Friday, April 30, 2004

Earlier this year, some seized on testimony given to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971 by the then recently-discharged John Kerry. Kerry said:

During an investigation, Vietnam vets told stories that at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

Conservatives were apoplectic with rage about these comments. They fumed that Kerry had betrayed American soldiers by accusing them of war crimes. And any moral authority he may have gained by his medals for valor was thrown away by these vicious and slanderous accusations. American soldiers simply don’t do such things, was the clear implication of conservative rage.

They could’ve praised Kerry for pointing out the atrocities committed by individual soldiers that besmirched the honor of the overwhelming majority that don’t do such things. But instead, for political reasons, they chose to shoot the messenger. American soldiers simply don’t do such things and for Kerry to suggest otherwise is despicable and slanderous.

Then earlier this week, 60 Minutes II broadcast images of prisoners being abused by American soldiers. CBS News’ website reported:

Some pictures show Americans, men and women in military uniforms, posing with naked Iraqi prisoners. There are shots of the prisoners stacked in a pyramid, one with a slur written on his skin in English. In some, the male prisoners are positioned to simulate sex with each other.

According to the Army, one Iraqi prisoner was told to stand on a box with his head covered, wires attached to his hands. He was told that if he fell off the box, he would be electrocuted.

Another picture shows a detainee with wires attached to his genitals. Another shows a dog attacking an Iraqi prisoner. There is also a picture of an Iraqi man who appears to be dead — and badly beaten. In most of the pictures, the Americans are laughing, posing, pointing, or giving the camera a thumbs-up.

The images were initially shown on the Arab network al-Jazeera, much maligned for its somewhat different style of covering the invasion than the American networks used.

The soldiers who allegedly committed the acts are apparently going to be court-martialed. The abuses were denounced by President Bush.

Yet few are accusing CBS, even though it's supposedly the most leftist of the "liberal" television networks, of slandering the troops. I guess it’s harder to smear the messenger when there’s video footage.

Most soldiers are honorable and don’t do these things, many will say. If such atrocities are really committed by only a tiny minority of American troops, then it’s all the more important that they be condemned unambiguously. If soldiers are really "protecting our freedoms," (or "Iraqi freedom") then these horrific acts need to be condemned with no equivication.

It’s not al-Jazeera’s fault. It’s not the “liberal” media’s fault. And it’s not the anti-war hippies fault. It’s the fault of some soldiers who forgot they were against what Saddam’s regime represented, not part of it.

If you want me to support the good guys, then you damn well better be willing to denounce the bad guys. Regardless of what uniform they're wearing.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is the best news show on television. This is sad, considering that it’s a show that satirizes the news.

Yet every time I watch the show, Stewart makes at least one important point about current events that I never would’ve heard by watching the “real” news.

The US-appointed Iraqi governing council (IGC) unveiled a new flag for the country. Stewart pointed out that while the old flag was red, white and black (like many other Arab flags), the new one is primarily white and blue. Like, um, Israel.

I guess it’s great that things are going so swimmingly in Iraq that the IGC has time to invent a flag. But there is one thing that interested me.

The old flag had the words “God is Great” written in Arabic script. The new flag does not have this.

I am surprised that this didn’t cause an uproar here in the United States. Some people think we need to have God invoked everywhere or else the country will collapse. In the Pledge of Allegiance. In the courthouses. In every fifth word of a presidential speech.

Most Americans are furious about the possibility of “God” from a pledge ABOUT the flag. American-controlled Iraq is removing “God” from the ACTUAL flag and there’s no reaciton here.

Makes you wonder if it’s because of the fact that in Iraq, God goes by the name Allah.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

It's a bad idea to declare, "television can't get anymore tasteless." Network executives apparently view this not as an attack but as a challenge.

Fox has long been in the vanguard of the Crap TV movement. Some of their "reality" shows (such Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire and My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance) have done exponentially more to cheapen the institution of marriage than the inclusion of gays ever could. Others exploit fat people and ugly people and short people.

Tommorrow, ABC's "news" program 20/20 is following the path of five couples who are interviewed as potential adoptive parents to the same little baby. The Associated Press reports: The birth mother had chosen an "open" adoption process where she selected potential parents from a group of applicants. The couples chosen agreed to have the process documented by ABC News.

This itself could be an insightful look at the adoption process. Yet, ABC's promotions for the show leave one to wonder if 20/20 will treat the process like a documentary or a reality show. Things weren't helped by 20/20's John Stossel. Stossel, well-known for his, um, candor, said that co-host Barbara Walters "will bring you what might be called the ultimate reality show."

Walters, herself an adoptive mother, insisted that 20/20 would simply report what happened.

The line between news and entertainment, information and titilation, was blurred a long time ago. At least in the private American media. But say what you will about the bilge Fox puts out, those shows were, at worst, infantile pranks in bad taste, harmless except to the egoes of those involved. They didn't attempt to make the life of a newborn into "the ultimate reality show."

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Dear Mr. President,
While you and I were enjoying Easter dinner with our families, a young man from a neighboring town was killed thousands of miles away in Iraq. Private Brown and his National Guard unit were killed in an ambush near Samarra. Four local soldiers from the unit were injured.

The funeral was held last Tuesday. I was disappointed that you chose not to attend, Mr. President. Though I don't know them, I think the family of Pvt. Brown would've been interested in asking you a few questions. One of your spokespeople says that you don't attend any military funerals because you don't want to suggest that one soldier's death is more worthy of your time than the hundreds of others. This seems a fair enough point.

Still though, when Pat Tillman, a former football player turned Army Ranger, died, you spoke words praising specifically him. I admit he made quite a sacrifice turning down millions of dollars in the NFL to join the military. I respect that he believed in whatever the cause is enough to do this. Though he wasn't a semi-famous athlete, I'm pretty sure Pvt. Brown made sacrifices to be in Iraq, even before his very life became one of them. Such as being away from the woman he was going to marry next year.

The reason I think her family would've benefited from you calling them, Mr. President, is because Pvt. Brown's mother told our local paper, "He did not approve of what the president was doing. I can tell you that."

What gets me, Mr. President, is that Pvt. Brown didn't join the Army. He didn't join the Army Reserves. He joined the Army National Guard. The National Guard is not supposed to see combat except in the most extreme of circumstances. I do not think our local Guard unit has been sent to combat since World War II. I suspect Pvt. Brown thought he'd see combat only if the United States were attacked by Uzbekistan or Samoa.

The National Guard's primary task, at least around here, is to help out when there are floods or other civil disturbances. I think some of them might have kept patroled the Albany airport when it re-opened following 9/11. That's what the National Guard here does. They don't go to combat except in the most extreme circumstances. Only as a last resort. Or at least that was the way things were when Pvt. Brown joined. That was his understanding. That is the basis upon which he offered his consent.

The US has the most powerful army in the world. It spends more on national "defense" than the next 15 highest spenders COMBINED. Why is it that young men like Pvt. Brown, who signed up to deal with black outs and ice storms, are being sent to face gunfire and rocket propelled greandes in a foreign land that was never any threat to America?

A local paper reported that Pvt. Brown, who was 21, wrote to his mom about how he went i nto an orphanage in Iraq to deliver meals to children there. Mrs. Brown told the paper, "It would break his heart. When he saw the kids on the street, he would give them some food. He asked me to send him bags of candy," for the children.

This is the kind of human being you've chosen to sacrifice in Iraq. Was this really the best use of his energy, passion and talents? I don't know.

Since neither you nor your children have ever been soldiers in a combat zone, you don't know what he went through and you don't know what his family is going through. If you talked to them, you might get a more full idea of what war is about.

If Pvt. Brown can summon the courage to face real, mortal danger, then surely you can have the courage to face the wrath of his mother and fiancee.

At least you know they won't put a rocket-propelled grenade through your limo, Mr. President.

I know you're busy figuring out what Sen. Kerry did in 1971 but I still think you should call the recruiter for our local National Guard unit. I'm sure the sergeant will be happy to give you the phone number of Pvt. Brown's family.

Sincerely yours,
I see that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad spoke of resistance to the American occupation in Iraq. The dictator opined, "Certainly, what has happened on the popular level gives legitimacy to the resistance and shows that the major part of what is happening is resistance."

I wonder if he thinks the possible terrorist attack, possible mutiny, possible uprising (no one seems quite sure) that hit part of Damascus yesterday constituted legitimate resistance the repressive, decades-long Baathist regime in Syria.
As I mentioned yesterday, the punditocracy has been consumed by arguments over what John Kerry and George W. Bush allegedly did or didn't do back in 1971. Most of the rare yapping heads that dare discuss something else are talking about Kerry's Catholicism. Particularly, how his beliefs on abortion square with the Catholic Church's.

