Thoughts on the Bolton Nomination

First, does anyone suppose John Bolton would have been nominated if things weren’t going at least reasonably well in Iraq? Or abyssimally within the U.N.?

Granted, as Kipling told us, triumph and disaster are two impostors, and the crowing that it’s all over (or a even new 1989) may be a bit premature, even if we hope earnestly that they aren’t. I never considered Iraq a case of guerrilla war, which most military people will define as a resistance movement that hides and shelters among broad-based popular support. If it was that anywhere, it was in the Sunni Triangle, but only until we shrewdly pulled back and let the “insurgents” control part of it for a few months. By November, they’d beheaded their own popular support even in their own base. And by January, the idea that the Michael Moore’s minutemen were carrying out anything more than a politically-motivated crime wave with no political goals was refuted by the empirical evidence of votes.

Today, we also hear the most encouraging news yet about the state of the Taliban’s disintegration. Whatever is left of it, Mullah Omar appears not to control. It must be disspiriting to see the value of his head fall so low. We’ll be more certain in about six weeks, after the fighting season has started.

Yep, plenty can still go wrong. But success seems to have many fathers of late, just as a few of its true fathers seemed ready to deny paternity for the colicky wriggler last May. We have learned that many people across the political spectrum are made of wobbly stuff. No one will ever say that about John Bolton.

* * * * *

Plenty of other alarming things are being said about Bolton, particularly here in the New York Times. For all its shrill hyperbole, the piece is still informative. Of course, if you’re reading this blog, odds are you’ve read the Times enough to spot the familiar tricks, such as the old standard of vicarious editorializing-by-quotation:

“Mr. Bolton is seen as among the most hawkish of President Bush’s advisers, and as among those who are most sympathetic toward unilateral action, and perhaps least sympathetic toward a multilateral approach to things,” said Robert Hathaway, director of Asia studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington.

Yeah. You say that like it’s a bad thing. More on Bolton and that tired old “unilateralism” horse later.

“Certainly, many people around the world will see this nomination as raising questions about the president’s sincerity in wanting to work in a cooperative fashion, a multilateral fashion,” he said. Mr. Hathaway predicted the nomination would be seen as “disquieting” and curious.”

You can’t get a lot more condescending than that. You can almost see the brows furrow in Paris and Brussels.

After a period in which the Bush administration has emphasized a desire for international cooperation, underscored by the president’s trip to Europe, the nomination of Mr. Bolton appeared to show that hard-liners on foreign policy still carry clout in a clearly divided administration.

I’d grant that it’s a victory for those the Times calls hard-liners, but “divided?” With the exit of Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, and a whole rick of dead wood at the CIA, I’m not sure who stands in opposition to the Bolton faction. We’ve all seen Bush’s Braveheart speech, and nothing I’ve read suggests that Bolton was ever at odds with Condi Rice, who’s far to the right of Powell and Armitage. And as the Times points out, “Mr. Bolton has been championed in the past by Vice President Dick Cheney.” Seems to me that gives Bolton the full trifecta. Mathematically speaking, divided by one is more like it. Now brace yourself for a parade of horribles that should send you scurrying for your beaujolais:

Mr. Bolton is widely quoted as having said at a panel discussion in 1994 that “if the U.N. secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”

Granted, that one wouldn’t pass in the post-9/11 world, but of course, Bolton wasn’t suggesting bombing or destruction or loss of life; he was merely pointing out the belief–since confirmed a dozen times over–that the United Nations doesn’t really do anything competently above the level of delivering modest amounts of emergency relief and innoculating kids. Those are good things, of course, but when it comes to making peace or foreign policy or stopping man-made disasters (Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Darfur, Somalia, North Korea) the U.N. is worse than useless. Not only does the U.N. generally fail to offer so much as empty words to console the corpses, it tends to interfere with saving the living. Those who believe in expanding the power, prestige, and influence of the U.N. should not be satisfied with this and ought to recognize that doing something about it begins with listening to the uneasy truths that Bolton is telling them, if they’ll listen. And of course, Bolton was not in government in 1994. If Jack Pritchard can open his mouth as a private citizen, then Bolton should have the same rights.

And in 1998 he dismissed a vote at the United Nations as irrelevant, saying, “this will simply provide further evidence to many why nothing more should be paid to the U.N. system.” Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, who served as the United Nations Ambassador under President Ronald Reagan, said in 2003 that Mr. Bolton “loves to tussle,” adding, “He may do diplomatic jobs for the U.S. government, but John is not a diplomat.”

