WTF Friday, 7/25/2014

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted on Wednesday to establish an international commission of inquiry into possible war crimes committed by Israel during its current Gaza offensive. Of the 47 Council members, 29 voted in favor, 1 (the U.S.) against, and 17 abstained.

Gaza vote

UNHRC Gaza votes

Four months ago, I was in the Council chamber as another probe into possible war crimes was debated. Here is the outcome of voting on that resolution, which established an international investigation into alleged abuses at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009:

UNHRC Sri Lanka votes

UNHRC Sri Lanka votes

Notice anything?

With the exception of a handful of Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries, almost everyone has flipped their position.

This is interesting (or depressing, depending on how you look at it) because when countries explain their votes, they almost always speak in absolutes. In March, I heard numerous Western countries stress the legal obligation to provide justice for international crimes and the duty of the Council to stand with the victims of human rights abuses. I heard non-Western countries object categorically to “country-specific” resolutions (i.e. initiatives that single out a country for censure or investigation without its consent) and emphasize that the Council must respect sovereign governments and avoid an interventionist approach.

This week, it appeared that none of these positions were particularly deeply held.

*Photos of the vote board are courtesy of the United Nations office at Geneva.

The Senate Should Confirm Nina Pillard Already

I wholeheartedly support Cornelia “Nina” Pillard’s nomination for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, because she is awesome. Professor Pillard taught two of my classes at Georgetown, so I can say from personal experience that she is a smart, diligent, judicious thinker. She is also a triathlete with practically-bionic strength. (That is less relevant to her judicial nomination, but still cool. Her exploits in the law school’s gym were legendary amongst my classmates.) The Senate should confirm her already.

I am not the only one who thinks that Pillard would be an asset to the federal bench. Here is Professor Viet Dinh, former deputy Attorney General under George W. Bush, and probably Georgetown’s most famously conservative faculty member, on Pillard’s qualifications:

“She is a fair-minded thinker with enormous respect for the law and for the limited, and essential, role of the federal appellate judge– qualities that make her well prepared to taken on the work of a D.C. Circuit judge. I am confident that she would approach the judicial task of applying law to facts in a fair and meticulous manner.”

And here is a statement from a group of 40 prominent attorneys who practice before the Supreme Court, including several who served in senior roles in the Reagan and Bush justice departments:

“We believe that Professor Pillard would bring to the D.C. Circuit unquestioned professional integrity and intellect, a breadth of experience, and dedication to fairness and the rule of law. We urge her confirmation.”

And yet, if you listen to the Republican members of the judiciary committee and the denizens of the National Review echo chamber, Pillard is some sort of crazed radical who probably shouldn’t be trusted with young minds, let alone federal cases. Never mind that she has assisted dozens of litigants, from all points on the political spectrum, pro bono as part of Georgetown’s Supreme Court Institute. Never mind that she collaborated with Dinh and the Bush Administration to litigate (and win) Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs before the Supreme Court. No, apparently Pillard is “out of the mainstream,” and would be “the most left-wing judge in the history of the republic.”

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Greetings from Guatemala!

Hola from the Land of Eternal Spring/Land of Eternal Shenanigans in Genocide Trials. That’s right – I’m in Guatemala.

Yesterday morning I went to observe the Rios Montt/Rodriguez Sanchez genocide trial. (Why, what do you do on your vacation?)

The highlights:

  • Rios Montt’s entrance. He shuffled into the room, looked around, and then walked over to the prosecution table and shook hands with each lawyer, one by one, before waving and blowing them a kiss. It was so bizarre that I still can’t quite believe I saw it, but I’m reasonably certain that I did. I was too far away to hear their conversation, but Xeni Jardin was closer, and she said that it was “mostly small talk.”
  • My successful achievement of a nearly 1/1 correlation between “hours spent on an airplane” to “minutes of trial observed.” After Judge Barrios called the hearing to order, she explained that Rios Montt’s attorney, Francisco Garcia Gudiel, had called her this morning to complain that he was suffering from “problemas de salud,” (health problems) and would therefore not be attending the hearing. Without him, it could not proceed. (The judge’s decision to temporarily eject Garcia Gudiel at the beginning of the trial has proven to be a problem for the tribunal. So, unsurprisingly, she seemed unwilling to take any risks, even though the lawyer’s sudden “illness” is highly suspect.) I think the whole thing took about six minutes, from “all rise” to the dismissal for the day.
  • The dress code: jeans and linen for the human rights lawyers. Suits for prosecutors and defense lawyers, and a couple of nervous-looking students in the audience. (I wore my usual NYC work clothes, which led to me being mistaken for one of the aforementioned nervous students. Oh well.) Spectacular traditional dress for the Ixil women, but button-downs and slacks for the Ixil men. And one extremely snappy red skirt suit for Judge Barrios.

