Friday, June 19, 2009

A Patriot's Guide to Vegetables

Avocado: Now, I know you’re thinking ‘what in tarnation is a tree fruit with an illegal immigrant name doing on a list of patriotic vegetables?’ The answer is this – these puppies got enough potassium in a bushel-full to assassinate ten abortionists. It’s not as messy as shootin’ ‘em, you don’t have to do it at church (though you certainly could), and we could blame it all on the Mexicans. Yessir, Avocados serve our country proud.

Corn: As the saying goes, ‘corn didn’t land on Plymouth Rock’. And I’ll give you that. I know it’s politically correct to point out that Indians eat corn. So I will. That doesn’t make any of them patriotic. Matter of fact I got my suspicions that all the genetic engineering and cloning they do with corn may have something to do with the stem cell research John Kerry wanted to do to help out Osama. But I can’t ignore the fact that eatin’ an ear of corn while watching my favorite episode of Everybody Loves Raymond is one of the simple joys of life. When that guy with the droopy face talks in that Frankenstein voice all I can think of is how glad I am that life begins at conception, and how delicious this corn tastes. I don’t care what Big Oil says, corn’s patriotic.

Eggplant: I should start by saying that aubergines are as anti-American as Jim Carey on a date with Mike Myers at a falafel hut, and they will not be tolerated. But eggplants are alright. I can slice ‘em into pieces and fry them, beer-battered, and munch on them during Everybody Loves Raymond. Also, I can’t help but feel that if eggplants had to use a disposable razor, they’d pick Gillette, because it’s the ‘best a man can get’ and eggplants always remind me of a testicle inflicted with elephantitis. Schick is for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Patriots use Gillette, and that’s why eggplant is a patriot.

Soy Beans: Not patriotic. The Jerrys eat ‘em like popcorn. They got it from the Russians who got it from the North Koreans. No sir, I do NOT want my house bought and paid for by Kim Jung Il and I will not partake in the intake of soy beans. Plus that episode where Ray’s mother decides she aint gonna eat any fat no more and at Thanksgiving she has the gall to cook a tofu turkey?! That nearly ruined my marriage. That’s right soy beans are the food of communists, abortionists and married gays.

Peas: Peas are like tiny little bald heads freshly shaven by a Gillette disposable razor. Peas are in pods the way Ray is intertwined with his parents, his brother and his wife. Peas never ‘choose’ to end a life. And peas love to play scratch lottery tickets. Peas are as patriotic as that Chappaquiddick girl who gave her life so that Ted Kennedy would never become president.

Potatoes: Many are suspicious of spudding dirt-lingerers. But I know a handful of Armenians and they’re not as bad as you’d think. They’re alright. And potatoes are just fine too. You can peel their skin with a Gillette disposable razor. You can put four toothpicks in them and recreate your favorite episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. Or you could even scratch off your instant lottery ticket with a chipped potato of the Ruffles kind. Potatoes are as patriotic as the cleanly shaven Jesus in the custom-made portrait I have of Jesus to combat the liberal revisionist history version of a Jesus with unwieldy facial hair obviously caused by using a Schick disposable razor.

Rutabaga: I never saw Ray’s Dad make a morose statement about Rutabagas. I never saw them at a disposable Gillette shaver convention lunch buffet. I never heard of an instant scratch lottery winner spending their money on them. And I for damn sure never heard of anyone putting make-up on them and kissing them before I go to bed. Unpatriotic.

Squash: This is technically a fruit, but so is everything Nancy Pelosi ever said, so, we’ll count it. Squashes are a very lucky fruit. It was because of them that I won that $500 that one time on scratch tickets. They doll up real nice too. If you got your own lipstick and a wig it gets pretty close to the real thing. Squash don’t make no judgments. That’s patriotic in my book.

Turnips: Turnips don’t look past you to the computer when they get home from work. Turnips always encourage you even when they’re discouraging you. Turnips don’t hide things about your finances from you or tell you the same thing over and over even after you told them you’d take care of it. Turnips like it when you try to engage them about things they’re interested in. Turnips love Raymond, lottery tickets, Gillette disposable razors and political assassination. Turnips will put on that wig for you and insert that vegetable you like. Turnips are as patriotic as Michael Jordan brushing his teeth with an Oral-B toothbrush (Gillette subsidiary sister of Proctor and Gamble).

