The Rights Stuff

Are Qaddafi's Killers War Criminals?

| Fri Oct. 21, 2011 2:07 PM EDT

Was Moammar Qaddafi—who was wanted by the International Criminal Court for committing war crimes—himself a victim of a war crime? Amnesty International thinks it's a good possibility:

Video footage which emerged yesterday appears to show that Colonel al-Gaddafi was alive when he was captured by anti-Gaddafi troops in Sirte yesterday.

"If Colonel al-Gaddafi was killed after his capture, it would constitute a war crime and those responsible should be brought to justice," said Claudio Cordone, Senior Director at Amnesty International.

Killing a combatant after he's surrendered is a violation of both the International Criminal Court's statutes and the Geneva Conventions. But as Foreign Policy's David Bosco points out in this excellent analysis, the fact that Qaddafi's death likely was a war crime probably doesn't matter.

The choices of the prosecutor and the rulings of the ICC judges in recent years have made abundantly clear that the court prioritizes large-scale crimes that form part of a broad pattern or practice. Given that emphasis, it is unlikely the court will ultimately prosecute anyone for Qaddafi's killing unless they decide that there existed within the anti-Qaddafi forces a broad practice of war crimes or crimes against humanity and that the Qaddafi killing was a manifestation of that.

What's more, the new Libyan authorities could foil any ICC investigation by carrying out their own investigation. With  a national investigation underway, the ICC must yield unless it determines that the investigation is a sham. To the chagrin of many (mostly outside Libya, it seems), Qaddafi will never now see a courtroom in the Hague; neither will whoever killed him.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The US vs. LRA Showdown, As Seen From Uganda

| Mon Oct. 17, 2011 3:09 PM EDT

Since President Obama's announcement on Friday that he will send 100 soldiers to Uganda to help fight the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group that's been responsible for killing thousands of civilians over more than two decades, most of the media coverage has focused on whether American troops will actually be engaging in combat and whether the move is meant to pay back Uganda for keeping troops in Somalia. 

But UN Dispatch's Mark L . Goldberg points out some potentially important context about the conflict. Like what happened to civilians when the Ugandan Army took on the LRA in 2009:

About half the 100,000 people displaced amid a wave of atrocities in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the Ugandan army is leading an operation against Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels, have no access to humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.

"We estimate that half the displaced are beyond reach. There are no roads or airstrips. In some cases they are close to where the fighting is," Idrissa Conteh, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN in the north-eastern DRC town of Bunia.

In an area where clashes can leave the most vulnerable populations even more vulnerable, there's no telling what effect this new phase in the war against Kony might have on innocent bystanders.

And, from Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire (h/t Laura Seay), another important piece of the deployment picture: What do Ugandans think?

Many Ugandans, through various social networks, have expressed skepticism over the 100 combat troops the US deployed to Uganda to help stamp out the rebels of Lord's Resistance Army currently operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and parts of western South Sudan.

They think what they are actually here to do is secure for their country Uganda's newly found oil.

That's probably based more on skepticism about the United States' motivation to send troops to other countries than actual fact—Uganda and the United States are already plenty friendly enough to strike oil deals. Read Kagumire's analysis of why Ugandans may need the American support anyhow—and why the Americans will need to wrap up their mission quickly. At least the International Criminal Court, which issued arrest warrants for LRA leader Joseph Kony and four of his other commanders six years ago, is probably happy to have some additional troops on the case. All of the LRA leaders remain at large except for one. And that's because he died.

Way to Go, Ohio!

| Mon Oct. 17, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

Today, MoJo is publishing a story about the war on the middle class that I witnessed in Ohio this summer. Read it here. I've compiled a corresponding playlist. Paste informs me that there are newer, hipper songs about my home state, but here are a few relevant classics to listen to while you read.

1. "Ohio."
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's outraged anthem about the shooting of unarmed protesters by the National Guard at Kent State University in 1970. Kent State is in the district of Kathleen Clyde, the Democratic state representative interviewed in my story.

2. "Burn On." Randy Newman laments that the Cuyahoga River, which winds through downtown Cleveland, used to have so much toxic shit in it that it actually caught on fire.

3. "My City Was Gone." The Pretenders' Chrissy Hynde is from Ohio, too, and this 1982 song is about the ugly overdevelopment she found on a trip home. My article is about how a lot of that stuff has been abandoned or torn down, but since the sad sentiment and the homesickness for a place that doesn't exist anymore are the same, it's kind of the perfect closing number. Queue it up, and read the story here.

Inside a Haitian Women's Prison

| Tue Oct. 11, 2011 9:27 AM EDT

In the immediate aftermath of Haiti's 2010 quake, many relied on Twitter for news about what was going on in the country. One of the more prominent Haitian tweeters was @RAMhaiti, a.k.a. Richard Morse, a.k.a. front man of one of Haiti's most famous bands and proprietor of the country's most legendary hotel.

