Friday, May 25, 2007

Why is Haleh Esfandiari in Evin Prison? (Trudy Rubin)

It seems clear that at least part of what lies behind the jailing of the prominent Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari is that she is being used as a pawn in power struggles within the Iranian ruling circles. Her arrest is part of a recent pattern in which several academics and journalists with dual Iranian and foreign citizenship--and possibly an Iranian-American businessman as well--have been arrested by Iran's security services. But Esfandiari's imprisonment is the most high-profile case so far, and it was almost certainly intended to be conspicuous, provocative, and intimidating.

As usual, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Middle East columnist Trudy Rubin gives a penetrating and convincing account of what's probably going on. Some highlights:
Last week I wrote about a 67-year-old Iranian American scholar of renown named Haleh Esfandiari who was imprisoned May 8 in Tehran [see here].

This drama has become more bizarre since Monday, when Iranian television announced she had been charged with "seeking to topple the ruling Islamic establishment."

These charges are laugh-out-loud ludicrous to anyone who knows Esfandiari - a petite, soft-spoken grandmother who went on her biannual visit to an ailing 93-year-old mother. As head of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, Esfandiari was known as an apolitical expert devoted to promoting U.S.-Iranian dialogue.

The malice behind the charges points in a more political direction - an effort by hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his KGB-like intelligence sector to push back against more pragmatic Iranian leaders. The pragmatists are open to direct talks with the United States and more exchanges between countries. Groundbreaking U.S.-Iran talks are set for Monday over stabilizing Iraq. [....]

Down this road lies an end to hopes of greater people-to-people dialogue. "If Iran decides any Iranian who meets with Americans is a spy and if they refuse visas, you can't have exchanges," says Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick.

Perhaps the arrest of Esfandiari is meant by Ahmadinejad's circle to scare those who hope for a more open Iran. Perhaps it's meant to warn that U.S.-Iranian talks on security issues won't bring domestic reforms. Maybe Haleh will be released once the point has been made.

But I believe her plight is part of a fight by Ahmadinejad's circle against threats to his power. Under sharp criticism for failed economic policies, he faces new political alignments that could advance the date of presidential elections - which he would probably lose. What better way to distract attention than to stress security threats (helped by U.S. saber-rattling against Iran)?

Iranian security also recently arrested Hossein Mousavian, deputy head of a think-tank close to the powerful ex-president (and pragmatist) Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Mousavian, with powerful protectors, got out after eight days, but the message was clear: Be careful. The question is when and whether the pragmatists will strike back.

Esfandiari does not have such powerful protectors. But her jailing flies in the face of common interests shared by sane people in the United States and Iran. So it is crucial that academics and prominent figures around the world tell Ahmadinejad he must release her. If you want to follow the efforts to free her, go to www.freehaleh.org.
Read the whole thing (below)--and also Rasool Nafisi's hard-hitting analysis of what this case means, "Iran's cultural prison" (in openDemocracy).

--Jeff Weintraub
=========================
Philadelphia Inquirer
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Is Iran jailing a ploy to retain power?
By Trudy Rubin

Last week I wrote about a 67-year-old Iranian American scholar of renown named Haleh Esfandiari who was imprisoned May 8 in Tehran.

This drama has become more bizarre since Monday, when Iranian television announced she had been charged with "seeking to topple the ruling Islamic establishment."

These charges are laugh-out-loud ludicrous to anyone who knows Esfandiari - a petite, soft-spoken grandmother who went on her biannual visit to an ailing 93-year-old mother. As head of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, Esfandiari was known as an apolitical expert devoted to promoting U.S.-Iranian dialogue.

The malice behind the charges points in a more political direction - an effort by hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his KGB-like intelligence sector to push back against more pragmatic Iranian leaders. The pragmatists are open to direct talks with the United States and more exchanges between countries. Groundbreaking U.S.-Iran talks are set for Monday over stabilizing Iraq.

The charges against Esfandiari are purportedly linked to the $75 million in democracy-promotion money the Bush administration budgeted for Iran. Most of this money goes to Iranian-language broadcasts, but some is supposed to go to unnamed civil-society groups inside Iran.

Iranian officials are sensitive to the internal political upheavals that took place in Ukraine and Georgia - with some help from Western organizations. Esfandiari was charged with conspiring with the Wilson Center against Iranian sovereignty.

"This is an American-designed model with an attractive appearance that seeks the soft-toppling of the country," Iran's state TV said.

But neither Esfandiari nor the Wilson Center has ever taken a penny of the Iran democracy-promotion funds.

"These are totally trumped-up charges," says Wilson Center president Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group that called for a U.S. diplomatic offensive toward Iran.

One intent of the charges against Esfandiari seems to be to head off more academic and civic exchanges between the United States and Iran by frightening off potential participants. Already, her case is casting a chill.

Many Iranian American scholars are now nervous about visiting their native country, and Iranian scholars will also think twice about traveling to the United States. Some noted U.S. Mideast experts have called for a boycott of Iranian government-sponsored meetings until Esfandiari is freed. University of Michigan professor Juan Cole told me, "I would find it difficult to sit in a conference when Haleh is in Evin Prison."

After media stories appeared this weekend about possible U.S. boycotts, Iranian officials have already retaliated. A noted Tehran think-tank, the Ravand Institute for Economic and International Studies, was instructed to disinvite Americans from a conference this weekend on Iran's economic and security role, and to tell them their visas were revoked. (I was invited, but hadn't yet received a visa.)

Down this road lies an end to hopes of greater people-to-people dialogue. "If Iran decides any Iranian who meets with Americans is a spy and if they refuse visas, you can't have exchanges," says Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick.

Perhaps the arrest of Esfandiari is meant by Ahmadinejad's circle to scare those who hope for a more open Iran. Perhaps it's meant to warn that U.S.-Iranian talks on security issues won't bring domestic reforms. Maybe Haleh will be released once the point has been made.

But I believe her plight is part of a fight by Ahmadinejad's circle against threats to his power. Under sharp criticism for failed economic policies, he faces new political alignments that could advance the date of presidential elections - which he would probably lose. What better way to distract attention than to stress security threats (helped by U.S. saber-rattling against Iran)?

Iranian security also recently arrested Hossein Mousavian, deputy head of a think-tank close to the powerful ex-president (and pragmatist) Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Mousavian, with powerful protectors, got out after eight days, but the message was clear: Be careful. The question is when and whether the pragmatists will strike back.

Esfandiari does not have such powerful protectors. But her jailing flies in the face of common interests shared by sane people in the United States and Iran. So it is crucial that academics and prominent figures around the world tell Ahmadinejad he must release her. If you want to follow the efforts to free her, go to www.freehaleh.org.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Contact columnist Trudy Rubin at 215-854-5823 or trubin@phillynews.com

My wife, a prisoner in Iran (Shaul Bakhash)

Below is a dignified but forceful statement about the persecution and arrest of the Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari by her husband, historian Shaul Bakhash.

Esfandiari had been detained in Iran under house arrest since December 2006. She has now been put in Tehran's notorious Evin prison and charged with participating in a US government plot to foment a "velvet revolution" in Iran and overthrow the Islamic regime. (By the way, this would be a capital crime.)

This accusation against Esfandiari is absurd, but it tells us something about the mind-set of those who have imprisoned her. As Bakhash points out, the underlying logic is clear: "In effect, in the eyes of the Iranian government, any exchange among scholars is tantamount to treasonous conspiracy." Unfortunately, it's not hard to see why hard-liners within an unpopular and repressive regime might regard any free exchange of ideas with the outside world as a potential threat.

Bakhash's piece is worth reading in full, but here are some of the points with which he concludes:
Should you wake up one day to find your wife or child or parent in the hands of the secret police in a country that routinely violates the rule of law, you will likely choose quiet probing over publicity. You have no recourse to law or courts. You fear publicity may make things worse. You believe, almost always wrongly, that if you work quietly, use the contacts you have and wait reasonably, the nightmare will be over.

When Haleh was initially prevented from leaving Iran and the interrogations began, it was principally at my insistence that we did not "go public." Repeatedly I was told by those who supposedly understand the inner workings of Iran: "Don't worry; it's only an interrogation; once they have finished with their questions, they will let her go."

Once Haleh was arrested, however, silence was no longer an option. It is preposterous that she is accused of conspiring to overthrow the Iranian government by organizing conferences and encouraging dialogue between Iranians and Americans. The Wilson Center issued a fact sheet; Lee Hamilton, its president and director, held a news conference; and I began to speak openly about Haleh's frightening predicament.

