FBI’s Human Rights Investigators Are Critical to Prosecuting “Atrocity Crimes”

By David M. Crane, Stephen Rapp, Clint Williamson, and Beth Van Schaack

(Re-published from The Hill | Feb. 22, 2019) For over seven decades, the United States has stood as the cornerstone of a rules-based global system that arose from the ashes of World War II, organizing and leading a united group of nations as they held major violators to account at international tribunals convened in Nuremberg and Tokyo.

This world order is under threat as strongmen abound and governments step back from the advances made.

The Nuremberg Principles — which take as their starting point the promise that “any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment” — were woven into the fabric of our system of international peace and security. Together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, these global pronouncements protect the rights of every human being, demand accountability for grave international crimes, and undergird our entire structure of atrocity accountability.

On the domestic level, the United States has incorporated a number of international crimes into the federal penal code, ensuring that prosecutors have the legal authority they need to address crimes within the jurisdictional reach of our courts.

This world order is under threat as strongmen abound and governments step back from the advances made. Here in the United States, we have seen troubling indications of a diminishing commitment to the protection of human rights and support for atrocity accountability. In one recent development, the FBI reportedly intends to disband its International Human Rights Investigation Unit (IHRU).

At present, the IHRU plays an essential law enforcement role in bringing perpetrators of atrocity crimes to justice in the United States by investigating suspected perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, torture, recruitment of child soldiers, and female genital mutilation, among other offenses. This includes crimes committed abroad when the perpetrator is within reach, and crimes committed by or against U.S. citizens.

The IHRU continues the U.S. law enforcement commitment that began with successful efforts to track down Nazi war criminals living in the United States and to remove them to venues where they could face justice. Its stated mission is “to mitigate the most significant threats posed by international human rights violators through effective intelligence collection and targeted enforcement action” through coordination with other domestic agencies, as well as its counterparts in foreign countries and INTERPOL.

The IHRU is an essential partner in a co-located task force with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit. Together, this team presents cases to Department of Justice attorneys for prosecution. This inter-agency team has been successful in bringing perpetrators of atrocities in Guatemala, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia to justice in U.S. courts. Most recently, its work resulted in convictions of two Liberian warlords in federal court in Philadelphia …

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Now retired from teaching at Syracuse University College of Law, David M. Crane is an INSCT Research & Practice Associate.

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Fear: A Dictator’s Tool

By David M. Crane 

(Re-published from Jurist | Jan. 29, 2019) Thomas Jefferson is reported to have said: “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”

“With a rapidity that was shocking, this age of accountability gave way to the age of the strongman.”

I have investigated and prosecuted dictators and their henchmen for most of my professional life. I have studied their lives, personalities, their rise to power and how they governed once achieving that power. The one common theme in their theories of governance is fear. It is easier to govern and dictate to citizens through fear.

As Hannah Arendt wrote in her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism: “A fundamental difference between modern dictatorships and all other tyrannies of the past is that terror is no longer used as a means to exterminate and frighten opponents, but as an instrument to rule masses of people who are perfectly obedient.” The infamous dictators of the twentieth century, such as Stalin, Hitler, and Mao Tse-tung among others, understood this all too well. Their theory was that a frightened populace will allow their government to take drastic measures to protect them without protest, usually from perceived evil that threatens their society or country externally.

This object, person or peoples, religion or culture which focuses their fear is what I call their boogeyman. These boogeymen threaten their way of life and only the men in power have the capacity to address the threat. In a perverse way they tell their frightened citizens “We may have to take away your liberties, even kill some of you, to protect you from that boogeyman.” Over ninety million of those frightened citizens died at the hands of their own dictatorial governments in the twentieth century.

As the twentieth century morphed into the twenty-first century mankind pushed back and began to hold dictators, tyrants, and thugs accountable. With the advent of modern international criminal law, mankind created international courts and tribunals, which include a permanent international criminal court, to seek justice for victims of those who rule by fear. This movement lasted around twenty-five years. This age of accountability is wavering today.

With a rapidity that was shocking, this age of accountability gave way to the age of the strongman. International order and cooperation also gave way to a new populism that rejected the concept of international peace and security through the United Nations Charter for a more inward domestic nationalism, not seen since the late 1920’s and the early 1930’s.

The rise of strongmen across the globe in the past several years in Russia, China, Syria, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Venezuela, Hungary, the Philippines along with other longer term dictatorships from the twentieth century, has been astonishing and threatens the global order put in place after the Second World War. Even the cornerstone country of that world order, the United States, is toying with this populism …

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Now retired from teaching at Syracuse University College of Law, David M. Crane is an INSCT Research & Practice Associate.

