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The United Nations

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Pouring Water on a Drowning Man.

The Times article, based on information from former intelligence officers who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abu Zubaydah had revealed a great deal of information before harsh methods were used and after his captors stripped him of clothes, kept him in a cold cell and kept him awake at night. The article said interrogators at the secret prison in Thailand believed he had given up all the information he had, but officials at headquarters ordered them to use waterboarding.” Perusing last week’s sordid torture memos, eagle-eyed blogger Marcy Wheeler discovered an unsettling statistic: two suspects — Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — were waterboarded by the CIA 266 times. Zubaydah “revealed no new information after being waterboarded, the article said, a conclusion that appears to be supported by a footnote to a 2005 Justice Department memo saying the use of the harshest methods appeared to have been ‘unnecessary’ in his case.

Meanwhile, as right-wing stooges like former CIA director Michael Hayden and Mike Allen’s anonymous friend excoriate the president for breaking tradition and revealing the illegalities of the Dubya era, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel ventured onto the Sunday shows to tamp down talk of any prosecutions, even for the higher-ups. “[P]eople in good faith were operating with the guidance they were provided. They shouldn’t be prosecuted…those who devised policy, he [Obama] believes that they were — should not be prosecuted either, and that’s not the place that we go — as he said in that letter.

Wrong answer, Rahm. And, unless President Obama were to grant full pardons to the architects of Dubya-era torture, it’s not even his call whether or not they should be prosecuted. In fact, choosing not to prosecute them would constitute a violation of international law.

Update: The White House doesn’t necessarily agree with Rahm. “[A]dministration officials said Monday that Mr. Emanuel had meant the officials who ordered the policies carried out, not the lawyers who provided the legal rationale. Three Bush administration lawyers who signed memos, John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and Steven G. Bradbury, are the subjects of a coming report by the Justice Department’s ethics office that officials say is sharply critical of their work. The ethics office has the power to recommend disbarment or other professional penalties or, less likely, to refer cases for criminal prosecution.

Update 2: “With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don’t want to prejudge that.” President Obama opens the door further for prosecution.

And They Have a Plan?

With the final episode airing Friday (I’ll be visiting friends in CA, so probably won’t catch it until next week), the cast and writers of Battlestar Galactica visit the UN to “discuss issues such as human rights, children and armed conflict, and terrorism. Also on the agenda: dialogue among different civilizations and faiths.” Uh…so their advice to leaders would be, what. exactly? Meander about with no plan and little-to-no-purpose, retcon thorny individuals into line with your newest idea whenever necessary, and, when faced with an intractable situation, throw someone in the brig and/or stage either a show trial or a weepy, teeth-gnashing breakdown?

Perhaps I’ve been ruined by meticulously planned out shows like The Wire. Nevertheless, this last half-season of Galactica has been operating at about 3:1 filler-to-good-episode ratio, and that’s being charitable. As I feared, imho, the show’s been going down the FTL tubes ever since the ill-advised Dylan 5 reveal. Ah well…we’ll always have New Caprica.

The Big Lie, Buried.

By a count of 14-0 (Russia abstaining), the UN Security Council votes to shut down their inquiry into Iraq WMDs. Well, so much for that particular casus belli. From the vaults: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” — Vice President Dick Cheney, Aug. 29, 2002. (There’s another one for the impeachment file.)

Target: Ahmadinejad.

With an international dispute over 15 seized British sailors simmering to a boil in Tehran and Ahmadinejad cancelling his trip to New York in protest, the UN Security Council unanimously opposes sanctions against Iran for its continuing nuclear program (details.) “‘The impact is primarily political rather than practical,’ said Abbas Milani, the director of Stanford University’s Iranian studies program. The financial and military restrictions are ‘rather limited and toothless,’ but they are having a profound psychological impact on investors and eroding Ahmadinejad’s standing in Iran, he said.

Oops, sorry Kentucky.

By way of Do You Feel Loved and Ed Rants respectively, see how many member UN nations (143) and American states (49) you can name in ten minutes. Harder than you might think, particularly if you go about it randomly rather than systematically. (Or, at least, that’s my excuse.)

Somebody Set Up Us the Bomb?

In a welcome bit of good news on the international front, negotiators strike a deal in North Korea that lays down a plan for nuclear disarmament by Kim Jong Il’s regime. But all is not rosy yet: “In a harbinger of the potential for difficulties ahead, the official North Korean news agency said the agreement required only a temporary suspension of the country’s nuclear facilities…The agreement also seemed likely to face opposition in Washington by conservatives who remain unconvinced that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, ever intends to relinquish his nuclear weapons. Similarly, the Bush administration faced criticism from Democrats who charge the administration that broke away from the Agreed Framework in 2002 ended up five years later with a roughly similar accord.

