Recent writing, mostly about horrible things

Tweeting the war:

The crowdsourcing of war reporting in Kabul is sort of  like a running version of the Red Balloon Challenge, only with explosives instead of balloons.

Two and a half years on from the first documented use of Twitter to crowdsource information about an attack in Kabul, no new platform has replaced Twitter for this purpose among Afghan and foreign journalists and aid workers.

If you want to follow the war in real time, follow its most prolific Twitter users.

Why Afghanistan’s dangerous political crisis is about power, not ethnic grievances:

Ethnicity matters among Afghan politicians, but it is not a reliable indicator of political affiliation or loyalty. Even party affiliation isn’t a reliable indicator of where an individual legislator will come down on a nationally controversial issue, because Afghanistan’s party system is weak and party discipline within the parliament is almost non-existent.

The rise of Afghanistan’s next generation of feminists and their campaign against street harassment:

A generation of Afghan feminists who came of age in the years following the fall of the Taliban regime is rising to challenge their country’s harmful traditions and attitudes more loudly than ever before. Unwilling to compromise with conservatives and disappointed with the pace of reform over the past decade, a group of these women in Kabul formed Young Women for Change in 2011.

Led by feminist activist and Dickinson College sophomore Noorjahan Akbar, the group aims to fight the deep-seated beliefs that underpin the oppression of women in Afghanistan. Its members aren’t content with gender quotas in government and progress on paper. They want to see progress on the streets, in the rulings of the courts and in the behavior of the police.

The undeclared and escalating border war between Afghanistan and Pakistan:

Tribal leaders in Nangarhar and Kunar rallied around Amarkhel and urged him to stay in his position. They also promised to send their own militia fighters to support the Border Police in any confrontation with Pakistani forces, according to a local researcher who attended several tribal large tribal gatherings in Nangarhar in the past few days.

Describing the affected villages he visited in Kunar, the researcher, who requested anonymity because he often travels to Taliban-controlled areas, told me, “The whole place really looks like a war zone. The artillery shells have destroyed the compounds. Animals are dead and many people have left. The UN has not been able to get into the area, although some people who have moved [away from the border] have been helped by UNHCR.”

Taking drastic measures to protect Afghanistan’s mobile phone networks during the drawdown of international forces:

No one should confuse the planned shadow network with development. It is not development, or even emergency aid. It is a  short-term communication fail-safe for a country where a simple text message –’shooting on road to town, turn back!’– can draw the line between life and death.

“Except when Spanta forced me to say thank you”

Some subtle passive aggression in this New York Times article about Karzai announcing that the United States is talking to the Taliban and then going on a long rant wherein he blamed foreigners for Afghanistan’s environmental problems:

Much of Mr. Karzai’s speech, an address to the Afghanistan Youth International Conference, was devoted to broad criticisms of coalition forces in Afghanistan, saying their motives were suspect and their weapons were polluting his country.

“You remember a few years ago I was saying thank you to the foreigners for their help; every minute we were thanking them,” he said. “Now I have stopped saying that, except when Spanta forced me to say thank you,” referring to his national security adviser, Rangin Spanta, who was present.

[...] “There are 140 countries here in our country,” he said. “They’re using different explosive materials, chemical materials and all these things. We will talk to them and ask them about all these things, because this has a negative impact on our environment, our animals, our people, so we will ask them about this. They should not think we are uneducated and do not know anything.”

There are actually 48 NATO and allied countries with forces in Afghanistan.

 

We can’t be friends

American and Afghan soldiers (via Dion at the Wall Street Journal):

In 68 focus groups involving 613 Afghan police and soldiers throughout three provinces, some Afghans praised their American colleagues. But many, when asked what criticisms they had of the Americans, described American troops as “violent, reckless, intrusive, arrogant, self-serving, profane, infidel bullies hiding behind high technology,” the report said.

In an accompanying survey of about 100 U.S. troops, soldiers uniformly gave their Afghan partners poor marks. In a series of focus groups with about 130 Americans in total, the soldiers, asked about their complaints, described the Afghan service members as “cowardly, incompetent, obtuse, thieving, complacent, lazy, pot-smoking, treacherous and murderous radicals,” according to the report.

