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Up, Up and Away: The West’s Hysterical Reaction to North Korea April 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Foreign Policy, North/South Korea.
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Posted on Apr 17, 2009, www.truthdig.com

AP photo / Ahn Young-joon

South Koreans watch a TV news program on the launch of a North Korean missile.

By Scott Ritter

Six minutes before 1 o’clock in the afternoon, on Jan. 23, a 173-foot-tall, two-stage rocket lifted off from Northeast Asia. Capable of carrying a giant 33,000-pound payload, the rocket’s liquid-fuel engine, supplemented by two solid-fuel strap-on booster rockets, generated nearly half a million pounds of thrust before giving way to the second stage, likewise powered by a liquid-fuel engine. After reaching a height of nearly 430 miles, the rocket released into orbit a 3,850-pound satellite, along with seven smaller probes. Other than the small community of scientists interested in the data expected to be collected from the “Ibuki” Greenhouse Gases Observatory Satellite (GOSAT), the rocket’s main payload, very few people around the world took notice of the launch. The United Nations Security Council did not meet in an emergency session to denounce the launch, nor did it craft a package of punitive economic sanctions in response. 

The reason? The rocket in question, the H-2A, was launched by Japan, at its Tanegashima Space Launch Facility. Deemed an exclusively civilian program, the H-2A has been launched 15 times since its inaugural mission on Aug. 29, 2001. Four of these launches have been in support of exclusively military missions, delivering spy satellites into orbit over North Korea. Although capable of delivering a modern nuclear warhead to intercontinental ranges, the H-2A is seen as a “non-threatening” system since its liquid-fueled engines require a lengthy fueling process prior to launching, precluding any quick-launch capability deemed essential for a military application.

In contrast, on April 5, at 11:30 in the morning, North Korea launched a three-stage rocket called “Unha,” or “Milky Way,” which it claimed was carrying a single small communications satellite weighing a few hundred pounds. Like the H-2A, the “Unha,” better known in the West as the Taepodong-2, is liquid-fueled, requiring weeks of preliminary preparation before launch. Although North Korea declared the vehicle to be intended for launching a satellite, the launch was condemned even before it occurred as “dangerous” and “provocative,” unlike Japan’s similar efforts.

The Taepodong-2 launch was the second attempt by the North Koreans to get this particular design airborne. In 2006, the first effort ended in failure when the rocket exploded some 40 seconds after liftoff. The second launch, by all accounts (except North Korea’s, which announced that its satellite was successfully orbiting the Earth, broadcasting patriotic music), was likewise a failure. The first stage, based on a Chinese design derived from the CSS-2 missile, seemed to function as intended, given the fact that it splashed down in the Sea of Japan in the area expected. However, the second stage, together with the smaller solid-fuel third stage designed to boost the satellite into orbit, fell several hundred miles short of its anticipated impact area, indicating a failure of the second stage to perform properly and, ultimately, launch the satellite. Western hysteria, which labeled the North Korean rocket a direct threat to the western United States, prompting calls for the missile to be shot down, proved unfounded.

In October 2006, in response to North Korea’s announcement that it had conducted an underground test of a nuclear weapon, the Security Council of the United Nations passed Resolution 1718. This resolution, passed under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, condemned the North Korean nuclear weapon test and called for the imposition of economic sanctions until North Korea’s nuclear weapons program was dismantled and its nuclear program as a whole reintegrated into the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. It also singled out North Korea’s ballistic missile programs, demanding that Pyongyang “not conduct any further … launch of a ballistic missile” and “suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program and in this context re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching” and “abandon all other existing weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programme in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.” 

The April 5 launch was widely condemned by the United States and others (including Japan, which assumed a leading role in framing the North Korean test as “destabilizing” and “dangerous”). President Barack Obama characterized the North Korean launch as a violation of Security Council resolutions and pushed for the council to punish Pyongyang. However, not everyone shared the sentiments of the United States and Japan. Both Russia and China questioned whether the launch was in fact a violation of Resolution 1718, noting that North Korea had every right to launch satellites. The best the United States and Japan could get from the U.N. Security Council was a statement issued by the council president condemning the launch as a “contravention” of Security Council Resolution 1718 and demanding that North Korea “comply fully” with its obligations under the resolution. The statement also demanded that North Korea not shoot off any more rockets or missiles.

