2011 - %3, April

7 Questions About the International Criminal Court Answered

| Fri Apr. 8, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
The ICC's headquarters in The Hague.

As mentioned earlier, this week I'm in The Hague, doing some reporting at the International Criminal Court. Since a lot of people seem to have only the vaguest sense of what it is, and because I've learned some interesting facts since I got here, I put together a quick primer that answers a few of your burning ICC-related questions.

What is the International Criminal Court?
It's the world's first permanent court set up to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. It was established in 2002, when its founding Rome Statute Treaty, which 114 states are party to, went into effect. It is located in The Hague, the Netherlands. It is not housed in a big fabulous structure with marble floors, but in an old corporate office building, the former parking garage of which holds the actual courtrooms.

How does something end up at trial in the ICC?
One of three ways. A case can be referred to the ICC by a member state. Or crimes in a non-member state can be referred to the court by the United Nations Security Council, as in the recent case of Libya. Or anyone can give the Office of the Prosecutor information that gives cause to look into it. If a resulting investigation shows war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, and the state in which they occur is unwilling or unable to prosecute the case itself, the "court of last resort" ICC can issue warrants of arrest or summons to appear.

In what countries is the ICC currently investigating crimes?
Despite criticisms that the ICC only tries Africans, which is so far/currently true, it is looking into cases in Afghanistan, Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire, Georgia, Palestine, Guinea, Honduras, Nigeria, and South Korea.

Are there any trials going on now?
Yeah, against Congolese alleged war-crimes perpetrators Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo. Except on days where testimony is too sensitive, as when a witness could be in particular danger of retribution, the trials are open to the public.

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo: Nico Colombant/VOA news/WikimediaJean-Pierre Bemba Gombo in 2006. Nico Colombant/VOA news/Wikimedia

Am I allowed to wear "provocative" clothing to go watch a war-crimes trial?
No.

What happens if I pull my cell phone out when I'm in the observation gallery while court is in session?
Any testimony that a witness is giving is considered compromised and automatically canceled, and that witness is not allowed to testify anymore.

Am I allowed to mean-mug Jean-Pierre Bemba, on trial for multiple counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes of rape, murder, and pillaging, from a few feet away in the observation gallery, while he sits watching the proceedings against him with his cantaloupe head calmly sunk into hunched shoulders?
Yes. Although he will, however many times his eyes flicker over toward your face, never meet your gaze.

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 8, 2011

Fri Apr. 8, 2011 4:30 AM EDT

U.S. Army Pfc. Ben Bradley (left), 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, ducks away from small arms fire, as fellow scout Sgt. Jeff Sheppard, launches a grenade at the enemy’s position, during a combat engagement in northern Bala Murghab Valley, Baghdis Province, Afghanistan April 4, 2011. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace

The GOP's Phony Troop-Pay Ploy

| Fri Apr. 8, 2011 2:14 AM EDT

House Republicans want you to know what this budget battle and government shutdown are all about: screwing soldiers over. Many service members live paycheck to paycheck on modest incomes, and if no budget agreement is reached after Friday, a good number of them may be serving in a war zone for no pay until the Hill denizens are done duking it out. Hence the new GOP meme, typified in Suzy Khimm's excellent shutdown update:

Faulting Democrats for pushing the country toward a shutdown, Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) noted that soldiers won't get paid unless there's a budget agreement. "You've got kids in the military serving in Afghanistan and Iraq whose wives are going to be wondering, 'Why didn't we get paid this month?'" Young said. "If they want that on their conscience, we're covered."...

When pressed about the bill's policy riders, however, House Republicans demurred—and simply continued bashing Democrats for harming America's troops. Asked whether the provisions were a dealbreaker, Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) replied: "Not at this point. We're going to pay attention and see what happens." Instead, Scott—who's one of two freshmen elected to be part of the GOP leadership—reverted to the GOP's mantra of the day. If Obama's "vetoing the troops, that's his decision," Scott told Mother Jones. "If he's willing to leave the troops without a paycheck, that's his decision."

