Another War of Jenkins' Ear

Resist The Pointless

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Ivory Coast / Cote D’Ivoire Thread (4/4) Morning/Early Afternoon

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10:00 EDT: Live blog now up. If you missed it, I had two posts on Cote D’Ivoire already today. The first on the continuing shame of James Inhofe supporting Laurent Gbagbo, and the second on why both sides are attacking the UN and why intervention will not work.

This is going to fill up quickly – I have about 25 open tabs each with an important story. So keep coming back.

Picture to the right from here, used under a Creative Commons License from the Department for International Development.

10:05 EDT: I mentioned this in the second post from above, the Ouattara’s ambassador to France attacked the UN for not stopping the massacre in Duekoue. He also denied responsibility of any of Ouattara’s forces. The former was impossible to do, the latter is an outright lie. Everytime an Ouattara spokesman says soemthing encouraging like there will be no impunity for anyone, it’s immediately covered up by something like this.

10:15 EDT: Oxfam has new podcasts up from the field in Cote D’Ivoire. Give them both a listen.

10:20 EDT: Al Jazeera is reporting that Gbagbo has been arming men and getting them ready for this fight for years. Others he’s using as human shields. Meanwhile, Ouattara’s force, the FRCI has 9,000 men ready to fight in Abidjan.

–Penelope Chester expands on her comparison of Cote D’Ivoire to Liberia from yesterday:

Laurent Gbagbo’s desperate hold on power is profoundly reminiscent of Charles Taylor’s in Liberia. Like Taylor, Gbagbo has his most loyal men controlling key areas, while he continues to sit in the presidential palace. Monrovia’s unique geography played into the hands of advancing rebel forces, who were able to isolate Taylor in the center of Monrovia by taking over bridges leading into the city. In Abidjan, the layout is different, but, similarly to Monrovia, there are islands and bridges, which are strategically important in urban warfare – whoever gains control of access routes has the advantage.  The airport, which is currently controlled by UN and French forces, is on an island. The presidential palace sits on a peninsula.

I don’t know how long this siege will last. Gbagbo will not step down, and will not leave easily. The best case scenario is that he’s currently negotiating exile conditions in a third country and will get airlifted with his family. Worst case scenario is that the presidential palace where he sits is stormed by rebels and he is killed. At this stage, I’d say both of these possibilities are equally as realistic.

It’s our responsibility to bear witness to what is happening in Cote d’Ivoire now. Unspeakable crimes have already been committed by both sides of the conflict, and will continue to happen. Media and public attention are not silver bullets, but along with the real threat of prosecution, may help attenuate the levels of violence. At least, that is my hope.

If Gbagbo was willing to leave in exile, I think he would have done so by now. Hopefully, for everyone’s sake, I’m just being overly pessimistic.

10:40 EDT: Elizabeth Dickinson at Foreign Policy sees the same worst case scenario that I do, and notes that it won’t be over even when Gbagbo leaves:

How did we end up here? After months of warnings that this country was on the brink of civil war, it has now been allowed to fall from the precipace. And it looks as if the world is fresh out of ideas about what to do from here. Economic sanctions failed to squeeze Gbagbo into retirement; so did enticements and final offers for amnesty. Everyone — Washington, Brussels, Paris, the U.N. — is calling for the protection of civilians. Clearly that’s not enough. Paul Collier had an interesting idea a while back to force defections within the army around Gbagbo, but that seems a bit late now.

So here’s what’s probably going to happen: Ouattara’s forces, which are arguably the legitimate army in this country, will likely be allowed to fight on until Gbagbo is eventually ousted. Everyone will yell and scream that civilians should be protected in the meantime. But everyone knows that this crisis doesn’t end until Gbagbo goes, and again, we’re fresh out of other options.

I’m not convinced that it even ends then — after Gbagbo is forced out one way or another. Remember, this election was contested on a relatively close vote, and Gbagbo does retain support from much of the population. As much as Ouattara has talked about being the president for all Ivorians, the story on the ground is looking more complicated to piece together. This is about more than two men’s egos at this point. It’s about a country, back in civil war. And if we’d like to prevent a protracted armed conflict, maybe it’s time to start plotting out options if it comes to that.

This is going to get a lot worse.

10:45 EDT: Gbagbo’s government is attempting to block internet access to critical websites:

The Côte d’Ivoire Telecommunications Agency (ATCI) announced in a directive dated 24 March that it intends to block access to several independent and anti-Gbagbo websites. Reporters Without Borders has obtained a copy of the directive and is distributing it.

“Internet operators and service providers are prohibiting access from within Côte d’Ivoire to the following websites: http://www.abidjan.net, http://www.lavoixdugolf.net, http://www.connectionivoirienne.net, http://www.primaturecotedivoire.net, http://www.koaci.com, http://www.lebanco.net and http://www.informateur.net,” says the directive signed by ATCI director-general Sylvanus Kla.

“This list is not exhaustive,” the directive continues. “This decision is adopted in the strict framework of National Defence and Public Security and takes effect from the date it is signed [24 March].”

“The websites targeted by this act of censorship continue to be accessible although six days have elapsed since the ATCI directive,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “Does this entity really intend to censor them or is it a warning or act of intimidation towards those who operate them?

Not surprising that they’d try this. It’s a little surprising that they haven’t actually gone through with it. Does Gbagbo not control that any more?

10:50 EDT: No idea what the source for this or if the person is reliable, but Twitter user @JeannetteMallet writes: “URGENT: According to a witness,#Gbagbo plans to bomb the Cathedral of St. Paul in Plateau & implicated the FRCI.” (FRCI being, again, Ouattara’s force).

She says this is what she has been told directly. Wit honly one source, and reported on Twitter, I would not put a lot of stock into it.

11:00 EDT: Russian oil company LUKoil have suspended operations in Cote D’Ivoire, per a Russian news agency (second hand twitter account link). It’s unclear if this will change Russia’s position on Cote D’Ivoire, but it’s already too late for the UN to do much of anything, as noted above). More on LUKoil here and here.

11:05 EDT: France is organizing French citizens in Abidjan in preparation of an evacuation that has not yet happened.

11:15 EDT: Information out of Abidjan is scarce, but there are some reports massive food inflation is starting to occur as supplies run low.

–In case you wanted a more recent link for the socialists supporting Gbagbo’s thugs, see here. I’m comfortable being on the other side of them and Le Pen, thank you very much.

11:25 EDT: Breaking News; Ouattara’s FRCI has started its offensive in Abidjan just recently. More as it happens. As they say, Developing…

–Enduring America has some background on the conflict, making one important point: while religion is important to some outside observers (think: Le Pen and James Inhofe) it’s not as important to those internally, and both the north and south are mixed between Christian and Muslim. The nativism of Gbagbo is more ethnic and less religious.