Zucchini: Full disclosure, my father was killed by a Zucchini. Luckily for zucchini he was an abortionist. If it were zucchini’s gay cousin cucumber that killed my dad, I’d hold a grudge, but the fact is, zucchini has helped me through many lonely nights. It is a gorgeous vegetable that will imitate any position we see on Everybody Loves Raymond and scratch off a lottery ticket as we both climax. If that isn’t patriotic, I don’t know what patriotism means.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Prolonged Detention a Non-Starter in International Law

The Obama administration’s proposed ‘prolonged detention’ program has drawn criticism from all corners of the political ring. I defended the concept of the program through pragmatic, ethical and utilitarian arguments here. Although I believe the program is the right thing to do (within the strict parameters outlined), that doesn’t mean it is legal. Clearly it is not legal under U.S. law, which is why the Obama administration is pressuring Congress to change the laws to make the program, going forward, lawful. Despite being the most popular politician world-wide (a distinction that never would have been possible with a President McCain), President Obama cannot so easily shirk U.S. responsibilities under international law. As it happens, no matter how you package it or rework the legalese in the American judicial system to sanction the program, it would still be in clear contravention of multilateral treaties that the U.S. is party to. Not only are these treaties not the ones you would expect to uphold the rights of due process, equal treatment before the law, and a trial by jury, they are actually the treaties that the U.S. utilizes the most in its ‘War on Terror’.

In Obama’s national security speech he outlined a program his administration is proposing that would indefinitely detain prisoners of Guantanamo Bay that were deemed a threat to security, unable to stand trial in the American legal system and also unable to be tried before ‘military commission’. As I previously remarked, this population would most likely be limited to detainees who have no evidence against them who were in effect innocent at the time of apprehension, but who have in large part due to being tortured become a threat to American national security. It is not a pleasant thought experiment to undertake and has understandably drawn ire from defenders of civil liberties. Legal scholars too are debating whether this program would mark an ominous precedent, or whether it would be similar to policies of Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt during a time of war. I would fall in the former category, though I would say Obama’s proposed program is indeed less ominous than those of Lincoln and Roosevelt. Those breaches of Constitutional guarantees, particularly the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II represent some of the larger scars on American legal tradition. There is a clear difference between those policies and Obama’s proposed program – while Lincoln and Roosevelt’s breaches of law were on a broad or national scale, Obama’s program will apply only to a small, definite and limited population. If it is extended beyond current detainees at Guantanamo that meet the criteria set forth earlier, then it will indeed be unjustified and as ugly and unwarranted as previous American concentration camps.

American obligations under international law are another story. International humanitarian law governs conduct of nations during a time of war. The Hague and Geneva Conventions are viewed as the foundational multilateral treaties of humanitarian law. The first and second Geneva conventions deal with the treatment of armed forces in the field. The third Geneva Convention deals specifically with the treatment of prisoners of war. The U.S. is a signatory and was among the first to ratify the Geneva Conventions including the third regarding treatment of war captives. If the Geneva Conventions apply to the detainees at Guantanamo, then Obama’s proposed program would be in direct violation. Even when applied only to the small theoretical population I described earlier – innocent captives who became victims of torture and are now security threats – the Geneva Conventions specifically address this situation:

Third Geneva Convention

Part IV, Section I, Art. 109
Throughout the duration of hostilities, Parties to the conflict shall endeavour, with the cooperation of the neutral Powers concerned, to make arrangements for the accommodation in neutral countries of the sick and wounded prisoners of war referred to in the second paragraph of the following Article. They may, in addition, conclude agreements with a view to the direct repatriation or internment in a neutral country of able-bodied prisoners of war who have undergone a long period of captivity.

Part IV, Section I, Art 110. The following shall be repatriated direct:

(1) Incurably wounded and sick whose mental or physical fitness seems to have been gravely diminished.

II. General Observations

(1) The conditions given shall, in a general way, be interpreted and applied in as broad a spirit as possible. Neuropathic and psychopathic conditions caused by war or captivity, as well as cases of tuberculosis in all stages, shall above all benefit by such liberal interpretation.

It is fairly clear; captives that have incurable mental illness that was cause by the conditions of captivity are to be directly repatriated to their home country. Even General Petreaus has recently claimed that the U.S. violated the Geneva Conventions (though possibly in an [semi]unrelated matter). I can not find a reasonable opinion as to why these detainees would not fall under the Geneva Conventions (sorry, eight years of the Bush administration). As such, Obama’s newly proposed program would do nothing to change that.

Let’s do a thought experiment, though. Let us say for the sake of argument that the detainees do not fall under jurisdiction of the Geneva Conventions. What then? Isn’t there international human rights law in place that would prevent this program? The answer is surprisingly ‘not necessarily’. But what is even more surprising is that there is international terrorism law that would.

If we look at international human rights law, the so called ‘international bill of human rights’ – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – would be where we would begin to look for a right not to be indefinitely detained with no legal charges brought against us. This program would violate nearly the entire first half of the UDHR. Unfortunately it is an aspirational document and does not require actions of states. The ICESC doesn’t really deal with civil and political issues, and besides the U.S. isn’t even a signatory. That leaves the ICCPR. This is a civil and political matter. The ICCPR has the force of law (as much as international law has force). Article 9 states this:

Article 9

1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.

2. Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.

3. Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgement.

4. Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful.

5. Anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention shall have an enforceable right to compensation.

Obama’s indefinite detention program would be in gross violation of this Article of the ICCPR. But wait:

Article 4

1 . In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed, the States Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with their other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin.

