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Posts Tagged ‘Clinton

Guantanamo and the Executive Branch

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When Kennedy, who serves on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled in February that Uthman was being improperly detained, his 27-page opinion was turned over to a court security officer for classification review.

The judges themselves have very little insight into the process and no sway over what is redacted. Government security officials review filings in the habeas litigation and other cases involving classified evidence and remove sensitive information.

In the Uthman case, that clearance process took three weeks. Kennedy’s decision was stamped “Redacted,” by the court’s security officer and returned to his chambers on March 16. The deletions were minimal. For the first 16 pages, the only word blacked out was “secret,” stamped at the top and bottom of each page.

Kennedy’s clerk added the document to the electronic court file late in the day. Twenty-five hours later, the security office sent out urgent notices to attorneys and the judge that the opinion had not been ready for release and needed additional deletions. The decision was promptly removed from the public docket.

In a closed hearing in his courtroom four days later, Kennedy lashed out at the government for releasing classified information. He and Justice Department attorneys then argued over what to do, according to three sources familiar with the discussion.

Kennedy insisted that the reasoning behind his first habeas ruling be made public. But the Justice Department resisted releasing it in redacted form, arguing that blacked out portions would call attention to the exact material the government wanted to conceal.

This is an excellent report by Pro Publica (not a surprise, they’re the best around at that). But beyond what Pro Publica reports, we as a society can often be in a rush to make everything a political decision, but sometimes it’s just as simple as a bureaucratic error. While the detention involved presidential decisions, the redaction decisions are of a much lower pay grade. One of them got screwed up, with no easy way to make it right. Regardless of whether detention at Guantanamo or elsewhere was done correctly, poorly, or somewhere in the middle, this situation could still exist.

It’s also hard to jump to conclusions about the impact on the judge when the judge will not say what it was:

Kennedy’s original opinion noted that Uthman was seized in Parachinar; that he reached the town after an eight-day trek from the Afghan town of Khost, nowhere near Tora Bora; and that his journey to Pakistan began around Dec. 8, 2001. Those facts make it difficult to portray Uthman as a fighter in a battle that took place between Dec. 12 and Dec. 17 at Tora Bora. Two footnotes in the original opinion note that the government does not contest that Uthman was taken into custody in Parachinar.

Both were removed in the second opinion and Kennedy substituted wording to write instead that Uthman admitted he was seized “in late 2001 in the general vicinity of Tora Bora, Afghanistan.”

The intent of this editing may have been to conceal the role of the Pakistanis in capturing al-Qaida fighters although those details were long ago declassified. But the effect was to link Uthman more closely to the retreat of bin Laden and his inner circle through Tora Bora.

It is unclear precisely what restrictions or classification requests guided Kennedy’s alterations. Neither the judge nor the Justice Department would say.

Gillers said such editing has an effect on public opinion, even when it doesn’t change the outcome of the case.

There are two competing interests in government redacting: protecting national security and protecting the prosecution. Not surprisingly, both of these institutional interests are alleged:

Officials at other agencies said they had a fairly free hand in removing information supplied for the government’s case. “Whenever a court security officer identifies a document slated for posting on the court’s public docket as potentially containing classified information, the officer refers that document to appropriate agencies for classification review,” Maj. Tanya Bradsher, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, said.

One government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity acknowledged that the classification process has been plagued with inconsistencies and that no one is coordinating the effort. In most declassified habeas filings, the names of all detainee-witnesses are removed; in others, a name or two slips past the redaction process.

Some government-ordered deletions clearly appear designed to conceal names of confidential informants, associations with foreign intelligence services and the identities of certain federal agents. But the Uthman case shows that many of the deletions go further.

“This censorship has nothing to do with protecting ‘national security’ and everything to do with covering up government mistakes and malfeasance,” said Jonathan Hafetz, a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law who has represented a number of detainees in habeas litigation. The practice, he said, allows the government to “mislead the American public on issues of profound importance to the country by skewing the perception of who really is at Guantánamo.”

The question is not if both of these interests exist; even if one or both did not, there would at least be a perception of both. The question is how to address them. And the only way to do that is from outside the executive: Congress, the Supreme Court, or ideally both somehow would act in a way to ensure fair procedural safeguards.

The problem is that both institutions have essentially abdicated any responsibilities related to war whatsoever. This has long been the case with the Supreme Court. The laissez-faire attitude peaked in the Korematsu decision that refused to condemn the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two. The series of detainment decisions culminating in Boumediene were meaningful but the impacts, as we have seen, have been basically to give far outside limits. And the Congressional action, from the AUMF on, has been absolutely shameful.