–Andrew Harding blogs about his experience reporting in Duekoue:

A group of Ivorian soldiers are sitting in the shade at nearby roadblock. We must have driven through 30 just like it to reach the town. The men are supporters of the man recognised as the winner of last year’e elections, Alassane Ouattara. They, and militias linked to them, swept through the region early last week, seizing huge chunks of territory from forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power. This was one of the few places – leaving aside the main city, Abidjan – where they seem to have encountered serious resistance.

“Us? We didn’t kill any of them,” says a young soldier insistently. “I was injured myself. It was the militia groups – they were fighting each other.” The UN soldier comes over and wags a finger: “You mustn’t kill them,” he says. “If you have prisoners, bring them to the authorities. No more killing.” They nod. But the UN man tells me that they’ve rescued several prisoners from cars in recent days. They suspect they were being driven out of town to be killed discreetly.

We run into Anne-Marie Altherr, deputy country director for the International Commitee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who is organising the collection of bodies. “It’s really difficult,” she says. “There’s been a lot of dead people. It’s definitely tough work – especially for the volunteers because they’re from here so it’s their community.”

But significantly, she says she won’t discuss numbers. The death toll has become a hotly disputed, highly sensitive issue. Last week, the ICRC said 800 were killed. Then another aid agency, Caritas suggested 1,000. But the UN has quietly disputed, and scaled down, those figures, and so – furiously – have officials from Mr Ouattara’s government.

Horrible.

11:30 EDT: In case you were wondering, the UN issued a new call to protect civilians in Abidjan that will likely be ignored.

–Justin Elliot flags a piece on the connections between Gbagbo and James Inhofe, this time Inhofe trying to get Gbagbo a job in America:

Inhofe sometimes has framed his interest in Africa in religious terms, once calling it “a Jesus thing,” and he told The Oklahoman two years ago that he first went to the continent at the urging of Doug Coe, the longtime organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

Gbagbo and his wife are evangelical Christians. Ouattara is Muslim.

Inhofe knows Gbagbo and his wife, which is why Yamamoto reached out to him. Inhofe said Yamamoto told him that there would be a teaching position for Gbagbo at Boston University and a job for his wife.

Boston University hosts the African Presidential Archive and Research Center, which, according to its website, “provides residential opportunities for democratically elected former African heads of state.” The center is headed by Charles Stith, the former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania.

Responding to an inquiry from The Oklahoman, Stith said Friday that the residency program at the center is for African heads of state and government that leave office as a result of the democratic process.

“Had Gbagbo left office after the election (even under protest regarding the process and outcome) he could have been considered a prospective candidate for our program,” Stith said. “Given that he is likely to be carried out of office on a rail or spit, the issue of a residency opportunity at Boston University or anywhere is moot, at this point.”

I was not aware that evangelical Christians are permitted to use human shields to protect themselves when they lose elections.

11:40 EDT: France now has 1,650 military personnel in Cote D’Ivoire, and they are actively protecting about 1,800 foreign nationals at the military camp of Port-Bouet. About half of the foreign nationals are French.

11:45 EDT: When I hear someone like Glenn Beck accusing Ouattara of murdering babies, the first thing I think of are the internal dynamics of the FRCI, which are not easy for outsiders (even well informed ones) to understand. This is Reuters giving it a go:

But sources in and around the Ouattara camp say the hesitation is also at least in part to do with divisions among top military brass jostling for influence in a post-Gbagbo government.  Fighters following Ibrahim “IB” Coulibaly — a key figure in the so-called “invisible commandos” whose guerrilla tactics have foxed Gbagbo forces across Abidjan in recent weeks — say their allegiance is to IB, not Ouattara.  “IB wants to be president. He is an idiot,” Wattao told Reuters dismissively at the weekend.

An equally plausible explanation is that he and other commanders are simply biding their time for the right moment militarily — but the question is how long they can wait.  A source inside Ouattara’s camp denied that there were divisions within the ranks, adding that the final assault was taking a little longer than expected because they wanted to secure gains first.

At their camp, some of Wattao’s men noted that Sunday’s ration of bread came without the usual tin of sardines.  But the overall mood at the camp remained calm, almost jokey.  To much laughter, one man dressed in police uniform handed out pink parking tickets to drivers of pick-up trucks loaded with machine-guns that were parked in a row in the middle of the empty motorway.

This is one reason I’ve been saying that investigations and prosecutions are more important than laying blame at the Presidential level – because we don’t know what happened, and we don’t know the dynamics of power. This is where the international community can help (if and) when things calm down – by ensuring there are such investigations and prosecutions.

11:50 EDT: South Africa joined in the condemnation of violence in Cote D’Ivoire. They also explained how Gbagbo’s army chief Phillippe Mangou left the South African embassy yesterday to rejoin Gbagbo:

Asked why Gbagbo’s army chief, General Phillippe Mangou, who had sought asylum with his family in the South African embassy in Abidjan, had left on Sunday, the minister said: “I’m not in the Ivory Coast but I know he sought refuge in our embassy and there are conditions in asking for such refuge.

She confirmed that Mangou had chosen to leave.

“We don’t know why as conditions were as they would be internationally.”

So basically, they’re saying Mangou just left his family there in the embassy to go back out and likely martyr himself?

11:55 EDT: Oxfam is tweeting pictures of the work they are doing in the region, here supplying water to refugees.

–Along with Mangou, another Gbagbo supporter mysteriously reappeared with no explanation:

Charles Ble Goude, who also was invisible from the start of the offensive of the Republican forces in Abidjan, made his reappearance on the RTI. Like all patriotic leaders of the galaxy that had preceded it, the emblematic leader of the Young Patriots called for the mobilization of all supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, including asking them to assist the army in its search operations.

Taking good care not to cross certain red lines, Charles Ble Goude reiterated the arguments already developed by the whole entourage of Laurent Gbagbo: Côte d’Ivoire is engaged in a war against the rest of the soldiers and pro-Ouattara operating with the complicity of UNOCI and France.

12:00 EDT: Looking for an inspirational story amidst all this? How about an American with Ivory Coast connections anonymously going back to the country to basically be the tech support for Ouattara. Why anonymous? Because he has family in Abidjan who would probably die immediately if his name got out. This is a wow story:

So the American, who owns a high-tech communications company in the U.S. that does business in Africa, got the call. Would he come back to Ivory Coast to help Ouattara fight an information war he was losing?

The American insists on anonymity for fear of violence against his family, some of whom are in Abidjan, which has seen its narrow dirt alleys become a killing field.

“They’re actually trying to find out who is helping” Ouattara, says the American, 45, who left Ivory Coast 30 years ago and is a friend of the president-elect.

Before the American came on board, Ouattara had no presence on TV, while Gbagbo’s state-owned television station accused rebels of massacres and claimed the United Nations was guilty of a genocidal conspiracy with France to kill Ivorians and install a foreigner to rule the country. Ouattara’s fighters briefly got hold of the station Thursday but Gbagbo’s fighters took it back and have used it to call on young militias to fight to the death for Gbagbo.