The common perception is that Americans fear a Catholic politician might be held hostage by the Pope. Yet Kerry's under attack precisely because his position on abortion is different from the Church's. He said he's personally opposed to abortion but supports the right to an abortion. The catechism of the Catholic Church declares this a distinction without a difference. The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation.

This has garnered a great deal of attention, reportedly with some high clergy declaring that Kerry and other pro-abortion rights' Catholics should not receive communion. While pro-abortion rights' Catholic pols are regular targets of conservative Catholic ire, pols who go against Church teaching on other issues seem to be generally immune.

The death penalty is the most pertinent example. This would appear to be a contradiction. It's hard to call yourself pro-life if you're in favor of killing prisoners. Some justify this, "I'm pro-'innocent unborn' life" as though this squares it with Church teaching.

[Incidentally, I don't think catechism of the Catholic Church should be the law of the land. But if you're going to invoke it, then why not do so across the board?]

The death penalty is state-sponsored and -implemented first degree murder. No amount of rationalization changes this fact. Even a fair, properly implemented capital punishment process with all the safeguards doesn't change this fact either. Those things might make the death penalty less likely to execute an innocent person, which is certainly a lesser evil. But it remains state-sponsored and -implemented first degree murder.

In some ways, the death penalty is ethically worse than abortion. If you believe abortion is murder, then it's murder by an individual. The death penalty, on the other hand, is not only murder sponsored and sanctioned by the state, but it's implemented by the state as well. It's murder not by an individual but with the moral sanction of "the people."

The Catechism's opinion the death penalty is as follows:

Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

So according to the Church, cases in which the death penalty is an absolute necessity are "very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

Yet when was the last time you heard bishops and cardinals (or the conservative press) say the Church should deny communion to or otherwise condemn Catholic politicians who want to execute adolescents or retarded people or anything but the most extreme criminals?

And I haven't even gotten into the sections peace and avoiding war.

Like I said, the catechism of the Catholic Church should not be the law of the land. Contrary to what many of the president's supporters seem to wish, the United States is not a theocracy. But if Church teaching is going to be injected into the political discourse, then it should be done so consistently, not when it's convenient to a particular point.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

President Bush, Sen. Kerry and their surrogates are trading furious allegations. The Bush team is attacking Kerry for allegedly throwing away his war medals at an anti-Vietnam War protest in the early 70s. Kerry responded by re-opening the controversy of alleged discrepencies in Bush's National Guard service during the same time period.

Close 150,000 of our soldiers remain in Iraq. Many of them are still facing war-like circumstances nearly a year after the president played Top Gun and declared "Mission Accomplished." And yet both of the "mainstream" presidential candidates are dominating the headlines by trading smears about what may or may not have happened in 1971.

I can't think of a better demonstration of why voters need to start looking at alternatives to the two-party duopoly.

Ralph Nader, independent candidate for president
Green Party of the United States, 3rd largest party in the country
Libertarian Party of the United States
News item: Vice-President Cheney is party to a case before the Supreme Court that's being argued today. In it, the White House counsel argued that the vice-president had the right to meet in private with energy industry lobbyists like Enron's Ken Lay while formulating the country's energy policy without revealing the content of those meetings. Environmental and good governance groups had argued that the transcripts of the meetings should be released in the name of transparency. The vice-president disagreed, citing executive privilege (maybe the strict constitutionalists can tell me where 'executive privilege' appears in the federal document)

News item: The same administration forced through the Patriot Act. Critics charge that The legislation gave federal investigators more freedom to collect e-mail and Web information, more power to compel disclosure of personnel records, and more leeway to conduct wiretaps on land lines and cellphones — all with less judicial oversight.

In other words, the administration cares about privacy when it's their privacy in question but not when it's ours.
"One of the important things that i remember one of the speakers saying at the [Washington DC women's rights'] march was that Bush wants all these women to have all these children. you know, down with abortions, but once they pop them out he doesn't care what happens to them. where is all the money for education going? fighting wars."

-My sister


I think that after September 11, the American people are valuing life more and we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life. President Bush has worked to say, let's be reasonable, let's work to value life, let's reduce the number of abortions, let's increase adoptions. And I think those are the kinds of policies the American people can support, particularly at a time when we're facing an enemy and, really, the fundamental issue between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life."

-Karen Hughes, advisor to President Bush, on a CNN interview.

It was appropriate that I first saw this comment on Comedy Central.
Timeline of 1971 events from US News and World Report

JUNE 15: In a memo to a White House aide, Nixon adviser Charles Colson says, "I think we have [John] Kerry on the run. . . . Let's destroy this young demagogue before he becomes another Ralph Nader."

Apparently this worked. It's certainly the last time anyone would've ever compared John Kerry to Ralph Nader. Incidentally, Nader's campaign website has an open letter to "Anybody But Bush Liberal Democrats" which some of readers might benefit from checking out.

Thursday, April 22, 2004


I got this spam recently:

Dear_ Citbiank Member_,

This Letter was seent by the_ Citibank servers to veerify _your_ _e-mail_ address_.
You must complete this process by clicking on the link beloow and enttering
in the small _window_ your CITIBANK _Debit Card number and pin that
you use_ on the Atm machine. This is done for_your protection -c- because some_of_our
memebrs _no longer have access to their _EMAIL _address_es and we must verify it.

To verify your E_MAIL adress and acccess your_ _citibank_
account, clik on the_link bellow.


While normally I ignore spam, this one made me laugh. Falling for spam like this is bad enough. Maybe it's harsh to say so but anyone who'd think that a reputable company like Citibank would send out a request to its clients that contained such atrocious spelling and grammar almost deserves to have their PIN taken.


I noticed this on NPR’s Day to Day program. A writeup for one segment read: NPR's Alex Chadwick talks with Slate contributor Steven Johnson about new research at UCLA that suggests a person's political party affiliation can make a difference in how their brain reacts to political messages. I’m sure it couldn’t possibly be that the way people’s brains react to political messages might make a difference in which political party affiliation they choose.


I was reading a blog which reprinted an opinion column from The Toronto Sun. In it, the Sun's contributing foreign editor wrote: Australia is facing a tight electoral race between Conservative Prime Minister John Howard, who eagerly sent troops to Iraq, and Labour party challenger Mark Latham, who, like Spain's new PM, vows to bring his nation's troops home from Iraq. A majority of Australians opposes the Iraq war. U.S. Ambassador Tom Schieffer, a Texas pal of Bush, warned Australians of "serious consequences" if they elect Latham.

On first reading, I found this very curious. It's extremely rare for one western democracy to OVERTLY warn another western democracy about who to elect or not elect. Governments often PREFER one party over another. In some cases, they may engage in COVERT actions in favor of one party or against another (like the US did in favor of Italy's Christian Democrats or against Allende's democratic Socialists in Chile). But to publicly warn an ally that they shouldn't vote for a particular party, it's just not done.

Baffled by this apparently grotesque breach of convention (even by the low standards of the diplomacy-allergic Bush administration), I did a little research.

It turns out the Sun's editor misrepresented Schieffer's comments. When asked if a withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq would invite political bombings in Australia, what the ambassador REALLY told The Australian Broadcasting Corporation was: "I'd hope that it wouldn't. What I'm saying is that a precipitous withdrawal of troops by the international community now could have very serious consequences and we have to be very careful in that, because that's not what we want… we don't want terrorists to get the wrong message here."

What he really warned Australians was not to hastily pull out of Iraq. While I object to the substance of these comments for reasons I've mentioned before, they are significantly different than warning Australians to not elect the opposition leader. While the intent may be the same, the substance far removed from the Sun editor's shameless misrepresentation.

Do Bush-haters really need to resort to pathetic distortions like this? All such misrepresentations accomplish is to make it easy for Bush supporters to discredit them and change the subject. If you don't like the president, shouldn't you want make it as hard as possible on his apologists rather than giving them the gift of something so easily discredited? Isn't the truth is a damning enough indictment of the Bush administration?

This is an excellent example of why skepticism is required, even when reading something you ostensibly agree with. Or perhaps especially in that case.

