Mommy, Where Does Genocide Come From? According to Retired U.S. Marine Corp. General John Sheehan, the Answer is "From Gays in the Military"

Faithful reader Andrew has alerted me to the following mind-blowing news story:

“A former top U.S. and NATO commander [that would be retired U.S. Marine General John Sheehan, who was the top NATO commander in the mid-1990s, a.k.a. "the years in which NATO had some stuff to do in some former Yugoslavian places"] says the Netherlands’ inclusion of gays in their military rendered Dutch peacekeeping troops unable to prevent the slaughter of thousands of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995.

He told the Senate Armed Services Committee that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military would breed friction and undermine unit cohesion in the armed forces. Asked by Senator Carl Levin whether other nations, like Britain and Israel, had suffered as a result of ending their nation’s bans on gay military service, the general said “yes.”

Sheehan pointed to the Netherlands, which he said embarked on a process of social engineering in the Dutch military once the Cold War ended. “They declared a peace dividend and made a conscious effort to socialize their military. It included open homosexuality. That led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war,” he said.”

Gosh, ill-equipped to go to war? I wonder what he means by that?

“Linking the massacre to the Netherlands allowing gays in the military prompted this exchange with Senator Levin, who seemed perplexed by Sheehan’s assertion.

SHEEHAN: “That [Srebrenica] was the largest massacre in Europe since World War II.”
LEVIN: “And did the Dutch leaders tell you it was because there were gay soldiers there?”
SHEEHAN: “It was a combination …”
LEVIN: “Did they tell you [that gay soldiers were to blame], that is my question.”
LEVIN: “They did?”
SHEEHAN: “They included that as part of the problem.”

I have not yet been able to find further excerpts from Sheehan’s testimony, but I’m just going to go ahead and assume that it went on something like this:

LEVIN: “You have GOT to be kidding me.”
SHEEHAN: “True story. Swear to God.”
LEVIN: “Are you quite certain that you reached the rank of general in the United States armed forces before retirement?”
SHEEHAN:”Last time I checked. Why?”
LEVIN: “And you believe that proximity to gays was a factor in the Srebrenica massacre?”
SHEEHAN: “Yup. Weren’t you listening a minute ago?”
LEVIN: “I’m sorry, does the United States military also have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy with regard to morons?”

Mukasey to BIA: Conditions Have Not Changed in this Woman’s Vagina

It is a good day for ladies in America.

Attorney General Mukasey has vacated the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in In Re A-T-. In that case, the Board held that Alima Traore, a 28-year-old woman from Mali, was ineligible for asylum in the United States because she had already suffered female genital mutilation (FGM), and therefore could not fear it happening again in the future.

In order to obtain asylum in the United States, Ms. Traore had to prove that she has a well-founded fear that she will be persecuted in Mali on account of her race, religion, political opinion, national origin, or membership in a particular social group; and that her government would be unable or unwilling to protect her. (Contrary to popular belief, there is no requirement that the persecution be at the hands of the government itself.) If she could show past persecution, then she would be entitled to a presumption that she had a well-founded fear of future persecution. To rebut that presumption, the government had to prove that conditions had changed so significantly in Mali so that she no longer needed to fear persecution. (That seemed unlikely: not only is FGM still common in Mali, it is even legal.)

At the outset, Ms. Traore’s case would have looked quite strong. In past decisions, most notably Matter of Kasinga, the BIA has held that women who oppose FGM and are from tribes or societies that practice it are a “particular social group.” Likewise, FGM inflicts such severe harm that it easily meets the standard for “persecution.” She therefore was entitled to the presumption of a well-founded fear of future persecution, and by extension probably asylum.

However, the BIA decided that there were changed conditions -not in Mali generally, but in Ms. Traore’s vagina. It held that FGM could only be inflicted once, and so the very act of persecution was also a fundamental change in circumstances that rendered her ineligible for asylum.