[. . .]

With Ouattara and his government trapped by Gbagbo forces in Abidjan’s Golf Hotel since December, the American took over a restaurant in the hotel and turned it into a pro-Ouattara television station.

The American also set up an FM radio studio and created a satellite link, more difficult for Gbagbo to scramble than the terrestrial channel.

It’s a daily battle of wits, as Gbagbo’s experts try to scramble Ouattara’s signals by broadcasting on the same frequency. “I try to anticipate their next move,” he says.

Stop what you’re doing and read this. Would you do what this person did? I’d like to think I would, but who knows.

And by the way, if we’re talking about American exceptionalism, this is the peak of it for me. This is the best of what Americans can do and what America means.

And now, back to the depressing side of the news.

12:10 EDT: Ian Birrell highlights what a big problem it is that certain leaders in Africa refuse to leave power:

The events have also served to highlight one of the biggest issues facing Africa: the reluctance of Big Men such as Gbagbo to leave office. We have just seen this in Uganda, where Yoweri Museveni used state patronage to cling on to power after 25 years despite once admitting Africa’s problems were caused by “leaders who overstay”.

There are 19 elections due in Africa over the next 18 months, including a critical poll this week in Nigeria. There needs to be a far tougher line against despots who refuse to be dislodged. The African Union must show leadership while the west should stop showering them in aid and selling them weapons. Just as in the countries north of the Sahara, new generations need leaders who represent them, not repress them.

This is indeed a good point; all the benefits a democracy brings are only effective if leaders abide by the results of free and fair elections. When that does not happen, nothing at all works. We’ve seen that across the globe.

12:15 EDT: Action Against Hunger has posted 6 pictures of refugees on facebook. I’ve posted one here under a Creative Commons license.

Texas in Africa thought of a great way citizens elsewhere can help those in Cote D’Ivoire: by getting free SMS messaging if possible:

This is a fantastic idea, and one where ordinary people around the world can get involved. Many Ivoirians, especially those in Abidjan, have been afraid to leave their homes for a few days now, and most shops in the city are closed, meaning that people can’t buy top up cards for their mobile phones. Also, many Ivoirians haven’t been able to work for several days, meaning that even if they could find top up cards, they wouldn’t be able to afford them. Orange, MTN, and Moov could provide a huge public service (and get lots of positive publicity) by opening up their networks to allow free SMSing during this crisis. I would gladly donate to a fund to help cover the costs of doing so – and I bet I’m not the only one.

Here’s information on how to contact the corporate offices of Orange, MTN, and Moov. I’m using corporate offices at the highest level because it may be hard to reach the offices in Cote d’Ivoire right now. If you have any other suggestions, please note them in the comments below.

  • Orange is part of France Telecom. Contact their Corporate Social Responsibility office by filling out the form here.
  • MTN Group is based in South Africa and only provides phone numbers and physical addresses. This is why Skype exists; spend the 20 cents and call them on +27 11 912 3000 or +27 11 912 4123.
  • Moov is based in the UAE and its operations are under the Etisalat trade name. Fill out their online feedback form here.

[. . .]

UPDATE: A couple of commenters point out that SMS services have been turned off in Cote d’Ivoire for several weeks per Gbagbo’s orders. I don’t see any reason that the phone companies could not override that order, but perhaps I’m wrong. At any rate, asking for free airtime and for the companies to do all they can to get the SMS networks running is also worth our while.

Any reason this can’t happen?

12:20 EDT: A list of some doctors available in Cote D’Ivoire.

12:25 EDT: The United Nations threatens helicopter attacks? Umm, OK.

Choi Young-jin, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Ivory Coast, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme: “We are fast approaching a tipping point.  “We are planning action, we can no longer condone their [Mr Gbagbo’s forces] reckless and mindless attack on civilians and the United Nations blue helmets with heavy weapons.”  “We are now in a way under siege, so we cannot go out freely, [they’re] targeting us with snipers, it’s a deliberate shoot at United Nations.

“For the last few days we have 11 [peacekeepers] wounded by their gunshots. They are targeting the headquarters, they cut off the water… and we are now in the bunker.”  The special representative said the 9,000 troops who are part of the UN mission in Ivory Coast (Unoci) did not have a mandate to dislodge Mr Gbagbo, but they did have the powers to respond to heavy weapons attacks against the UN or civilians.  “We will be using our air assets,” he said. “We will be taking action soon,” he added.

The UN in Ivory Coast has a Ukrainian aviation unit with three Mi-24 attack helicopters, as well as lightly armed Mi-8 and Mi-17 utility helicopters.  It says 20 of its peacekeepers have been injured in total since the recent crisis began in the West African country.

I’m sure they can do some good this way, but this is just going to make the UN even more of a target and entrench Gbagbo even more, since his whole rationale is that the world is trying to dislodge him, the good Ivorian. It’s nonense, of course. But in the close urban combat of Abidjan, what can helicopters really do if they can’t actively support Ouattara’s forces because they have no mandate to get rid of Gbagbo? At the most, they could protect the road to the airport to get civilians out. Beyond that I’m highly skeptical of this UN force being effective in the least.

12:30 EDT: Proving that the bond market, does, in fact, control everything, Cote D’Ivoire’s bond fell as traders became less optimistic of a quick resolution in the country:

In Ivory Coast, the $2.3 billion 2032 bond suffered a setback as fighting continued between rival presidential claimants. The bond XS0496488395=R which rose last week, on hopes incumbent Laurent Gbagbo would soon be forced out, fell 1.7 points to 47.6 and the yield rose 0.4 percent.

“(Abidjan) has not fallen as quickly as some people anticipated, so there could be a certain amount of profit-taking,” said Stuart Culverhouse, chief economist at Exotix brokerage.

12:35 EDT: More details are emerging on the Ouattara offensive in Abidjan:

A convoy of several dozen vehicles containing heavily armed pro-Ouattara troops and outfitted with mounted machineguns entered Ivory Coast’s main city at midday, the first elements of a large force that had massed on the northern outskirts for what they called a “final assault”, according to a Reuters eyewitness.

Heavy machinegun fire and a few explosions could be heard minutes after they entered the city limits.

The commanding officer of the forces, Issiaka “Wattao” Ouattara, told Reuters he had 4,000 men with him plus another 5,000 already in the city. Asked how long he would need to take Abidjan, Wattao said: “We know when it starts, but could take 48 hours to properly clean (the city).”

[. . .]

Speaking on Sunday on the pro-Ouattara TCI television channel, Ouattara’s prime minister Guillaume Soro said their strategy had been to encircle the city, harass Gbagbo’s troops and gather intelligence on their arsenal.

