Jack Goldsmith observes that President Obama seems to be skirting War Power Resolution rules by sending Congress notice of incremental battles against ISIS.
Yesterday President Obama sent a War Powers Resolution (WPR) letter to Congress concerning U.S. airstrikes “in support of an operation to deliver humanitarian assistance to civilians in the town of Amirli, Iraq.” This is the third Iraq WPR letter to Congress in a month, and the sixth this summer. In June the President sent three WPR letters – the first (June 16) on the initial deployment of 275 soldiers to protect the embassy; then another (June 26) on further troops to protect the embassy and increased intelligence-gathering against the Islamic State; and a third (June 30) for ore troops to protect the embassy. Six weeks later, on August 8, the President sent a WPR letter concerning the use of force in Iraq to stop the “current advance on Erbil by the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there.” On August 17, he sent a letter concerning the use of force in Iraq “to support operations by Iraqi forces to recapture the Mosul Dam.” And then yesterday’s letter on Amirli. (John recently summarized how these WPR letters are typically generated.)
Such frequent letters to Congress about discrete missions within a single country are not typical. Typically the President sends one WPR letter to cover the use of force within a country, and then updates that use of force as part of a biannual consolidated report.
Why, then, has the President sent Congress six narrowly tailored WPR letters related to Iraq since mid-June? I can think of two possible explanations.
First, the President wants to keep Congress super-informed about what he is doing in Iraq. I doubt this is the reason, or at least the main reason, since the information in the letters was publicly known (or about to be). Relatedly, the administration might want to emphasize to Congress that each use of force is limited in scope and time, though in the aggregate such discrete reporting might have the opposite effect.
Second, the administration is trying to circumvent WPR time limits on it deployment of troops and uses of force in Iraq. (NSC spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden recently dodged whether the WPR applied to the recent air strikes and related actions in Iraq.)
Definitely click through to see the addendum Goldsmith put together, showing Obama’s accelerating rate of WPR note-sending.
Not only does he seem to be dodging the intent of WPR (in more legalistic, though no less obstinate fashion than Obama did with Libya). But by attaching letters to each mountain or dam we have to defend on humanitarian grounds, you pretty much ensure a piecemeal approach.
That may still be better than declaring war against ISIS, with the inevitable mission creep that would bring. But I’m not sure that war by epistolary novel is any less likely to result in mission creep.
On the same day the NYT published the latest in a series of reports of how ISIS has incorporated Baathists from Saddam’s regime, the WaPo reported that ISIS had tortured some of its captives, including James Foley, using some of the same techniques employed by the US.
The NYT described how Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi teamed up with some of Saddam’s old officers.
He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army.
They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group’s military council.
The pedigree of its leadership, outlined by an Iraqi who has seen documents seized by the Iraqi military, as well as by American intelligence officials, helps explain its battlefield successes: Its leaders augmented traditional military skill with terrorist techniques refined through years of fighting American troops, while also having deep local knowledge and contacts. ISIS is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army.
And WaPo described the waterboarding used with Foley — but it described it exclusively as a CIA torture technique.
James Foley was among the four who were waterboarded several times by Islamic State militants who appeared to model the technique on the CIA’s use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Waterboarding often involves strapping a person down on a gurney or bench and pouring cold water over a cloth covering the face. It causes the sensation of drowning. “The wet cloth creates a barrier through which it is difficult — or in some cases not possible — to breathe,” according to a Justice Department memo in May 2005 about the CIA’s use of the technique.
True, waterboarding — as opposed to simulated drowning by submersion — has only been admitted in 3 known cases, all CIA detainees — Abu Zubaydah, Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (as well as Egypt’s waterboarding on our behalf of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi).
But waterboarding was at least contemplated for use on Baathists. Charles Duelfer admitted that OVP suggested a Mukhabarat officer Duelfer names as Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi be waterboarded, though Duelfer claims he ultimately wasn’t waterboarded.
At the end of April 2003, not long after the fall of Baghdad, U.S. forces captured an Iraqi who Bush White House officials suspected might provide information of a relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi was the head of the M-14 section of Mukhabarat, one of Saddam’s secret police organizations. His responsibilities included chemical weapons and contacts with terrorist groups.
