while the Pentagon downplayed the “possibility” that incidents similar to No Gun Re had occurred during the North’s onslaught in July 1950.

The current South Korean government plans on re-investigating all the reports of U.S. troops firing on unarmed civilians at the start of the war. Those responsible for this policy undoubtedly are all deceased, but were any still alive today they could be held for war crimes. It is not beyond the pale, should Seoul’s investigation turn up proof that actual military orders to kill any civilians approaching U.S. defenses from the north were issued by the chain of command, that the remaining U.S. ground troops might have to leave the peninsula. As it is, the U.S. and the UN presence is becoming more tenuous each month as the South’s interests and the direction of the relationship between the two halves of the peninsula continue to diverge.

A final thought to be saved for future development: have you noticed that a common thread seems to run through every major war of the past 65 years in which the U.S. participated. That thread is the splitting of a country into two or more parts:

-Post-World War II Germany into four parts and then into two;

Post-World War II Korea into two parts that remain today;

-Post colonial Vietnam following France’s defeat in 1954 and lasting until April 1975.

Little wonder that Iraqis fear for their country’s future.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Just War Myth

Senator John McCain (AZ), following the example of President Bush in 2002 and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2006, went to Lexington to “fire a shot” on his support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, unlike the Minutemen’s “shot heard ‘round the world, ” McCain’s volley misfired.

Location might have something to do with that miscue – he was in Lexington, Virginia at the Virginia Military Institute, not in Massachusetts. And while the uniforms worn by the VMI cadets are not “redcoats” but Army green and the 1,200 cadets were a friendly venue, reporters found that not all of the students agreed with McCain’s position that the “surge” tactic is working.

In addition to the “surge,” McCain spoke about victory and defeat, security and strategy, politics today and terrorism tomorrow. “Supporting the troops” was another predictable theme. But what seemed new for McCain was the characterization of the Iraq war as necessary and “just.”

In fact, Senator McCain mentions Iraq as a “just war” at the beginning of his speech (a conditional reference) and again near the end (an unconditional reference), employing this concept like “moral bookends” between which he tries to define his reasons for strongly supporting the White House position on the war.

In 2003, I wrote a memorandum laying out the difference between necessary wars – a political consideration – and the claim that war can ever be just. It is what follows.

In general, “just war” is a Western concept. Moreover, it is a concept with distinct religious-moral roots. Its development occurred within the Catholic Church, notably by Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century, by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th, Francisco de Vitorio in the 16th, and Francisco Suarez in the 17th. At this point, the influence of secular thinkers such as Hugo Grotius began to overshadow that of churchmen, whose standing was undercut by the religion-driven 30 Years War that sundered the Holy Roman Empire.

Discussions about just war tend to dwell on the six criteria that are traditionally “required” to exist before a war can be called “just”: just cause (e.g., correct a grave public evil, self-defense); legitimate authority; right intention (ultimately, peace); probability of success; proportionality; and last resort. But it is critical to understand what is missed by starting any consideration of just war theory with these six criteria. Starting with the criteria effectively inverts the traditional Christian position that disputes are to be resolved peacefully. The underlying principles of moral conduct at work here are: life is God’s gift, and because there is “that of God” in each life, no human has the right to take life from another.

Beyond this fundamental point, modern warfare arguably violates proportionality because of the tremendous destructiveness of today’s weapons. The second principle habitually violated is that of “just cause” – specifically, who is empowered to declare that the cause for which war is declared is just? Simply declaring it does not make it so.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Misusing the National Guard

From time to time – and it is just “time to time” because most FCNL supporters use their “communications” time to contact their senators and representatives and their local staffs, not FCNL – I come across a message from individuals familiar with the anti-war position of the Society of Friends – even if they are not Quakers themselves.

A recent letter commented on the use (or misuse) of the National Guard to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As many others have commented, the writer noted that today’s Guard structure, equipment, training, and personnel qualifications can be traced back to the 1903 reforms initiated by then Secretary of War Elihu Root. In terms of battle heritage, many go back to the War for Independence.