My main problem is that for some reason people expect the executive to change this unilaterally. That will never happen. There are four reasons why this won’t happen:

1) No executive is going to be able to completely rid bureaucrats of a desire to protect prosecutors.

2) No president will unilaterally get prosecutors to be more forthcoming on issues of national security, especially when pushing for trust of the national security apparatus is the first thing any new President must do (particularly those with a history of perceived antipathy).

3) Add to this the overwhelming pressure to protect America. No President wants to release the guy who ends up creating the next 9/11 or Cole bombing. Voters would punish that proportionally far more than they would reward a President for releasing someone who the president thinks may just be a mild risk.

4) Presidential leadership on Guantanamo is not the most important variable in change. I thought Jamelle Bouie’s post on this was on the mark:

Yes, Guantanamo closure was a core issue for President Obama, and yes, it was a core issue for his liberal supporters, but it wasn’t a core issue for the Democratic Party, and it needed to be for any chance at success. Given unanimous and vocal Republican opposition to the administration agenda writ large, Guantanamo closure was virtually certain to become a bitter partisan fight. For success, Obama needed a certain level of pro-closure consensus among congressional Democrats. Absent that consensus (and combined with public pressure to the contrary), it was no real surprise to see the White House avoid confrontation: Given limited resources, limited power, and the choice between a hard fight with a small chance of success, and a hard fight with a moderate one, the administration felt best served by investing its resources in the hard fight with moderate chance of success, i.e., health-care reform.

In other words, like Bill Clinton and gays in the military, Guantanamo closure was a high-profile fight that lacked strong support within and outside the party. Obama could have invested further resources in closing the base, but he would have lost ground with health-care reform, stimulus, and other competing priorities. This isn’t to minimize Obama’s failures or the extent to which he has simply embraced large elements of Bush national-security policy, but you can think of an issue like Guantanamo as the price of presidential ambition. When there are many things on the executive plate, some of them have to go by the wayside. This, unfortunately, was one of them.

You can add to this that every electable politician on Guantanamo had the same position as Obama or was much further right (see Romney offering to double Guantanamo). This is why it frustrates me that so many on the left expend all pressure on the matter at Obama, and not on Congress, who is actually 1) pliable and 2) can be changed without massive collateral damage elsewhere.

Obama signed an executive order to close Guantanamo. What happened? The Senate foreclosed any such action by a 90-6 vote. That’s right. Ninety to six.

Until and unless Congress is pushed to engage more on detainee action, the executive will be on an island alone; the Supreme Court will determine the boundaries of that island but little more.

**Edited this post to make clear that the Pro Publica report was -not- politicized.


Written by John Whitehouse

April 25, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Sunday (4/3) Cote D’Ivoire / Ivory Coast Thread

with 5 comments

Circumstances have created a gap in my coverage, but let’s catch up. Photo from here, used under a Creative Commons license.

11:45 EDT: The United Nations evacuated 200 staff members from Cote D’Ivoire after 4 members were seriously injured yesterday while attempting a humanitarian mission. This leaves only UN military personnel on the ground, which are largely French.

–The Young Patriots of Gbagbo called for people to form a human shield around Gbagbo’s Presidential residence (BBC video). Gbagbo continues to call for all his supporters to essentially martyr themselves. With that kind of fervor and nationalism, there’s not much that can be done by anyone. Hopefully the sanctions cut off Gbagbo’s funds, but that’s a long game, not a quick solution.

I would describe the Young Patriots as essentially an ethnic gang that Gbagbo controls directly. I don’t even know how much money plays into it. If money is a small part, then things really are going to get even worse in the capital.

–CNN has a good background primer on the conflict if you haven’t been following it yet. I would like the part about international intervention rephrased if I had my druthers — France and the US are pushing to do marginally more, but short of close, urban, bloody conflict there’s not much to be done — but that’s quibbling. And by the way, no one has the stomach for that kind of interference in Libya either. A nofly zone (or no fly zone plus) for Cote D’Ivoire makes no sense, as French forces are in control of the airport, and the fighting in Abidjan is too close for air support to do that much.

I’d like more UN support regarding refugees, but that’s a different matter altogether (and I could say the same thing regarding about 50 places on the planet).

–France took over the Abidjan airport late yesterday to evacuate foreigners they had been protecting in a camp (although I’ve seen reports previously that the UN was in control of the airport, and UN forces are French forces. So I’ll have to clarify that). France also now has 1,500 troops in the country.