In the last few days, Morse's tweet stream has been a good source of info on another hard-to-access subject: conditions in a Haitian women's prison. Below, check him out making some observations about what it's like inside during a visit. Now that newly elected President Michel Martelly (Morse's cousin) has appointed him an advisor, his time at the prison could influence his future advising focus—and so, his tweets imply, maybe the future of criminal justice in the country.

The Blue Angels' Psychological Warfare

| Mon Oct. 10, 2011 4:23 PM EDT

Today is the penultimate day of San Francisco's annual Fleet Week, during which communists like myself complain about the Navy's wasteful expenditure of taxpayer dollars on jet fuel so the Blue Angels can do acrobatics overhead. As Navy F-18s have screamed past my house, giving the city the feel of a battlefield, I've been thinking, "This is probably not going well for some people." Like people who have been traumatized in war zones and whose post-traumatic stress may be triggered by the noise.

Sure enough, a massage therapist I was talking to mentioned that while he was working on a relocated Iraqi woman this weekend, the roar of the Blue Angels' engines sent her into a cowering panic attack on the massage table. That was sad, but not as sad/scary as the Navy SEAL he was working on who suddenly leaped off the table, flipped the massage therapist, and pinned him down by his throat.

Kind of sounds like something that would happen in a movie, but that's definitely not just Hollywood melodrama. A lot of people who grew up amid war or went to war, the masseuse said, can be triggered by innocuous noises like low-flying jets or backfiring cars even in the profoundly safe and calming setting of a massage. And unexpected—and uncontrollable—triggering is only going to become a more prevalent problem; an estimated one in five Iraq and Afghanistan vets suffers PTSD. Already, some areas hold extra support groups during firework season. With more vets coming home all the time, maybe the Navy should consider making counseling part of its Fleet Week program next year.

Stat of the Day: Don't-Lend-College-Students-Money Edition

| Wed Oct. 5, 2011 5:21 PM EDT

Here's a fun tidbit fact-checker extraordinaire Aaron Ross dug up when we were shipping my Assignment: Ohio feature for the November/December issue. With the help of student-aid guru Mark Kantrowitz, Aaron was verifying that the majority of the student loans taken out in the United States haven't yet been paid back. Just how much in outstanding loans are we talking?

Of the nearly $1.5 trillion in loans that US students have ever taken out on record, about $900 billion of it hasn't been repaid. Yes, there are, according to the best estimate available, around some 60 million Americans walking around with student-loan balances. No, the numbers aren't really so staggering because grads are slackers who never pay their debts; a third of all student loan debt was incurred in the last four years. So the national outstanding-loan debt is growing fast. Too bad for all us suckers who took out all that aid that the same cannot be said of the job market.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Speaking of War Criminals

| Tue Oct. 4, 2011 4:42 PM EDT

Good news for Cote d'Ivoirians who would like to see any sort of incremental progress toward justice for alleged rapists, murderers, and civilian-attackers within their government. The judges of the International Criminal Court have approved an investigation into crimes committed during the past year's unrest. The judges have also given ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo a month to determine whether crimes also took place between 2002 and 2010, so they can decide whether to investigate that period as well. My guess as to the answer of that question: yes. Human Rights Watch has a whole library of research about an entire decade of war crimes perpetrated by the forces of both the former and current presidents.

Some cool things about this development: Cote d'Ivoire is not a member of the ICC, but it gave the court jurisdiction anyway, which says something about the spread of the institution's reach. Some of the crimes in Cote d'Ivoire happened very recently, which says something about the institution's potential justice-persuing speed. It's good that someone with prosecutorial power is investigating possible crimes. Plus, the ICC's investigation process, which basically involves dispatching a bunch of international research spies, is just cool on its own merits.

However, if this investigations results in the ICC issuing arrest warrants, it is going to catch more flack for only trying to arrest Africans. But it also will catch flack for not actually being able to arrest the Africans it has outstanding warrants for.

Ohio Governor Gets a Raise While Slashing Public Services

| Mon Oct. 3, 2011 10:19 PM EDT

While we're all at being (rightfully) mad at some really rich people, let's splash some more fuel onto the class-warfare fire. Think tank Innovation Ohio has released some stats about that state's governor, John Kasich, who is trying to kill collective bargaining with a bill called SB 5 and who recently slashed funding to services people sort of need, like schools and firefighting.

