Chemical Weapons and the Law

Syria is subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which makes the recent use of chemical weapons there a crime.  UN Weapons investigators analyzing evidence collected in Syria need about another week to establish if the weapons were used by Syrian government forces, if Syria’s leader authorized their use or was informed later, if they were instead used by rebel forces, or if more evidence is required to make a judgment.

President Obama says Syria’s leader is responsible for the crime and proposes unilateral retaliatory military action.  Congress is debating whether to authorize that.  Its vote is scheduled for two days hence, before the UN team completes its analysis.  President Obama says he has the authority to take military action even if Congress votes no.

Unfortunately, US governments always have placed their faith exclusively in military power and refused to accept the rule of international law.  President Bush’s UN representative formally excluded the USA from ICC jurisdiction.  President Obama, despite his law degree and Nobel Peace Prize, is acting the same way.

Banning chemical weapons has been a long and tortuous challenge.  The first attempt was the 1925 Geneva Protocol following the use of poison gas in WW1.  Another attempt was initiated following the WW2 Holocaust but was stymied by the Cold War.  In 1962 the US and USSR proposed elimination of all such weapons to the UN but between then and 1971 the US sprayed nearly 20 million gallons of chemical weapons in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia which resulted, according to the Vietnam Red Cross, in as many as 400,000 people killed or maimed, and half a million children with birth defects.

We knew Iraqi troops were routinely using chemical weapons against Iran in the early 1980s, and supplied them with a couple of batches each of anthrax and botulism bacteria in 1986.  The Senate unanimously passed the Prevention of Genocide Act in 1988, which would have banned any military assistance to Iraq and import of Iraqi oil, but it did not pass in the House.  We continued to supply Iraq with equipment we knew was for use in their chemical and nuclear weapons programs until Saddam Hussein misjudged our friendliness and invaded Kuwait.

In 1993, the UN called for destruction of all existing chemical weapons, no more manufacture, and an inspection body.  Congress reluctantly ratified that statute in 1997 but then passed legislation so we could refuse inspections.

At last, the genocide in Yugoslavia and Rwanda sparked the UN in 1998 to initiate creation of an International Criminal Court, an enforcement mechanism.  The court’s independence and jurisdiction were major issues.  Could it be prevented from launching a prosecution by a veto from the US, Russia, China, the UK or France?  Would it require approval to prosecute from the country where a crime was committed?  Could it prosecute if there was already a court proceeding in that nation?   Could it prosecute crimes committed in civil wars?  Could it prosecute crimes committed before it was established?

We said we supported the ICC.  In fact, we worked hard to emasculate it.  We demanded that no US citizen could be indicted without our approval.  We required veto power over any indictment.  We insisted that the ICC could prosecute crimes only in nations that are a party to the ICC Convention.  We said the ICC could have jurisdiction only if national courts failed to act.  We demanded that national security and/or a superior’s orders must be accepted as grounds for defense.

Even though those severe constraints were reluctantly accepted, we voted against creation of the court.  The vote was 120 in favor, 7 opposed and 21 abstentions.  The court would become effective when ratified by the 60th nation.  We worked hard to prevent that.  In 2001, the Senate passed an act that would have prohibited us from cooperating with the ICC in any way, barred military aid to any country supporting the ICC and required us to use any means to release US citizens held by the court.

When in 2002 the 60th nation ratified the ICC and it came into force, we notified the UN that we refused to be a party to the treaty.

At this time 122 nations have ratified the ICC and 31 more, including Russia, have signed but not ratified the Statute, 3 of which, Israel, Sudan and the US, have withdrawn their signatures.  41 other UN member nations have not signed the Statute, including China and India.

Governments of nations that have refused ICC jurisdiction tend to be engaged in activities the ICC might well prosecute, e.g., Israel’s settlements, India and Pakistan’s activities in Kashmir, China’s in Tibet and Xinjiang, ours in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and etc.

The ICC has so far opened investigations only into 8 situations in Africa.  It has indicted 30 people, issued arrest warrants for 21 and has 5 in custody.  The atrocities being committed in Syria should be prosecuted by the ICC and we should be insisting that it do so.  We should consider other options only if the ICC is barred, e.g., by a veto from Russia, from that investigation.

We should stop telling the world we are its judge and executioner and start supporting the international rule of law.