The extraordinary media attention, as well as the support for Haleh from presidential candidates and political leaders, from scholars and academic associations, from the students at Princeton University who she taught to love the Persian language, from women's groups, human rights organizations and people everywhere have astonished and gratified her family and friends.

It is easy to feel powerless in the face of a state's overweening power — especially a state that arrests, incarcerates and accuses its citizens at will. But the events of the last few weeks — the universal condemnation Iran has earned by imprisoning Haleh and others — have taught me that people also have power when they condemn injustice and stand up for wronged individuals. Is the Iranian government listening?
Those who want to add their voices to this protest can do so by signing this PETITION (and/or others being circulated by Amnesty International and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, which are also listed here).

Further information, including statements condemning Esfandiari's arrest by scholarly associations, political figures, and others, is available at the website Free Haleh.

=> It's also worth reading yesterday's (characteristically perceptive and illuminating) column by Trudy Rubin, "Is Iran jailing a ploy to retain power?". As Rubin argues, it seems clear that at least part of the explanation for the jailing of Esfandiari (along with several other people holding dual Iranian and American citizenship, I might add) is that she is being used as a pawn in power struggles within the Iranian ruling circles.
Last week I wrote about a 67-year-old Iranian American scholar of renown named Haleh Esfandiari who was imprisoned May 8 in Tehran.

This drama has become more bizarre since Monday, when Iranian television announced she had been charged with "seeking to topple the ruling Islamic establishment."

These charges are laugh-out-loud ludicrous to anyone who knows Esfandiari - a petite, soft-spoken grandmother who went on her biannual visit to an ailing 93-year-old mother. As head of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, Esfandiari was known as an apolitical expert devoted to promoting U.S.-Iranian dialogue.

The malice behind the charges points in a more political direction - an effort by hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his KGB-like intelligence sector to push back against more pragmatic Iranian leaders. The pragmatists are open to direct talks with the United States and more exchanges between countries. [....]

Down this road lies an end to hopes of greater people-to-people dialogue. "If Iran decides any Iranian who meets with Americans is a spy and if they refuse visas, you can't have exchanges," says Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick.

Perhaps the arrest of Esfandiari is meant by Ahmadinejad's circle to scare those who hope for a more open Iran. Perhaps it's meant to warn that U.S.-Iranian talks on security issues won't bring domestic reforms. Maybe Haleh will be released once the point has been made.

But I believe her plight is part of a fight by Ahmadinejad's circle against threats to his power. [....] Iranian security also recently arrested Hossein Mousavian, deputy head of a think-tank close to the powerful ex-president (and pragmatist) Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Mousavian, with powerful protectors, got out after eight days, but the message was clear: Be careful. The question is when and whether the pragmatists will strike back.

Esfandiari does not have such powerful protectors. But her jailing flies in the face of common interests shared by sane people in the United States and Iran. So it is crucial that academics and prominent figures around the world tell Ahmadinejad he must release her. If you want to follow the efforts to free her, go to www.freehaleh.org.
--Jeff Weintraub
=========================
Los Angeles Times
May 25, 2007
My wife, a prisoner in Iran
The husband of a U.S. scholar accused of fomenting a 'velvet' revolution fears for her safety.
By Shaul Bakhash

Shaul Bakhash teaches Middle Eastern history at George Mason University in Virginia.

On May 8, the walls of Tehran's Evin prison closed around my wife, Haleh Esfandiari, a 67-year-old scholar, grandmother and dual citizen of Iran and the United States.

Haleh, director of the Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, went to Iran in late December to visit her 93-year-old mother, a trip she has made almost twice each year for a decade or more. On Dec. 30, on her way to the airport to fly back to Washington, she was stopped by three masked, knife-wielding men who took all her belongings, including her Iranian and U.S. passports. In retrospect, it was clearly an inside job; Iran's Ministry of Intelligence fielding "highwaymen" against Iran's own citizens.

Without a passport, Haleh was forced to return to her mother's apartment. When she tried to apply for a new one, a member of the Ministry of Intelligence took her aside. Over the next six weeks, Haleh was subjected to 50 hours of interrogation.

At first, she told me by e-mail and phone, her inquisitors asked about her work, who spoke at what conference, where and when — things they could easily find with the click of a mouse on the Wilson Center's website. But Haleh told them what she remembered about the lectures, exchanges, panels and classes she had arranged. To help with the details, I e-mailed piles of downloaded documents at night.

If the questions seemed almost laughable, the interrogations were not. They were accompanied by threats, accusations and intimidation — and always the implication that Haleh was involved in something nefarious. She also was pressured to provide information she did not have, to identify alleged "networks" of whose existence she was unaware, to admit that she was holding things back. She refused.

Then, on Feb. 14, the interrogations ended. Except for two unpleasant phone calls from her interrogators inviting her to "cooperate" and warning her that worse things were to come if she did not, there was silence — for 10 weeks. But on May 7, Haleh was called to the Ministry of Intelligence. The next day, when she arrived for her appointment, she was arrested. The unofficial charge, we would later find out, was working for an organization that was conspiring to foment a "velvet" revolution in Iran.

Since her incarceration 17 days ago, Haleh has been allowed only one- or two-minute phone calls with her mother. She speaks as if a minder is present. No visits are allowed, no legal representation. With so little contact, I have every reason to assume the worst: that she is subject to blindfolding, solitary confinement and harsh, even brutal interrogation calculated to extract a false confession.

Some suggest that hard-liners wanted Haleh in custody to block next week's U.S.-Tehran talks. Others say the government wants to trade her for Iranians held in Iraq. This is mere speculation. The only explanation I've been given came in a statement issued Monday by the Ministry of Intelligence, a fantastical accusation that reveals the imaginary web Tehran wants to weave to entrap my wife and others.

It goes like this: American think tanks such as the Wilson Center are advancing a U.S. government plan for a "soft toppling" of Iran, creating "links" between Iranian intellectuals and U.S. institutions and forming "informal communication networks" that can then be used "against the sovereignty of the country." In effect, in the eyes of the Iranian government, any exchange among scholars is tantamount to treasonous conspiracy.

Should you wake up one day to find your wife or child or parent in the hands of the secret police in a country that routinely violates the rule of law, you will likely choose quiet probing over publicity. You have no recourse to law or courts. You fear publicity may make things worse. You believe, almost always wrongly, that if you work quietly, use the contacts you have and wait reasonably, the nightmare will be over.

When Haleh was initially prevented from leaving Iran and the interrogations began, it was principally at my insistence that we did not "go public." Repeatedly I was told by those who supposedly understand the inner workings of Iran: "Don't worry; it's only an interrogation; once they have finished with their questions, they will let her go."

Once Haleh was arrested, however, silence was no longer an option. It is preposterous that she is accused of conspiring to overthrow the Iranian government by organizing conferences and encouraging dialogue between Iranians and Americans. The Wilson Center issued a fact sheet; Lee Hamilton, its president and director, held a news conference; and I began to speak openly about Haleh's frightening predicament.

The extraordinary media attention, as well as the support for Haleh from presidential candidates and political leaders, from scholars and academic associations, from the students at Princeton University who she taught to love the Persian language, from women's groups, human rights organizations and people everywhere have astonished and gratified her family and friends.

It is easy to feel powerless in the face of a state's overweening power — especially a state that arrests, incarcerates and accuses its citizens at will. But the events of the last few weeks — the universal condemnation Iran has earned by imprisoning Haleh and others — have taught me that people also have power when they condemn injustice and stand up for wronged individuals. Is the Iranian government listening?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Darfur - Rape as a weapon of war (via Mick Hartley)

The well-documented use of systematic mass rape in Darfur is only one instance of a very pervasive problem (also discussed here). In fact, this practice is probably as old as human warfare, and is horribly routine in campaigns of ethnic cleansing. But that doesn't make it any less awful.

Mick Hartley highlights an article with testimony from some of the victims.
If other villagers knew what had happened to Awatif, she would have little prospect of marriage. She insisted, however, that her name and photograph be used in the international media.

“I want you to use my true name because I have told you the truth of what happened,” she said, fiddling with a tiny passage from the Koran hanging around her neck.

