Sunday, November 19, 2006

An Enlightened Layperson's Belated Reflections on Hamdi v. Rumsfeld

It is, of course, way too late in the game to be worth discussing the 2004 case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, but I read it for the first time in the process of researching my last post and found it interesting. So here are an enlightened layperson's thoughts on the subject.

Yaser Esam Hamdi was born in the United States and therefore a citizen, but his family moved to Saudi Arabia when he was a child, and he appears to have had no further contact with the land of his birth. When the United States invaded Afghanistan, he was turned captured by the Northern Alliance and turned over to U.S. forces as a Taliban fighter. Hamdi denied belonging to Taliban and said that he went to Afghanistan as a relief worker. He was held as an enemy combatant in Guantanamo and later transferred to a military prison in South Carolina when he was discovered to be a US citizen. (See my last post for the significance of South Carolina). Since Hamdi was being held incommunicado, his father filed a petition for habeas corpus on his behalf, which was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

The plurality

The Supreme Court offered a highly fractured opinion. The controlling opinion was written by Sandra Day O'Connor, joined by Chief Justice Renquist and Justices Kennedy and Breyer. O'Connor complained that the government never gave a satisfactory definition of "enemy combatant." In this case, it applied to members of the hostile forces in Afghanistan, and the decision made clear that it was addressed only to this narrow definition. The Court ruled that, since Congress had passed the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) authorizing the war in Afghanistan, it logically followed that it authorized detention of enemy fighters in Afghanistan because this was "a fundamental incident of waging war" and members of Taliban "are individuals Congress sought to target in passing the AUMF." In response to the objection that the "War on Terror" might last longer than Hamdi's life, the Court held that he could be held only for the duration of the war in Afghanistan. Furthermore, "[I]ndefinite detention for the purpose of interrogation is not authorized." Hamdi's citizenship was not a barrier to his being held as an enemy combatant because U.S. citizens captured in foreign combat zones have been held as POW's in the past.

Clearly, then, this opinion applies only to citizens captured in actual combat zones. Such citizens may be held as enemy combatants, but only for the duration of the war in that particular country.

The opinion then sets forth the procedure for such a citizen to challenge his detention, with care given not to overly burden the military. A citizen held as an enemy combatant may file a habeas petition challenging his designation. Seeking to balance individual rights against military necessity, the Court agreed that "[M]ilitary officers who are engaged in the serious work of waging battle would be unnecessarily and dangerously distracted by litigation half a world away." Hearsay should therefore be admissible and classified documents need not be revealed. However, the government acknowledged that it already kept records of battlefield detainees. The Court suggested that it should not be too great an imposition for someone to submit an affidavit summarizing these records. Once the government presented a sufficient case that the detainee was an enemy combatant, the burden shifted to the detainee to present evidence that he was something else, perhaps an "errant tourist, embedded journalist, or local aid worker."

Once again the emphasis on not overly burdening the military makes the point that this decision was meant to apply to people captured in actual combat zones, not to arrests in the US. The streamlined procedure was designed not to inconvenience the military.

Another point was not adequately addressed. The streamlined process, designed not to unduly burden the military, implies a common and routine procedure. Yet Hamdi addressed only the rights of citizen detainees, and citizens detained as enemy combatants are extremely rare. (Hamdi and John Walker Lindh were apparently the only ones in the entire Afghan war). Although the Supreme Court never said that non-citizen detainees were entitled to such a procedure, the emphasis on simplicity and streamlining could be taken to imply that this procedure should be available to everyone.


Justice Souter, joined by Justice Ginsburg, concurred in part and dissented in part. Justice Souter's complaint was that the procedure set forth by the plurality violated the laws of war. Under the Geneva Convention, a military tribunal was to determine a captive's status. Anyone claiming to be an innocent civilian had the right to hearing and status determination before a competent tribunal. In case of doubt, captives must accorded prisoner of war status until found not to be entitled by a competent tribunal. Souter, then, would require the government to comply with these provisions. Since his opinion was a minority, he agreed to go along with the plurality opinion as the one closest to his own.


Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Stevens, famously dissented, saying that the government should either charge Hamdi with treason or release him. He denounced the procedure set forth by the plurality, both as an outrage against citizen's right to due process and an unwarranted act of judicial lawmaking, establishing a procedure that only Congress had the right to establish. However, Scalia's opinion is rendered largely meaningless because it is limited to citizen detainees held within the territorial jurisdiction of the federal courts. The President could evade it simply by holding detainees beyond the courts' reach.

