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August 17, 2001

Balkans Pacification and Protecting an Oil Pipeline

George W. Bush’s recent announcement that the United States is committed to stay in the Balkans comes as no surprise. Despite his rhetoric about helping the people there, it’s really about the transportation of massive oil resources from the Caspian Sea through the Balkans, and maintaining U.S. hegemony in the region.

Although NATO ostensibly bombed Yugoslavia for 78 days in the spring of 1999 to stop ethnic cleansing, the bombing was actually part of a strategy of containment, to keep the region safe for the Trans-Balkan oil pipeline that will run from the Black Sea port of Burgas to the Adriatic at Vlore, and pass through Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania. The pipeline is slated to carry 750,000 barrels a day, worth about $600 million a month at current prices.

Cooperation of the Albanians with the pipeline project was likely contingent on the United States helping them wrest control of Kosovo from the Serbs. The United States seeks to contain Macedonia as well, supporting both sides in the conflagration there. Military Professional Resources International, a mercenary company on contract to the Pentagon, has trained both the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Macedonian army. MPRI also supplied and trained the Croatian army in 1994 and 1995 before the Croatians cleansed more than 100,000 Serbs from the Krajina region.

The bombing was not aimed at ethnic cleansing. It was part of U.S.-run NATO’s eastward expansion as a counterweight to Russia, which wants the Caspian oil pipeline to run through its territory. NATO, created during the Cold War to protect Western Europe from the Soviets, should have disbanded after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

But a 1992 draft of the Pentagon’s Defense Planning Guidance advocated continued U.S. leadership in NATO by “discouraging the advanced industrialized nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger global or regional role.” Secretary of State Colin Powell recently said, if we decide to expand NATO, “we should not fear that Russia will object; we will do it because it is in our interest.”

Although Bush has tried to downplay the tension between the United States and Russia by warming up to Putin and looking “into his soul,” this is nothing more than posturing to reassure the countries of Europe that they shouldn’t fear Russia’s reaction were they to support Bush’s missile defense plan.

The United States has invested too much in the Balkans to pull out. After the NATO bombing campaign, the United States spent $36.6 million to build Camp Bondsteel in southern Kosovo, the scene of Bush’s recent tightly controlled four-hour visit. The largest American foreign military base constructed since Vietnam, Bondsteel was built by the Brown & Root Division of Halliburton, the world’s biggest oil services corporation, which was run by Richard Cheney before he was tapped for vice president.

America’s commitment to remain in the Balkans can be measured “in years,” according to a recent characterization of the White House’s position by The New York Times.

NATO’s bombs, never sanctioned by the United Nations, were not “humanitarian intervention.” Even the Marine Corps Gazette concluded after the bombing that the “resulting deaths of thousands of Serbian soldiers, civilians, and Kosovar Albanians and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more can hardly be viewed as a victory for humanitarianism.”

It is the purview of the United Nations, not the United States, to authorize humanitarian intervention. If the United States really wanted to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Yugoslavia, it would encourage the International Monetary Fund to forgive $14 billion in loans from prior regimes, finance reparations to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed by its bombs, and remove the U.S. troops from the region.

June 2, 2001

The Deportation of Slobodan Milosevic

The deportation of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was a direct result of blackmail by the United States. Desperate to rebuild its economy, the Serbian government capitulated to U.S. threats: deliver Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, or the U.S. would see to it that Yugoslavia didn’t get the foreign aid it critically needs.

Ten years of punishing sanctions against the people of Yugoslavia coupled with U.S.-led NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign have left the country’s economy in shambles. Damage to the Yugoslav economy is estimated at $4 billion. One million people live below the poverty level, half the population is unemployed, and Yugoslavia has an annual inflation rate of 150 percent and a foreign debt of $12 billion.

The U.S. destroyed the economy of Yugoslavia, killed or wounded thousands of its people – including civilians – and then promised megabucks to the Serbs if they would cough up Milosevic. Usually the ransom is paid to end the kidnapping. This time it was ponied up as a reward for the kidnap. And the payoff? $1.28 billion in aid from the July 29 donors conference, orchestrated by the United States.

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic arranged the deportation by circumventing the recently elected President of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Kostunica. According to Sara Flounders, National Co-Director of the International Action Center, “Milosevic was sold to the U.S. by their man in Belgrade. Imagine a governor of a state in the U.S. overriding the federal government and constitution to surrender a U.S. citizen to another country.”