Two weeks ago tommorrow, Christians celebrated Good Friday, which commemorates the most notorious death penalty case in history. On that day, three men were executed. Two of these people were thieves. The other was someone who healed and fed people. The authorities tried to trap Jesus as a radical anti-tax advocate but he didn't take the bait ("Render to Caesar what is Caesar's..."). Two thieves and a healer. Those were the crimes that merited death penalty in those days. Now, you can execute the mentally challenged and kids who've barely hit puberty. In fact, whether or not Jesus was to be executed was put up to a vote by the mobs. I'm not sure if this is more or less fair than some of the procedures allowed in some of today's capital cases. Just a few things that people in "Christian America," where 2/3 of those pollled support the idea of televising executions, would do well to consider.

I see McDonald's is adding new adult happy meals to its menu. The meal will include a salad, water, a pedometer and a brochure on fitness. A kids' version has apple slices, apple juice and 1% milk. My initial reaction to this was to roll my eyes. I mean, who goes to McD's if they want healthy food? But now, I don't think it's such a bad idea. First, many times people stop at fast food restaurants because they're in a hurry and it's convenient. When the club soccer team I coach for travels, we often stop at McD's to get food. It's not the healthiest thing to eat, especially for young athletes, but it's often the only thing on the road. Plus, if you go as a family, even some members of the family get the greasy stuff, at least the slightly healthier option is available to others. Second, rather than having the government mandate anything, especially something idiotic like a "fat tax," I like the idea of giving consumers a choice. This way, McD's can offer something to those who want to eat decently and to those who don't care. It's good for them and good for those who eat there. So one cheer for McDonald's. Now all that's left is higher quality food and decent labor practices.

There's been much debate among baseball fans about Barry Bonds' place in history. He recently passed Willie Mays, his godfather, for third on the all-time home run list. And if he plays two more seasons, he's likely to pass Babe Ruth and possibly Hank Aaron on that list. But Bonds isn't nearly as adulated as many other players. Though a cloud about his alleged, but unproven, steroid use, is in the news today, Bonds have never been adored in the same way as Sammy Sosa or Derek Jeter. Barry Bonds is without a doubt one of the five best baseball players of all time. Not only does he hit a lot of home runs, but he's stolen a lot of bases. He might be the only player in history to hit over 500 home runs and steal over 500 bases. He's a great defensive player too. But he's not media-genic at all. He's tempermental and surly. He just goes out and does his job and wants to be left alone. I find it ironic that different reactions to Barry Bonds and Pete Rose. While Bonds just wants to be left alone, Pete Rose is and always was an arrogant prick who thought he was more important than the game itself. Pete Rose bet on baseball, then lied about it for nearly 15 years while pretending he was a little martyr before finally offering one of the least sincere 'apologies' in history: "Hey I did it, I admit it. Now induct me into the Hall of Fame where I belong." Barry Bonds' violation of baseball rules (using steroids) is merely alleged. Pete Rose's violation of baseball rules (betting on baseball) is proven and, finally, admitted... though not really apologized for. Yet baseball fans' verdict on Bonds is harsh, while fans were willing to canonize Rose years before his admission and 'apology.' Makes you wonder why.

Interesting tidbit from the blog Foreign Dispatches. In 2001, the United States collected more in import duties from Bangladesh than it did from France, despite importing 12 times as much from France. And you wonder why foreign aid to developing countries is doing little good. What the west gives with one hand, it takes away with both. This is why many African leaders are calling not for more foreign aid but for more access to western markets for their products. They don't want handouts; they want free trade that's actually free, that actually goes both ways.

I see the liberal Air America radio network has been launched. I'm no more likely to listen to the rabid rantings of Michael Moore or Al Franken than Ann Coulter or Cal Thomas. It's sad that the left thinks that in order to make political headway, it needs to out-demagogue the Limbaughs and O'Reillys. Just when you thought political discourse in this country couldn't be debased anymore...

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The below essay was published by the blogger "Publius" in his blog Legal Fiction on last 13 April. Though I normally only publish my own material, I thought this essay was so pertinent, I wanted to get it wider exposure. The below is published with permission of the author and retains his copyright.


Iraq is not Vietnam. Yes, there are some superficial similarities between the two wars, but Vietnam is a totally different war rooted in a totally different historical context. Most importantly, Vietnam was part of the Cold War, and must be understood within that context. Likewise, the domestic political battles surrounding Vietnam must be understood within the context of the larger socioeconomic trends that made the 1960s such an unstable time. Vietnam also took place on a much larger scale and for a much longer time. Don’t forget that we lost nearly 60,000 troops in Vietnam. That said, there is an almost perfect historical parallel of our invasion of Iraq – the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Understanding the lessons of Lebanon can help us understand what an uphill battle we’re facing (and have always been facing). And to illustrate just how eerily similar the two wars are, I’m going to quote extensively from Tom Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem. But first we need some very brief background.

For those who don't know, Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. From 1970 on, Lebanon had been the home of Arafat’s PLO, which was more feared in those days (and viewed by the Israelis more like Hamas or al Qaeda is viewed today). Led by General Ariel Sharon (yes, same guy), the plan was to invade Lebanon, expel the PLO, and remake the Middle East by setting up a friendly Arab regime that would sign a peace treaty with Israel and create “forty years of peace.” It didn’t really work out that way. Here’s a good brief description from Ethan Bronner (who wrote this article for the NYT on March 30, 2003 ). This background information is necessary in order to understand Friedman’s commentary.

Israel's experience in Lebanon -- an ambitious invasion that turned into a draining quagmire -- is a cautionary tale for the American war in Iraq. The parallels are striking. Like Iraq, Lebanon was, from its inception, a collection of some of the region's most sophisticated people and a civil war just waiting to happen. It was carved out of the decayed and defeated Ottoman Empire after World War I and forced together groups that hated one another. . . .

Like the American decision to go to war in Iraq, Israel's invasion of Lebanon started from an asserted desire to end terrorism. In the 1970's, Palestinian guerrillas set up a ministate in southern Lebanon, near Israel's northern border. Infiltration into Israel led to wrenching hijackings and hostage-taking. . . .

By the time Begin [Israel’s Prime Minister] was re-elected in 1981, he was strongly influenced by his hawkish defense minister, Ariel Sharon. Even though the border with Lebanon had been quiet for some time, Mr. Sharon told those around him that Lebanon was "at the top of the list" of Israel's security concerns. A small group of like-minded officials around Begin reinforced this view.

When a Palestinian terrorist shot Israel's London ambassador in the head in June 1982, the invasion was set in motion. The gunman was from a breakaway group that had nothing to do with Yasir Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization in southern Lebanon. But the shooting was the pretext Mr. Sharon needed. . . .

[In time], the Israelis began sinking in the Lebanese mud. With violence everywhere and no central authority, they couldn't leave. But their troops' continued presence created more resentment and more violence. To protect its forces, Israel set up stringent security measures, like roadblocks, that prevented locals from moving freely. They quickly learned to hate their new rulers.

Sound familiar? You should read the entire article , but you get the point. Israel continued to occupy southern Lebanon for another 18 years. During this time, the nation experienced a steady drip-drip-drip of murdered soldiers, very similar to what America experienced prior to last week’s uprising. And ironically, Israel’s invasion to end terrorism actually gave birth to a new, deadly terrorist group called Hezbollah, which continues to menace Israel to this day.

Tom Friedman wrote about the tragic folly of the Israeli invasion in 1989 in his award-winning From Beirut to Jerusalem (which is a must-read to get a grasp on the region’s history) in great detail. The few quotes I’ve selected pretty much speak for themselves. Obviously, you need to read the entire chapter (or book) to get a better understanding. Still, I think you’ll agree that the parallels are eerie, especially if you substitute “al Qaeda” for “the Palestinians”; “Cheney/Neocons” for “Sharon”; and “Sunnis and Shiites” for “Christians and Muslims.”

The first weeks after the invasion began were heady days for the Israeli boys in Lebanon, days of discovery and, they thought, of making new friends. . . . The attitude that Lebanon was a friendly place, where the Israelis might soon be able to come skiing in the winter, reflected the profound Israeli ignorance about the true nature of Lebanese society and the players there. Before the 1982 invasion, Israeli scholarship and intelligence on Lebanon was extremely scanty. . . . I once asked [my soldier friend what he knew of Lebanon prior to the invasion.] “We knew it was some kind of complicated Middle East Belfast. Okay, so they had lots of tribes. It meant nothing. We didn’t know about the differences between Sunnis and Shiites. And then, all of a sudden, we went in.” . . .