For the first 50 years of the revamped Guard, units could be federalized only in event of a national emergency. In 1952, Congress changed the law to permit orders for “active duty” or “active duty for training” – but if no emergency existed, requiring the consent of the governor of the state whose National Guard is being called/into federal service. With the semi- illegal machinations of the White House and the National Security Council in Central America during the Reagan administration, governors brought and lost a 1986 challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court on the power of the president to send National Guard units to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and Nicaragua for “training” and construction activities.

The writer of the letter suggested that Congrss could hasten the end of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by attaching a provision to a Defense Department appropriations bill that would reinstate the requirement for the consent of a governor before a state’s Guard units could be sent abroad.

The idea is definitely worth discussing. But I think to get anything like this off the ground, the real push will have to come from the states, specifically the state governors and the adjutants-general who are the commanders of the National Guard units of the various states. With the Congress so closely divided – particularly in the Senate – the real power on this type of federal-state issue has to be generated from the states. In a sense, this might be a blessing in disguise because state government is generally more responsive to grass roots efforts than is the federal government. Moreover, if state governors and state political organizations get behind an initiative to prohibit use of National Guard units for occupation duty abroad, it would provide political “cover” for U.S. Senators and Representatives to propose and co-sponsor legislation to that effect or even to remove the National Guard from the Pentagon’s control – although this would probably garner less support.

Whether any change could be enacted today with the just-announced call-up of four National Guard combat brigades for a second tour in Iraq and Afghanistan is problematical. On the other hand, such a proposal appended to a Pentagon appropriations bill might initiate a real debate about the National Guard’s role. At this stage, even that would be a positive step.

Monday, April 09, 2007

How Much Trust for the Military?

The broad response to the essay “Have You No Sense of Decency?” The Tillman Affair and the Moral Decline of the Army, that first appeared in the April 4th on-line edition of Counterpunch, suggests that the public’s image of and regard for the military as an institution is being undercut by the disaster that is the now renamed “global War on Terror” in general and Iraq in particular.

In past years, come late January or early February, polling organizations would release the results of surveys asking, among other questions, which institutions and who among prominent personalities the public esteemed. This year, at the appointed time, much of the news coverage centered on the changes on Capitol Hill with the Democrats in control of both Houses for the first time in 12 years and the first time in the presidency of George W. Bush.

In the most fundamental sense, of course, the “poll” last November that effected this change of control was the one that counted – at least that is the theory. But with the president’s January 10, 2007 speech announcing a troop increase of 21,500 (eventually rising to nearly 30,000), the White House served notice on the public and the Congress that there would be no strategy shift, only a tactical one.

Meanwhile, the various polling organizations did their annual surveys, with the Pew Research Center completing the most recent one on April 5. But as Fate would have it, that week was Easter/Passover, and by April 5th it seemed many people had emulated college students, Congress, and the first family and left for a long vacation.

Even so, the results were startling enough to warrant media attention, especially since the Pew survey found that 27% of those questioned said they had “no confidence” in press reporting about the war. That is just 11% fewer than the number expressing confidence in the media’s portrayal of the fighting in Iraq.

Now it is possible that some of those surveyed are conscious of the restrictions faced by western reporters simply because all foreigners are targets and therefore cannot travel to many locations for first-hand reporting. But this does not explain the startling finding by the Pew researchers that 21% of the U.S. public no longer has confidence in the truthfulness of the military’s reports about what is happening. With a standard margin of error of plus/minus 3%, that puts public distrust of military reports within spitting distance of the level of mistrust of the press. The only bright spot is that 46% of respondents said they had a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the military’s accounts 12 points higher than for the media.

But 46%? In March 2003, both military and press reporting enjoyed overwhelming public confidence – 85% for the military and 81% for the media. There is the suggestion of a certain fickleness in these percentages that mirrors how well the war was going – that is, the content of the message had an influence on the public perception of the truthfulness of the report. In the first two or three months, as many as 90% of the public judged the war was going “fairly” or “very well” while today that percentage has dropped to 40% -- and has been lower than that.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Officers of the Court

Since the controversy about the selective firing of eight U.S. prosecutors last Autumn became a public and a political issue, I have from time to time wondered about those who are called “officers of the courts.”

Before last month, in the broadest sense of the phrase but excluding the administrative personnel (e.g., clerks, stenographers) employed by the courts, I would have included three categories: judges/justices, defenders, and prosecutors.