Kostunica, adamantly committed to due process, insisted that Yugoslavia’s judicial procedures be followed before Milosevic was delivered to the ICTY in The Hague. The deportation, which Kostunica said could not be characterized as legal and constitutional, violated Yugoslavia’s constitution, parliament, Constitutional Court, and decisions of President Kostunica. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark denounced the deportation as “an enormous tragedy for Yugoslavia, the Serbian people and the rule of law.”

While the leaders of the Western world cheer the “extradition” of Milosevic – a misnomer because he wasn’t sent to another country, but to an international tribunal – the fragile democracy in Yugoslavia has been dealt a severe blow. Ramsey Clark thinks the real purpose of the deportation, sanctions, bombing and demonization of the Serbs “is to reduce all of the former Yugoslavia to the status of a U.S./NATO colony.”

Kostunica has decried the partiality of the ICTY for its hypocrisy in indicting Serbs, but refusing to indict NATO leaders for war crimes committed in the course of the 1999 bombing. NATO bombs killed 1500-2000 civilians and injured thousands more. When I was in Yugoslavia last year, I saw schools, hospitals, bridges, libraries and homes reduced to rubble. The ICTY statute prohibits the targeting of civilians. And even though it also forbids the use of poisonous weapons calculated to cause unnecessary suffering, NATO used depleted uranium and cluster bombs whose devastating character is widely known. NATO also targeted a petrochemical complex, releasing carcinogens into the air that reached 10,600 times the acceptable safety level.

Yet the ICTY conducted only a perfunctory investigation of charges of NATO war crimes. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticized the ICTY for failing to thoroughly investigate these serious charges. Kostunica’s allegation of the ICTY’s bias is not surprising. NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea stated in May 1999, “Of course NATO supports the ICTY – NATO created it.”

The prosecutors of the Vietnam War – Lyndon Baines Johnson, Henry Kissinger and Robert McNamara – were never tried for war crimes for causing the deaths of 3 million Vietnamese people. It was McNamara who defined most of the Vietnamese countryside, populated by peasants, as a free-fire zone. He wrote in a letter to LBJ in 1967: “The picture of the world’s greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one.” McNamara admitted his complicity in a 1995 memoir.

Indeed, the hypocrisy of the United States government is no more evident than in its refusal to ratify the statute for the International Criminal Court, out of fear that U.S. leaders might become defendants in war crimes prosecutions. Yet, our government was baffled when the United States — the world’s human rights policeman — was voted off the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Most of the Serbs I have spoken with are outraged by Milosevic’s alleged atrocities, and they feel he should be tried and punished for crimes he committed. But there is a widespread perception in Yugoslavia that Serbs are being collectively targeted for what their leaders have done. Many feel that Milosevic and other indicted Yugoslav leaders should be tried first in Yugoslavia for crimes committed against the Yugoslav people.

A fundamental principle of international law is complementarity: the international tribunals complement – they don’t supplant – the courts of nation states. Most of the former Latin American military leaders charged with human rights abuses that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s are facing justice in their respective countries. The Yugoslavians should be able to judge their own leaders before the they are judged by the international community.

Count 1 of the Indictment against Slobodan Milosevic charges him with “Deportation, a crime against humanity . . .” He must be accountable for what he has done. But the U.S.-engineered deportation of Milosevic is a crime against the people of Yugoslavia.

April 27, 2001

Pacification for a Pipeline: Explaining the U.S. Military Presence in the Balkans

Despite President George W. Bush’s rhetoric about withdrawing our forces from the Balkans, we can expect a strong continuing U.S. presence there. Why? It’s all about the transportation of massive oil resources from the Caspian Sea through the Balkans, and maintaining U.S. hegemony in the region.

Although NATO ostensibly bombed Yugoslavia to stop ethnic cleansing, the bombing was actually part of a strategy of containment, to keep the region safe for the Trans-Balkan oil pipeline that will transport Caspian oil through Macedonia and Albania. The pipeline is slated to carry 750,000 barrels a day, worth about $600 million a month at current prices.

Cooperation of the Albanians with the pipeline project was likely contingent on the U.S. helping them wrest control of Kosovo from the Serbs. The U.S. seeks to contain Macedonia as well, supporting both sides in the conflagration there. Military Professional Resources International, a mercenary company on contract to the Pentagon, has trained both the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Macedonian army. MPRI also supplied and trained the Croatian army in 1994 and 1995 before the Croatians cleansed more than 100,000 Serbs from the Krajina region.

The bombing was not aimed at ethnic cleansing. It was part of U.S.-run NATO’s eastward expansion as a counterweight to Russia, which wants the Caspian oil pipeline to run through its territory. NATO, created during the Cold War to protect Western Europe from the Soviets, should have disbanded after the breakup of the USSR.