Thus it appears that the United Nations Security Council, and not North Korea, is acting in a manner inconsistent with international law. On March 5, 2009, North Korea notified Russia that it was joining the 1966 Outer Space Treaty. Russia is one of three depository states for that treaty (the other two being the United States and the United Kingdom), and North Korea’s announcement made the commitment binding. At the same time, North Korea informed the U.N. secretary-general that it was joining the 1974 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched Into Outer Space. The Outer Space Treaty proclaims “the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind,” and that “outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States.” North Korea’s joining the 1974 convention, while not mandatory, put it in compliance with the established practices of other nations having space launch programs, including Iran, which signed the treaty back in 1967, and which on Feb. 2, 2008, successfully launched a satellite on board its two-stage Safir-2 (“Ambassador”) vehicle. While the United States and others strongly criticized the Iranian action, Russia noted that Iran had not violated international law. The same holds true of the North Korean launch.

A major problem confronting President Obama and others who fear that North Korean and Iranian launches are merely a cover for the development of technologies useful for military ballistic missile programs is that, unlike in the nuclear field, where the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) seeks to control nuclear weapon technologies and activities within a framework of binding international law, there is no corresponding treaty vehicle concerning ballistic missiles. In 1991, the U.N. Security Council did impose restrictions on ballistic missile technology for Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War, but this was a case-specific action which, in defining its mandate, had to turn not to an existing body of binding international law-based definitions, but rather to a voluntary arrangement known as the Missile Technology Control Regime [MTCR], brought into being in 1987. Today the MTCR consists of 34 members, all of which have agreed to abide by a regime that controls the availability of missile-related technology to nonmember states. But the MTCR does not carry with it the force of law, and has become politicized over the years through the inconsistent application of its mandate to the point that it is viewed by many nonsignatory nations as sustaining the military advantage of the member nations.

While both North Korea and Iran have come under strong international criticism and sanctions for their respective nuclear and missile activities, it should be noted that neither nation has acted in a manner which violates international law. North Korea withdrew from the NPT prior to testing its nuclear weapon, and Iran’s nuclear enrichment program operates with full transparency and in keeping with its obligations under the NPT. As signatories to the 1966 Outer Space Treaty, both nations are legally permitted to pursue space launch activity, and the MTCR does not ban ballistic missile development, but rather merely prevents signatory nations from providing such technology to nonsignatory nations. But the lack of international outrage and demands for sanctions against nations such as Israel, Pakistan and India (all of which possess nuclear weapons programs operating outside the NPT, as well as military ballistic missile programs designed to deliver these nuclear weapons) undermines the legitimacy of the current attention on North Korea and Iran. 

On the day North Korea launched its “Unha” vehicle, President Obama delivered a speech in Prague, the Czech Republic, which was hastily redrafted to take the North Korean action into account. “North Korea broke the rules,” Obama said. “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.” These bold statements were made at the same time the president was calling for a global abolition of nuclear weapons and a strengthened NPT as “a basis for cooperation,” one which would require “more resources and authority to strengthen international inspections” and deliver “real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or trying to leave the treaty without cause.” The president outlined a valid (if vague) course of action concerning nuclear weapons, but having linked nuclear weapons with ballistic missile delivery vehicles, he remained conspicuously mute on how he envisioned containing and controlling that threat. 

Expansion of the MTCR is not a viable option, although in its most recent plenary session the MTCR underscored the importance of the regime working closely with the United Nations to follow through on measures put in place under Security Council Resolution 1540, passed in 2004 under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter. Those measures require all states to “establish domestic controls to prevent the proliferation of such weapons and means of delivery, in particular for terrorist purposes, including by establishing appropriate controls over related materials, and adopt legislative measures in that respect.” The resolution specifically said that none of its obligations should be interpreted “so as to conflict with or alter the rights and obligations of State parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention or alter the responsibilities of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).” This reflects the reality that there is established, binding international agreement on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. There is no such agreement on ballistic missiles.