In the federal system, justices and judges (except bankruptcy judges and federal magistrates) are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate and serve for life unless removed for behavior. The Constitution does not prescribe qualifications to be met or what might disqualify a person. Over the decades, however, the usual practice has been for Senators or Representatives and legal organizations recommend candidates for appointment. Sometimes presidents have nominated cronies and political hacks and used the bench to pay off political supporters and big campaign donors. Inevitably, nominees tend to be of the same “temperament” as the president – e.g., a conservative president nominates conservative-leaning men and women while liberal or progressive presidents turn to those whose political philosophies are similar to theirs.

Upon confirmation, if they have not done so before, new jurists face what may be their greatest challenge. Since their “official” duties require the impartial application of law in the cases brought before them, judges must identify in their own minds those core values and ethical perceptions that constitute their sense of self and that serve as both a moral compass and a link to the community they serve. But they are also expected to identify and leave “at the chamber door” the politics of party, policy, and programs and to weigh whether a law or any part of a law adheres to or contravenes the Constitution, statutes, or administrative decisions.

In other words, while this begins as a political process – and one that can become extremely political before it ends – its product is supposed to be a-political. At the state level, however, some judges are elected, and are elected on a political platform or with a partisan identification.

The Constitution also provides that those accused of violating the law are entitled to competent defense representation in court. Anyone unable to afford to pay for the services of a person acceptable to the court (that is, one whose qualifications have been acknowledged and “has been admitted to the bar”) is guaranteed a court-appointed public defender. Since the courts have the responsibility to ensure representation is available and the power to appoint a defender, these defenders and those who litigate for pay are, unquestionably, officers of the court and in the court should be a-political.

Other than those who don judicial robes after the nomination-confirmation process – that is, those who “serve at the pleasure of the president – every four years just before the president-elect takes the oath of office (regardless of whether or not it is a second term) all presidential appointees are expected to formally submit their resignations. Those who do not resign can be fired – and in fact anyone serving at the pleasure of the chief executive can be fired at any time without having to be given a reason.

Federal prosecutors fall into the category of those who serve at the pleasure of the president. But as with those named to the federal court benches as judges and justices, prosecutors are confirmed by the Senate. (The attempt to subvert the confirmation process through invoking a little noticed emergency provision of the Patriot Act when there is no emergency – and then trying to cover-up the fact by lying to Congress is the catalyst for the current uproar.). But unlike judges and justices, prosecutors remain part of the executive branch.

Why? Because as I understand it, there is no constitutional requirement to prosecute. The executive is charged to enforce the laws of the United States. And while this is normally done by the legal system, other options exist.

This works as long as the Attorney General remembers that he is the people’s lawyer, not the president’s private lawyer/counsel.

It has not worked in this administration because this Attorney General still seems to think he is White House counsel. April 17 Attorney General Gonzales will appear before Congress to defend himself.

An unasked question – until now – is: will Gonzales act as his own attorney before Congress, thereby having a fool for a client – as the old caution asserts?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

There is Life Before Violence

To 1Lt Peter who left a comment on Monday, please send me an email address as I cannot get to you with current information.
The first rule of international diplomacy has always been: identify your national strategic interests.

The second rule is similar to the first: identify everyone else’s strategic interests. For a long time, the objective here was to determine where the other country’s strategic interests ran up against your own and therefore where you had to be ready to fight if necessary.

This is still the motive for some applications of the second rule. For the Bush administration, the rule seems to hold for Iran, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, and an assortment of other countries that have decided not to jump any more every time the White House says “boo.”

Into this category, more and more, one has to place Great Britain. Early on, the public rhetoric was blunt, demanding, even vaguely threatening about the hostages’ fates and possible retaliation. The reported absence in Iran of extensive news coverage early in the crisis suggested that the Iranians were not seeking an excuse to go to war with the UK. But they were making a point internationally: claiming (or reclaiming) part of the upper Gulf where Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait overlap. It was constant but low key negotiation, discussion, horse-trading, whatever one wants to call it, that ended the stand-off over the 15 UK sailors and Marines “arrested” by Iranian Revolutionary Guards two weeks ago.