Indeed, instead of entering Lebanon with a real knowledge and understanding of the society and its actors, Israel simply burst in with tanks, artillery, and planes in one hand and a fistful of myths in the other – myths about the nature of Lebanon as a country, about the character of Israel’s Lebanese Maronite Christian allies, about the Palestinians, and about Israel’s own power to reshape the Middle East. . . . What the Israelis did not understand . . . was that the real Lebanon was two Lebanons – at least two. [T]he real Lebanon was built on the merger between Maronites, representing the Christian sects, and the Sunnis, representing the various Muslim sects. . . . The real source of Lebanon’s troubles was the fact that these two Lebanons – Christian and Muslim – frequently were at odds with each other, going back to the very foundation of their state, when they were literally thrown together. . . .

Not only did the Israelis enter Lebanon with a myth about their allies . . . but also with one about their enemies, the Palestinians. . . . They saw the Palestinians as part of an undifferentiated Arab mass stretching from Morocco to Iraq. . . . Myths are precisely what give people the faith to undertake projects which rational calculation or common sense would reject. . . . The idea that Israel might finally be able once and for all to bring an end to the physical and existential challenge of the Palestinians was an intoxicating notion that touched the soul of the vast majority of Israelis, and this explains why so many of them were ready to join Begin and Sharon on their march to Beirut. . . .

[W]hat made Begin even more dangerous was that his fantasies about power were combined with a self-perception of being a victim. Someone who sees himself as a victim will almost never morally evaluate himself or put limits on his own actions. . . . Sharon didn’t share Begin’s victim complex, but he had his own fantasies about power. Sharon knew how strong Israel was, and he believed, wrongly, that this military strength could, in an almost mechanical fashion, solve a whole know of complex, deeply rooted political problems. . . .

[Israel then set up a puppet government headed by Bashir Gemyayel.] Bashir was supposed to rebuild the Lebanese army so it could take over from the Israelis, keep the Syrians out of Beirut, prevent the PLO from ever taking root again in the Palestinian refugee camps, and, to top it all off, sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state. [Bashir was soon assassinated.] After Bashir was assassinated, however, the Israelis could no longer depend on his brute force replacing their brute force so that the Israeli army could withdraw. Israel would have to find its own way home, and in the process all her myths and misperceptions about Lebanon would come back to haunt her. . . .

Begin was so obsessed with getting a peace treaty from Lebanon to justify the invasion that he barely seemed to notice the country was going up in flames. He had promised his people forty years of peace and he had to have a treaty to show for his troubles – not to mention 650 Israeli lives. . . . Not one article of the treaty was ever enacted. . . .

So, on the first anniversary of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Begin must have understood that he was really in trouble. . . . Its choices, too, were between bad and worse: bad was staying in Lebanon indefinitely to preserve the military gains of the war; worse was unilaterally withdrawing, without leaving any peace treaty of formal security arrangements behind. . . . Begin finally discovered that if you don’t gradually let reality in to temper your mythologizing, it will sooner or later invade on its own.

"Some of our people are running away to wash the bodies of elderly people in England. Yet we are giving farms to people here. What are you running away for? Zimbabwe's problems can only be solved by Zimbabweans, not by foreigners. We have got medicine to sort out our problems, we have got traditional healers."

-Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, as quoted by South African Broadcasting Corporation. What are they running away for? I can't imagine! Personally, I wouldn't mind at all living in a country with torture camps, arbitrary arrests, 0% rule of law, 100% corruption and government manipulated famine.


"The war on terror must never be used as an excuse for silencing legitimate dissent and expressions of opinion."

-Vice-President Dick Cheney, as quoted by The State Department. Interesting observation from an administration who invented so-called "free speech zones" to keep unpatriot... er, dissenters far enough away so that administration officials never have to hear them. Makes you wonder why they can "constructively engage" with the Chinese autocrats but not with pro-democracy advocates at home.


"I think that the proposition of going to Baghdad is also fallacious. I think if we were going to remove Saddam Hussein we would have had to go all the way to Baghdad . . . And once we'd done that and we'd gotten rid of Saddam Hussein and his government, then we'd have had to put another government in its place.

What kind of government? Should it be a Sunni government or Shi'i government or a Kurdish government or Ba'athist regime? Or maybe we want to bring in some of the Islamic fundamentalists? How long would we have had to stay in Baghdad to keep that government in place? What would happen to the government once U.S. forces withdrew? How many casualties should the United States accept in that effort to try to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?

I think it is vitally important for a President to know when to use military force. I think it is also very important for him to know when not to commit U.S. military force. And it's my view that the President got it right both times, that it would have been a mistake for us to get bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq."

--Then War Secretary Dick Cheney, as quoted by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, April 1991.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004


From: BBC. Caption: Since 1994, the numbers of students attending secondary education has increased five-fold - to 200,000. Before the genocide, girls were not encouraged to go to school but today more girls than boys receive an education.

Rwandans and the rest of the world learned many lessons from the genocide, most of which were not pleasant.

MYTH DESTROYED: "Never again" will the world allow genocide. As Holocaust consciousness exploded in the last few decades, "Never Again" was one of the lines that was repeated ad nauseaum. People intoned "Never Again" constantly but when it came time to put that into practice, when it came time to act (both in Bosnia and Rwanda), those people had a million reasons/excuses not to intervene. Ancient ethnic hatreds. Chaos. Morally equivalency between those committing 5% of the atrocities and those committing 95%. But many members of the "Never Again" crowd contented themselves with lighting candles, holding ceremonies and giving speeches while other genocides raged. Such memory is dangerous when it becomes a shackle on action rather than a motivation.

LESSON LEARNED: "Never again" doesn't really mean never again. "Never Again" really means "Never again will the world permit a genocide of Jews in the heart of Europe." I don't know if this is what the phrase's original proponents intended. I've written and read extensively about Rwanda. In the course of doing so, I've come to believe that though the Holocaust has sensitized us to genocide, it's inadvertantly made us more loathe to react. Simply put: if there's not 6,000,000 dead (not even counting the non-Jews killed by the Nazis), then it's not on the same scale as the Holocaust. If it's not on the same scale as the Holocaust, then it's not genocide; it's "merely" ethnic cleansing or 'ancient ethnic hatreds' or tribal warfare or 'inadvertant casualties of war' some other eupehemism. Tragically, there's a sense that calling something "genocide" before the magic 6 million mark somehow demeans the Holocaust's memory; that we diminish the word by overuse, so it's better never to use it at all. We've chosen to take the Holocaust and make it THE standard for future genocides, rather than saying: it must never get THAT bad ever again. We end up saying: we won't act until it gets that bad. Maybe the lesson is that we should stop pretending that the "Never Again" mantra applies to people who aren't Jewish.

MYTH DESTROYED: The US didn't stop the Holocaust because it didn't know. Saying that Americans would've supported intervention in Europe if they knew the Holocaust was taking place is a dubious assertion. But the Rwandan genocide (and that of Bosnia) were both broadcast live and in color to the US and the world on CNN and the BBC. Americans were bombarded with stories of slaughter by machete in central Africa and concentration camps in the heart of Europe. There was no groundswell for intervention. I'm sure some will give reasons why this was a legitimate choice, but no one can pretend non-intervention was based on ignorance.

LESSON LEARNED: The "international community" doesn't exist. And there isn't really any reason we ought to expect that it should. The "international community" comprises some 200 countries, each with their own interests, values and priorities.

LESSON LEARNED: The UN is nothing more than a collection of member states. Its peacekeepers can not act if UN member states don't want it to. When there's a crisis, there's usually a call from some quarters for "the UN" to do something. Except "the UN" isn't a sovereign entity. People think the secretary-general is the president of the world. In reality, he has no authority, other than moral. He's less like the president of the United States and more like the Pope. In Rwanda, UN peacekeepers wanted to intervene to halt the genocide but UN member states immmorally refused to allow it. (Some people just use "the UN" casually to mean many different things). Then-UN Rwanda peacekeeping head Gen. Romeo Dallaire contends that the this responsibility was not simply moral but criminal.

LESSON LEARNED: If you're planning a genocide, impliment it when something else big is going on in the world. It's easy to say that the world ignored Rwanda because it was in central Africa, the stereotypical "heart of darkness." And while this is surely true in part, there's more to it. One of the tragic ironies of the Rwandan genocide is that occurred at the same time as South Africa was having its historic first-ever democratic and multiracial elections. Almost all international media attention was focused on South Africa. This is ironic because for years, developing country advocates complained that the American and western press only reported negative stories about Africa. South Africa was the media's chance to show balance, to report a truly good story from the continent. I think in their hearts, the media WANTED an unambiguous good story from Africa. Unfortunately, this good story deflected attention from what was really one of the worst atrocities ever to occur in the continent in the 20th century. I doubt international reACTION would've been significantly different but public pressure might've forced western governments at least to adopt smaller measures like hate radio jamming or giving the UN force already there a stronger mandate.

