The UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food surveys the catastrophic state of hunger and malnutrition and their man-made causes—war and conflict, climate change, massive displacement and global economic inequality. The paradox of this landscape of desperate need is that the world produces more than enough food to feed the planet, but the poor cannot afford it.
The present era of counter-terrorism wars has severely damaged what, in hindsight, looked like a solid international consensus about which forms and levels of violence are “legal” in war and what “humanitarian” limits are imposed on such violence. The counter-terrorism paradigm of “with us or against us” in which the latter—and all that is proximate to it—is regarded as targetable upends the important distinction in international humanitarian law (IHL) between civilians and combatants and inflates the norm of proportionality to justify indiscriminate violence. This paradigm is the dominant strategic approach in the US “war on terror” and Israel’s “war model” approach in the Occupied Territories, as well as among regimes like Syria and Saudi Arabia.
For 51 days in July and August 2014, Israel conducted a military operation in Gaza known as Protective Edge. It was the third major Gaza operation by the Israeli armed forces in seven years, and by far the most lethal and destructive. Some 2,205 Palestinians, including 722 militants and over 500 children, and 70 Israelis (64 of whom were soldiers) were killed. Thousands of Palestinians were wounded; over 18,000 of their homes were destroyed; some 470,000 were displaced; and large areas of Gaza were essentially razed.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Guantánamo Diary (New York: Little, Brown, 2015).
At the close of 2014, Mahmoud ‘Abbas, head of the Ramallah wing of the Palestinian Authority (PA), announced that he would sign the Rome Statute, the 2002 treaty establishing the International Criminal Court based in The Hague. This move opens the possibility that the Palestinians could ask the Court to investigate Israeli military operations and/or occupation practices as violations of international law. ‘Abbas accepted Court jurisdiction retroactive to June 13, 2014, when Israel began the raids that developed into Operation Protective Edge, the seven-week bombardment and invasion of Gaza. The meaning and efficacy of the PA’s maneuver are subjects of considerable debate.
‘Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a designated “high-value detainee” in US government parlance, is on trial in the Guantánamo Bay military commissions. The 49-year old Saudi Arabian is accused of directing the October 2000 al-Qaeda suicide boat bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Aden, Yemen, which killed 17 sailors and injured 40 more, and a failed plan to bomb the USS Sullivans. Five other high-value detainees, including alleged “mastermind” Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, are being tried together for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. All six could face the death penalty if convicted.
On Tuesday, Mahmoud ‘Abbas surprised peace processers by making use of Palestine’s recently upgraded status as a UN-recognized “state” to sign 15 international agreements, mostly concerning human rights, humanitarian law and diplomatic protocol. The move was announced at a hastily convened meeting of the PLO executive committee, but appears to have been carefully crafted to support extending the US-sponsored negotiations that have dragged on haplessly over the past nine months.
Lisa Hajjar’s spring lecture tour, entitled “Let’s Go to Guantánamo! An On-the-Ground Perspective on the Military Commissions,” explores secret renditions, black sites, torture, suppression of evidence, clandestineness and what it means to provide “legal counsel” to detainees in the post-September 11 “war on terror” in the absence of procedural fairness or public scrutiny.
The photographs are compelling: Greek Orthodox Christians are gathered in small groups on the Aegean coast of what is now Turkey, wearing too much clothing for the hot day, whatever possessions they could carry sitting at their feet, their faces drawn with worry as they stare at the water, awaiting the ships that would take them to Greece. They were being expelled from Anatolia, where their ancestors had lived and died and worked and prayed for so many centuries that most claimed no other homeland. These Christians followed a patriarch who had resided in Constantinople/Istanbul since the year 330 and whose massive cathedral, Hagia Sophia, had already become a major tourism site.
Few foreign policy issues garner as much interest in the American press as the Iranian nuclear program. As illustrated by last week’s Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing for President Obama’s nominee as secretary of defense, former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, the US government is equally focused on Iran. The committee was more concerned with Hagel’s positions on Iran than his views on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia combined — despite that fact that these countries are all places where the US military is engaged in combat, something not true of Iran.