The president and the parliamentarians (via Martine at the Afghansistan Analysts Network):

Afghanistan’s MPs have been in strike action that is unusual for a parliament: Since more than a week they refuse to debate. They sit still in the house and only from time to time let steam out by banging their desks, giving them some fun in a frustrating situation. The reason: They want to show their indignation to the President that he still has not made good of his promise to introduce the remaining seven ministers for a vote of confidence and force him to finally oblige (see an earlier blog on these developments here). In order to show that they are serious, they even had not gone into their summer recess which had actually started on 5 June. Now it is almost over without having ever started and the President is still ignoring them. He even chose to travel to Kazakhstan, instead, to participate as a guest in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit.

Afghanistan and Pakistan (via Josh at Registan.net):

Afghanistan and Pakistan have made a habit of engaging in combat with each other over the last few years. I wrote about it earlier this year for AfPak Channel, and later noted an even bigger engagement than had previously been reported. But things have found a way to get even worse.

Militants in Afghanistan launched an attack onto Pakistani forces in Bajaur earlier this week [map]. In response, the Pakistani military moved in force into the area, and destroyed a few bomb factories.

Further south, the Pakistani military got into a scuffle with Pashtuns at the Chaman border crossing who resented being treated like insurgents during a search. A few hundred Balochi tribesman came out to protest the harassment, and managed to block the crossing for several hours until Pakistani troops fired into the crowd to disperse it, wounding eight people. Then, this morning the fighting inside Pakistan resulted in a stray rocket crossing the border and killing four Afghan children.

The right thing: Protection for Syrians, Libyans and Yemenis in the US

Imagine for a moment that you are a 25 year old Syrian.

You’ve just earned your Master’s degree in the United States. After two years, it’s time for you to go home. But the home you left isn’t the one you’ll be returning to. Everything has changed. Instead of happiness at your impending departure from the US, you feel fear, because you will be returning to a country in turmoil and a regime that will stop short of nothing –not even torturing and killing children– to put down a popular, pro-democracy uprising. Will the things you wrote about Syrian politics while living in America be held against you by the government? Will the mere fact that you studied in America mark you as a potential dissident and earn you harassment by the security forces? If you keep quiet and stay away from the protests, will you be caught in the crossfire anyway?

Please take a moment to add your voice to the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants‘ appeal for temporary protected status (TPS) for Libyans, Syrians and Yemenis in the United States. TPS isn’t the same thing as asylum. People with TPS can’t stay indefinitely, but they are protected until it’s safe for them to return to their countries of origin.

So far, more than 450 letters were sent urging President Barack Obama and the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Libyans, Syrians, and Yemenis who are presently in the United States.

The more letters we send, the more likely our voices will be heard.  If you haven’t already, please ask our President and the Secretary of Homeland Security to protect the nationals of these countries in turmoil by allowing eligible individuals to remain in the United States legally until the violence and conflict in their home countries have subsided.  Click here to take action now >> 

TPS allows those who qualify to live, work, and study in the United States during the period of designation.  This temporary immigration status does not lead to permanent residency.  TPS may be granted in situations where there are extraordinary and temporary conditions, such as war or natural disaster, in the home country that prevent nationals from returning safely.

Please take action on behalf of Libyan, Syrian, and Yemeni nationals today >> 

Urge our policy makers to do the humane thing and grant TPS to Libyans, Yemenis, and Syrians.

Someone please high-five Charli Carpenter

For tackling torture proponent Marc Thiessen’s central argument in Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama is Inviting the Next Attack on utilitarian grounds as well as liberal ones.

What if we were to accept that the CIA has made America a wee bit safer by torturing KSM?

Liberals actually need an answer to this question, I would argue, because so many of their fellow Americans will buy Thiessen’s empirical case. So the most important part of his argument to refute is actually not the causal argument. The most important part of his argument is his moral argument.

In fact, the most fascinating chapter of his book is the one in which he poses the question: why should torture be considered an absolute prohibition, when killing is not? He explores just war theory and makes an interesting argument that non-lethal forms of torture – the kinds that are scary more than physically injurious – are a lesser evil if innocent civilian lives can be saved as a result.

But this argument as it turns out can be answered by liberals on Marc Thiessen’s own terms as well, because if you read closely it is clear that Thiessen’s overriding goal is not to promote a torture culture per se, but something much nobler: to protect innocent civilian life. The problem with his analysis is that he simply doesn’t have a clear empirical understanding of the factors that most threaten innocent civilian life.

