Jeffrey Gettleman on "Africa’s Forever Wars" – Your Thoughts?

I don’t want to let Jeffrey Gettleman’s article in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, “Africa’s Forever Wars: Why the Continent’s Conflicts Never End,” go by without comment, but I’m having a pretty crazy week, so I’m opening this one to the floor. (That would be you guys, dear readers.)

Points will be awarded for excellence in commenting, on the usual lucky-charms based system.

An excerpt:

“Even if you could coax these men out of their jungle lairs and get them to the negotiating table, there is very little to offer them. They don’t want ministries or tracts of land to govern. Their armies are often traumatized children, with experience and skills (if you can call them that) totally unsuited for civilian life. All they want is cash, guns, and a license to rampage. And they’ve already got all three. How do you negotiate with that?

The short answer is you don’t. The only way to stop today’s rebels for real is to capture or kill their leaders. Many are uniquely devious characters whose organizations would likely disappear as soon as they do. That’s what happened in Angola when the diamond-smuggling rebel leader Jonas Savimbi was shot, bringing a sudden end to one of the Cold War’s most intense conflicts. In Liberia, the moment that warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor was arrested in 2006 was the same moment that the curtain dropped on the gruesome circus of 10-year-old killers wearing Halloween masks. Countless dollars, hours, and lives have been wasted on fruitless rounds of talks that will never culminate in such clear-cut results. The same could be said of indictments of rebel leaders for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. With the prospect of prosecution looming, those fighting are sure never to give up.”

(I guess just saying “exterminate all the brutes” would have been plagiarism?)

International Criminal Law Roundup

It’s been a while since we’ve had one of these, so here’s the news from the tribunals:

  • ICTY: Remember last month when Radovan Karadžić argued that he couldn’t be tried because U.S. negotiator Richard Holbrooke offered him immunity as part of the peace deal, and then U.S. diplomats were like “oh yeah, that totally happened“? (Holbrooke continues to deny it.) Well, yesterday the Appeals Chamber came back with a resounding “nobody cares.” Sorry, dude.
  • ICC: Bashir says international community can stop fretting, he’ll sort out this Darfur war crimes business himself. His own name probably won’t be appearing on any indictee lists, though.
  • Special Court for Sierra Leone: Earlier today the SCSL handed down sentences of 52, 39, and 25 years prison time in the cases (respectively) of RUF leaders Issa Hassan Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao. Last month the three were found guilty on a variety of counts, including the new and exciting forced marriage charge. Also, Charles Taylor’s defense lawyers opened their case on Monday by filing a motion for acquittal, claiming that the prosecution did not present evidence linking Taylor to the planning or execution of the alleged crimes. If the motion succeeds, the prosecutors and their 91 person witness list are going to have some serious explaining to do…
  • Khmer Rouge Tribunal: It’s business as usual over in Cambodia where accusations have surfaced that local staff members were forced to pay kickbacks to the government in order to get their Tribunal jobs. (Totally out of character for the Cambodian government, right?) Meanwhile, apologetic former S-21 prison boss Duch has been testifying up a storm since he took the witness stand last week.
  • Bangladesh: United Nations legal experts will assist the Bangladeshi government with trials of those accused of war crimes during the 1971 independence struggle.
  • Peru: Oh, and getting back to our extrajudicial killings theme, Peru’s Supreme Court found former president Alberto Fujimori guilty of authorizing death squad murders and kidnappings in 1991-1992. Fujimori’s daughter Keiko, a candidate in the 2011 presidential election, promises to pardon him if elected. (Aww…)

File This Under "Things Unlikely to Turn out Well"

Guatemala has sent a group of Kaibile soldiers, the army’s “messengers of death,” to serve as peacekeepers in the DRC.

I do not think this is going to go well.