“This will be a message to other women over the world to support the women here.”
--Jeff Weintraub
===============
Mick Hartley (Politics & Culture)
May 18, 2007
Rape as a Weapon of War

Back in April the UN Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report highlighting the use of rape as a weapon of war in Darfur, citing as an instance the village of Deribat, attacked in December 2006. Now the Times talks to one of the teenage victims, willing to speak up, as "a message to other women over the world to support the women here".
--------------------
The older women told Awatif Ahmed Salih to keep her eyes on the ground and try not to attract anyone’s attention.

It made no difference. One of the Sudanese soldiers picked the 16-year-old Darfuri girl from the dozens of women held under armed guard.

She was blindfolded, thrown in a pickup and driven two hours from the town of Deribat to a government camp.

There she was raped over and over again by a man she believes to be a senior officer in the Sudanese Army.

“When I realised what was happening I was telling them to kill me,” she said quietly in the local language of her Fur tribe.

She was kept as a sex slave for three days before a rebel counterattack ended her ordeal.

She is not alone. Thousands of women have been raped during the four years of Darfur’s conflict as soldiers burn and loot their way through villages accused of siding with rebels.

Human rights monitors believe that the Government’s assault on Deribat and eight villages around the rebel stronghold of Jebel Mara marks a new nadir even by Darfur’s warped standards.

For the first time, an investigation by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights has concluded that rape is being used as a weapon of war. [JW: it's odd that it took them this long to reach that conclusion, since this has been well known for years.]

Investigators have interviewed girls as young as 13 who were targeted by government soldiers during the attack. Two pregnant women were raped, causing them to miscarry.

A group of 14 women was held for a week and raped day after day by up to four men at a time.

José Diaz, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that reports of random attacks on women collecting firewood or water were commonplace.

“But this was a deliberate attack with rape and sexual assault used as part of the tactic of war,” he said. “It is being used to demoralise and to terrorise a population deemed hostile to the Government, and in a very basic, brutal way to wipe out the enemy.”

The attack on Deribat in late December followed a familiar pattern. Government Antonov planes began the assault, softening up the town with an aerial bombardment before the ground advance.

Witnesses said that 20 4x4s then swept through the town. They were accompanied by Jan-jawid fighters riding horses and camels.

At least 36 people died in Deribat and eight surrounding villages...

The survivors of Deribat are not easy to find. About 3,000 have made their way to Gorolang Baje, a four-hour donkey ride from the nearest road or aid outpost.

Habiba Mohamed Elhag, the town women’s officer, said dozens of the women said that they had been raped by government soldiers. “They did it because they want to destroy the kindness and the hearts of the women,” she said. “This is the kind of war that we are fighting.”

Our meeting takes place in the privacy of an outhouse built from mud bricks and donkey dung. Sacks of food aid are stacked along the walls.

If other villagers knew what had happened to Awatif, she would have little prospect of marriage. She insisted, however, that her name and photograph be used in the international media.

“I want you to use my true name because I have told you the truth of what happened,” she said, fiddling with a tiny passage from the Koran hanging around her neck.

“This will be a message to other women over the world to support the women here.”

Sarkozy's Cabinet - The Odd Couple and other surprises

Nicolas Sarkozy's appointment of Bernard Kouchner as France's Foreign Minister has generated various instant profiles of Kouchner. I thought the piece by Elaine Sciolino in today's New York Times (see below) was one of the more interesting and substantial.

One thing that Sciolino brings out more sharply than most of the other Kouchner profiles I have read is the extent to which Sarkozy and Kouchner are really an Odd Couple. Not only did Kouchner criticize Sarkozy rather severely during the election campaign--charging, for instance, that Sarkozy had flirted inexcusably with xenophobic appeals in his effort to win over Le Pen voters--but the two appear to disagree sharply on some major foreign policy issues. These include one of the most crucial and contentious foreign policy questions facing not just France but Europe as a whole, whether or not to accept Turkey as a member of the EU. Kouchner, unsurprisingly, is a strong supporter of Turkey's admission, whereas Sarkozy flatly opposes the idea (along with many other significant figures across the French political spectrum, and probably most of the French electorate as well).

Neither of these guys is likely to defer comfortably to the other, so I suspect that this partnership may turn out to be a bumpy ride, perhaps ending in a messy divorce with angry recriminations. It's unlikely to be dull.

=> Sarkozy's new (slimmed-down) Cabinet is full of surprises and unorthodox gestures. In addition to Kouchner, Sarkozy's most striking appointment was probably his choice of Rachida Dati, a woman whose parents immigrated to France from Algeria and Morocco, to be Minister of Justice. As the Daily Telegraph noted, this is a first:
The new justice minister, Rachida Dati, 41, became the first politician of North African origin to hold a top French government post.

Mr Sarkozy's election campaign spokeswoman - a trained magistrate - was born to illiterate Algerian and Moroccan parents and grew up on a poor housing project.

She has in the past tried to improve Mr Sarkozy's execrable image in France's volatile, high-immigrant suburbs.
Good luck ...

=> It may not be coincidental that Sarkozy happens to be one of the few major French political figures who openly supports the idea of affirmative action, a policy that most French political opinion tends to reject as an "American" notion at odds with France's more universalistic republican traditions.

At all events, Sarkozy's other big surprise was to give roughly half of all Cabinet positions to women--7 out of 15. France has certainly had women as Ministers before (Mitterand even, briefly, had a female Prime Minister). But women have never before had anything close to such a substantial presence in any French Cabinet. And the posts given to women in this Cabinet include important ministries, not just peripheral ones, so this is not a matter of tokenism.

The Indian newspaper The Hindu nicely summed it up:
Women hold key posts in this Government with the former Defence Minister, Michele Alliot Marie, given the Interior, campaign spokeswoman Rachida Dati of North African descent holding Justice. Culture — France has the largest culture budget in the world — has been given to Christine Albanel. The Ministries of Agriculture [JW: in France, this is a Big Deal], Social Cohesion, Higher Education, Health, Youth and Sports have also gone to women.
=>Sarkozy clearly wanted to make a major splash with these Cabinet appointments, and he did. But governing involves more than gestures, however striking and significant those might be. The real drama is still coming up.

--Jeff Weintraub
====================
New York Times
May 18, 2007
Sarkozy’s Top Diplomat: Undiplomatic Opposite
By ELAINE SCIOLINO

(Paris) BERNARD KOUCHNER, France’s new top diplomat, would never describe himself as diplomatic.

Named as foreign minister, Mr. Kouchner is in many ways the political opposite of his new boss, President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Both are pro-American, but Mr. Sarkozy is conservative while Mr. Kouchner is a man of the left. Mr. Sarkozy opposed the American invasion of Iraq, while Mr. Kouchner, unlike most of the political elite on both the right and the left here, believed that military intervention was justified to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Mr. Sarkozy opposes Turkey’s entry into the European Union; Mr. Kouchner supports it.

“It’s an amazing appointment, a stunning event in French foreign policy,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the former American ambassador to the United Nations and one of Mr. Kouchner’s closest friends. “He’s motivated by an antitotalitarian drive, whether he sees injustice from the left or the right. It will be very positive for U.S.-French relations because he does not come with a visceral anger towards the American ‘hyperpower.’”

Mr. Kouchner, a 67-year-old gastroenterologist, earned his reputation as the star of humanitarian relief by challenging authority, destroying convention, insulting opponents and making up rules along the way.

“To change the law, you sometimes have to break the law,” he likes to say.

“An unguided missile,” is how Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former United Nations secretary general, once described him.

But Mr. Kouchner, who has served as France’s health minister and the United Nations’ administrator for Kosovo, has also been the country’s most popular politician on the left over the years.

Elegant, dapper, with movie-star looks despite his age, Mr. Kouchner is half of one of France’s leading power couples.

His longtime partner, Christine Ockrent, is probably France’s best-known female television journalist. They entertain regularly from their grand duplex apartment overlooking the Luxembourg Garden; they always get the best restaurant tables. They have been tarred by their critics with the label “gauche caviar,” Champagne-and-caviar socialism at its worst.

Mr. Kouchner intimately addresses women — and men — as “my dear.” His passion and confidence in speaking English help compensate for his charming but sometimes excruciating mistakes.

By naming him and three other leftists to his conservative government, Mr. Sarkozy fulfilled his promise that his tenure would be one of “openness,” while stripping the Socialist Party of one of its icons just weeks before French voters choose an entirely new Parliament. (Accepting the job of foreign minister got him drummed out of the Socialist Party on Friday.)