–The story in Duekoue continues to get worse. This story says that Gbagbo forces were burning people alive who were not native to the region. Then the Ouattara forces (FRCI) came along and then made matters worse with massive amounts of revenge killing:

On the outskirts of Duekoue to Niambi, the streets are deserted. The city was almost entirely burned, according to an AFP reporter who saw many charred bodies in the rubble of houses. 150 people sleep in classrooms.

“Here the militia and Liberian mercenaries in Colombo killed 20 people before the arrival of FRCI,” Gao said Kouadio Hubert capita Niambi. “They burned our houses, looted our property and even raped our women,” he says, adding: “So, when FRCI arrived, we had avenged it, they burnt their houses and they killed those that could also kill. ”

He was unable, or unwilling, to say the number of people killed in these acts of vengeance.

The spiral of violence has hit a dozen towns and villages around Duekoue, according to testimony gathered by the AFP.

Diahouin, a small town located 11 km from Duékoué and hence is from one of the commander of pro-Gbagbo militia calling itself the “Rambo”, was no exception.

Kouadio Kouanté, Diahouin resident, said: “before the arrival of FRCI, there were killings on killing. Militiamen and Liberian mercenaries (pro-Gbagbo) attacked the quarters of allogeneic They chased us and we went bush. There have been dead at least 40 “.


12:15 EDT: Andrew Harding from the BBC is on the ground in Cote D’Voire and is tweeting @hardingbbc. His most recent is from Duekoue: “Bodies everywhere here. 100 more found in past two days. UN soldier cries and holds up four fingers. One for each dead child he has seen.”

12:20 EDT: Sarkozy held meetings today regarding Cote D’Ivoire, but it’s not clear what can be done. Laurent Gbagbo has made the UN and France part of the enemy as far as his supporters are concerned (translated):

Ivorian state television controlled by Gbagbo diffuse violent messages against France. “The Rwandan genocide is being prepared in Côte d’Ivoire by the men of Sarkozy. Ivorian Ivorians go out en masse and occupy the streets, “said a ticker. “The French army occupied the airport Felix Houphouet-Boigny (Abidjan), we are in danger,” said another banner. A government statement said already Saturday that Ouattara “is from a mobile because of the clan that hackers are trying to resurrect Gbagbo RTI to continue their propaganda to destroy Ivory Coast.”

Ban Ki-Moon also called for action against the perpetrators of the massacre in Duekoue.

12:25 EDT: Sec. Clinton and FM Hague made strong statements on Cote D’Ivoire:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded Sunday that Gbagbo step aside immediately.

“Gbagbo is pushing Cote d’Ivoire into lawlessness,” she said, using the French name for the country. “He must leave now so the conflict may end.”

She also called “on the forces of President Ouattara to respect the rules of war and stop attacks on civilians.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague Sunday said Britain “renew(ed) our call for Gbagbo to get out, which would stop this violence,” and raised the possibility of International Criminal Court prosecutions stemming from the conflict.

It’s good that they made these statements, but I’m not sure it matters within the country. Perhaps the specter of ICC prosecution will make the FRCI more likely to listen to Ouattara. That’s the best case scenario.

12:30 EDT: A horrifying tweet from BBC Cameraman Christian Parkinson:  “We are in the west of Ivory Coast – bodies everywhere, smell intolerable. Report on tonights late BBC News.”

This Al Jazeera article is a nice summary of the recent events of the past day.

A short report in French about the foreigners that France evacuated. Nationalities were predominantly French but included others, including Lebanese. 167 foreigners were flown to Dakar, Senegal.

12:45 EDT: UNOCI is so far staying with the estimate of 330 killed in Duekoue, but that really is starting to seem unrealistic as more reports come in.

More on Gbagbo inciting violence against UN forces.

12:50 EDT: There was a lull in fighting Sunday in Abidjan, and many residents went looking for food, water, and supplies that may or may not even be there to get:

Residents of Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan braved sporadic shooting and ventured out on Sunday to pray, get water and buy food after being trapped in their homes during three days of intense fighting.  Forces loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo and those of his rival, presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara, have battled in Abidjan neighborhoods but local people took advantage of a relative lull on Sunday.  “Many people went to church to pray to God to stop the war in the country,” said Sylvie Monnet, a resident of Yopougon, a neighbourhood north of central Abidjan.  Some residents had little choice but to venture out. “We have nothing more to eat at home. I have just a single fresh fish at home and after that, I do not know what to do. It is really difficult,” Pamela Somda, a student told Reuters TV.