Scalia's dissent is often hailed as the most favorable to individual rights of any of the opinions, but it is actually far more favorable to the government that the plurality or concurrence. Scalia expressly limits his dissent to citizens. He has constantly maintained that non-citizens detained as enemy combatants have no right to challenge their detention, no matter what the circumstances. He could call for the full protracted and elaborate protections of a criminal trial for treason only because he was addressing only the very few detainees who were citizens. The military as a whole would be little inconvienced by having a handful of soldiers return to the U.S. to testify at a treason trial.

Justice Thomas also dissented, holding that even a citizen had no right to challenge his detention. Waging war is an executive function that the courts have no business second guessing. Courts lack the specialized knowledge to judge such things that only the executive can understand. Father knows best and the dog ate my homework.

My own opinion

My own lay opinion is of little value and doubtless biased, but I will give it nonetheless. I am most inclined to agree with Justice Souter. Since Congress authorized the Afghan war, it is fair to assume they also authorized the detention of enemy soldiers captured in the war zone for the duration of the (Afghan) combat. This would apply to citizens as well as non-citizens. However, they should be held according to the laws of war. Justice Scalia does have a point that the judges are overstepping their limits in setting up a review procedure, especially if one already exists under the laws of war. The Admninistration should comply with the already existing procedure for allowing challenges, under the Geneva Convention and military law. (I will also add that I believe the Taliban were, for all intents and purposes, the Afghan national army, resisting a foreign invasion and should have been treated as lawful combatants. That designation does not, of course, apply to Al-Qaeda).

Friday, November 17, 2006

Can Even Legal Residents be Denied the Right to Trial?

The recently-passed Military Commissions Act (MCA) denies access to the courts to persons designated as alien enemy combatants. It does not distinguish between arrests in the U.S. or captures in a war zone. So can even people arrested in the U.S. be denied access to the courts? The Bush Administration has recently made its position clear by filing papers in the Fourth District Court asserting that Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar arrested in the United States is an enemy combatant and can be held indefinitely without trial our other opportunity to challenge his detention.

The facts of the case are set forth in the South Carolina trial court case, Al-Marri v. Wright. Ali Saleh Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, legally entered the U.S. on September 10, 2001 to study for a master's degree in Illinois. On December 12, 2001, he was arrested as a material witness for the September 11 attacks. He was initially charged with making credit card fraud and making false statements to the FBI and to a bank. However, before his case could go to trialm the federal government dropped the charges and instead designated him as an enemy combatant and transferred him to a naval prison in South Carolina, where he was held without access to the outside world. (The Administration likes to hold its "enemy combatants" in South Carolina because all appeals there go the the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the most exective-friendly).

Persons acting of Al-Marri's behalf filed a petition for habeas corpus. The trial-level court declined to grant a trial on the grounds that the Supreme Court case of
Hamdi v. Rumsfeld did not mandate a trial for accused enemy combatants. (I will address the validity of that interpretation below). Instead, the court found, Hamdi only requires that the government present its evidence that the detainee is an enemy combatant and that the detainee be given the opportunity to present rebuttal evidence. The government presented the declaration of an intelligence official reporting his review of intelligence documents gathered on Al-Marri. This reviews stated that Al-Marri had trained in Al Qaeda camps and received money from Al Qaeda, that he rarely attended school, that his laptop (purchased with Al Qaeda money) contained jihadist literature and extensive information on poisons, that his computer also had numerous false credit card numbers and that he had made at least some fraudulent credit card purchases, and that he had telephone and e-mail contact with Al Qaeda members. The court found this to be sufficient evidence that Al-Marri was an enemy combatant. Al-Marri declined to provide contrary evidence, saying that the burden was not on him to prove his innocence. The court therefore found that Al-Marri was an enemy combatant who could be detained indefinitely without trial.

The legal basis of the Al-Marri decision

Although some people have disingenuously asserted that this simply follows the traditional practive of denying access to the courts to enemy combatants, the trial court actually emphasized the general lack of precedent for such a case. The decision relies almost entirely on Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, but with a highly dubious interpretation of that case.