Neat, huh? Because following that rule, no woman could ever get asylum based on FGM. After all, the ladies only get one vagina apiece! So if it gets hurt badly enough the first time around, it’s just a goner! Nothing else bad could ever happen to it! And, obviously, that’s awesome. Because the last thing we want is a bunch of women with scarred-up vajayjays cluttering up our country.

Like all the most awesome bad decisions, this one had the distinction of being ridiculous as a matter of law and as a matter of fact. Law-wise, the BIA was in a bit of a pickle due to In Re Y-T-L-, a previous decision in which it held exactly the opposite, finding that forced sterilization -also a one-time event- was not a changed condition that prevented a grant of asylum. To distinguish between the two situations, the BIA cited a section of the asylum law, INA 101(a)(42), which specifically references sterilization. However, all that 101(a)(42) does is state that resistance to “coercive population control” (read: China’s one-child policy), including forced abortion and sterilization, is to be considered “persecution on account of political opinion.” It has nothing to do with changed circumstances.

And fact-wise, where on earth did the Board get the idea that FGM is a one-time thing? I hate to be graphic, but with the most severe forms of FGM, there will almost certainly be future mutilations. Infibulation (where the external genitalia are removed, and what is left is sewn shut except for a small hole to permit urination), requires that the victim then be cut open again in order to have intercourse or or give birth. While there are certainly less severe forms of FGM, such as clitoral cutting, the very fact that they are less complete undermines the BIA’s argument that FGM cannot be repeated.

Luckily for Ms. Traore and other women who seeking asylum on the basis of FGM, the BIA’s decision sparked a nationwide advocacy campaign to have the it reversed. Articles were published in Slate and the New York Times. People all over the country wrote letters urging that Ms. Traore be granted asylum. Legislators like Patrick Leahy, Zoe Lofgren, John Conyers, and Olympia Snowe expressed their outrage.

And it totally worked! Today, Attorney General Mukasey vacated the BIA’s decision. Citing no less than four previous asylum decisions for the rule that “female genital mutilation is indeed capable of repetition,” he sent the case back to the Board for a do-over. This is great news, and hopefully Ms. Traore will get better results the next time around. Hooray for justice!

Maybe next time we could also get some justice for people whose lawyers don’t have the clout and wherewithal to orchestrate a national advocacy campaign on their behalf? Perhaps in the form of a decision that is decided correctly the first time around? Maybe? Please?

I’m Just a Bill…

Last week Senators Feingold and Leahy introduced the “Support for Democracy and Human Rights in Ethiopia Act of 2008.” It highlights the Ethiopian security forces’ use of violence against political opposition and criticizes a proposed NGO law that would “create a complex web of onerous bureaucratic hurdles, draconian criminal penalties, and intrusive powers of surveillance that would further decrease the political space available for civil society activities.”

The bill, described as “[a] bill to reaffirm United States objectives in Ethiopia and encourage critical democratic and humanitarian principles and practices, and for other purposes,” represents the latest phase in a protracted effort to get Ethiopian human rights legislation passed by Congress. Word on the street (and by “street” I mean “system of tubes”) is that the Ethiopian government paid DLA Piper a hefty sum to derail a previous incarnation of the bill.

One-man-diaspora and “13th Most Influential Ethiopian of the Year” Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam has played an active role in pushing for Congressional censure of the human rights violations perpetrated in his home country. He writes about the new bill in yesterday’s issue of the Ethiopian Review.

Professor Alemayehu’s piece offers a quick overview of the U.S. legislative process for outsiders and ten “Lessons Learned” for future lobbying efforts. However, the high point is his imagined conversation between an Ethiopian government functionary and a U.S. senator following the introduction of the bill, which concludes:

Apparatchik: “Senator, you know we don’t care about any law passed in Congress. It’s is not going to make one ounce of difference to us. We’ll just ignore it. We don’t need you measly $20 million. You can keep it. We’ll do something. I don’t know. Just something.”