The 2nd Amendment, Revolution and Self-Defense

DaveR sent me a Facebook message:  “Thought you might be interested in the article at this link:  One of our traditions — throwing off the shackles of a government that has overstepped its bounds — is at odds with another, the one that accepts the results of elections.”   We agreed to copy our long and lively discussion here.  It raises important points that I hope will provoke more discussion.

I responded: “I hadn’t thought about this idea in the article: “In a democracy the majority determines what the law is and could, at least theoretically, take away the rights of individuals for the sake of the ‘public good.’  In a republic, majority will is held in check by constitutional guarantees that forbid legislation encroaching on individual rights even if 51 percent or 95 percent of the population favors it.”  It seems more complicated in real life.   The right guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment is “encroached upon” by subsequent legislation that defines what “arms” we the people may and may not “bear” and the circumstances in which we may bear them.  In the same way, the definition of “we the people” has been the opposite of encroached upon, i.e., expanded by civil rights legislation.”

Then I got off track with an ignorant assertion:  “I always come back to the same state of bafflement about the 2nd amendment.  Do the folks who believe they need guns to overthrow the government really believe their weapons would make that possible?  Or are they like those in the South who knew in their hearts they would fail but went ahead with the War of Northern Aggression, anyway?”

Correcting my mistake led to the important topic of revolution.  Dave responded:  “Well, the South most certainly did not think it was going to lose the Civil War.  In fact, it very nearly won in the first few years.  Many also truly believed that they would receive political, if not military support from Britain (whose textile industry was utterly dependent on southern cotton in 1860).  Interestingly, part of the reason why they did as well as they did despite the North’s superiority in industry, manpower and infrastructure, was precisely because of their cultural military tradition.  Many in the Southern Armies used their own weapons, horses, and the like for the entire war, which is interesting considering this 2nd amendment debate.  I think the 2nd amendment is actually pretty important, but I am for regulation, background checks, etc.  I most certainly do not support repeal. And as I’ve said before, I choose not to avail myself of this right at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I want to get rid of it.  As for your last question – it’s a good one.  In the event of a true, justified revolution in this country, would gun ownership make the difference?  I think, yes, it absolutely would.  Partly, because I think a plausible revolution (not just a bunch of 2nd amendment nuts) would engage a broad enough selection of the populace that we’d see a split in the military.  Think about well-documented revolutions and civil wars – the American or the Spanish Civil Wars, for instance, and you see that the arms used were piecemeal at first, but became more professional as time went on.  Do you think the Syrian rebels wouldn’t love to have some AR-15’s?  Have you seen the improvised weapons they’ve been using?  Some are literally held together with duct tape.  And yet, despite air superiority, tanks and chemical weapons, they seem to be slowly gaining ground.  Civil war these days is an urban war, and small-arms make plenty of difference in city streets.  It scares the hell out of me, but I really do sometimes think I’m going to see a 2nd Civil War of some kind in my lifetime.”

I replied:  “The only thing I’m certain about is, I should actually study US history.  My small patchwork of knowledge means I’ll be mistaken if I believe any theories that occur to me.  I try to discard them and usually don’t believe I understand anything about the Civil War.  Thanks for the correction!  I’ll think more about “true, justified revolution” and respond later.  Thanks for making me think, Dave!”

Dave responded:  “The US Civil War was something of an obsession for me growing up.  I’m probably a bit TOO certain about my “facts” about it, though.  Ken Burns’ documentary is always a good place to start, if you’re really interested (and if you have like 12 hours to kill). And thank YOU.”

After giving more thought to the 2nd Amendment and the Constitution in general, I wrote:  “I want legislation and enforcement to reflect our evolving democratically made decisions about what firearm technologies folks in our society can have.  That requires definition of the purpose.  For example, although I do not hunt I do not want to prevent it, so I’d favor legislation that explicitly approved hunting along with what kinds of hunting firearms are authorized.  I would not expect automatic rifles to be authorized for that purpose, for example, or any kind of handguns.  I would favor background checks for all purchasers of such firearms in every market.   I’m not trying to define the legislation here, just the guiding principal.  Starting from that viewpoint, I’d prefer the existing 2nd amendment to be replaced with one corresponding to today’s society and its needs, not the situation almost two and a half centuries ago.  The amendment now reads:  “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  We no longer expect to defend our nation by raising an army of civilians supplying their own firearms.  We still have uses for firearms that we want to authorize, but not that one.  You make an excellent point about guerilla warfare. Having thought about it more, I agree that an armed uprising might possibly succeed. That makes me think replacing the 2nd amendment is more important, not just something that would theoretically be good.  I want our society to be made better by the working of democracy.  I don’t want there to be a Plan B where we don’t engage in the democratic process but start a Civil War if things don’t turn out the way we want.  If we were writing our Constitution now, and not even thinking about the one we already have, we probably would not include bearing arms as a fundamental human right.   We would probably also draft the 4th amendment in a different way to make explicit some right to privacy.  Search and seizure was the only relevant technology a couple of centuries ago. No phone, internet, satellite or security cameras, etc.  Or maybe we’d decide that in the interest of public safety, we would forgo any and all privacy.  In the real world, I think we should just keep doing what we’ve been doing about the 2nd amendment all along, ignoring the “shall not be infringed”.  We already don’t allow “the people” to have most weapons used by our military forces.”