12:45 EDT: In case you were wondering, here is the report of witnesses saying Ouattara’s forces massacred people in Duekoue.

–Al Jazeera launched a Cote D’Ivoire “spotlight” page, which basically looks a lot shinier than this.

1:00 EDT: Reports are emerging that the UN headquarters in Abidjan are under siege. They are not confirmed, yet, and I’m not really sure how they could be unless the UN itself says so. (So far, it’s just from a “UN man”). For what it’s worth, I believe it, though we don’t know which side is doing the sieging. Gbagbo’s side (either the Republican Guard or Young Patriots) would be my guess but there’s no way to know for sure.

1:10 EDT: John Irish on France’s position in Cote D’Ivoire:

Unlike in Libya, Paris has extensive political and economic interests in Ivory Coast and 12,000 citizens, including 8,000 dual nationals, on the ground there.

The precedent guiding Sarkozy is his anxiousness to avoid scenes in 2004, when militiamen hunted down French people in Ivory Coast, prompting the French army to evacuate them from rooftops, in retaliation for France’s support of the north in a 2002-03 civil war that split the country in two

[. . .]

“France must stay within its U.N. mandate to protect civilians which is what it’s doing by increasing troops,” said Bouquet said.

“This is already a lot because it means they will have to move around town with armoured vehicles and nobody doubts that the Gbgabo camp will accuse France of interfering.”

France (and the UN for that matter) has basically two options here: protect it’s citizens and hold the airport, or get foreign nationals out and let happen whatever may happen. For all I know they’re complicit in getting it to this point. But now it doesn’t matter how many meetings Sarkozy has, unless he can convince Gbagbo to leave this is not going to end well.

1:30 EDT: A UN helicopter did, in fact, fire on a Gbagbo military camp in Abidjan. A sulfur smell is reported nearby.

1:40 EDT: Humanitarian assistance is rushing to refugees and the displaced:

Humanitarian agencies are rushing to help thousands of displaced people in Ivory Coast who are in urgent need of assistance. Tens of thousands, for example, have crowded around a Catholic mission in the western town of Duekoue. Too many for what little food and water are available.

Jean-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, said, “Currently, IOM has deployed in Duekoue, alongside Caritas, colleagues from UNHCR and the World Food Program, and what we’re doing at the moment is carrying out the very first registration of the displaced. Obviously, the needs are enormous. Access to potable water remains very difficult and also to latrines. Obviously, action will be taken to and prevent the spread of diarrheal diseases.”

There’s also a short audio clip.

That wraps up this thread. I’m moving the live blog to a clean thread here.

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Afternoon / Early Evening (4/2) Cote D’Ivoire Running Thread (Complete)

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Refugee Camp, courtesy the Department for International Development

Picture from here, used under a creative commons license. It depicts a refugee camp in Liberia.

This is the new thread, from about 2:00 EDT to it becomes too full.

2:20 EDT: Gbagbo forces retook the strategic bridge surrounding his palace:

The fierce standoff between fighters loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president of Cote d’Ivoire, and Alassane Ouattara, the country”s internationally recognised leader, intensified on Saturday.  Gbagbo’s force retook the bridge leading to his presidential palace on Saturday, after the opposition had appeared poised to topple the controversial leader.

[. . .]

Pro-Ouattara forces had marched easily into the country’s largest city, where they encircled the presidential palace and Gbagbo’s home on Thursday and Friday. They intend to battle Gbagbo’s forces in their stronghold, Kouakou Leon Alla, a spokesperson for the defence minister and the prime minister, said.

[. . .]

In the Cocody neighbourhood where the presidential mansion is located, families slept in bathrooms and on the floor as successive blasts punctuated an all-night assault, continuing into Saturday morning. Machine-gun fire could be heard at either end of the waterside highway leading to the palace.  In the Rivera neighbourhood armed members of the “young patriots,” the youth wing of Gbagbo’s camp, patrolled areas and organised checkpoints.

“At the cost of our blood, we are going to die so that the republic survives, for our children, because this is an unjust war,” an armed young patriot, calling himself General La Poudriere or Minefield, said.  Military officials loyal to Ivory Coast’s entrenched leader on Saturday called on their forces to resist rebels who are trying to depose him after he has refused to cede power.

It seems that a siege is inevitable given that Ouattara controls so much land and the airport (with UN assistance there).

2:20 EDT: A Red Cross Spokesman confirmed to the BBC that they’ve identified 800 dead in Duekoue:

We came on spot on Thursday, our teams were there and the sight that presented itself was obviously shocking and horrific. Up to now, at the beginning it was impossible to say how many people were actually killed there. But with the figures we have up to now, with different sources and also our own people, several hundred people. So we have a confirmation of about up to at least 800 people having been killed.

2:30 EDT: Here’s a Cote D’Ivoire map where you can see where Abidjan is (on the coast towards the east) and where Duekoue is (western part of the country.

(Taken from this website under a Creative Commons License.)

2:35 EDT: There are some calls for the UN or State Department to use force under the Right to Protect that’s been cited in Libya. One, I don’t think there are enough UN forces in the country right now (1,400 French troops is the highest I’ve seen) Two, it would require close, urban combat with a lot casualties. No one is willing to do that in Libya or anywhere else short of Afghanistan or Iraq.

There may be something the UN or State Department could do, but they’re not willing to send the cavalry in on the ground. The African Union hasn’t even been willing to go that far.

The UN, State Department, France, and the AU have called for Gbagbo to leave. He’s rather incite nationalism and fight until his supporters desert him or are dead. That’s the biggest problem and it’s not something outside forces have many ways left to effect in the short term.

2:45 EDT: More perspective from this New York Times report by Adam Nossiter:

Throughout most of the crisis, civilian deaths have largely come at the hands of Mr. Gbagbo’s forces, eliciting threats of criminal charges from international prosecutors. Human rights groups have also accused forces loyal to Mr. Ouattara of some extrajudicial killings, but neither side has been implicated in a massacre even close to this scale. The total death toll previously estimated by the United Nations was about 500, over four months of tensions and sporadic violence.

Many of Mr. Ouattara’s fighters are former rebels from a 2002 uprising that divided the country in half, and they have come under his banner only recently. The rebels have a history of human rights abuses and had largely stayed on the sidelines of the political crisis.

Duékoué is one of the strategic towns in the country’s cocoa-growing region they seized last week. A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross “saw a very large number of bodies” there, said a spokeswoman, Dorothea Krimitsas.

“They were shocked by the scale of it,” she said. “We don’t have exact information as to who is behind this. There were at least 800.”

The conflict between Mr. Ouattara and Mr. Gbagbo has unleashed longstanding ethnic rivalries, particularly in the lawless western regions of the country. The Red Cross said the large number of dead it saw in the town on Thursday and Friday were apparently victims of “intercommunal violence.” But it did not assign responsibility for the killings.

