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Saturday, April 12, 2003

Can We Trust Media Reports of the "Humanitarian Crisis"?

Tony Adragna
Let's talk about "prefidy" for a moment... As I've noted often enough, the reason why abusing "protected status" is outlawed is because it makes harder the task of discriminating combatants from noncombatants, and that creates a humanitarian problem vis a vis protecting noncombatants.

Now let's talk about the perfidy of CNN et al. Not only did their feigned objectivity over the last 12 years come at the expense of risk to life & limb of Iraqis, but it also makes harder the taking seriously of reportage right now re the "humanitarian crisis".

I've no doubt that there are problems in Baghdad. But, many of us are wondering whether the "humanitarian crisis" is just another case of media hyperbole, and that's not a good thing in case of an actual humanitarian crisis.

Friday, April 11, 2003

The More I Think About It...

I earlier said that "I can reaspect Mr. Jordan's reason...", but the more I think about the "why lie", the harder it becomes to see any defense of the decision to stay in Baghdad. &c puts it thusly
The thought that probably occurs to the average person as she reads CNN news chief Eason Jordan's New York Times op-ed today--in which he confesses to having withheld intimate knowledge of the Iraqi regime's ghastly atrocities from his audience to protect his employees--is "Well, then why the hell did you stay in Baghdad, pretending to actually report the news?" (Eason and his team were apparently so cowed that they didn't even report a foiled attempt by Iraqi intelligence agents to assassinate CNN employees in Northern Iraq.)[emphasis added]
And an Instareader sends to Glenn
The really moral thing to do, obviously, would have been to pull out of Iraq years ago, instead of allowing Iraqis on CNN's payroll to be tortured so that they could maintain the status symbol of "access" to the regime. This is nothing more than an attempt to preempt the likely damage to CNN's reputation caused by the (accurate) perception that they have been complicit in Hussein's enslavement of the Iraqi people since at least 1991
This second passage captures for me my own faulty reasoning. It's clear that those employees were in danger for their very association with CNN — of course, the right thing to do would have been to not put those CNN employees at risk in the first place! Instead, Jordan thought "access" more important than the life & limb risk to his Iraqi employees.

That's what it looks like, anyway...

Might even be bundled up in some Ritterism: i.e. We knew it might help warmongers, so we kept quiet...

Very troubling...

What Does Scott Ritter Know?

Tony Adragna
When I said, "Scott Ritter Knows, and That Makes His Argument Most Disturbing", I wasn't referencing what Glenn had written on Ritter's knowledge of the children's prisons — I missed that one.

Andrew reprises the story as one of today's "THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY" — wanna know what I'm thinking right now?

[T(h)anks for the heads up, Dan]

Two Faces of Eason Jordan:
CNN News Chief Admits of "The News We Kept to Ourselves"

Tony Adragna
During an October 25, 2002 interview Mr. Jordan made the following representation 'bout CNN reportage from Iraq
[...] CNN has demonstrated again and again that it has a spine; that it's prepared to be forthright; is forthright in its reporting...

[W]e work very hard to report forthrightly, to report fairly and to report accurately and if we ever determine we cannot do that, then we would not want to be there...

We'd very much like to be there if there's a second war; but-- we are not going to make journalistic compromises in an effort to make that happen...
Now Mr. Jordan says, well, there's lots of news he didn't report.

Might this war have come sooner, and more lives spared in the process, if CNN et al reported everything they decided not to? I'm leaning toward answering the question negatively, mostly because we've long known of Saddam's brutality notwithstanding the orts that were left unreported.

In fairness, I can respect Mr. Jordan's reason [if it's sincere] for "having these stories bottled up" — I wish more journalists would put some attention to how their reportage affects the subjects and sources of stories. But let's not pretend that there wasn't a "compromise" — CNN stayed in Iraq despite having made a determination that there were important stories that couldn't be reported at all, forget "fairly" and "accurately."

Addendum: Eugene Volokh says
I actually sympathize with CNN's plight in some measure; and I realize there are various ways of interpreting what Jordan was saying. But I do think the combination of their concealment, and their denial of their concealment, is at least potentially troubling, so I'm passing along both these stories so readers can decide for themselves.[emphasis added]
I disagree with Eugene about this "potentially troubling" — I think it definitely troubling. It's not troubling that CNN wouldn't report these specific news items — as I noted above, Saddam's brutality is generally known, so the stories in question would have needlessly endangered more people.

But why not be honest 'bout the fact that there are stories you won't report, and for good reason? Why lie?

More thoughts above

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Harvard's Claude Bruderlein on
International Humanitarian Law
and the War in Iraq

Tony Adragna
I'll start by noting that the central purpose of the law of war is humanitarian, and that's why the Geneva Conventions, along with the "Protocol I" containing a restatement of the law of war governing conduct of belligerants, is considered "International Humanitarian Law". I'm right with Bruderlein so far. But, he gets to non-answering a question from Fairfax, and the answer seems to me wrong even if it had been directed at the right question... anyway, he writes
The legality of war under international law is not linked to its just/unjust character, but to respect for a procedure described within the U.N. charter. In principle, war is illegal. Only in cases of self-defense or if authorized by the U.N. Security Council can military force be used against another country. In the case of Iraq, most of the Security Council members would argue that they did not authorize the use of force. In that sense, the war is illegal. However, the facts on the ground are likely to reshape the legal configuration of the war, as now European countries have an interest in rebuilding Iraq. We may expect in the coming weeks a "deal" at the U.N. Security Council that would provide some legitimacy to the U.S./U.K. intervention in exchange for a central role for the U.N. system in the reconstruction of Iraq.
Well, I've heard lots of people say that "in principle, war is [immoral]", but I've never heard it as "illegal". I've never understood this argument that UN authorization makes war legal. What about when the UN fails to authorize a war that would be "in principle [legal]", like what happened vis a vis Rwanda? Is something like "strict construction" required in applying international law? You'd think so, except that such a reading of international law makes absolutely no sense where it conflicts with principle.