But a 1992 draft of the Pentagon’s Defense Planning Guidance advocated continued U.S. leadership in NATO by “discouraging the advanced industrialized nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger global or regional role.” Secretary of State Colin Powell recently said, if we decide to expand NATO, “we should not fear that Russia will object; we will do it because it is in our interest.”

Bush is walking a delicate tightrope. He calls for Europe to do the grunt work in the Balkans, but also wants to prevent the European Union from becoming more powerful than U.S.-led NATO. A U.S. Army officer stationed in Bosnia, speaking anonymously to the Los Angeles Times, observed wryly, “The only thing the Europeans need us Americans for is the leadership.”

The U.S. has invested too much in the region to pull out. After the NATO bombing campaign, the U.S. spent $36.6 million to build Camp Bondsteel in southern Kosovo. The largest American foreign military base constructed since Vietnam, Bondsteel was built by the Brown & Root Division of Halliburton, the world’s biggest oil services corporation, which was run by Richard Cheney before he was tapped for Vice-President.

NATO’s bombs, never sanctioned by the United Nations, were not “humanitarian intervention.” The alleged mass graves were never found by the FBI, and the 10,000-11,000 bodies NATO touted turned out to number about 2000-3000, mostly in KLA strongholds. Even the Marine Corps Gazette concluded after the bombing that the “resulting deaths of thousands of Serbian soldiers, civilians, and Kosovar Albanians and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more can hardly be viewed as a victory for humanitarianism.”

It is the purview of the United Nations, not the United States, to authorize humanitarian intervention. If the U.S. really wanted to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Yugoslavia, it would encourage the International Monetary Fund to forgive $14 billion in loans from prior regimes, finance reparations to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed by its bombs, and remove the U.S. troops from the region.

The Crime of Aggression: What Is It and Why Doesn’t the U.S. Want the International Criminal Court to Punish It?

From February 26 through March 8, the Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court met in an attempt to forge agreement on defining and punishing the crime of aggression. The Rome Statute for the ICC, written in 1998, will take effect after ratification by 60 states. It specifies the Court will hear charges of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. But the drafters, unable to agree on a definition and scheme for punishing aggression, left that to an amendment process which allows statutory changes to become operative seven years after the Statute takes effect.

The United States has sought to ensure the ICC’s legal processes do not jeopardize its role as global superpower by subjecting U.S. leaders to prosecution. It has consistently resisted definitions and jurisdictional provisions that may challenge U.S. impunity for wars of aggression.

Following the Holocaust, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg called the waging of aggressive war “essentially an evil thing . . . to initiate a war of aggression . . . is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Associate United States Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, one of the prosecutors at the Nuremberg Tribunal, labeled the crime of aggression “the greatest menace of our times.”

At Nuremberg, for the first time, individuals were held criminally accountable for waging a war of aggression. The Nuremberg Charter proclaims the principle that “individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by individual states.” The fact that a defendant acted under orders from a superior did not absolve him of responsibility, although it was considered in mitigation of punishment.

The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal was also established following World War II, to try Japanese military and political leaders accused of committing atrocities. United States leaders who were responsible for at least two of the most heinous war crimes in the history of the world – the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – as well as unrestricted submarine warfare in the Pacific and the “Great Turkey Shoot,” were never brought before these two tribunals.

Only the vanquished Germans and Japanese were held accountable for their war crimes and crimes of aggression. In the words of Justice Radhabinod Pal of India, dissenting at the Tokyo Tribunal, that was “victor’s justice.”

The United States and its “victorious” allies are once again escaping responsibility for war crimes, this time for those committed against the people of Yugoslavia. For although several war criminals have been brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, it has refused to indict NATO leaders, in spite of criticism from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Walter Rockler, another Nuremberg prosecutor, has said the United States initiated a war of aggression against Yugoslavia. He wrote in the Chicago Tribune: “The notion that humanitarian violations can be redressed with random destruction and killing by advanced technological means is inherently suspect . . . This is mere pretext for our arrogant assertion of dominance and power in defiance of international law.”

More than 50 years before, in his report to the State Department, Justice Jackson wrote: “No political or economic situation can justify” the crime of aggression. He also said: “If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” An impartial international criminal tribunal is necessary to prevent “victor’s justice.”

The major points of contention at the recent ICC PrepCom Working Group on Aggression centered around the definition of the crime of aggression (a legal question) and the jurisdictional authority to decide when aggression has occurred (a political question).

Many of the countries at the PrepCom advocated a definition set out in 1974 in General Assembly Resolution 3314, which was passed in the wake of Vietnam. It provides: “Aggression is the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, as set out in this definition.”