2. No derogation from articles 6, 7, 8 (paragraphs I and 2), 11, 15, 16 and 18 may be made under this provision.

So as long as Obama declares a public emergency to the Security Council (Art.4.3), it is within the parameters of this Covenant to derogate from the right to trial by jury and of non-arbitrary arrest and detention. So much for Civil and Political Rights Guantanamo detainees!

Thankfully, because of the U.S.’s own efforts to internationally prosecute terrorism, there is a broad framework consisting of thirteen multilateral treaties that deal with terrorist offences. Due to the politically charged nature of terrorism, international consensus about a definition of terrorism has proven, so far, impossible to reach. As such, international terrorism law addresses specific acts which most states are willing to call terrorism – including hijacking airplanes, assassinating diplomats, bombings, and taking hostages. In all but one of these conventions there is a provision of aut dedere aut judicare; extradite or prosecute. The first terrorism convention, the Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft, signed at Tokyo on 14 September 1963, did not contain such a provision and led to a string of hijackings that went unprosecuted. In 1970 The Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft was signed into law at The Hague covering, for the most part, the offences outlined in the Tokyo Convention. This convention required prosecution or extradition of offenders, as did every terrorism convention that has come since.

What this means is that whatever terrorism charge that the U.S. took Guantanamo detainees into custody for, warranted or not, they are required as signatory to every one of the terrorism conventions to prosecute the suspects or extradite them to their country of origin.

Obama does not have an easy out here. He can not just change the rules and make the proposed indefinite detention program legitimate in all circumstances. These treaties have been ratified by the U.S. Senate and carry the force of law. But this leads back to the question of ‘who enforces international law?’ And the answer right now is sadly ‘the U.N. Security Council’ on which America has a veto over any proposed resolution. Retribution could be sought by countries of origin of the detainees through the International Court of Justice, but the U.S. would most likely claim that the I.C.J. has no jurisdiction, as it did in the Nicaragua case (1986), though it clearly does under the U.N. Charter. At least in the Nicaragua case the U.S. allowed for the jurisdiction of the I.C.J. in the judgment of customary international law. That is, until the court found America in violation of that as well, at which time the U.S. dismissed the ruling outright by way of Security Council veto.

America has a choice here. Are we going to legitimize international rule of law and eschew the doctrine of American exceptionalism that has garnered international criticism, undermined the U.N. system, and prevented progress in the establishment of international democratic institutions? Or are we going to say ‘We’re a team of Mavericks, either you’re with us or against us, mission accomplished’?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

An Appointment with Fate (or, A Good Doctor is Hard to Find)

Cross-posted from One Year In Texas

By Bub

The good Doctor had fallen on hard times. His scalpels weren’t as sharp as they used to be. His tongue-depressors now came from the fifth best merchant of depressors tongue and the like, instead of the third. That little shelf that you pull out on the Doctor’s examination bed wont push back in. He had recently seen a man with dropsy of the liver, and all he could do was sigh and brush the patient’s cheek with a cottonseed tail. He tried so very hard to lobby his way out of this funk. He took out advertisements on shop walls. He carved etchings into lavatory stalls. He wrote newspaper editorials for the Sunday Times. He dispatched several middle-sized marsupial creatures with violence. To no avail. That is, until one blustery summer’s eve.

After he got out of his funk that one blustery summer’s eve, the good Doctor took up the sport of pigeon-calling. He spent all of his mornings at the Royal Pigeon-Calling Yards in Northton. He became so entangled in his pigeon-calling pursuits that, on more than one occasion, he forgot to remove his pigeon-calling gloves when he greeted his first patient of the day. Now, at the time this was perfectly acceptable especially if the patient’s family was of higher moral stature than the good Doctor’s, but years later it became a popular insult and the good Doctor felt retroactively mortified. At present however, the good Doctor just forced a smile through the aching loneliness he felt in his throat

Before going to bed each night the good Doctor would swallow a tablespoon of corn flour. This served no medical purpose; he was simply taken with the taste. But as it turns out, once word of this sort of thing gets around, it can make a man many political enemies. And one St. Vincent’s Day at market, the good Doctor let it slip as to why a simple Welsh Doctor made regular purchase of barrel quantity corn flour. He did not know it, but it was the beginning of the end; the end of his days of buying corn flour discreetly and without others knowing the purpose for which the flour was being bought.

The day IT happened, the good Doctor stood in front of a restaurant vent in the Polish Quarter. He came down here in the evenings to enjoy the scent of pierogies and the feeling of racial superiority. A Pole ship-crewman approached. Saying nothing, he reached inside his satchel and retrieved a copy of Le Monde. The Pole held the news straight in front of the good Doctor’s face so that he was sure to get a good look. “Qu'ils Mangent de la Brioche” read the banner headline – Let them eat egg bread! The Pole tore the paper in two down the middle and threw the newspaper refuse with disdain into the air. The two men stared at each other with a sense of knowing and purpose as newspaper confetti rained down upon them. They were comrades now. The war had begun...