At least Bruderlein et al concede a right to self-defense, just so long as were not poor souls who can't defend ourselves and need somebody to come to our rescue...

Bruderlein also gets at what I was talking 'bout below
If these spies were members of coalition forces, the fact that they were not in uniform while engaged in hostilities is a violation of international humanitarian law. If they were captured, they would not have benefited from the status of prisoner of war. Although their deployment is legal, spies and mercenaries enjoy far fewer rights under international humanitarian law than ordinary combatants. This should be distinguished from the situation of soldiers wearing civilian clothing to engage in attacks, which is perfidy.
Got that? — the "deployment [of spies] is legal" notwithstanding that they benefit not from the protected status of "prisoner of war" and "spying" is not "perfidy".

Addendum: Just wanted to say a little more on this "UN authorization makes it legal" rationale. Bruderlein says, "The legality of war under international law is not linked to its just/unjust character, but to respect for a procedure described within the U.N. charter."[emphasis added] So, is he saying that as long as the UN signs off on a war, then it's legal whether even if the war is unjust? Is he also saying that if the UN doesn't sign off, then war is illegal even if it's just?

That seems exactly what he's saying, and it flows from the "in principle, war is illegal" point. I think too many people have gotten "principle" confused with "the letter of law". That the UN decides to authorizes/not authorize per it's authority under the Charter doesn't mean that the decision is consistent with principles of law, or even purposes of the Charter.

If the UN calls a just war "illegal" simply because procedure wasn't followed, or an unjust war "legal" where procedure was followed, then international law as expressed in the UN Charter means nothing in principle...

There must be some justification from principle that makes something "legal in principle" — simply filing the proper forms and getting the right number of votes doesn't make it so...

Maybe Russia Oughta Be Next...

Tony Adragna
OK, so the titular suggestion is hyperbole, but the other side of that coin is thinking that Russia — at least its government — is a reliable ally in addressing our concerns. Russia is, of course, looking out for Russian interests, as she should, and those interest will conflict with our own.

Anne Applebaum writes today that we need stop "Playing Russian Roulette", and she builds a strong case
A few days before the United States invaded Iraq, two retired Russian generals received medals from Saddam Hussein's defense minister. Both men had worked, in the past, at the highest levels of the Soviet military establishment. Both were involved in the 1991 coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev and the 1993 revolt against Boris Yeltsin. One of them, Igor Maltsev, was a specialist in air defense. The other, Vladislav Achalov, was a specialist in the use of special forces. When asked by a Russian reporter what he had been doing in Baghdad -- photographs of the ceremony appeared on a Russian Web site -- Achalov refused to say. Instead, he replied cryptically that "if they're awarding you a decoration, it must be for something."


American leaders in general, and this administration in particular, talk a great deal about "American values," yet they persist in believing that it is possible to develop deep, meaningful, strategic partnerships with countries that do not share them. Russia does, it is true, share some of our interests. Putin took a bold and unexpected decision after Sept. 11, 2001, to ally himself with the United States in the war on terrorism. He does seem genuinely interested in injecting more entrepreneurial capitalism into Russia's oligarchic economy. But he still rules over a country whose rogue retired generals sell military advice to Saddam Hussein, whose scientists sell nuclear technology to Iran, and whose army is running one of the world's dirtiest wars in Chechnya. He hasn't shown much interest in free media or open debate, either. Both are slowly vanishing as a result...
I''ve a bit of discomfiture over Anne's final two grafs — certainly "Washington has more in common with [...] Paris [...] than it does with Moscow," but not much more...

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

NO, It's Not A "War Crime"

Tony Adragna
Tim Dunlop asks, "Wasn't dressing up as civilians meant to be a war crime, a violation of the Geneva convention and just plain not fair?" Then he points to a Pentagon defense of U.S. Special Forces' wearing of civilian clothes as if there's some hypocrisy.

The wearing of civilian clothes by combatants is not per se a "war crime". It is only a war crime to do so in pursuing a course of action defined as "perfidy"[i.e. if our troops, relying on noncombatant immunity, walked into an Iraqi installation dressed a civilians, then pulled weapons out of concealment]. In fact, as previously discussed here, the 1977 "Protocol I" legitimizes the wearing of civilian clothes in combat so long as arms are carried openly in the period immediately preceding engagement, etc.

Where our Special Forces folks run afoul of the law of war while in civilian clothes is vis a vis whether or not they are protected by the Geneva Convention's articles on the treatment of "prisoners of war"...

Monday, April 07, 2003

Washington Post Wins Three Pulitzers —
Colbert Gets His!

Well deserved kudos
Columnist Colbert I. King won for commentary for his columns "that speak to people in power with veracity and wisdom."
Thr crew at Darrell's Barbershop are right prouda Colbert — so are we! [and so is Jack Shafer

Read Colbert King's winning columns...

Confused Court Comments Concerning
Cross Coflagration Controversy

Tony Adragn
The Supremes decided Virgina v. Black et al — the cross burning case — today, Will. The majority came down close to where I thought the problem is found — the "prima facia" language as construed is on its face unconstitutional.

I don't know how else it can be construed, though...

I think the Virginia Supremes shoulda never consolidated the cases...

Update: Eugene Volokh gives a brief summary on what Virginia v. Black says. That's about how I read it, too.