The Resolution contains a non-exclusive list of actions that would constitute aggression, including the invasion or attack by armed forces of a state of the territory of another state; bombardment or use of weapons by the armed forces of a state against the territory of another state; and the blockade of ports or coasts of a state by the armed forces of another state.

Some countries, like Libya, argue that aggression should be defined to include the confiscation of property and the establishment of settlements in occupied territories. The United States continues to freeze Libyan assets and Israel persists in building settlements on the West Bank. Aggression could also conceivably be defined to outlaw preemptive strikes and the kind of naval blockade President John F. Kennedy used during the Cuban Missle Crisis.

The most controversial issue dealt with at the PrepCom was specifying which body will make the determination that a state has committed an act of aggression, if indeed such a finding is a condition precedent to individual liability. The United Nations Charter grants the Security Council primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security. Article 39 says: “The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression.”

The dispute centers around what happens if the Security Council doesn’t make a determination that an act of aggression has occurred, either because one of the five permanent members (United States, Great Britain, France, China and the Russian Federation) vetoes such a finding, or because the Security Council simply fails to act.

Many countries, including the United States, feel that that ends the matter. Others believe an independent judicial finding of individual criminal liability could be made, even if the Security Council does not find as a threshold matter that a state has engaged in aggression. They fear that a Security Council veto would effectively block the ability of the ICC to act to punish aggression.

One possibility is that, in the absence of Security Council action, the General Assembly (the U.N.’s democratic organ) could ask the International Court of Justice (the World Court established in the U.N. Charter) for an advisory opinion on whether aggression has occurred. The ICJ doesn’t have authority to hear criminal charges against individuals. But if the ICJ were to find a state had engaged in aggression, the ICC prosecutor could proceed against individuals in that state for the crime of aggression.

The United States is, of course, vehemently opposed to this procedure. It wants to maintain the prerogative to exercise its Security Council veto over a finding that the United States has committed aggression.

But there is precedent for General Assembly action in the absence of direction from the Security Council. It is the “Uniting for Peace” resolution. During the Korean War, the Security Council would not mandate a U.S.-led effort into North Korea, because of the Soviet veto. Secretary of State Dean Acheson secured the passage of the Uniting for Peace resolution in 1950, to legitimize the General Assembly’s authority.

The Resolution reads: “If the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to members for collective measures. These recommendations can include in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression the use of armed force when necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations proclaims the goal of suppressing acts of aggression “in conformity with the principles of justice and international law.” The International Criminal Court, which will serve a crucial purpose in the system of international justice, should be empowered to punish those who commit the supreme crime, the crime of aggression, regardless of their country of origin.

March 22, 2001

Bush Continues Illegal and Inhumane U.S. Persian Gulf Policy

President George W. Bush’s “routine” bombing attack on Iraq should come as no surprise. It is a conscious and systematic continuation of the Bush I-Cheney-Powell-Clinton policy of keeping steady pressure on Saddam Hussein to sustain U.S. hegemony in the Persian Gulf. Iraq has the second largest oil supply in the world. Humanitarian rhetoric notwithstanding, the unlawful bombing and sanctions regime serves to maintain the United States as the dominant force in the region.

The Pentagon says our bombers were acting in “self-defense” when they struck near Baghdad Friday, because Iraq has been resisting U.S./British patrols in the “no-fly- zone” over Iraq’s airspace. Our leaders are using this outlandish theory to avoid charges that we’re violating the UN Charter, which prohibits the use of force against a sovereign nation except in self-defense or when authorized by the Security Council. The no-fly zone has never been sanctioned by the Security Council, and the killing and wounding of civilians clearly violates international law.

The U.S. government justifies its strategy to overthrow Saddam Hussein as necessary to prevent him from proliferating weapons of mass destruction. Ironically, it was the United States that gave him the technology to develop chemical and biological weapons in the first place, according to a 1996 Associated Press report.

The only weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are the U.S./British bombers and the crippling sanctions. Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector in Iraq recently said, “There is absolutely no reason to believe that Iraq could have meaningfully reconstituted any element of its WMD [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities in the past 18 months.” But, in spite of UN Resolution 687, which calls for the creation of a weapons of mass destruction-free zone throughout the Middle East, the United States ignores Israel’s large stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Shortly after Operation Desert Storm in 1991, where U.S. and British bombs killed 100,000 Iraqi men, women and children, and destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure, then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney expressed his desire to broaden the United States’ military role in the region to hedge future threats to Gulf oil resources. Between his service in the Bush I and Bush II administrations, Cheney served as CEO of Halliburton Co., the biggest oil-services company in the world.