LESSON LEARNED: If you're planning a genocide, make sure you buddy to a western power. This is certainly not news to Guatemalan Mayans or to Iraqi Kurds. Contrary to popular belief, a western country DID intervene during the genocide. Except it was on behalf of the murderers. The French "Operation Turquoise" was authorized by the UN Security Council ostensibly to create a humanitarian corridor. In reality, it allowed members of the genocidal regime, the French government's old buddies, to escape to then-Zaire. This was after France resolutely refused to strengthen the UN peacekeepers, a somewhat less tainted force, or even to permit the Blue Helmets to try to stop the genocide. As this column in The Guardian noted, Dallaire's mission was a sham force designed to trick the rest of the world into thinking it was doing something but weak enough that the genociders knew it would never actually enforce its pretend mission. "Operation Turquoise" promised a more robust enforcement but since it was entirely French-run, it implimented French objectives. Specifically, making sure no one ever knew fully how complicit Paris was in the slaughter.

LESSON LEARNED: Whether or not the world pays attention to a tragedy has little to do with the magnitude of that tragedy. This is perhaps the most important thing people around the world in desperate situations must learn: Don't expect foreigners to help you. They might. They might not. But it will be largely random. If other countries help you, it will be more due to a series of fortunate coincidences that have more to do with them and less to do with you. You can't count on it. For example, the US intervened in Kosovo because President Clinton wanted to distract people from his sex scandal; the action was right, but had the same decision been called for five years earlier, pre-Lewinsky, the choice would've been different. The people of Bosnia can attest to this. Kosovars got the luck of the draw; Bosnians didn't. People in Charles Taylor's Liberia and Saddam Hussein's Iraq both lived under a vicious, bloodthirsty dictatorship that cost countless lives and was internationall condemned; but one of those nations was deemed worthy of "liberation." The dichotomy had more to do with the disparity of American economic considerations in those countries and less to do with the actual repression of Taylor's and Hussein's regimes. In even some of the most extreme cases, western powers have been on the wrong side of human rights. American support for Saddam during the Kurdish genocide. France and Operation Turquoise. British and American support for the apartheid regime in South Africa for economic reasons. People living under desperate totalitarianism may hope for the series of coincidences required to attract the attention of a major western power, but they are foolish to bet their lives on it.

To the people of Rwanda, I wish you the best of luck. You are proceeding down a difficult, possibly unprecedented path. Your president has noted that Rwandans must fix their society themselves. This self-reliance is a good message since history has shown relying on others is dangerously self-deceptive. Hopefully, you've learned the most important lesson of all: arbitrary divisions between human beings rarely leads to anything productive.


Recommended reading: Deliver Us from Evil: Warlords and Peacekeepers in a World of Endless Conflict by William Shawcross. Addresses the successes and failures of international humanitarian interventions and non-interventions during the 1990s.

Recommended listening: Days of Darkness, Days of Light, BBC World Service documentary.

Monday, April 19, 2004


From: NPR. Caption: Refugees returning to their villages in 1996, between Gisenyi and Kigali [Rwanda's capital]. In the 10 years that have passed, the country has worked hard to move past the event. Today, Rwanda's capital is considered safe, orderly and peaceful. Many, including the current president, who was a leader of Tutsi rebels, refuse to talk about ethnicity, choosing instead to speak of themselves simply as "Rwandese."

Despite the above caption's implication, Rwandan President Paul Kagame has hardly been without controversy since his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took power in 1994 after evicting the genocidal regime. Kagame deserves credit for navigating the country though an incredibly delicate period; one which, as I mentioned in the previous entry, is possibly without precedent. However some of Kagame's actions are more remiscient of a stereotypical African big man than of a Mandela-esque reconciliator.

Initially, the signs were good that the RPF would avoid a policy of retribution when it took power. The interim government established after the genocide comprised seven political parties. Although the RPF was seen as a Tutsi-dominated organization, the party's titular head was a Hutu: Pasteur Bizimungu. Bizimungu became president of the republic and Kagame, who'd been head of the RPF's military wing, became the country's vice-president. The symbolism was unmistakable: no anti-Hutu oppression to replace anti-Tutsi oppression, no victors' justice, no winners and, save the genociders, no losers. Yet despite the official titles, there was no doubt that Kagame was really in charge and that Bizimungu was a figure head.

As the genocide and civil war wound down, over two million Rwandans fled into refugee camps in eastern Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). This included not only those who perpetrated the genocide, but those who organized it. This exodus/escape was facilitated by the French. The UN Security Council authorized Operation Turquoise. French troops thus created a so-called humanitarian corridor in the south of Rwanda whose objective was to allow Rwandans to safely flee to Zaire. In reality, its widely-assumed objective was to allowe the genocide's organizers, France's friends, to escape justice. If the organizers had to face justice, they just might reveal how much blood the French government had on its hands.

So the genocidal militias escape to eastern Zaire where they virtually controlled every day life in the refugee camps. Humanitarian organizations (NGOs) and the UN refused to crack down on the militias because they were afraid that action would compromise the NGOs' and UN's "neutrality." Militias used the refugee camps to launch raids into Rwandan territory. Several NGOs, such as the International Rescue Committee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), stopped work in the refugee camps in protest of the unwillingness to tame the militias.

As a result, Kagame and his ally, the Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni, invade eastern Zaire under the pretext of creating a buffer zone so that Zaire would no longer be the staging grounds for attacks on Rwandan (and Ugandan) villages. In theory, this didn't seem entirely unreasonable. In practice, Rwandan and Ugandan troops occupied most of the eastern third of Zaire. Far from creating a small safe area, Rwandan troops occupied territory as far as 1000 miles into Zaire. It is believed by many that Rwanda and Ugandan profited handsomely from the mineral richness of that part of Zaire.

Even worse, one-time allies Kagame and Museveni had a falling out and Rwandan and Ugandan troops fought with each other several times on Zairean soil!

Domestically, Kagame has shown little patience with the opposition. The press is largely muzzled; the government controls all broadcast media and only one independent paper exists in the country. Opposition party activities are severely limited. All of these things are done under the pretext of fighting "divisionism." Unfortunately, Kagame invokes the genocide as an overly broad justification for everything in much as President Bush invokes 9/11.

The RPF does seem genuine in talking the talk of reconciliation. President Kagame has a reputation as an austere, no-nonsense, incorruptible figure. He invokes the excuse of "preventing another genocide" as a cloak to justify his every move and his group stopped the genocide when the rest of the world stuck their head in the sand. As a result, the "international community," frought with a guilty conscience, gives Kagame and the RPF a much larger benefit of the doubt than they would to other regimes that engaged in the same authoritarian behavior.

Kagame was recently elected president (he'd ascended to the presidency in 2000 when Bizimungu resigned). The opposition cried foul because of an alleged campaign of intimidation. But despite a dubious official tally of 95% for Kagame, the
oppoistion eventually accepted his election as reflective of the will of Rwandans. However, the opposition leader called on Kagame to "accept what he has promised, to give peace to Rwanda, to accept freedom of speech and association and also to accept democracy."

However, the most persistent allegations surrounding Kagame concern the 6 April 1994 assassination of then Rwandan dictator Juvenal Habyiramana, the event which set in motion the pre-planned genocide (any doubts that the genocide was pre-planned were removed by the admission of Jean Kabanda, Rwandan prime minister during the genocide).

The shooting down of the plane carrying Habyiramana and the Burundian leader has been a subject of fierce speculation ever since it occurred. One theory is that the plane was shot down by extremists within the regime furious that Habyiramana had agreed to power sharing with the RPF. According to the theory, the pre-planned genocide needed a pretext to set it in motion. The assassination of the dictator was the perfect excuse to feed the anti-Tutsi paranoia the extremists needed to incite mass genocide.

The other theory is that the downing of the plane was ordered by the RPF. In fact, a long French police investigation concluded that Kagame himself gave direct orders for the plane to be shot down. The investigation's conclusion was reportedly based on interviews with hundreds of witnesses, including one man who allegedly belonged to the assassination squad. This theory claims that Kagame knew the assassination would trigger mass reprisals against Rwanda's DOMESTIC Tutsi population but was willing to "sacrifice" that population since the RPF members and their families primarily came from the community of Tutsi EXILES in Uganda. This is a fairly severe allegation.