This is the missing link in Obama’s call for a nuclear-free world. It will be difficult enough to convince entrenched domestic special interests, both economic and political, that we would be safer without nuclear weapons. It will be impossible to sell such a program internationally unless it is coupled with a similar undertaking involving the very missiles and related technology the MTCR seeks to restrict. Such a restriction cannot be limited to those nations which do not currently possess such technology, but rather must be binding on all nations. While the world was focused on the launch of the North Korean missile, almost unmentioned was the testing of an SS-25 intercontinental missile by Russia on April 10. This missile, designed and equipped to deliver a single 500-kiloton nuclear warhead, flew 6,000 miles before hitting its designated target area (the warhead used was a dummy). And what about February’s test launch of a U.S. Navy D-5 ballistic missile from a Trident submarine? This missile flew some 4,000 miles and was equipped with multiple warheads. There was hardly any mention of the test of a U.S. Minuteman III missile in July 2006, made six days after the U.S. orchestrated Security Council condemnation of North Korea’s failed launch of a Taepodong-2 space launch vehicle. India, Pakistan and Israel have all conducted recent tests of their respective nuclear-capable ballistic missile arsenals. If the world is going to be serious about getting rid of nuclear weapons, then it must also address the issue of eliminating those delivery vehicles which provide the most viable vector for nuclear attack—ballistic missiles.

Combining the goals and intent of the MTCR with the 1966 Outer Space Treaty would be a good place to start. Banning ballistic missiles yet maintaining space launch capability are not mutually exclusive objectives. The technologies might be similar, but the employment methodologies are not. Military ballistic missiles are deployed in secrecy and rapidly prepared for launch. Space launch vehicles are operated in full transparency, on declared schedules with announced objectives. If the list of technologies currently controlled by the MTCR was expanded to include all technologies associated with missile launch activity, and access to such technologies made conditional on their use in declared, carefully monitored space launchings controlled by a binding international treaty, it would be possible to rid the world of the scourge of global nuclear attack by not only removing the nuclear weapons but also the most effective means of their delivery. Obama and others who criticize North Korea and Iran would do well to reflect on such a possibility the next time they embark on the ineffective and hypocritical path of assailing those who simply seek to acquire what we already have—whether it be nuclear weapons, nuclear technology, ballistic missiles or space launch capability.

Scott Ritter was a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998 and a U.S. Marine intelligence officer. He is author of “Target Iran” (Nation Books, 2006) and the forthcoming “On Dangerous Ground: Following the Path of America’s Failed Arms Control Policy,” also published by Nation Books. 


State Department Ushers in Dennis Ross in the Dark of the Night February 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Cheryl Biren-Wright

http://cherylbirenwright.wordpress.com , February 24, 2009

Late last night, according to the Washington Post, the State Department announced that Dennis Ross will be the “special adviser to Secretary of State Clinton responsible for developing a strategy for engaging Iran.”

The State Department, in fact, has yet to specifically cite Iran in Ross’s title. Dennis Ross will be “adviser to the secretary of state for the Gulf and Southwest Asia.” State Department officials, the Washington Post reports, said the title is a euphemism for Iran.

For months many concerns have been raised over the prospect of a Ross appointment as a special envoy to or an adviser on Iran. To assign the former diplomat who actively supports not only coercive actions against Iran, but the policy option of a preventive military attack seems counterintuitive to the need for trust in this highly sensitive relationship.

In 2007 and 2008 Dennis Ross, working on the Presidential Task Force for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), convened the report “How to Deepen the U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge.”

This task force met numerous times including a two-day retreat in Virginia with ten Israeli counterparts. In an effort to bring aboard those who had the ear of the major presidential candidates at the time, signatories included Richard Clarke, Anthony Lake, Susan Rice, Vin Weber and James Woolsey.

The report focused on halting Iran’s nuclear program and indicated that it’s not just a bomb they are worried about but also Iran having influence in the region. It criticized the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that found that Iran had halted the weaponization component of its nuclear program in 2003 for “reducing the sense of urgency for additional pressure.” It added that “Israeli intelligence analysts have doubts about both the facts and duration of Iran’s suspension of weaponization efforts.”

The first section of the report titled “The Importance of Prevention” raises concerns that the U.S. might favor deterrence over prevention. Prevention in this case would be the act of a preventive military strike against Iran. It points out that “Americans should recognize that deterrence is, in Israeli eyes, an unattractive alternative to prevention, because if deterrence fails, Israel would suffer terribly.” The result of this, they explain, would be that Israel may decide to act independently against Iran.

While this may be a valid concern, it raises the question of whether the United States should support preventive military action simply because Israel might do it first. The report criticizes Iran for not abiding by UN Security Council resolutions calling on it to suspend its enrichment program, but Ross and his fellow signatories show little concern for the UN Charter that requires that member nations refrain from the threat or use of force and that if a dispute is not settled it shall be referred to the Security Council which will make recommendations. While the Charter allows for military action in self-defense, no strong case for even an imminent attack currently exists.