As I said. And you can’t really call it criticism when it’s coming from Jeanne Kirpatrick. I’d agree with her that not only is Bolton no diplomat, that might not be what’s called for when dealing with people whose language consists of “human scum,” “sea of fire,” “Great Satan,” and “bloodsucker.” Those people are only looking for conciliation in the way that wolves scrutinize deer for limping and shortness of breath. Countries like North Korea and Iran don’t respond positively to diplomacy as they know it in Brussels. They respond to what they deal in themselves: fear. Consider for a moment that Bolton’s dangerous outbursts are more studied that they appear to the Times.

Of course, Bolton probably isn’t the hissing bomb they claim him to be if he’s managed to successfully negotiate such important matters as an arms reduction treaty with Russia and Libya’s disarmament. Yes, I promised you proof of John Bolton’s success at multilateralism. Here’s John O’Sullivan from the National Review:

He devised a practical way of halting the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups and rogue states — namely, the Proliferation Security Initiative — that the international community has now signed onto. The PSI advanced U.S. interests by recruiting those allies who could offer America real help to prevent its enemies obtaining weapons of mass destruction. That was pragmatic multilateralism of a high order.

The Times’s parade continues:

His hard line, and blunt talk, on nuclear negotiations with North Korea – he
has staunchly opposed concessions to Pyongyang unless it first rolls back its
nuclear program – has roiled the Bush administration’s already-difficult
dealings with the government there. In July 2003, as delicate six-party
talks including North Korean were about to start, Mr. called Kim Jong Il, the
North Korean leader, a “tyrannical dictator” of a country where “life is a
hellish nightmare.”


Come here and smell this. No, really–just stop long enough to consider how many supposedly intelligent folks at various editorial boards and think tanks take crap like this seriously when it’s hard to believe that the North Korean leadership itself does. This is landfill for the consumption of the masses in Wonsan (and at Yonsei University, of course; mustn’t forget the true believers).

North Korea responded furiously, saying that “such human scum and bloodsucker is not entitled to take part in the talks” and that Pyongyang no longer considered Mr. Bolton to represent the administration. The State Department removed him from its delegation.

So what part of that is not true? I see where you’re going here, which is that telling the truth is a bad thing in diplomacy. I differ.

Let’s review the benefits of happy talk with North Korea. Jimmy Carter and Bill Richardson talked happy and we got the Agreed Framework, followed by instantaneous North Korean cheating thereon. Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton offered happy talk, and we got more cheating. Bush eventually chose to recognize the fact of the cheating, which meant that the talk got less pleasant and the minor annoyance of the U.N.-IAEA inspectors was summarily removed. But then for a very long time, to conspicuously include the SOTU and the inauguration speech, Bush held his tongue. And look what that got us.

Frankly, the only parties affected one way or another by what Bolton says are those parties eager to pretent that it actually matters. That would be the South Koreans, whose state of delusion is so far advanced that like a gangrenous limb, it may simply require amputation from the larger body. Democracy means at lot of things, including the freedom to have your capital become Kim Il Sung City.

As for Bolton being taken off the delegation, the State Department officially denied it, but if neither the Times nor National Review is buying it, that satisfies me . . . that the State Department suffers from testicular atrophy.

Mr. Hathaway of the Wilson Center said other parties to the Korean
nuclear talks had at least privately challenged Mr. Bolton’s confrontational
approach. But he also noted that the United Nations, for now, “is not where the
action is on the North Korea question.”

As I’ve said before, Bolton’s appointment was a statement. What it probably means is that Bolton will be locked and loaded to challenge North Korea’s proliferation and human rights records at the U.N., and very likely at the Security Council. I suspect that if you want to know “where the action is,” the bouncing ball you should be following has “Bolton” written all over it.

Mr. Bolton also raised concerns when he was quoted by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in early 2003 as saying that the United States, after defeating Iraq, would “deal with” Iran, Syria and North Korea. And in June of that year he told the BBC that in the case of Iran, “all options are on the table.”

Like this one, for example. The horror! (it sounds cooler if you whisper it twice in hushed, Kurtzian madness)

In a 2002 interview with The New York Times, Mr. Bolton was asked about what seemed to be mixed signals from the Bush administration on North Korea. He grabbed a book from a shelf and laid it on the table. Its title: “The End of North Korea.” “That,” he told the interviewer, “is our policy.”

First, thanks for finding me that quote. And as you’ve probably guessed, those are my sentiments exactly. Now, it’s hard to know whether Bolton was trying to scare North Korea back to the bargaining table, hawk-engagement style, or whether he meant it. If I were the North Korean generals, I’d wager the latter, but since I’m not, count me skeptical.
I will close with a question for those of you who see this as a sign of the Apolcalypse–just what would be so damned bad about calling for democracy and human rights in North Korea just the way we’ve called for these things in Saudi Arabia or Lebanon? Would the harm of a “chaotic” change of regime really be worse than Zarkawi with a dirty bomb or another two million dead North Koreans? The main criticism of Bolton appears to be that he’s the guy who just stand up and say that.