Dave responded:  “Again, I largely agree with you.  But I have to ask a question you haven’t addressed yet: When is revolution justified? Is it ever?”

It had been taking me quite a while to figure out what I think about that.  I replied:  “Revolution can become inevitable.  Oppression can become too extreme and too prolonged.  It could happen here.  Our tax and spending policies are making hardship from technology-enabled structural change in the economy a lot more painful.  Wealth is being transferred to the already uber-rich from all others.  I expect we will change direction but there’s no guarantee.  It’s not impossible, for example, that unrest could grow severe enough that some “strong man” could use the moment to seize dictatorial control.  “President Cheney declares martial law in response to ongoing riots in cities throughout the land”.  It seems unreasonable to say revolution in such a case would be unjustified.  But if I interpret “justifiable” to mean I would be willing to kill, I can’t use the word.  In a democracy we get what we deserve.  We could have seen that our government’s actions would, if not altered, lead to revolution and we did not make the necessary effort so, shame on us.  It’s not an exact parallel but my grandfather and his five brothers all refused to fight in WW1.  My grandfather’s objection was philosophical.  I’m more moved by what one of his younger brothers said: “I thought, what would I say to his mother if I killed a German boy, or what would he say to mine if he killed me? Nothing could make it right.”  That doesn’t mean I’m absolutely a pacifist.  Maybe there could be a war or revolution where I’d feel I had to participate.  But what I believe I’d do if I saw revolution coming is try to leave and join some other society, one I could feel better about being part of.”

Dave replied:  “Thank you.  I sometimes wonder what I’d do as well.  I suppose it would really depend on what was happening at the time.  But I do think that the idea that our government is getting away from us is part of what drives the 2nd amendment types, and it makes me less supportive of any effort to repeal the amendment.  You say “If we were writing our Constitution now, and not even thinking about the one we already have, we probably would not include bearing arms as a fundamental human right.”  I wonder: isn’t the right to defend one’s self a fundamental human right?  I feel like I have the inalienable right to defend myself from anyone who tries to interfere with my free will.  I’m not interested in fighting, weapons, or anything like that.  I don’t think I’m particularly paranoid, and I don’t see any immediate threats to my freedom (to my health is another story), but I do see my right to privacy and to not be wrongfully seized being whittled away.  Anyway, if it came down to it, I’d probably choose exile as well. Maybe we’re more cosmopolitans than patriots, Martin?”

I responded:  “Yeah, we must work to stop our government from getting away from us.  I’ve started emailing my Representatives about issues I see as especially important and I intend to pester them increasingly more actively.  It’s a cop-out to tell myself one voice won’t make any difference.  I started my original blog because I felt I didn’t understand enough to give them good feedback.  I feel quite a bit closer now to understanding at least which are the most important issues.  Self-defense is confusing.  The way one expects to go about it may be the key factor.  We’re less likely to be attacked if we project confidence, more likely if we project fearfulness.  We need to learn how to project confidence in a way that is non-threatening.  The confusing part is I really do believe non-violence is the right aspiration.  Ahimsa.  I hope I never find myself in a situation where it would be rational, for example, to wear a handgun in order to deter violence.  I’m really not sure what I would do if my everyday life put me in that kind of situation.  I try never to get into such a place.  It was not my intent but it should have been, for example, to avoid a cool project management gig in Mexico City.  The guy I’d have worked most closely with was shot coming out of his office soon after.  But what if I couldn’t avoid it?  I can say, well, if we hadn’t allowed all those guns to be purchased there wouldn’t be nearly so many in the hands of bad folks and our world would be less dangerous, but it’s too late now. The guns are already out there.”