12:55 EDT: The AP reports that Ouattara forces are gathering in northern Abidjan, and may number in the thousands. (French language liveblog link)

1:05 EDT: An Ouattara minister tells the BBC that only 162 were killed in Duekoue. That seems way too low.

1:15 EDT: Sarkozy’s meeting was attended by Henry Raincourt, Minister of Cooperation, Gerard Longuet, the Defense Minister, Edouard Guillaud, Chief of Defence Staff, chiefs of staff François Fillon and Alain Juppe. It has now adjourned. No announcements are expected.

1:20 EDT: The International Crisis Group called for a ceasefire from both sides. They additionally call for:

  • The UN mission (ONUCI) must deploy all its available formed police units (FPUs) within Abidjan, as well as military troops, and reinforce its presence in the west of the country, particularly in and around Duékoué, Guiglo, Blolequin, Toulepleu and Daloa. Troop contributing countries should also accelerate deployment of soldiers up to their maximum mandated capacity of 11,000 (as opposed to 9,000 on the ground now).
  • The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union should mobilise all international partners, including the EU and the US, to bolster ONUCI’s efforts.
  • Ouattara, the Forces républicaines and its commanders, including Prime Minister Guillaume Soro and their regional sponsors, should take all measures to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. They should understand that international support for Ouattara’s election victory, and his legitimacy, will quickly evaporate if their military campaign becomes responsible for mass atrocity crimes.

There’s no stomach in the international community, as far as I can tell, for that sort of massive ground action. Moreover, given Gbagbo’s rank nativism, those forces would just turn into targets almost immediately.

1:30 EDT: The ambassador from Cote D’Ivoire (Ouattara) to France said that more French intervention in the country would be “normal and natural” but did not give indications of what he would request or what the French are thinking of.

2:05 EDT: 50 fighters from the Young Patriots (Gbagbo group) tried to take the Abidjan airport but the French Foreign Legion repelled the attack. Sarkozy also spoke three times on the phone with Ouattara today. (French link)

2:15 EDT: Sarkozy made an announcement that I’m having some difficulty translating so far, but it seems to be that he wants all French citizens evacuated. But I’m going to keep checking on this.

Fighting is underway in the Oscars district between the SDS and invisible commandos.

–Al Jazeera has published an article about France seizing the airport.

2:25 EDTConcise background on the difference between the UN operation (UNOCI) and the French operation (Unicorn):

In 2002, when civil war broke out in the former French colony, French troops deployed to prevent northern-based rebels marching on President Laurent Gbagbo’s government. A contingent from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) followed soon after.

After a first ceasefire between the government and rebels in 2003, France pushed for a United Nations peacekeeping force to be sent. The United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) deployed in 2004, taking over from ECOWAS, but France’s Operation Unicorn remained on.

Unicorn’s mandate is now principally to support UNOCI, but it can ‘if need be, ensure the security of French and foreign nationals’ in Ivory Coast, according to the French Defence Ministry.

3:15 EDT: The BBC posted 3 compelling personal stories from people in Abidjan, I’d recommend reading it. France is also voluntarily evacuating people to Togo, though it seems possible that could be a general evacuation shortly of foreign nationals.

3:30 EDT: Ouattara’s government claims that state TV could be run from a mobile van anywhere in Abidjan. This seems odd, given that 1) it would likely have to still broadcast to the station where it’s going out (bypassing the station entirely seems unrealistic) and two, Ouattara’s government makes no claim to actually be in control of the station to begin with. This communique just seems very odd.

4:30 EDT: Gbagbo’s camp rejected the accusation that mercenaries paid by him slaughtered 100 people in the west of the country.

5:45 EDT: We’ve heard about the amassing forces north of Abidjan, and Senam Behaton (@SenamBehaton on Twitter) says that the battle could last days – and if it fails, the city could be the new Beirut.

–The French have no plans to expand their forces beyond the airport, but Gbagbo’s camp nonetheless called them an occupying army without a mandate.

6:00 EDT: It truly feels like the calm before a great storm today:

Only about 20 miles separates the thousands of pro-Ouattara foot soldiers readying for battle from the lagoonside district where the presidential palace and mansion are located.