As a matter of fact, terrorism falls pretty far down that list, but state repression is a rather important risk. Think-tanks that track terror fatalities measure the number of dead from terrorism since 1970 in the tens of thousands. Compare this to the hundreds of thousands killed by their own governments over the same period, a number that rises, RJ Rummel tells us, to a staggering 169,198,000 between 1900-1987. International terrorism may be scary, but in relative terms it’s pretty small beer.

It stands to reason that if the goal is to protect civilians the means used to be consistent with the wider protection of civilians. So although liberals are fond of making the absolutist moral argument and the constitutive argument against torture, it turns out that you can also argue against torture on purely utilitarian grounds. And the argument is not that it’s ineffective. The argument is that even if it’s sometimes effective and even if it’s necessary to protect civilians, civilians stand to benefit far more from preserving a rule of law political culture than they do from avoiding every single risk that comes with living in an era of techno-globalization in which the gap between the haves and have nots is widening.

So, my friends, that’s the argument you use when your crazy uncle starts banging on about how liberals aren’t willing to do what it takes to protect their way of life.

Will the International Community Prevent “Eye-Watering” Violence in Afghanistan as Troops Depart?

My latest:

Afghanistan could experience “eye-watering” levels of violence during and after the departure of foreign troops, NATO civilian Special Representative Mark Sedwill told reporters Wednesday, just two days before the 2010 NATO Summit commenced in Lisbon. Human rights groups meanwhile urged NATO member states to take humanitarian and human rights concerns seriously as plans are made for the phased withdrawal of foreign forces beginning early next year.

“As NATO begins to discuss its withdrawal from Afghanistan, it’s crucial to explain to the Afghan people exactly how the international community will follow through on its promise to protect and promote their human rights,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme Director.

Twenty-nine leading Afghan and international NGOs, led by Oxfam, called on NATO to improve oversight of Afghanistan’s police and army during the security transition between 2011 and 2014 and end programs that train and arm often abusive local militias to fight the Taliban.

Human Rights Watch, which echoed the call to end militia programs, rebuked the United States and NATO for working closely with known human rights abusers and ignoring Afghans’ desire for justice and an effective, non-predatory government.

“The US and NATO impatience for quick results is reducing their resolve to press for governance reform,” said Rachel Reid, HRW’s Afghanistan researcher. ”The tougher – but longer-term solution – is to stop doing deals with abusive or corrupt people, and instead, prosecute them and strengthen the institutions capable of delivering that justice.”

Sedwill’s candid admission that mass violence could follow the security transition poses urgent questions. Will the international community prevent major crimes against civilians in Afghanistan during and after the withdrawal of foreign forces?

Read the rest at UN Dispatch.

Omar Khadr apologized at his Guantanamo trial

The Torygraph:

Omar Khadr told Tabitha Speer, the widow of Sgt Chris Speer, that he wished he could “do something that would take that pain away”. In a court hearing at the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Khadr said: “I am really, really sorry for the pain I have caused you and your family.”

In her own testimony, however, Mrs Speer made clear he was not forgiven. “You will always be a murderer in my eyes,” she said.

She also read a message from the late soldier’s 8-year-old son, Tanner, which said: “I think Omar Khadr should go to jail because of the open hole he made in my family.”

Khadr, who is now 24, confessed earlier this week to Sgt Speer’s murder and to having plotted attacks against Americans.

He has been held at Guantánamo Bay since being captured in 2002.

At age 15. After a brutal battle in which he was shot twice and lost the use of one eye.

This entire story makes my chest tighten.

“Meh. Let the kids fight,” says Obama

What the sweet fuck is going on at the White House?

This is a real memo:

Presidential Memorandum–Child Soldiers Prevention Act
Presidential Determination
No.       2011-4

MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE

SUBJECT:    Presidential Determination with Respect to Section 404(c) of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, pursuant to section 404(c) of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (CSPA), title IV of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (Public Law 110 457), I hereby determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application to Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA.

You are authorized and directed to submit this determination to the Congress, along with the accompanying memorandum of justification, and to publish it in the Federal Register.

BARACK OBAMA

For those of you in locales where drinking is legal, please start now. I will catch up with you later.