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The Shadow of Unlawful Command Influence

By David M. Crane

(Jurist | Jan. 4, 2019) The cornerstone of military justice is ensuring that commanders at all levels, called convening authorities, do not influence the lawful carrying out of investigations and prosecutions of service members who violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Developed through customs of the service over two centuries and codified by Congress in the early 1950’s, the UCMJ has been a model for the rule of law ensuring America’s armed forces conduct themselves in a way that would not bring discredit to the United States or a service. It’s a system that works, ensuring all of the constitutional protections afforded American citizens are available to its fighting forces, with some exceptions.

Military justice is an important tool for commanders to ensure that US armed forces conduct themselves for the good order and discipline of the service.

Military justice is an important tool for commanders to ensure that US armed forces conduct themselves for the good order and discipline of the service. This is the sine qua non of the system: good order and discipline. Commanders are charged with this important duty.

Stung by the misconduct of mercenaries hired from Hesse in Germany by the British to fight during the Revolutionary War, America’s armed forces were created under the principles of customs of the service and good order and discipline. It is a proud tradition and a system that has worked for centuries overseen by a civilian US appellate court made up of five Senate confirmed judges. An Article 1 Court, the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ensures the system comports with law, policy, tradition and the Constitution. One of its important duties is to monitor the possibility of any hint of unlawful command influence.

If unlawful command influence is found to have occurred during the creation of a court’s martial proceeding, military appellate courts or the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces will reverse any conviction. Further investigation and follow-up administrative or judicial punishment may occur against any commander having even attempted to, or in fact, influenced a proceeding. It’s serious, and at a minimum, career ending for a commander. It rarely happens. Commanders know their duties vis a vis the UCMJ.

Recently, President Trump, as Commander in Chief of the armed forces of the United States (a commander under the UCMJ) declared that a decorated special operations officer was being unfairly investigated/prosecuted for an alleged murder of an Afghan civilian. That is unlawful command influence …

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Now retired from teaching at Syracuse University College of Law, David M. Crane is an INSCT Research & Practice Associate.

 
 

 

 

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Three Men and a Body: Media in the Age of the Strongman

By David M. Crane 

(Jurist | Oct. 31, 2018)  The blaming of attempted bombings of prominent democratic leaders and opponents of President Trump on a vindictive press by him at a public rally casts a dark shadow over a bleak landscape where once the freedom of the press was a corner stone of our democracy.  Declaring the press in the United States an “enemy of the people” rings reminiscent of attacks on the press in Germany of the 1930’s.

“Though dictators throughout history attack and then silence a critical press, the 21st century has seen the rise of the strongman, particularly in the past few years and with it more direct and violent attempts to muzzle the media.”

Around the world, strongmen have been attacking the concept of freedom of the press, as well as members of the press themselves. Putin has blatantly singled out members of the Russian press critical of his policies and shot them, poisoned them, run them over, and even thrown them off buildings.

Recently the direction by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), to kill Washington Post reporter and commentator Jamal Khashoggi is a further attack on members of the media who criticize a strongman. The crisis that followed quickly drew in three men, all arrogant and disdainful of the law, hypocritically mouthing words they did not believe in order to quell the outrage, to support each other, or to gain political advantage. Those men are MBS, Erdogan, and Trump.

Though dictators throughout history attack and then silence a critical press, the 21st century has seen the rise of the strongman, particularly in the past few years and with it more direct and violent attempts to muzzle the media. With a surprising rapidity, the stepping forward of nationalistic politicians onto the world stage where they used to dwell on the fringes of society, mainly in the political shadows, has caught liberal democracies off guard. Such thinking seemed to be behind us, not any longer.

The brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi is indicative of this new inward thinking nationalism and it’s hatred of the press not seen since the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Using terms such as fake news as a shield; the likes of Trump, Putin, Li, Erdogan, Duterte, MBS, among other strongmen, have begun to move societies against the media. With chants led by the President of the United States, “CNN Sucks!” augers poorly for American society and the world as a whole.

The loss of moral leadership by the United States under Donald Trump has enabled the increased pressure and attacks on a critical press. These various strongmen feel that being held accountable is no longer a viable threat to their political position at home or abroad. Essentially the rule of law, so essential to the maintenance of international peace and security, is no longer a deterrent.