Duelfer says he heard from “some in Washington at very senior levels (not in the CIA),” who thought Khudayr’s interrogation had been “too gentle” and suggested another route, one that they believed has proven effective elsewhere. “They asked if enhanced measures, such as waterboarding, should be used,” Duelfer writes. “The executive authorities addressing those measures made clear that such techniques could legally be applied only to terrorism cases, and our debriefings were not as yet terrorism-related. The debriefings were just debriefings, even for this creature.”
Duelfer will not disclose who in Washington had proposed the use of waterboarding, saying only: “The language I can use is what has been cleared.” In fact, two senior U.S. intelligence officials at the time tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard came from the Office of Vice President Cheney.
“Everyone knew there would be more smiles in Washington if WMD stocks were found,” Duelfer said in the interview. “My only obligation was to find the truth. It would be interesting if there was WMD in May 2003, but what was more interesting to me was looking at the entire regime through the slice of WMD.”
But, Duelfer says, Khudayr in fact repeatedly denied knowing the location of WMD or links between Saddam’s regime and al Qaeda and was not subjected to any enhanced interrogation. Duelfer says the idea that he would have known of such links was “ludicrous”.
The UK raised its threat limit to “pee your pants” today, based on the assessment an attack on the country is “highly likely.” This is a response to the 500 or so Britons who have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS.
PM David Cameron said at least 500 people had travelled from the UK “to fight in Syria and potentially Iraq”.
He said Islamic State (IS) extremists – who are attempting to establish a “caliphate”, or Islamic state, in the region – represented a “greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before”.
New legislation would also be brought in to make it easier to take passports away from people travelling abroad to join the conflict, Mr Cameron said.
Which has me thinking — and not for the first time — of the large numbers of people who went to fight in the Spanish Civil War.
After all, it’s not like wanting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad is an ignoble goal. And while I think most Brits (and Americans) will grow disillusioned by the intolerance and ruthless discipline of ISIS, I can imagine the attraction, from afar, of moral certitude they offer. The 1930s, like today, are a morally confusing time, and those who fought the fascists in Spain ended up being vanguards of a necessary fight, even if they fought for an equally loathsome authoritarian force in the process.
The experience of fighting — and growing disillusioned — in Spain was chronicled by George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia. After his return, his views were suspect, but he did manage to return to the UK and warn of the dangers of absolutism.
I’m not the first to make this comparison. Boyd Tonkin wrote a piece in the Independent wondering whether those who traveled to Syria to fight Assad will be able to return to the UK without he specter of terrorism ruining their lives. (h/t to Gabe Moshenska who pointed me to it on Twitter)
Tony Blair’s third administration passed the Terrorism Act 2006. Section Five, as presently interpreted by the Crown Prosecution Service, makes it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a “political, ideological, religious or racial motive”. The legislation appears to forbid all training or action in a foreign combat. If so, its provisions would have criminalised every Briton who fought in Spain. It would have turned Lord Byron, whose commitment to Greek independence led him to arm and lead a raggle-taggle regiment prior to his death at Missolonghi in 1824, into an outlaw. As for the 6,500 veterans of Wellington’s armies who went off after Waterloo to fight against Spanish colonial rule in the battles that led to freedom for Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, how could the courts have processed such a lawless throng?
The 2006 legislation currently targets UK citizens deemed to have fought with Syrian rebel groups. Estimates of their number vary wildly but a figure of around 400-500 has gained currency. At least eight have died. The fear of radicalisation, with any link to al-Qa’ida-allied units and above all to Isis treated as a communicable virus, has propelled the hard legal line. In January, 16 Britons were arrested after returning from Syria. Further arrests have followed since.
[T]oday’s security-led prism and its “radicalisation” model, with the automatic penalties in place for any returnee, appears blind to every nuance. One British volunteer in Syria tweeted a poster that read “Keep Calm, Support Isis”: a spoof of the already much-parodied Second World War campaign to beef up morale. What are the chances that the kid who wrote that poster had watched Dad’s Army? Pretty high. If so, he will be many things apart from a bloodthirsty future avenger dedicated to importing holy mayhem on to British streets.