Personally, I consider this allegation unlikely but not inconceivable. Yet, I might be more willing to believe an inquiry conducted by authorities from a country that was not chummy with the genocidal regime overthrown by Kagame's forces.

Not surprisingly, the Rwandan government denied French allegations as "fantasy."

Kagame replied with equally grave allegations of his own. It had been previously believed that the French government was merely negligent in not exerting more influence on its client regime to stop the massacres. But Kagame went much further. While acknowledging that Rwandans themselves bore primarily responsibility for the genocide, he repeated accusations that France had trained and armed the Hutu militias who carried out the mass killings.

It had been widely known that the French had trained those who would eventually commit the genocide. Kagame's accusations go much further: France KNEW they were going to commit the genocide, according to the Rwandan president. "They (France) knowingly trained and armed the government soldiers and militias who were going to commit genocide and they knew they were going to commit genocide," he is quoted by Reuters.

A French junior minister strenuously denied the allegation as "unacceptable, humiliating and lying."

Suffice it to say, relations between Rwanda and France are not presently very warm.

The RPF's refusal to cooperate with the international tribunal in Arusha is a black mark against Kagame. The government legitimately complained that the Arusha Tribunal was slow and inefficient. The UN has tried dilligently to address those concerns, but RPF stonewalling continues. It is widely believed that Kigali is afraid of RPF members being before the Arusha Tribunal, possibly even President Paul Kagame himself. The RPF is suspected of having committed war crimes as well, but none have been tried either in Arusha or before domestic tribunals.

This wall of silence is perhaps the most serious threat to national reconciliation in Rwanda. The government may speak the words of reconciliation but until their actions match the words, it will not happen. The government must recognize that Hutus were victims of atrocities as well. It can claim that its overall fight against the genociders was morally right while still acknowledging that some of its forces occassionally acted beyond the bounds of what is acceptable. The government can say that although spontaneous war crimes are not morally equivalent to systematic genocide, both should be punished appropriately. By doing so, the RPF would send two important messages. Firstly, that the decades-long tradition of impunity was no longer. Secondly, that both sides' suffering must be recognized and must be part of the discussion.

The rest of the world has given the Kagame government a ton of leeway in the last ten years. It's time for the rest of the world to move beyond its paralysis by guilt and start nudging Kagame to act in a responsible manner consistent with his government's professed goals. International reaction may go a long way in determining whether Rwanda goes the way of Mandela's South Africa or Mugabe's Zimbabwe.


Tommorrow: conclusions.

Recommended reading: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International dossiers on the Rwandan government's human rights' record.

Friday, April 16, 2004


From: BBC News. Caption: Here at Kibungo prison families meet for a few minutes on a Saturday morning. Under the government's Gacaca programme killers must confess their crimes and apologise if they want to be freed. The prison's deputy administrator and a prisoner - the "Gacaca co-ordinator" - were urging the prisoners' families to convince their jailed relatives to confess and apologise so they can be released. The jails are crowded and it is the government's way of reducing the prison population.

To say that, Rwanda is a country in a very challenging situation is an understatement. A genocide which cost some 800,000 lives and sent several million into exile occurred only ten years ago. Nearly a hundred thousand genocide suspects remain in jail without charge. Over 600,000 children under 15 are orphans, 1/6 of whom are heading a household.

Rwanda seems to be a historical anomaly. In Germany, the country was split after World War II and most of the Jews had fled Europe anyway. After the Armenian genocide, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and Armenia got its independence (albeit briefly, before the Soviets conquered it). The Balkans were partitioned after those wars and even within "multi-ethnic" Bosnia, the groups tend to live apart. Though there may be a precedent, I can't think of one off the top of my head. When it comes to reconstructing a shattered society, Rwanda is operating essentially without a historical model.

The justice end has gone in fits and starts. The UN established an ad hoc war crimes' tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, to try the genocide's organizers. The Arusha tribunal has been beset by problems from the start. It was poorly run in its early days. It's been met with resistance by the current RPF government (who fought against the genociders) who say the tribunal is inefficient and pointless, though some suspect the RPF is afraid that some of its members might be hauled into the dock.

Some worry that the tribunal's site in northern Tanzania, hundreds of miles away from Rwanda, dilutes the deterrent effect. Only a handful of trials have taken place during its nine-year existence. Critics say that the tribunal is nothing more than an half-hearted attempt by other countries to assuage its conscience for having done nothing during the actual massacres. Some say the tribunal is administering "victors' justice" by focusing too much on atrocities by the genociders and ignoring RPF war crimes. Most agree on one thing: the Arusha tribunal serves more to create a body of international legal precedents than to doing anything for the genocide's survivors or to its perpetrators. [The article Healing Rwanda from The Boston Review deals further with the promise and problems of the Arusha Tribunal.]

The Rwandan government has set up trials in domestic courts concurrent to the Arusha Tribunal. However, the country didn't have a ton of lawyers and judges to begin with and many of them were either killed in the or fled during the genocide or were implicated in it. The domestic justice system was never going to be able to deal with all the accused if things were done normally.

In another article for The Boston Review, Helen Cobban noted that the execution of the Rwandan genocide was very different from most other genocides in history because of the widespread implication of ordinary people.

What was the intent of this mass mobilization for genocide? Was it intended simply to complete the killing of the country's Tutsi population as rapidly as possible? Or were the organizers of the genocide also hoping to give the largest possible number of Hutus the bonding experience of participating in a pan-Hutu baptism in the blood of their foes? Was it designed to implicate as many individuals as possible in the killings, and thus to make any future assignation of responsibility for specific acts of genocide just about impossible? Whatever the reasoning of the organizers, the mass-participatory aspect of this genocide gave it a psychosocial content significantly different from that of the European Holocaust with its more 'sanitized,' mechanized, and secret methods of killing. Unlike the Shoah, too, once this genocide had been brought to a halt there was no clear place for survivors to flee to or regroup.

She points out out the limits of the judicial system in helping the country move forward. Given that Tutsis still only make up 1/7 of the country's population, Cobban concludes that they desperately need to find a way to coexist with the Hutus: there is no place either inside or outside the country where they can hope to regroup in a compact and self-supportive way. But given the events of 1994 and the sharp demographic imbalance between the two groups, finding a mechanism to bring this about presents a profound political challenge—for Rwanda's leaders and for their friends in the international community.

The Rwandan government decided a fairly interesting path for dealing with the multitude of problems, one that is trying to kill several birds with one stone. They set up community-based courts called gacaca, which is a Kinyarwandan word meaning "justice on the grass." Gacacas are a traditional Rwandan practice in which trial occurs in a community gathering, the focus of which is on reconciliation of the community.

The BBC described the gacaca process: elders in a village would congregate to solve disputes. Suspects are taken to the villages where they allegedly committed their crimes and confronted directly by their accusers. The trials are not overseen by legally qualified judges but local people respected for their integrity.

Amnesty International added that gacaca merge customary practice with a Western, formal court structure. The gacaca tribunals are legally established judicial bodies. Gacaca judges can impose sentences as high as life imprisonment. The Rwandese government re-invented and transformed the existing mode of conflict resolution, gacaca, in order to try the more than 100,000 genocide suspects who overfill the country's prisons...

The new gacaca court system further represents an ambitious, groundbreaking attempt to restore the Rwandese social fabric torn by armed conflict and genocide by locating the trial of those alleged to have participated in the genocide within the communities in which the offences were committed. Neighborhoods selected the gacaca judges who will hear the genocide cases. Local residents will initially aid the gacaca benches and general assemblies at the cell level in the listing of genocide victims and suspected perpetrators within their community. Later, community members will provide information about the genocide offences during the gacaca hearings. The government proposes that community hearings in which community members themselves serve as witness, judge and party will more effectively ventilate the evidence, establish the truth and bring about reconciliation than what has been achieved thus far by either the specialized genocide chambers or the ICTR [Arusha Tribunal].

I found this intringuing as it aims to kill several birds with one stone. Human rights groups complained that Rwandan prisons were intolerably overcrowded and that most of the detainees had been imprisoned for the better part of a decade without any sort of progress on legal proceedings. Yet the formal justice system was woeful unequiped to deal with such a huge number of accused. Gacacas are meant expedites the process. Furthermore, it implicates the entire community in the justice process, not just a few judges and lawyers. Gacacas are part of an organic process. It gets everything out into the open, rather than keeping resentments simmering inside. This restorative (rather than solely punitive) justice helps reconciliation.