The United States has been down this preventive route before most recently in March 2003. That Dennis Ross and the folks on this task force don’t seem to take into account the disastrous effects of the preventive attack on Iraq and would consider this option with Iran is at the minimum an unsettling notion.

Interestingly, after recognizing the “abiding commitment” the United States has to Israel, they make a point of stating that “critics who argue that Israel has manipulated the U.S. government to act counter to the American national interest, which – if properly understood – would see Israel as a liability.” “We reject that critique,” reads the report.

The task force recommends four policy options when dealing with Iran. The first two involve diplomatic engagement and political and economic pressure. It advises that Israel be brought in “as a full partner in planning discussions regarding initiatives involving the UN Security Council; and U.S-EU, U.S.-Arab, and other relevant forums.”

The other two policy options include “coercive options such as an embargo on Iran’s sale of oil or import of refined petroleum products, and preventive military action.”

Before signing off, the report revisits the issue of the relationship with Israel and the United States. It calls for the president to use the “bully pulpit” to educate the American public that Iran poses a direct threat to the United States quickly adding, “The central argument is that preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability is not special pleading for America’s ally Israel – it is vital to America’s own security.”

When considering that Dennis Ross will be “responsible for developing a strategy for engaging Iran,” it is important to note that the blueprint for this strategy from Ross’s perspective is deeply rooted in WINEPs presidential task force that endorses the policy option of a preventive strike and included not just American statesmen, diplomats and scholars, but ten anonymous Israeli counterparts.

While the State Department continues to use vague language about the connection between Dennis Ross and Iran, WINEP’s presidential task force makes clear that Ross will not be alone at the table.

Article 51: Israel’s false claim February 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Reza Nasri

17 – 02 – 2009. www.opendemocracy.net

Both opponents and supporters of Israel’s attacks on Gaza fail to see how deep its breach of international law and norms really runs

“In its military operation, Israel exercised its inherent right to self-defence, enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Any other State would have acted in the same manner faced with similar terrorist threats.”

Later on, the Permanent mission of Israel reiterates this position in a letter addressed to the Secretary General. Once again, Israel officially claims that:

“In response to Hamas’ continuous terrorist attacks, Israel has been acting in accordance with its inherent right to self-defence enshrined in Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.”

To counter Israel’s assertion, opponents argue that the right to self-defence – while being an inherent right of States – is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity. They note that Israel’s massive military operations in Gaza do not meet these two conditions (the military operations are excessively violent compared to the alleged attacks that provoked them) and conclude that they are therefore illegal under international law.  

Non-applicability of Article 51 in occupied territories

The right to self-defence – as recognized by Article 51 of the Charter – is a right attributable to “States” only in their “international” relations. A State is allowed to recourse to self-defence if it is subject to another State‘s unlawful use of force. The situation must involve:

a) An armed attack (of sufficient gravity);

b) Conducted between States (or from one State territory) – as main subjects of international law;

c) And be of an international character.

Article 51 does not apply to a situation that involves an Occupying Power (the State of Israel) acting within occupied territories under its own authority and responsibility. In legal terms, Israel cannot invoke the right to self-defence under Article 51 to justify the use of military force in territories on which Israel itself exercises effective control, at least since 1967. (Although Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza under the “disengagement plan” in 2005, Israel’s relocation of its troops from the occupied land does not end its status as the “Occupying power”. Israel continuously maintained control over Gaza’s borders, air and sea space, water, electricity, sewage and telecommunication systems and because of that, Gaza remains an occupied territory as defined in international law. In fact, UN Security Council resolution 1860 (pdf) issued on January 8, 2009 clearly notes that: “the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967”.)

Indeed, it would be inconceivable for most of us to imagine any other country barricading a city or a district within a territory under its own watch, then use F-16 fire jets, high-tech Cobra helicopters, ground troops, cluster bombs, white phosphorus and depleted uranium ammunition, killing thousands of its inhabitants under the pretext of combating, for instance, street gang criminality. It would be even more absurd if that country justified all that by invoking an extraneous right under the UN Charter. Yet, this is exactly what Israel has done in Gaza.

