Rights groups warn against US flouting international court
By KATHY GANNON
Tuesday, September 11
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Afghan rights workers warned Tuesday that the U.S. national security adviser’s blistering attack on the International Criminal Court investigating war crimes allegations will strengthen a climate of impunity in Afghanistan, prolong the war and embolden those carrying out acts of violence.
In a speech Monday, John Bolton said Washington would not cooperate with The Hague-based court and threatened it with sanctions, saying it put U.S. sovereignty and national security at risk.
War crimes allegations in Afghanistan include those allegedly committed by the CIA and U.S. forces.
“It’s very unfortunate because delivering justice to victims will help to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan,” said Sima Samar, head of Afghanistan’s Human Right’s Commission, on Tuesday. “Justice is not a luxury. It is a basic human right.”
During a three-month period that ended in January, the International Criminal Court received a staggering 1.7 million allegations of war crimes from Afghanistan, although some involved entire villages alleging a war crime.
Still, thousands of individual statements as well as statements filed on behalf of multiple victims, were received by the ICC in The Hague. The statements were collected by organizations based in Europe and Afghanistan and sent to the court.
Bolton’s speech came as an ICC judge was expected to soon announce a decision on a request from prosecutors to formally open an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani network militants as well as U.S. forces and intelligence officials in Afghanistan since May 2003.
The 181-page prosecution request, dated November 2017, said “information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that members of United States of America (US) armed forces and members of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period.”
Washington’s unequivocal rejection of the court seems likely to embolden Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government, which refused Tuesday to respond directly to Bolton’s outburst, but similarly dismissed war crimes allegations against Afghan National Security Forces as well as its intelligence agency.
President Ashraf Ghani’s deputy spokesman, Shahussain Murtazawi, said the Taliban, the Islamic State group affiliate and as many as 21 other anti-government groups are the perpetrators of war crimes. He dismissed allegations against security forces saying “government forces are always trying to save the people. It is the insurgents who are the killers of civilians.”
Yet the prosecutor’s request says there is “a reasonable basis to believe that members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), in particular members of the National Directorate for Security (NDS) and the Afghan National Police (ANP), have engaged in systemic patterns of torture and cruel treatment of conflict-related detainees in Afghan detention facilities, including acts of sexual violence.”
For human rights activists in Afghanistan, Bolton’s assault dealt a punishing blow to their relentless efforts to end a culture of impunity that has bedeviled efforts to bring perpetrators of crimes to justice.
“The solution to put an end to war is by making everyone accountable, whether it is the Taliban or the Haqqani network or whether it is the Americans or the Afghan army or Afghan government,” said Ehsan Qaane, of the Kabul-based Transitional Justice Coordination Group, which represents 26 organizations working for transitional justice in Afghanistan.
The coordination group assisted many victims who wanted to file a claim with the international court.
Victims need to see justice done if they are to begin to heal, said Qaane. He said some insurgents turned to the Taliban after being picked up, tortured and released. Their fight is more about revenge than ideology, he said.
“These people will perhaps stop fighting if they feel they have justice,” said Qaane.
In The Hague, the ICC simply stated it was aware of Bolton’s comments. In a statement issued Tuesday it did not address Bolton directly but rather reiterated its mission and that it was supported by 123 countries who have signed on to the Rome Statute that created the court. Afghanistan is a signatory.
Samar said rights groups cannot dispense justice.
“There is a difference between a human rights defender and a judge,” thus the need for the ICC, she said in a telephone interview. “My concern is that to deny justice is to deny a basic human right and human dignity.”
Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Michael Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.
Opinion: Russians Should Heed U.S. Advice in Syria
By Ivan Eland
President Trump and Gen. John Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the nation’s top military officer, have both seen Russia’s stepped-up bombing of Idlib province in northwestern Syria and the arrival of Russian warships off the Mediterranean coast of that nation as portending an assault on the final area of Syria held by rebels, including affiliates of al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Both American leaders have warned that a full-scale assault on Idlib could cause a humanitarian catastrophe because 3 million civilians are in the vicinity of the 30,000 insurgent fighters. Instead, Dunford has recommended that the Russians use more targeted counterterrorism attacks on just the militant fighters.