A resident of the Cocody neighborhood where the mansion is located said around 700 Gbagbo supporters had gathered at the gates of the compound Sunday, after state television, still controlled by the entrenched ruler, called on the population to form a human shield to protect the presidential palace. The resident, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, said the supporters had been armed with AK-47 assault rifles.

Toussaint Alain, Gbagbo’s representative in Europe, told reporters in Paris that Gbagbo is not giving up.

“President Gbagbo, I have said, is at the residence of the head of state, his usual workplace, and he is managing the crisis with teams that have been put into place to deal with this aggression coming from the outside,” Alain said. “It’s not up to America or France to decide who must lead the Ivory Coast.”

The Malian Embassy is overrun:

At the Malian Embassy, more than 2,000 Malian nationals have taken refuge after Gbagbo’s forces began attacking citizens of neighboring African nations. Mali, like most countries in Africa, has followed the United Nations position, calling on Gbagbo to step down and angering his supporters, who have carried out revenge killings.

“People are sleeping in the basement and in the halls. There’s no more room,” said Nouhou Diallo, a Malian community leader huddled inside. “The water was cut off yesterday. We’re scared to go out but we were so thirsty today that some of us ran across the road to get water from the lagoon.”

And even though the French took the airport, the roads to the airport are far too dangerous for anyone to travel on:

Even if the airport is now secure, however, it was close to impossible to reach.

Troops loyal to the defiant Gbagbo opened fire with automatic weapons on a three-car convoy that attempted to drive through Abidjan on Sunday morning, blasting out the windows and wounding one of the passengers, said driver Ahmed Yoda.

A United Nations armored personnel carrier was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade a day earlier, seriously injuring four peacekeepers.

Given what has happened and what seems about to happen in the coming days or even weeks, this feels more like the eye of the storm.

6:05 EDT: The full statement of Sec. Clinton:

“We are deeply concerned by the dangerous and deteriorating situation in Côte d’Ivoire, including recent reports of gross human rights abuses and potential massacres in the west. The United States calls on former President Laurent Gbagbo to step down immediately. His continuing refusal to cede power to the rightful winner of the November 2010 elections, Alassane Ouattara, has led to open violence in the streets, chaos in Abidjan and throughout the country, and serious human rights violations. Gbagbo is pushing Côte d’Ivoire into lawlessness. The path forward is clear. He must leave now so the conflict may end. Both parties bear responsibility to respect the rights and ensure the safety of the citizens of Côte d’Ivoire.

“We also call on the forces of President Ouattara to respect the rules of war and stop attacks on civilians. President Ouattara’s troops must live up to the ideals and vision articulated by their elected leader. At the same time, we call on the UN peacekeeping mission to aggressively enforce its mandate to protect civilians.

“As President Ouattara takes the reins of government, he must prevent his troops from carrying out reprisals and revenge attacks against their former foes. The people of Côte d’Ivoire await and deserve the peace, security, and prosperity he has promised, and that they have for so long been denied.”

I’m not sure what else the US could say, and I’m not sure what they could do that would actually make the situation better. As I mentioned above, I don’t find the “have western powers solve it now” position very tenable.

6:10 EDT: Gbagbo’s men seem ready to martyr themselves:

“There has been no fighting here. We are awaiting the resumption of hostilities at any time and we are prepared to defend ourselves and maintain control of Abidjan by all means,” a pro-Gbagbo officer at the presidential palace told Reuters.

“Taking Abidjan will be tough, no one should think that we will easily abandon our positions. We are determined to go through to the end,” he said.

A Western diplomat said an attack had been planned on Saturday on the presidential residence by forces backing Ouattara, but it didn’t happen, possibly because of the human shield of Gbagbo’s youth supporters around it.

I still don’t see how this situation gets any better. (I also don’t see how the west could change then; all the west could do is try to negotiate a solution, but that would just incentivize the next person in power from leaving even when election results are clear).

From the same article, France is still talking about evacuating its 12,000 citizens in the country, but I have no idea how – the roads to the airport are deadly; and any other way out (land or sea) is probably even more so.

6:15 EDT: Things I would love to know: what the U.S. Defense Attaché Office for Cote D’Ivoire thinks of the conflict.

6:30 EDT: If you’re looking for good background on the previous French intervention and coup, I’d start here. What it lacks in style it makes up for in content.

–The hospital of Man, 88 km to the north of Duekoue, has received 46 people with bullet injuries in the past week, and is still receiving injured people even though fighting is over withm indicating violence may be ongoing.