WTF Wednesday, 2/27/2013

Team Wronging Rights is heading to Boston for the next few days (if you’re in town, come hear Amanda and Texas in Africa speak tomorrow), so here’s your weekly dose of absurdity:

Dennis Rodman, a.k.a. “The Worm,” is currently on a “basketball diplomacy” mission to North Korea, along with three members of the Harlem globetrotters. Their trip is being filmed for a VICE special that will air in April. Given VICE’s track record in Liberia and Congo, I think we can expect something really special. Meanwhile, Rodman’s just hoping to meet Psy.

H/T: Ben in Lusaka.

Kony 2012: It’s Baaaack!

Amanda and I will be participating in the Congo in Harlem panel “Kony 2012: Lessons for the Congo” this Friday. Come check it out if you’re in New York.

Meanwhile, the new Kony 2012 video, “Move,” dropped yesterday, and it’s… well, not really even interesting enough for me to finish this sentence. See for yourself:

There’s a neat screenshot of Amanda and my first Atlantic piece at 15:23, but otherwise it’s mostly just crying. (See Katie J.M. Baker’s Jezebel post for the full run-down, plus coverage of Jason Russell’s Oprah interview.)

At minute 28:53, they finally get down to business and announce a march – or an invasion, it’s hard to tell – on the White House next month. Apparently, I’m not the only one who had difficulty establishing what, exactly, the plan is. The Guardian reported it as follows:


11:18am update: I’m still not clear on what the new campaign is, but apparently it involves a Global Dance Night. For reals.

(H/T: @AfricasaCountry for the screenshot)

WTF Friday, 4/13/2012

“Others recount being warned by white neighbors not to slaughter animals for festive occasions, or being mistaken for a prostitute simply for having drinks in a bar full of white patrons.” Wow. #capetowndoessoundawesome.

Give freedom to children around the world through the stats of your favorite baseball players. For example, you can pledge $1 every time Matt Holliday hits a home run, or you can give $5 for every game your favorite team wins.” Pressure’s on guys. I know it’s early in the season but you better start playing well or these humans are gonna get trafficked all summer long.

“Not only President Chavez but certainly his supporters and certainly the people handling his political campaign are taking full advantage of [his illness]. And I think it would be crazy for them not to do so.” Yea, that’s what would be crazy.

WTF Friday, 3/16/2012

This week in first world problems: “‘It’s not cheap like it used to be,’ laments Dale Weathington of Kolcraft, an American firm that uses contract manufacturers to make prams in southern China. Labour costs have surged by 20% a year for the past four years, he grumbles (emphasis mine).” This sounds like the curmudgeonest dude in history. Also I’m pretty sure he makes an imaginary product.

“Sixteen civilians [have] been killed in a shooting spree by a U.S. officer stationed in Afghanistan…The incident is the latest in a series of widely publicized self-inflicted setbacks for U.S. forces in recent months. In February, Qurans were mistakenly burned as garbage at a military base in Afghanistan, which led to deadly riots. In January, a video of U.S. forces urinating on Taliban corpses surfaced on the Internet.” Reaction from Newt Gingrich: “We’re not prepared to be ruthless enough.” Just so everybody has it straight, to Newt Gingrich, massacring civilians and pissing on corpses counts as not ruthless enough.

ICC celebrates its decennial with…a verdict!

WTF Friday 3/9/2012

After years of American rappers doing it or resisting it metaphorically, Swazilanders are literally throwing rocks at the throne.