Amnesty noted Post-conflict situations, particularly ones involving the heinous crime of genocide, demand a resolution of the conditions that led to them in the first place. If this is not done, the foundation for further conflict remains in place. Peace is the most desired commodity in post-conflict situations. Peace, however, depends not only on the absence of war but also on the existence of both justice and truth, with both justice and truth dependent on the other. Without justice and truth, the deep rifts in the Rwandese social fabric will not be healed and peace will not be achieved.

One of the main fears is that some gacacas may degenerate into mob justice. This is certainly a risk. Gacacas rely on the good faith of those involved; only a decade after a genocide, you could hardly blame anyone for being in short supply of good faith. Others fear that guilty suspects might be released, a risk linked precisely to the non-detached nature of gacaca. Yet no one has really offered a better solution. As far as I can tell, the other alternatives are either the wholesale release of all suspects or the indefinite detention of all 80,000 remaining suspects until the "normal" justice system takes its course. Rwandans would consider either of these solutions just as unacceptable as would the international human rights groups in the comfortable London and New York offices.

Gacacas are far from the ideal. Despite the aforementioned praise, Amnesty criticized them as failing to conform to international standards of fairness so that the government's efforts to end impunity, and the trials themselves, are effective. It's worth noting that Amnesty underlined the problems of gacaca without offering any concrete solutions.

Human Rights Watch described gacaca, in principle, as an innovative, participatory, state-run justice system meant to speed up genocide trials and promote reconciliation. But HRW complained that in practice, gacacas have become overly centralized (the antithesis of their community-based intent). HRW accused the Rwandan government of refusing to let gacacas investigate accusations against current members of the Rwandan military, many of whom were in the RPF's rebel army. Though this a bizarre "charge" since HRW admits that such accusations can still be brought before regular courts.

Yet gacacas seem to be making the best of a bad situation. And until Amnesty, HRW or any one else comes up with any better ideas that can be implemented on the ground, then gacacas will remain the imperfect way forward for a country with no historical model to follow.


Recommended reading: The Legacies of Collective Violence from The Boston Review addresses the limits of law in a post-genocide situation. While Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth and Alison DesForges offer a counterargument.

Recommended listening: Revolutionary Justice from American Radioworks on the gacaca courts.

Tommorrow: the post-genocide RPF government's record since 1994.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

In light of common misunderstandings concerning genocide and legitimate disagreements about interpretation, I thought it would be useful to offer this addendum to my Rwanda series. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the United Nations' General Assembly in 1948. The convention was finally submitted to the US Senate by then President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and later ratified that body. Agree or disagree, this is the basis for American law concerning genocide.

From: Human Rights Web

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
Adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948.

Article 1

The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.

Article 2
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Article 3
The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.
Article 4
Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.

Article 5
The Contracting Parties undertake to enact, in accordance with their respective Constitutions, the necessary legislation to give effect to the provisions of the present Convention and, in particular, to provide effective penalties for persons guilty of genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3.

Article 6
Persons charged with genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be tried by a competent tribunal of the State in the territory of which the act was committed, or by such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction with respect to those Contracting Parties which shall have accepted its jurisdiction.

Article 7
Genocide and the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall not be considered as political crimes for the purpose of extradition.

The Contracting Parties pledge themselves in such cases to grant extradition in accordance with their laws and treaties in force.

Article 8
Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3.

Article 9
Disputes between the Contracting Parties relating to the interpretation, application or fulfilment of the present Convention, including those relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice at the request of any of the parties to the dispute.

Article 10
The present Convention, of which the Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish texts are equally authentic, shall bear the date of 9 December 1948.

Article 11
The present Convention shall be open until 31 December 1949 for signature on behalf of any Member of the United Nations and of any non-member State to which an invitation to sign has been addressed by the General Assembly.

The present Convention shall be ratified, and the instruments of ratification shall be deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

After 1 January 1950, the present Convention may be acceded to on behalf of any Member of the United Nations and of any non-member State which has received an invitation as aforesaid.

Instruments of accession shall be deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Article 12
Any Contracting Party may at any time, by notification addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, extend the application of the present Convention to all or any of the territories for the conduct of whose foreign relations that Contracting Party is responsible.

Article 13
On the day when the first twenty instruments of ratification or accession have been deposited, the Secretary-General shall draw up a proces-verbal and transmit a copy of it to each Member of the United Nations and to each of the non-member States contemplated in Article 11.

The present Convention shall come into force on the ninetieth day following the date of deposit of the twentieth instrument of ratification or accession.

Any ratification or accession effected subsequent to the latter date shall become effective on the ninetieth day following the deposit of the instrument of ratification or accession.

Article 14
The present Convention shall remain in effect for a period of ten years as from the date of its coming into force.

It shall thereafter remain in force for successive periods of five years for such Contracting Parties as have not denounced it at least six months before the expiration of the current period.

Denunciation shall be effected by a written notification addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Article 15
If, as a result of denunciations, the number of Parties to the present Convention should become less than sixteen, the Convention shall cease to be in force as from the date on which the last of these denunciations shall become effective.

Article 16
A request for the revision of the present Convention may be made at any time by any Contracting Party by means of a notification in writing addressed to the Secretary-General.

The General Assembly shall decide upon the steps, if any, to be taken in respect of such request.

Article 17
The Secretary-General of the United Nations shall notify all Members of the United Nations and the non-member States contemplated in Article 11 of the following:

(a) Signatures, ratifications and accessions received in accordance with Article 11;
(b) Notifications received in accordance with Article 12;
(c) The date upon which the present Convention comes into force in accordance with Article 13;
(d) Denunciations received in accordance with Article 14;
(e) The abrogation of the Convention in accordance with Article 15;
(f) Notifications received in accordance with Article 16.
Article 18
The original of the present Convention shall be deposited in the archives of the United Nations.

A certified copy of the Convention shall be transmitted to all Members of the United Nations and to the non-member States contemplated in Article 11.

Article 19
The present Convention shall be registered by the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the date of its coming into force.


And since some people consider a consensually ratified treaty to be "non-binding," here is another text. If you reject international law, then here's American law. Some should take note of subsection (c).

U.S. Code: Chapter 50A

Section § 1091. Genocide

(a) Basic Offense. - Whoever, whether in time of peace or in time of war, in a circumstance described in subsection (d) and with the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group as such.

(1) kills members of that group;

(2) causes serious bodily injury to members of that group;

(3) causes the permanent impairment of the mental faculties of members of the group through drugs, torture, or similar techniques;

(4) subjects the group to conditions of life that are intended to cause the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part;

(5) imposes measures intended to prevent births within the group; or

(6) transfers by force children of the group to another group; or attempts to do so,
shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
(b) Punishment for Basic Offense. - The punishment for an offense under subsection (a) is -
(1) in the case of an offense under subsection (a)(1), where death results, by death or imprisonment for life and a fine of not more than $1,000,000, or both; and

(2) a fine of not more than $1,000,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both, in any other case.
(c) Incitement Offense. - Whoever in a circumstance described in subsection (d) directly and publicly incites another to violate subsection (a) shall be fined not more than $500,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
(d) Required Circumstance for Offenses. - The circumstance referred to in subsections (a) and (c) is that -
(1) the offense is committed within the United States; or

(2) the alleged offender is a national of the United States (as defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101).

(e) Nonapplicability of Certain Limitations. - Notwithstanding section 3282 of this title, in the case of an offense under subsection (a)(1) an indictment may be found, or information instituted, at any time without limitation.

Section §1092. Exclusive remedies

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as precluding the application of State or local laws to the conduct proscribed by this chapter, nor shall anything in this chapter be construed as creating any substantive or procedural right enforceable by law by any party in any proceeding.

Sec. 1093. Definitions

As used in this chapter -
(1) the term ''children'' means the plural and means individuals who have not attained the age of eighteen years;
(2) the term ''ethnic group'' means a set of individuals whose identity as such is distinctive in terms of common cultural traditions or heritage;
(3) the term ''incites'' means urges another to engage imminently in conduct in circumstances under which there is a substantial likelihood of imminently causing such conduct;
(4) the term ''members'' means the plural;
(5) the term ''national group'' means a set of individuals whose identity as such is distinctive in terms of nationality or national origins;
(6) the term ''racial group'' means a set of individuals whose identity as such is distinctive in terms of physical characteristics or biological descent;
(7) the term ''religious group'' means a set of individuals whose identity as such is distinctive in terms of common religious creed, beliefs, doctrines, practices, or rituals; and
(8) the term ''substantial part'' means a part of a group of such numerical significance that the destruction or loss of that part would cause the destruction of the group as a viable entity within the nation of which such group is a part.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004


From: Reuters via Ferdinand Nahimana and Hassan Ngeze listen to their sentence of life in prison being read. Four members of Rwanda's hate media became the first "journalists" ever convicted of genocide.