For the past two years, the United States and Britain have continued to bomb Iraq, as frequently as every other day, without UN authorization. And we have prosecuted a campaign of economic sanctions that, according to UNICEF, has killed 4000 Iraqi children every month since 1991. When confronted with these figures in 1996, Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on 60 Minutes, “We think the price is worth it.”

Evidently, her successor agrees. When he accepted Bush’s nomination for Secretary of State, Powell stressed his support for maintaining and strengthening the sanctions against Iraq. He must be aware that although these sanctions are aimed at Saddam Hussein, it is the people of Iraq who suffer from them.

General Colin Powell was also impervious to the suffering of thousands of U.S. vets who contracted Gulf War Syndrome following Desert Storm. Charles Sheehan-Miles, a director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, said that four or five years ago, Gulf War vets were refused treatment by the VA. “We got silence from Powell, Schwarzkopf and Cheney. We wrote a couple of letters to Powell asking for help and never got a response. That was a severe disappointment.”

With Friday’s stepped-up bombing, the U.S. is sending a message to Saddam Hussein that the pressure’s still on, in spite of widespread Arab opposition to the bombing and the sanctions. Colin Powell, who will visit the Persian Gulf next week, said our goal is to “keep the pressure on” Hussein. As Captain Genter Drummond, a retired U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who flew bombers during Desert Storm said on CNN Friday night, George W. Bush is “the new teacher on the playground.” The Commander-in-Chief has changed but the policy remains the same.

December 21, 2000

States Rights When the End Justifies the Means

At first blush, the five justices who decided to name George W. Bush the 43rd president appear to be hypocritical. How could these staunch “states rightists” now decry federalism in order to quash the Florida Supreme Court’s interpretation of Florida’s election statutes? While admitting that the court “generally defers to state courts on the interpretation of state law,” Chief Justice Rehnquist, in his concurrence (joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas) relied on two civil rights cases from 1958 and 1964, where the Warren Court struck down state Jim Crow laws.

Nothing disingenuous about that. In the last decade, the same majority of five conservative justices has deferred to states rights in many cases while strengthening the repressive mechanisms of the federal government in others. Conservatives traditionally favor states rights in order to maintain local autonomy over issues such gun control, tobacco rights (if you can call them rights), disability rights, and violence against women, saying that states are closer to the people. States, however, often repress their own citizens at the behest of local special interests.

The Supreme Court has used this “new federalism” to immunize state governments from lawsuits in both state and federal courts. In January, for example, the court immunized states from suits by their employees for violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and in May, the Supreme Court voided the rights of victims of rape, domestic violence and other gender motivated crimes to sue their attackers in federal court. According to Katherine J. Rogers, Executive Director of the NOW Legal Defense in Education Fund, which represented the plaintiff, the decision took the federal government out of the business of defining civil rights and creating remedies. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote for the majority that the general police power was something the founders denied the national government and reposed in the states.

Although the last decade has seen the Supreme Court steadily erode the ability of Congress to regulate civil rights, the court has not hesitated to strengthen the ability of the federal government to repress people in this country and abroad. Construing the Supremacy Clause, which grants Congress the power to preempt state law, the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts statute aimed at boycotting companies that do business in Myanmar (Burma). The U.S. State Department had documented numerous labor and human rights abuses in Myanmar including the killing and torture of dissidents and ethnic minorities as well as forced labor. In 1995, the court overturned a law that prohibited carrying a gun near a school, the first time since the New Deal it had struck down a law for exceeding the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. Federalism, a doctrine of convenience, has been used selectively by the court.

In her dissent in Bush v. Gore, Justice Ginsburg chastised the Chief for his “casual citation” of the two civil rights era cases, reminding us they were unique to the Jim Crow South. Perhaps Chief Justice Rehnquist, who favored maintaining Plessy v. Ferguson’s racist separate but equal doctrine, sought to preempt criticism of his motives in preempting a Gore victory in this election. And maybe Justices Scalia and Thomas refrained from penning separate opinions, letting the Chief do the dirty work, in order to forestall similar charges of partisan conflicts of interest. Once again, the end justified the means.

December 5, 2000

High Court Hides From Camera in Bush v. Gore

When the Supreme Court entertained arguments last Friday that could determine who will be the 43rd president of the United States, it worked virtually in private. Unlike the Florida Supreme Court, which let the sunshine (and television cameras) into the hearing that gave the green light to hand-counted ballots, the highest court in the land convened before just 80 members of the public.

The nine justices of the United States Supreme Court refuse to allow television coverage of their hearings. Reasons given range from protection of their personal privacy to preservation of the Court’s mystique. Chief Justice William Rehnquist told a 1992 judges’ conference that if the justices didn’t look good on camera, “it would lessen to a certain extent some of the mystique and moral authority” of the Court.