The American President is pushing away legal, diplomatic, and political norms that have been cornerstones to that peace and security since 1945. The threat of pulling out of key geopolitical organizations and treaties such as the World BankWorld Trade Organization, the INF treaty, even NATO, have turned the early 21st century into a kaleidoscopic world where nothing matters and old friendships and allies are declared threats. We tend to forget Trump calling Canada, Canada, a national security threat.

Declaring oneself a nationalist in a global economy and international community sounds like a certain German chancellor in the 1930’s who founded and came to power with a nationalist political party. That chancellor did two things very quickly on seizing power, go after a vulnerable minority blaming them for the nation’s problems and attacking and muzzling the German press. Dictators do this as a matter of course. Stalin, Mussolini and Mao Tse Tung used the same tactics …

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Now retired from teaching at Syracuse University College of Law, David M. Crane is an INSCT Research & Practice Associate.

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The House We Built: How the US Walked Away from Decades of Accountability

By David M. Crane

(Jurist | Sept. 22, 2018) JURIST Guest Columnist David M. Crane, the founding chief prosecutor of the international war crime tribunal called the Special Court for Sierra Leone, discusses America’s decreasing role in maintaining the international order and the Trump Administration’s recent attacks on the International Criminal Court…

As the world turns inward, nationalistic perspectives are on the rise. It feels like 1930, where the international order laid out in the Versailles Treaty, was about to be turned upside down. Today, something terrible is lurking around the corner, sitting in the shadows of anarchy and fascism. The rule of law tentatively steps forward afraid of what comes next. In this kaleidoscopic age, we do not know. All the international institutions laid out after World War II are being threatened by strongmen who seek their own personal power over the backs of citizens who seem too addled by consumerism or in the depths of social media. It has become a dog eat dog world and the dogs are the new nationalistic strongmen who have risen to power in an astonishingly short period.

The cornerstones to our system of international peace and security, the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the World Trade Organization, and the European Union among others, are faced with the reality of a diminished role by the United States in ensuring that the rule of law remains the fundamental currency of this international order. Since 9/11, the United States’ role in international peace and security has been more of a threat to peace than as a leader and champion of the rule of law. No more so than today.

By way of example related to this diminished role, the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture is about to release its report on 27 September regarding the depths of the horror that was the Retention, Detention, and Interrogation Program led by the current director of the Central intelligence Agency. After the planes crashed into the buildings on that fateful September day, the United States began to slip down a slope that had no bottom. The world recoiled in horror at subsequent American policy and actions related to its misguided “war on terror.” A blind and bleeding giant, the Americans swung the club of illegality about the world trying to kill the fly that was international terrorism. The United States has never really recovered from this mindset and has lost all credibility as a nation of law.

The 21st Century has not been good to the United States and its Presidents have stumbled along trying to adjust to a new world order that they were not prepared for. They have shown the world, particularly its possible adversaries, that today it would have to move on without American leadership in maintaining the delicate balance of peace and security. American strength and resolve to uphold the rule of law was once the fulcrum that balanced the forces of good and evil that the international community struggled with during the Cold War and the kaleidoscopic age we now live in.

With the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, this slide into oblivion has accelerated. Unstable and petulant with no respect for law, he has thrown gasoline on the fire started by George W. Bush and the war on terror. Barack Obama, aware of this slide, drank the cool aid of the war on terror and did little to halt the movement away from global leadership on the rule of law. The arbitrary use of drones throughout the world and extrajudicial killings of human beings deemed “terrorist” is a good example of how much he embraced his predecessor’s policy. The fact that Guantanamo remained open under his watch moved the United States further down the dark and slippery slope of lawlessness.

Throughout this period, the rest of the world (minus China and Russia) focused on accountability and creating a system of international criminal law that was largely built by the United States. Initially begun at Nuremberg, the Americans were the leading advocates of fair and open tribunals to try those who committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and eventually genocide. In the 1990’s, but for American leadership, the likes of the courts set up for Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Cambodia, even the International Criminal Court, would not have happened. We were the master carpenters that built the house that is modern international criminal law, and yet we have just given away the keys to that house!

Recently, the United States once again has decided to drive a stake into the heart of international criminal law and accountability by attacking the International Criminal Court (ICC). Led by the National Security Advisor John Bolton, the Americans laid out a breath taking policy that would have shocked the original architect of the house the United States built at Nuremberg, Justice Robert H. Jackson.