Hamdi involved a man reportedly captured as a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan who turned out to be a U.S. citizen. In a badly fratured decision, the Supreme Court upheld the government's authority to hold him on the grounds that "Because detention to preven a combatant's return to the battlefield is a fundamental incident of waging war, in permitting the use of 'necessary and appropriat force,' Congress had clearly and unmistakably authorized the detention in the narrow circumstances considered here." The Supreme Court further held that Hamdi could not be held for the duration of the entire, multi-generational "War on Terror," but ony for the duration of war in Afghanistan. It emphasized that the courts had previously upheld the military detention of U.S. citizens captured on foreign battlefields in the past. Finally, in authorizing the type of procedure used in Al-Marri, the Supreme Court cited the difficulty for soldiers waging a war to testify in trials on the other side of the world. Giving the detainee the opportunity to rebut government evidence would offer adequate protection to "the errant tourist, embedded journalist, or local aid worker."

It is clear, then, that Hamdi is addressed specifically to people seized in war zones. The judge in Al-Marri brushed the distinction aside, saying that in setting forth procedures, the Supreme Court simply referred to "enemy combatants," rather than enemy combatants taken in war zones. But the Supreme Court made clear that its opinion referred only to enemy combatants captured in the Afghan war.

The judge also relied on Padilla v. Hanft, the notorious case allowing the U.S. to designated Jose Padilla an enemy combatant and hold him without trial even though he was arrested in the United States. Citation of that case can only be called disingenuous. Padilla appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, and the government promptly revoked the enemy combatant status and charged him with criminal offenses. Even the court that allowed Padilla's unlimited detention scolded the Administration for trying to evade appeal, expecting that the ruling to be overturned. Padilla escaped being overruled only on a technicality and can hardly be considered valid law.

However, the trial court's decision was made before the MCA passed. The MCA, by denying access to the courts to any non-citizen designated an enemy combatant, apparently allows indefinite detention without charges even of people legally present in the United States.

Why not just charge Al-Marri?

As with Jose Padilla, the question with Al-Marri is, if the government has so much evidence, why not just charge him. I see two possibilities. One is that much of the evidence may be tainted, as appears to have been the case with Padilla. The government may have entered Al-Marri's laptop without a FISA warrant. Or some of the evidence against him may have been obtained by "coercive interrogation." The other possibility is that, even if the government can prove its case with untainted evidence, it can prove only that Al-Marri was a sleeper member of Al-Qaeda. It has no evidence that he committed or conspired to commit any actual act of terrorism. The most serious crime it had evidence to charge him with was credit card fraud.

Understandably, this may be frustrating for the government. It has a prisoner it believes may pose a serious threat to the public, but not proof that he has taken any overt action to threaten the public. The government nonetheless has two basic options. It can release Al-Marri but keep him under surveillance. The danger here is that Al Qaeda might assume he is under surveillance and cease communicating. But in that case he has effectively been neutralized as a threat. The other alternative is to charge him with as many counts of credit card fraud as possible and ask the judge for maximum, consecutive sentences because of the terrorist connections. After all, Al Capone was only convicted of income tax evasion.

The government has declined to take either of those actions. It has also undertaken a high-stakes gamble, dismissing all charges with prejudice (i.e., without the possiblity of being refiled). In doing so, the Administration is in effect double-daring the courts either to find that a criminal trial is required, or that the habeas-stripping provisions of the MCA are unconstitutional. "Rule against me," Bush is warning the courts, "and I will have no choice but to turn a terrorist loose on the street."


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Lessons from Humanitarian Interventions

We have reviewed three humanitarian interventions not involving the United States, in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Uganda. All three took place in the 1970's, before the doctrine of humanitarian intervention was generally accepted, and therefore generated considerable international opposition.

What lessons do these three examples teach us about humanitarian intervention?

Intervention can be justified even if the intervenor's motives are not entirely pure. One of the main reasons many people oppose U.S. humanitarian interventions is the fear that they will be mere excuses for power grabs. Certainly there was an element of power grab in all three cases here. Vietnam was deposing a hostile government and attempting to install a puppet regime. Tanzania's motives were similar, tough less overt. India was splitting a hostile country in two and seeking to install a more friendly regime in one half. Yet surely these power grabs were lesser evils than the ongoing slaughter. In international politics, motives of self-interest are probably impossible to eliminate. The best way to keep humanitarianism from being a mere excuse for power grabs is to establish clear standards as to what is and is not a serious enough crisis to justify military action.