Justice Harry Blackmun, author of the Court’s opinion in Roe v. Wade, once passed a group of anti-abortion protestors during his noontime stroll. Unrecognized, he stood and looked on as they railed against the rights protected by the bystander’s most famous decision.

Twenty-three hours before the Supreme Court’s 1989 hearing in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, which many thought might overturn Roe v. Wade, hopeful spectators began lining up in front of the Supreme Court building to vie for the few public seats. A scalper sold the eleventh place in line for $100.

The Supreme Court has held that there is a right to a public trial. But it is not clear whether a public trial means a televised trial. When a defendant appears in court, there may be valid reasons for excluding a camera, if the publicity could harm his or her constitutional right to a fair trial. But when the Supreme Court hears arguments, there are no witnesses or jurors to be influenced or intimidated by the cameras.

Although Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told a group of University of Virginia law students that she generally favors gavel-to-gavel cameras in the courtroom, she didn’t specifically include the Supreme courtroom. She said: “The problem is the dullness of most court proceedings,” adding, “It’s often tedious.”

Justice Antonin Scalia once told an audience condescendingly that “law is a specialized field, fully comprehensible only to the expert.”

Yet millions sat glued to their television sets two weeks ago as the Florida Supreme Court grappled with technical legal issues of statutory construction. The High Court on Friday was faced with deciding whether the Florida Supreme Court violated federal law or the United States Constitution. Public interest in this hearing was overwhelming. It is imperative that the American public, so polarized in this post-election limbo, perceives the ultimate decision-making process as a fair one.

The Supreme Court’s denial of the petition filed by C-Span and CNN to allow cameras to televise Friday’s arguments was a foregone conclusion. As Justice David Souter told a House Appropriations subcommittee in 1996: “The day you see a camera come into our courtroom it’s going to roll over my dead body.”

However, the Court took a small but significant step by allowing an immediate release of an audiotape of the proceedings, which in ordinary circumstances, wouldn’t be released for several months. In 1955, Chief Justice Earl Warren inaugurated the practice of audiotaping oral arguments. But although the tapes were turned over to the National Archives, scholars who checked them out had to sign a lending agreement that they wouldn’t reproduce them. University of California-San Diego political science professor Peter Irons defied the agreement in 1993 and marketed the tapes with a transcript entitled “May It Please the Court.” The Court, furious, threatened “legal remedies” but never followed through with its threat.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor told conference attendees in Colorado a few years ago: “Eventually we will probably have television. But it probably won’t be for a good while.” How long a while that will be is anyone’s guess. Hopefully, Justice Souter will live to see the day.

November 5, 2000

Marching Against U.S. Punishment Politics in Cuba

None of the demonstrations I attended in the 60s prepared me for the experience of marching with one million Cubans last month to protest the United States’ blockade against Cuba. More than 100 U.S. lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild joined the march.

Absent was the tension always present in U.S. marches, which usually protest against the government. Fidel Castro led the Cuban march. Scores of children laughed and sang as they walked with their arms around each other. Attendance at the Cuban event was voluntary and the police were unarmed. Tear gas and rubber bullets, staples in American protests, were nowhere in sight.

Forty years ago, the U.S. imposed an “all-out ‘quarantine’ – economically, politically and diplomatically – of the Castro regime,” in the words of Vice President Richard Nixon. Its aim was to starve the people so they would overthrow Castro’s communist government, yet he remains in power. The Cold War has ended and the U.S. has normal relations with China and Vietnam. Nonetheless, we maintain a blockade against Cuba tighter than any other in the world. Its restriction on the sale of medicine and food is unprecedented.

Notwithstanding rhetoric to the contrary, the legislation passed last month actually strengthens the blockade, by forbidding U.S. financing to Cuba to buy food from American farmers, and tightening the travel ban. Although an overwhelming majority of both the House and Senate had voted to relax the blockade, the GOP House leadership and right-wing Cuban-American members of Congress held the rest of Congress and President Clinton hostage at this crucial election juncture. Indeed, the pivotal role of Florida – the center of anti-Castro sentiment – in the excruciatingly close presidential election does not bode well for an early lifting of the blockade.

Meanwhile, Cubans suffer under the thumb of a vitriolic policy of economic isolation imposed by the U.S. Some flee in small unseaworthy crafts. But, scores of people from Mexico and Central America perish every year trying to cross the U.S. border. And, the U.S. approves only about 10 percent of visa applications from Cubans who seek to visit relatives in the U.S. but wish to remain in Cuba. Of the Cubans who have come to the U.S. on non-immigrant visas and who could have requested to stay under U.S. laws, 95 percent have voluntarily returned to Cuba.