Bolton has always wanted to destroy the ICC, beginning with the famous “Bolton Letter”, which practically speaking pulled the United States out of any meaningful relationship with the ICC. Though modified over time, the US has never been a leader in ensuring that the ICC succeeds. That house we build was left to others to maintain and protect, but we always kept the key, the key of United States’ adherence to the rule of law …

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Now retired from teaching at Syracuse University College of Law, David M. Crane is an INSCT Research & Practice Associate.

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Yemen: A Crime Against Us All

By David M. Crane 

In a bombing, the dust settles slowly over the strike zone. What emerges are grey images, living beings neutralized to monochrome. Bleeding from the ears, deaf, and dumb from the concussions the survivors walk about in a haze. These zombies are the first things you see staggering down the street away from the rubble behind them, rubble that is the tomb of loved ones, neighbors, and friends.

“For a decade or so, the rule of law prevailed regarding holding those who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity accountable. Yet we have slipped down a slippery slope. That political will is waning.”

There is no militarily necessary reason for the destruction, the strike carried out by one of the combatants who knew or should have known about the laws of armed conflict. The rules do not matter in most conflicts of the 21st century. Welcome to the dirty little wars that nip at the heels of civilization, a civilization grown weary of it all and who look the other way. It is just too hard to marshal enough political will to do something.

A powerless United Nations can do nothing other than to help ease the pain of air strikes by caring for the wounded and the terrified refugees. The once proud mandate of restoring international peace and security has changed to maintaining at best that peace and security.

The three nations that could restore that prominence, the United States, China, and Russia are its biggest challenges and all three could certainly live without the paradigm of peace set forth in 1945. All three of those nations over the past years are also the biggest human rights abusers led by strong men.

International Law has evolved over centuries through customary practice and the consent of nations to bind themselves to certain norms. Indeed the day-to-day actions in commerce, trade, and finance all hinge upon these norms. Over time, other norms that declare that human beings have rights to be free from want, fear, and to speak their minds and worship freely are now enforceable and carry an accounting if violated.

From all this just twenty-five years ago, modern international criminal law began. For a decade or so, the rule of law prevailed regarding holding those who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity accountable. Yet we have slipped down a slippery slope. That political will is waning and the use of the law to govern international relations regarding humanity challenged.

In this kaleidoscopic void, dirty little wars flourish like weeds in an abandoned lot. Yemen is one of those weeds thriving in the dusty haze of airstrikes.

The likes of the Yemeni conflict exists but for this condition and circumstance. A surrogate conflict backed by cynical nations vying for power and influence in the greater region that is the Middle East, the possibility of a peaceful resolution hinges on the rule of law. It is not going to happen …

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The Stain of Torture

By David M. Crane

(Re-published from The Jurist | June 26, 2018) June 26th is the United Nations’ International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Its purpose — to denounce the crime of torture and proclaim solidarity with its survivors — is in stark opposition to the policy of my government.

As a former Chief Prosecutor of an international war crimes tribunal in West Africa, I walked the countryside, interviewing hundreds of victims — often people who had been tortured by their own government. The atrocities scarred them physically, emotionally, and psychologically for life.

But they shared their stories enthusiastically with our team, willing to relay the horror in order to receive human empathy, long after giving up hope of finding anything resembling justice.

Having prosecuted the officials of other governments for torture, I now find myself in a United States increasingly identified with torture and cruelty. Intensifying torture was presidential campaign rhetoric. A person who oversaw waterboarding in black site prisons is promoted to lead the CIA. Children are removed from their families as they flee gang violence. The U.S. reportedly now plans to leave the UN Human Rights Council, although a member has never before departed that body voluntarily.

How Did We Get Here?

A leader in building the post-World War II consensus against torture and for the rule of law, the United States chose a path of lawless brutality after the horrendous crime of 9/11. Lashing out broadly at Muslims, it threw aside its own rules and embarked on the rendition, detention and interrogation program (RDI).

Our government embraced torture, long known by interrogation professionals to be counter-productive. It did so as an attempt at payback, out of anger. Weak justifications defied logic, morality, and international legal norms that had stood for decades.

Two Libyan victims of the RDI program, Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar, exemplify how far the U.S. moved to the dark side. They were on their way to the U.K. to seek asylum as opponents of the Gaddafi regime. With intelligence from the U.K., the CIA detained them in Thailand and tortured them: painful stress positions, drugs, and vicious beatings. Boudchar was several months pregnant.

From Thailand they were rendered to Libya, to the hands of their enemies, where they suffered further torture. Ms. Boudchar was released from prison just three weeks before she gave birth.