The long-term significance of an overseas adventure for anyone may not be apparent to them, or to others, at the time. But every present or past volunteer in Syria now knows they bear an invisible brand marked “potential murderer”, stamped by the agencies of surveillance. In a BBC radio analysis, one British fighter thought it a “slightly surreal” notion to “go back to the UK and start a jihad there”. For him, at least: “As to the global jihad, I couldn’t tell you if I’m going to be alive tomorrow, let alone future plans.”
Just because you hear someone rashly cry “wolf” does not mean that wolves do not exist. Over the past six weeks, Isis in Iraq has shown to the world a savagery almost beyond belief. Its bloody stunts may have emboldened a few would-be butchers. They will have deterred many secret faint-hearts, already in too deep. However, if the near-certainty of UK criminal sanctions closes down your road to reintegration, why not rise to the fanatics’ bait? What have you then got to lose?
Olivier Knox has a report this morning in which he interviewed Connecticut’s Democratic Senator Chris Murphy about potential Congressional authorization for use of force against ISIS. Before we get to Murphy’s tremendous response, it’s worth taking a look at the incredibly wide range of fronts on which the drums are beating for a war with ISIS.
Furthermore, Gen. Dempsey has warned that ISIS cannot be defeated only in Iraq. He asserted, “Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no.”
In fact the very existence of terrorists from over 50 countries means that we must be thinking in terms of a global campaign to eradicate the virus of Islamic Extremism and the spirit of terrorism and barbarism that it is fostering. This is fully as grave a threat to our survival as was Nazism or communism. With appropriate strategies and consistent policies executed energetically we can defeat and eliminate the Islamic State and its various allied factions.
ISIS and its worldwide terrorist allies have become the focus of evil in the modern world.
Who said that? John McCain? No. Lindsey Graham? No. Maybe Bill Kristol? No. Those are the words of zombie Ronald Reagan, appearing in a CNN column earlier this week penned by Newt Gingrich. The column carries the winsome title “What would Reagan do?“, and it presents the speech Reagan would have given in response to the beheading of James Foley by ISIS. Well, the speech Reagan would have given if only he were alive and still president, that is.
For the war mongers on the right, ISIS has quickly become the “focus of evil in the modern world”, and the enthusiasm with which they are urging full on war with ISIS is dizzying. Yesterday, I noted that John McCain’s beloved “moderate” Free Syrian Army also is guilty of beheading victims and posting photos on social media, but of course the hand-wringing over Foley’s beheading never allows for the fact that those we are being urged to arm against ISIS are guilty of many of the same crimes against humanity which are said to be fueling our desire to attack ISIS.
So they guys we are supposed to arm against ISIS commit the same crimes as ISIS and ISIS is now copying US crimes, too, but somehow we are supposed to see ISIS as “the focus of evil in the modern world”.
But wait, there’s more!
We have to be upset, the New York Times warns us this morning, because there is now a flow of US citizens into the ranks of ISIS. And, as if that weren’t enough to get the bubba crowd worked up, ISIS wants our womenfolk: Continue reading
On May 27, 2013, nearly three months before the deadly August, 2013 sarin attack, Josh Rogin was granted an “exclusive” to publish in The Daily Beast that John McCain had secretly slipped into Syria to meet with “moderate” rebels who oppose Bashar al-Assad:
McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator. Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasingly active in Syria.
The entire trip was coordinated with the help of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American nonprofit organization that works in support of the Syrian opposition. Two leaders of the group attended all of the McCain-Idris meetings and discussed them with The Daily Beast.
Just who was present in the meetings with McCain, both in photographs that have appeared and in less public meetings, has been a point of contention since word of the meeting came out. Within a week of the Rogin story, Rand Paul was quoted by CBS:
Wielding a charge that’s been largely refuted, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., over the weekend took a swipe at his fellow Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, for hislast week with Syrian rebels.
“I’m very worried about getting involved in a new war in Syria,” Paul said Saturday night while taking questions at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “a bad guy – he is,” the Kentucky senator continued, but cited al Qaeda and additional extremist groups “on the other side” as a reason to give the United States pause before engaging militarily.