As a matter of pure self-interest, most countries have legitimate reasons not to want humanitarian crises next door. Deranged, irrational regimes do not necessarily confine their atrocities within their own borders. Both Vietnam and Tanzania invaded only in response to unprovoked attacks. India was burdened with millions of refugees, another predictable result of a humanitarian crises. And, although not an issue in any of these cases, civil wars have a tendancy to spread and destablize neighboring countries. Thailand, though also a victim of Khmer Rouge attacks, nonetheless harbored and supported the Khmer Rouge out of fear of further Vietnamese aggression. Humanitarian interventions should include security guaranties for neighboring countries, and neighboring countries may be persuaded to support them.

Humanitarian interventions can fail, and have their costs even when successful. War is never cost-free. India's intervention was by far the most successul, sweeping up the Pakistani army in twelve days and putting a decisive end to the war. Even in so short a time, however, the Pakistanis were able to go on one last killing spree. And the Indian army was not able to keep Bengalis from engaging in savage reprisals against the Bihiris. Vietnam initially scattered, rather than routed, the Khmer Rouge. At first, the countryside remained insecure and the Khmer Rouge was able to return and terrorize the population. Even once most of the countryside was secured, a long war continued against stubborn remnants based in Thailand. However, a war in which 60,000 people are killed over 10 years dwarfs a regime which slaughters 1 to 3 million people in less than four years. Vietnam's intervention must be considered a humanitarian success, though less so than India's. Tanzanian forces were able to route Idi Amin's army, but not to prevent Uganda from disintigrating into civil war. Although the civil war came to an end after five years, it cost as many lives as the Amin regime. Tanzania's intervention must be considered a humanitarian failure.

Seizing the country is easy; securing it is the hard part. Army's whose main role is to abuse and terrorize civilians can rarely stand up to serious military challange. The Indian army routed the Pakistani forces in twelve days. The Vietnamese army seized Phnom Pehn within two weeks. The far less professional Tanzanian army took slightly longer, but encountered little resistance. It took longer, however, for the Vietnamese forces to establish real control, and they never did in border areas. The Tanzanians were unable to establish security, and Uganda dissolved into civil war. India, on the other hand, was dislodging what amounted to a foreign invader, accepted the unconditional surrender of the Pakistani forces, and encountered no further resistance. Removing a foreign invader is much easier than removing a domestic killer.

It is easier to secure ethnically uniform countries than ethnically varied ones. Bangladesh was overwhelmingly Bengali. Savage reprisals occurred against the Bihari minority, but the Biharis were not numerous enough to fight a civil war. The Bengalis had a significant religious divide between Muslims and Hindus, but ultimately considered themselves Bengalis first. Cambodia had some ethnic minorities, but was overwhelmingly Khmer (Cambodian), and it was never in doubt that the Khmers would be dominant. It is entirely plausible that the Vietnamese prolonged the war by attempting to dominate the country and settling in large numbers, thus raising fears of Vietnamese dominance and encouraging even resistance, even by enemies of the Khmer Rouge. Uganda was hopelessly ethnically fragmented and, like many African countries, suffered from tribal rivalries. Much of the civil war that followed Amin's overthrow had a strong ethnic component, as the Langi and Acholi tribes sought to dominate the army and, through it, the country and other Ugandans resisted. The current Lord's Resistance Army is active mostly among the Acholi.

Being bigger and stronger helps. India had a population substantially larger than Pakistan, a fairly well-trained army, and was fighting a West Pakistani force in an area geographically non-contiguous to West Pakistan, which caused the Pakistanis obvious logistical problems. Vietnam had ten times the population of Cambodia, and its army was seasoned. Tanzania is one of the stronger states in Africa, but did not have anything like the well-trained armies of India or Vietnam.

Finally, even sucessful humanitarian interventions do not achieve miracles. India's intervention was by far the most successful in that it brought a full and final end to the war. But Bangladesh remains troubled at best and turbulent at worst. Vietnam ended Khmer Rouge atrocities, only to usher in a low level war. Cambodia, too, remains troubled. And the Tanzanian intervention led to civil war. Humanitarian intervenors should not expect to create the perfect government or a social paradise. Ending the immediate humanitarian crisis and not provoking a new one is the best one can expect.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Yet Another Electoral Post-Mortem

The Democratic victory in Congressional eletions has been analyzed to death, but since everyone else is doing it, I might as well weigh in with a few unoriginal remarks.

Republican Reaction

I find it encouraging that George Bush, after spending the last few months proclaiming that a vote for Democrats is a vote for terrorists, has changed his tone in the wake of his defeat. At the post-election press conference, Bush said:

To our enemies: Do not be joyful. Do not confuse the workings of our democracy with a lack of will. Our nation is committed to bringing you to justice. Liberty and democracy are the source of America's strength, and liberty and democracy will lift up the hopes and desires of those you are trying to destroy.

