Tuesday, April 22, 2008
We hosted a dinner for Andy Worthington, the author of Guantánamo files, a few weeks ago and something he said struck a cord with everyone in attendance. During a back and forth pertaining to the positive statements made by Senator McCain, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton vis-à-vis Guantánamo – all seem keen to close it - Andy asked us to consider the end game for the U.S. Specifically he asked what would happen to the prisoners.
Of course the first reaction of most of the individuals in attendance was predictable – these prisoners would be repatriated back to their home countries. However, as Andy prodded us to consider that assumption we all stumbled upon the problem that he was grappling with. It became clear that there would be many countries that would refuse to take back their citizens. After all, the U.S. has been stating since the first prisoner transfer to Guantánamo that it is holding the worst of the worst. With that statement on the record it seems fair to assume that some countries will choose to wash their hands of the matter. Why risk internal strife by bringing back someone who is a radical, has become radicalized or is likely to embarrass his home government by questioning why they did not do more to seek the release of an innocent national. What will the U.S. do if it ends up with a group of prisoners who have no where to go and are not deemed to have committed acts that warrant a trial?
The three candidates for President seem to understand that Guantánamo is a blot on the U.S. image in the world
and I am convinced that all of them would like to close it. However, in an incredible irony, it seems possible that the next U.S. President may find that closing Guantánamo proves to be harder than it was for the Bush Administration to open it.
I am going to start making a few calls on this issue to see what the latest thinking is within Defense department circles and will report back in the days ahead.
Violence seems to be escalating in Zimbabwe
. As readers of this blog know, I care deeply about that country and its people and have worked on human rights challenges there
in recent years. My concern for a while has been that Robert Mugabe will use all the tools of State power to ensure that he remains at the helm of his country. When you consider the war crimes his forces committed in Matabeleland
in the 1980’s, the international community
needs to put Mugabe and the generals on notice that they will face individual judicial
consequences for their actions
Thursday, February 28, 2008
New Abu Gharib Photos Released
Wired.Com has just released a set of previously unseen images from Abu Gharib that were recently used in a presentation on torture at the TED conference in Monterey, California. The photos are horrific (viewer discretion is advised) and will certainly reopen the global debate on torture and U.S. actions in Iraq. There is little doubt that the U.S. image in the world will take a further blow at a time when it cannot afford to take too many more.
There is no chance of restoring the U.S. reputation in the world unless we shift course on the issue of torture - unfortunately the Administration and Congress are incapable of dealing with this issue on their own. I have been urging for several years now that Congress moves to create an Independent Bipartisan Commission on Torture and Interrogation; it is past time that the U.S. comprehensively address the scandals of Abu Gharib and beyond.
Some may ask whether it makes sense to wait until we have a new President as there is a good chance that Administration policy will shift dramatically in 2009. My sense is that we actually need more than just a shift in policy going forward. There is a need for all the information on torture to be raised in a public setting and for the facts to be on display for both domestic and global public consumption.
Any Commission that is created should be tasked with bringing together a broad range of experts able to collectively comprehend the totality of the issue, its consequences and necessary policy prescriptions. The experts would be drawn from the intelligence, foreign policy, law enforcement, military, veterans, legal and human rights community. Additional members could include representatives of the faith community, theologians, cultural specialists and historians.
The Commission would publicly air its findings thereby ensuring that the country as a whole can move forward together with an understanding that an “end to torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment” policy is both the morally correct thing to do AND is the best counter-terror approach for the U.S. to take.
I strongly believe that this is an issue where we can build bipartisan support. Maybe Powell could chair the Commission?
Perhaps a national reporter could ask Senator Obama, Senator McCain and Senator Clinton whether they would ensure that such a Commission would be formed during their first 100 days as President.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Obama: Don't Go to War with Iran
It was good to see Sen. Obama come out and put the Bush Administration on notice that their push to war with Iran is neither popular nor authorized. In a speech in Iowa
he stated that:
"George Bush and Dick Cheney must hear loud and clear from the American people and the Congress: You do not have our support, and you do not have our authorization, to launch another war."
The Senator rightly seems concerned about the escalation in rhetoric on the part of the Administration and seems to recognize the catastrophic implications of such a conflict for the US, Iran, the broader Middle East and the international community. Sen. Obama went on to note that:
"....we hear eerie echoes of the run-up to the war in Iraq in the way the president and vice president talk about Iran. They conflate Iran and al Qaeda, ignoring the violent schism that exists between Shia and Sunni militants. They issue veiled threats. They suggest the time for diplomacy and public pressure is running out, when we haven't even tried direct diplomacy."