The Trump administration also fears that the Syrian government will use chemical weapons, as it has allegedly done to begin assaults on rebel positions in other parts of Syria. In the past, the Trump administration, with plenty of warning, launched surgical attacks on Syrian forces used in such alleged attacks — mostly to show it was tougher than the Obama administration, which had warned Syria that a substantial use of such banned weapons would trigger a U.S. military response.
Syria’s Russian ally then brokered a deal by which the Syrian government was supposed to get rid of its chemical weapons stockpile. Despite their nasty reputation and pariah status, however, compared to conventional bombs and bullets, chemical weapons have accounted for only a small percentage of 350,000 deaths in the massive Syrian civil war and in past conflicts in which they were used.
It is fine for Trump and Dunford to warn the world of a possible humanitarian catastrophe if the Assad regime, with the help of Russian air power and Iranian-trained militias, launches a go-for-broke assault on Idlib. Those forces have already slaughtered huge numbers of civilians during the seven-year civil war. However, getting more deeply involved in any way in a civil war that is tilting heavily in favor of Assad/Russia/Iran would be futile for the United States.
In fact, some signs in other parts of Syria point to a Russian effort to use soft power to cut the costs of the occupation phase after the war has been “won.”
Learning lessons from the long and ill-fated U.S. counterinsurgency war in Iraq, the ruthless and failed Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and two brutal wars that were unpopular in Chechnya, Russia has offered a cessation of violence in some areas of Syria, general amnesty and the restoration of public services in exchange for rebel pledges of loyalty to the Assad regime.
Although the Syrian government has violated the terms of general amnesty in some cases by arresting insurgents anyway, the Russians have sought to curtail such excesses by the Assad regime and have come to be seen as reliable arbiters of such agreements. Thus, the Russians have been able to use reconciliation to elicit defections from the rebel ranks.
Dunford is right that an alternative strategy to a massive assault on Idlib would probably be in the best interest of Russia, Iran, the Syrian government, certainly the civilians in Idlib province, and also the world. As the United States discovered after foolishly following the Soviets into Afghanistan a little over a decade after they had withdrawn in defeat, insurgencies are rarely extinguished until the underlying grievances fueling them are settled — as is demonstrated by the recent resurgence of the Taliban, which has been fueled by seemingly endless foreign occupation of the country.
The Russians may think they have won the war with an assault on Idlib but will probably be disappointed over time that such brutal tactics didn’t turn out to be a long-term solution. A softer approach toward the civilian population would probably be more successful in drying up its support for the militants — which such guerrillas sorely need for sanctuary, food and weapons.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Ivan Eland is senior fellow at the Independent Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Why al-Qaida is still strong 17 years after 9/11
September 11, 2018
Assistant Professor of Justice, Law & Criminology, American University School of Public Affairs
Tricia Bacon is a fellow at Fordham University’s Center for National Security and a non-resident fellow with George Washington’s Center for Extremism.
American University School of Public Affairs provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Seventeen years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida conducted the most destructive terrorist attack in history.
An unprecedented onslaught from the U.S. followed. One-third of al-Qaida’s leadership was killed or captured in the following year. The group lost its safe haven in Afghanistan, including its extensive training infrastructure there. Its surviving members were on the run or in hiding. Though it took nearly 10 years, the U.S. succeeded in killing al-Qaida’s founding leader, Osama bin Laden. Since 2014, al-Qaida has been overshadowed by its former ally al-Qaida in Iraq, now calling itself the Islamic State.
In other words, al-Qaida should not have survived the 17 years since 9/11.
But it has. Why?
The ties that bind
Much of the credit goes to al-Qaida’s extraordinary ability to form alliances and sustain them over time and under pressure.
In my book “Why Terrorist Groups Form International Alliances,” I examine why a small number of groups, such as al-Qaida and IS, emerge as desirable partners and succeed at developing alliance networks.
Understanding terrorist alliances is critical because terrorist organizations with allies are more lethal, survive longer and are more apt to seek weapons of mass destruction. Though terrorist partnerships face numerous hurdles and severing al-Qaida’s alliances has been a U.S. objective for over a decade, the fact is that these counterterrorism efforts have failed.
