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.

The perils of mapping Afghanistan’s conflict

Afghan soldiers stand near the site of a mass grave outside Kabul. May 2010.

I have a new piece up at UN Dispatch about why the leaked and recently resurfaced UN conflict mapping report on Afghanistan matters.

Five years ago, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) produced a conflict mapping report of crimes committed by all armed factions in Afghanistan between April 27, 1978 and December 22, 2001.

The report is not available on any UN website.

Some members of the international community claim it was briefly available on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) website, but was taken down following diplomatic alarm and immediate complaints that naming former commanders now serving in the Afghan government in  connection with serious international crimes would hurt the UN’s political mission. Others say it was never intended to be publicly released. Whatever the case, the report has been passed around on flash drives among a select group of Afghan and international activists and lurked unread and virtually hidden in out-of-the-way corners of the web for years.

It will reach a wider audience now that Thomas Ruttig and Sari Kuovo of the Afghanistan Analysts Network have linked to a leaked pdf version of it in their recent blog post about the good that the Nobel Committee could have achieved had it awarded this year’s Peace Prize to Afghan human rights pioneer Dr. Sima Samar.

The executive summary of the mapping report states:

No document can fully describe what the Afghans have lived through. Every Afghan has a story to tell, or many stories, of suffering and loss, and also of those responsible: the armies, militias, commanders, and gunmen—some Afghan, some foreign—who fought each other for ideals, political power, money, and revenge. Some victims became perpetrators, and some perpetrators became victims in a cycle of violence that has slowed but not yet ended.

Seven things you should know about the leaked report:

Read the rest at UN Dispatch.

The amnesty law

The Guardian reports:

Taliban fighters who have maimed and murdered but who lay down their weapons will be given immunity from prosecution according to a law that came into force without announcement in the weeks running up to last month’s London conference on Afghanistan.

The sudden implementation of the controversial law, which had been shelved for almost two years since it was passed by a slim parliamentary majority in 2007, has raised fears that the Afghan government is ignoring the rights of Taliban victims for the sake of President Hamid Karzai‘s push for a quick peace deal with insurgents.

The gazetting of the law hasn’t “raised fears”;  it has confirmed them.  And, of course, the law applies not only to the current crop of insurgents, who, let’s not forget, aren’t the only killers of Afghan civilians over the past thirty years:

The reconciliation and general amnesty law also gives immunity from prosecution to all of the country’s warlords, the former factional leaders, many of whom are hated for the atrocities they committed during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s.

The sorry transitional justice process Criminal accountability  in Afghanistan was just dealt a very serious –if not killing– blow.  It will be interesting to see if the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and human rights NGOs start pushing the angle of international prosecution. With the implementation of the amnesty law, Afghanistan undeniably meets the ICC’s  “unable or unwilling” standard, and Human Rights Watch and other groups have long (as in, before 2001) advocated for an international tribunal for Afghanistan similar to those created for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Here is an account of the 1993 Afshar massacre, one of many atrocities committed during the civil war:

That first day, a rocket hit our house. My husband was wounded in the foot. He was bleeding. . . . People were rushing around: men, women, children, all fleeing their houses, going toward the Intercontinental Hotel. I told my husband, “Everyone is leaving, fleeing, no one is left.” And I said that we should go. But he said, “I can’t move. I can’t go with you. Leave me here, and flee.” And he told me to take the eldest daughter, and that taking her away was the most important thing. . . .

We went out [of the house], but I couldn’t go. I couldn’t leave him there—my husband. I had to go back. So I went back, and I told him that I wanted him to come with us, and that I would help him walk. . . . So then we went, I was helping him, he had his arm around my shoulder. I was also carrying my three-month-old son, and my eldest daughter was holding my three-year-old. We got as far as the water canal [about 80 meters away].