Behind me in the march were large twin photographs of Jose Marti, the father of the Cuban revolution, and Abraham Lincoln. Castro is fond of quoting Lincoln’s “of the people, by the people and for the people.” The Cuban constitution enshrines due process rights, the right to work, to education, to medical and dental care, to prenatal care and paid maternity leave, to child care, to participate in the running of the state, and the right to a life free of racial or gender discrimination. Although, like the U.S., Cuba still has the death penalty and instances of racial profiling, the chief justice of the Supreme Court is black.

Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the Americas and one of the highest in the world. Vice President Al Gore told a Canadian magazine in 1994, “It’s disgraceful that we have this level of illiteracy; countries like Cuba put us to shame when it comes to this problem.” There are more doctors per capita in Cuba than any other country in the world. In fact, when representatives of the Congressional Black Caucus complained recently to Castro about the lack of doctors for the poor in the U.S., he offered to send them some Cuban doctors. He also offered 500 medical scholarships for Third World youth and other groups, on the condition they return to the U.S. to care for people in their communities.

At 74, Castro has demonstrated not only resilience but also a capacity for change reminiscent of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X. Since the Pope’s visit, Cubans enjoy more religious freedom. A woman at a Jewish synagogue in Havana told us that when Castro visited at Chanukah, he regaled them for two hours with stories of Jewish history and was well versed on the Holocaust. Castro quipped to our group that if he hadn’t been a guerrilla, he would’ve been a pastor. He says, “He who betrays the poor betrays Christ.”

The U.S. government continues to betray the poor in Cuba, who remain under a state of siege in an undeclared war by the United States. We must lift the blockade of Cuba, not just for the Cuban people, but for our own humanity.

August 10, 2000

Cheney’s “Black Gold”: Corporate Oil Interests to Drive U.S. Foreign Policy in Bush-Cheney Administration

What do the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea and the Balkans have in common? U.S. domination in these areas serves the interests of corporate multi-millionaires such as Dick Cheney. As George Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Cheney was chief prosecutor of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Humanitarian rhetoric notwithstanding, the bombing of Iraq – which continues to this day – was primarily aimed at keeping the Persian Gulf safe for U.S. oil interests. Shortly after Desert Storm, the Associated Press reported Cheney’s desire to broaden the United States’ military role in the region to hedge future threats to gulf oil resources.

Cheney is C.E.O. of Halliburton, the biggest oil-services company in the world. Because of the instability in the Persian Gulf, Cheney and his fellow oilmen have zeroed in on the world’s other major source of oil – the Caspian Sea. Its rich oil and gas resources are estimated at four trillion dollars by U.S. News and World Report. The Washington-based American Petroleum Institute, voice of the major U.S. oil companies, called the Caspian region, “the area of greatest resource potential outside of the Middle East.” Cheney told a gaggle of oil industry executives in 1998, “I can’t think of a time when we’ve had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.”

But Caspian oil presents formidable obstacles. Landlocked between Russia, Iran and a group of former Soviet republics, the Caspian’s “black gold” raises a transportation dilemma. Russia wants Caspian oil to run through its territory to the Black Sea. The United States, however, favors pipelines through its ally, Turkey.

Although the cheapest route would traverse Iran to the Persian Gulf, U.S. sanctions against Iran belie this alternative. Cheney has lobbied long and hard, as recently as June, for the lifting of those sanctions, to lubricate the Iran-Caspian connection. This is consistent with his position, described in a 1997 article in The Oil and Gas Journal, that oil and gas companies must do business in countries with policies unpalatable to the U.S.

Cheney also favors the repeal of section 907 of the 1992 Freedom Support Act, which severely restricts U.S. aid to Azerbaijan because of its ethnic cleansing of the Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh, a mountainous enclave in Azerbaijan. Why would Cheney choose to ignore Azerbaijan’s human rights violations? Because Azerbaijan, key to the richest Caspian oil deposits, is, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “in fact, the focal point of the next round in the Great Game of Nations, a dangerous, hot-headed place with a Klondike of wealth beneath it. It is Bosnia with oil.”

Cheney’s oily fingerprints are all over the Balkans as well. Last year, Halliburton’s Brown & Root Division was awarded a $180 million-a-year contract to supply U.S. forces in the Balkans. Cheney also sits on the board of directors of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor. Replacing munitions used in the Balkans could result in $1 billion in new contracts. War is big business and Dick Cheney is right in the middle of it.