“They say, ‘there are some pro-Western people, and we’re going to vet them,’” Paul continued. “Well, apparently we had a senator over there who had his picture taken with some kidnappers, so I don’t know how good a job we’re doing vetting those who are going to get the arms.”
Even though CBS noted that Paul’s accusation had already been refuted before they quoted it, Josh Rogin felt it necessary to give more detail debunking Paul. Leaving aside the red herring of Nour and whether he was at the meeting, this part of Rogin’s piece is very interesting: Continue reading
The last 24 hours in Afghanistan are a perfect summation of the insanity imposed by endless US occupation.
On the election recount front, after warning for several days that he might do so, Abdullah Abdullah has withdrawn his observers from the audit process. The UN is desperate to see the process through to the end, as tweeted by ToloNews:
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) August 27, 2014
The Washington Post, in its article on Abdullah’s withdrawal, holds out hope that he will continue to take part in the negotiations on Kerry’s extra-constitutional shared governance plan:
It was not immediately clear Wednesday whether Abdullah still planned to participate in a unity government with Ghani.
Ghafour Liwal, a Kabul-based political analyst, said Abdullah’s campaign may be using the boycott to seek more concessions from Ghani about his future role in a new government.
“Abdullah’s team is using the withdrawal from the audit process as political pressure,” he said.
Those talks about possible power-sharing are “far more important than” the technical issue of how to conduct the audit, Liwal said.
The New York Times, though, sees Abdullah as likely withdrawing from the entire process:
Both Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani pledged to Secretary of State John Kerry that they would accept the audit’s conclusions about who had won the election and then would form a government of national unity including officials from both campaigns.
But it was unclear Wednesday whether Mr. Abdullah planned to keep that commitment. He had yet to make a public comment on the matter, but statements from his aides have been negative. On Tuesday, his chief auditor, Fazul Ahmad Manawi, said that if the campaign’s demands for changes to the audit were not met, Mr. Abdullah would pull out of both the audit and the broader election process. “We will not continue to be part of the process, and any result coming out of it will not be acceptable to us and will have no credibility to us,” he said.
Gosh, Abdullah withdraws in the face of widespread fraud that he is unable to overcome. We’ve seen this movie before. Remember that was eligible to take part in a runoff election against Karzai in 2009 but withdrew just a few days before the election, knowing that Karzai would make sure of his own victory. The runoff was canceled and Karzai served a second term.
It was already becoming clear as the recount progressed and Ghani was looking more and more likely to retain an edge in the “final” count that he had no intention of really sharing power with Abdullah, so it seems likely to me that Ghani will assume the role of president in the next few weeks. It seems unlikely that there will be time for this to play out before the NATO summit at the end of next week, but the US (and by extension, NATO) stands ready to allow extra time for the eventual winner to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement.
And that brings us to the other insanity front in Afghanistan in the last 24 hours. Visiting Afghanistan to preside over the handing off of ISAF command from Joseph Dunford to John Campbell, Joint Chiefs Chair Martin Dempsey proved he is genetically incapable of straying from the military’s constant Afghanistan script of “We have the Taliban on the run and things are improving” no matter how dismal the situation: Continue reading
Reuters reminds us this morning that under one previous set of plans, today was to have been inauguration day for Afghanistan’s new president. Karzai is now insisting that the candidates must work out the vote audit and their power sharing agreement very quickly because he intends to stand by September 2 as the definite inauguration day. But that doesn’t look like a realistic deadline, either, according to Reuters:
But officials from the rival camps, as well as from the election commission, doubt that the Sept. 2 date would be met.
“Honestly, I cannot come out with something definite on that, but I hope. It’s Afghanistan. Things are unpredictable,” said Abdullah’s spokesman, Mujib Rahman Rahimi.
An official for Ghani’s campaign, who declined to be identified, said little progress had been made in interpreting the framework for a power-sharing deal.
“Nothing yet has added to the political framework and the commission couldn’t reach an agreement in most of the areas,” the official said, adding that the candidates were meeting to try to break the deadlock.
Many Western diplomats also say the process is unlikely to be resolved in time.
“I don’t see how there will be any space for compromise, because the pie is too small and there are too many people who want a piece,” said one Western official.
