Ben Buchwalter

US To Appeal Blackwater Ruling. Then What?
February 17, 2010, 8:31 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, Scandals | Tags: , , ,

In 2007, guards employed by the independent security contractor Blackwater Worldwide killed 17 civilians in Iraq’s Nisour Square. Nearly three years later, Blackwater continues to operate in Iraq in a diminished capacity (and under the new name Xe Services). Last month, Iraqis were outraged when a district court judge dismissed charges against the guards because the State Department bungled the case against them. But at the end of January, Vice President Joe Biden said that the White House intends to appeal that decision and hold the guards accountable. This is a great step forward to ensure that security contractors acting under the American flag don’t get away with murder. But we’ve still got a long way to go, as I wrote for MoJo:

Demanding full accountability for security contractors will take more than cracking down on the five guards connected to Nisour Square. It means implementing comprehensive regulations and laws for all contractors working under the American banner. Last July, the DOD adopted interim rules to govern the selection and oversight of security contractors abroad. Whether or not the Justice Department resurrects its case against the Blackwater guards, these rules should be strengthened to include clear guidelines for prosecuting private contractors in order to prevent future Nisour Square incidents.


Obama’s Five-Point Plan for Fighting Extremism
January 9, 2010, 4:10 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, Mother Jones | Tags: , , ,

August 6, 2009

Months before President Obama committed to sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, his senior adviser for Homeland Security and Counter terrorism laid out the administration’s 5-pronged strategy to the war on terrorism. Brennan was a bit of an odd choice to deliver the speech, because of his ties to the Bush administration and reported clashes with administration officials with respect to declassifying the notorious torture memos. But he’s Obama’s guy and laid out the cautious strategy in August. I deciphered the speech’s meaning and context for MoJo. An excerpt:

Brennan stressed the importance of restoring America’s moral reputation. A key strength of the President’s anti-terrorism strategy, he said, is that it no longer undermines national security by turning the American forces into monsters with the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. Such actions, he said, “were not in keeping with our values as Americans, and these practices have been rightly terminated.” Brennan’s repudiation of these techniques is especially interesting because he was Obama’s first choice for CIA chief, but withdrew his name after critics said he was too soft on torture, which paved the way for the eventual choice Leon Panetta.

MoJo Video: United For Iran
November 22, 2009, 5:59 pm
Filed under: Crime and Justice, Foreign Affairs, Mother Jones | Tags: ,

July 27, 2009

On July 25, activists gathered in 110 cities worldwide in solidarity with the Iranians who were mistreated following Iran’s June election, which many criticized as illegitimate. With my co-worker Tay Wiles, I visited San Francisco’s city hall to speak with activists and city officials in attendance. We produced the following video to accompany our report:

How Restorative is Rwanda’s Justice?
November 22, 2009, 5:55 pm
Filed under: Crime and Justice, Foreign Affairs, Mother Jones, Race | Tags: , ,

July 17, 2009

Back in July, the US loaned Rwanda $44 million to continue its multi-layered restorative justice system that was implemented to help the central African country come to terms with the 1994 genocide which killed more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Unfortunately, as I wrote for Mother Jones, this admirable goal has so far not lived up to its potential because the Tutsi-led government has too often used it for revenge rather than justice. A preview:

Gacaca, literally “on the grass,” is a restorative system which allows perpetrators responsible for crimes including isolated murder and destruction of property during the genocide to decrease their prison sentences if they plead guilty, apologize, and agree to supplement their shortened jail time with community service. But the gacaca courts have been instructed by the RPF to focus only on crimes that occurred during a limited timeframe, most of which were committed by Hutus. During the protracted civil war that preceded the genocide, though, The Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Army was also responsible for murder, rape, and destruction of Hutu property. Also, gacaca judges are untrained and elected by the community, which raises concerns about international standards of due process and impartiality.

Friday Brain Dump

There is A LOT to talk about this week! Let’s start with…… Obama! (who else?)