Topics worthy of more discussion include:

  • When is revolution justified? Is it ever?
  • What are the limits on our right to self-defense?  Are there any?

Armed Revolution and Gun Control

Fairleigh Dickinson University just published the stupefying results of their recent national survey about armed revolution and gun control.  Asked for their opinion about this question: “In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties”, 29% said an armed revolution may be necessary.  That’s three in ten of my fellow citizens.  Three in ten!

The survey also shows how belief in the potential need for armed revolution against our government correlates with beliefs about gun control.  Only four in ten (38%) who believe a revolution might be necessary support additional gun control legislation.  Additional legislation is supported by over six in ten (62%) who do not think armed revolt will be needed.

The results also differ by party, with two in ten (18%) Democrats thinking an armed revolution may be necessary versus more than four in ten (44%) Republicans.  That’s a lot of Republicans!  It’s also a lot of Democrats.

The survey also asked if respondents believe that: “Some people are hiding the truth about the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in order to advance a political agenda.”  I feel naive to be shocked that a quarter of us does believe facts about the shooting are being hidden.

One of the poll analysts said: “The differences in views of gun legislation are really a function of differences in what people believe guns are for.  If you truly believe an armed revolution is possible in the near future, you need weapons and you’re going to be wary about government efforts to take them away.”  That sounds accurate.

As I wrote here, I once owned a .22 rifle, but not in case I needed to overthrow my government, and I didn’t get rid of it because it would be outmatched by my government’s weaponry.  I always thought democracy was the least bad of all possible arrangements for a large society.  That’s why I vote.

It’s very disturbing that three in ten Americans believe our democratic form of government may have to be overthrown.   It’s downright peculiar that they also believe their firearms could do the job.

The Life of a Tortoise

A wild tortoise who lives near the cabin where we were staying in the high desert above Yucca Valley, CA has learned that people will give him lettuce.


He comes out when he hears people because he likes lettuce.  There’s only just enough plant life for survival in those parts so it’s easy to see why he’d be tempted.


He’s been living there for at least 30 years and has a female consort who we didn’t see.  Maybe she didn’t come out because she’s shy, more likely because the weather wasn’t really hot enough yet, or perhaps it was because he told her not to.  He has a rival, a bigger fellow, with whom he battles for control of the territory and access to the female.  The way battle works for tortoises is they try to flip each other over.  An upside-down tortoise has no way to right itself and soon dies.

These battles must be noisy.  The tortoise hissed loudly if we did not give him the next piece of lettuce as fast as he wanted.  I expect he’d look even more menacing if the issue was survival.


He usually loses the battles because he’s smaller than the interloper, but not always.  Our landlady once found both of them on their backs.  She checks on them many times a day when the weather is hotter and had to right the home tortoise five times one day.  She has repeatedly taken the interloper several miles away in her car but he always comes back.

Opposing Senate Resolution 65 re Iran & Israel

Please, everyone, join me in urging your Senators to defeat Senate Resolution 65 which would commit us to a disastrous war with Iran that would not even be entered into by our own decision.  Use my letter below as a base if it helps.  I’m sending a slightly different version to my other Senator, Angus King, because he has not sponsored the Resolution.

With these links you can get your Senators’ email address and if they sponsor S.Res.65 as well as its text.

Dear Senator Collins,

With utmost seriousness I urge you to withdraw your support for, and in fact work to defeat Senate Resolution 65.

S.Res. 65’s conclusion, “if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel” would commit us to war with Iran whenever Israel decides.  It  would not be our Government but Israel’s that decides whether or not to invade Iran.

Although S.Res.65 ends: “Nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war”,  that is exactly what it is.  If the Government of Israel decides to strike Iran, S.Res.65 would commit us, too.

War on Iran is very much against our interests.    As former Secretary of Defense (2006-2011) Robert Gates, said in a speech on October 3 last year: “The results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could, in my view, prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations … An attack would make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable.  They would just bury the program deeper and make it more covert.” 

Just like the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the claim that Iran is making nuclear weapons is false.  US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate on March 12 this year: “We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons”.  He said Iran is not enriching to weapons grade and we could quickly detect it if they do.  Inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency who monitor Iran’s nuclear sites say the same thing.

