Words Fail Me

I don’t have the words to blog about the atrocious killings in Beslan, Russia. These terrorists are the worst creatures on this earth.

At least 200 people have been killed during the bloody climax of a three-day hostage crisis at a school in southern Russia, health ministry officials say.

Hundreds of people were injured when explosions and shooting brought the siege to a violent end. Many of the casualties were children.

[…] Officials said 27 hostage-takers were killed and three were arrested alive.

The BBC’s Damian Grammaticas, at the scene, says three other hostage-takers are still on the run.

The armed group took over the school on Wednesday.

Russian officials have described some of the hostage-takers as mercenaries from Arab countries.

[…] Heavy gunfire and explosions began on Friday morning, and it was many hours before special forces had control of the school.

It appears the violence began as medical workers drove into the school complex in a pre-agreed trip to collect the bodies of casualties who died when the school was first seized.

A sudden explosion, which some reports suggest may have gone off accidentally, seems to have prompted hostage-takers to begin shooting indiscriminately.

Hostages panicked and tried to flee, while Russian forces stormed the school in an unplanned operation.

There were scenes of pandemonium, as terrified and half-naked children ran from the school amid intense gun battles.

More than 700 people were injured. The health ministry of North Ossetia told Interfax news agency that by the early hours of Saturday morning local time, 531 people remained in hospital – half of them children.

Ninety-two children are said to be in a critical condition.

More than 1,000 people are thought to have been in the school as parents joined their children for festivities on the first day of term.

Who else but scum of the earth would target a school for hostage-taking?

This massacre comes on top of a suicide bombing in Moscow and two plane crashes by terrorists.

There is absolutely no excuse for such evil acts. Chechen grievances against Russia are real and longstanding, but they don’t justify killing innocents adults and children.

Logic and Sanity has been covering the hostage crisis in some detail.

Pakistan and Darfur

The humanitarian crisis in Darfur engendered by the Janjaweed militia and the Sudanese government has finally caught some international attention. While the US is threatening sanctions and France has moved troops to the Chad-Sudan border, Pakistan has responded with mealy-mouthed statements.

Pakistan has called for renewed efforts to find a political solution to the Darfur crisis as the United States threatened to impose UN sanctions on Sudan.

[…]Pakistan’s Ambassador Munir Akram, in a closed-door session of the Council, spoke of Pakistan’s close relationship with Sudan, saying: “We are as concerned as anyone else with regard to the fate of the people on both sides (of the conflict) as all are Muslims.”

So what is Pakistan doing to save the poor Muslims of Darfur who are being killed and made to flee their homes? Pakistani officials can’t even say a word about their sufferings.

Issuing caveat against hasty action, Mr Akram said: “Why rebels had come to the negotiating table with pre-conditions? Was it because they (rebels) believed that they had the unconditional support of a certain major power and that the government of Sudan was going to bear the brunt?

While the rebel preconditions might not have been very wise, the Pakistani ambassador’s attitude is what’s known as knee-jerk anti-Americanism.

“If that was the case, there would be little incentive for the rebels to be reasonable,” the Mr Akram said. “The Council’s action should be measured and balanced so as not to adversely the political negotiations.”

Pakistan’s chief delegate said there was a lot of talk of sanctions and also of what the western media has been calling “bad guys” – a reference to those members who oppose the US stand – and added: “Our people feel much more for the people of Sudan than those who are writing those editorials.”

Here’s a simple definition: Those being killed, raped and thrown out of their houses and villages are the victims and the perpetrators are the bad guys. Is that so difficult to understand, Mr. Ambassador?

Then Musharraf decided to play some role by issuing similar meaningless statements and talking to everybody.

Over the past week, President Gen Pervez Musharraf contacted several world leaders to help addresshumanitarian crisis at Darfur, Sudan.

[…]In his contacts with world leaders, the president emphasized that the situation should not be allowed to spin out of control in order to save Sudan and the international community from a grave tragedy.

[…]The president telephoned President Omar Hasan Ahmad Al-Bashir of Sudan to underline that the implementation of commitments between the UN and the Sudanese government provided the framework for a viable solution to the Darfur crisis.

President Bashir appreciated President Musharraf’s keen interest and briefed him about efforts the Sudanese government was making to resolve the problem. The president also conveyed to President Bashir the concern of the Islamic world on the issue and its consequences for the brotherly people of Sudan.