Palestine (Gaza strip and the West Bank) is not yet considered an independent sovereign State – especially not by Israel. The swath of land known as “Palestine” (which encompasses Gaza) is an inhabited territory under Israeli mandate and occupation since 1967. For Israel to become entitled to invoke Article 51 of the UN Charter (which is a multilateral inter-state treaty) and benefit from its relevant rules of self-defence, Israel needs at least to recognize that it is dealing with another “State” (be it a State that directly commits armed attacks against Israel or a State whose territory is being used by an autonomous hostile group to mount attacks against Israel). But Israel cannot persistently rebuff Palestine’s Statehood on one hand, and, on the other hand, treat Palestine as a State whenever it needs to utilise the Charter to legitimise its use of force against.

In other words, Israel’s self-defence argument entails the precondition of recognising Palestinian Statehood; while not doing so entails setting the Charter’s legal subterfuges aside and solely complying with the strictures of Humanitarian law (especially the Geneva Conventions) regarding occupation.

The world court’s position

In its July 2004 advisory opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had already established the non-applicability of “self-defence” under Article 51 in the situation between Israel and the Occupied Territories (a key point that most commentators seem to have forgotten). Just as it claims today, Israel had argued in the Wall case that the construction of a wall around the West Bank was an act of self-defence consistent with Article 51 of the Charter. According to Israel, Article 51 supported its right to build the wall to protect itself against terrorist attacks emanating from the occupied territories.

But the Court dismissed this argument as follows (pdf):

“Article 51 of the Charter thus recognizes the existence of an inherent right of self-defence in the case of armed attack by one State against another State. However, Israel does not claim that the attacks against it are imputable to a foreign State. The Court also notes that Israel exercises control in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and that, as Israel itself states, the threat which it regards as justifying the construction of the wall originates within, and not outside, that territory. […] Consequently, the Court concludes that Article 51 of the Charter has no relevance in this case” (emphasis added by author).

A fortiori, the Court’s position is also valid regarding the recent situation in Gaza.

In fact, there seems to be a growing consensus among prominent international law experts regarding the issue. In a document entitled “The Chatham House Principles of International Law on the Use of Force in Self-Defence”, the Royal Institute of International Affairs also confirmed the non-applicability of Article 51 by stressing that “unless an attack is directed from outside territory under the control of the defending State, the question of self-defence in the sense of Article 51 does not normally arise”.

The impermissible confusion: Jus ad bellum vs Jus in bello

The law of the use of force is composed of two distinct branches:

a) the law governing the recourse to force (jus ad bellum) and;

b) the law governing the conduct of hostilities (jus in bello).

The first set of laws refers to the reasons States may invoke to justify war, while the second set governs the means they may adopt in executing war or the way they should act in a post-war situation, such as occupation. The jus ad bellum rules are mostly enshrined in the UN Charter (i.e. article 2(4) and article 51), while the jus in bello rules are mostly to be found in the four Geneva Conventions, the Hague regulations and relevant customary norms. Self-defence logically belongs to the realm of jus ad bellum while “occupation” is naturally governed by the jus in bello.

As Georges Abi-Saab – Professor Emeritus at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva – explained in his oral pleading before the ICJ in the wall case:

“[S]elf-defence does not belong to international humanitarian law or the jus in bello, but to the jus ad bellum [the branch of law that defines the legitimate reasons a State may engage in war]. Israel makes here an impermissible confusion between the two branches of the law of war that have to be kept radically apart”.

As it did in the wall case, Israel still attempts to sustain that confusion, for good reason.

Israel has already exhausted its right to self-defence when it pre-emptively seized the West Bank and Gaza from neighbouring belligerent States in an international conflict in 1967. Since then, the only set of laws that govern the Israeli-Palestinian situation is the customary and treaty-based norms of “Humanitarian law” that regulate occupation (Jus in bello). According to the applicable law, Israel is not only proscribed from harming the inhabitants of these territories, but it is obliged to ensure their safety and security (Article 43 of The Hague regulations). Israel is also under the obligation to provide protection to their private properties (Arts. 46 and 47 of the Fourth Geneva convention), and to keep intact their “public buildings, real estate, forests and agricultural estates” (Art. 55 of the Fourth Geneva convention).

Israel’s recent massive bombardments and use of heavy artillery against Gaza cannot be reconciled with these obligations. In fact, Israel’s recent actions constitute, under Article 147 of the Fourth Convention, as well as Article 85 of Protocol I and Article 8 of the Rome Statute, grave breaches of international law which entail individual criminal responsibility.