The director of the hospital in Man, the largest in western Côte d’Ivoire plagued by political and ethnic violence, said Sunday at the AFP he welcomed in his establishment “46 wounded by gunfire “Since Monday, March 28.

“Since the beginning of hostilities on Monday until today, we received 46 people injured by bullets,” he told AFP William Kouassi, director of the regional hospital (CHR) of Man to a reporter from the AFP’s questions on an influx of wounded in his establishment raised by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

“As fighting between armed forces on the main western cities have ceased March 31, new wounded continue to arrive at Danane, Man and Bangolo,” MSF said in a statement released Sunday. “The number of new casualties is extremely disturbing and indicates that violence continues in this area,” says the NGO.

“I’m surprised to be told that the hospital of Man is overwhelmed because of the war,” assured Mr. Kouassi. “For cons when hostilities began, the wounded were pouring in Bangolo. I went there, serious cases were referred at the CHR of Man is among them we counted 46 injuries severe Monday until today, “he added.


6:40 EDT: One thing the west can do is speed up humanitarian aid as quickly as possible. The situation is dire:

The provision of basic social services has been suspended in many parts of the country. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, over 500,000 people have fled Abidjan in the past few days. In Duékoué and other western towns, people have fled for safety to the surrounding forests, or have sought shelter in sites or with host families already affected by the ongoing crisis.

More than 30,000 people are living in two IDP sites in Duékoué. Numerous corpses are strewn throughout the city’s streets. An estimated 250 displaced children are living in the forests, and soldiers from the peacekeeping mission are trying to reach them. Some 10,000 people who fled the town of Péhé and its surroundings have lost everything they own.

The affected people, mainly women and children, are in dire need of food, non-food items, shelter, health and sanitation services, among other things, which aid agencies have started distributing, while the identification of new sites for displaced people is underway.

“We are facing a serious humanitarian crisis with daunting protection challenges. We are ready to assist–but we cannot do so amidst flying bullets and in the absence of law and order. We call on the parties to observe a cease fire to preserve human lives and allow us to start assisting the civilian population,” Mr. Ngokwey said today in Abidjan.

7:00 EDT: In a sign that the battle is not at an end but rather in the middle somewhere, the chief General for Gbagbo’s army left asylum at the South African embassy and is back in charge of the army:

Ivory Coast army chief General Philippe Mangou has left the residence of the South African ambassador in Abidjan and rejoined forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, a military source told Reuters on Sunday.

Mangou had sought refuge with his family at the residence Wednesday night as forces backing presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara seized large swathes of the country in their push to unseat Gbagbo who has refused to cede power.

“General Mangou come back to take up his duties at the head of the army today,” the source close to Gbagbo’s forces told Reuters.

It’s still unclear how Gbagbo can pay his side or how long their supplies will hold out for.

7:15 EDT: This Al Jazeera video gets at how dangerous it is, including for the press.

7:25 EDT: I’ve mentioned Man, but Doctors without Borders says freshly injured are still arriving in hospitals in Danane and Bangolo. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that given the gravity of the situation, we still know very little about the extent of harm done.

7:50 EDT: A compelling summary of the challenges presented by Penelope Chester at UN Dispatch:

A key battle for Abidjan has begun, and it’s very difficult to predict how exactly this will end. If history is any guide, we can look at how the second Liberian civil war came to an end in 2003: a protracted siege of Monrovia by rebel forces, ongoing peace negotiations in Ghana and support (both military and political, by the end) of the U.S. and the physical removal of Charles Taylor were responsible for ending the conflict.

The siege of Abidjan, the country’s seat of power (even though Abidjan is not the official capital of Côte d’Ivoire, it is the political and economic heart of the nation) by pro-Ouattara forces moves this crisis from conflict to civil war. The longer the siege lasts, the more the population will suffer and the worst the humanitarian consequences. As we noted here recently, the human rights situation in Abidjan is perilous.

What is happening now in Côte d’Ivoire is the result of unsuccessful diplomacy efforts and negotiations led by regional organizations ECOWAS and the African Union, which, after the other, failed to find solutions. It’s also a failure of the broader international community. The United Nations Security Council, France, the U.S, the European Union have all been “condemning” the violence, and repeatedly asked Ggabgo to step down. International organizations – including the West African Central Bank – cut funding. In spite of all these efforts, the conflict has escalated out of control. Tens of thousands of lives are at risk, and we really have no idea just how bad this conflict will get before it gets better.