Mr. Sarkozy is also signaling that he is serious about putting both human rights and outreach to the United States at the core of his foreign policy. Mr. Kouchner is as close as a Frenchman comes to being pro-American.

EVEN Mr. Kouchner, a co-founder of the Nobel Prize-winning relief organization Doctors Without Borders, appreciates the novelty of his appointment.

“This is a bit unusual,” he confessed Friday in his first remarks at the Foreign Ministry. He added that he “would not have done it” had he not felt the conviction “to serve our country.”

Contrary to long-held Gaullist French policy, which evaluates crises through the lens of France’s national interests, Mr. Kouchner sees things through a humanitarian perspective. He was an effective early advocate of “humanitarian intervention” — the right to interfere in another country’s affairs if human rights are being abused.

Mr. Kouchner defended military intervention against Mr. Hussein on humanitarian grounds, not because Iraq might be seeking unconventional weapons. “It was a question of overthrowing an evil dictator, and it was right to intervene,” Mr. Kouchner said in 2004.

He has said that Turkey is part of Europe and deserves to join the European Union; Mr. Sarkozy has said that Turkey is part of Asia, not Europe, and should never become a member.

Mr. Kouchner appears to support the maintenance of a strong international — and French — presence in Afghanistan to bring stability to the country; Mr. Sarkozy has promised that French troops will not stay there forever.

“On Turkey, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the third world and Africa, we’re not close,” Mr. Kouchner acknowledged in a telephone interview. “I’m against his idea of selective immigration. On other issues — the Middle East, on the need for an alliance with America, on the role of France in Europe — we’re very close.”

But it is no secret that Mr. Kouchner has been restless to get back onto the global stage in a starring role, particularly after he was passed over for the job of director of the World Health Organization and as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

He said he turned down the chance to head a new Ministry of Immigration and National Identity when Mr. Sarkozy floated the idea earlier this year. “I refused completely because I am against this idea,” Mr. Kouchner said in the interview.

CHARMING, outspoken, impulsive and at times egotistical, Mr. Kouchner even once thought of running for president himself. Asked in an interview in 2004 whether anyone could beat Mr. Sarkozy, he replied in English, “Me, I believe.” He added, “I am not so arrogant to say I’m serious, but I’m more popular than he is!”

But like his new boss, Mr. Kouchner is hard-charging, impatient, abrasive, media-shrewd and immune to verbal attack. “I have no recipe except one in politics: to continue, to continue, to be obstinate, to be obstinate, to never abandon an issue as long as there remains a small shred of hope,” he said.

During the political campaign, the Socialist presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, largely ignored Mr. Kouchner, but Mr. Sarkozy did not. The two men talked regularly, even though Mr. Kouchner openly criticized the candidate.

At one point, he called Mr. Sarkozy a “man who feels no shame,” for his courting of the extreme right. When Mr. Sarkozy said that pedophilia was most likely a genetic flaw, Mr. Kouchner said the statement was “extraordinarily dangerous, entirely irresponsible.”

Mr. Kouchner has always dismissed criticism that his publicity-grabbing techniques can be both unseemly and laughable.

In the early 1990s, for example, when he was filmed wading ashore in Somalia carrying sacks of rice provided by French schoolchildren for the starving, he justified the stunt, saying, “I prefer cameras to bazookas.”

BOTH Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Kouchner in a sense are outsiders. Mr. Sarkozy, who is 15 years his junior, is the son of a Hungarian immigrant; one of his grandparents was Jewish.

Mr. Kouchner’s paternal grandparents were Russian-born Jews who escaped the pogroms by emigrating to France, but perished decades later in Auschwitz. He has said that their deaths contributed to his passion for intervention in humanitarian crises and the promotion of human rights.

“I can’t stand the fact that a man is assassinated, that a woman is abused, that a child is beaten up,” he wrote in his 1995 memoir, “What I Believe.”

“Why am I getting indignant? My grandparents died in Auschwitz, and for years no one dared or wanted to tell me. I found out.” He continued: “In a mixed family that is not religious it is even worse: you are either twice as Jewish, or half Jewish. As a result, you react like a tormented soul in the face of oppression.”

Longtime friends of Mr. Kouchner are delighted for him, but worried that his blunt-speaking, off-the-cuff style may clash with that of his new boss. “Sarkozy’s views are totally different from those of Bernard,” said Max Recamier, one of the doctors with whom Mr. Kouchner founded Doctors Without Borders. “He hesitated a lot before accepting. But what drives him is not a hunger for power but a passion for promoting justice and easing suffering in the world. And let’s face it, he’s 67 now. He’s mellowed — like a good wine.”

Friday, May 18, 2007

Sarkozy's appointment of Kouchner infuriates the French Socialists (AFP)

As a follow-up to the news that Bernard Kouchner is France's new Foreign Minister ... a friend drew my attention to this article reprinted from Agence France-Presse (which spells out some points already touched on in the BBC report cited by Normblog).

My friend, who rarely has a critical word for the European left, comments: "And in a new act of European political wisdom, the Socialist Party expelled Kouchner. Despite my German passport, I don't understand this pearl of perspicacity. Are the French socialists crazy or merely dogmatic imbeciles?"

I'm sure they had reasons that seemed good to them, and to a certain extent these were understandable and even predictable. Nevertheless, this gesture strikes me as unwise, even in purely public-relations terms.

Sarkozy has been widely regarded (and attacked) as a divisive political figure. His appointment of Kouchner (who, despite his outspoken advocacy of humanitarian idealism, is somehow one of France's most popular politicians) was clearly part of an effort to portray himself, rather than his opponents, as the representative of an inclusive national vision. (As the article notes, Sarkozy has also broken with precedent by giving roughly half his Cabinet positions to women and, for the first time, appointing a minister of North African origin.) The Socialist Party's reaction will probably just serve to confirm this impression, thus making themselves look narrowly partisan and helping Sarkozy outfox them.

But then again, who knows how such things play out politically?

(It might also be worth adding a caveat. The longer AFP article from which the one below was extracted, "France's Sarkozy picks all-inclusive cabinet", quotes a declaration by the head of the Socialist Party, Francois Hollande, that Kouchner is "no longer a member" of the party ... but I don't know whether that means he has been formally expelled ... or how much that detail matters.)

--Jeff Weintraub
=========================
ABC News Online (Australia) (from Agence France-Presse)
May 18, 2007
Sarkozy's Socialist appointment infuriates left

The French Socialist Party has expelled one of its members for taking up a senior Cabinet post alongside the new right-wing President, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr Sarkozy has appointed left-wing human rights campaigner Bernard Kouchner to the position of Foreign Minister.

Mr Kouchner is the founder of aid organisation Doctors Without Borders, a former United Nations high representative in Kosovo and one of France's most popular politicians.

The 67-year-old supported Mr Sarkozy's Socialist opponent, Segolene Royal, during this year's election campaign.

The Socialist Party has accused Mr Sarkozy of trying to destabilise their party and claim the President will not give Mr Kouchner free rein over his portfolio.

The new President has vowed to break with France's political past. He has given half the Cabinet jobs to women and included a Minister of north African origin.

The new 15-minister team, announced a day after Mr Sarkozy named Francois Fillon as Prime Minister to lead his sweeping reform drive, is a radically slimmed-down administration that remodels several key ministries.

With the female ministers, France has now joined Chile, Finland, Spain and Sweden in seeking to end male domination of politics by creating gender parity in government.

The appointment of Mr Sarkozy's election campaign spokeswoman, Rachida Dati as Justice Minister makes her the first politician of north African origin to hold a top French Government post.

France has millions of immigrants of Arab and African origin but they are barely represented in national politics. Their lack of integration is said to have led to nationwide riots in late 2005.

- AFP

Bernard Kouchner is France's new Foreign Minister

Toward the end of my my on-line interview about the French election, I discussed rumors that Sarkozy might appoint the Socialist Bernard Kouchner as Foreign Minister and noted that, if this happened, it would mark a sharp symbolic break with the whole style that has dominated French foreign policy under Gaullist and Socialist Presidents alike.