Iranians and the British have been at loggerheads for well over a century. The British originally were not so much oriented on Iran itself but on the “jewel in the crown – India. The real opponent was Russia both in Afghanistan and in Iran. Ironically, having left everything “East of Suez” in the 1950s and 1960s, the British remained heavily engaged diplomatically in The Persian Gulf as dictated by their strategic interests – cheap, easily accessible, reliable petroleum.

As a petroleum-devouring “cookie monster,” the U.S. also has vital strategic interests in play in the Gulf. Unlike London, however, Washington finds itself paralyzed largely because it has no (or few) diplomatic initiatives on which to build, causes around which to rally other governments, or – indeed – consensus between Congress and the Executive on the next steps in the hot wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Before leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW for his retreat at Camp David, Bush castigated Congress for going off on their Easter recess while the supplemental appropriations bill is still in joint committee awaiting reconciliation of dissimilar provisions. A key provision reportedly in the original House bill would have barred the president from starting a war with Iran until he had consulted Congress. The proposed legislation, while not specifically requiring a declaration of war, could well jump-start that currently dormant “genteel” custom of old – and even go so far as to bring the country full circle to the 1780s and the original Founding Fathers.

And in the “I’m glad you asked” category, Senator Robert Byrd proposed Senate Resolution 39 on January 24, 2700, “Expressing the sense of the Senate on the need for approval by the Congress before any offensive military action by the United States against another nation.”

So hang on. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. But it seems to be underway.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Casualty Update

As of the end of March, 3,248 U.S. service members had died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and its aftermath. In the first two days of April, another five died.

The following chart breaks out every 500th U.S. death. Note that the shortest interval occurs between the 1,000th and 1,500th fatalities which encompasses September 2004 to March 2005. almost exactly six months.

U.S. Fatality Milestones
First March 21, 2003
9 ½ months
500th January 8, 2004
8 months
1,000th September 6, 2004
6 months
1,500th March 2, 2005
7 months 3 weeks
2,000th October 23, 2005
7 months 3 weeks
2,500th June 15, 2006
6 months 2 weeks
3,000th December 31, 2006

Three months have elapsed since the 3,000th U.S. fatality; President Bush is increasing U.S. troop strength in Iraq by nearly 30,000 via tour extensions, moving forces in ahead of schedule – including some who have been back from the combat zone for less than twelve months. Another 1,800 Marines from the Inactive Ready Reserve will be sent, involuntarily, starting in October, as support troops although reportedly 200 will fill combat infantry positions.

About half of the 30,000 being added are in country, with the rest either in Kuwait or getting ready to depart for the Gulf region (all are to be in place by the middle to the end of May).

With 253 U.S. fatalities recorded in the three months since January 1, 2007, the number of dead are on track to hit 3,500 by the end of June. Should that occur, the first half of 2007 will match the shortest previous elapsed time to record 500 fatalities. And with the surge in U.S. troops seemingly being matched by increased attacks in even some of the neighborhoods of Baghdad and al-Anbar, the 3,500th death may come earlier than July 1.

Also of note: considering the “surge” is lifting U.S. troop strength to at least 160,000, during the September 2004 – March 2005 period, troop strength went from a “steady state” of 138,000 in September 2004 to 155,000 in February 2005.

Some say the U.S. has already passed the 3,500th mark and in fact has passed the 4,000th fatality. This is based on applications to the Department of Labor’s Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Division which handles workers’ compensation claims for deaths and injuries sustained by contractors working in the war zone. The Chicago Tribune reports that as of the end of 2006, 770 contractors working for U.S. companies had been killed and another 7,761 had been wounded or injured – IF they were killed while “on duty.”

Accurate Iraqi fatalities going back to March 2003 continue to be elusive. But in the last seven days of this past March, at least 517 Iraqis were killed. This one week sent the reported civilian death toll for March 2007 to 1,869 compared to February’s total of 1,646. However, the total from March 2003 to April 2007 of Iraqis killed as compiled by Iraq Body count now stands between 60,411 and 66,280. This contrasts with the 29,039 recorded since January 2005 by Iraq Coalition Casualty web site.

It took seven years from the first public hearings in Congress in 1966 – which themselves were not held until three years after the start of the build-up of advisors for the South Vietnamese army -- for U.S. troops to leave Vietnam. If this year marks the equivalent of 1966, U.S. troops will be in Iraq until 2014 – UNLESS we do something very different from Vietnam – and do it quickly.