Senator: “So why are you whining? If is not going to make a damn bit of difference to you, why are you so worked up? Let it go, man! Forget about it! Go with the flow. Roll with the punches, dude! Take it easy! Chill!”

Apparatchik: “Oh, man!”

If only…

Republicans Reap Benefits of Innovative Plan to Employ Incompetent Lawyers by Electing Them to Congress

We are shockingly tardy in bringing you this important newsflash, but here it is:

Representative Louis Gohmert (R-TX) of “least-endowed member of Congress” and “inadvisably stealing shit from much larger members of Congress” fame has introduced the ‘Giving Inmate Terrorists More Opportunities (GITMO) Act of 2008.’

The bill purports to be a response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Boumediene, which it describes as “an obvious effort on the part of the Supreme Court to micromanage the detainment and disposition of detainees in the War on Terror who are dedicated to destroying innocent people and the American way of life.” It directs the Secretary of Defense to transfer the Guantanamo detainees to D.C. and, with the help of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, to “provide shelter for the detainees outside the United States Supreme Court building, but on the building grounds.”

The GITMO Act also specifies that “[i]f any of the nine Supreme Court justices desire at any time to stand guard over the prisoners, or to provide the prisoners with their meals or water, or both, then the justices shall be permitted to perform these functions whenever they want.” Oh, and the detainees get to use the Supreme Court restrooms.

We haven’t got much to say about this other than: “Gee, it sure is nice that our congressmen get to use our nation’s resources to fulfill their thwarted comedic ambitions.” That and, “wow, this is hellza unconstitutional!” Like, old school unconstitutional (1792, baby!). We guess Rep. Gohmert wasn’t paying attention the day his Con Law class covered the fact that Congressional delegation of non-judicial functions to the courts is a violation of separation of powers?

Are you there, Congress? It’s me, Amanda.

Umm, Congress? It’s me. Amanda. How’s things?

Why am I calling? No reason. I just thought, you know, we haven’t really talked in a while. I know, I moved away, and things just haven’t been the same since then. And of course you’ve been busy too, what with the economy headed straight down the pooper and no one having any idea what to do about it. So it makes sense. No hard feelings.

What’s that? General Petraeus’s testimony? Well, now that you bring it up, I do have some thoughts.

So. Here’s the thing. I opposed this war from the start. (Like Barack Obama! Except different!) And I think that General Petraeus is an extremely intelligent, capable general who is doing an excellent job in a difficult situation. (Like Angelina Jolie! Except different!) Cool, right? See, I opposed the war not because I didn’t believe in the WMDs (I didn’t really have any information on that -just like you!), but because I was pretty sure that regardless of the presence of WMDs in Iraq, the war would turn out badly.

I knew that Saddam Hussein had done a remarkably effective job of ensuring that his Baathist party was the only established power structure in the country. And that meant that when we took him out, there would be a power vacuum to be filled. And in the absence of any kind of peaceful political or social structure to fill said power vacuum, conflict would. If you can’t get yourself into power peacefully, you can always try doing it violently!

Hmm? Sure, I’ll hold for snack time. I wouldn’t want them to run out of apple juice and graham crackers before you get there, Congress.

Back now? Great. Where was I? Oh, right. The inevitable power vacuum and the civil conflict that would follow it. That’s where Gen. Petraeus comes in. Because it turns out that one thing our Very Modern Military is pretty lousy at is controlling insurgencies. Everything about our military -from spending, to training, to fighting- is based on our ability to use overwhelming force against slightly-less-overwhelming force. And that turns out not to be much help when you’re trying to protect a town full of civilians against terroristic warfare. To mistquote the great philosopher Cher Horowitz: Oops! Your bad!

General Petraeus, however, is one of the army’s top experts on counterinsurgency warfare (he literally wrote the book on it). He has always been upfront about the resources that would be needed to fight a war like this one, and he has never actually gotten them. The “surge” we’ve all heard so much about? Barely meets his standards for the troops necessary to fight a war like this in the first place.