That style has been resolutely anti-idealist, even proudly cynical at times, marked by an exceptionally straightforward, unembarrassed, and single-minded preoccupation with advancing France's "national interests" and international prestige. Kouchner, on the other hand, is a veteran humanitarian and human-rights activist, a founder of Doctors Without Borders, the first UN Commissioner in Kosovo after the 1999 war, a strong proponent of international measures to prevent genocide and other mass atrocities, and one of the few important figures in French politics who supported serious international action against Saddam Hussein & his regime (long-time clients of France).

Well, I see from Norman Geras that Kouchner is, indeed, France's new Foreign Minister. The practical consequences remain to be seen, but there's no question that this is a real coup de théâtre.

(If only Kouchner had been France's Foreign Minister in 2002 ... and Al Gore had been the US President ... well, no point dwelling on might-have-beens.)

--Jeff Weintraub
====================
Norman Geras (Normblog)
May 18, 2007
France's new foreign minister

Nicolas Sarkozy has named his cabinet and it includes Bernard Kouchner:
The new Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, 67, is a Socialist famous for having founded the aid organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
.....
Mr Kouchner's pro-American line should fit in well with Mr Sarkozy's thinking, the BBC's Caroline Wyatt reports. He was one of the few French politicians to support the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, on the grounds that it would topple Saddam Hussein. [JW: That is, he supported it for humanitarian and anti-fascist reasons, rightly or wrongly, not because this was a "pro-American line"].
Here is the profile of Kouchner by Caroline Wyatt:
The humanitarian activist and former Health Minister Bernard Kouchner is widely admired in France, not least for his passionate, often outspoken declarations on human rights and the need to intervene to protect them.

A doctor by training, he co-founded the Nobel prize-winning Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in 1971 to put his beliefs into action, after working as a young doctor for the Red Cross in Biafra in 1968 during Nigeria's civil war.

Seeing children there starve to death fired in him a lifetime's commitment to the cause of preventing humanitarian crises and bearing witness.
See also the remarks of Kouchner's quoted in this post from December 2005 (scroll down).

Jeff Weintraub is interviewed on the consequences of Sarkozy's election. Towards the end of the interview Jeff also has some things to say about Tony Blair:
If Blair had been running the US instead of Britain, we'd probably all be better off.
Posted by Norm at 12:15 PM |

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Trudy Rubin on the jailing of Haleh Esfandiari

This piece by Trudy Rubin, the Philadelphia Inquirer's international affairs columnist and Middle East analyst, makes two central points.

The first is that the charges used to justify detaining and then imprisoning the Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari (espionage, political subversion, etc.) are absurd.

The second point is captured in the subtitle of the article: "Her jailing in Tehran serves only those opposed to better relations between the U.S. and Iran." For Rubin, who has been arguing that constructive negotiations between Iran and the US are both possible and desperately necessary--not least to support any possible solution in Iraq--this is a bad sign.
Just when the United States and Iran are set to hold their first bilateral talks in decades, a leading Iranian-American advocate of dialogue has been jailed in Tehran.

Last week, Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East Program at the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, was thrown in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. She had gone to Iran late last year to visit her 93-year-old mother, but was prevented from leaving Iran in December and interrogated for weeks by intelligence officials before her arrest. Yesterday, Iran's judiciary announced she was under investigation for "security" crimes.

Anyone familiar with this soft-spoken, 67-year-old academic can only scoff at such charges. The highly respected Esfandiari is well-known for efforts to bring Iranian scholars of all outlooks to the center, including supporters of the Tehran government. Her unjustified arrest serves the interests of no one - except those opposed to better relations between America and Iran. [....]
This effect is probably not accidental.
Indeed, Esfandiari may have become a pawn in Iran's internal political struggle between those who want more normal relations with the West and those who want to maintain an atmosphere of revolutionary struggle. Ahmadinejad, an advocate of the latter position, controls the interior ministry and intelligence services, and has appointed hard-liners to key positions. Perhaps that explains why Esfandiari is still being held.

But her arrest and imprisonment fly in the face of the Iranian president's professed willingness for dialogue. Even if he isn't serious, her plight undercuts the interests of other powerful Iranian factions who want to open the country and its economy wider to the world.
Precisely. For Ahmadinejad and tendencies aligned with him, that would be a major bonus--and a strong motivation for doing this in the first place.

That's not the only possible motive for Esfandiari's arrest, which also coincides with stepped-up repression against intellectuals and other opposition forces within Iran. And given the heavily factionalized character of the Iranian security services, it's always possible that the timing of particular incident is explained by localized initiatives (as seems to have been the case with the original seizure of the British sailors in March, for example).

However, based on what we know about how political infighting within the Iranian ruling circles works, it is safe to assume that at the very least this factor played a significant role in the background of this incident and will help to shape the way it is resolved. Did the people responsible for this conspicuously provocative act carry it out with the intention of helping complicate the possibilities for US-Iranian negotiations and undermining the position of more "pragmatist" elements within the ruling elite? It's quite possible that this was part of their motivation, and they will certainly try to use it that way if they can.

The big question now is how other elements in the Iranian regime, some of which have a less reckless approach toward courting international confrontation, will respond.
"By detaining her," says Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "the Iranian government only eliminates an advocate for diplomacy and strengthens the voices of those in Washington who say the regime is too cruel to be engaged."

Her arrest comes at a critical moment for the prospects of increased dialogue and exchanges between the two countries. Despite the recent saber-rattling by Vice President Cheney and Ahmadinejad, bilateral talks on Iraq are set to start in Baghdad this month between U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart. This could be an important development. [....]

So this is a strange time to be holding Esfandiari in Evin (and turning back her mother's gutsy attempts to see her). Unless, of course, the aim is to undermine any potential U.S.-Iranian thaw.

"The notion that Haleh is a threat to Iranian national security is beyond preposterous," says Sadjadpour. "The regime feels it's sending a message to the U.S. government that there are repercussions for its democracy-promotion efforts in Iran. But [by holding Haleh] they've increased the ranks of those in Washington who argue that the Iranian government is made up of radicals and that engaging them would be a mistake."

Is this the message Iranian officials really want to send?
For some of them, undoubtedly, the answer is yes.

Others probably feel that sending this message is tactically unwise. Esfandiari's fate probably depends on how much weight they carry, and whether they conclude that the diplomatic and public-relations costs of keeping her in prison are heavy enough that they should take steps to get her released. If the reaction from other governments and from international public opinion makes it clear to the Iranian government that continued persecution of Esfandiari will be embarrassing for them, that raises the likelihood that cooler heads within the Iranian regime will find some way to let her go.

One more good reason to send them that message.

--Jeff Weintraub

=========================
Philadelphia Inquirer
Mideast scholar's unjust detention
Her jailing in Tehran serves only those opposed to better relations between the U.S. and Iran.

By Trudy Rubin

Just when the United States and Iran are set to hold their first bilateral talks in decades, a leading Iranian-American advocate of dialogue has been jailed in Tehran.

Last week, Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East Program at the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, was thrown in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. She had gone to Iran late last year to visit her 93-year-old mother, but was prevented from leaving Iran in December and interrogated for weeks by intelligence officials before her arrest. Yesterday, Iran's judiciary announced she was under investigation for "security" crimes.

Anyone familiar with this soft-spoken, 67-year-old academic can only scoff at such charges. The highly respected Esfandiari is well-known for efforts to bring Iranian scholars of all outlooks to the center, including supporters of the Tehran government. Her unjustified arrest serves the interests of no one - except those opposed to better relations between America and Iran.

Some believe Esfandiari has been caught up in Iran's reaction to the Bush administration's $75 million program to promote democracy in Iran. Fearful that the United States is trying to stir up a "velvet revolution," Iranian officials have been cracking down on groups promoting the rights of women, students and workers.

Esfandiari was interrogated repeatedly about the Wilson Center's programs on Iran. Far from promoting regime change, however, she encouraged exchanges to help scholars of both societies understand one another better. Her program receives none of the Iran democracy program monies. Moreover, as Lee Hamilton, the president of the Wilson Center, wrote to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Feb. 20, the Wilson Center doesn't take political positions.

Ahmadinejad hasn't bothered to answer the letter. How ironic, since Hamilton is coauthor of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report, which advocates broader U.S. engagement with Iran. President Bush rebuffed the report; now Ahmadinejad has rebuffed its coauthor.

Indeed, Esfandiari may have become a pawn in Iran's internal political struggle between those who want more normal relations with the West and those who want to maintain an atmosphere of revolutionary struggle. Ahmadinejad, an advocate of the latter position, controls the interior ministry and intelligence services, and has appointed hard-liners to key positions. Perhaps that explains why Esfandiari is still being held.