BBC chimes in with a report today that the small pie is getting even smaller:
Afghanistan’s finance minister has said deadlock over the disputed presidential election has cost the economy $5bn.
Omar Zakhilwal told the BBC he would have to cut salaries and lay off government workers if the crisis was not resolved by the end of the month.
Foreign investment is at a standstill and government revenues have fallen sharply since the April vote.
Khaama Press adds that in addition to the $5 billion in lost revenues, Afghanistan also has seen around $6 billion in capital flight due to the election dispute.
The huge scale of the fraud — involving perhaps more than two million ballots out of roughly eight million reported cast, according to independent international estimates — has stymied efforts to achieve a democratic transition. Secretary of State John Kerry has intervened twice to keep the campaigns in agreement on a unity government and a complete audit of the vote, but the process has repeatedly broken down in disputes.
Mr. Abdullah was the clear leader in the first round, with a 900,000-vote margin over Mr. Ghani. But the preliminary results of the runoff showed a gigantic improvement for Mr. Ghani — an “impossible” one, according to one Western official — of 1.9 million votes.
Hmm, some dirty hippie had come up with very similar math on the dramatic change in vote numbers–back on July 8.
Oh, and even if by some miracle, a new “final” vote tally does appear before September 2, don’t look for an agreement on the structure of the power sharing government any time soon.
With the NATO summit still planned for September 4, that looms as the real deadline for the West to decide if the zero option on troop deployment after the end of this year becomes the only option.
As militarized local police riot in Ferguson, Missouri, Iraq continues its meltdown and Afghanistan can’t even agree on how to recount votes, the world has been overdue for the tiniest morsel of good news. Good news is what we got yesterday out of the situation regarding the destruction of chemical weapons-related materials from Syria:
The United States said Monday that it had completed the destruction of the deadliest chemical weapons in Syria’s arsenal, a rare foreign policy achievement for President Obama at a time when the Middle East is embroiled in violence and political turmoil.
On Monday, Mr. Obama said that the destruction of the weapons, several weeks ahead of schedule, “advances our collective goal to ensure that the Assad regime cannot use its chemical arsenal against the Syrian people and sends a clear message that the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences and will not be tolerated by the international community.”
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons provided more details in a press release from their Director-General, Ahmet Üzümcü:
The Cape Ray’s consignment included the most dangerous chemicals in Syria’s arsenal: 581 metric tonnes of DF [methylphosphonyl difluoride], a binary precursor for sarin gas, and 19.8 metric tonnes of ready-to-use sulfur mustard (HD). They were neutralised with two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems (FDHS) on the Cape Ray, which reduced their toxicity by 99.9 percent in line with the requirements of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Furthermore, the operation was successfully completed weeks ahead of the 60-day schedule the U.S. had estimated would be needed, and OPCW inspectors aboard the ship verified that no chemicals of any kind escaped into the sea or otherwise impacted the environment. The Cape Ray will now transport the effluent from the hydrolysis operations to Finland and Germany, where it will be offloaded for disposal at land-based facilities.
Recall that the initial US response to the chemical weapons attacks of August, 2013 in Syria was supposed to be missile strikes and a ramping up of support for “moderate” rebels fighting Assad. But John Kerry achieved some accidental diplomacy and Assad agreed to hand over his chemical arsenal for destruction. Since then, war hawks have been castigating Obama for the very low level of support for Syrian rebels despite the fact that US air strikes in Iraq are now aimed at destroying major weaponry that the US provided to Iraq’s army before it melted away in the face of opposition.
There now is substantial evidence to support the decision not to provide increased support for the moderates, as many of these moderate groups have now shifted their alliance directly into IS support. This terrific Monkey Cage blog post written by Marc Lynch and hosted at the Washington Post, provides very good background on the shifting alliances among the rebel groups: Continue reading
Well, that didn’t take long. On Friday, John Kerry made a second pass at getting Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani to make nice. This time he even produced a signed document (probably) to go along with the happy photos. And then yesterday the Washington Post announced that Ghani already is backing down on the whole shared power concept:
Ashraf Ghani, one of two candidates competing to become Afghanistan’s president, said Tuesday that the deadline to finish a vote recount is slipping and that a U.S.-brokered agreement for the rivals to form a joint government afterward does not mean the winner will fully share power with the loser.
