Of Torture and Security

by John Eden | August 31st, 2009 | |Subscribe

There are a number of people who believe, deeply and honestly, that torture is a necessary tool in the struggle against terrorism. These folks do not value torture as such, a point that many on the far left would do well to keep in full view. Instead, these Americans believe that when high value terrorists are caught, the United States must use every possible avenue to unearth intelligence about future terrorist operations. Now, it is worth pointing out that this view comes in different flavors, so to speak. Some believe that there must be a “ticking time bomb” if torture is to be justified. On this view, there must be some immediate threat to the security of the United States and its citizens that warrants setting aside prohibitions on torture. Some, however, believe that the threat need not be strictly imminent; it need only be serious, that is, it need only involve serious future peril for the U.S.

I do not personally subscribe to this view. But that does not mean I think it can be dismissed out of hand. It sounds in utilitarian moral theory, like much of our social policy and contemporary law: Where the benefits of a practice outweigh (or would under normal conditions) the associated costs, there is a presumption that the practice should be socially acceptable or lawful (or both). There is, of course, one fundamental caveat: Even where the benefits of a practice outweigh its costs, if it runs afoul of some fundamental right or constitutional privilege, that practice is – from a legal perspective – anathema. It cannot be done. And that’s the case because where fundamental rights are in play, there simply is no room for utilitarianism. Or is there?

I raise these heady issues of moral philosophy and legal theory because at this moment our government is determining how to proceed with an investigation of CIA operatives who may have gone beyond what they were officially permitted to do when interrogating suspected terrorists. (more…)

Shopping for allies in Moscow’s backyard

by Volha Charnysh | August 24th, 2009 | |Subscribe

Volha Charnysh

On August 23, 1939, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and his German counterpart Joachim von Ribbentrop signed a nonaggression pact, along with a secret protocol dividing Northern and Eastern Europe into German and Soviet “spheres of influence.” Sixty years later, Moscow is struggling to retain its influence in the states along its border and agonizing over their flirtation with the West.

The Kremlin has no regrets about marching into Georgia last August and no intentions of restoring the pre-war political map of the Caucasus. In fact, a week before the first anniversary of Russian-Georgian conflict, Moscow accused Tbilisi of trying to rekindle violence in South Ossetia. On August 10, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev introduced a bill in the Duma authorizing him to send Russian troops abroad to defend Russian citizens or prevent aggression against other states. The next day, Moscow indefinitely postponed the dispatch of the new Russian ambassador to Ukraine warning Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko of the consequences of his defiance. On Monday, August 24, relations between the two states reached a new low as Russian officials directly accused Kiev for fighting alongside Georgian forces last summer.

This hectoring comes at a time when Russia’s neighbors are asking Washington to play a more active role in the region. Last month, in an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, 22 prominent thinkers and former officials from Eastern Europe called on Washington to pay closer attention to Russia’s resurgence. A similar message from Belarus followed. Stanislau Shushkevich, the first Head of State of Belarus, and Ivonka Survila, President of the Rada of Belarus Democratic Republic-in-Exile, expressed concerns about Russia’s economic and political pressure and called on the United States to create an initiative similar to the EU’s Eastern Partnership, which would include the countries of the former Soviet Union into transatlantic cooperation. (more…)

An Insurance Policy for the US-Russia Reset

by Matthew Rojansky | August 19th, 2009 | |Subscribe

This article was originally published on the Open Democracy Network.

The US-Russia “reset,” so named by Vice President Biden in a February speech, is far from complete, despite impressive progress over the past six months. Biden’s own recent visit to Ukraine and Georgia included a furore-inducing comment about “withering” Russian power, and followed a July 16 letter from 22 Central and Eastern European elder statesmen that cast their countries’ interests and US cooperation with Russia as zero-sum. All of which suggests there are plenty of pitfalls awaiting unwary practitioners of “reset” diplomacy.

Even the newly created “Bilateral Presidential Commission,” symbolic of Washington and Moscow’s shared resolve to fix their frayed relationship, could fail to deliver a new era of partnership. Paradoxically, the greatest danger is not that either side will fixate on minor conflicts to torpedo cooperation on shared interests, but that either might lose sight of why cooperation matters in the first place. Given the number and gravity of global challenges President Obama and his team now face-the global economic crisis, climate change, two ongoing wars, the threat of terrorism, and regional crises in East Asia and the Middle East-Russia might easily slip off the high priority list simply for lack of bandwidth. Since Russia’s own renewed goodwill towards the US is based largely on the perception that it will once again be “taken seriously” as a global great power, a deficit of high level attention risks undermining the gains of recent months. (more…)

The Unfortunate Impact of Iqbal

by John Eden | August 11th, 2009 | |Subscribe

Some time ago I wrote a story about Javaid Iqbal, a cable installer the U.S. government allegedly tortured in detention center in Brooklyn. My argument was simple: Mr. Iqbal should be able to present, in court, his case that John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller played key roles in the decision making processes that led to the violation of his constitutional rights. At that point, it looked very much like Mr. Iqbal would be denied his day in court. My fear was that the Supreme Court would throw out his case because Mr. Iqbal would be unable to submit before his case got under way substantial evidence that Ashcroft and Mueller called the shots from on high, ultimately causing the torture he endured.