But her arrest and imprisonment fly in the face of the Iranian president's professed willingness for dialogue. Even if he isn't serious, her plight undercuts the interests of other powerful Iranian factions who want to open the country and its economy wider to the world.

"By detaining her," says Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "the Iranian government only eliminates an advocate for diplomacy and strengthens the voices of those in Washington who say the regime is too cruel to be engaged."

Her arrest comes at a critical moment for the prospects of increased dialogue and exchanges between the two countries. Despite the recent saber-rattling by Vice President Cheney and Ahmadinejad, bilateral talks on Iraq are set to start in Baghdad this month between U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart. This could be an important development.

A series of artistic and cultural exchanges with Iran has recently begun. At least 10 Iranian deputies just signed a document proposing an Iranian-U.S. friendship committee in their parliament. This might lead to exchanges between Iranian legislators and the U.S. Congress, something that has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

So this is a strange time to be holding Esfandiari in Evin (and turning back her mother's gutsy attempts to see her). Unless, of course, the aim is to undermine any potential U.S.-Iranian thaw.

"The notion that Haleh is a threat to Iranian national security is beyond preposterous," says Sadjadpour. "The regime feels it's sending a message to the U.S. government that there are repercussions for its democracy-promotion efforts in Iran. But [by holding Haleh] they've increased the ranks of those in Washington who argue that the Iranian government is made up of radicals and that engaging them would be a mistake."

Is this the message Iranian officials really want to send?

My on-line interview about the French election (Knowledge@Wharton)

The on-line journal Knowledge@Wharton asked me to talk for a half-hour about the significance and possible consequences of the French Presidential election. I was interviewed Tuesday by Editor-in-Chief Mukul Pandya and Editorial Director Robbie Shell. (See below.)

Two of the recurrent themes in my side of this conversation were "It's too soon to make firm predictions" and "It all depends...." (There were also a lot of important issues we didn't have time to get into, and others that could only be skimmed over.) Nevertheless, anyone who might be interested in hearing some of my speculations and reflections on these and related subjects, for what they're worth, can do so by going HERE and clicking on Play Audio.

--Jeff Weintraub

[Update 5/18/2007: Toward the end of the interview, I discussed rumors that Sarkozy might appoint the Socialist Bernard Kouchner as Foreign Minister and noted that, if this happened, it would mark a sharp symbolic break with the whole style that has dominated French foreign policy under Gaullist and Socialist Presidents alike. Well, it turns out that Kouchner is indeed France's new Foreign Minister. The practical consequences remain to be seen, but there's no question that this is a real coup de théâtre.]
=========================
Presidential Politics: What to Expect from France's Nicolas Sarkozy
Published: May 16, 2007 in Knowledge@Wharton
This article has been read 79,576 times

Play Audio | Download Audio

On May 6, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy won the French presidential election, defeating socialist Segolene Royal and taking over from Jacques Chirac, who had held the positon for 12 years. The election drew a very high 85% turnout, which many saw as a sign that French voters recognize the need to get out from under their economic stagnation and social unrest. Sarkozy is depicted as a friend, but also a critic, of the U.S.; as a supporter, to some degree, of the European Union; and as a reformer bent on changing France's burdensome labor laws, but also willing to meet with union leaders. Knowledge@Wharton asked Jeff Weintraub, a visiting scholar with the University of Pennsylvania's political science department, to give us his views on the possible consequences of Sarkozy's election.

To read the view from Europe, go to our coverage from Universia Knowledge@Wharton.
--------------------
Visit the Knowledge@Wharton Network: India | 简体中文(Simplified Chinese) | 繁體中文(Traditional Chinese) | Español | Portuguêse

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Letter-writing campaign to free Haleh Esfandiari

This follows up my post on Monday about the arrest of Haleh Esfandiari in Tehran:
The prominent Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari, head of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC, was arrested without charge in December 2006 when she went to Tehran on a family visit. Since then she has been held under house arrest and repeatedly interrogated.

On May 8, the Iranian government escalated an already serious situation by putting Esfandiari in "Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where Human Rights Watch has documented cases of torture and detainee abuse."
The Iranian government's persecution of Esfandiari is beginning to provoke international concern and condemnation. A new website, Free Haleh!, usefully collects news coverage and other information about the Esfandiari case and responses to it.
The “Free Haleh” campaign has been initiated by the American Islamic Congress in conjunction with the Ibn Khaldun Center in Cairo, the Initiative for Inclusive Security in Washington, and the Kuwaiti Economic Society.
One of the items on Free Haleh! is a report that Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian lawyer and human-rights activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, has agreed to represent Esfandiari.

=> This website has also initiated an on-line Letter-Writing Campaign to Iranian officials calling for Esfandiari to be released from prison and allowed to leave Iran.

(You can simply sign and send their sample letter--which is carefully non-confrontational in tone, but unambiguous in its call for Esfandiari to be freed--or modify it to your own taste before sending it. If you want to customize it, the Human Rights Watch statement is a useful source to check for details.)

=> As they note, you can also e-mail a letter from the Amnesty International website to protest Esfandiari's imprisonment along with the recent arrests of a number of Iranian women's-rights activists. And an on-line petition is being circulated by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

To add your voice to this appeal, follow one (or more) of the links below.

--Jeff Weintraub
=========================
Letter-Writing Campaign Launched (Free Haleh!)
May 14, 2007

We have now launched a letter-writing campaign calling for the release of Dr. Esfandiari from Evin Prison. It is easy for you to join in. Simply go to the letter-writing site, edit the draft letter to Iranian government officials, and submit the text. Our system will deliver your letter and add your name to a list of people petitioning Iranian authorities.

The purpose of the letter/petition campaign is to deliver individual messages and to demonstrate an outpouring of grassroots support. Already, over 850 people have sent letters. Join the campaign - send a letter for Haleh.

UPDATED: Amnesty International has a site where you can print out a letter to send to Iranian officials about Haleh’s case.

Also, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East previously launched a petition appeal with the goal of obtaining 5,000 signatures. Follow the link to participate.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Petraeus draws the line on torture

Below is the text of an open letter from David Petraeus to American troops in Iraq. (Also available in pdf.) Washington Post military correspondent Tom Ricks sums it up: "Gen. Petraeus Warns Against Using Torture"
The top U.S. commander in Iraq admonished his troops regarding the results of an Army survey that found that many U.S military personnel there are willing to tolerate some torture of suspects and unwilling to report abuse by comrades.

"This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we -- not our enemies -- occupy the moral high ground," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus wrote in an open letter dated May 10 and posted on a military Web site.

He rejected the argument that torture is sometimes needed to quickly obtain crucial information. "Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary," he stated.

The survey also found that problems such as anxiety and depression deepen with the length and frequency of tours of duty, a notable conclusion because thousands of U.S. troops recently had their tours extended from 12 to 15 months. "Stress caused by lengthy deployments and combat is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign that we are human," wrote Petraeus, who is on his third Iraq tour.

Petraeus said that he understands "firsthand" the emotions soldiers feel in Iraq, especially when they see a fellow soldier die. "Seeing a fellow trooper killed by a barbaric enemy can spark frustration, anger, and a desire for immediate revenge," he wrote. But he warned against letting those feelings lead to illegal acts. Petraeus also called on unit commanders to ensure that their soldiers follow standards. [....]
As Norman Geras observes, "this is a statement that should have been made a lot earlier." The fact that it wasn't, and that a principled condemnation of torture requires such a forceful restatement now, is one more testimony to the shameful, destructive, and demoralizing effects of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld era.

--Jeff Weintraub

=========================
Commanding General David H. Petraeus' Letter about Values
HEADQUARTERS
MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE - IRAQ
BAGHDAD, IRAQ
APO AE 09342-1400


10 May 2007

Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen serving in Multi-National Force-Iraq:

Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy. This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we - not our enemies - occupy the moral high ground. This strategy has shown results in recent months. Al Qaeda's indiscriminate attacks, for example, have finally started to turn a substantial proportion of the Iraqi population against it.

In view of this, I was concerned by the results of a recently released survey conducted last fall in Iraq that revealed an apparent unwillingness on the part of some US personnel to report illegal actions taken by fellow members of their units. The study also indicated that a small percentage of those surveyed may have mistreated noncombatants. This survey should spur reflection on our conduct in combat.