Republicans have stuck to this message with a singular discipline rarely seen since the heyday of Newt. Except this message doesn't pass the smell test. The very same GOP congressmen crying "save the troops" are the ones who've been playing politics with the livelihoods of our (largely underpaid) serving men and women: For more than a week, they've had a bill, proposed by one of their own, that would keep soldiers' paychecks flowing in a shutdown. And they've sat on it.

Stalemate in Libya?

| Fri Apr. 8, 2011 2:01 AM EDT

So how are things going in Libya? One thing is becoming even more obvious than before: the rebel "army" is small, poorly trained, poorly armed, and unlikely to win on its own. According to C.J. Chivers of the New York Times:

Prone to panic, they often answer to little more than their mood, which changes in a flash. When their morale spikes upward, their attacks tend to be painfully and bloodily frontal — little more than racing columns down the highway, through a gantlet of the Qaddafi forces’ rocket and mortar fire, face forward into the loyalists’ machine guns.

So what does this mean? Muammar Qaddafi's capabilities are pretty limited too, which means we might well be looking at an indefinite de facto partition of the country, with Qaddafi controlling Tripoli and the west and rebels controlling Benghazi and the east. Tara Bahrampour of the Washington Post confirms this:

For the United States and other Western powers, the rebel efforts to build the rudiments of a nation in eastern Libya reflect the reality of a military stalemate — one in which NATO could be ensnared for months or more. “We don’t like it, we don’t want it, but this scenario might happen,” said Fathi Baja, the rebels’ head of international affairs.

So how does this play out? There's still a chance that Qaddafi will crumble. Libya's loss of oil revenue will continue to squeeze him. The mercenaries fighting for him might decide to leave for better opportunities elsewhere. His supporters might continue to defect as Western sanctions keep biting. But what if he holds on anyway and the rebels are just flatly unable to dislodge him? Fred Kaplan says the events in the broader Middle East are yet another demonstration of the post-Cold War limits of American power:

We find ourselves in the unusual situation—unprecedented in the lifetime of nearly every American breathing today—of watching from the sidelines as world-historical transformations unfold....The fate of all these uprisings is certainly a matter of U.S. interests—arguably, in the case of Egypt and Yemen, our vital interests. Yet there's little we can do to direct their paths.

The one exception, he says, is Libya. But that may be the exception that proves the rule. How likely is it, after all, that either the United States or its allies will be willing to accept a long, dull stalemate like this? In a sense, it would be even worse than the kind of grinding, inconclusive war we're fighting in Afghanistan, where we can at least concoct stories about progress and eventual victory. But if Libya settles down into a partition with essentially no fighting at all, no such stories will be possible. We either accept the partition or we don't.

How likely is it that we will? There's not a lot of precedent to go on here, but it doesn't seem like the kind of thing the American (or French or British) public would accept for long. Sure, nobody would be dying, so there probably wouldn't be huge public protests, but we'd still be committing ourselves to an expensive, indefinite military operation with no goal except to protect the partition of a country nobody really cares much about in the first place.

So what are the alternatives? There are two: either a negotiated settlement of some kind or a decision that the war has to end and Qaddafi has to go. That would mean a Kosovo-style air campaign against Tripoli, kept up until Qaddafi finally either surrendered or was killed.

This is what makes some kind of negotiated settlement so important. Without it, the most likely end point isn't partition and stalemate, it's a broadening of the war. How many stalemates can a single president have on his plate at once, after all?

Front page image: Maurizio Gambarini/DPA/Zuma

Africa Ho! (And How You Can Help)

| Thu Apr. 7, 2011 8:25 PM EDT

I've recently embarked on an epic reporting trip. Currently, I'm in The Hague, the Netherlands, where I'm spending the rest of the week at the International Criminal Court, including some quality time with Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Next week, I'm headed to Congo. Not to be dramatic or anything, but I honestly can't tell you why—not because I'd have to kill you, but because it does involve a lot of other people having been killed. Some tweeters have wondered why MoJo is doing extra fundraising for this trip, and I'm happy to answer that, as the racker-up of the expenses: Keeping me and everyone else involved safe in Congo means having to bring some of the standard local-support staff in with me from the United States, plus extra layers of security for those who will be assisting me who are already on the ground. What I can say now is that this story is violent and fascinating and has implications that reach back to the United States; that it explores much-needed information about global foreign policy; that it should damn well be written but requires a budget that would be green-lighted by only a fool or a magazine that knows it can rely on its readers to support exceptional if not-revenue-generating content. And then there's another, unrelated story in Uganda, one that will be deep and personal and ultimately, I think, surprising.