At that moment, some gunmen came up to us, Mullah Ezatullah’s men. The commander said, “Qalfak Chapat.” [A derogatory term for Hazaras referring to their facial features.] “I’m one of Ezatullah’s men, and I’ve been ordered to seize this area. I’ll teach you a lesson you’ll never forget, for all of history.” He was a fat strong man, in plain Afghan clothes. But they didn’t do anything to us. They said, “We can reach you anywhere you go, we are everywhere, we control everything.” And they moved on.

So we were very scared. My husband said he could not go on. So we went back to our house. He made us leave, he insisted that I take our daughter, and so we went. We went [past] the Intercontinental . . . and we went to the Ismaili people [in Taimani], who helped us.

A few days later, a neighbor came to us, a Tajik who knew what was going on. He told us that Afshar was destroyed, my house was burned, and my husband was killed.

Today in west Kabul, survivors marked the 17th anniversary of these events and demonstrated against the immunization of the perpetrators from prosecution.

“That is why you are here”

AREU just released a new report on the Shia Personal Status Law (previously known in the Western press as the Shia Family Law), and it is one hell of a report –fifty one pages long and illustrative of how the international community interacts with the Afghan government and Afghan civil society. I’m making my way through it now. When I’m done, I hope I’ll have time to post something on it. Until then, here’s a telling snippet:

The Afghan organisations interviewed reported being consistently told that this was an internal issue of the Afghan state and it was outside of the role of international institutions to interfere. UNAMA was singled out for particular criticism for their inaction. Civil society had higher expectations of UNAMA’s role in speaking out on human rights, gender and political development issues. One MP remarked on UNAMA’s cumbersome bureaucracy, slow reactions and the institution perceiving itself as always having its hands tied.

Representatives from UN agencies as well as western embassies were also reportedly present in the parliamentary gallery when the bill was being discussed and did not raise the issue as a concern with their own governments at that time, to the consternation of MPs alarmed at the bill’s contents and the lack of debate. During a meeting hosted by a UN agency between Afghan women activists, MPs, UNAMA and several embassies, one Afghan woman stated, “We understand if the embassies have to work behind the scenes. But they should be working, you know? And it is UNAMA’s job to be interfering, to speak up on human rights issues. That is why you are here.”

Will anti-ACORN legislation defund corrupt defense contractors?

I’ll go out on a limb and guess no, but only because I’m cynical.

Still, this is a curious development.

The congressional legislation intended to defund ACORN, passed with broad bipartisan support, is written so broadly that it applies to “any organization” that has been charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency. It also applies to any of the employees, contractors or other folks affiliated with a group charged with any of those things.

What hath outrage over tax advice for pimps wrought?

The same old canard

From the comments section of Aid Watch, emphasis mine:

Lure D. Lou:

Transitionland says that immediately tackling corruption could go far to reversing this. What I would say is that one man’s corruption is another man’s way of life…as long as you have great disparities in wealth, a non-democratic power allocation, and fortunes to be made from drugs and weapons you will get nowhere in tackling corruption. Corruption is endemic to even the most advanced societies…just look at New Jersey politics…what you need are alternative structures that aren’t corrupt that will hopefully draw enough people away and give them enough incentives to stay on the straight and narrow. This is not going to happen any time soon in Afghanistan, Nigeria, or even New Jersey. The focus on corruption is a waste of time…better to use the corrupt system than to try to change it…but goodie-two shoes Americans are unlikely to want to go there…we want to save souls while allowing our contractors to rake in the dough and our NGO legions to pad their ‘conflict zone’ resumes…the Great Game of neo-colonialism continues.

Good governance NGOs in places like Afghanistan make me laugh.

A few things:

1) When I mentioned corruption, I was referring to corruption by aid agencies and their contractors. If corruption in the aid world is, as Lure D. Lou argues, a “way of life,” it is not one I want any part of.  We condemn and punish corruption in the for-profit sector (or should); there’s no reason we should apply a different set of principles to non-profits, including aid agencies.