I fully appreciate the emotions that one experiences in Iraq. I also know firsthand the bonds between members of the "brotherhood of the close fight." Seeing a fellow trooper killed by a barbaric enemy can spark frustration, anger, and a desire for immediate revenge. As hard as it might be, however, we must not let these emotions lead us - or our comrades in arms - to commit hasty, illegal actions. In the event that we witness or hear of such actions, we must not let our bonds prevent us from speaking up.

Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, extreme physical action can make someone "talk;" however, what the individual says may be of questionable value. In fact, our experience in applying the interrogation standards laid out in the Army Field Manual (2-22.3) on Human Intelligence Collector Operations that was published last year shows that the techniques in the manual work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees.

We are, indeed, warriors. We train to kill our enemies. We are engaged in combat, we must pursue the enemy relentlessly, and we must be violent at times. What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight, however, is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings. Stress caused by lengthy deployments and combat is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign that we are human. If you feel such stress, do not hesitate to talk to your chain of command, your chaplain, or a medical expert.

We should use the survey results to renew our commitment to the values and standards that make us who we are and to spur re-examination of these issues. Leaders, in particular, need to discuss these issues with their troopers - and, as always, they need to set the right example and strive to ensure proper conduct. We should never underestimate the importance of good leadership and the difference it can make.

Thanks for what you continue to do. It is an honor to serve with each of you.



David H. Petraeus
General, United States Army
Commanding

Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari imprisoned in Tehran

The prominent Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari, head of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC, was arrested without charge in December 2006 when she went to Tehran on a family visit. Since then she has been held under house arrest and repeatedly interrogated.

On May 8, the Iranian government escalated an already serious situation by putting Esfandiari in "Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where Human Rights Watch has documented cases of torture and detainee abuse." As Human Rights Watch noted in its most recent statement about this case (see below), Esfandiari's imprisonment coincides with an increased campaign of repression against internal dissidents (including student, labor, and women's-rights activists) by the Iranian government.
Iran should immediately release Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari and allow her to return to the United States, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that Iranian authorities have subjected Esfandiari to arbitrary detention and coercive interrogation. [....]

Esfandiari, who is head of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, had traveled to Iran in December to visit her ailing mother. On December 30, prior to her planned departure from Iran, armed and masked men stopped her taxi and seized both her Iranian and US passports. Since December, Iranian authorities have failed to replace her passport and instead have subjected her to repeated and protracted interrogation sessions.

In a statement on May 10, the Wilson Center said that during interrogations, Esfandiari “was pressured to make a false confession or to falsely implicate the Wilson Center in activities in which it had no part.”

Human Rights Watch said the Iranian government’s mistreatment of Esfandiari recalls that of Ramin Jahanbegloo, a Canadian-Iranian philosopher whom Iranian authorities arbitrarily arrested in April 2006. [JW: For more on the case of Ramin Jahanbegloo, see here.] After nearly four months of detention and interrogation, Jahanbegloo “confessed” that his scholarly works had contributed to the planning of a “velvet revolution.”

Iran’s decision to increase its pressure on Esfandiari by detaining her comes at a time when the authorities have also escalated repressive campaigns against Iranian women’s right activists and student leaders. [Etc.]
The Iranian government's treatment of Esfandiari is, indeed, unpleasantly reminiscent of its imprisonment of Ramin Jahanbegloo, one of Iran's most prominent scholars and democratic intellectuals, in 2006. However, since Esfandiari is an American citizen (according to the BBC News report, she holds both US and Iranian citizenship), this action looks deliberately provocative as well as repressive.

(The Iranian authorities apparently do not recognize dual citizenship, and they are not shy about ignoring the foreign citizenship status of people they consider Iranian nationals. In 2003, for example, the journalist Zahra Kazemi, who held both Canadian and Iranian citizenship and lived in Montreal, was arrested in Tehran while covering a demonstration, accused of taking photographs of Evin Prison, and beaten to death while in custody. Of course, there is no reason to expect that the detention of Haleh Esfandiari will end so drastically. They are probably trying to extract a false "confession" of some sort from her, as they did with Jahanbegloo.)

=> Naturally, the Iranian regime has accused Esfandiari of being a Zionist agent as well as a US spy. From the BBC report:
Iran's Kayhan newspaper has accused Ms Esfandiari of spying for the US and Israel and of trying to incite a democratic revolution in the country.

Her husband, Shaul Bakhash, denied the newspaper's allegations.

"It is a false and hollow accusation that Haleh Esfandiari is one of the 'principle instruments' of Israel, or a Mossad spy service, in advancing the strategy of a 'velvet revolution' in Iran," he said in a statement sent to Associated Press news agency.

"It is a lie that Haleh Esfandiari had 'undercover assignments' or that she was one of the 'media spies' in Iran."
=> On May 11 the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America sent a strong letter of protest to the Iranian government. As MESA's letter emphasizes:
Harassment and detention of scholars is always cause for grave concern, but in this case it should be noted that the scholar in question is widely respected both for her knowledge and ability to provide clear and dispassionate analysis. Her treatment sends a chilling message to scholars throughout the world.
Amen. --Jeff Weintraub

=========================
Human Rights Watch
May 12, 2007
Iran: Jailed Iranian-American Scholar Faces Coercion
Arbitrary Arrest of Haleh Esfandiari Coincides With a Week of Crackdowns


(Washington, DC, May 12, 2007) – Iran should immediately release Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari and allow her to return to the United States, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that Iranian authorities have subjected Esfandiari to arbitrary detention and coercive interrogation.

On May 8, officials at the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence summoned Esfandiari for questioning, arrested her without warrant or explanation, and transferred her to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where Human Rights Watch has documented cases of torture and detainee abuse. Prior to Esfandiari’s arrest, ministry officials had repeatedly interrogated her in their offices on Africa Street in Tehran, and subsequently in their main building on Khaje Abdollah Ansari Street.

Esfandiari, who is head of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, had traveled to Iran in December to visit her ailing mother. On December 30, prior to her planned departure from Iran, armed and masked men stopped her taxi and seized both her Iranian and US passports. Since December, Iranian authorities have failed to replace her passport and instead have subjected her to repeated and protracted interrogation sessions.

In a statement on May 10, the Wilson Center said that during interrogations, Esfandiari “was pressured to make a false confession or to falsely implicate the Wilson Center in activities in which it had no part.”

“President Ahmadinejad is desperately trying to discredit his government’s many critics as American pawns,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Haleh Esfandiari is a well-known advocate of dialogue between Iranian and American scholars, and the Iranian authorities are trying to coerce her into making a false confession to incriminate Iranian writers and activists.”

Human Rights Watch said the Iranian government’s mistreatment of Esfandiari recalls that of Ramin Jahanbegloo, a Canadian-Iranian philosopher whom Iranian authorities arbitrarily arrested in April 2006. After nearly four months of detention and interrogation, Jahanbegloo “confessed” that his scholarly works had contributed to the planning of a “velvet revolution.”

Iran’s decision to increase its pressure on Esfandiari by detaining her comes at a time when the authorities have also escalated repressive campaigns against Iranian women’s right activists and student leaders.

On May 9, three students from Tehran Polytechnic University – Pouya Mahmoudian, Majid Sheikhpour and Majid Tavakoli – responded to a summons to appear before a Revolutionary Court in Tehran. Authorities then arrested and transferred them to Evin prison. At least four other students from Tehran Polytechnic University are also arbitrarily detained in Evin. All are active in student organizations. None has been charged with any offense.

Student and women’s rights activist, Zeynab Peyghambarzadeh, is also being held in Evin prison. She was among the 33 women arrested by security forces on March 4 when they gathered before a branch of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court where other women’s rights activists were being prosecuted. On May 7, authorities detained Peyghambarzadeh for failing to provide the bail the court recently set in relation to her pending case. She is currently being held in Unit 3 (youth section) of Evin prison. When Peyghambarzadeh’s father and lawyer arrived at the Revolutionary Court on May 8 to put up her bail, court authorities prevented them from entering the court.
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Related Material:
Iran: Top Scholar Detained Without Charge
(Press Release, May 5, 2006)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Zimbabwe to head UN Development Commission - Not a parody

It would be hard to make this stuff up, but unfortunately it's true.

For 2003 the African bloc in the UN, whose turn it was to pick the country heading the UN Commission on Human Rights, chose Libya. Then in 2004, just as the campaign of mass murder and ethnic cleansing in Darfur was reaching a crescendo, the government of Sudan was given a seat on the UN Human Rights Commission.