The Kaibiles are an “elite” group of Guatemalan soldiers who are put through Hell in the jungle in order to turn them into ruthless, relentless killing machines. (Note: not hyperbole. The training center is actually called hell.) Apparently their motto is “If I go forward, follow me. If I stop, urge me on. If I turn back, kill me.” As this guy points out, that outlook is not exactly in keeping with the traditional peacekeeping approach.

According to this information briefing, (issued by notable left-wing organization USCIS), the Kaibiles have a colorful history, including a massacre at Dos Erres in October of 1982:

“Dressed as guerrillas, the Kaibiles arrived in the hamlet at 2:30 a.m., December 6. They forced the inhabitants out of their homes, corralling the men in the schoolhouse and the women and children in the hamlet’s two churches. A subsequent search uncovered no sign of weapons or guerrilla propaganda. At 6 a.m., officers consulted superiors by radio, then informed the commandos they would be “vaccinating” the inhabitants after breakfast. In the early afternoon, the Kaibiles separated out the children, and began killing them. They bashed the smallest children’s heads against walls and trees, and killed the older ones with hammer blows to the head. Their bodies were dumped in a well. Next, the commandos interrogated the men and women one by one, then shot or bashed them with the hammer, and dumped them in the well. They raped women and girls, and ripped the fetuses out of pregnant women. The massacre continued throughout December 7. On the morning of December 8, as the Kaibiles were preparing to leave, another 15 persons, among them children, arrived in the hamlet. With the well already full, they took the newcomers to a location half an hour away, then shot all but two of them. To maintain the appearance of being a guerrilla column, they kept two teenage girls for the next few days, raping them repeatedly and finally strangling them once they were no longer useful”

So, it makes sense to send these guys to the DRC because…they are war-crimes experienced? They have shown their ability to do their jobs under high-pressure atrocity conditions? Because one of the qualities we look for in peacekeepers is “recent involvement with notorious Mexican drug cartels“?
Nice, guys. Real nice.

(For more about the Kaibiles, I refer you to this excellent Global Voices post by Renata Avila)

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.

Wait, Triple A Is a Death Squad???

Rodolfo Eduardo Almiron Sena, a leader of the notorious “Triple A” organization that operated in Argentina during the late 1970s, returned to Artgentina today under the loving supervision of Interpol agents.

Now, you are probably asking yourselves, “Oh no! I myself have partaken of Triple A’s useful roadside assistance services! Shall I become a fugitive from international justice?”

Ahh, readerati. You have fallen into the common “Triple A”/”AAA” trap. But have no fear! I am here to explicate and elucidate!

Old Rodolfo’s Triple A was a notorious death squad that operated in Argentina during the 1970s and is known for murdering over a thousand opponents of the government. It is pronounced “Treeplay Ah,” and is an acronym for “Alianza Anticomunista Argentina” (Argentinian Anticommunist Alliance, but you probably could have figured that out on your own.) They specialized in car bombings, including the attempted murder of leftist Senator Hipolito Solari Yrigoyen.

The AAA, by contrast, are the ones who helped you out that time you thought you had oil in your engine but, in fact, did not. They have never (to the best of my knowledge) been affiliated with their Argentinian namesake. According to its website, AAA offers “a variety of ways to satisfy all your travel needs.” It provides services ranging from “new car buying tips” to “online maps, a convenient alternative to cumbersome printed maps.”

In other words, If Triple A comes after you, you better hope you have AAA.

For those who missed it (we weren’t blogging yet, after all), Rodolfo was initially arrested in Spain several years ago, and was to be tried under the Spanish universal jurisdiction law. However, the Spanish high court decided that he should go home to Argentina to be tried there, because the laws granting amnesty to “dirty war” participants had been overturned. On December 29th of last year, an Argentinean judge issued a warrant for his arrest. He was picked up at a “health center” (spa?) near his house in the town of Torrent, whisked through extradition proceedings, and sent home to face the music.

Oh, and the CNN reports were careful to note that he and the Interpol agents flew economy class to Buenos Aires.

Let that be a lesson to you: Lead a death squad, fly coach.

(Photo courtesy of Trial Watch)