So we can’t really be surprised that things haven’t gone that well, can we Congress? Of course there has been terrible violence. Being able to command armed fighters gets you a seat at the table. More fighters get you more seats. (see: Moqtada el Sadr, see also: Kenyan powersharing agreement). With enough troops, the U.S. can control the violence. But as soon as it looks like we’re leaving, the violence will surge as the different interests jockey to be in the top position once we’re gone. (You’ve noticed how often the attacks target the police and army, right? Hint: this is not the behavior of leaders with a stake in a peaceful society)

Should we just stay, and wait it out? That’s tricky. To have a lasting effect, we’d have to keep troops stationed until the Iraqis work out a power hierarchy that is stable, and able to process change through civil political processes. Or at least sets up one group that is so firmly dominant that there won’t be change for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, the groups in play are fairly well matched, so that just isn’t very likely. And our presence taints the political process: groups we support are damned by association, and the prospects of those we oppose are unreasonably inflated. So that’s not great.

But if we leave, it will get worse, at least for a while. And the way that it gets worse will be particularly horrible. The different power groups have broken down along ethno-religious lines, so we can assume that the violence against civilians will do the same. So it’s almost certain that civilians will be targeted for harm based on their religion or ethnic group, and very likely that this targeting would escalate into full-scale ethnic cleansing for the same reason. On the other hand, American soldiers wouldn’t be dying there anymore, we would save an estimated 40 squillion dollars, and we could turn our attention to Afghanistan.

Are you still with me? I know this is hard. Maybe next time we have this discussion before we have a war, yes? Wait, what? Iran what?

Let’s recap: two choices. (1) stay the course, prevent large-scale ethnic cleansing, but probably not make any substantial progress. (2) pull out, ethnic cleansing explodes, Iraq becomes a much sadder place.

No more wars for YOU until you can come up with a better idea.

Lieberman takes bold stance against "putting burning coals on people’s bodies" during interrogations

Senator Joe Lieberman, (I-Connecticut), went on record with the Hartford Courant yesterday, saying that he doesn’t believe waterboarding is torture, because “It is not like putting burning coals on people’s bodies. The person is in no real danger. The impact is psychological.”

A few observations:

1) Thank you for this important message on the fakeness of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is the clinical diagnosis for what happens to people’s brains when they are exposed to trauma, psychological or otherwise. Symptoms include physical pain, exhaustion, frequent nightmares, depression, and flashbacks to the original trauma. It is quite something -I once had a client who would actually become narcoleptic when forced to discuss the trauma in his past. Once he fell asleep mid-sentence. Thanks J. Liebs: if it weren’t for you, I would have no idea that he was just a big faker. And don’t forget all those veterans with “shell shock”! They must be fakers too.

2) Wow, impressive medical knowledge! The person is in no real danger? I am SO glad you told me that, because I was under the ridiculous impression that drowning was, you know, dangerous. I know that waterboarding gets a lot of play in the media as “simulated drowning,” but that’s not really right. Sure, your interrogator probably stops before you die. But, as helpful reader Rebecca points out, that’s like saying cigarette burns are “simulated burning.” During waterboarding, the victim is tied to a tilted board, with his head closest to the floor. Water is poured into his nose and mouth (if the mouth isn’t gagged shut), until eventually the victim is forced to inhale it into his windpipe and lungs. Last time I checked, noses, lungs, and windpipes were not designed to be slowly filled with water from the bottom up. (Nor, for that matter, were the sinuses, throat, and mucus membranes of the head and neck.) But thanks to Senator Joe, we now know that they are! It is a miracle of science.

3) It takes a great deal of political courage to take an absolute stand against searing the living flesh of restrained prisoners. Lieberman should be commended for his bravery.

4) I’m glad someone has finally acknowledged the importance of being environmentally sensitive when interrogating the Enemies of Freedom. Psychological torture releases way fewer greenhouse cases than hot coals do!