Later, the President spoke to UN Secretry-General Kofi Annan and US Secretary of State Colin Powell to underscore the need for a diplomatic solution to the issue instead of sanctions or threat of sanctions.

[…]During the past few weeks, leaders of Sweden, Finland, Germany and the US telephoned the president and requested him to play a greater role in defusing the situation in Darfun, the press release said.

Time and again, Pakistan’s official statements on the Darfur crisis have had the underlying assumption that there are two equal sides to the conflict, something that is clearly wrong.

“We hope and expect that SLA and JEM will adopt a realistic and constructive position in the dialogue which is to be undertaken under the auspices of the African Union (AU) mediation,” said Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, Masood Khalid.

He said that parties must negotiate in good faith in this dialogue.

In a statement in explanation of vote after adoption of the resolution on Darfur in the Security Council, Pakistan said “the people and government of Pakistan are as concerned about the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan as other members of the international community.”

But if they are so concerned, why didn’t they vote for the UN resolution?

The US-drafted resolution passed by a vote of 13-0. China and Pakistan abstained, saying they preferred to let negotiations continue.

[…]Masood Khalid said, all the people suffering as a result of this crisis are part of the Islamic Ummah, and therefore, Pakistan fully shares the humanitarian objectives of the resolution.

Who are “all the people”?

And finally, here is Pakistan’s weak defence of its absentation from the Security Council vote.

Pakistan said on Saturday that it had abstained from the UN Security Council vote on the Sudan issue as it considered the final text of the resolution inadequate to resolve the crisis.

The foreign office, in a press release, appreciated the improvement made in the draft in response to Pakistan’s proposals. Yet, it pointed out, the final text lacked the ‘delicate balance’ that the complex situation in Sudan required.

The FO regretted that no compromise had been possible despite efforts and consistent counselling by Pakistan for a calibrated response.

[…]Pakistan emphasized that the cooperation of the government of Sudan was critical in realizing the objectives of saving lives, addressing the humanitarian crisis, and stabilizing peace in the Darfur region.

“Our collective endeavours must encourage that cooperation, not complicate it,” it maintains.

[…]Pakistan did not believe that the threat or imposition of sanctions on Sudan was advisable under this resolution.

Pakistan hoped that the Security Council would not take any drastic measures.

[…]Pakistan also did not believe that the adoption of the entire resolution under Chapter VII was necessary. It welcomed the emphasis on the need for a political solution to the crisis and hoped that all parties must participate in the dialogue in good faith.

Pakistan said that a solution to the Darfur crisis must be found within the unity and territorial integrity of Sudan.

The foreign office said that President Musharraf in two telephonic conversations with his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Beshir had emphasized the need for a visible action for speedy disarmament of the Janjaweed militia. The president had been invited to visit Sudan, it said.

I must say I am disappointed, even though I didn’t expect much.

The Great Game

Conrad Barwa has an insightful post at the Head Heeb on the structural and strategic elements in Pakistan’s policy towards the tribal areas and Afghanistan. Here is his conclusion:

What does seem clear is that the production of any ‘HVTs’ [high-value targets, i.e. terrorist leader] will not be an easy task and will only be accomplished, if at all, with painstaking care and effort as well as, where ever possible co-operation and neutralization of any distrustful actors on the ground. Given the absence of usual governance structures and the relative autonomy enjoyed from any centralized state authority that has historically predominated this belt on both the Afghan and Pakistani borders, any other approach, unless reinforced by a substantial investment of manpower, resources and time will not bear fruit. Moreover, it runs the risk of weakening the faultlines within the polity with the possibility of a serious breakdown of order and expanded domestic conflict. The debilitating linkages between foreign and domestic policy, noted by Jalal and cited earlier, that have put in place a structural conflict between external security goals and internal stability need to be severed and re-articulated. Such drastic de-linking between the external and internal spheres involving foundational changes in definition of ‘national interest’ have occurred before, most notably with the re-orientation of Egyptian foreign policy in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Such wholesale changes in how foreign policy is conducted and the ‘national interest’ defined, in order to be successful need to obtain the acquiescence of the state policymaking elites and crucial sections of the political leadership, in order to overcome the opposition to change. Usually, such redirections are carried out by authoritarian nationalist leaders, who can ride roughshod over any domestic resistance; but in this case for a real peace dividend to be achieved for the region and the domestic population as a whole, only a democratic government has a realistic long-term chance of successfully enacting such a change and carrying it through to its conclusion.