But the Ohio legislature isn't spreading the pain equally—namely, not among themselves. According to IO's most recent report, Kasich took a raise of more than $10,000 over the last governor's salary, bringing his pay to $148,165. And exempted the salary from the SB 5 provision that cuts automatic annual raises for other public employees. And lied about how much he pays his staff, whose senior members make $110,000. Also unaffected by the recent massive budget cuts is the Ohio General Assembly's minimum salary of $60K—for a part-time job in a state where the average worker makes $40K. Of course, 62 of the 70 legislators who voted for SB 5 make more than that minimum. Those 62 receive annual bonuses up to $34k. No wonder there was so much protesting going on when I was there.

Check out the whole list of sad/maddening hypocrisies here.

Fear and Loathing in Congo

| Thu Sep. 29, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

The feature on war criminals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that I reported this spring is out. In honor of its publication, I'd like to share a scene that was in my notes but that didn't end up in the final product. Like the outtake from the time I was on camera for PBS and ripped a five-inch hole in the crotch of my pants. Except this one's less funny because it's about murder. Also Hall & Oates.

The story: My translator Joey and I are interviewing a slew of witnesses and sources who are running for their lives because, they say, International Criminal Court-indicted warlord Bosco Ntaganda is threatening to kill them. I'm so paranoid that when one of Ntaganda's colonels says something possibly innocuous to me, I think maybe he's actually telling me he's been following me, and Joey's having paranoid nightmares that the colonels will come after us in our hotel, and one of my Congolese drivers nearly throws me off a motorbike while whipping around to see if he's being tailed.

That's all in the feature. Not included, however, is one of my sources warning me not to write anything about Ntaganda until I've left the country. Don't worry, I tell him; we'll delay running any stories until at least my arrival in Uganda. He shakes his head. Uganda is right next door, and the bad guys have alliances there. "They could easily kill you in Uganda," he says, not because he is being dramatic, but because he's been chased farther across the continent than that. Then one morning, some suspected assassination-plotters we've met call my cell: "Hey! Just want to say hello! See what you're up to!" That's the deleted lead-up to this deleted scene.

I go upstairs to my hotel room and put my iPod on shuffle, and it picks "Private Eyes." They're watching you. They see your evvvvveryyy moooove. I stop dead in my tracks on my way into the bathroom, toothbrush in hand. Oh I see you, oh I see you, private, private, private eyes, girl. I look out the wide window for something awry in the empty lot next door, turn toward the door and watch it hard, trying to intuit what might be on the other side in the dark hallway where the lights never, ever work, just for a second, before laughing and congratulating myself for not believing in signs and letting the paranoia paralyze me. Though that's easy for me to say. I'm leaving tomorrow.

Anyway, there's a lot of extremely brave Congolese trying to live their lives and tell their stories despite imminent danger. Read the whole story here. (And while you're at it, check out this related photo essay about the war on Congo's women.)

Ohio Could Become Most Anti-Choice State Yet

| Wed Sep. 21, 2011 1:20 PM EDT

Yesterday, hundreds of people rallied at the Columbus, Ohio, statehouse in support of the so-called "Heartbeat Bill," the pending legislation that could crown Ohio as home of the strictest abortion law in the country. The law would, except in cases of extreme medical emergency, make it illegal to terminate a pregnancy once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, i.e., as early as six weeks after conception (i.e., probably before you've realized you're pregnant). It's so strict that even Ohio Right to Life isn't supporting it, saying there's no way it's going to hold up in court, because it's totally unconstitutional.

But the bill has already passed the House; now it's up to the Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats more than 2-to-1. During the House hearing, proponents brought in two young pregnant women and gave them live ultrasounds in front of the committee. One fetus's heartbeats rang out loud and clear for the benefit of the audience. The other's was hard to make out. When I interviewed Democratic State Rep. Kathleen Clyde in June, she quipped, "I guess that fetus couldn't testify that day."

It's been a rough couple months for choice in Ohio. As we reported in June, the new budget, which passed this summer, contained a provision to keep "unincorporated (read: mostly rural) counties from covering abortion in their employee insurance plans" except in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the woman's life. "Another bans publicly funded hospitals from performing the procedure." According to Ohio NARAL's Kellie Copeland, that affected "pretty much all the public hospitals in the state." Republican lawmakers said the measures keep taxpayer dollars from going toward abortions. Copeland says they didn't, since taxpayer dollars were already banned from going toward abortions in Ohio; procedures at public hospitals already had to be paid with private funds.

So also in attendance at the Columbus rally was Ohio NARAL, which showed up to rain on the anti-choice parade. "In a state like Ohio where the unemployment rate has continued to grow over the past three months to 9.1 percent, politicians who ran on ideas to improve the economy have shifted their focus to creating a divisive agenda that attacks a woman's right to choose," NARAL's Copeland said in a statement. NARAL says its supporters will stand outside the statehouse for a few hours every day the Senate is in session for the rest of the legislative year. If you live in Ohio and agree with them and are, like lots of people, unemployed, there's a fun afternoon activity for you!