The recent revealing photos of Francois Hollande's evening escapade together with the sudden hospitalization of the erstwhile (?) partner/First Lady Val￩rie Trierweiler raise most interesting questions. Specifically, together with the blowback from the Snowden/NSA revelations we are obviously entering a new era of defining the private/public domains. While we all appreciate how technology has brought the world closer together, the invasion of privacy issue can no longer be ignored. We certainly like to communicate, but we are getting worried that most if not all of our private communications have entered the public domain.
Hollande's January 14 press conference was riveting.
The recent bombings in Boston have unleashed a torrent of commentaries. While investigations are ongoing concerning the backgrounds of the suspects with no definitive answers yet about motivations and affiliations, the fact that the brothers were from Chechnya and Muslim has opened a Pandora’s Box of speculation. One simple point can be made at this point beyond the specifics of this case: There has been a fundamental shift in the nature of deadly attacks, often attributed to “terror.”
Following September 11, the United States declared a “war” on terror. Without a clear definition of terror, the focus of the war narrowed down to one organization, Al Qaeda. The organization and its leaders, we were told, were based in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. There was an enemy; there was a location for its headquarters (Bin Laden’s cave). As in all traditional wars, the opponents were identified, their location fixed. The battle lines were drawn, and the soldiers sent to eliminate the foe.
Assassinating political opponents has a long historical background. So long, in fact, that one of the ways we separate the modern from the pre-modern is the notion of elections as a means of determining rulers or courts of law as a means to deal with violations of accepted norms. Although the beheading of King Charles I of England in 1649 is considered the beginning of modern politics, this was only so because it meant the privileging of the Parliament over the absolute monarchy and followed a legal trial for tyranny. Modern politics is supposed to be beyond beheadings; the International Commission Against the Death Penalty (ICDP), which is against all legal executions, last week opened its offices in Geneva.
How are we to understand the recent killings of Moammar Gaddafi, Anwar Awlaki and Osama Bin Laden in this context? You will certainly want separate explanations for each. Bin Laden, it is said, had attacked the United States and was plotting further attacks. Capture and trial were not possible, it was stated, given where he was and the immediacy of ending his potential terrorist capabilities. Awalaki also had attacked the United States in different ways and, although an American citizen, was thought to be a dangerous enemy in a country - Yemen - where it would have been impossible for him to be properly captured and brought to trial. Gaddafi was a tyrant whose death was cathartic for an entire population; no trial meant that the 42 years of dictatorial rule ended quickly. At his death, there were celebrations throughout Libya although the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has asked for greater clarification about the circumstances surrounding his demise. The videos are gruesome; the displaying of his body in a refrigerated meat container a rejection of any form of human dignity no matter what he had done. We should expect more from those who overthrew him.
The Arab Spring gave enormous hope throughout the region. Autocratic if not despotic rulers were replaced in Egypt, Tunisia and now Libya. Calls for empowerment have filled the streets. Elections are being held in Tunisia. Democracy is the rallying cry of the disenfranchised. But what does democracy mean if not the rule of law? When the young 13 colonies in the New World defeated the British, they offered their leader, George Washington, the possibility of being King. He refused, recognizing that the break with the monarchical past must be complete; the Revolutionary War for Washington meant a true revolution, a radical change from traditional practices.
If cries for democracy are ringing throughout the world, then there should also be cries for the rule of law; one includes the other. Political assassinations should be a thing of the past. Although we may rejoice at the end of a dictator's rule, we should not rejoice at seeing a bloody body being dragged through the street or put on display. If it is heroic to take up arms to fight for democracy, it is equally heroic to fight for the rule of law at times of emotional outbursts. Neither expediency nor vengeance is an excuse for the primitive "Chop off their heads". And that goes for so-called advanced democracies as well.
October 26, 2011
The events marking the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11 will be filled with the horrors of the deaths of 3,000 people. We will be shown the playback of the tragic scenes of those jumping from windows, of the crumbling of the World Trade Center Towers, of the plane crashing into the Pentagon. Survivors will be asked how they are dealing with the past; relatives will share their enormous grief. Loved ones will have their virtues extolled. Heroic firefighters and policemen will be interviewed. We will all mourn. We will properly pay our respects to all those who died in the United States as well as around the world in terrorist attacks.
Could the commemorative services also serve another function? I recently walked the beaches of Normandy. Hectares after hectares of crosses and monuments and dedications to those who lost their lives in the landings of June 1944. With time, the heroism of those actions continues to impress and to humble. We are certain that we are all better off for the sacrifices of those buried there.
Where has the War on Terror led us?
Comments on the death of Osama bin Laden have surprised me, and I would like to summarize some thoughts in what I hope will be my final blog on the subject. Most reactions have been positive for both the end result and the process by which he died. There seems to be a general sense of good riddance, and satisfaction if not joy. Even lawyers expressed doubts about the value of a long, dragged-out court case and seem to feel that the final result was pragmatically sound and justified the means.
Following this reasoning, I quickly note that the prudent reaction of President Obama in his somber announcement to the American people and visit to New York quickly changed tone with his speeches to troops in Kentucky and his presentation to a fund-raiser in Texas that had all the elements of triumphalism on the campaign trail. The emotional impact of this "victory" was too much for the President to ignore. Vengeance, "justice," political mileage were all in the mix. A very well known Geneva magistrate even gave me a political argument similar to the one used by Fawn Hall, the secretary to Lt. Colonel Oliver North, when during her testimony about destroying documents in the Iran-Contra Affair she said, "Sometimes you have to go above the law".
The legal argument about intervening in a foreign country with dubious authorization or the order to execute seems to have little traction. Two special experts of the United Nations are investigating, but given that the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it "a watershed moment" in the fight against global terrorism and stated that "justice has been done," one would not expect movement here except from some quibbling international lawyers. Kenneth Roth, Head of Human Rights Watch, has raised some questions, but, as another important Geneva lawyer expressed to me, "Big powers will do what they do".
Finally, conspiracy theorists are having a field day. For those who are still not convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald shot John Kennedy, or that the planes really caused the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, or that a plane actually landed in the Pentagon, a new Pandora's Box has been open. And no videos of bin Laden playing with a tv will put this to rest.
But, as I said above, I do hope that this will be my last blog on the subject.
May 16, 2011