I think the strategic factors in the Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship do not get commented on frequently enough here in the US as opposed to the religious and ideological ones. Conrad’s post is useful since it focuses on the the “Great Game” which continues unabated.

Sepoy of Chapati Mystery posted recently at The Acorn about the history of the tribal areas of Pakistan which has been pretty constant since the late 19th century policy put in place by the British.

Quite some time ago, I touched upon the acrimonious history of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations before the Soviet invasion.

And finally an Amnesty International report on human rights abuses by Pakistani army in its South Waziristan operation:

Amnesty International is concerned that during the two-week long operation in March 2004 intended to remove people believed to be associated with the Taleban and al-Qa’ida from South Waziristan in the tribal region of Pakistan, a range of human rights violations were committed. They included arbitrary arrest and detention, possible unlawful killings and extrajudicial executions and the deliberate destruction of houses to punish whole families when some of their members were alleged to have harboured people associated with the Taleban or al-Qa’ida. Tribal fighters who may be associated with the Taleban or al-Qa’ida appear to have taken —- and in some cases killed —- hostages.

Do They Look Like Me?

You might have heard about the terror induced by 14 Syrian musicians on a Northwestern flight.

There is no doubt that something out of the ordinary happened on Northwest Airlines Flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles on June 29. The plane was met at the airport by squads of federal agents and police responding to radio messages from the pilots about concerns that 14 Middle Eastern male passengers had spent the four-hour flight acting suspiciously.

But was the episode a dry run for a terrorist attack, as is now being widely suggested on the Internet and on talk radio, or an aborted terrorist attack? Or was it an innocent sequence of events that some passengers, overcome by anxiety and perhaps ethnic stereotyping, misinterpreted as a plot to blow up their plane?

It started with a 3,300-word story by Annie Jacobsen who was on the flight. Her narrative reads like one right out of a creative writing class. I agree with Donald Sensing that “Annie’s story is simply a scarily well-written shaggy-dog story.” Lots of bloggers have commented on the article, some skeptical while others feel scared or worse.

Aziz Poonawalla writes about the suspicious things he has done on an airplane. I fly quite frequently, but haven’t noticed anyone staring at me. However, I usually read a book at the gate and in the plane. I have been asked a couple of times where I am from after someone sitting next to me heard me speaking in Urdu to Amber on the cellphone. Depending on my mood and sunspots, I give different answers to that question.

This incident reminded me of the three medical students who were supposedly heard making terrorist plans in a restaurant in Georgia about two years ago.

The scare began when Eunice Stone said she overheard the three Muslim men at a Shoney’s restaurant Thursday morning making suspicious comments. At one point, Stone said the bearded man said if Americans “were sad on 9/11, wait until 9/13.”

Stone said she heard one of the men ask “Do you think we have enough to bring it down?” Another one of the men replied, “If we don’t have enough to bring it down, I have contacts and we can get enough to bring it down.”

“To me, that meant they were planning to blow up something,” she said.

She called authorities, who in turn issued the bulletin for authorities to be on the lookout for the vehicles. The men were pulled over at 1 a.m. Friday on Alligator Alley, after one of the cars allegedly went through a toll booth without paying.

In the end, it turned out the guys were innocent. It never was clear who was speaking the truth, the three Muslims or Ms. Stone, but PhotoDude had his preferences:

In the end, I, a 44 year old who’s lived in Georgia for 24 years, am left to believe people I don’t know: either a 44 year old woman from Georgia and her son, or these three men. Now, I don’t know Eunice Stone, but after 24 years in this state, I know Eunice Stone’s type.

[…]I’m very thankful the day ended with no one injured, and no one even in jail. But if I have to believe one version or another of the story, I think you know which one I choose.

I guess I can play that game as well. I also don’t know any of the people involved. But having lived in Georgia for almost 7 years and visited north Georgia quite a lot, I have heard stories about the small-town people there being nice and polite and sometimes suspicious of strangers, especially those who look different. This was definitely the case before September 2001 and I doubt it has changed now. On the other hand, I don’t know the Muslim medical students but two of them seem to be Pakistani-Americans and I know the type.

In the end, no one was injured, as PhotoDude noted, and no one was jailed, but the students lost their medical internship in Florida because the hospital received numerous threats (by anti-Muslim bigots, I assume).