Speaking to foreign journalists at his fortified compound in the capital, Ghani appeared to be trying to tamp down a surge of discontent among his supporters and allies, many of whom are reportedly upset that he agreed under U.S. pressure to a full recount of ballots from the troubled presidential runoff in June and the formation of a “unity” government with his rival.
On Friday, Ghani restated those pledges during a visit by Secretary of State John F. Kerry. But on Tuesday, he sought to clarify that he has not agreed to a power-sharing agreement with former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Ghani said the winner will appoint the loser “by decree” as a chief executive to serve “at the discretion of the president.” Abdullah has demanded more authority if he loses.
After a false start earlier, the work on developing the real power sharing agreement was slated to start today:
The joint committee assigned by the two presidential candidates and expected to hash out the details of their power-sharing agreement is expected to begin its work on Wednesday, according to representatives of both campaigns.
The joint committee was initially expected to start work last Saturday, a day after the three article declaration about the broad structure of the national unity government was signed by both candidates. However, disagreements over the join committee were said to have stalled the start of negotiations until now.
Abullah Abdullah’s First Vice President, Mohammad Khan, has said on that the committee will have a total of thirty members representing both candidates. According to Fizullah Zaki, a spokesman for Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai’s team, both teams nominated 15 representatives on Tuesday.
With 15 negotiators on each side, I would expect that the first week or two of the negotiations will resolve such crucial issues as the shape of the table and the length of the breaks between sessions. They might also want to make a “no punching” rule, as there appears to have been another fight today while ballots were being reviewed. It’s hard to see how Kerry could make a third trip to put the power sharing back on course since the first two have been such spectacular failures.
Combining the poor outlook for a power sharing agreement with the continued disruptions in auditing ballots puts the next “deadline” in a huge amount of doubt:
The NATO coalition will be forced to make a decision on its continued role in Afghanistan without a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) in place if the Afghan presidential election does not meet a conclusion soon, NATO Secretary-General Andres Fog Rasmussen warned on Monday.
The senior NATO official indicated continued military support, including a post-withdraw troop presence for training and advising purposes, as well as broader financial aid to Afghanistan, would likely be impossible if the BSA is not signed by a new Afghan president before the NATO summit begins on September 4.
“Soon we will have to take tough decisions, because if there is not a legal basis for our continued presence in Afghanistan, we will have to withdraw everything by the end of this year and to do that we will have to start planning … very soon,” Rasmussen told Reuters on Monday.
Obama has a very easy way out here. If there still is no resolution to the election by the time of the NATO summit, he can paint the decision to withdraw completely from Afghanistan as a NATO decision rather than a US decision. Yes, a number of earlier deadlines in this process have been ignored, but it is very hard to see how NATO would agree to remain in Afghanistan without a BSA signed by a new president. Although the neocons likely would return to Iraq-era “no permission slip needed” rhetoric urging Obama to keep troops there even without any other NATO allies, I don’t seen how he would do that.
We are less than a month away from what almost certainly will be a decision to withdraw fully from a war that has been one of the most badly managed efforts in our country’s history. We have squandered about a trillion dollars, killed untold numbers of civilians, lost far too many troops and will leave a country that is wracked by devastation and a huge increase in corruption. Obama will be blamed for losing Afghanistan just as surely as he is now being blamed for losing Iraq, but in both cases, the entire country should share the blame for empowering amoral leaders who know only death, destruction and corruption.
Barack Obama faces a huge amount of pressure during the current meltdown of Iraq because he withdrew all US military forces from the country. As I have pointed out in countless posts, the single controlling factor for that withdrawal was that Iraq refused to provide criminal immunity to US troops who remained in Iraq past December 31, 2011.
A very similar scenario is playing out now in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that will provide criminal immunity to US troops remaining beyond the end of this year. Both Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have stated that they will sign the BSA immediately upon taking office, but the recount of their runoff election remains mired in dysfunction over how to eliminate fraudulent votes. John Kerry has visited twice to get the candidates to cease sparring, but dysfunction has quickly ensued after both visits. Meanwhile, the clock ticks ever closer to expiration of the current agreement providing immunity.