By constantly alluding to the notion of self-defence as per Article 51 and by framing the military operations in Gaza solely in terms of necessity and proportionality, even the opponents of Israel unconsciously affirm the “impermissible confusion” that Israel is deliberately trying to disseminate.

Reza Nasri is an international lawyer based at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.In my opinion, both sides miss a crucial point.

Will Israel’s Leaders Be Charged With War Crimes? January 26, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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 Jonathan Cook, AlterNet. Posted January 26, 2009.

Israeli officials are frantically trying to forestall legal actions from abroad

Mounting fear in Israel that the country’s leaders face war crimes charges over their involvement in the recent Gaza offensive pushed officials into a frenzy of activity at the weekend to forestall legal actions abroad.

The urgency was underlined after rumors last week that Belgian authorities might arrest Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, if she attended a summit of European counterparts in Brussels on Wednesday. In an indication of how seriously the matter is judged, Ms Livni’s advisers were on the verge of cancelling her trip when the story was revealed to be a hoax.

Nonetheless, officials are braced for real attempts to arrest senior political and military figures following a warning from the country’s chief law officer, Menachem Mazuz, that Israel will soon face “a wave of international lawsuits”.

In response, the government is setting up a special task force to work on legal defenses, has barred the media from naming or photographing army officers involved in the Gaza attack, and has placed restrictions on overseas visits. Today, ministers were expected to approve an aid package to help soldiers fight warrants abroad for their arrest.

The concern about war crimes trials follows a series of pronouncements by Richard Falk, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the occupied territories and a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University in the United States.

He has accused Israel of gravely violating the laws of war during its three-week offensive, which killed more than 1,300 Gazans, most of them civilians, and wounded thousands more.

There is a well-grounded view that both the initial attacks on Gaza and the tactics being used by Israel are serious violations of the UN charter, the Geneva conventions, international law and international humanitarian law,” he said during the final stages of fighting.

Since they gained entry to the tiny enclave after a ceasefire declared a week ago, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have added their voice. The two human-rights organizations have censured Israel over its failure to distinguish between Palestinian civilians and combatants as well as its use of controversial weapons.

There is incontrovertible evidence, both groups say, that Israel fired white phosphorus shells over Gaza, despite its banned use in civilian areas, setting homes on fire and burning civilians caught under the shower of phosphorus.

Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, has also lambasted Israel for using high-explosive shells in built-up areas of Gaza, even though the artillery has a blast range of up to 300 meters.

Initial indications suggest that the army may have resorted also to an experimental weapon — dense inert metal explosive, or Dime — that severs limbs and ruptures the internal organs of anyone close to the blast.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, is investigating claims forwarded by Saudi Arabia that depleted uranium shells were used in Gaza.

In addition, human-rights groups have begun documenting instances of the Israeli army’s targeting of civilian buildings, including UN schools, and of soldiers taking Palestinian civilians as human shields.

A senior Israeli official told Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper: “As far as the international arena is concerned, Israel is entering what is probably its darkest era.”

In a further sign of concern, an unnamed government minister was quoted last week as saying: “When the scale of the damage in Gaza becomes clear, I will no longer take a vacation in Amsterdam, only at the international court in The Hague” — a reference to the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands that tries war crimes.

Over the past week about 300 human-rights organizations have jointly prepared a 37-page dossier of evidence to be presented to the court.

According to legal experts, it will be difficult to try Israel at the ICC because it is not a signatory to the Rome statute governing the court’s jurisdiction and function. However, an ad hoc tribunal similar to the ones set up to deal with war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia may be an option. The ICC might also try to pursue individual Israeli commanders for war crimes.

A more pressing concern for Israel is that human-rights activists in Europe could use local “universal jurisdiction” legislation to initiate war crimes trials in their domestic courts against Israeli leaders.

Such actions have been launched before, most notably in 2005 when Doron Almog, the former Israeli commander in Gaza, avoided being arrested in the United Kingdom only after he was warned to remain seated in a plane after his arrival at Heathrow airport. Major Gen Almog had overseen the demolition of hundreds of homes in Gaza three years earlier.

In an attempt to make life more difficult for Israeli leaders, anonymous activists in Israel launched a website (www.wanted.org.il) — “outing” those it accused of war crimes, including Ehud Barak, the defence minister, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, and Ms Livni. It also identified most of the senior military command.

