Our friends at Human Rights Watch have just released a major new report on the CIA Black Prison Complex titled: Ghost Prisoner: Two Years in Secret CIA Detention
Their key recommendations are very important and well worth noting:
The US government should:
- Repudiate the use of secret detention and coercive interrogation as counterterrorism tactics and permanently discontinue the CIA’s detention and interrogation program;
- Disclose the identities, fate and whereabouts of all detainees previously held at facilities operated or controlled by the CIA since 2001.
Other governments should:
- Refuse to assist or cooperate in any way with CIA detention, interrogation and rendition operations, and disclose any information that they may have about such operations.
The Washington Post covered the story and report on the front page today – once again showing that momentum is building on the torture/detention issues.
I took part in a fascinating conference last week hosted by the Ford Foundation called the Lab for New Thinking. We talked about the role that justice should play in shaping America’s role in the world. One comment made during our discussion that I strongly agreed with came from Bill Pace of the World Federalist Movement. He said that we need to stop thinking of America’s role in the world as only about U.S. government policy. We live increasingly in a world where civil society, NGOs, international institutions, and especially global business can make a huge impact on the lives of people around the world.
One exciting avenue where our country is increasingly making a positive contribution is through our social entrepreneurs. With that in mind, our organization hosted a mini-summit last week on “Social Entrepreneurship and Global Change.” The general consensus of the three hundred young leaders assembled at the summit was that the recent growth of social venture capital, micro-finance, non-profit tech companies, and other forms of social entrepreneurship was opening up exciting new opportunities for young people to do well and do good globally at the same time.
We’re now continuing this discussion with an online event on the Social Edge website – a website that is for social entrepreneurs written by social entrepreneurs. You can join the discussion at www.socialedge.org.
In general, I’m not all that interested in “the blame game” on Iraq. Whether or not invading Iraq was the right thing to do, given what we thought at the time, we invaded, enjoyed some success by some measures, and became trapped in an anti-occupation insurgency in the midst of an Iraqi civil war. The primary issue in the current debate should be what to do now — that is, we should have a prospective rather than retrospective debate.
But of course the Bush Administration is wedded to policies that they think have a chance to justify their initial invasion choice. They would rather “gamble for resurrection” (of their poll numbers) with low-chance-of-success policies that at least postpone having to acknowledge their overall policy failure and might even, if everything works out as they hope, lead to a “win” in Iraq. So they come to the debate over future policy with a bias, policy blinders that prevent them from considering all options. Their bias — and the desire of administration critics to point to past failures (presumably as an indicator of the likelihood of future problems) — gives the discussion of Iraq a decidedly retrospective tinge.
Yesterday afternoon, though, I made an exception to my usual complaining about that retrospection, and I spent some time thinking about how the U.S. got into Iraq. The LBJ School of Public Affairs, where I am a professor, hosted Washington Post associate editor Karen DeYoung for a discussion of her new book, Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell. (Streaming video of the talk will be available soon in the LBJ School’s “screening room,” here.)
In her talk, DeYoung cited many of Powell’s defenses of his time as Secretary of State; he rightly lists a lot of things at which he “succeeded” in influencing Bush administration policy. But she listed those successes in the context of the discussion of Powell’s overarching “failure” to guide policy on Iraq, probably the Bush Administration’s most important foreign policy decision. DeYoung never said directly that Iraq turned out badly because Powell failed, but she (favorably) acknowledged the criticism that his UN speech sold the American public on a war in which Powell did not believe. She also argued explicitly that Powell failed in internal administration debates because he could not develop any internal allies, and he never developed a personal relationship with the President.
I’m not sure how much of that is Powell’s fault: after all, even a charismatic leader cannot force other people to like him; the President gets the priviledge of choosing his friends and confidants. But thinking that way is, once again, falling back on the blame game. For whatever reason, and whoever’s fault it was, the reality is that Secretary of State Powell lost the debate and failed in his role as an “advisor;” instead, he ended up as an “implementer” — in fact, as a successful implementer, to the extent that his UN speech and a few other key pronouncements influenced public acceptance and Washington support for the President’s policies.
You can tell things are getting worse in Iraq when even ex-presidents start taking shots at administration policy. For example, THIS WEEK ON ABC had Jimmy Carter on. Consider this excerpt:
STEPHANOPOULOS:. Of course, the whole country is talking about Iraq. You’ve called it one of the biggest mistakes in U.S. history, foreign policy mistakes in U.S. history. … STEPHANOPOULOS: Would you be for cutting off funding for the mission? CARTER: Not for troops already over there, no. But I would be willing to see a limit on funds that would apply to an increase in funds.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So capping the level of troops. CARTER: Absolutely. STEPHANOPOULOS: Vice President Cheney this week has been very harsh on those kinds of measures in the Congress. VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: (From videotape). If we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all it will do is validate the al Qaeda strategy. The al Qaeda strategy is to break the will of the American people. CARTER: And if you go back and see what Vice President Cheney has said for the last three or four years concerning Iraq, his batting average is abysmally low. He hasn’t been right on hardly anything and his prediction of what is going to happen, reasons for going over there and obviously this is not playing into the hands of al Qaeda or the people who are causing violence and destruction over there to call for a change in policy in Iraq.
This Sunday there was a fantastic article in the New York Times magazine that examined the threat of nuclear terrorism, focusing in particular on Sam Nunn and his path from rejection to eventual support of a doctrine of eliminating all nuclear weapons.