This keeps coming down to the fact that Gbagbo is willing to do more to stay in power (like using the Young Patriots as human shields) that no one else yet is willing to top. (And this is putting aside the atrocities almost certainly committed by forces loyal to Ouattara). When a despot is willing to use children/young adults as human shields and because of the nativism that he spouts those people are willing to do so, that should be called for the tyranny it is.

8:00 EDT: Senam Beheton points out that Mangou’s move to leave asylum is suicidal for his family.

8:20 EDT: Why the far right in America and France loves Gbagbo: he’s a pioneer of their version of Christianity, nativism, and economic conservatism. Hell, there’s even their version of birtherism. This translation from French is rough, but telling:

It’s been over ten years that criminals in the Ivory Coast prepare a genocide against the peoples of North and against “foreigners”. The origins of this crisis, a concept that crystallized the hatred of some of the Ivorian political class against an individual which is to be prevented at all costs by all political and legal means, to power politics. According to proponents of the concept of it Would there Ivorian strain of centuries, the true Ivorian blood pure, preferably Christian faith and the Ivorian fact, come to enjoy the economic boom of Côte d’Ivoire. In addition, they arrogate to themselves the rights to political hegemony with the claim to govern the nation Ivory Coast. The concept of “ivoirité was thus lethal weapon to disqualify Alassane Ouattara from any claim to the nomination a few elections whatsoever in Côte d’Ivoire.

In 1995 he was thus prevented from running for the presidency. In July 2000, a Constitution was adopted to measure him against an article which stipulates that any presidential candidate must be Ivorian by birth and born of Ivorian-born parents. This article was explicitly candidacy of Alassane Ouattara, then presented as Burkina Faso.

The concept of Ivoirite was gradually extended to all those who wear Yankee-sounding names: Ouattara, Bamba, Coulibaly, Soro, Konate. Etc.. A real witch hunt was organized against these “foreigners” to hegemonic pretensions. The harassment, humiliation, or even systematic physical violence were the daily lot of these “foreigners”. At military checkpoints or police, people are rackettées northerners, their identity cards torn and tattered. Denied their Ivorian identity.

[. . .]

In this position, [Gbagbo] presents himself as a victim of the global capitalist and imperialist forces arrayed against a president who claims a desire for independence. It is hoped the alliance and patriotic groups and progressive Africa. Moreover, riding the trend of the moment, he can expect the support of evangelical Christians-cons Alassane Ouattara, presented as a dangerous Islamist, as an outgrowth tropicalized Al Qaeda.

Inhofe and Le Pen are somewhere nodding their heads off. The rest of the article isn’t as interesting, as it tries to test Gbagbo’s faith.

8:45 EDT: Graphic video is emerging of the massacre in Duekoue. This is from the BBC (reporter and cameraman I mentioned above). Warning, it’s graphic.

9:05 EDT: Rare good news from Cote D’Ivoire. Caritas, the charity that reported that 1,000 had been massacred, had a priest abducted two days ago. That priest now has been released:

The director of Caritas in Abidjan, Father Richard Kissi, has been released unharmed in the Ivory Coast after being kidnapped by an armed group two days earlier, said a statement on the Caritas Internationalis website.

“Fr Richard Kissi was released today. He is doing well and has already reached the parish of Notre-Dame de Treichville where he is based,” said Jean Djoman, Director of Human Development at Caritas Côte d’Ivoire.

Fr Richard Kissi had been kidnapped on March 29 while he was heading to Anyama, a suburb of Abidjan, to evacuate seminarians at the “Grand Séminaire” after violent clashes had taken place in the area.

“We do not have any further elements on the circumstances and the motives for his kidnapping yet,” said Mr. Djoman.

That is good news.

9:15 EDT: Ouattara’s PM today reiterated the call for prosecutions of anyone who committed war crimes:

Investigations of reported massacres in western Côte d’Ivoire will be conducted and those responsible will be punished, said Sunday evening Guillaume Soro, Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, Gbagbo recognized by the international community.

“The Ivorian government’s position is clear: there is no impunity. We will investigate and those who are responsible – because we want a rule of law – will be punished,” he said in an interview broadcast by the international francophone television channel TV5MONDE.

In the heat of a civil war, I don’t look for Ouattara or allies to throw himself or his entire army under the bus. That’s unrealistic. But promising serious investigations and prosecutions is good, it’s necessary, and he should follow through on it. And the international community should absolutely threaten ICC involvement if he does not.

9:30 EDT: Nigeria has played a key role in discussions at the Security Council regarding Cote D’Ivoire. ECOWAS is a regional group, but essentially is dominated by Nigeria.