Offering photographs and information about each official’s alleged offence, the site provides contact details for the ICC and tells visitors to alert the court when “the suspect is outside of Israel’s borders”.

To avert the danger of arrests for war crimes, IsraeI hurriedly initiated a series of moves to protect its leaders. A special task force, overseen by the prime minister’s office, will convene in the next few days to start building a defence for army commanders.

The Israeli media suggested experts on international law would seek to compile evidence that Hamas stockpiled weapons in civilian buildings, and that the army went to great efforts to warn residents to flee before bombing areas.

The military censor is excising from media reports all identifying information about senior officers involved in the Gaza operation, and officers who wish to travel abroad will be required first to seek the advice of military officials.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

Who Watches While the US Invades — Again November 2, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Political Commentary.
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by: Marcia Mitchell, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

A child stands at the site of an October 31, 2008, US missile attack in Pakistan that killed 27. (Photo: Reuters)



 Has anyone in Washington noticed? The new US raids into Pakistan and Syria are, as was the invasion of Iraq, in blatant violation of international law. But who’s keeping track of this sort of thing? Certainly not senior US officials, who apparently have weighed the negative consequences of illegal military operations against their perceived benefits and opted in favor of the latter.

    Washington officials apparently reason that relations with Syria, already damaged over the attacks, may well be mended with the arrival of a new occupant in the Oval Office, given that country’s desire for an improved relationship with the United States. Possibly, but not certain. And what may work with Syria may not work with Pakistan; further, what may work with leaders of these countries may not work with their enraged citizens. There is no question that US raids launched from Iraqi soil only add to this latest downward spiral into Middle Eastern mud.

    It is fair to ask if anyone in Washington has noticed of late that Chapter VII of the UN Charter clearly establishes the rules for one country attacking another, rules to which this country is a signatory. International law provides three reasons for use of arms against an enemy – defense against imminent military attack, an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe, or a UN Security Council resolution.

    (Regime change, now used as justification for having invaded Iraq, is specifically precluded as a reason for war. But again, no one seems to be noticing that toppling Saddam became a flawed justification once Weapons of Mass Destruction proved to be among the missing.)

    Perhaps concern over these new forays across foreign borders is unwarranted. Certainly, selective raids against Syria and Pakistan hardly amount to war. But they are acts of aggression, plain and simple. The fact that this sort of cross-border incident is commonplace around the world is no reason for the United States to continue this sort of operation.

    The announced objective for doing so is killing or capturing al-Qaida terrorists; the downside is the possibility of killing innocent civilians – children in schools, families celebrating a wedding, farmers working their fields. Add to the political calculus the certainty, not the possibility, of further infuriating and alienating other countries, both those considered friendly and those not so friendly. At this moment in history, it’s hard to imagine a worsening of America’s image abroad, but Washington seems determined to do so before the present administration leaves office.

    Our recent book, “The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War,” the story of British secret service officer Katharine Gun’s efforts to at least derail the Iraq war, offers two relevant quotes worth thinking about, given these new attacks on Middle Eastern countries.

    Richard Perle, sharing bellicose thoughts before the Iraq war, a war he saw as being insufficient to get the job done, said:

    “No stages. This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq … this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war … our children will sing great songs about us years from now.”

    Most Americans must doubt that Perle’s children’s choir will perform as he predicted. Instead, they will consider his expectation consistent with a failed political culture, one that finds illegal “total war” preferable to “clever diplomacy.”

    Another especially relevant quote coming from the Katharine Gun story is attributed to CIA Director Michael Hayden, who was at the NSA helm in 2003 when Gun revealed that agency’s illegal spy operation against members of the UN Security Council. It also has to do with a political culture:

    “I’m not too uncomfortable with a society that makes its bogeymen secrecy and power … making secrecy and power the bogeymen of political culture, that’s not a bad society.”

    But it is. At the moment, Hayden-esque bogeymen seem to be making decisions that are turning much of the world against the United States – decisions paid for in the currency of thousands upon thousands of lives lost and maimed, of millions displaced, of America’s shattered image abroad, and of new raids of doubtful legality.

    There is no question that Perle’s position on the Middle East was shared by a significant number of his pro-war colleagues, many still in high places in Washington. After more than five years of war, his words cast an ominous shadow over strategic planning sessions in Washington. And they bring to mind dangerous bogeypersons bent on total war, perhaps not just raids on Syria and Pakistan.

    Is anyone noticing?