This article reminded me once again of the degree to which America’s foreign policy has been hijacked by the Iraq conflict. As we all remember, President Bush and Senator Kerry both agreed that the greatest threat to our nation was a nuclear attack on our soil by terrorists. In such a contentious campaign based to a large degree on foreign policy it was quite dramatic to have the two opposing candidates actually agree on this threat. Such an attack is truly a frightening prospect, particularly to any of us who live in the likely targets of such an attack – Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Miami, Philadedphia, etc.
9/11 was truly a horrible event that has changed life in America and how it interacts with the rest of the world. Over 2000 people died and it altered the way we all live and how our country interacts with the rest of the world. I don’t want to downplay the magnitude of that disaster. However, I believe that it is safe to say that a nuclear attack on American soil would make that enormous tragedy seem like a minor incident in terms of lives lost, economic impact, and the potential for devastating blowback from American attempts at military retribution. If we think that the debacle in Iraq is bad, just wait to see what happens when hundreds of thousands of Americans perish instantaneously in a nuclear attack. If the post 9/11 national mood is any indication, all caution will be thrown to the wind.
The article presented an interesting take on the danger we’re in:
Buffett once gave Nunn a formula that the latter likes to repeat: assuming a 10 percent chance of a nuclear attack in any given year, the odds of surviving 50 years without an attack are less than 1 percent. If the odds of an attack can be reduced to 1 percent per year, however, the chances of making it 50 years without a nuclear detonation improve to better than even.
So, if both parties agree that this is the number one danger to America, then of course, our country should be harnessing all its resources to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Well, unfortunately, one of the things that has been getting in the way is our current devotion to Iraq and to other state based nuclear threats. Yes, I do agree with our President that if Iraq continues along its current path it may provide a safe haven for terrorists. I question, however, our ability to stop this from happening. If we are unable to prevent Iraq from being such a safe haven, then the next logical means of self protection is to prevent those terrorists from gaining the nuclear materials they seek. This is where we continue to devote insufficient resources and attention. (more…)
It may be useful background for all those thinking about the Blair speech. It is worth reading the whole thing but this last para about the Royal family caught my attention:
“They may even find themselves reflecting that not a single senior member of this government, the ministers of the Crown who committed Britain to the Iraqi intervention, has had an equivalent experience.”
That is my take away. The Blair timetable will be too slow and too vague for the British public.
The Prime Minister, it seems, is trying to buy some time here by bringing back a few troops and conditioning the withdrawal of the remainder on the situation on the ground.
Frankly this decision will have to be revisited by Gordon Brown when he takes over from Blair in a few months.
Violence has spiked once again in the Somalian capital as government troops backed by Ethiopian forces clash with what seems to be the remnants of the Islamic Courts militia. This has pushed the UN Security Council to state its support for an African Union force that would take over responsibility from the Ethiopian army.
Unfortunately the U.S. has played unhelpful role in Somalia over the past year, in part it seems, because the Bush Administration does not understand the dynamics of the sub-region.
Going forward, it is very important that a unified AU approach is taken to brokering a permanent peace in this war torn country. The last thing Somalians or the global community need is for Somalia to become the next front against Al Qaeda. With that in mind the one thing the Bush Administration should be doing is encouraging its key allies such as Egypt and Libya to support the AU mission – additionally it is important that the Saudis are told that they must not play a negative role in Somalia.
Let’s hope that the Administration plays this one smart in the coming months and support the AU while adopting a behind the scenes role.
Worryingly, regional commentators suggest that the lack of understanding on the part of many actors may lead to the failure of the AU mission – this is deeply troubling and must not be allowed to happen.
In the aftermath of last week’s vote, ineffectual and rhetorical as it was, in the House of Representative against the surge of troops to Iraq the administration nevertheless felt obligated to do some damage control. So they sent Tony Snow into the fray. Here he is on CNN’s Late Edition spinning furiously:
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Tony Snow, thanks very much for joining us. Let’s get to the issue of the Senate vote yesterday, the House vote earlier in the week. Why shouldn’t the president see these two votes, when taken together, as a vote of no confidence in his new strategy toward Iraq?
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, for one thing, the strategy has barely had a chance to begin working. The president has made the case to members of the House and Senate: Hey, you guys have been supporting General David Petraeus. The Senate confirmation vote was 81 to nothing. Why not give him the reinforcements he says are necessary to get the job done?
For those who are doing poll watching, in a recent poll they asked the question, do you want to fully fund the troops? The answer, two-thirds of Americans said yes. One asked, well, what about — would you support cutting off extra funds for people who are going to go in? Sixty percent said no.
So, I think what you’ve got is a situation, Wolf, where Americans are rightfully uneasy about war. We are not happy with the progress of things, which is why the president’s come up with a new strategy for dealing with the challenges in Iraq.
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In an FT interview the outgoing Counter-Terror Coordinator for the EU, Gijs de Vries, stated clearly that he believes that torture and other human rights violations committed by the U.S. and supported by its allies have made Europe less safe:
“Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, military commissions and CIA renditions have undermined the credibility of the U.S. and its partners” he said.
Gijs de Vries also noted that: “We have to stop today’s terrorists and we must also prevent tomorrow’s terrorists being radicalised.”
He urged the U.S. to return to the human rights mainstream – at least in part – because of the security ramifications.
So now we have a hard nosed counter-terror operator saying torture and other breaches of international law harm our security….will this help change the discourse stateside?
All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.