2) New Jersey is corrupt. Comically so. But its corruption is, for the most part, the non-lethal variety, and it is mitigated (though not always successfully) by strong rule of law. Comparing Afghanistan to New Jersey is absurd. Afghanistan won’t reach New Jersey’s level of governance development for a very, very long time (I’m pretty confident I will be long dead by the time it does), but that doesn’t mean Afghanistan can’t do better, or shouldn’t. Corruption in poor societies steals food from the mouths of the poor, deprives people of basic necessities of life, walks hand in hand with human rights abuse, kills. If you don’t have an ethical problem with that, you’re an asshole.

3) It’s “better to use a corrupt system than try to change it”? Use it for what exactly?

Lou’s muddled argument seems to be that corruption is hardwired into human nature, but some humans (read: people from the developing world) are slightly more prone to corrupt behavior than others.  Lovely.


Another prize-winning comment:

Justin Kraus:


I for one wish there were more people like Lure D. Lou in development work, at least he is thinking outside the box a little bit. Your own approach, and that of most development agencies, strikes me as arrogant and patronizing. Talking about how the “international community,” which if it exists at all in any meaningful sense, is surely the most hypocritical entity on this planet, should “hold the Afghan government to its commitments” as if they were somehow freely made in the first place (how many troops do “we” have in that country?), and as if it were completely unproblematic for “us” to be telling them how to run their country. What we call vetting, they call western imperialist encroachment. Why not “allow” them to choose their leaders as they see fit? We don’t go waltzing into Japan which, even with the recent election, doesn’t have a “true” democracy in any western sense of the word?

And then you take this patroninizing protective posture over the Afghan people by stating that Mr. Lure is “dangerous” to the people that you are (supposedly) “helping.” Who is the best judge of what is and what is not help? From the looks of it most Afghanis are rejecting Western “help.”

Perhaps we should be humble enough to take a step back and stop trying to impose our “help” on a people who clearly prefer to manage themselves in ways very different from “our” own.

1) Putting international community in snark quotes is lame. Everyone knows what it means, or should anyway. It’s a convenient shorthand for a collection of governments and IOs working together. In Bosnia, it’s the OSCE, EU, UN, and United States. In Afghanistan, UNAMA, ISAF, donor agencies, NGOs, and foreign governments. No one is going to write all that out. You find international community an obnoxious phrase? Too bad. Get over it already.

2) Holding the Afghan Government to its own constitution and to international law is not disrespectful, but the opposite would be. “You must do better” implies “and we know you can.”

3) As for “telling them how to run their country” — well, this is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Are we shoving an unsuitable form of government and set of ideals down the throats of unwilling Afghans?

We are, if you count only those  who gain personal benefit from anarchy, corruption, and misgovernment. These are the people who, in every transitional society, are first to invoke “cultural differences” when the existence of said differences would oh-so-conveniently allow them to gain or retain power.

Afghan public opinion on many things  –that is, what ordinary women and men think– matches closely the more principled goals of the international community in Afghanistan. If anything, Afghans have actually expressed stronger desire for good governance, rule of law, and transitional justice than many expats.

4) “What we call vetting, they call imperialist encroachment.” Um, no. That’s just factually untrue.

From page 28 of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission report, A Call for Justice:

Many people who participated in our study forcefully made the point that human rights violations continue in Afghanistan today and that abusers remain in power. The vast majority of respondents who participated in the survey wished to see those who committed human rights abuses removed from their posts. Ninety percent of respondents indicated a desire to see the removal of perpetrators from their posts. The results of the survey were reflected in the sentiments expressed in the focus groups. Most participants wished to see the exclusion of human rights abusers from public office in order to prevent the reoccurrence of injustice. In particular they wanted to prevent perpetrators from gaining political power in the future.

Some “Western encroachment” that is.

5) “Why not ‘allow’ them to choose their leaders as they see fit?” That’s a great idea. Only, slightly difficult in practice at the moment for two reasons: some of those in power will do almost anything, including defraud, intimidate and kill, to hang on to it. And the international community is not doing enough to protect the right of ordinary Afghans to freely and fairly choose their own leaders.