Where am I going with this? Obviously, I am not blogging to criticize a 2-year-old post by PhotoDude. I was reminded of this somewhat “tribal” behavior that we are all guilty of at times because of an excellent blog post by Katherine. She starts out with the September 11 terrorist attacks.

I won’t describe where I was that day, or what I felt; you obviously remember where you were and what you felt. You saw the same images I saw. I would guess that even now, when there has been more time since an attack than you thought we would ever have again, you can imagine the worst case scenario. Perhaps in New York, perhaps in your own city. The fires and the frantic cell phone calls. The bewildered crowds fleeing the clouds of ash on foot. The full or eerily empty emergency rooms. You probably cannot come much closer than I can to understanding what it would really feel like to be trapped there, or to find out that your family member had vanished. But voluntarily or involuntarily, consciously or subconsciously, you have made the attempt. It is a plausible scenario.

The opposite extreme is not plausible. You cannot imagine the stray air strike that hits the apartment building. Not the relative or friend disappeared, not into the air but into some unknown prison. Not the deportation to a country you can barely remember. Not the questions you know you can never answer to their satisfaction, because you are innocent. Not the complete powerlessness of solitary confinement for—you have no idea when it will end, or if it will end. Certainly not the abuse or torture..

Her whole post is worth reading. Her point is that most of us cannot empathize with the victims of torture at Abu Ghraib or the immigrants who were abused in detention immediately after September 11 or the 14 Syrians who were most likely innocent musicians or the three medical students or Pakistani-American Ansar Mahmood.

If Mahmood had not decided to pose for a souvenir snapshot taken by a co-worker on a sparkling fall day in October 2001, he might still be in Hudson, dutifully spending money to his family in Pakistan. But the scenic setting that Mahmood chose for this photo was a water-treatment plant with the Catskill Mountains in the background. Amid the post-9/11 hysteria, employees of the plant alerted police that a possible terrorist was photographing this vulnerable target.

[…]Because he held a green card and the initial suspicions that he wanted to poison the water supply were so exaggerated, Mahmood won release within a week. But a search of his apartment led to the discovery that Mahmood had co-signed a lease for a Pakistani couple who were in the country illegally. In an interview with The New York Times, Mahmood later explained that he had not inquired about the couple’s immigration status. “They never ask me if I have a green card, and I cannot ask them either.”

Reflecting the get-tough attitudes of the months after 9/11, federal officials charged Mahmood with the felony offense of “harboring aliens.” On the advice of his court-appointed lawyer, Mahmood pleaded guilty in federal court in January 2002, accepting a lenient sentence of probation and time served.

Our story might have ended there with a sadder-but-wiser Mahmood learning that he should not be so eager to do favors for his fellow Pakistanis. But the revised 1996 immigration law eliminated discretion in a situation like Mahmood’s. As soon as he uttered the word “guilty,” Mahmood was subject to deportation. He was moved to the Batavia detention facility, as his appeals process worked its way through the courts.

After more than two years in prison, Mahmood lost his last legal gambit Tuesday [June 29, 2004].

A lot of photogrophers and other civil libertarians have talked about the restrictions put on photography in recent times, but most Americans won’t have the misfortune of being an immigrant from Pakistan and hence have all their life scrutinized because they took a photograph. In that scrutiny, law enforcement might find a crime, a technical violation of immigration law or even some blunders by immigration authorities which affected the immigrant’s status.

Or consider the case of Ian Spiers whose tale of harassment because of photography is detailed here.

There are lots of other examples, like Maher Arar, a Syrian Canadian who was sent to Syria by US authorities to be tortured and interrogated.

I am a political liberal and a secular Muslim. I detest the terrorists and thugs who kill in the name of my religion. I am dismayed at the lack of democracy and civil liberties in Pakistan. However, when I read about incidents like the ones described in this post, I remember that like Ansar, I am a Pakistani immigrant to the US; like the Syrians on the Northwestern flight, my native language is written in the Arabic scrript; and so on. For me, unfortunately, these things are not beyond imagination. I can easily think of myself in their shoes and the feeling I get is scary. At a rational level, I understand that the US is a better place in terms of liberty than most other countries and that the chances of anything bad happening to me or my family are quite minute. I just hope that we get over these “tribal” attitudes and get to the task at hand: getting rid of terorrism and spreading democracy and human rights around the world.

UPDATE: Unmedia has an update of the Jacobsen and Syrians in flight story.