I care deeply about this both as an American and a parent.  I proudly support our son’s service in the military.  I believe you care about him, too.  Do not blindly commit him to a war that is against our interests and would not even be entered into by our own decision.


Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and More

Our foreign policy is bankrupting us, poisoning the minds of our children, and turning the world against us.

Iraq:  We have so far spent $1.7T on war in Iraq and will pay $490B more in benefits to veterans, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University.  The rationale that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction was false.  The results are a traumatized Iraqi society, reinvigorated Islamist militants throughout the region, and we destroyed Iran’s only military rival.

Afghanistan:  The combined cost of our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is almost $4T.  The estimated death toll from the three wars is 330,000.  The rationale was to make Afghanistan a well ordered democracy that could no longer be used as a refuge by Al Queda.   But unless we remain there permanently, the Taliban will regain control.

Pakistan:  The UN terrorism and human rights envoy just issued a statement that our drone strikes in Pakistan violate international law.  “The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear,” he said.  “It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers this to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.  See here for a table and map of our drone strikes inside Pakistan.

Libya:  After we supported the French-led overthrow of Gaddafi, his Tuareg supporters allied with Islamist militants to fight for the independence of northern Mali.  A French-led force is now pushing them back but they can return temporarily to Libya, or just as easily go to Algeria, Niger or Mauritania.  Throughout North Africa the driving force is not nation states set up in the relatively recent past by France and other European conquerors but milennia of tribal rivalry.

Yemen:  Bordering Saudi Arabia and major oil shipping lanes, Yemen was almost brought to civil war last year by southern separatists and northern rebels.  They sabotaged its major oil pipeline for long enough to shut down Yemen’s main refinery.  They blew it up again a couple of weeks ago.  Meanwhile, we’ve made 65 drone attacks in southern Yemen, mostly in the last 15 months, according to this report.

Syria:  Secretary of State Kerry recently promised aid to fighters against the Syrian government.   Because there is little real separation between them, the al-Nusra Front and others we say are terrorists, some of our aid will inevitably get to the terrorists.

Iran:  We say Iran is developing nuclear weapons and threaten whatever it takes to stop them.   Late last year former Secretary of Defense (2006-2011) Robert Gates said: “The results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could, in my view, prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations … An attack would make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable.  They would just bury the program deeper and make it more covert.”  The US Director of National Intelligence told the Senate this week that Iran is not enriching to weapons grade and we could quickly detect it if they do.  Inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency who monitor Iran’s nuclear sites say the same thing.

Insanity:  But, stupefyingly,  Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently introduced “for himself, Mr. Menendez, Ms. Ayotte, Mr. Schumer, Mr. Cornyn, Mrs. Boxer, Mr. Rubio, Mr. Casey, Mr. Hoeven, Mrs. Gillibrand, Mr. Kirk, Mr. Blumenthal, Mr. Crapo, Mr. Cardin, Ms. Collins, Mr. Begich, Mr. Blunt, Mr. Brown, Mr. Wyden, Mr. Portman, Mr. Manchin, and Mr. Lautenberg” Senate resolution 65 which “urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.” 

S.Res.65 means:  It would not be our President but Israel’s who decides whether or not to invade Iran.  S.Res.65 ends: “Nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war”.  That is, however, exactly what it does do.

I will not say more in this post about the cost or counter-productiveness of our invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan.  I will just highlight again Secretary Gates’ warning: “a military strike on Iran could … haunt us for generations” and say why drones are not the answer.

Drones:  See this excellent piece on the legality, morality and practicality of drones:  “[they] provide a highly efficient way to destroy key enemy targets with very little risk.  But they also allow the enemy to draw the United States into additional theaters of operation … in the jihadists’ estimate, the broader the engagement, the greater the perception of U.S. hostility to Islam, the easier the recruitment until the jihadist forces reach a size that can’t be dealt with by isolated airstrikes.”

Islam:  It’s not just that drone attacks make other people believe we are hostile to Islam.  A teacher friend tells me our relentlessly sensational media reporting has made our own children believe Muslims hate us.

What we must do:  Stop trying to control the world.  In particular, stop threatening Iran.  They do not have nuclear weapons.   Fearing they would attack with them is foolish because Iran would be destroyed if they did.  Therefore, they will not.  Never again go to war to destroy weapons that do not exist or make wars that cannot be won.  Scuttle Senate Resolution 65.