Meanwhile, in related news, a European Union report argues that it is now too late to prevent Iran from developing its own nuclear weaponry. “The admission is a blow to hopes that a deal with Iran can be reached and comes at a sensitive time, when tensions between the US and Tehran are rising. Its implication that sanctions will prove ineffective will also be unwelcome to EU diplomats.

Musical Chairs for Team Dubya.

In not-unrelated news, the Dubya White House shuffles its deck to make ready for divided government, replacing failed Supreme Court bid Harriet Miers as White House counsel (likely in favor of someone more aggressive, so as to counter Dem subpoenas), kicking national intelligence director Nicholas Negroponte over to State (to be replaced by Vice Admiral Mike McConnell), appointing Thomas D’Agostino as new nuclear chief (the old one, Linton Brooks, seems to have been of the “Brownie” school of management), putting Iraq ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in John Bolton’s former position at the UN (his job goes to Ryan Crocker), and overhauling their top military team in Iraq. As the WP‘s Dan Froomkin reads the tea leaves, “I see a possible theme: A purge of the unbelievers.”

Ban Ki-Moon (and Spitzer) Rising.

Other important leadership shifts, these in and around New York: Having officially replaced Kofi Annan at the UN earlier this week, new general secretary Ban Ki-Moon cleans house, announces his own team and sets the Darfur crisis as a top priority. And, over in Albany, New York governor (and future presidential contender?) Eliot Spitzer delivers both his first Inaugural [text] and his first State of the State [PDF]: “In an hourlong address that was largely a repudiation of the policies of his predecessor, George E. Pataki, the new governor said he would seek to broadly overhaul the state’s ethics and lobbying rules. He said he would make prekindergarten available to all 4-year-olds by the end of his term, overhaul the public authorities that control most of the state’s debt and make New York more inviting to business by reducing the cost of workers’ compensation.

Kofi’s Parting Shot.

“As [Harry] Truman said, ‘We must, once and for all, prove by our acts conclusively that right has might.’ That’s why this country has historically been in the vanguard of the global human rights movement. But that lead can only be maintained if America remains true to its principles, including in the struggle against terrorism. When it appears to abandon its own ideas and objectives, its friends abroad are naturally troubled and confused.” As Kofi Annan bids farewell to his post at the UN, he offers some words of wisdom to America — and to Dubya — on our nation’s role in the world.

Bolton Bounced.

Happy day at the UN (if not at the White House): Facing unbeatable opposition on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (thanks to outgoing Senator Lincoln Chafee, to his credit, joining the Dems against him), interim UN ambassador John Bolton is forced to resign as predicted. Good riddance. “‘The president now has an opportunity to nominate an ambassador who can garner strong bipartisan and international support and effectively represent the interests of the United States at the United Nations at a time of extraordinary international challenge,’ [incoming committee chairman] Biden said. ‘If the president nominates such a person, I look forward to scheduling hearings promptly in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.‘”

Bye Bye Bolton?

“I never saw a real enthusiasm on the Republican side to begin with. There’s none on our side.” The next GOP casualty of the 2006 elections? If the Dems can hold off a vote through the lame-duck Congress, it might just end up being UN rep John Bolton. “The White House formally renewed its request that the Senate take up Bolton’s nomination. But Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, said they continued to resist Bolton’s confirmation and ‘he is unlikely to get a vote any time soon.’Update: To his credit, outgoing Senator Lincoln Chafee, who earlier announced his opposition to renewing Bolton, is sticking to his guns and siding with the Dems against Dubya on the issue. So Bolton looks to be gone in December…Koo koo kachoo.

Lulled into Security.

Jeffrey Sachs, take note: A new report finds that the best way to get the US to pony up some foreign aid for impoverished nations is to get that country on the Security Council, and pronto. “A two-year seat on the Security Council, for instance, can generate a 59 percent spike in U.S. assistance, according to a study by two Harvard University scholars that tracked U.S. economic and military assistance from 1946 to 2001. In times of crisis, U.S. aid to some member countries has increased by as much as 170 percent. Those aid levels tend to recede after the country leaves the 15-nation council.” So, great news, Panama…You just hit the jackpot.

It’s the End of the World As We Know It?