10:00 EDT: The BBC has put up pictures from Cote D’Ivoire.

10:30 EDT: Is the real problem in Cote D’Ivoire France?

Laurent Gbagbo started life as a youth activist who openly challenged the venerable Old Fox of Yamoussoukro before it was fashionable to do so. He and his wife Simone Ehivet Gbagbo, both of them university academics, were often in and out of prison. Gbagbo’s credentials in democratic struggle are unassailable. However, having been in power since 2000, he has outlived his relevance. He has disappointed his followers by preserving France’s monopolistic privileges over such public utilities as water, electricity, telecoms, roads and oil. His record in economic management has been, quite frankly, weak.

As for Ouattara, a large section of Ivoirien youth view him as the candidate of the French, Burkinabes, Malians and Senegalese; and of the World Bank and IMF, where he once served in the exalted position of Deputy Managing Director.

He is no doubt a competent technocrat. His problem is his backers; comprising a ragtag of mercenaries that make up the ‘forces nouvelles’ and shadowy reptilian types from places as wide apart as Ukraine, Lebanon and Iran. Ivoiriens will not forget in a hurry that it is these people that unleashed a civil war on their country.

At the root of this tragedy is the economic divide between the north and the south. There is also the brooding figure of Blaise Compaore across the border. Over 2 million Burkinabe migrant workers have provided the labour in the cocoa and coffee plantations which have sustained the Ivoirien economy. He could not be expected to ignore their fate. Félix Houphouët-Boigny failed to bequeath a legacy on which an orderly constitutional order could be established.

There is also the stranglehold of France-Afrique which has made nonsense of Ivoirien sovereignty for all these years. Some 85 per cent of the cash flow of the country goes through the BCEAO, the regional central bank of the French-backed West African Economic Community, to the French Treasury which has veto powers over how the Francophone countries can spend their own money. The French have arrogated to themselves the right of first refusal for public works contracts and the most lucrative raw materials concessions.

If Ouattara manages to actuate his internationally acquired prize, he would still have to address these realties, including the nitty-gritty of governing his own people. Ahead is not the bliss of summer, but a night of icy darkness and toil, to echo Max Weber.

I don’t have the ability to verify all the claims in there, so I’ll just pass it along with that warning. But while I’ve been focusing on the short run, the long run for Cote D’Ivoire is hardly roses; these are real problems only made harder by serious internal discord.

12:00 EDT: Last update today. Ouattara’s PM Guillaume Soro said the situation was ripe for a quick attack in Abidjan. We’ll see, I guess. The sooner this is over, the better, but the only path I see to a quick end involves either lots of blood or a sudden change of heart by someone involved.

Crystallizing the Dissent on Libya

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Ross Douthat (via Adam Serwer):

Libya is (we can hope) a far smaller affair than the invasion of Iraq, and thus a far less dangerous venture. But we seem to be recapitulating the same kind of mistakes: We’re intervening against a regime that should be a second-tier problem for the United States (at best!), and our plan for victory is ambiguous, to put it mildly. Getting hung up on U.N. resolutions and Arab League endorsements seems like a way to evade the more important question, which is not whether this war is multilateral but whether it is wise.

The bolded sentence is undoubtedly true. There’s no serious question whether the action is Constitutional, and the only people even mentioning that are people who don’t like it. For anyone who’s read about the steel seizure case,we are definitely operating in the Jackson twilight zone here. (I’ll leave the jokes on that to someone else for once; rest assured I find the reaction of someone unfamiliar with that case to be hilarious). So let’s finally leave the legal aspect of this in the rear view mirror.

But that does leave the serious question about whether it is wise. And aside from Douthat’s concerns, we know very little about what the intentions of the administration are. And that’s precisely the point: we need the administration to publicly and clearly clarify why they went in, what the goals are, and what happens if air power is not enough (I just listened to Adm. Huebel on a news conference call avoid that very question). This is not a military question but a political one. In particular, this is for Tom Donilon, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and Hillary Clinton, if not Joe Biden himself or even Obama addressing Congress.

I tend to support the action, but I understand people are skeptical, and they have valid reasons for doing so that shouldn’t be assuaged by anyone blogging, be it a random guy like me or someone plugged in like Tom Ricks. It’s time the Administration started moving to answer those questions, especially now that it’s clear it’s going to become a NATO operation in the very near future.


Written by John Whitehouse

March 23, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Foreign Policy, Law

Tagged with , , , , , , ,