UPDATE II: Time has an interview with a Federal Air Marshall on the plane.

Torture, Emperor and Forgetfulness

Via Mark Kleiman, I came upon the story of the torture memo in the Wall Street Journal.

Bush administration lawyers contended last year that the president wasn’t bound by laws prohibiting torture and that government agents who might torture prisoners at his direction couldn’t be prosecuted by the Justice Department.

The advice was part of a classified report on interrogation methods prepared for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after commanders at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complained in late 2002 that with conventional methods they weren’t getting enough information from prisoners.

[…]The draft report, which exceeds 100 pages, deals with a range of legal issues related to interrogations, offering definitions of the degree of pain or psychological manipulation that could be considered lawful. But at its core is an exceptional argument that because nothing is more important than “obtaining intelligence vital to the protection of untold thousands of American citizens,” normal strictures on torture might not apply.

This hypothetical has been invoked lots of times by supporters of torture. However, it assumes perfect information: We know an attack is coming, but not when, where, what; we have a guy in custody who we know that he definitely knows about the attack; and he’ll tell us about the attack when tortured. In the real world, we never have that information. The guy we have in custody might be innocent or our intelligence about a terrorist attack might be wrong, etc.

The president, despite domestic and international laws constraining the use of torture, has the authority as commander in chief to approve almost any physical or psychological actions during interrogation, up to and including torture, the report argued. Civilian or military personnel accused of torture or other war crimes have several potential defenses, including the “necessity” of using such methods to extract information to head off an attack, or “superior orders,” sometimes known as the Nuremberg defense: namely that the accused was acting pursuant to an order and, as the Nuremberg tribunal put it, no “moral choice was in fact possible.”

Hey, it’s not me comparing these guys to the Nazis, they are doing that themselves.

[…]Foremost, the lawyers rely on the “commander-in-chief authority,” concluding that “without a clear statement otherwise, criminal statutes are not read as infringing on the president’s ultimate authority” to wage war. Moreover, “any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of unlawful combatants would violate the Constitution’s sole vesting of the commander-in-chief authority in the president,” the lawyers advised.

Likewise, the lawyers found that “constitutional principles” make it impossible to “punish officials for aiding the president in exercising his exclusive constitutional authorities” and neither Congress nor the courts could “require or implement the prosecution of such an individual.”

What better proof that the United States is turning from a republic into an empire than that the President wants to be emperor who can flout all laws.

To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a “presidential directive or other writing” that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is “inherent in the president.”

[…]For members of the military, the report suggested that officials could escape torture convictions by arguing that they were following superior orders, since such orders “may be inferred to be lawful” and are “disobeyed at the peril of the subordinate.” Examining the “superior orders” defense at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, the Vietnam War prosecution of U.S. Army Lt. William Calley for the My Lai massacre and the current U.N. war-crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the report concluded it could be asserted by “U.S. armed forces personnel engaged in exceptional interrogations except where the conduct goes so far as to be patently unlawful.”

That Nazi thang again!

A redacted version of the torture memo is online now (Newsweek also has a version of the memo with different missing pages.) It’s a long document and probably more useful for the lawyers, but I’ll note that it says that the Justice Department has ruled war crimes permissible against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda (see footnote 14 on page 17.)

Talking about lawyers, what better lawyer blogger to read on this topic than Phil Carter of Intel Dump. You should read his post (or his article in Slate) in full but I’ll excerpt only the punchline:

It is, quite literally, a cookbook approach for illegal government conduct. This memorandum lays out the substantive law on torture and how to avoid it. It then goes on to discuss the procedural mechanisms with which torture is normally prosecuted, and techniques for avoiding those traps.

Unqualified Offerings argues that this memo shows systemic corruption in the administration and that the story is much bigger than torture now.

Political Animal provides a timeline of all the torture memos we have heard about so far. It seems the discussion on torture started almost immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and has gotten worse over time.

Balkinization has a fascinating post about the history of claims that the US President is above the law in some respect. He is also ashamed to be a lawyer seeing that the torture memo is a lawyerly work.

Discourse.net mentions that the memo’s position on Guantanamo is opposite that of the government in the Supreme Court case about the detainees there. The torture memo argues that Guantanamo is inside the US for jurisdictional purposes and so the overseas torture act does not apply there.

Beautiful Horizons has a good Q&A about the topic.

According to the New York Times, only the State department lawyer dissented from the torture policy of this memo.