Can I quantify "epic" reporting trip? Sure. About $25,000—just for the reporting part. Even employing the highest level of Midwestern resourcefulness and thrift.

Anyway, I'll be sending lots of updates (as it's safe to do so) from the road and, of course, producing a couple of features when I get back. And then I guess we can decide whether it costs more to report them, or more not to.

Clerk's Error Gives WI Conservative Lead In Heated Election

| Thu Apr. 7, 2011 6:59 PM EDT
Conservative incumbent David Prosser.

In a stunning turnaround, the county clerk for Waukesha County, a heavily Republican district in southeast Wisconsin, announced on Thursday evening that she'd failed to count more than 14,000 votes cast in Tuesday's state Supreme Court election. The error, disclosed by a former state GOP lawmaker who's been criticized for her handling of local elections, handed conservative incumbent David Prosser a lead of 7,582 votes, flipping the result of the race after an initial tally put liberal JoAnne Kloppenburg ahead by a mere 204 votes.

The Waukesha clerk, Kathy Nickolaus, a Republican, said in a press conference that the new votes, all of which were cast in the city of Brookfield, were missed because of human error that's "common in this process." Nickolaus apologized for the mistake, saying, "The purpose of the canvas is to catch these kind of mistakes."

This isn't the first time Nickolaus' role in overseeing elections in Waukesha has been engulfed in controversy. In 2010, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that she bucked the traditional election results system in Wisconsin and instead kept the county's election results on "stand-alone personal computers accessible only in her office." Nickolaus cited security reasons for her unorthodox method. Not surprisingly, she received plenty of criticism for her unique handling of elections:

Director of Administration Norman A. Cummings said because Nickolaus has kept them out of the loop, the county's information technology specialists have not been able to verify Nickolaus' claim that the system is secure from failure.

"How does anybody else in the county know, except for her verbal word, that there are backups, and that the software she has out there is performing as it should?" he said. "There's no way I can assure that the election system is going to be fine for the next presidential election."

[…]

Mike Biagioli, the county's manager of information technology, sees risk in Nickolaus' action.

"What happens if something goes wrong on election night? We don't support her at all on election night. She was pretty clear about that. If something goes wrong, what do you do?" he said. "I would love to be able to go in and verify that everything is OK."

Other counties in Wisconsin also discovered additional votes throughout the day as they check their totals, but none of the changes were as drastic as Waukesha's. For instance, Winnebago County amended its vote total earlier on Thursday, giving Prosser a razor-thin 40-vote lead. Then Grant County released its revised totals, subtracting 113 votes from Prosser and restoring Kloppenburg's lead.

It's been a wild day in Wisconsin, and with further recounts and legal challenges likely to come, there's a ways to go before a winner is officially crowned. But the sudden revelation of more than 14,000 previously untallied votes in Waukesha is sure to fuel plenty of conspiracy theories and Gore-Bush 2000 comparisons in the days to come.

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KBR Named "Top Employer" for Women?! (Video)

| Thu Apr. 7, 2011 6:18 PM EDT

Jaw, meet floor.

According to a company press release, war megacontractor KBR was voted one of the 50 top companies for women by readers of Woman Engineer magazine, one of several diversity-recruitment mags published by Long Island, New York-based Equal Opportunity Publications. "The readers of Woman Engineer magazine selected the top companies in the country for which they would most prefer to work or believe are progressive in hiring woman engineers," KBR said in its statement. The company came in at No. 46.

Wisconsin Recall Campaigns Bag Record Number of Signatures

| Thu Apr. 7, 2011 2:17 PM EDT

On the heels of liberal JoAnne Kloppenburg's stunning upset victory in Wisconsin's Supreme Court election on Tuesday (though a recount is forthcoming), the campaigns to recall Republicans in the Badger State are cruising, with enough signatures already gathered to trigger a recall of two Republican senators in the Badger State.