It was allies that enabled al-Qaida to survive the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The Afghan Taliban stood by al-Qaida after the attack, refusing to surrender bin Laden and thereby precipitating the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Fleeing, al-Qaida was able to turn to allies in Pakistan to hide its operatives and punish the Pakistani government for capitulating to U.S. pressure to crackdown on the group.
It was alliances that helped al-Qaida continue to terrorize. In October 2002, for example, al-Qaida’s ally in Southeast Asia, Jemaah Islamiyah brutally commemorated the first anniversary of 9/11 by bombing a bar and a nightclub in Bali, killing more than 200 people and injuring an additional 200.
And it was alliances that allowed al-Qaida to project viability. With the “prestige” that came with conducting 9/11, al-Qaida was able to forge affiliate alliances in which partners adopted its name and pledged allegiance to bin Laden.
Al-Qaida’s first and most notorious affiliate alliance, al-Qaida in Iraq, was formed in 2004 with Jordanian jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Using the standing he accrued through his role in the insurgency in Iraq, Zarqawi then helped al-Qaida acquire its second affiliate in 2006, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Then, in 2009, al-Qaida designated its branch in Yemen and Saudi Arabia as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Its alliances spanned the Middle East and helped it to project power, despite the U.S. war on terrorism.
A lower profile
While al-Qaida still sought affiliates, by 2010, it changed some aspects of the relationships.
Al-Qaida forged an alliance with al-Shabaab in Somalia, but did not initially publicly announce it or ask al-Shabaab to change its name. Bin Laden justified the shift to a less visible form of alliance as a way to prevent an increase in counterterrorism pressure or a loss of funds from the Arabian Peninsula. He privately expressed concerns that al-Qaida’s name “reduces the feeling of Muslims that we belong to them, and allows the enemies to claim deceptively that they are not at war with Islam.” Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, saw the move as bin Laden capitulating to members of al-Qaida who worried about “inflating the size and the growth of al-Qaida.” After bin Laden’s death, Zawahiri publicly announced al-Qaida’s alliance with al-Shabaab, though al-Shabaab still did not adopt al-Qaida’s name.
The “staying power” of Al-Qaida’s allies has helped it remain a threat despite the loss of its founding leader in 2011 and the ascent of a far less capable leader. Zawahiri’s rise to the helm of the group was itself the consequence of an alliance between his original Egyptian group, al-Jihad, and al-Qaida. The alliance culminated in a merger in 2001, with Zawahiri becoming bin Laden’s deputy and successor.
Zawahiri lacks bin Laden’s cachet or diplomatic savvy, and his shortfalls are evident in al-Qaida’s alliances. His poor handling of the strife between jihadist group al-Nusra in Syria and its parent organization, the Islamic State in Iraq – previously al-Qaida in Iraq and now known as the Islamic State – led to the alliance rupture between al-Qaida and its affiliate in Iraq.
Zawahiri has also struggled to manage the relationship with al-Qaida’s ally in Syria, the very group that spurred the conflict between IS and al-Qaida. Al-Nusra changed its name, an effort to gain more legitimacy within the conflict in Syria by publicly distancing itself from al-Qaida, which left a smaller faction still allied with al-Qaida.
Al-Qaida organized a new branch, al-Qaida in the Indian subcontinent, in 2014. The branch in South Asia reflected al-Qaida’s success at expanding beyond its predominantly Arab base, particularly in Pakistan, and has allowed the group to expand its activities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
Most of al-Qaida’s alliances have proven resilient over time. This is true despite ample reasons for its partners to abandon ties, such as the heightened counterterrorism pressure that comes with affiliation to al-Qaida; the death of its charismatic leader; and the Islamic State’s efforts to court al-Qaida allies. Even the Afghan Taliban has not severed ties, even though doing so would eliminate one of the major reasons that the United States will not withdraw from the “forever war” in Afghanistan.
There is still a window for the U.S. to damage al-Qaida’s alliances: It has a weak leader and major rival. But that window may be closing as the Islamic State adapts to its losses and al-Qaida appears poised for a resurgence with bin Laden’s son as its future, more inspiring leader.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated. The original version ran on Sept. 10, 2017.