The rebels also dismiss control of the radio station:

“What is preoccupying us is the liberation of the people of Abidjan,” said Capt. Léon Alla. “Not the R.T.I., which is nothing but propaganda,” he said, referring to Radio Télévision Ivorienne.

Patience and discipline from Ouattara’s forces/allies would be useful now, but it remains to be seen if they’re capable of that.

2:50 EDT: Ghana would seriously consider a request for Asylum if Gbagbo made one:

. . . Foreign Affairs Minister, Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni told Citi News that although no such request has been made, government will consider granting Laurent Gbagbo amnesty if he requests for it.

“I can tell you on authority that there has not been anything of that sort. There has been nothing like President Gbagbo has written to President Mills to request for political asylum”.

“Of course as we know President Mills and his sense of compassion and he being a unifier, I have no doubt that if President Gbagbo finds it fit to make such a request President Mills will consider it very well.”

3:15 EDT: Video of (what I presume to be) the communique from Gbagbo’s government on state TV is posted here. I don’t speak French so I can’t translate. Anyone available? (Also, linked on that page, footage of Gbagbo drinking tea. Apparently he wants to upstage Nero.)

Here is the Al Jazeera report:

3:30 EDT: AFP is reporting 4 UN workers were “seriously injured” by Gbagbo’s forces. It’s not clear which skirmish this is regarding, but I’ve seen reports of a couple such times when the UN has had to return fire. They might all be from one single event, or a number of them, I don’t know.

Update: the BBC says the four were on a humanitarian mission in Abidjan, so this seems like a separate incident.

Additionally, British Foreign Minister William Hague commented on ths situation. (translated):

William Hague said on Saturday he was “extremely worried” about violence in Côte d’Ivoire and urged “all parties to exercise restraint” , while the fighting raged in the capital Abidjan and NGOs reported numerous abuses. “All the abuses of human rights that could occur in the city and elsewhere in Ivory Coast have been investigated and those responsible must be prosecuted,” said Hague.

3:45 EDT: The BBC reports that communities in the west of the country are arming themselves, so this has the potential to spiral out of control all over again, even if Gbagbo gave up right now.

3:50 EDT: The Guardian reports from a Liberian refugee camp:

At the Toe Town transit camp, the shock and fear is palpable. Terrified and traumatised, more people flood into the camp by the day. There are constant reports of savage attacks on villages by rebels armed with guns and machetes. Their orders, according to the refugees, are “to kill everyone and anyone”. There are even reports of cannibalism by rebel forces.

Rosalie Ziminin, also from Toulépleu, grabbed every member of her family that she could when the pro-Ouattara rebels came. Fifteen of them made it to the transit camp, but two of her children – aged two and five – were lost in the chaos as they escaped the attack. She still has no idea where they are. Ziminin, like many Ivorians, has not forgotten the devastation from Ivory Coast’s last civil war in 2002. She lost everything during the fighting which claimed the lives of both her mother and father. “I’ve only just rebuilt my life,” she said yesterday. “I’ve lost everything again and I don’t want to go back.”

More than 100,000 Ivorians have sought refuge in Liberia as the rebels have moved south towards Abidjan. Most are being housed and fed by Liberian families. In some of the smaller, more remote villages the number of fleeing Ivorians outnumbers Liberians by 20 to 1.

Heartbreaking.

3:55 EDT: Latest reports seem to indicate that those four UN workers seriously injured were from another separate incident. I can’t tell for certain.

4:15 EDT: Elizabeth Dickinson’s post from this week was sent to me again on Twitter, and it’s worth re-reading because it lays out clearly the limits of western action possible in Cote D’Ivoire. (And Russia will veto a lot of things that France and the U.S. are willing to do.)

4:20 EDT: HIV drugs in Abidjan may be running out.

Relief groups have also warned that fighting could mean a disruption in the supply of anti-retroviral treatment for people living with HIV. Ivory Coast has an estimated 480,000 people living with HIV and is one of the countries worst affected by the AIDS epidemic in West Africa.

“We are very worried that although some HIV treatment is available, supplies will run out in the next two to three weeks if the current import embargo on goods is not lifted,” said Sosthene Dougrou, executive director of Alliance Cote d’Ivoire, a national charity which provides support to people living with HIV.

“Our office has had to close because of the fighting; we are unable to access money from the banks as they too have been shut and we can’t get the programme funds so money is running out,” Dougorou said in a statement.

4:30 EDT: Save the Children, who Glenn Beck thinks is part of a liberal conspiracy (or is it the caliphate conspiracy?), tweets: “Children fleeing Cote d’Ivoire scared, vulnerable and often alone, say#savethechildren staff working in refugee camps on Liberian border.”

BBC’s live coverage is done for the day. We’re going to keep going, though there doesn’t seem to be any imminent developments about to happen.

4:45 EDT: Some testimony from the Duekoue region about what happened. The Google translation from the original French seems dodgy, so I won’t quote it, but it sounds harrowing and with troops completely out of control.

5:30 EDT: Gbagbo’s strategy is becoming clear: use trained soldiers for his last line of defense and use civilians, such as the Young Patriots, offensively; the problem with this (among many, many problems) is that it’s going to lead to massive slaughter and looting since those civilians are prone to violence.

Laurent Gbagbo has now implemented a dual strategy of defense. Soldiers loyal to him were known to congregate in different military bases in Abidjan while the civilians were, themselves, were invited to take action to protect several strategic points in the Ivorian economic capital.

This afternoon, we could well see groups of young patriots converge on the presidential palace in the Plateau and the residence of the outgoing head of state in Cocody. Leaders in this war for control of power is inevitably the people who suffer the most. Abidjan many trapped in their homes including start running out of food.

Until and unless resources run out, I’m not sure what can be done. Clearly, that’s not going to happen overnight.

5:40 EDT: Good sign, if my translation of this is accurate, Ouattara’s government is pledging to try anyone for atrocities committed (while still denying they were forces loyal to him). I’m skeptical because that’s what the west wants to hear, but on the other hand, it is what we want to hear. That’s not nothing. The proof will be in the pudding of course.

You can read a poorly translated version here.

5:45 EDT: A pro-Gbagbo site (so beware, since it’s likely rank propaganda) says that Gbagbo forces took the hotel that Ouattara had been staying at with UNOCI. There had previously been reports that the hotel had been evacuated (the only reason I’m even including this update).

7:00 EDT: The curfew is extended until Sunday, per Ouattara’s government

This is how bad the refugee situation is in Guiglo:

Bishop Gneba said more than 30,000 refugees had flooded the town of about 50,000 since January. Many are being sheltered at the Salesian priests’ Mission of St. Theresa of the Baby Jesus. They are among more than 1 million people displaced by the violence since January.

“There’s a traumatic humanitarian situation there,” Bishop Gneba said. “They need everything: food, medicine, water, sanitation. People have lost everything, houses, clothes, they do not even have a mat to sleep on.”