It is vitally important that the current roster of Presidential candidates is urged to state clearly and unequivocally that they oppose war with Iran. Real diplomacy and talks must be the focus of US regional engagement.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
More bad news in Pakistan
Two pieces of bad news coming out of Pakistan in recent days, one involving the political situation and the other on the security front.
Politically, the Musharraf government made a significant strategic error when they decided to deport former PM Nawaz Sharif when he returned to the country despite the fact that the Pakistani Supreme Court has ruled that he can return. Musharraf would have been better off letting Sharif back but is now reinforcing Sharif's position as a key democratic opposition figure. The Bush Administration needs to be vocal and condemn this move. Sharif will have influence in Pakistan going forward and is close to some key religious figures, he needs to feel that he has support in the West.
On the security side a large number of Pakistani soldiers have been captured by Taliban in the area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The lack of central government control more evident by the day and a change in the status quo will require real cooperation between the two neighbors. Again, this is something the Bush Administration needs to push very hard.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Lessons of the Arar Commission
Dick Marty, a Swiss parliamentarian and rapporteur on secret detention centers for the Council of Europe, has written an interesting piece
for the Globe and Mail on the lessons that can be learned from observing the Canadian Arar
Commission. The piece is important because these types of Commission will be needed because it is only by understanding fully the flaws of current U.S. foreign policy will we be able to shift the ideology towards a NEASFram type framework.
Marty notes that "only Canada has made a real effort to put right the wrong done to the victim — and in a way that does not endanger its legitimate national-security interests." He has come to recognize that European governments and bodies have been too afraid of being accused of harming security to really challenge the executive on rendition policy. Marty believes, with some justification, that Europeans (and I believe Americans) can learn a lot from the Canadian process.
That process, and its benefits, is described in this way by Marty:
"In simplified terms, Judge O'Connor, an experienced jurist, was given access to all the information required. Certain documents, which the government considered secret in the interest of national security, national defence or international relations, were examined in a procedure in which both parties were heard but the material was not reproduced in the public version of the report (although attention was drawn to its absence).
With such carefully weighed transparency, Judge O'Connor was able unequivocally to clear Mr. Arar's name, ensuring justice and clearing the way for the compensation due to him, yet exclude the publication of anything that might, in his judgment, threaten the security of Canadians. The important thing — and here we get to the heart of the question — is that the government is not the sole arbiter of what should be regarded as a state secret: Its claims must be evaluated by an independent body. In the Arar case, that principle remains in place, regardless of this week's readjustment; it was, after all, again a judge who ordered that the new material be made public."
Here is a link to the full piece
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Clinton Wrong on Pakistan
Without wading into the fight between Obama
and Clinton over Pakistan, I do want to note one aspect of Sen. Clinton's comments at the MSNBC
debate. Clinton noted:
"Well, I do not believe people running for president should engage in hypotheticals
and it may well be that the strategy we have to pursue on the basis of actionable intelligence -- but remember we've had some real difficult experience with actionable intelligence... But I think it is a very big mistake to telegraph that and to destabilize the Mushareff
regime, which is fighting for its life against Islamic extremists, who are in bed with al
And remember, Pakistan has nuclear weapons. The last thing we want is to have al
like followers in charge of Pakistan and having access to nuclear weapons. So, you can think big, but remember, you shouldn't always say everything you think if you're running for president because it can have consequences across the world, and we don't need that right now."
The piece of this that worries me is the equation of Musharraf v Islamic Fundamentalists. In reality the support of military dictators in Pakistan always seems to lead to a spike in fundamentalism. There is no question that since the US backed Musharraf has been in power, he has blocked out the democratic parties and allowed the fundamentalists to grow in strength. That he is now "fighting back" says more about his instincts for self preservation. He still shows little sign of giving up power, letting democratic elections go forward and allowing the fundamentalists to be beaten at the ballot box.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
PM Brown DIstancing Himself from President Bush?
What is clear however is that the British government is seeking the release of five Guantanamo prisoners who have links to the UK. Interestingly, none of the five are British citizens but all have secured either refugee status or the right to stay in the UK. The new British Foreign Secretary David Miliband recently wrote to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to request their release.
My suspicion is that we will see the five released in the next few months....