“So, here we are. The two major powers in this confrontation are led by blunderers; the provocateur is a chronic miscalculator. It doesn’t look good.” Oh, so there‘s the WMD: As John Bolton pushes for aggressive sanctions at the UN against the Kim Jong-Il regime, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan parses several ugly scenarios that could unfold after North Korea’s nuclear gamble on Monday (the same day, coincidentally, that South Korean Ban Ki-moon won official Security Council backing to replace Kofi Annan. Looks like he’ll be working overtime right out of the box.) By the way, if you’re keeping score at home, Dubya & co. now seem to have grievously mishandled all three prongs of the “axis of evil” trifecta. Sigh. That’s great, it starts with an earthquake

…and Ki-Moon.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Security Council seemingly decides on Ban Ki-Moon, South Korea’s foreign minister, to replace Kofi Annan as the next general secretary of the United Nations. Ban’s closest rival, India’s Shashi Tharoor, has conceded the race…Official word comes next Monday.

The Party of Lincoln?

“It is no secret that I have serious questions about this Administration’s policies in the Middle East.” Desperate to shore up his maverick cred before the GOP primary next week, Sen. Lincoln Chafee puts a hold on the GOP’s planned Bolton coronation. (Of course, the UN would never have had to put up with Bolton in the first place were it not for Chafee’s capitulation last year.)

What the hell are we supposed to use, man? Harsh language?

‘What about Kofi Annan?’ Bush asked Blair. ‘I don’t like the sequence of it. His attitude is basically cease-fire and everything else happens.’Dubya and Tony Blair get caught (apparently) off-guard and on tape discussing the escalating crisis in the Middle East. “Bush said that he feels ‘like telling Kofi to get on the phone with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad and make something happen. We’re not blaming Israel, and we’re not blaming the Lebanese government.’” (A lot of news sources seem to be fronting Dubya’s use of the S-word — “See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s over.” — but, really, who gives a shit about his language?) “Bush also told Blair that he would be sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region soon. ‘She’s going,’ Bush said. ‘I think Condi’s going to go pretty soon.’Update: Watch it online, just to get a sense of how boorish and out-of-his-depth our president seems on the world stage. (Exhibit B: Dubya’s ill-fated and cringeworth back-rub attempt.)

From Beirut to Jerusalem.

More grim news in the world-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket department: So, obviously, there now seems to be a full-fledged firing war going on between Israel and Hezbollah, one which has already set back Lebanon years and threatens to bring in Syria and Iran as official combatants (a.k.a. Hezbollah‘s main backers) if it keeps up. For his part, other than having Bolton spike a UN resolution condemning Israel for “disproportionate use of force,” Dubya has been basically AWOL in terms of world leadership — in fact, he’s been more effusive about a German pig of late than he has a conflagration that threatens nothing less than full-scale war across the Middle East. Where have you gone Bill Clinton, our nation turns it lowly eyes to you?

UN: Do As You Say, not as you do.

The State party should cease to detain any person at Guantanamo Bay and close this detention facility, permit access by the detainees to judicial process or release them as soon as possible, ensuring that they are not returned to any State where they could face a real risk of being tortured, in order to comply with its obligations under the Convention.” A day after an ugly prisoner uprising, the UN Committee Against Torture implores the US to close the prison at Gitmo. The report (PDF) also calls for the US “to expressly ban controversial interrogation techniques, and to halt the transfer of detainees to countries with a history of abuse and torture.

Easter Escalation.

While the Pope, Kofi Annan, Richard Clarke, and others try to stem the increasing saber-rattling over Iran, more trouble brews in Tehran: Along with possibly expanding their nuclear fuel plants and upgrading their centrifuges, the “Iranian government has intensified efforts to illegally obtain weapons technology from the United States.” Well, let’s at least hope the White House isn’t helping them this time

Rumors of War?

“God may smile on us, but I don’t think so. The bottom line is that Iran cannot become a nuclear-weapons state. The problem is that the Iranians realize that only by becoming a nuclear state can they defend themselves against the U.S. Something bad is going to happen.” Although Dubya is personally dismissing the report as “wild speculation”, The New Yorker‘s Sy Hersh argues in a terrifying piece that the administration is actively planning for “regime change” in Iran, and — no joke — the use of tactical nuclear weapons (particularly “bunker-busters”) is on the table.

No doubt about it, this is trouble. A nuclear Iran would represent a grievous threat to the region (and particularly Israel), and must be prevented by diplomatic means if at all possible. But, after the Iraq WMD debacle, this administration has become the boy who cried wolf, and — just as the US is facing perhaps its thorniest diplomatic issue yet, neither our European allies nor many US observers trust Dubya’s motives or credibility any more, to say nothing of his basic competence. (“Speaking of President Bush, [one] House member said, ‘The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision.’.”) And, needless to say, if Dubya and the neocons screw this one up, the consequences for both the entire Middle East and the war on terror — as well as our own homeland security — could be nightmarish. “If we move against Iran, Hezbollah will not sit on the sidelines. Unless the Israelis take them out, they will mobilize against us…If we go, the southern half of Iraq will light up like a candle.

Update: ““I’m announcing officially that Iran has now joined the countries that have nuclear technology.” The situation darkens with Iran’s successful (increased) enrichment of uranium. “Iran had previously enriched uranium to a level of about 2 percent, using a smaller cascade, and separately enriched uranium to about 15 percent during laser experiments in 2002. Bomb-grade uranium must be enriched to a level of well over 80 percent…Though it is technically possible, most nuclear experts agree it is unlikely Iran would be able to make bomb-grade uranium with the[ir current] 164-centrifuge cascade.” Still, Russia and Britain are decrying the advance, and Secretary Rice wants “strong steps” by the UN Security Council in reply.

How ’bout an exploding cigar?

“The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein.” The NYT relates the details of a January 2003 pre-war meeting between Bush and Blair, and it’s not pretty. Not surprisingly (and like the July 2002 Downing Street memos, the recollections of Paul O’Neill, and countless other sources), this new material confirms that Dubya and the neocons wanted a war in Iraq, come hell or high water.

Gitmo Begone.

“We’ve always said that Guantanamo Bay was something that shouldn’t have happened.” A report by the UN Human Rights Commission argues that the US should shut down the Gitmo gulag immediately, a conclusion shared by Kofi Annan and — apparently — the British government. As to be expected from this gang, the White House is shrugging the criticism off.

A Presidency in the Toilet.

A study in contrasts at the UN: While Clinton tries to save the world, Dubya needs a bathroom break.

Bolton Escapes.

Well, that’s that, then. As expected (and although he may be late to the party), Dubya has appointed Bolton to the UN ambassadorship by fiat. Well, the Dems pushed as hard as they could on this one, and only George Voinovich ended up seeing the light. Shame on supposed moderates Lincoln Chafee and Chuck Hagel for letting this freakshow get out of committee in the first place.

He’ll make a Fabulist Ambassador.

Chalk up another X against Dubya’s UN nominee: It now turns out John Bolton lied to Congress about his part in the investigation of the Iraq-Niger claim. (He claimed he hadn’t been interviewed…He had.) Regardless, Dubya still has plans to appoint Bolton by fiat after Congress skips town. After all, what’s one more liar in this truth-starved administration? He should fit right in.

Freak Show by Fiat.

Stymied by the Senate, Dubya looks to sneak Bolton into the UN with a recess appointment, perhaps as early as this Friday. “Senate Democratic leaders have removed a possible hurdle by signaling that they would not use a recess appointment of Bolton to hold up Bush’s nomination of John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court.Update: Next week?

Bolton Begins?

Although he’s been upstaged of late by O’Connor and Rove, potential UN freakshow John Bolton still waits in the wings, and is prepared to accept a recess appointment by Dubya sometime next month. In fact, he’s already acting like he owns the place. “Two months ago, while his confirmation was in trouble, Bolton began efforts to double the office space reserved within the State Department for the ambassador to the United Nations.”

Draft Patterson?

‘I don’t know how the Bolton nomination stands,’ said Danforth, who resigned in January. ‘But she could certainly do that job and anything else.’” While the Bolton nomination withers on the vine, it seems career diplomat and acting US Ambassador Anne Patterson is handling the UN position with all the grace, aplomb and savvy Bolton lacks. Can we keep her?

Bolton Blocked II.

Since the White House still won’t cough up the necessary info, the Dems (and Sen. Voinovich) manage to keep Bolton out of the UN once again, prompting Dubya to consider putting him there by recess appointment fiat. (As Fred Kaplan wryly noted, that should teach those evildoers abroad what we mean by democracy up in these parts.) And the big winners in this affair thus far? The State Department, who no longer have Bolton as a “roadblock” against diplomacy.

Dubya cries foul.

With Social Security privatization going nowhere and Bolton still in mothballs until the White House coughs up the requested info, Dubya gets testy about Democratic “obstruction” at a GOP fundraising affair. Well, it’s good to hear the right-wingers are rattled, but at some point, the Dems do need to get a proactive agenda on the table, so the “road block” schtick doesn’t stick.

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