After the jump, more detailed discussion of waterboarding from new website (link courtesy of boingboing). posts this helpful explanation of the mechanics of what waterboarding is, and isn’t:

“What Waterboarding Is
Waterboarding induces panic and suffering by forcing a person to inhale water into the sinuses, pharynx, larynx, trachea, and lungs.
The head is tilted back and water is poured into the upturned mouth or nose. Eventually the subject cannot exhale more air or cough out more water, the lungs are collapsed, and the sinuses and trachea are filled with water. The subject is drowned from the inside, filling with water from the head down. The chest and lungs are kept higher than the head so that coughing draws water up and into the lungs while avoiding total suffocation.

“His sufferings must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown.”
Waterboarding is not:
upright or face-down dunking: People dunked face-first in water can keep water out for as long as they can hold their breath. When one is inclined with the head back, holding one’s breath will not prevent the upper respiratory tract from filling with water.
asphyxiation: Survivors of near-drowning experiences report that the sensation of water flooding down the larynx and trachea as they struggle to breathe is the most terrifying aspect of the experience. In waterboarding, this begins quickly, long before the onset of oxygen starvation.
submersion: Waterboarding does not require immersion in standing water. Someone can be waterboarded with as little as a canteen or two of water.
slowly dripping water on the forehead: Several types of water-based tortures have been used in Asia, but the famous “Chinese Water Torture” demonstrated in
Mythbusters Episode 25 is very different than waterboarding.
a simulation: Waterboarding is actually forcing large quantities of water into the pharynx, trachea, and lungs, inducing choking and gagging in the subject.”

A Very Special Wrongingrights: Devon Saves the World! Hooray Devon!

Today it is my pleasure to present…… dum da da dum da DA TUM…the first ever Wrongingrights Claire Bennet Award!!!!!

This is all VERY exciting.

For those of you who have not already guessed, the Claire is awarded to petite blondes who Save The World.

The first Claire goes to Ms. Devon Chaffee, for being just like Claire Bennet except with lots more law degree and a little less superhuman self-healing ability. Devon works for Human Rights First, and has worked tirelessly to lobby the Senate to pass Section 327 of H.R. 2082, which states:

(a) LIMITATION.—No individual in the custody or under the effective control of an element of the intelligence community or instrumentality thereof, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by the United States Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations.

(b) INSTRUMENTALITY DEFINED.—In this section, the term ‘‘instrumentality’’, with respect to an element of the intelligence community, means a contractor or subcontractor at any tier of the element of the intelligence community.

Translation for those of you who chose not to drop $100k on a law degree: no more torturing people in U.S. custody. Or at least, no using techniques that are not listed in the Army Field Manual, which for now means no more torturing. (But yes, that probably means that the manual will be given a super-top secret attached addendum that lists everything from “incessant John Tesh music” to “electrodes on scrotum,” but please do not spoil this happy moment.)

This is a very big deal. Ramming legislation like this through the U.S. Congress, whose members can always be counted on to wimp out on civil liberties to avoid looking like they’re wimpy on “terror,” is no easy task. It requires dedication, intelligence, a thick skin, and a willingness to talk to people whose actual job is to make you miserable.

Luckily for all of us who wish to keep our fingernails in their original attached-to-fingers packaging, Devon and her fabulous colleagues were up to the task.
Devon Saves the World! Hooray Devon!

P.S. Among the senators who wimped out on this bill was Senator John McCain, who voted “no.” Memo to Senator McCain: this doesn’t make you look tough. At best it just makes you look calculating, at worst a little bit senile. Everyone knows that you used to have a different position on torture, so which is it? Willingness to compromise on your most cherished ideals in order to con wingnuts into voting for you, or inability to remember what your cherished ideals actually are? Sorry, John, I know that’s harsh. But do you know what else is harsh? Being TORTURED. Oh, wait. You do know that! So what gives?
P.P.S. Full Disclosure: I went to law school with Devon, where we worked on this together.