UN Col. Rais said there are nearly 400 peacekeepers based at Guiglo who were doing what they could to help with water and food.

The town almost doubles in size and 400 peacekeepers are there to help. Note that current estimates have it at a million refugees total, so this is just 3% of the story.

That wraps up this particular liveblog. A new one will go up shortly for late night and overnight. Thanks for reading and getting the word out. A reminder to donate to Oxfam too.

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BREAKING: Libya Legal According to 1945 Congress (Updated)

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I’ve previously referred (twice) to the United Nations Participatory Act and in particular, 22 U.S.C. § 287d, which says the following:

The President is authorized to negotiate a special agreement or agreements with the Security Council which shall be subject to the approval of the Congress by appropriate Act or joint resolution, providing for the numbers and types of armed forces, their degree of readiness and general location, and the nature of facilities and assistance, including rights of passage, to be made available to the Security Council on its call for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security in accordance with article 43 of said Charter. The President shall not be deemed to require the authorization of the Congress to make available to the Security Council on its call in order to take action under article 42 of said Charter and pursuant to such special agreement or agreements the armed forces, facilities, or assistance provided for therein: Provided, That, except as authorized in section 287d–1 of this title, nothing herein contained shall be construed as an authorization to the President by the Congress to make available to the Security Council for such purpose armed forces, facilities, or assistance in addition to the forces, facilities, and assistance provided for in such special agreement or agreements.

There have been some who disagree, saying that Congress alone controls going to war. But I’ve just unearthed excerpts from Congressional Committee reports (found here and partially here online for free) that show that, yes, Congress did intend the President to do actions such as this without prior Congressional authorization (the first is from the House report, the second the Senate report):

Preventive or enforcement action by these forces upon the order of the Security Council would not be an act of war but would be international action for the preservation of the peace and for the purpose of preventing war. Consequently, the provisions of the Charter do not affect the exclusive power of the Congress to declare war.

“The committee feels that a reservation or other congressional action such as that referred to above would also violate the spirit of the United States constitution under which the President has well-established power and obligations to use our armed forces without specific approval of Congress.”

That settles that. Maybe this is an unconstitutional delegation (go ahead and make that case), but Courts are very loathe to come to that conclusion regarding the military. A Constitutional remedy would have to come from Congress itself.

Given that Congress itself has shown this level of deference to UN Security Council actions, Obama is on very solid ground.

UPDATE: Joy Reid has a nice run down of the NYT article surrounding this issue, and comes to the same conclusion.

UPDATE 2: Charlie Savage (good NYT reporter) has made the argument on twitter to me that Article 43 armies are a necessary precedent to this law being valid (and everyone agrees no such armies exist). I do not think so. For one, the statute does not say that Article 43 armies are necessary before article 42 actions take place. There’s absolutely no connector in the statute to make the bolded sentence above dependent on the prior sentence.

Secondly, it simply does not make sense. In Savage’s version, there no need for the bolded sentence. The Article 43 agreements are specifically for the Security Council  “on its call for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security in accordance with article 43 of said Charter.” Then it continues referring separately to Art. 42 actions and troops separately. There’s absolutely no reason for this sentence whatsoever if it’s only refers to Article 43 armies. That has already been authorized.

The language is plain: that the President should have the freedom to contribute forces (why would contributing forces pursuant to article 42 be necessary if we are referring to forces already contributed under article 43?

Moreover, the logic quoted above holds: the House and Senate both said that actions regarding Article 42 would not implicate war power, as it was meant to prevent war. This is especially true if you look at the UN statute in light of the failed League of Nations, where Congressional blocking prevented the US from occurring. It’s logical Congress would give more leeway to the President to prevent that from happening again (and like the League of Nations, here we are dealing with Libya).

Lastly, the last third of the statute has absolute no meaning without Article 42 forces being consented to on the sole discretion of the President: the President is prohibited from exceeding the will of the United Nation Security Council with forces sent.

But Charlie Savage is a good reporter and may convince some people. I’ll add that Jack Goldsmith’s logic and historical examples are persuasive to me, but even if you think somehow that Article 43 armies are necessary for this law to apply pro forms (and I don’t think that’s the case) the logic of the Congressional committee here still would apply.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 21, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Quote of the Day: Susan Rice on Rwanda and Military Action

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“There was such a huge disconnect between the logic of each of the decisions we took along the way during the genocide and the moral consequences of the decisions taken collectively. I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.” – Susan Rice, current U.S. Ambassador to the UN and advocate for action in Libya.

 

Written by John Whitehouse

March 21, 2011 at 11:41 am

A Legal War: The United Nations Participation Act and Libya (updated)

with 18 comments

I want to reiterate this point in a post of its own, since prominent voices have not gotten the message.

The clear legal authority for actions sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council lies within the United Nations Participation Act.

Title 22, Section 7, § 287d. Use of armed forces; limitations

The President is authorized to negotiate a special agreement or agreements with the Security Council which shall be subject to the approval of the Congress by appropriate Act or joint resolution, providing for the numbers and types of armed forces, their degree of readiness and general location, and the nature of facilities and assistance, including rights of passage, to be made available to the Security Council on its call for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security in accordance with article 43 of said Charter. The President shall not be deemed to require the authorization of the Congress to make available to the Security Council on its call in order to take action under article 42 of said Charter and pursuant to such special agreement or agreements the armed forces, facilities, or assistance provided for therein: Provided, That, except as authorized in section 287d–1 of this title, nothing herein contained shall be construed as an authorization to the President by the Congress to make available to the Security Council for such purpose armed forces, facilities, or assistance in addition to the forces, facilities, and assistance provided for in such special agreement or agreements.

The UN Charter relevant portion:

Article 41

The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.

Article 42

Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.

Article 43

All Members of the United Nations, in order to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, undertake to make available to the Security Council, on its call and in accordance with a special agreement or agreements, armed forces, assistance, and facilities, including rights of passage, necessary for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security.
Such agreement or agreements shall govern the numbers and types of forces, their degree of readiness and general location, and the nature of the facilities and assistance to be provided.
The agreement or agreements shall be negotiated as soon as possible on the initiative of the Security Council. They shall be concluded between the Security Council and Members or between the Security Council and groups of Members and shall be subject to ratification by the signatory states in accordance with their respective constitutional processes.

The implication of this is clear: Article 42 concerns actions where Article 41 sanctions fail (as have happened in Libya) and actions are necessary to maintain international peace and security. Art. 42 forces do not require Congressional authorization.

There are some who see an art. 43 agreement as a necessary precedent to an art. 42 action. This does not make sense by either law – why would you ever have art. 42 if you needed an art. 43 agreement with each state having to refer to constitutional processes? And if you need a an art. 43 agreement for art. 42 to take place, then Section 287d makes almost no sense. – Why would Article 43 agreements need Congressional authorization if Article 42 agreements (which specifically refer to forces) do not? It makes no sense at all.