Fourteen years later, the British Prime Minister finally issued an apology for the U.K.’s role in the couple’s rendition and torture, a crime led by the United States. Stating that her country had contributed to the couple’s capture, Teresa May admitted “neither of you should have been treated this way,” and apologized unreservedly.

Less than a month later, the European Court of Human Rights also repudiated torture. It delivered judgments against Romania and Lithuania, which both hosted secret CIA torture prisons, finding this supporting role a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In stark contrast, at the same time such moral progress was occurring across the Atlantic, the U.S. confirmed a key figure in the RDI program to lead the CIA. Gina Haspel oversaw detention and torture at a black site occupied by Abd al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, the detainee whom the European Court said was subject to “an extremely harsh interrogation regime.”

What Are Citizens to Do When Their Government Doubles Down on its Torture Record?

I am part of one attempt to answer that question and give the survivors a safe space to tell their stories. I am a Commissioner of the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT). As part of the RDI program, the CIA used contractors and public facilities in North Carolina to move victims around the world to be tortured. Now local citizens are demanding to know how and why this was allowed to occur …

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Gassing International Law

By David M. Crane

(Re-published from The Jurist | Nov. 6, 2017) The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) should not ignore or walk away from the alleged use of any prohibited weapon, such as chemicals, as it signals it is permissible to violate the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and erodes international norms related to such weapons. Further, it signals that countries with deep ties to P5 (U.K., U.S., France, Russia, China) are outside the scope of UNSC authority, therefore creating a bigger issue of eroding the international authority of the UNSC and jeopardizing the foundation of international law.

“The UN is not impotent, as it has facilitated international cooperation on the conflict, resulting in ceasefires, the initial formation of JIM, condemnation of acts, and investigation of potential war crimes.”

On Tuesday, October 24, 2017, Russia vetoed the resolution extending the mandate of the investigators probing chemical weapons attacks in Syria. [JURIST report] [Meeting Record] Following the chemical attack in 2015, Russia and America created the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to investigate the presence/use of chemical weapons in Syria, which found 27 active production facilities. In its most recent report late last month, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it had verified the destruction of 25 of the 27 chemical weapons production facilities declared by Syria and continued to prepare an inspection to confirm the current condition of the last two. The vote on the resolution was in advance of the JIM investigative report (presented Thursday October 26). The report sought to identify the party responsible for a deadly April 4 attack in the rebel-controlled town of Khan Sheikhoun in southern Idlib that killed and sickened scores of civilians allegedly using sarin gas. Shortly after that attack, the United States launched an airstrike on a Syrian air base and accused the al-Assad regime of carrying out the gas attack.

This action by Russia is primarily concerned with the sovereignty of Syria and stresses the maxim that you cannot enter a sovereign territory without concrete evidence of wrong doing. Further Russia believes they face possible retaliation by Syria and/or rebel groups present in Syria. Finally, Russia is concerned that there has been a blurring of lines between the conflict against Syria and the conflict against ISIS. Additionally Russia is supporting the regime and has economic ties to Syria. They do not want the US to gain any influence in Syria.

The media and various member states are concerned that the UNSC is impotent in assisting in Syria due to the P5 structure. The UNSC and the UN system are shouldering the blame for little progress in Syria. The broader discussion criticizes the entire UN system as being outdated and ineffective.

The UN is not impotent, as it has facilitated international cooperation on the conflict, resulting in ceasefires, the initial formation of JIM, condemnation of acts, and investigation of potential war crimes. Further, the UN is serving its purpose as a neutral forum for these discussions. Syria has not simply become a battlefield upon which America and Russia are fighting, nor are we seeing a return to interstate war. Therefore, the UN is working as a forum for these issues. Further negotiations need to be based on interests and relationships as nationalistic and realist strategies fail within the cooperative international organizational model …

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Qatar & the “Quartet”: International Blackmail

By David M. Crane

(Re-published from The Jurist | Oct. 11, 2017) Within the United Nations paradigm, state-parties settle their disputes peacefully and only resort to the use of force as a last measure. Several weeks ago four state-parties skipped the first step and used force against a fellow member state. That aggressive act consisted of embargoes, cyber-attacks, and trade and flight disruption, culminating in a list of demands by those states to lift those sanctions.

“The use of force by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt (the Quartet) against Qatar would not have happened but for a new and unstable president in the White House.”

In 2017, it is hard to imagine that a member state would use force without a legal sanction by the Security Council or an appropriate regional body. The unilateral decision to do harm to a member state of the United Nations by other member states is an action that should be condemned and corrected. Most remarkably is how little has been done by the international community to correct the situation and restore international peace and security within the region. The silence is deafening.