Of course, telling the American people they have just voted for terrorism is not a smart political move. But it suggests much of the hysteria and fear-mongering preceding the election was just hype, and that Bush and the Republicans have not forgotten the concept of loyal opposition.

What the Democrats Should Do

I generally agree with conventional wisdom here. Democrats should not set out to impeach George Bush, only to investigate what he has been doing. My advice would be to start with investigations most likely to arouse popular outrage, such as an investigation of the inept handling of the Iraq War, Halburton profiteering and the like. Move from there to somewhat more controversial matters, like manipulation of intelligence to justify the war and whether there have been abuses of warrantless wiretapes. Save the most controversial matters, such as the indefinite detention and abuse of terror suspects, for last until after awakening sufficient outrage against the Administration on other matters.

I fully share the outrage of other civil libertarians against the Military Commissions Act and general denial of hearing to detainees, but to immediately attack the Administration on these issues is to risk a replay of the Iran/Contra hearings. The Iran/Contra hearings were an attempt to investigate the Reagan Administration's lawlessness, but they largely backfired because Colonel North and others were able to portray their actions as patriotic and accuse Congressional Democrats of aiding and abetting Communists. Many members of the current Administration are all too eager to cry "rights for terrorists." The Bush Administrations lawlessness in these matters should be investigated, but it is best to wait until it is further weakened. Also, if the Administration claims intelligence secrets, go ahead and agree to hold investigations behind closed doors. You can always decide later what to release and what not to.

Various commentators have recommended that the Democrats pass as many popular laws as they can think of. If Bush signs the laws, they will get credit for passing them; if he vetoes, he will be blamed. This is probably good advise for non-controversial matters. Any attempt to pass controversial legislation will be futile. President Bush will veto it (and Senate Republicans may very well filibuster it).

How to deal with Congressional Republicans is somewhat more problematic. Rolling Stone Magazine has documented in detail the dirty tricks Republicans have played since taking control of Congress to shut Democrats out of power entirely. Tactics include secretly sneaking provisions into bills at the last minute without informing the opposition party, forbidding amendments to bills other than appropriations bills, excluding Democrats from conference committees (the committees that reconcile separate versions of bills passed by the Senate and the House), making major modifications to bills in conference committee, and rushing the modified bills to a vote before anyone has a chance to read them. So the obvious question is, retaliate in kind, or take the high road. The obvious flaw in treating the Republicans as the Republicans have treated the Democrats is that it leads to further partisan bitterness and will corrupt the Democrats as surely as it corrupted the Republicans. The disadvantage in being nice is that Republicans are apt to take it as a sign of weakness to exploit. I would propose as a reasonable compromise, treat Republicans fairly now, but thoroughly investigate their past corruption. That will be punishment enough.

The Effect on the Iraq War

This election is unlikely to have much effect on the Iraq war. Matters of war and foreign policy are uniquely executive concerns. President Bush has fired Donald Rumsfelt and replaced him with a more reality-based appointee. He has promised to listen to the Baker Commission, which is expected to recommend negotiations. All this is rather late in the game, but I suppose there is room for hope. Just not much.

Long-Term Political Consequences

I believe it would be a mistake to read this election as part of any long-term trend. The long-term consequences will happen in the long term and will depend on how effective this Congress is and how external events play out. I remember well when the Republicans took over Congress in 1994 they acted as if they had a veto-proof majority and soon learned otherwise. When they overreached themselves and provoked a backlash, I was so naive as to believe the Republicans had learned there was such a thing as being too right wing. And tempting as it may be to believe now that the Republican party will finally learn that its right wing is gangrenous and must be amputated to ensure the patient's survival, any such conclusion is premature. The current Democratic Congress will undoubtedly make its share of mistakes and experience its share of setbacks. The main lesson of this election, I believe, is that any hard-core ideologues, given enough rope, will hang themselves.


Demographics of the Democratic Victory

This CNN poll (courtesy of Mahblog) should (but probably will not) decisively refute the myth of the elitist blue stater. Support for Republicans correlated positively with income, ranging from the 7% of voters earning under $15,000 per year who favored Democrats 67% to 30% to the 5% of voters earning over $200,000 per year, who favored Republicans 53% to 45%. (Exception: Members of the $75,000 to $100,000 bracket favored Democrats slightly more thatn the $50,000 to $75,000 bracket. The difference was small -- 52% vs. 50%). Support for Republicans also correlated positively with education, but the correlation was weaker and more complex. High school dropout favored Democrats 64% to 35% and support edged over to Republicans as education increased up to college graduates, who were evenly divided, 49% to 49%. Among post-graduates, support swung back to Democrats, 58% to 41%.