On any given day, provided her paper of choice still features international coverage, the average American newspaper reader can expect to be treated to one or two articles on attempts to halt advances in Iran’s nuclear program. These articles might cover efforts to levy fresh sanctions against the Islamic Republic; they might relay news of discussions among Iran’s primary interlocutors on the nuclear question, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (the so-called P5+1), about diplomatic overtures. Or the stories might echo the mounting calls for airstrikes or other military action to delay and disrupt the progress of Iranian nuclear research.
The countdown to September 23 has begun. On that day, if he does not renege on his September 16 speech, Mahmoud ‘Abbas will present a formal request for full UN membership for a state of Palestine. The UN Security Council, which must approve such requests, will not do so, because the United States will act upon its repeated vows to exercise its veto. And then?
On President Barack Obama’s second day in office, one of the three executive orders he signed was a commitment to close the detention facility on the naval base at Guantánamo Bay as soon as possible but no later than one year thence. An inter-agency task force headed by White House counsel Greg Craig was established to come up with a plan. The new administration did not anticipate that this step would be controversial because, at the time, closing Guantánamo had bipartisan support, including from former President George W. Bush and Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain. Bagram, the main US-controlled prison in Afghanistan, on the other hand, was being expanded — like the war in that country.
In the city of Lahore, Pakistan on January 27, 2011, a 36-year old American CIA contractor named Raymond Davis was charged with double murder in the deaths of two Pakistani men, Faizan Haider and Fahim Shamshad. Newspaper accounts describe Davis firing his gun at two men on motorcycles whom he believed were armed and attempting to rob him as he stopped his vehicle at a traffic signal. At the same time, reports place another US employee driving a truck nearby; in his rush to rescue Davis, this American hit and killed a third passing motorcyclist. The driver of the truck somehow managed to leave the country but Davis was unable to disappear from what escalated into a tense international and legal incident between Pakistan and the United States.
When 19 al-Qaeda hijackers attacked New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the United States faced a strategic dilemma that was unique in magnitude, but not in kind. Terrorists had killed numerous civilians before, in the US and elsewhere, with and without state sponsorship. Al-Qaeda was not the first non-state actor to present no coherent demands alongside its propaganda of the deed or to have no single fixed address. Nor were Americans the first victims of unprovoked terrorist assault to set aside political differences, at least for a time, in search of a unified self-defense.
Reasonable, principled people can disagree about whether, in an ideal world, Western military intervention in Libya’s internal war would be a moral imperative. With Saddam Hussein dead and gone, there is arguably no more capricious and overbearing dictator in the Arab world than Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. The uprising of the Libyan people against him, beginning on February 17, was courageous beyond measure. It seems certain that, absent outside help, the subsequent armed insurrection would have been doomed to sputter amidst the colonel’s bloody reprisals.
The year 2011 has brought Lebanon’s political tug of war into the streets again, with thousands of protesters burning tires and blocking roads over the apparent failure of their candidate to secure the office of prime minister. But months of hype to the contrary, this time the raucous demonstrations were not staged by Hizballah and its allies in the March 8 coalition so named after a day of protests in 2005 designed to “thank” Syria before its withdrawal of forces from Lebanon. Instead, the protests were mounted by the rival March 14 alliance, so named for the day of “Syria out!” rallies that followed less than a week later.
After five long years, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is expected to hand down its indictments at long last. By the end of 2010, or perhaps the beginning of 2011, the Tribunal will accuse a number of individuals of direct involvement in the murders of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and several other prominent Lebanese political figures between 2005 and 2008. Officially, the investigators keep mum about the identity of their targets. Unofficially, a steady stream of “insider information” has converged into a kind of received wisdom: High-ranking members of the Shi‘i Islamist party Hizballah will be indicted for association with the engineering of the assassinations. The various actors in Lebanon now treat the “leaks” that formed this received wisdom as a set of established facts.
Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End Of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010)
Stephen Schlesinger, Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2003)