The use of force by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt (the Quartet) against Qatar would not have happened but for a new and unstable president in the White House. Past presidents, regardless of party, would not have allowed this to happen; and one would surmise that this Saudi led attack would not have even been contemplated by this Quartet of member states due to that leverage by the West. This quartet saw a political weakness and an opening and took it almost assured of the reaction by the West.

This action by the Quartet could most likely be the beginning of a series of “events” brought upon by a weakened and confused American foreign policy. The lack of leadership coming out of Washington is starting to weaken that international peace and security upon which the United Nations is grounded. Though international blackmail cannot be allowed to stand, the lack of discourse between the feuding parties will only exacerbate the situation. The recent demand by the UAE for Qatar to withdraw as a host of the 2022 World Cup is an example of the blackmail and the lack of interest in settling a dispute peacefully.

The violations of international law and norms committed by the Quartet against Qatar are almost too numerous to mention. Among the treaties violated are the Universal Declaration of Human rightsthe International Covenant on Civil and Political Rightsthe Arab Charter on Human Rights, as well as the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United States, among several others. These violations could arguably amount to an act of aggression. The battlefield and the weapons used are not conventional, but an embargo and the use of cyber space as a weapon to do harm could be construed as an aggressive act.

Hence the dilemma the international community now faces, technology has shifted the concept of conflict to another dimension, cyberspace. Its use to do harm continues to manifest itself and the lack of regulation of this new battlespace causes muddled or ineffectual response …

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Trump & North Korea: Beware the Boogeyman

By David M. Crane

(Re-published from The Jurist | Aug. 11, 2017) Tyrants need a war. Looking back over the past hundred years one finds that tyrants come to power in conflict and remains in power largely due to conflict. It centers the populace, distracting them from other societal challenges to include their civil liberties.

Historically these conflicts created by a tyrant, dictator or insecure leader rarely succeed. The immediate result may be a distraction, but in the long term that nation, and its leader, end up weakened and in some cases worse off than they were before the conflict.

Politically weak or insecure leaders also need a distraction. I call those distractions boogeymen–nations, a peoples, or culture that the leader perceives to be a threat to the national security. This boogeyman also distracts from the political challenges both real and imagined that leader faces. Hitler had the Jews; Stalin capitalism; the Ayatollah the “Great Satin,” and Assad “terrorists” by way of a few examples.

Dictators and other leaders need a populace that is afraid. Fear is a powerful psychological tool to govern with and leaders use it for various reasons. A populace that is afraid of “something” looks to its leader for security and a solution. This is where the shadow of a boogeyman is useful. Fear can bring a society together in common cause.

Historically these conflicts created by a tyrant, dictator or insecure leader rarely succeed. The immediate result may be a distraction, but in the long term that nation, and its leader, end up weakened and in some cases worse off than they were before the conflict. Various circumstances intervene that were unintended consequences. History shows that these unintended consequences rarely benefit a leader.

Only the citizens of that country suffer those consequences. Simply put some of their loved ones do not come home. Tens of thousands perish their nation weakened politically and economically by the conflict. The nation itself loses stature internationally. Weakened trade through sanctions and other action only bring more unrest and insecurity.

The result is a country in worse shape than before the conflict. It all blows up in the tyrant’s face, with more unrest and division a result. In this information age, conflict is bad for global trade and business, unlike the industrial age where conflict was good for business. The world suffers from this type of threat and conflict as well.

As our President, politically weak, deeply insecure and challenged on all fronts looks for a distraction and a boogeyman, he conveniently has been handed one in the guise of Kim Jong-un and North Korea. From the President’s point of view, he has a “twofer,” a threat worthy of a conflict and a boogeyman. To maintain his political relevancy (and to silence whatever demons whisper to him) a looming crisis with nuclear implications is just what the doctor ordered. Words such as “fire and fury” ring true to him.

Suddenly the Russia scandal is off the front page. No one is talking about collusion, conspiracy, perjury or obstruction of justice. Attention is diverted across the Pacific Ocean to a hermit kingdom led by a crafty leader who uses just this type of tension to maintain his own power.

Kim Jong-un is a dictator, he needs a looming conflict, and he needs that boogeyman, as well, to distract his citizenry away from daily famine towards an impending attack by their boogeyman, the United States. The President has handed him politically a reason to lead his nation and consolidate power on a silver platter.

We have an insecure and an unstable leader in our President now in a possible “dance of death” with a brutal tyrant who is “crazy like a fox” …

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