Nor is it clear, as some conventional wisdom claims, that Republicans are the wave of the future because the devout have more children than the secular. The age group voting most strongly Democratic were people under 30, who favored Democrats 60% to 38%. However, this young group made up only 12% of all voters.

The poll makes clear why Republicans place such emphasis on the support of white evangelical Christians -- they were by far the strongest Republicans of any demographic, supporting the GOP by a margin of 70% to 28%. They are also a substantial voting bloc, making up 24% of the population. Democrats have no base of comparable size and loyalty. The most important Democratic voting blocs were racial minorities (blacks made up 10% of voters and voted 89% Democrat; Hispanics were 8% of the voting public and voted 69% Democrat and Asians were 2% of voters and voted 62% Democrat) and people with incomes under $50,000 a year; 40% of the population voting 60% Democrat. These groups are either smaller than white Evangelicals or less consistently loyal.

All these findings should be accepted with an important caveat. The Democrats were much more successful in this election than they have been since the Reagan era. These percentages are therefor more favorable to Democrats (probably across the board) than they would be in a typical year. However, there is no reason to believe the general trends of which group supports which party are atypical.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Better a Yellow Dog Than a Republican

Just to show that I am not totally out of touch with current events, we take a break from our usually scheduled discussion of humanitarian intervention to talk about tomorrow's election.

It is the usual American practice to vote the individual, not the party, and to decide based largely on local issues. That rule is coming undone. It frayed somewhat in 1994 with the Contract With America, in which the Republicans presented a well publicized party platform (widely regarded as a campaign gimmick) and called on Americans to vote generic Republican to protest Clinton and the Democratic Congress.

Democrats do not have a platform (a useless gesture, since George Bush would veto it anyway), but they are calling on people to vote Democrat to protest George Bush and a corrupt Republican Congress. More than any mid-term election I can recall (including 1994), this one is truly national and is truly about the party rather than the individual.

George Bush has started a needless war in Iraq and then proceeded to botch it; he has trampled on basic liberties in the name of fighting terrorism; he has treated all dissent as treason; he has shown himself to be utterly incompetent to manage the job. The Republican Congress has let him get away with it all. A Democratic Congress can at least hope to block some of his worst initiatives and force him to negotiate across the aisle instead of constantly pandering to his base.

Of course, individual Democrats can bolt their party and support Bush laws. But Democratic control of at least one house will determine who the officers are -- who is floor leader, who assigns bills to committees where they live or die, who pushes legislation through and, above all, who chairs the committees where the real power is. Control of Congressional committees is the key to investigating what Bush has been up to for the past six years, and exposing him is the key to curbing his abuses.

And that is why I say, in this election, be un-American. Vote for Congress based on national, not local, considerations. Vote the party, not the individual. And vote for the local Democrat, any Democrat, even a yellow dog. I never thought I would say such a thing, but our country's future may depend on it.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Humanitarian Interventions -- Uganda, 1979

The least controversial of the three humanitarian interventions of the 1970's was also the least successful -- Tanzania's invasion of Uganda to depose Idi Amin.

Uganda's viability was doubtful from the start. When modern Uganda became independent, it consisted of the autonomous kingdom of Buganda and four other kingdoms, as well as various tribes, all combined into a single nation-state. Uganda was also divided between Nilotic-speaking tribes in the north and Bantu-speaking tribes in the south. The bulk of Uganda's business class consisted of much-resented Asians. Attempting to rule this complex conglomeration was the socialist Milton Obote. Obote ruled autocratically, suppressing the autonomy of the kingdoms within Uganda, and increasingly relying on the military to enforce his power. Although Obote packed the army with his own Lango tribe and the Acholi tribe, the leader of the army was Idi Amin, a Muslim (in a predominantly Christian country) and a member of the Kakwa tribe.

As Amin's power grew, Obote increasingly began to see him as a threat and planned his removal. Amin pre-empted the attack in 1971 by seizing power while Obote was out of the country. Ethnic and religious factors played a part in the brutality of Idi Amin's rule, but first and foremost was ineptitude and paranoia of an unbalanced man in a role far beyond his ability.