Meanwhile, energy and gasoline prices continue to soar in many parts of the United States. OPEC controls the oil production in the Persian Gulf. Cheney, worried about a fall-off in investment, spoke in favor of OPEC cutting oil production so oil and gasoline prices could rise.

Cheney is ineluctably invested in keeping the world safe for his investments. Although he is stepping down as C.E.O. of Halliburton to run for vice-president, his financial interests in the Persian Gulf, the Caspian region and the Balkans will invariably continue. Chosen by George W. Bush to bring foreign policy expertise to the ticket, we can expect a Republic administration to increase U.S. intervention in regions when it suits Dick Cheney’s oil and other corporate concerns.

August 1, 2000

Milosevic Empowered by Punishment Politics

One year after NATO’s bombs devastated Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic remains firmly entrenched as the nation’s leader. Although he was previously prevented from seeking another term, a “constitutional coup” by the Serbian-controlled parliament earlier this month resulted in constitutional amendments allowing Milosevic to run for re-election, and changing the requirements for election of president and Parliament.

Prior to the changes, it would have been impossible for Milosevic to continue his tenure as President of Yugoslavia beyond July of 2001. The amendment gives Milosevic the option of running for two additional four-year terms. Whereas the constitution had required the election of the president by the federal Parliament, the amendment provides for presidential election by a majority of the popular vote, which would blunt the effect of an opposition boycott. Finally, the election of Parliamentary deputies will now result from a popular vote, instead of by separate votes of the Montenegrin and Serbian assemblies. This change dilutes the power of the government of Montenegro to elect deputies hostile to Milosevic.

Parliamentary and local elections had been scheduled to take place in November 2000 and the presidential election was set for January 2001. Last week, however, Milosevic announced that Serbia and the Yugoslav federation will hold presidential, parliamentary and local elections September 24.

I was told at a recent international conference in Belgrade that there is widespread opposition to Milosevic in Yugoslavia. Results of a public opinion poll published last week shows Milosevic with only 13.7 percent support. So how can he be confident he would win a popular election?

The bombing, the economic sanctions and Milosevic’s war crimes indictment just weeks before the peace agreement all serve to perpetuate his power. It is the Serbian people who are being held hostage by NATO’s misguided and failed policy of punishment politics.

In 1992, to facilitate the secession of Slovenia, Croatia and later Bosnia and Kosovo from Yugoslavia, the United States pushed the U.N. Security Council to impose economic sanctions, a total blockade of the country. Enforced by military means, the sanctions blockade was policed by the U.S. Navy and its NATO allies who patrolled the Adriatic Sea and the Danube River, stopping all vessels possibly bound for Yugoslavia. Air traffic to and from Yugoslavia was blocked by NATO jets, and a 1995 bombing campaign in Bosnia ended with the Dayton Accords. The United States has continued to prevent Yugoslavia from receiving new credit and loans.

The 78-day bombing campaign last year was followed by the occupation of Kosovo, new sanctions and an oil embargo against Yugoslavia. The United States recently renewed these sanctions, and the European Union tightened trade sanctions in April.

Although responsible for an estimated $4 billion worth of damage to the infrastructure of Yugoslavia, the West has refused to provide economic assistance for reconstruction as long as Milosevic remains in power.

Yet Milosevic holds a tight reign while his people suffer. Roughly one-third of the labor force remains unemployed and the United Nations estimates that about two-thirds of the population lives in poverty. Production levels are way down, there is no exportation of goods and Yugoslavia is cut off from most international markets. Credit cards are no longer available to the people. They cannot send money abroad, and the airport looks deserted. Dozens of bridges and hundreds of apartments remain damaged by the bombs.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright made it clear that the United States would only agree to lift the sanctions if free elections are held. A recent public opinion poll showed that although two-thirds of Serbs want political change, 40 percent of eligible voters don’t know which party to vote for in the local and federal elections.

Although life was tough before the sanctions, it has worsened since. Many Serbs blame the West for the sanctions, as well as the bombing. The indictment of Milosevic just before the peace accord was signed effectively prevented any possibility he might step down as part of the agreement. His best chance to avoid prosecution for war crimes is by staying in power.

As the Bay of Pigs tightened Castro’s hold on power in Cuba, so did the NATO bombing solidify nationalist sentiments in favor of the government in Yugoslavia. And like the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba failed in its goal of overthrowing Castro, the sanctions against Yugoslavia have failed to unseat Milosevic. An overthrow requires a strong, organized internal opposition, which doesn’t exist in Yugoslavia, or in Cuba. The sanctions have failed in their goals and have only punished the people. The West should rethink its policies in both of these countries.