Comment: Gene H. Bell-Villada
For decades, the US purposely set out to undermine nationalistic, left-leaning regimes in the Middle East–starting with Iran in 1953, on through Afghanistan in 1979, and of course Iraq in 2003, to cite the most obvious examples. And it supported Muslim opposition groups as part of that policy–notably Reagan’s calling the Afghan jihadists “freedom fighters” and comparing them to the French Resistance.
Well, once those nationalist, left-leaning regimes were gone, who moved in to fill the vacuum? The Muslim extremists! They can play the role anti-colonial militants, fighting foreign oppressors. In great measure, US foreign policy is responsible for the rise of Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
How the pain of 9/11 still stays with a generation
September 9, 2016
Dana Rose Garfin
Research Scientist, Department of Psychology and Social Behavior, University of California, Irvine
Dana Rose Garfin receives funding from the National Science Foundation to conduct this research.
University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were the worst acts of terrorism on American soil to date. Designed to instill panic and fear, the attacks were unprecedented in terms of their scope, magnitude and impact on the American psyche.
The vast majority (over 60 percent) of Americans watched these attacks occur live on television or saw them replayed over and over again in the days, weeks and years following the attacks.
As we reflect on the anniversary of this tragic event, a question to consider is: How has this event impacted those individuals who are too young to remember a world before 9/11?
As an applied social psychologist, I study responses to natural and human-caused adversities that impact large segments of the population – also called “collective trauma.” My research group at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) has found that such exposures have compounding effects over the course of one’s lifespan. This is particularly relevant for children who have grown up in a post-9/11 society.
PTSD and Ground Zero
Post-traumatic stress symptoms include feeling the event is happening again (e.g., flashbacks, nightmares), avoiding situations that remind individuals of the event (e.g., public places, movies about an event), negative feelings and beliefs (e.g., the world is dangerous) or feeling “keyed up” (e.g., difficulty sleeping or concentrating).
In order to meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD, an individual must have been directly exposed to a “traumatic event” (e.g., assault, violence, accidental injury). Direct exposure means that an individual (or their loved one) was at or very near the site of the event. It might be somewhat obvious that people directly exposed to a collective trauma like 9/11 might suffer from associated physical and mental health problems. What is less obvious is how people geographically distant from the epicenter or “Ground Zero” might have been impacted.
This is particularly relevant when considering the impact of 9/11 on children and youth across America: Many reside far from the location of the actual attacks and were too young to have experienced or seen the attacks as they occurred. The point is people can experience collective trauma solely through the media and report symptoms that resemble those typically associated with direct trauma exposure.
Impact on physical and mental health
The events of 9/11 ushered in a new era of media coverage of collective trauma, where terrorism and other forms of large-scale violence are transmitted into the daily lives of children and Americans families.
I have been exploring these issues with my collaborators Roxane Cohen Silver and E. Alison Holman. My colleagues surveyed a nationally representative sample of over 3,400 Americans shortly after 9/11 and then followed them for three years after the attacks.
In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, media-based exposure was associated with psychological distress. This included acute stress (which is similar to PTS but must be experienced in the first month of exposure), post-traumatic stress and ongoing fears and worries about future acts of terrorism (in the months following the attacks).
These harmful effects persisted in the years following 9/11. For example, the team found measurable impact on the mental and physical health (such as increased risk of heart diseases) of the sample three years after the attacks. Importantly, those who responded with distress in the immediate aftermath were more likely to report subsequent problems as well.
These findings bear close resemblance to research led by psychologist William Schlenger, whose team found that Americans who reported watching more hours of 9/11 television in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 were more likely to report symptoms resembling PTSD. For example, those who reported watching four to seven hours were almost four times as likely to report such symptoms compared to those who watched less.
These findings were echoed in work conducted by Michael W. Otto, who also found that more hours of 9/11-related television watching was associated with higher post-traumatic stress symptoms in children under 10 in the first year following the attacks.
9/11’s impact on children
However, it is also the case that studies have found the number of children who reported longer-term distress symptoms to be relatively low. Among other factors, children whose parents had low coping abilities or themselves had learning disabilities tended to report higher distress.