How could they top that? It's not easy, but they're trying.

For two decades after Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) won independence with the end of white minority rule in 1980, Zimbabwe was one of the most economically successful countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2000, the government of Robert Mugabe has systematically destroyed Zimbabwe's economy as part of its brutally single-minded effort to hold on to power. (For some details, see Zimbabwe, the land of dying children.) This year, the African bloc got their turn to decide the chairmanship of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, and they have picked the government of ... Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe may have left 700,000 of its citizens without accommodation by bulldozing their homes, caused millions more to starve after violent land seizures that destroyed farming and so mismanaged its own economy that it has the world's highest inflation. But it has been chosen to head a United Nations body charged with promoting economic progress and environmental protection. [....]

Not only has the regime of Robert Mugabe persistently used violence to repress all criticism, raping, torturing and beating opponents, but it has also turned development back by decades. [....] According to the World Bank no country has seen its economy shrink so much in peacetime.

The USAID Famine Early Warning Systems put out an alert last week warning that total food production in Zimbabwe for this season would meet only about 50% of its needs. It predicted that it would be less than half last year’s harvest, which left 1.5m dependent on food aid.

It added that the prevailing foreign currency shortages and high inflation, which had reached 2,200% by March according to the Central Statistical Office, would make it difficult for the government to import the necessary food. [Etc.]
As Mick Hartley observes, "It's good to see that their sense of humour hasn't deserted them." But it's a pretty sick joke.

--Jeff Weintraub
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Mick Hartley (Politics & Culture)
May 11, 2007
Sustainable Development

Four years ago Africans chose Libya to head the UN Commission on Human Rights. It's good to see that their sense of humour hasn't deserted them:
Britain and other Western nations were fighting a rear-guard action last night to block Zimbabwe from heading an influential United Nations organisation responsible for development.

Despite running one of the world’s most disastrous economies, Francis Nheme, the Zimbabwean Environment Minister, is expected today to become chairman of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, the body that monitors the environment and development...

The chairmanship of the body rotates annually among the five board members, each of whom represents one of the world’s regions. The next chairman should be the representative of an African country. But when the African bloc on the 53-member organisation proposed Zimbabwe last month, other nations reacted with disbelief and demanded a vote...

Many African leaders still revere Mr Mugabe as the revolutionary commander who fought white rule in Rhodesia during the 1970s and went on to lead an independent Zimbabwe out of the colonial era.
Here's Rosemary Righter:
Zimbabwe’s triumph is certain because it is Africa’s nominee. Under an unwritten UN rule, this was Africa’s “turn” in the seat, so what Africa says, goes. African governments clearly appreciate the example Zimbabwe sets in tackling global warming.

Why, only this week the Mugabe regime announced that households are to be rationed to four hours of electricity a day. No matter that the reason for this enforced curtailment of consumption is the catastrophic mismanagement of Zimbabwean resources: results are what count.

Nor is this President Mugabe’s only pioneering contribution to curbing global warming. Few people can lay their hands on petrol these days, and with inflation at 2,200 per cent and soaring fast, fewer still can afford it. Tractors rust on the farms that made Zimbabwe an African breadbasket. Hoes are ever so environmentally friendly. Mr Mugabe’s land “reforms” threw not only white owners, but 350,000 black families who worked for them, off the land and out of work. Result, maize production is down by 80 per cent, so Zimbabweans are doing their bit by having only one meal in two or even three days.

They are also dying earlier, at 35 instead of 60 in 1990, and, along with the absence of medicines for all but the elite, the spread of HIV/Aids to a fifth of the population is doing wonders for population control. Pity that people are forced to cut wood for fuel, but nothing’s perfect.
And Jan Raath:
Zimbabwe is on or near the bottom of every international indicator of human endeavour. The 40 per cent crash in GDP in the past nine years is the worst in the world for a country not at war. Per capita GDP is down to what it was in 1953. The average age of adult mortality is 36 years.

This descent from being sub-Saharan Africa’s second-most-developed nation was not the blind, feckless slide into poverty and tyranny that came with the end of colonial rule nearly everywhere else in Africa. It began in earnest 20 years after independence and was wilful and sustained. Mr Mugabe saw the writing on the wall: his people had had enough of him.

His response was to send out wave after wave of destruction, starting with the agriculture industry. “Ian Smith [the former Rhodesian Prime Minister] says I destroyed his beautiful country,” Mr Mugabe said a few years ago. Then he added: “Good.”

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bill Maher on the French election

One of Maher's "New Rules" from his May 4, 2007 show--just before the second round of the French Presidential election.

--Jeff Weintraub
=========================
Real Time with Bill Maher
May 4, 2007
New Rules

[....] And finally, New Rule: Conservatives have to stop rolling their eyes every time they hear the word, "France." Like just calling something "French" is the ultimate argument winner. As if to say, "What can you say about a country that was too stupid to get on board with our wonderfully-conceived and brilliantly-executed war in Iraq?"

And, yet, an American politician could not survive if he uttered the simple, true statement, "France has a better health care system than we do, and we should steal it." Because here, simply dismissing an idea as French passes for an argument. "John Kerry? Couldn't vote for him; he looked French." Yeah, as opposed to the other guy who just looked stupid.

Now, last week, France had an election, and people over there approach an election differently. They vote. Eighty-five percent of them turned out. You couldn't get 85% of Americans to get off the couch if there was an election between "Tits" and "Bigger Tits," and they were handing out free samples!

Now, maybe the high turnout has something to do with the fact that the French candidates are never asked where they stand on evolution, prayer in school, abortion, stem cell research or gay marriage. [JW: How about whether Muslim girls should be allowed to wear headscarfs in school?] And if the candidate knows about a character in a book other than Jesus, it's not a drawback. [JW: Too true.]

The electorate doesn't vote for the guy they want to have a croissant with; nor do they care about private lives. In the current race, Ségolène Royal has four kids, but she never got married. And she's a Socialist. In America, if a Democrat even thinks you're calling him "liberal," he grabs an orange vest and a rifle and heads into the woods to kill something!

Madame Royal's opponent [Nicolas Sarkozy] is married, but they live apart and lead separate lives. And the people are okay with that for the same reason they're okay with nude beaches; because they're not a nation of six-year-olds who scream and giggle if they see pee-pee parts!

They have weird ideas about privacy. They think it should be private. In France, even the mistresses have mistresses. To not have a lady on the side says to the voters, "I'm no good at multi-tasking."

Now, like any country, France has its faults, like all that ridiculous accordion music. But, their health care is the best in the industrialized world. As is their poverty rate. [JW: Not really, but it's true that France's health care system is better, and its poverty rate is lower, than ours in the US. Not to mention their train system. On the other hand, France is also a country where almost 15,000 elderly people died in the summer heat wave of 2003, while all the young people were off on vacation.] And they're completely independent of Mid East oil. [JW: Not exactly--but they do have much more nuclear power. Is that good?] And they're the greenest country. [JW: Not quite.] And they're not fat. And they have public intellectuals in France. We have Dr. Phil!

They invented sex during the day, lingerie and the tongue. Can't we admit we could learn something from them?

So, from now on, all you high-ranking Bush Administration officials, because the French are righter than you on most things, when France comes up in conversation, you are not allowed to roll your eyes. The only time you get to do that is when your hooker from Ms. Julia is blowing you.
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P.S. One e-mail correspondent (who is neither French nor American) added these comments:
Sticking simply to what's mentioned explicitly--health care, poverty rates--Maher is right. But I think there's something too easy about the admiration for France he expresses here. Not only because--as you point out--he overstates the empirical case, but also because there's a sense in which France's belief in its own superior virtue isn't just based on particular things it does better: It's also based on seeing a kind of cynical world-weariness as a virtue. And certain types of Francophile, like Maher, are too ready to agree. America, too, valorizes some things it shouldn't (and over-valorizes some things it should valorize less), but it's sometimes too easy for aversion to philistinism, a good thing in itself, to lapse into the sort of cynicism I have in mind.

That's not by any means the worst sort of vice imaginable, but since it's one that Maher is particularly susceptible to, there's something too neat/easy about his praise of (here I will rein myself in: I was going to write THE COUNTRY THAT INVENTED CYNICISM ... but would be overkill, so I'll just say) France.