6) Afghans (Afghani is a unit of currency, like dollar or Euro) aren’t “rejecting Western ‘help'” –they are rejecting our hypocrisy, laziness, corruption, insufficient respect for Afghan lives on the military side of things, and unwillingness to listen to Afghans who actually want the best for their country. That’s a different animal entirely.

The taste of ashes

“Somehow, it’s always the fixer who dies,” writes George Packer in a piece on the death of Afghan journalist Sultan Munadi and the power imbalance between foreign correspondents and the local fixers without whose help they couldn’t report from dangerous places.

Just days before he died, Munadi wrote a post for the At War blog about the stubborn love and hope he had for his country:

I have passed the very darkest times of my country, when there was war and insecurity. I was maybe four or five years old when we went from my village into the mountains and the caves to hide, because the Soviets were bombing. I have passed those times, and the time of the Taliban when I could not even go to Kabul, inside my country. It was like being in a prison.

Those times are past now. Now I am hopeful of a better situation. And if I leave this country, if other people like me leave this country, who will come to Afghanistan?

Munadi was killed yesterday during an attempt by British Special Forces to free his New York Times colleague, Stephen Farrell, from Taliban captivity.

Mr. Munadi was killed as he tried to lead Mr. Farrell to safety.

Walking in front of Mr. Farrell as they tried to reach British forces, Mr. Munadi stepped out from behind a wall, raised his hands and identified himself as a journalist. A hail of bullets immediately felled him.

“He was trying to protect me up to the last minute,” Mr. Farrell said.

Munadi’s colleagues remember him as a person of intelligence, courage, and kindness.

Sultan had the most erect posture of anyone I’ve ever met. It was regal, and it was revealing: he himself was so straight, quite literally upstanding. In his motives, his agenda, he had the clarity of water – there was nothing hidden. He was an entirely selfless man: he would do anything for us; for his family; for his country. He named his first son “Parsaa,” a Dari/Persian word that means, he wrote me, “one who avoids or refuses to commit any sin,” words that could apply to the father as well.

Here’s hoping the Times has a scholarship fund set up for Parsaa and and his brother.

UPDATE: The Times has set up a fund for Munadi’s family. Scroll to the end of this post.


ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo is conducting preliminary inquiries into allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan, Georgia, Gaza, and Colombia. Ocampo has previously expressed his intention to open four more cases, at least one outside Africa, before the end of his tenure.

One thing is for sure: by turning his attention to conflicts involving three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Israel, Ocampo is about to open a serious can of diplomatic worms.

Tantrums from the United States, Russia and Israel in 5…4…3…2…


And now for some absurdity: Harry Rud weighs in on clip art for night letters. In the comments, Alanna astutely observes that the choice clip art for the letter pictured is, almost certainly, candy corn.

Candy corn!?

Candy corn.

Pervez Kambakhsh freed

It’s wonderful when one of these stories ends happily –or even bittersweetly, anything but tragically– once in a while.

From the Independent (UK):

The fate of the 24-year-old trainee journalist became an international cause célèbre after his plight was revealed by this newspaper. A petition to secure justice gathered more than 100,000 signatures and the Afghan government came under intense pressure from the international community to release him.

Mr Kambakhsh was moved from his cell in Kabul’s main prison a fortnight ago and kept at a secure location for a few days before being flown out of the country. Prior to his departure, he spoke of how his relief was mixed with deep regret at knowing he was unlikely to see his family or country again.

Wherever Pervez Kambakhsh is now, I hope he is receiving the support he needs. Not seeing one’s family or country again is a high price to pay for freedom, but maybe it will one day be safe enough for Kambakshsh’s brother and parents to visit him. Kambakhsh is a very young man, and he has plenty of life ahead of him.

I eagerly await reading the book.

File this under “things that make me ashamed of my country”

It would have been nice of  the judge who sentenced sixteen year old Sara Kruzan  to life without parole for the crime of killing her pimp (the man who raped Kruzan and forced her into prostitution when she was just a middleschooler) to have weighed seriously not only Kruzan’s young age, but also the fact that she was also, very obviously, a victim of human trafficking.