As Greg Sargent reports today, Wisconsin Democrats collected nearly 22,561 signatures in their effort to recall Sen. Dan Kapanke. That's nearly 7,000 more than they needed to launch a recall, and insurance against efforts by Kapanke's lawyers to challenge and potentially throw out some of the collected signatures. In a sign of buyer's remorse among Wisconsin voters, the time it took gather enough signatures to recall Kapanke was the fastest in Wisconsin history.

The next Wisconsin senator to face a recall effort is Republican Randy Hopper. In the Hopper recall effort, Sargent writes, progressives have collected almost 24,000 signatures—150 percent of the necessary 15,629 signatures, a staggering feat that comes scarcely a month after the Wisconsin Senate first passed Republican Governor Scott Walker's controversial anti-union bill.

Here's more from Sargent:

The news comes amid other signs that Hopper may be particularly vulnerable in a recall election. Two recent polls—one by the Dem firm Public Policy Polling, and another by Survey USA, commissioned by MoveOn—both showed Hopper trailing in a recall matchup against a theoretical Dem rival.

What's more, in a sign that Hopper himself recognizes the precariousness of his position, he recently brought in a national caliber campaign manager to handle the recall fight. Adding more potential fuel to the recall fire, Hopper's estranged wife recently alleged that he had an affair with a young GOP aide and now lives mostly in Madison, outside his district.

The results of Tuesday's Supreme Court race offers hints as to how successful the recall votes of Kapanke and Hopper could be. The majority of Kapanke's district voted for Kloppenburg, the liberal candidate, while David Prosser, the conservative incumbent, won out in Hopper's district. Tossing out either candidate will prove a mighty challenge—voters have successfully recalled sitting legislators only twice in Wisconsin history—but the momentum from Kloppenburg's likely win and the legal battle against Walker's bill, which is currently on appeal, could make the difference in the ongoing recall efforts.

Shutdown Fun and Games

| Thu Apr. 7, 2011 2:12 PM EDT

Jason Kuznicki's husband works at NASA. That is, he'll work at NASA until the government shuts down, anyway. When that happens, the results might be a wee bit different than what the tea partiers expect:

Now look. If my husband (1) lost his job because of (2) substantial budget cuts and he (3) had to find work in the private aerospace sector, I’d probably just have to shut the hell up — provided of course that we had (4) already cut the truly odious government spending first.

In a case like that, I’d be brushing up on Stoic virtue. There wouldn’t be much else to do. But that’s not what’s happening. Not even close.

Instead, my husband likely (1) keeps his job, but not his pay, because of (2) empty posturing over trivial budget cuts and he (3) can’t legally work anywhere in the private aerospace sector. Meanwhile the government is (4) spending a whole lot more money on some very odious things, like an illegal war.

Oh yeah, and my husband can’t even volunteer at NASA, which he almost certainly would do, because he’d really like to get some research to the publisher before a deadline. That, too, is against the law.

By my lights, this is wrong on every single dimension. I know you’d love it if the chickens were coming home to roost, but they’re not. Not for me anyway. For Republicans? Well... take it up with them. I haven’t voted Republican in many years, and I don’t see myself starting anytime soon.

Shutting down the government sure is fun, isn't it?

For Texas Lawmakers, ALL Family Planning = Abortion

| Thu Apr. 7, 2011 2:00 PM EDT

Texas already has a law that bans state funding for any group that provides or promotes abortion. But that hasn't stopped conservative lawmakers from attempting to end state-funded reproductive health counseling in the name of saving unborn fetuses. State Rep. Bill Zedler has won an amendment to the Texas budget that would reduce funding for "family planning services," a move that he says is intended to defund "the abortion industry."

Family planning services, offered in Texas by groups such as Planned Parenthood, include gynecological exams, birth control counseling, HIV and cancer screening, and pregnancy testing. Supported by generous matching funds from the federal government, the services are believed to save $4 in government costs for every dollar spent. Under Texas law, no clinic that participates in state family planning services may offer or promote abortions.

Republicans in Texas (and in Washington) are going after family planning as way to defund Planned Parenthood, which, separately, also happens to operate abortion clinics. But that's a strange way to defund "the abortion industry." It might actually accomplish the opposite. If funding goes down for birth control and pregnancy counseling, abortion providers could find themselves in higher demand.

H/T Texas Tribune