All along, the US framing for insisting on criminal immunity for troops is based on avoiding the chaos of soldiers facing false charges that might be brought through a court system that lacks the safeguards of the US court system or even the US military courts. But a report (pdf) released Friday by Amnesty International provides solid evidence that the US has failed, on multiple verified occasions, to take any action to pursue those responsible for clear war crimes in Afghanistan. That stands out to me as the real reason the US insists on criminal immunity.
Amnesty sums up their findings in the press release accompanying the report:
Focusing primarily on air strikes and night raids carried out by US forces, including Special Operations Forces, Left in the Dark finds that even apparent war crimes have gone uninvestigated and unpunished.
“Thousands of Afghans have been killed or injured by US forces since the invasion, but the victims and their families have little chance of redress. The US military justice system almost always fails to hold its soldiers accountable for unlawful killings and other abuses,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director.
“None of the cases that we looked into – involving more than 140 civilian deaths – were prosecuted by the US military. Evidence of possible war crimes and unlawful killings has seemingly been ignored.”
The description continues:
Two of the case studies — involving a Special Operations Forces raid on a house in Paktia province in 2010, and enforced disappearances, torture, and killings in Nerkh and Maidan Shahr districts, Wardak province, in November 2012 to February 2013 — involve abundant and compelling evidence of war crimes. No one has been criminally prosecuted for either of the incidents.
Qandi Agha, a former detainee held by US Special Forces in Nerkh in late 2012, spoke of the daily torture sessions he endured. “Four people beat me with cables. They tied my legs together and beat the soles of my feet with a wooden stick. They punched me in the face and kicked me. They hit my head on the floor.” He also said he was dunked in a barrel of water and given electrical shocks.
Agha said that both US and Afghan forces participated in the torture sessions. He also said that four of the eight prisoners held with him were killed while he was in US custody, including one person, Sayed Muhammed, whose killing he witnessed.
Of course, the US claims that while it wants troops immune from prosecution in Afghanistan under trumped up charges, crimes will be investigated by US authorities. The Amnesty report puts that lie to rest. Again, from the press release:
Of the scores of witnesses, victims and family members Amnesty International spoke to when researching this report, only two people said that they had been interviewed by US military investigators. In many of the cases covered in the report, US military or NATO spokespeople would announce that an investigation was being carried out, but would not release any further information about the progress of the investigation or its findings – leaving victims and family members in the dark.
“We urge the US military to immediately investigate all the cases documented in our report, and all other cases where civilians have been killed. The victims and their family members deserve justice,” said Richard Bennett.
Yeah, I’m sure the military will get right on that. Sometime in the next century or two.
The report provides three recommendations to the government of Afghanistan:
Create a credible, independent mechanism to monitor, investigate and report publicly on civilian deaths and injuries caused by the ANSF, and to ensure timely and effective remedies. This mechanism should include detailed procedures for recording casualties, receiving claims, conducting investigations, carrying out disciplinary measures including prosecutions where warranted, and ensuring reparation, including restitution, compensation, and rehabilitation.
Ensure that accountability for civilian casualties is guaranteed in any future bilateral security agreements signed with NATO and the United States, including by requiring that international forces provide a regular accounting of any incidents of civilian casualties, the results of investigations into such incidents, and the progress of any related prosecutions. Such agreements should exclude any provision that might infringe upon Afghanistan’s obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Continue to press the US and NATO authorities to take meaningful steps to enhance civilian protection, investigate reports of civilian casualties, and prosecute violations of international humanitarian law that result in civilian casualties.
Those recommendations are terrific, but they are completely meaningless when applied to what is really happening in Afghanistan. None of the good things in that list have any chance of even making it into the language of the already negotiated BSA, and even if they did, no enforcement of it would ever be allowed. After all, the US is the country that even has passed a law allowing use of military force to “rescue” any citizen facing charges in the ICC. It doesn’t matter whether George W. Bush or Barack Obama is the Commander in Chief, the US military will go wherever it wants, kill whoever it wants, and allow the vast majority of its crimes to go without consequence.
That is the particular freedom they hate us for.