President Bush was asked about the memo.

Asked whether he has seen the memos, Bush replied, “I can’t remember if I’ve seen the memo or not.”

You might also want to read about the military police soldier Specialist Baker who was severely beaten up in Guantanamo in a training exercise where he played the role of a prisoner. According to Baker, he was discharged because of the injuries he sustained from that beating. The army denied that at first, but now admits that those injuries were part of the reason.

All the reports about torture must also lend credence to the stories of the four British Guantanamo detainees who were released in March. At the time, I was skeptical about their allegations of torture and abuse

Brad Delong reports on a talk by journalist Seymour Hersh, who broke the Abu Ghraib torture story, at the University of Chicago in which Hersh says that there is much more to come about torture and disappearings. Channeling Teresa Nielsen Hayden, I have to say I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist.

Darfur, Sudan

Sudan has been in the news for quite some time. First there was the civil war between the North and the South. Finally, a peace agreement has been signed there. But now some militias backed by the Sudanese government are on a killing spree in the western region of Darfur. This has led to a more than a million refugees. Human Rights Watch has a summary:

The government of Sudan is responsible for “ethnic cleansing” and crimes against humanity in Darfur, one of the world’s poorest and most inaccessible regions, on Sudan’s western border with Chad. The Sudanese government and the Arab “Janjaweed” militias it arms and supports have committed numerous attacks on the civilian populations of the African Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups. Government forces oversaw and directly participated in massacres, summary executions of civilians—-including women and children—-burnings of towns and villages, and the forcible depopulation of wide swathes of land long inhabited by the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa. The Janjaweed militias, Muslim like the African groups they attack, have destroyed mosques, killed Muslim religious leaders, and desecrated Qorans belonging to their enemies.

The government and its Janjaweed allies have killed thousands of Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa—-often in cold blood—-raped women, and destroyed villages, food stocks and other supplies essential to the civilian population. They have driven more than one million civilians, mostly farmers, into camps and settlements in Darfur where they live on the very edge of survival, hostage to Janjaweed abuses. More than 110,000 others have fled to neighbouring Chad but the vast majority of war victims remain trapped in Darfur.

This conflict has historical roots but escalated in February 2003, when two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) drawn from members of the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups, demanded an end to chronic economic marginalization and sought power-sharing within the Arab-ruled Sudanese state. They also sought government action to end the abuses of their rivals, Arab pastoralists who were driven onto African farmlands by drought and desertification—-and who had a nomadic tradition of armed militias.

It is a tremendous humanitarian crisis. Living in luxury ourselves, we forget the problems of survival of others in this world. In addition, we have grown cynical of both crimes against humanity and the plight of people in the forgotten parts of the world. Forget doing anything to help the people of Darfur, I didn’t even consider the reports of the region blogworthy. There are other weblogs which have been following Darfur for some time now. Among these, the always excellent and essential read Head Heeb first wrote about it in November. Before that, I didn’t even know Darfur existed. He has since followed up with a number of posts on Darfur. The Head Heeb was also skeptical of the success of the ceasefire agreement signed between the Sudanese government and the Darfur rebels a couple of weeks ago.

Amygdala has also been following the Darfur crisis.

There is also a weblog focused on the Darfur crisis (via The Bonassus).

Human Rights Watch has quite detailed coverage of the Darfur region. You can read their detailed report or a summary. There is also a FAQ as well as photos and a video.

What can we do? Collectively, we (in the form of the UN or the US or EU or other governments) can pressure the Sudanese government to make peace as well as take care of the refugees. That is not an easy task. However, as individuals, we can at least help the Darfur refugees by donating to Oxfam which is trying to help the refugees.

We are working in camps set up for the displaced people in Sudan and those who have escaped over the border to Chad.

We are constructing thousands of latrines and providing clean drinking water and washing facilities, to prevent the spread of disease.

The donation idea shamelessly stolen from Gary Farber. Also, thanks, Gary, for bringing the Darfur conflict to my attention.

UPDATE: There is also a list of humanitarian organizations providing aid in the area at the BBC website. (Via Body and Soul.)


A year after President Bush declared major combat operations over in Iraq, the war in Iraq has finally ended. In case you don’t know, the US lost.

Also over is my brief and very skeptical love affair with Sharon. If Likud voters want Greater Israel, they’ll not only get it, they’ll live to regret it.

