At 23, Omar Khadr is the youngest of the 176 people still imprisoned at the US military’s detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He has been there for eight years, one third of his life.
On June 14, the Supreme Court buried the prospect of justice for Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian origin who was “extraordinarily rendered” by the United States (via Jordan) to Syria in 2002. Arar was suing the US officials who authorized his secret transfer, without charge, to a country infamous for torture. With the justices’ 22-word statement, the case of Arar v. Ashcroft exited the American legal system and entered the annals of American legal history under the category “grave injustice.” Alphabetically, Arar precedes Dred Scott v. Sanford, which upheld slavery, and Korematsu v. United States, which upheld the internment of Japanese Americans. In this case, however, the grave is literal: Arar spent ten months of his year in Syrian custody confined in what he describes as “an underground grave.”
During his second term, his approval rating heading stubbornly south, President George W. Bush was fond of comparing himself to Harry Truman. The dour Missourian, too, was “misunderestimated” — lightly regarded when thrust onto the world stage and then raked over the coals for strike breaking and a stalemated war in Korea. Like Truman, Bush mused, he would be reviled in his own time only to be accorded great respect in popular history.
The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the oldest such festival in the United States, was founded in rebellion against received wisdom. Since 1980, the festival has promoted independent Jewish films that contest the conventional Hollywood depiction of Jewish life, particularly its lachrymose over-concentration on Jewish victimhood, and regularly presented “alternatives to the often uncritical view of life and politics in Israel available in the established American Jewish community.” The festival’s audience, mostly Jewish, has reacted positively to this policy, even in 2005, when the organizers decided to show Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad’s Paradise Now, the theme of which is suicide bombing.
For the first time, the international community has indicted a sitting president of a sovereign state. Omar al-Bashir of Sudan stands accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague of “crimes against humanity and war crimes” committed in the course of the Khartoum regime’s brutal suppression of the revolt in the country’s far western province of Darfur. Having indicted two other figures associated with the regime in 2007, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo began building a case against the man at the top, and on March 4, the court issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest.
The Middle East has long had the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s major producers of refugees. By the beginning of 2007, the Middle East was generating 5,931,000 refugees out of a world total of 13,948,800. Over the past century, not just conflict but development projects, environmental disasters and state-mandated settlement of nomads have driven people from their homes. 
In the summer of 2006, two border incidents were invoked by Israel, with strong US diplomatic support and material assistance, to justify a prolonged military offensive in Gaza and a crushing “shock and awe” assault on Lebanon. The main international response, effectively orchestrated by Washington, was built around the bland assertion that Israel has the “right to defend itself.”
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) underwent its most recent five-year review in May 2005. There were numerous proposals on the table for strengthening the global non-proliferation regime. None were adopted. Perhaps even more puzzlingly, in an age when the White House repeatedly invokes the specter of suitcase-size nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, the United States did not send a high-level delegate.
On his way to the UN summit in New York, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon said to reporters, “Building is continuing there [West Bank settlements]; we will build as much as we need.” Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz proclaimed the day before, “We have to make every effort to direct resources to the development of the settlement blocs.” While the media portrays dismantling Gaza settlements as an Israeli concession to the Palestinians, scant attention has been focused on the real problem—that the whole settlement enterprise pursued by successive Israeli governments since 1967 is illegal. Israeli withdrawal of settlements from Gaza is partial compliance with international law, not a concession.
Just under a week after the collapse of the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush issued Military Order 1 to establish principles for the “ detention, treatment and trial of certain non-citizens in the war against terrorism.” The order, promulgated on November 13, 2001, was the first step in the Bush administration’s careful crafting of the term “illegal combatant” to describe a nebulous third category of detainee outside the Geneva Conventions’ clear division of prisoners into either civilians or military personnel. “Illegal combatants” were not to be accorded the protections of either the international laws of war or the laws of the United States.
The International Court of Justice has rendered its advisory opinion on "the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem." Though the near-term fate of the wall is unclear, subject as it is to international power politics, the Court's ruling, issued on July 9, speaks with the utmost clarity.
What is most remarkable about the International Court of Justice decision on Israel’s “security barrier” in the West Bank is the strength of the consensus behind it. By a vote of 14-1, the 15 distinguished jurists who make up the highest judicial body on the planet found that the barrier is illegal under international law and that Israel must dismantle it, as well as compensate Palestinians for damage to their property resulting from the barrier’s construction.
The International Court of Justice has very rarely reached this degree of unanimity in big cases. The July 9 decision was even supported by the generally conservative British judge Rosalyn Higgins, whose intellectual force is widely admired in the United States.
There is a popular belief that Western history constitutes a progressive move from more to less torture. Iron maidens and racks are now museum exhibits, crucifixions are sectarian iconography and scientific experimentation on twins is History Channel infotainment. This narrative of progress deftly blends ideas about “time,” “place” and “culture.” In the popular imagination, “civilized societies” (a.k.a. “us”) do not rely on torture, whereas those societies where torture is still common remain “uncivilized,” torture being both a proof and a problem of their enduring “backwardness.”
Muhan Jabr al-Shuwaili no doubt knew the risks he faced when he ventured out of his house in Najaf on November 3, 2003. But the head judge of the Najaf governorate, member of a commission collecting evidence against former Iraqi officials possibly complicit in crimes against humanity, quickly discovered just how dangerous his job had become. That morning, Shuwaili and a prominent Najaf prosecutor, Arif Aziz, were kidnapped by unknown parties who told them that “Saddam has ordered your prosecution.” The two men were driven out into the desert.