Unfortunately, I was right. Not only was Mr. Iqbal denied his right to press his claims against the U.S. government and key government officials, the Supreme Court endorsed a problematic approach to evaluating federal lawsuits. The Court rehearsed the old saw, from a case called Twombly, that a case should be dismissed unless the plaintiff’s complaint includes allegations with “factual content” that allows the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” So far, so good. But then the Court did something truly irritating: it viewed Iqbal’s claims with extreme suspicion, concluding that because the September 11th attacks were perpetrated by Arab Muslims, Iqbal’s claim that his constitutional rights had been violated based on discriminatory factors was not articulated with sufficient specificity.


Celebration postponed

by Brian Vogt | August 11th, 2009 | |Subscribe

Last week a CIA drone fired two hellfire missiles at a farmhouse in a remote region of South Waziristan, Pakistan.  The target was Baitullah Mehsud, the notorious leader of the Pakistani Taliban who, according to the UN, is thought to be responsible for over 80 percent of the suicide bombings that have taken place within Afghanistan.  He is also likely responsible for the assassination of the Pakistani political leader Benazir Bhutto.  According to many accounts, Mehsud, a diabetic who was receiving treatment on the roof of the house, was killed by the attack.  Mehsud’s apparent demise is welcome good news.  However, we must also be realistic in our assessment of its potential impact.  Too often we have yearned for the quick solution – the elimination of a terrorist or a tyrant – to solve a much larger systemic problem.

Historians frequently debate the role of individuals in shaping past events.  Some argue that if were not for the actions of certain leaders at critical times, the path of history would have been dramatically different.  Others downplay the role of individuals and point to broader societal forces that shape leaders’ decisions.  Of course, the reality is that in some situations individuals play a critical role and in others the circumstances of the time dominate.  Unfortunately, when looking at the issue of terrorism, we have too frequently overemphasized the role of individual leaders – Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, etc.  This is not to say that these individuals did not play a critical role.  However, an overemphasis on a handful of “bad guys” leads us sometimes to overlook the more fundamental changes in the environment that must take place.

Iraq provides one example of this phenomenon.  As the insurgency in Iraq began to expand in the summer of 2003, there was a concerted effort to capture or kill Saddam Hussein and other high level members of his regime.  In December 2003, Hussein was captured and many Americans breathed a sigh of relief.  At last the leader of a hated regime posed no further threat to the future of the country.  But, the insurgency was just catching fire.  In March 2004, Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah ambushed a Blackwater convoy.  Abu Musab al-Zarqawi rose to prominence as a leader of the insurgency.  This was just the beginning. (more…)

Leader of Pakistan Taliban Killed

by Raj Purohit | August 7th, 2009 | |Subscribe

A very important development in Pakistan: Beitullah Mehsud is dead. The leader of the Pakistani Taliban was killed by a US strike drone. Mehsud was the driving force of a movement that was threatening the very fabric of Pakistani society and there is no doubt that the US and Pakistani government will be very happy that they successfully targeted him. There is still much work to be done to bring peace and security to Pakistan but this is a significant moment. The question for the morning is whether the US and Pakistani governments can build on recent military victories and win the peace via the hearts and minds of ordinary Pakistanis….in particular those in the tribal areas.

Remember NATO?

by David Isenberg | August 4th, 2009 | |Subscribe

Anyone remember NATO? Despite periodic summits and conferences and pledges of trans-Atlantic love between the U.S. and various European countries (both Old and New, in Donald Rumsfeld vocabulary), and the involvement of NATO member countries militaries in both Iraq and Afghanistan (though last week saw the withdrawal of the troops of the last non-US military forces from Iraq; leaving the coalition of the billing, oops, I mean coalition of the willing, an Army of one, so to speak) NATO per se has not been a big priority.

Yet, nobody expects NATO to wither away and die, much as some might like it to. Thus, if you can’t kill it, perhaps one might think about trying to change it.

At the very least one might think about a new paradigm for NATO. As it turns out, someone has. That would be a recently formed group called NATO Watch. Created by Ian Davis of Great Britain, currently a freelance human security and arms control consultant,  and a former Director of the British American Security Information Council for six years, NATO Watch seeks to provide independent oversight, information and analysis of NATO policy-making and operational activities; increase transparency, stimulate parliamentary engagement and broaden public awareness and participation in NATO policy-making; and promote NATO policies and doctrine that are in keeping with the shared democratic and humanitarian values of member states, including the defense of human rights and civil liberties, prevention of genocide (‘responsibility to protect’), accountability and openness, promotion of peace and cooperative security approaches, and strengthening of international law;

Why is there a need for NATO Watch? Let us count the ways. (more…)

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.