Indeed, the UN repertoire on art. 43 refers to agreements as permanent contributions of force to the UN (imagine if the UN had forces available on call, as close to a standing army as you can imagine). Those agreements have never happened. The conclusion is that art. 43 governs formation of such agreements, and that is why 287(d) required Congressional authorization for article 43 agreements – because as permanent or set commitments instead of ad hoc actions, Congress would want to authorize. By contrast, pure 42 actions that do not require agreements between parties

Bottom line: when the UN itself says Article 43 has never been used, it’s clear this action on Libya must fall under Article 42 (if there is any doubting that at all), at which point 287(d) would apply. And Congressional authorization is statutorily not required.

This happened in Korea:

President Truman did not request authority from Congress. Congress, controlled by the President’s political party, did not seem significantly concerned over the Presidential initiative though it was without precedent and implied claims of new, major Presidential power at the expense of Congress. In modest  debate, Congress supported the President’s action, but apparently saw no need to provide a declaration of war or other formal authorization. The Republicans, the minority party in both houses of Congress, did not oppose the action in Korea. Senator Taft did question the President’s constitutional authority but made little of it, and his constitutional strictures were largely overwhelmed in partisan controversy about United States foreign policy in the Far East generally.

In addition, George H.W. Bush constantly held that he did not require Congressional authorization prior to the first Gulf War, where there was also a UN resolution.

What would not be legal according to the law is any escalation beyond what the UN authorized here. So, if you are worried about mission creep, unless the entire Security Council authorizes boots on the ground, it would certainly be illegal.

 

PS: Thanks to Twitter allstars @shoq and @vdaze for input. Follow them or I will stalk you and make you wildly uncomfortable while still not coming close enough to break any laws.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 19, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Answering Rhetorical Questions on Libya

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Andrew Sullivan asks a whole bunch of questions without actually waiting around for answers:

The president’s speech was disturbingly empty. There are, it appears, only two reasons the US is going to war, without any Congressional vote, or any real public debate. The first is that the US  cannot stand idly by while atrocities take place. Yet we have done nothing in Burma or the Congo and are actively supporting governments in Yemen and Bahrain that are doing almost exactly – if less noisily – what Qaddafi is doing. Obama made no attempt to reconcile these inconsistencies because, one suspects, there is no rational reconciliation to be made.

Secondly, the president argued that the ghastly violence in Libya is destabilizing the region, and threatening world peace. Really? More than Qaddafi’s meddling throughout Africa for years? More than the brutal repression in Iran? And even if it is destabilizing, Libya is not, according to the Obama administration itself, a “vital national interest”. So why should the US go to war over this?

None of this makes any sense, except as an emotional response to an emergency.

Instead of seriously exploring possible rational explanations for the questions he raises (even if he disagrees with those reasons), Sullivan just calls the President an emotional wreck. This, of course, coming from someone so enraptured by the Iranian protests that he demanded his blog change color to show solidarity, as if that alone would mean one thing at all to any person anywhere  in the world.

So here’s the answer to Sullivan’s questions:

Yes, Libya is really destabilizing the region. Apparently even though he’s been live blogging this for weeks, Sullivan has missed the ongoing refugee nightmare, particularly on the Tunisian border. This is a serious problem that very much does destabilize the region.

And yes, it destabilizes it in a more acute and immediate manner than the repression Iranian protests (which, though tragic and against international norms, was an internal matter) or “meddling” – which is just vague enough that I really don’t know what Sullivan is referring to. Was Lockerbie “meddling”? I have no idea. Is Sullivan referring to the Libyan conflict with Chad that actually did involve French troops and American supplies at one point? I have no idea. Is Sullivan referring to the Libyan-Egyptian war in 1977 that would have destabilized the region had Gaddafi not retreated? I have no idea. Is Sullivan referring to Gaddafi supporting dictators like Idi Amin or Jean-Bedel Bokassa and if so how would that add up to regional instability rather than instability without a nation-state? I have no idea. Sullivan only refers to Africa.

If you want to argue the President is being overly emotional, perhaps one should thoroughly explain your objection instead of being, dare I say, overly emotional.  The best interpretation of his remarks is if he’s referring to Gaddafi’s participation in the Uganda-Tanzanian war, and if that’s the case I would certainly say the United Nations should have intervened, and in a post-Cold War world someone clearly would intervene. The Security Council did not even issue a resolution over the conflict – obviously that would not be true today.

But one thing is certainly clear: Tanzania counter attacked Uganda not to save the Ugandans from Gaddafi’s ally Imin, but rather for it’s own security purposes:

On 12 October 1978, Uganda invaded Tanzania in an effort to annex the Kagera region, but in February 1979, Tanzania counter-attacked with the help of Ugandan insurgents, overrunning Kampala, installing Milton Obote as President, and forcing Idi Amin to flee Uganda. After several months of occupation, Tanzanian forces withdrew from Uganda. Tanzania used force only once it had been attacked by Uganda and it succeeded in halting the systematic murder of thousands more people. As in India’s intervention in East Pakistan, humanitarian considerations seemed to have played an important role, but here again, its own security considerations took priority.

Were that to happen today there’s no doubt there would be international backing against that sort of invasion. Why not then? Probably because Julius Nyerere led Tanzania in the nonalignment movement. (Not to mention that Nyerere was no saint, having supported a coup in the Seychelles). In the politics of the time, the reluctance to intervene made sense, even for the Carter Administration. But it would not hold up today.

Point being this: Uganda-Tanzania That’s not what’s happening here, but if Sullivan is looking to this as an example of hypocrisy (and who knows what he’s referring to), well, he’s ignoring a lot of context.

What we do know is that the situation in Libya has deteriorated to such a point where imminent actions, clearly threatened by Gaddafi would overwhelm the region with refugees. In a situation like this, that destabilization is the main causus belli, but likewise the international community should also generally reinforce that killing your own people is actually against international norms too. That those norms are only enforced by force when regional stability is threatened does not mean that they are not violations of international norms.

One last point: none this is to defend the actual war planning or lack thereof. This is purely contesting the jus ad bello, not the jus in bello. (That is, decision to go to war, not the conduct within the war itself.)

Sullivan is so convinced the Libya is Iraq that he’s not even aware of, much less investigating, any differences in approach or scale. I wish Obama would do more to sell this action – a speech to Congress would be a must – but objectively judging his actions, Sullivan is the one being overly emotional, not the President.

As a footnote, someone needs to have Sullivan read relevant parts of US Code regarding United Nations Security Council authorizations.