Amin began with a murderous purge of Lango and Acholi members of the military, favoring his own Kakwa tribe, and extended his reign of terror to the population at large. He expelled Asians from Uganda and confiscated their property, which was turned over to members of the army.

This expropriation of property proved disastrous for the already declining economy. Businesses were run into the ground, cement factories at Tororo and Fort Portal collapsed from lack of maintenance, and sugar production literally ground to a halt, as unmaintained machinery jammed permanently. Uganda's export crops were sold by government parastatals, but most of the foreign currency they earned went for purchasing imports for the army.

Idi Amin became known for his eccentric an erratic behavior that made him a laughing stock throughout the world. He was known for making absurd pronouncements, awarding himself meaningless medals and titles, calling himself "the white man's burden," and being carried around in a chair by four Englishmen. He cultivated a friendship with fellow Muslim and eccentric Muammar Qaddafi, though many people suspected his devotion to Islam was mostly an excuse to practice polygamy and share in Arab oil wealth. But his regime's complete lack of ability to manage as large a job as running a country was no laughing matter.

Because he was illiterate — a disability shared with most of his higher ranking officers — Amin relayed orders and policy decisions orally by telephone, over the radio, and in long rambling speeches to which civil servants learned to pay close attention. The bureaucracy became paralyzed as government administrators feared to make what might prove to be a wrong decision. The minister of defense demanded and was given the Ministry of Education office building, but then the decision was reversed. Important education files were lost during their transfer back and forth by wheelbarrow

Amin became increasingly erratic and paranoid and enforced his power largely by torture and murder. The number of people killed under his regime is unknown, but estimates range from 100,000 to 500,000, andy may have amounted to one Ugandan in 40.

In 1978, Amin's army invaded neighboring Tanzania and seized 710 square miles of territory. Tanzania's president, Julius Nyrere, a longtime enemy of Amin who harbored Obote in exile, saw this as a good opportunity to get rid of his rival altogether. Nyrere expanded the Tanzania Army from 40,000 to 100,000 and counter-invaded in 1979. The Ugandan forces crumbled before the Tanzanian advance. Qadaffi sent some 3,000 troops to Uganda to defend Amin, but they, too, were routed. In April, 1979, the Tanzanians seized the Ugandan capital of Kampala, and Amin fled to Libya.

Unlike the Bangladesh or Cambodia interventions, Cold War politics played little role in Uganda. Idi Amin showed some skill playing superpowers off against each other, but was no one's ally. His eccentric behavior, as much as his murderous brutality, had made him an embarrassment everyone was glad to be rid of. There was, therefore, little international opposition to the Tanzanian invasion, in marked contrast to the strong condemnation of Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia, which had happened only a few months earlier.

The removal of Amin did not, however, bring peace to Uganda. After the route of Amin's army, it was replaced with a force of 1,000 Ugandans who had fought alongside the Tanzanians during the invasion. Ugandan leadership was divided among rival factions, who began forming their own private armies. Nyrere continued to manipulate events from behind the scenes, restoring the unpopular Obote to power in 1980 in an election generally believed to be rigged. Civil war broke out in 1981. Yoweri Museveni leading the National Resistance Army revolted against Obote and civil war ensued. Obote once again packed the army with Lango and Acholi tribesmen and set out to brutally crush the rebellion. Civilian deaths in this war have been estimated at 500,000, comparable to those killed by Amin. At least 750,000 people were also displaced. Museveni ultimately prevailed in 1986, brought an end to the civil war, and began Uganda's recovery. A small but brutal group of rebels known as the Lord's Resistance Army continues to be active in northern Uganda.

Given Tanzania's ultimate inability to restore order to Uganda and the ferocity of the civil war that followed, this humanitarian intervention must be judged as a failure.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Humanitarian Interventions -- Cambodia, 1979

The second major humanitarian of the 1970's was Vietnam's 1979 invasion of Cambodia to expel the murderous Khmer Rouge. Although the invasion can certainly be defended on humanitarian grounds, the entire episode does not reflect favorably on anyone -- including the Vietnamese government.

The Khmer Rouge began as a Communist insurgency against the Cambodian government, trained and supported by, and largely subordinate to, the larger and more powerful Vietnamese Communist party. Originally a minor force, the Khmer Rouge became powerful when the unpopular (pro U.S.) government of Lon Nol took over and U.S. forces attempted to subdue the Communists by bombing. Civil War followed from 1970 until 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took over and quickly proved itself to be one of the most bloodthirsty governments of all time.