“The Taylor aide believes that his boss is not on trial for crimes in Liberia but rather in Sierra Leone and, therefore, he deserves his pension benefits as former head of state here.” Honestly I think it’s messed up that he had to export his war crimes just so he could get his pension. The game is rigged.

This is just about the antithesis of Kate and Amanda’s article at The Atlantic (shameless plug). Giving “why not” as a justification? Check. Hyperbole about the power of social media and “awareness?” Check. Totally predictable opinion (from a teenager) about whether Kony is chill or unchill? Check. (Spoiler: hes goes with “terrible”). Baselessly optimistic prediction? I think we have a winner.


WTF Friday, 2/24/2012

No there is one strategy and it is called “freedom.”

“Church officials promote what they call ‘natural’ family planning: women are advised to track their cycle and abstain from sex on all but their least fertile days.” I gotta get in on the ground floor of some fertility mood rings.

“…photographing mosques, eavesdropping on conversations inside shops, and keeping files on Muslims who Americanized their names — amounted to looking around, ‘just to kind of get familiar with what’s going on. We don’t target individuals based on race and religion,’ [Bloomberg] said.” Yea, I mean Muslims going to mosques and Americanizing their names, that’s just stuff that’s “going on” in New York. So I just hope they have a huge file on Jeremy Lin cuz that’s what’s really going on in New York.

Beware Of "Invitations" From "Government Personnel"

As many of you know, the CIA has gone to extraordinary, dubious lengths to keep its illegal rendition program secret by invoking the “state secrets” privilege to shut down litigation about it. Unfortunately for them, they apparently forgot the “don’t hire squabbling sub-contractors who will sue each other and make everything public anyway” bit of that plan.

Apparently, the CIA subcontracted with Dyncorp for the rendition flights, which in turn hired and Richmor, both “small aviation companies whose previous experience involved flying sports teams across the country,” to provide planes and crews. The latter two subcontractors are now embroiled in a billing dispute with each other in upstate New York, and have introduced substantial details of the program as part of the court record there.

Their sports-team experience apparently meant that they were a little slow on the uptake initially:

At first, the subcontractors thought they were working for the State Department, which gave Richmor official letters saying it was providing “global support to U.S. embassies worldwide.” The letters also authorized Richmor to deviate from stated flight plans.

They caught on pretty quick, though:

One letter is dated March 1, 2003, the date of the capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. That suggests that the Richmor plane was used to transport him out of Pakistan, but there is no invoice for the relevant flight in the court record.

Ryan, Richmor’s attorney, said the company president became aware of what the planes were actually being used for shortly after the flights began.

“It was obvious,” he said. “They flew to Guantanamo and Germany and the Middle East with regularity.”

Or, as Richards put it while on the stand: “We were transporting government personnel and their invitees.”

“Invitees”, eh?

Enough details of the rendition programme generally have now been disclosed to know that men on these flights were usually sedated through anal suppositories before being dressed in nappies and orange boiler suits, then hooded and muffled and trussed up in the back of the aircraft. The precise conditions in which suspects were transported on Richmor flights are not known.

Well, sure. As anyone who has ever come to my apartment for dinner knows, forcibly administering anal suppositories is just a standard part of being a gracious hostess.

Although Richmor reportedly earned more than $6 million over three years from its participation in the CIA program, they were apparently none too happy once their involvement became public.

The Richmor plane — tail number N85VM — was identified publicly in 2005 after it was used in the rendition of Abu Omar, a Muslim cleric who was snatched off the streets of Milan and flown to Egypt. The company was managing the plane for its owner, Phillip Morse, vice chairman of Fenway Sports Group, parent company of the Boston Red Sox.

Richmor changed the tail number of the Gulfstream and complained in a letter to Sportsflight that it became the subject of “negative publicity, hate mail and the loss of a management customer as a consequence of the association of the N85VM with rendition flights.”

It’s true, the worst part of finding oneself involved in an illegal rendition program is that damned negative publicity. It’s like the public doesn’t even understand how much private jet owners suffer when they get paid $6 million to help kidnap people.

h/t @chrisalbon, @NaheedMustafa