  • Fresh off successfully passing of the economic stimulus bill – Obama’s first Presidential priority, Obama has started to focus on foreign affairs. This week, Obama visited Canada and promised to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. I am not sure how I feel about this. Sometimes I wonder if a progressive must advocate for one war (Afghanistan) in order to oppose another (Iraq) with legitimacy. Obama will likely feel some resistence from more liberal congressmen and senators about this decision. I wonder if it’s a mistake to deliberately engage in something as messy as Afghanistan. Clearly, the primary objective of the Obama Presidency is to turn the economy around. If he does this, Obama will be re-elected. If he does not, Obama will write another book in four years. Presidents are often forced to engage in foreign affairs to the detriment of their pet objectives. But why do it willingly? Hopefully we can walk (fix the economy) and chew gum (fix the world) at the same time.
  • Senator Patrick Leahy’s call for a truth commission to investigate the wrongdoings of the Bush Presidency seems to be gaining traction. I was initially skeptical of this idea. Why spend time and effort looking backwards when we have so many important things to do? But I think I’m coming around. I am legitimately disturbed by the Bush administration’s tacit approval of torture and general abuse of the Presidency. Holding him accountable and those who help devise the scheme could restore respect to the Presidency and improve American credibility worldwide.
  • It looks like Kathleen Sebelius – the popular Democratic Governor of Kansas – is the top choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, the position intended for Tom Daschle. Though I like Sebelius, this is a mistake. In fact, it’s a mistake because I like Sebelius. She was a huge favorite to win the Senate seat being vacated by Sam Brownback in 2010. Kansans love her strong moderate record in the conservative-leaning state. Sticking her at HHS could secure the Kansas seat for another Republican wacko. This dilemma leads Chris Bowers to ask, “Are Cabinet Positions Better than Statewide Office?” The answer seems to be yes.
  • The New York Post is run by idiots. That’s not any sort of new or original conclusion, I just thought it should be said. The ultra-conservative paper’s first response to the racist cartoon it ran this week was to condemn civil rights leaders like Al Sharpton for grandstanding and seeking attention on this issue. Classy. The paper’s second response was to issue this non apology. Whether or not the cartoon was intended to be racist, its incredibly stupid and offensive and requires a genuine apology.
  • Check out this map! Cool idea for regional high speed train lines. Via Rachel Maddow’s twitter page.
  • Matt Cooper says the Democrats picked crappy replacements in IL, NY, and DE. Bennet in Colorado is alright, though. I said this once too!
  • As you all know, this weekend is the Oscars. I am very excited, as this is by far my favorite award show. And I like award shows. Nate Silver has predicted the winners based on his highly successful method for predicting the 2008 election. Also, the Times’ David Carr has predicted winners. Both call Slumdog Millionaire the clear winner. While it was a good movie, it wasn’t as great as Milk. You heard it here, Milk will win best picture. Best Actor is the hardest category. Penn or Rourke? Though Sean Penn was probably better, I’m going to say Rourke. Everyone loves a comeback. Also, Danny Boyle (Director), Winslett (Actress), Ledger (Sup actor), and Cruz (Sup actress). On other categories, Benj Button and Slumdog will nearly sweep. Dark Knight for sound categories.

Buchwalter OUT!

Bloomberg Questioned About Chavez
February 19, 2009, 11:33 am
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, General Politics | Tags: , ,

From The Economist via NY Daily News:

Q: Mayor, it’s hard to compare New York City to Venezuela but as you know, Hugo Chavez did his second effort – this time sucessful – to extend term limits. You chose to go through City Council. Do you have any second thoughts about this? Do you wish you should have had a chance to take to the…

A: I don’t understand your question. What on Earth do we have to do with Hugo Chavez?

Q: Well, like you, he wanted to extend his term.

A: If you wanted to ask Hugo Chavez, call him up! Maybe he’ll take your call. My suspicion is he doesn’t have press conferences and let people ask questions or if they ask questions, he probably throws them, I don’t know what he does with them…Who knows? (Laughs). I still fail to see a connection. 

See my posts here and here.

NYTimes on Venezuela, NYC

I found the relevant NY Times editorial criticizing Hugo Chavez for seeking to lift term limits. An editorial last Saturday wrote, “For the sake of Venezuela’s democracy, they should again vote no on changing the nation’s constitution.”

This directly contrasts with the Times‘ support for Bloomberg’s decision to seek a third term as Mayor of New York City.

The bedrock of American democracy is the voters’ right to choose. Though well intentioned, New York City’s term limits law severely limits that right, which is why this page has opposed term limits from the outset. The law is particularly unappealing now because it is structured in a way that would deny New Yorkers — at a time when the city’s economy is under great stress — the right to decide for themselves whether an effective and popular mayor should stay in office.

Are Venezuelans not as capable of New Yorkers to “to decide for themselves whether an effective and popular” leader should remain? 

Clearly, the situations of Venezuela and New York City are drastically different. But term limits should either be lauded as a necessary check on one-party, one-man rule, or abolished as obstacles to pure democracy. 

You can’t ignore a law for those you like, and uphold it for those you don’t.