Although the Khmer Rouge singled ethnic and religious minorities out for special persecution, the primary driving force behind the regime's extraordinary savagery appears to have been a fanatically doctrinaire of Communism, exceeding even the dogmatism of Stalin or Mao.

Cambodians were essentially classified into three groups. The elite, including anyone with wealth or education, were to be executed en masse. Urban residents (including peasant refugees who fled the civil war in the countryside) were classified as "new people" and force-marched into the countryside and put to slave labor, where many died of exhaustion and starvation. The Khmer Rouge motto toward new people was, "To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss." Only undisplaced rural peasants, or "old people" were not considered class enemies. Modern medicine was banned as a foreign intrusion, and many people died of disease as a result.

The Wikipedia describes conditions as follows:

In order to save ammunition, they used simple weapons like pickaxes and ax handles to carry out executions. People were executed for not working hard enough, complaining about living conditions, collecting or stealing food for their own use, wearing jewelry, having sexual relations, grieving over the loss of relatives or friends, or expressing religious sentiments. Even something as simple as wearing eye glasses could result in execution because the Khmer Rouge associated it with Western intellectualism. Sick people were often killed.


Family relationships not sanctioned by the state were also banned, and family members could be put to death for communicating with each other. In any case, family members were often relocated to different parts of the country with all postal and telephone services abolished. The total lack of agricultural knowledge by the former city dwellers made famine inevitable. Rural dwellers were often unsympathetic or too frightened to assist them. Such acts as picking wild fruit or berries was seen as "private enterprise" for which the death penalty applied.

The total number of people killed by the Khmer Rouge is unknown. Estimates range from a low of 750,000 to a high of 3 million, with most estimates in the 1 to 2 million range, out of a starting population of 7 to 8 million. This means that the Khmer Rouge directly or indirectly killed off at least a tenth and perhaps as much as 30% of the total population over a period of four years. This dwarfs the number of people killed in the civil war leading to the Khmer Rouge. The absolute number of people killed by the Khmer Rouge is similar in absolute terms to the number killed in the the Bangladesh war, but with a population a tenth the size. Proportionate to population, the Khmer Rouge was one of the most murderous governments of all time.

In addition to being dogmatic Communists, the Khmer Rouge leaders were extremely xenophobic. Allied with China, the cut off almost all relations with other countries. The Cambodian army made repeated, unprovoked attacks on villages in neighboring Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. (Numerous Cambodians had also fled to these countries). After repeated provocations, on December 25, 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia to get rid of the Khmer Rouge once and for all. Vietnamese forces were reached Phnom Penh within two weeks and proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of Kampuchea, led mostly by former members of the Khmer Rouge. Securing the countryside proved slower and more difficult. In places where Vietnamese control was less than secure, Cambodians faced the possiblity of old rulers being temporarily driven away, only to return and take revenge on anyone who accepted Vietnamese help. Over time, however, the Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge back into the areas around the Thai border, where the Khmer Rouge forces joined with remnants of other opponents of Vietnamese occupation and fought a prolonged guerrilla war. Vietnam ruled Cambodia with an occupying army between 120,000 and 200,000, settled numerous Vietnamese in Cambodia, and generally attempted to rule the country as a puppet state. The murderous policies of the Khmer Rouge ended, but Cambodians increasingly began to resent the Vietnamese occupation. The usual estimate of the number of people killed in this war is 30,000 on each side, over a period of 10 years.

If the reaction of the international community (including the United States) was less than edifying in Bangladesh, it was shameful in the case of Cambodia. Cold War politics trumped humanitarian concerns. Because Vietnam was a Soviet ally, the invasion of Cambodia was seen as an indirect act of Soviet aggression. The United Nations General Assembly condemned the invasion and continued to recognize the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia. China made a brief punitive invasion of Vietnam. And China, the United States, Thailand and other countries supported anti-Vietnamese guerrillas operating out of Thailand. Although non-Communist groups were included for window dressing, this effectively translated into support for the Khmer Rouge. This support ended with the withdrawal of Vietnamese forces from Cambodia and the end of the Cold War. A low-grade civil war remained, which gradually faded out in the 1990's.

Vietnam's motives were also far from pure. The government they installed consisted of dissenting members of the Khmer Rouge, and Vietnam was clearly acting less out of humanitarian motives than a wish to reduce Cambodia to a puppet. The entire episode does credit to no one.