While on the topic of Abu Ghraib, does anyone know of any soldiers of any country punished severely (i.e., long prison term or capital punishment etc.) for war crimes against the enemy by their own military? As Diana Moon points out, Lt.Calley of My Lai does not count since he served only 3.5 years in house arrest and was pardoned by Nixon. I am looking for soldiers who actually served their sentences.

Israeli Fence

Let me just say that I agree wholeheartedly with Jonathan about the fence Israel is constructing.

I think the fence can have a positive effect in cooling down Israel-Palestinian relations and thus get them to the negotiating table.

Forward talks about the effects of the fence on Jenin.

Life is returning to normal here in the city once known as the suicide-bombing capital of the West Bank. The economy is picking up, services are being restored and local leaders describe a new optimism.

The reason, Israeli military officials say, is the nearly completed security fence separating this sector of the West Bank from Israel. A 50-mile stretch —- from the Jordan River to just north of Netanya —- is three months from completion. Already the barrier has virtually eliminated terrorist incidents, as well as car thefts and illegal infiltration, inside nearby parts of Israel. In response, the army has sharply curtailed the hated roadblocks and closures that had disrupted life for local Palestinians. Workers can now reach their jobs. Farmers can bring their crops to market, reviving Jenin’s business district.

[…]Last January 1, when the first stretch of fence was completed, Avman met with the mayor of Jenin at brigade headquarters. “On the way back home,” he promised the disbelieving mayor, “you will not see a single Israeli tank.”

The town has not been closed off for more than four months. This had major effects on both sides of the fence. In Jenin, life is closer to normal —- which, as Avman is quick to point out, creates an incentive to avoid terrorism, as people have more to lose. On the Israeli side, people seem to feel much safer. Three weeks ago, more than 30,000 Israelis turned out for a hike along the Gilboa ridge near here organized annually by local authorities. A year ago, the number of hikers was less than 6,000, and security expenses were five times higher.

There is, however, one catch.

There is another major distinction between Northern Samaria and other areas: The fence here largely follows the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 border. There are few Israeli settlements in this sector, and so there are few deviations eastward to appease the settlers, few Palestinians separated from their fields and orchards, and no enclaves of Palestinians forced to pass a gate every time they go to school, to work or to see a doctor. In several other regions under construction, this is not the case. The pressure around the fence in those spots is expected to be much greater, leading to more security problems and more pressure on the army.

A fence which follows the Green Line as closely as possible, thus allowing the Israeli army to withdraw, will make life much easier for Palestinians and hence enhance the prospects for peace.

No More Editing Embargo

It seems that the embargo on editing scientific and technical papers from countries on which the US has imposed economic sanctions (Iran, Cuba, Libya and Sudan) has been lifted. According to IEEE, they can now publish papers from the embargoed countries.

IEEE scored a victory for freedom of the press and the scholarly publishing community with the ruling it received Friday from the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control. The ruling exempts peer review, editing and publication of scholarly manuscripts submitted to IEEE by authors living in countries that are under U.S. trade embargoes, such as Iran and Cuba. OFAC determined that IEEE’s publications process is “not constrained by OFAC’s regulatory programs.”

The government’s decision confirms the position IEEE has argued for over a year that its entire publishing process falls outside the scope of OFAC’s regulations because of the Berman Amendment to the trade sanctions law that excludes the free exchange of information from OFAC’s economic embargoes.

IEEE had earlier obtained a September 30, 2003 ruling from OFAC that exempted a large part of its editorial process but left uncertain whether it had to publish such papers “as is” or could edit such papers prior to final publication. This latest April 2 ruling clarifies IEEE’s full freedom to engage in scholarly peer review and style and copy editing of papers, all without OFAC regulation or licensing. The earlier September 30 ruling had also been limited to Iran, while the new ruling covers authors in Cuba, Libya and Sudan as well as in Iran.

Assassinations and Arrests

Recently, the former President of Chechnya, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, was assassinated in Qatar. Two Russian intelligence agents were arrested. Russia protested and promptly detained two Qatari wrestlers on their way to a sports competition.

The Gulf state of Qatar says Russia arrested two of its citizens after Qatar charged two Russians over the death of a former rebel Chechen leader. A Qatari foreign ministry official was quoted as saying two Qatari wrestlers were detained as they passed through Moscow airport on their way to Serbia […] to take part in a qualifying contest for the 2004 Olympic Games.

The Russians deny their guys’ involvement, perhaps a bit too vehemently.