 

Written by John Whitehouse

March 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Parsing Libya

with 2 comments

Allow me to prove some of my liberal bona fides before making some points that will be ill-received: the war in Iraq was a bad idea that was executed poorly once the Hussein government fell. The Afghanistan was was a necessary war at some level (even Kucinich wanted a police action at the time if I recall correctly), but by now it’s clear they can’t rebuild the entire country from the ground up. So the United States should switch to the Al Qaeda only force with a smaller footprint that Biden had in mind (and if that does not work, they should reconsider again).

With that said, allow me to pose questions to myself and answer them.

Are there any compelling interests here?

Yes there are. For one, there’s a threat of refugees to Europe if Gaddafi continues his current assault on the rebels (there’s no perfect word to describe them, so I’ll just pick this). Voice of America yesterday:

The EU’s humanitarian aid commissioner said Thursday that Europe must be prepared for the worst.

Kristalina Georgieva says that until now, humanitarian efforts have been geared to repatriate foreign nationals, many of them Asian and African, who have fled Libya en masse.

But she says if Libyans join those leaving the embattled country, they may not have a home to return to.  European nations, she says, may need to accommodate them as permanent refugees.

Many European nations are worried about the situation.  Italy, in particular, has already seen a wave of migrants landing on its tiny southern island of Lampedusa.  It has called for its European neighbors to do more to help it deal with the influx of people.

A British member of the European Parliament, Jean Lambert, says European countries don’t help one another deal with refugees and asylum seekers.  She says they will have to pull together.

This chaos has already spread to Tunisia. Some may say that this makes this a preemptive war. Well, yes. But given that Saif Gaddafi threatened to take over the rest of the country within t48 hours and Muammar Gaddafi had just finished a speech promising to take Benghazi at any time, then it’s pretty clear it would fall under the imminent threat exception. Moreover, even with the ceasefire offer today, there are numerous credible reports Gaddafi is still on the attack.

Part of the problem here is that the Bush Administration, by trumping up nonsense about being nuked by Iraq, inadvertently shrunk what real interests can be. Regional destabilization is a threat – again, look at Clinton handling Haiti (or rather, after going in for the right reasons, completely mishandling it). And destabilization is a threat not because one in a million might be a terror baby and nuke something, but rather because dealing with that sort of influx of refugees can bring a system to its knees, especially when it’s already stretched thin.

Intervening against a dictator managing his country in such a way that the entire region is at imminent risk of destabilization is exactly what UN action is meant for. That does not mean that this will be run in the most efficient manner, or it’s the best idea, or they have a great exit strategy. That does not mean there are not serious problems elsewhere in the world. All of the above are real problems. But officially engaging in the situation is not some prima facia error on the part of the Arab League or the west.

Should the US have supported this resolution?

Yes. Either by voting yes or by abstaining. I would prefer abstention but I understand voting yes to support our allies.

Should the US be involved in actively prosecuting this war?

No. There are two different reasons here. First, the compelling reason for Europe and Africa does not apply to the United States. and aside from logistical support, they might not be needed. The US Navy would have to enforce the embargo at sea, of course (and that is fine for humanitarian purposes – I would expect the same for Bahrain or the Ivory Coast or Yemen or what have you.)

Preliminary indications have the US taking far more of an active role than I would like.  (Silver lining, hey, they might be taking some resources out of Afghanistan and Iraq. About time.)

Daniel Larison writes:

In the next few days, allied governments and presumably the U.S. along with them will embark on an unnecessary war against a government that has done nothing to any of our citizens or countries to merit the use of force.

The American people through their representatives have not consented to this, and they evidently do not want the United States involved. If Obama decides to have U.S. forces participate in this war, he will be doing so without a clearly-defined goal or exit strategy, and there will be absolutely no public consensus that it is necessary for American security. If Congress does not support a declaration of war against Libya, it will also be unconstitutional. Even if the U.S. is not directly involved in the fighting, Obama will own part of the Libyan war, because he and his administration facilitated it and helped give it legal and political cover.

Based on everything we know right now, a war against Libya is not wise for any of the states that intend to join in an attack on Libya, and it is obviously not necessary for the security of the Gulf states that may participate in the attack. Judging by the criteria of just war theory, a war against Libya is not a just one. Even if we grant that there is right intention, there is no just cause. Libya’s current government has not wronged any of its would-be attackers, and there are no present injuries that any of these states have suffered that require or justify the use of force. It does not meet the standard defined in the Catholic Catechism’s definition of just war that holds that “the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.” The international institution that is supposed to be dedicated to international peace and security is deliberately turning a civil war into a much broader, international conflict. It is hard to think of examples of small wars that were made better through escalation.

The second concern is something Larison mentions above: that Congress has not voted on this at all. But that’s only a concern if the United States is involved. Any administration has the complete legal right to advocate sanctions or any acts of war through the United Nations. So let’s dial back Larison’s point to only American actions in Libya itself.

One thing that IS clear is that the AUMF regarding actions subsequent to 9/11 does not apply here by any stretch of the imagination.

Despite the threat to Europe, Article 5 of the NATO Charter is unlikely to be invoked (which if invoked would justify action given that treaties are the Supreme Law of the Land according to the Constitution). First, the west does not want it to appear to be just them intervening. Second, the Germans are so reluctant to get involved that they’d probably block it. (Not to mention Turkey).

But is there a specific legal problem here? The War Powers Resolution – which is still good law – specifically allows “the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities” only in three situations: if there is a Declaration of War, if there is “specific statutory authorization” or if there is “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” None of these three has happened, even arguably. But a further section of the act essentially gives Obama 90 days to get this authorization from Congress, though candidate Obama did not appear to agree with that interpretation.

A separate law regarding the United Nations Security Council does state that “The President shall not be deemed to require the authorization of the Congress to make available to the Security Council on its call in order to take action under article 42 of said Charter . . .  except . . . nothing herein contained shall be construed as an authorization to the President by the Congress to make available to the Security Council for such purpose armed forces, facilities, or assistance in addition to the forces, facilities, and assistance provided for in such special agreement or agreements.” So by my reading of this, the passage of the UN resolution does provide legal justification for deploying troops, but only within the strict limitations of that resolution. (By the way, in case you want to argue this is an article 43, action, the previous sentence in the law applies to article 43 and is as or more broad.)

The passed Security Council resolution only refers to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and not specifically an article. Article 42 seems to be the most on point, as it refers to military actions when (article 41) sanctions fail. Again, even if it’s article 43, this would not change the legal obligation. (If anything the specific reference to Chapter exemption seems meant to not implicate this law.

My conclusion: this is a legal action by Obama. But that’s because most people forgot this law is even on the books, probably. And this is a very unexplored area of law, as mentioned on page 5 here.

Lastly, though, I think it’s a good idea politically for Obama to actually do a better job selling this. Contra Larison, there is public support for multi-lateral action, but it’s important for the President to marshal that support and get Congressional authorization, just from a basic legitimacy point of view. He should do that soon.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm