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Friday, July 28, 2006  
Anthony Bourdain was in Beirut when the bombs started to fall and was trapped there for over a week, and wrote about the experience for Salon - Watching Beirut Die:

Everything had begun so beautifully. Our fixer, Lena, was bursting with enthusiasm when she met us at the airport. After months of preproduction, finally we were here! Finally, the American television crew had arrived -- to show the world how beautiful her country was, how lovingly restored, how hip and forward thinking in the years since the bloody civil war. On the first day of filming, we'd had a sensational early lunch of hummus, kibbe, stewed lamb and yogurt at Le Chef, a local, family-style joint in a charming neighborhood. The customers at the tables around us in the tiny, worn-looking dining area chattered away in Arabic, French and English. Stomachs full, my crew and I headed over to Martyr's Square and the Rafik Hariri memorial; a few blocks away, our fixer and friends pointing out old scars and new construction, trying to explain how much Beirut and Lebanon had changed since the man's death in 2005. They spoke effusively of the calm, the peace, the relative tolerance that had followed the galvanizing effects of Hariri's assassination. Each smiled and pointed at the giant photographic mural of the million-person demonstration that had led to Syria's withdrawal from their country; Ali, our unofficial tough-guy escort, pointed at a tiny dot among the hundreds of thousands in the photo and joked, "That's me!"

They were so proud of how far they'd come, how much they'd survived, how different and sophisticated Beirut was now. They spoke of all the things they had to show us, the people we had to meet. Significantly, the word "Syria" was still spoken in slightly hushed tones. Speaking too long, too loud or too harshly of their former occupier, it was suggested, could still get you killed. (An outcome not without precedent.) We walked along the road leading to a cordoned-off area by the St. George Hotel, where Bardot, Monroe and Kim Philby had once played -- back when Beirut was called the "Paris of the Orient" without a hint of irony. The buildings in the area were still in ruins, a roof torn off, the old hotel -- under construction when the targeted blast that killed Hariri occurred -- still empty. The Phoenician, across the street, which had also been destroyed, had recently been completely rebuilt. A modern hotel like any other, but they were proud of that too. Because, like Beirut, it was still there. It was back.

Then, in the blink of an eye, everything went sideways: Relaxed smiles froze and disappeared. Suddenly, there was the sound of automatic weapons firing randomly in the air from a nearby neighborhood. And fireworks. Then cars -- a few of them -- teenage kids, women and adults, some leaning out the windows and waving Hezbollah flags and flashing the "V" for victory sign, celebrating what we were told, after a few quick cellphone calls, was the grabbing of two Israeli soldiers. Our fixer, a Sunni; Ali, a Shiite; and "Marwan," a Christian, who'd just minutes ago been pointing proudly at the mural -- all three looked down in embarrassment, a look of sorrow, shame and then resignation on their faces. Someone muttered "assholes" bitterly. They knew -- right away -- what was going to happen next.

Read the rest.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006  
I always hated Adam Carolla, but this is funny. Via Bob Mould.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006  
Matt Yglesias makes an excellent point about a popular narrative framework into which the Arab-Israel struggles are continually shoved:
The "real problem," according to our liberal Reform teachers, was the leaders of the various Arab states. These autocrats presided over fairly crappy polities that did poorly by their own citizens (true). One strategy they adopted to maintain power was to cast attention away from themselves and onto the Israelis and their treatment of the Palestinians (true). The lack of good-faith concern for the fate of Palestinians could be seen by these governments' shamefully bad treatment of Palestinian refugees (true). Ergo, the "real problem" in Israel/Palestine was the leaders of the Arab states stirring up trouble (false).

As I say, that was the generic version of the story. Then we got the Iraq version of the story. Now we're hearing the Syria/Iran version. It all amounts, however, to a failure to admit the obvious -- that Palestinian rage is, whether or not you think it's justified in any or all of its particulars, perfectly authentic. The "real problem" is exactly what it superficially appears to be -- Palestinians by and large want things that Israel won't give them and won't be made happy by concessions of the sort offered at Camp David or by "unilateral disengagement."

That is the real problem. Peace would require either concessions Israel doesn't want to make, or a major change in Palestinian public opinion. Outside actors -- others states in particular -- most certainly do inject themselves in the situation for more-or-less cynical reasons, but they don't create the situation. Rather, they inject themselves into it because the situation exists and doing so serves their ends.

This is true, and pretty important - even if Hezbollah and the Assad government and Iran did not involve themselves in the "Palestinian question" (which they do, and which Saddam Hussein used to do with great zeal and bad effect), there would still be a "Palestinian question." There is no peaceful groundstate that would prevail if those damned Arab autocrats would just stop their infernal meddling.

This matters even more, because it tends to get piled up behind the arguments for war on all fronts against these autocrats, in an orgy of what Gregory Djerejian has aptly labelled "faith-based adventurism." This position has of course caused the stupidest man in the world to label the conservative Djerejian an "appeaser." It is stunning (or not really so stunning) to hear such a 20th Century construction - that (1) everything can be explained by the actions of a few powerful men, (2) deposing these men will change the character of their nations, and (3) that popular movements are essentially irrelevant, or only relevant as stalking horses for established political interests - coming from the same people who shrilly insist that the world has been entirely remade since 9/11.


Overheard in the hall. "That's just stupid. If they can ban peanut butter, why can't they ban matches? Matches are much more dangerous."


Friday, July 07, 2006  
Hamdan's thin reed. Like many others, I was very pleased with the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan for many reasons, chief among which was the fact that the Court ruled that the AUMF did not grant the Bush Administration the right or authority (explicit, inherent, or otherwise) to ignore the strictures of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in providing adequate due process to Guantanamo detainees. That ruling is a good thing in and of itself, but the resonating implication of this holding is clear - if Bush's C-in-C hat didn't allow him to traduce the UCMJ, then it doesn't allow him to ignore DISA either, and AG Gonzalez's defense of the NSA spying program has been revealed as the self-serving authoritarian bullshit that it is.

The decision is not perfect, however, and stands in part on thin ice. Over at Obsidian Wings, Katherine is posting a series of arguments about the applicability and scope of the Geneva Conventions, largely responding to a number of scatterbrained arguments from the right that we have just given al Qaeda a "Right to Jihad," or some such overheated nonsense. One of the posts contains an excerpt from the Red Cross's construction of the meaning and purpose of Article 3. As Katherine points out, the ICRC has a unique right to opine about the meaning of the Conventions:

The Geneva Conventions would not exist without the ICRC. The Red Cross is specifically named in the 1949 Conventions, and specifically given the legal right to visit prisoners and offer assistance to victims of war. There is no organization in the world better qualified to say what the letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions require.

Here are some excerpts from the ICRC's official commentary on Common Article 3:

This Article, which is common to all four Geneva Conventions, marks a new step forward in the unceasing development of the idea on which the Red Cross is based, and in the embodiment of that idea in international obligations....

Up to 1949, the Geneva Conventions were designed to assist only the victims of wars between States. The principle of respect for human personality, the basis on which all the Conventions rest, had found expression in them only in its application to military personnel. Actually, however, it was concerned with people as human beings, without regard to their uniform, their allegiance, their race or their beliefs, without regard even to any obligations which the authority on which they depended might have assumed in their name or in their behalf....

To borrow the phrase of one of the delegates, Article 3 is like a "Convention in miniature"...It is very different from the original draft produced by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which provided for the application of the Conventions in their entirety. But the wording finally adopted was certainly the best amongst the various drafts prepared during the Conference. It has the merit of being simple and clear. It at least ensures the application of the rules of humanity which are recognized as essential by civilized nations and provides a legal basis for interventions by the International Committee of the Red Cross or any other impartial humanitarian organization -- interventions which in the past were all too often refused on the ground that they represented intolerable interference in the internal affairs of a State. This text has the additional advantage of being applicable automatically, without any condition in regard to reciprocity. Its observance does not depend upon preliminary discussions on the nature of the conflict or the particular clauses to be respected. It is true that it merely provides for the application of the principles of the Convention, but it defines those principles and in addition lays down certain rules for their application. Finally, it has the advantage of expressing, in each of the four Conventions, the common principle which governs them....

the scope of application of the Article must be as wide as possible. There can be no drawbacks in this, since the Article in its reduced form, contrary to what might be thought, does not in any way limit the right of a State to put down rebellion, nor does it increase in the slightest the authority of the rebel party. It merely demands respect for certain rules, which were already recognized as essential in all civilized countries, and embodied in the national legislation of the States in question, long before the Convention was signed. What Government would dare to claim before the world, in a case of civil disturbances which could justly be described as mere acts of banditry, that, Article 3 not being applicable, it was entitled to leave the wounded uncared for, to torture and mutilate prisoners and take hostages? No Government can object to observing, in its dealings with enemies, whatever the nature of the conflict between it and them, a few essential rules which it in fact observes daily, under its own laws, when dealing with common Government can possibly claim that it is ' entitled ' to make use of torture and other inhuman acts prohibited by the Convention, as a means of combating its enemies.

This excerpt is powerful, but there is something else about it I find troubling for the longevity of the Hamdan decision. One of the preliminary issues confronted by the Court was whether Article 3 could be said to apply to the global struggle with al Quaeda in which Hamdan was swept up. Common Article 3, by its own terms, applies only to conflicts "not of an international character."

The majority in Hamdan construed Article 3's limitation to "conflicts not of an international character" as being "in contradistinction to a conflict between nations," i.e. Article 3 only excluded wars declared between established states (where Article 2 would apply). This definition clearly would apply to the US war against al Qaeda in which Hamdan was taken.

The dissent averred that "conflicts not of an international character" meant internal conflicts, civil wars, etc. The U.S. intervention in Afghanistan could not be described as an internal conflict. The Red Cross excerpt (with its references to "the internal affairs of a state," "rebels," and "civil disturbances") seems to support the dissent's reading.

If the ICRC is indeed the best qualified entity to construe Article 3, this construction tends to cut against the Hamdan majority.*

I'm not crazy about this aspect of Hamdan, because it tends to concede the Government's position that Hamdan was captured in the "struggle against al Qaeda" and not the "struggle against the Taliban," rendering Article 2 inapplicable. Allowing the Government to play semantic games with facts that only it controls gives the Government a green light to determine from precedent what facts will give them a pass, and then simply represent those facts as being true. No one will contradict them, because who can? Who outside of the US Government has any idea what is happening inside Bagram prison right now? Nobody, that's who.

More later, I hope, but right now I gotta go. Go read the rest of Katherine's posts, they are great.

* there could be some arguments about how we were participating in a civil war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban, but if we were fighting the Taliban, Article 2 would apply, and the Court has given up on that argument, as discussed below.


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