For example, my collaborator Virginia Gil-Rivas, who studied American adolescents exposed to 9/11 only through the media, found that symptoms of post-traumatic distress decreased in most adolescents at the one-year mark. An important finding of her study was how parental coping abilities and parental availability to discuss the attacks made a difference.
Furthermore, children who had prior mental health problems or learning disabilities tended to be at higher risk for distress symptoms. That could be because children prone to anxiety in general experienced increased feelings of vulnerability.
Despite the number of studies that have followed children over the course of several years, no studies have comprehensively examined the long-term impact of 9/11 on children’s development and adjustment. That is because it is difficult to compare American children who lived through 9/11 with those who did not, since almost every American child was exposed to images of 9/11 at some point in time.
This limits the ability of researchers to examine how children’s lives might have changed over time.
However, some researchers believe that even media-based exposure to collective trauma could likely have a longer-term impact on the attitudes and beliefs of those who grew up in a post-9/11 world. It is possible, for example, that exposure to 9/11 and other acts of terrorism has led to fears of perceived threats, political intolerance, prejudice and xenophobia in some American children.
How 9/11 trauma impacts people today
Years later, a bigger question is: How does the collective trauma of 9/11 affect people today?
Over the past several years, my team and I have sought to address many of the issues that remained unanswered in the scientific literature after 9/11. We sought to replicate and extend the findings initially produced after 9/11 through an examination of responses to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the worst act of terrorism in America since 9/11.
To this end, we surveyed 4,675 Americans. Our sample was demographically representative, meaning that our sample proportionally matched the U.S. Census data on key indicators such as ethnicity, income, gender and marital status.
This allowed us to make stronger inferences about how “Americans” responded. Within the first two to four weeks of the Boston Marathon bombings, we surveyed our sample about their direct and media-based exposure to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and their subsequent psychological responses.
Our study found that as media exposure (a sum of daily hours of Boston Marathon bombing-related television, radio, print, online news and social media coverage) increased, so did respondents’ acute stress symptoms. This was even after statistically accounting for other variables typically associated with distress responses (such as mental health).
People who reported more than three hours of media exposure had higher probability of reporting high acute stress symptoms than were people who were directly exposed to the bombing.
Then, last year, we sought to explore whether the accumulation of exposure to events like 9/11 and other collective trauma might influence responses to subsequent events like the Boston Marathon bombing.
Once again, we used data from demographically representative samples of people who lived in the New York and Boston metropolitan areas. We assessed people who lived in the New York and Boston areas to facilitate a stronger comparison of direct and media-based exposure to 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing: people who lived in New York or Boston were more likely to meet criteria for “trauma exposure.”
This study had two primary, congruent findings. First, people who experienced greater numbers of direct exposure to prior collective trauma (e.g., 9/11, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Superstorm Sandy) reported higher acute stress symptoms after the Boston Marathon bombings.
Second, greater amounts of media-based live exposure (i.e., people watched or listened to the event as it occurred on live television, radio, or online streaming) to prior collective trauma were also associated with higher acute stress symptoms after the Boston Marathon bombing.
So greater direct and media-based exposure to prior collective trauma was linked with greater acute stress responses (e.g., anxiety, nightmares, trouble concentrating) after a subsequent event.
Stay informed, but limit exposure
Overall, our research indicates that the impact on children growing up post-9/11 likely extends well beyond the physical and mental health effects of exposure – be it direct or media-based. Each tragic incident that individuals witness, even if only through the media, likely has a cumulative effect.
Nevertheless, the positive finding is that most people are resilient in the face of tragedy. In the early years following 9/11, several studies examined how 9/11 impacted children nationally. Like adults, children exposed both directly and through the media tended to be resilient in the early years following the attacks and symptoms generally decreased over time.
Even so, being aware of the potential for distress through media exposure is important. Even small percentages can have large implications for our nation’s physical and mental health. For example, in the case of 9/11, 10 percent of a nationally-representative sample reporting post-traumatic stress represents 32,443,375 Americans with similar symptoms.
So, people should stay informed, but limit repeated exposure to disturbing images, which can elicit post-traumatic stress and lead to negative psychological and physical health outcomes.