The announcement in Qatar that two Russian intelligence agents have been charged with involvement in the assassination of former Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev has sparked official outrage in Moscow.

Russia’s acting Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, has been broadcasting repeatedly on state-run television condemning the arrests as an act of provocation. According to Mr Ivanov, the agents are innocent. He claims they were in Qatar on legitimate business, gathering information for the international fight against terrorism.

But the suspicion that Russia’s intelligence agencies may be behind the killing is not new. The one-time separatist leader of Chechnya was one of Moscow’s most wanted men.

Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev was targeted by a powerful car-bomb as he drove home from Friday prayers in Doha on 13 February.

Just hours later —- as the former rebel president lay fighting for his life —- Russia’s foreign intelligence body was already denying all responsibility.

Spokesman General Boris Labusov insisted the SVR had not assassinated anybody abroad since 1959.

1959? And the Russians expect us to beleive that?

Somehow the Americans got involved as well.

Clarifying comments by a U.S. diplomat, a U.S. official in Moscow said Monday the United States played no role in the arrest or investigation of Russian intelligence agents held in Qatar on charges of killing a Chechen separatist leader.

Earlier, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer, in Moscow for talks with Russian officials, told a Russian newspaper the U.S. had provided Qatar “very insignificant technical assistance” after Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, former president of Chechnya, was killed February 13 when a bomb attached to the bottom of his car exploded.

[…]The statement by Pifer drew criticism from Russian lawmakers who questioned why the United States would help Qatar in the arrest of the Russian agents.

[…]Later Monday, after Pifer took part in non-proliferation and disarmament talks at the Russian Foreign Ministry, a U.S. official in Moscow told CNN “in the initial aftermath of the explosion, Qatar requested ,and the United States sent, a small team of experts in the technical aspects of explosives.”

The official said the United States has provided such assistance to other countries as well but added, “the experts played no role in the arrest or investigation of the suspects.”

In his interview with Moscow’s Vremya Novostei newspaper, Pifer denied claims that U.S. officials had met with Yandarbiyev last year. Russian President Vladimir Putin had made such a statement last fall.

Last week, in a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, CNN asked whether Russia believes it has the right to pursue or assassinate terrorists living outside of Russia.

Lavrov refused to directly answer, saying the question was “not for Russia” but should be considered “in light of actions by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

And the Russians are pointing fingers!

All this brings “nostalgia” for the cold war and for the PLO-Mossad war of the 1970s. Assassinations, bungled assassinations, arrests of agents, denials, and finger-pointing all used to occur with regular frequency at that time.

I can’t recall any specific cold war case which would be similar but one of the bungled attempts on the Black September guys I remember reading recently in Benny Morris’ Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. Here is some more info about that specific case and other related Mossad assassination attempts.

In Lillehammer, Norway, on 07 January 1974, Mossad agents mistakenly killed Ahmad Boushiki, an Algerian waiter carrying a Moroccan passport, whom they mistook for PLO security head Ali Ahmad Salameh, believed to have masterminded the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics [Salameh was killed in a 1979 car-bomb explosion in Lebanon]. Following the attack, the Mossad agents were arrested and tried before a Norwegian court. Five Israeli agents were convicted and served short jail sentences, though Israel denied responsibility for the murder. In February 1996, the Israeli government agreed to compensate the family of Ahmad Boushiki.

[…] On 24 September 1997, Mossad operatives attempted to assassinate Khalid Meshaal, a top political leader of the Palestinian group Hamas. The assassins entered Jordan on fake Canadian, and injected Meshaal with a poison. Jordan was able to wring a number of concessions out of Israel in the aftermath of the fiasco, including the release of the founder of Hamas, Shaykh Ahmad Yasin, from an Israeli jail.

Ephraim Halevy, a nephew of the late Sir Isaiah Berlin [who helped to negotiate a peace deal with Jordan], became the new head of Mossad after two bungled operations led to the arrests of agents in Switzerland and Jordan.

Any cold war or legal history buff (Jonathan?) have any more cases of assassins from intelligence agencies getting caught or even punished?

POSTSCRIPT: The Qatari wrestlers were released and a Russian displomat who was briefly detained with the other two Russians has been expelled from Qatar. Also, the two Russian intelligence agents are going to have a multinational defense team of Russian, American and British lawyers. Their defense lawyers include former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and a former U.S. ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission, Jerome Shestack.