One of George Orwell's favorite topics was language. Particularly, how language is perverted. Several of his essays as well his two most famous novels (Animal Farm and 1984) dealt with how totalitarians manipulate language and information to perpetrate their misdeeds and perpetuate their authoritarianism. This was used to particularly vicious effect in Rwanda.

Simply put: without the constant harranguing of hate media, the genocide would never have cost so many lives.

The most infamous of the hate media was the Radio Mille Collines (RTLM). The judge who read out Nahimana's and Ngeze's sentences noted: "RTLM broadcasts was a drumbeat calling on listeners to take action against Tutsis... RTLM spread petrol throughout the country little by little, so that one day it would be able to set fire to the whole country.

RTLM was created in April 1993, a year before the genocide started. This itself was surprising on the surface, since private broadcasters weren't especially welcomed by the dictatorship. But RTLM was allowed precisely because it was controlled by extremist elements of the regime. Radio Netherlands observed: It is widely believed that RTLM was set up to circumvent the ban imposed on "harmful radio propaganda" to which the Rwandan government had formally committed itself to in the 1993 peace agreement with the RPF.

Before the genocide, RTLM continuously demonized the RPF (rebels fighting the regime) and all Tutsis as well as the UN peacekeeping force, which it claimed had a pro-RPF bias.

Though most genocides in history have been committed by governments and their arms, the Rwandan genocide was different. Though the regime, its army and government-sponsored militias planned the genocide and gave the orders executing it, it was ordinary Rwandans who did much of the killing. Many were forced to kill, lest they be killed themselves.

The Rwandan genocide was unique in that it was a huge chunk of Rwandan society that actually carried it out. It was part of the extremists' plan to collectivize action and thus guilt. The more Rwandans who were implicated in the genocide, the more who had a stake in it being fully and successfully carried out. Hate media made this possible.

By demonizing the Tutsis collectively, it gave ordinary Hutus a scapegoat and thus a motivation to do something they wouldn't ordinarily do: kill their neighbors and relatives and friends

RTLM read off over its airwaves the names of Tutsis and moderate Hutu political opponents to be slaughtered. The hate radio's personalities exhorted the masses to exterminate the "cockroaches" (Tutsis). To send their bodies via a river back to Ethiopia (where they supposedly came from, thus reinforcing the non-existent ethnic distinction). RTLM urged the masses to "go work" and "go clean" the country because "the graves are not yet full."

Western countries never grasped how dangerous RTLM was because of cultural assumptions. Though there were newspapers spewing the same vitriol, RTLM was the most prominent. In Rwanda, illiteracy is high and newspapers are often available only in the cities so radio remains the most important medium. Though television is the primary medium in the developed world, it's impossible to overstate how influential radio is in other parts of the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa.

The then Canadian ambassador, Lucie Edwards, later said: "The question of Radio Mille Collines propaganda is a difficult one. There were so many genuinely silly things being said on the station, so many obvious lies, that it was hard to take it seriously... Nevertheless, everyone listened to it - I was told by Tutsis (sic) - in a spirit of morbid fascination and because it had the best music selection."

RTLM garbage seemed silly to a Canadian, who grew up in a country with a long tradition of a free and independent press. But Rwanda was a country that had lived for decades under a dictatorship preceded by decades more of paternalistic colonialism. Ambassador Edwards came from a country where skepticism of the government line was expected; Rwandans had learned that such skepticism could be hazardous to their health and well-being.

In the Rwanda chapter of her brilliant book A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Samantha Power presents an example which demonstrates the failure to appreciate how powerful radio is in Africa in general, and Rwanda in particular.

The head of UN peacekeepers in Rwanda, Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire, requested that RTLM's signals be jammed. US Deputy Ambassador to Rwanda Prudence Bushnell concurred and tried to convince her colleagues at the State Department to procede. As Power writes: In early May [1994], the State Department's Legal Advisers Office issued a finding against radio jamming, citing international broadcasting agreements and the American commitment to free speech. [ed. note: !!!!] When Bushnell raised radio jamming yet again at a meeting, one Pentagon official chided her for naivete: "Pru, radios don't kill people. People kill people."

It was the Pentagon official, not Bushnell, who was naive. And who knows who many lives would've been saved had Washington bureaucrats trusted those actually on the ground who knew what they were talking about.

Samantha Power has often described the US government's tolerance of genocide as a failure of imagination; the same could apply to other western governments. In most genocides, we have credible reports of atrocities, but they defy the imagination. We can't IMAGINE concentration camps in the heart of Europe in the 1990s. We can't IMAGINE anyone would use poison gas in 1988. And we believed that "radios don't kill people. People kill people."

There are times when the benefit of the doubt should be scrapped. In Rwanda, the failure of our imagination is a death sentence was hundreds of thousands.

Tommorrow: why the international community buried its head in the sand during the genocide.

Recommended reading: Dossier on hate media during the Rwandan genocide from Radio Netherlands' English service. Includes links to pages on how hate radio has been used in other parts of the world. From Radio Netherlands' English service.

Monday, April 12, 2004


From: UNICEF. Caption: Rwandan children pose for a photograph outside their classroom.

As is the case in most wars, Rwandan children were the primary victims. The fact that survivors also lived through a genocide complicates the present even further. According to an article at World Press Review: A 1999 UNICEF study found that 96 percent of Rwandan children had witnessed the 1994 massacres. 80 percent had lost at least one family member* and added that this nightmare is being further aggravated by HIV-AIDS pandemic.

[*-This shows how much Hutus and Tutsis were really one group and how much intermarriage had occurred between them. Tutsis only represented 15% of Rwanda's pre-genocide population yet 80% of ALL Rwandan children had at least one family member killed.]

Many children saw their families slaughtered before their very eyes. Some managed to survive by remaining still for over a week under their relatives' decomposing corpses, noted a Radio Netherlands report.

Many children lost their entire families to the genocide or to illness in refugee camps. Others now find their families imprisoned for having participated in the genocide; even as of a year ago, over 120,000 Rwandans remained in prison. In traditional society, orphans would be assimiliated into the village and be taken care of collectively. But with so many people killed or imprisoned, traditional notions of community were shredded.

As a result, UNICEF reports that 613,000 Rwandan children between the ages of 0 to 14 years old are orphans. There are an estimated 101,000 children heading up some 42,000 households. Astonishing numbers for a country with a TOTAL population of less than 8 million.

Think about it. Over 100,000 children are living in households headed by children. Some of the heads of household are as young as 11 years old. [Note: UNICEF reports some as young as 9] There are usually three to eight children per household, according to Radio Netherlands.

They quoted a report by World Vision which added: "child-headed households are deprived of love, security, sense of belonging, acceptance and care. They have no one to turn to and live in very difficult circumstances, without the basic necessities of life. This forces them to engage in a variety of casual jobs to earn a living. They are usually exploited or taken advantage of, hence the loss of trust in the society that is supposed to protect them. This compels them to grow up overnight to face adult responsibilities and the harsh realities of life: caring for younger siblings, with hardly enough to survive on. Most of the property left behind by their parents has been taken away by relatives or neighbours."

Not surprisingly, one of the results has been a great increase in the number of street children. They live in appalling conditions and are often vulnerable to sexual violance.

Sometimes you get so caught up in the "big picture" aspects of such tragedies like the genocide, you forget that they are lived every hour of every day by people stuck in the middle. One girl named Charlotte Mupfasoni told Radio Netherlands:

In the city of Gitarama, they stopped me and while they were hitting me, a young woman came and took pity on me. She didn't know me. When they finished beating me, she took me with her. She was Hutu. When we came across a barrier and they stopped us, she would tell them, "this is my child." They would let us continue. When we arrived at the Pentecostal Church of Nyabisindu, I saw that there were many refugees there. But our numbers diminished quickly because they would come regularly to select young boys and young girls to kill. Whenever they came, I put myself next to the Hutu girl and she'd say I was her younger sister.


Tommorrow: how Hate Radio fueled the genocide

Recommended reading: UNICEF dossier on Rwanda and World Press Review article on Rwandan street children.

Recommended listening: Radio Netherlands documentary 'Deep Scars, Tender Lives' available via Real Audio. Click the above link and scroll to the bottom of the page.