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Resolution of the Sixth International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees

Resolution Sixth International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees Seoul, South Korea, February 16, 2005

We have gathered for the 6th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees from the countries of France, Poland, Norway, Republic of Korea, Russia, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, as well as defectors from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to affirm to the people of the world, especially to the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, that they are entitled to the same freedoms, democratic values and human rights enjoyed by free people everywhere and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The regime of North Korea is among the worst violators of human rights in our time despite having obligated itself to protect human rights by becoming a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

In addition to these activities we have pledged to undertake during the conference, we call for the following actions:

To the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we call upon the regime to abide by the four human rights treaties it has signed, specifically to abolish the political prison camps and detention centers in North Korea where people are subjected to inhumane and cruel treatment, to end the use of torture, forced abortion and infanticide; to end the use of the testing of weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical weapons experimentation on political prisoners, and to release all returnees, detainees, abducted citizens of Japan and South Korea, prisoners of the Korean War, and any citizens currently being held in North Korea against their will;

To the People’s Republic of China, we call upon the PRC to release all humanitarian workers, including its own citizens and citizens of South Korea and the United States and any nation, it has jailed for helping North Korean refugees.

We furthermore call upon the PRC to abide by the international agreements it has signed, the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and Article III, paragraph 5 of the 1995 agreement on the Upgrading of the UNHCR Mission in the UNHCR Branch office in the PRC, and end the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees and provide unimpeded access to the UNHCR to interview all North Koreans seeking refuge.

To the International Community, We applaud the United States Congress for its recent unanimous passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act and encourage the U.S. administration to implement the provisions of the Act in a timely manner in order to save lives of the North Korean people and we applaud the legislators in the Republic of Korea and Japan who have pledged to adopt similar humanitarian measures, and furthermore, we call for other legislatures around the world to adopt similar humanitarian measures to help the North Korean refugees, to reach out to the North Korean people, to ensure that food aid reaches its intended recipients, and to make human rights a central component of any policy with North Korea.

We call on the citizens of the world to join in the peaceful demonstrations to be held on April 28, 2005, at the embassies and consulate offices of the People’s Republic of China which are aimed at changing the PRC’s policy of forced repatriation of North Korean Refugees and at gaining the release of Chinese citizens and international humanitarian workers who have been incarcerated for providing food, shelter and safety to North Korean refugees.

We especially appeal to those countries in the region to allow safe passage of North Korean refugees, to consider adopting a first asylum policy to protect at-risk North Korean men, women, and children, and to work cooperatively towards a multilateral agreement that provides safe haven.

We call for the adoption by business firms investing in the DPRK, especially South Korean and Japanese firms of a code of fair labor standards, including protecting children, similar to the Sullivan principles which were adopted during the Apartheid era in South Africa.

We also call upon the international trade union movement, especially the labor organizations in South Korea, to defend and protect their brother and sister workers in the DPRK from being exploited as a source of slave labor and subjected to inhuman working conditions.

To the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, we applaud the Commission for its condemnation of the North Korea regime for its human rights abuses, for their appointment of a Special Rapporteur for North Korean human rights and urge that the Commission continue to support his work and use all possible means to see his recommendations are carried out, and furthermore we applaud the Special Rapporteur’s findings defining nationals of the DPRK who cross the Chinese border as “refugees” or “refugees sur place.”

To the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, we ask you to simply do your job, to implement your mission to secure your right to unimpeded access to the North Korean refugees in China and any nation by invoking binding arbitration and call upon the nations in the region to allow safe passage for North Korean refugees.

To the International Olympic Committee, we call upon you to change the venue of the 2008 Olympics from Beijing to another city, unless the People’s Republic of China ends its violent action of repatriation of North Korean refugees who face imprisonment and execution when they are returned to North Korea.

To the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we especially want to affirm to you that we have heard your cries and know your suffering and that we stand with you in solidarity and pledge to work for the day when you may enjoy the same human rights and freedoms as enjoyed by free people throughout the world.

To this 6th International Conference on North Korea Human Rights and
Refugees, we pledge to continue to expand the international network devoted to saving the lives of North Koreans, working with as individuals and with our respective governments to focus the greatest attention on the human rights of the North Korea people until the light of human rights will shine on the entire Korean peninsula.

We express our deep appreciation to the Citizens Alliance for North Korea Human Rights and Refugees and the people of Seoul for hosting this International Conference and look forward to gathering in Norway next year for the 7th International Conference.

Resolutions Committee
Suzanne Scholte, Chairman, USA
Seong-Phil Hong, ROK
Pierre Rigoulot, France
Ann Buwalda, USA
Fumiaki Yamada, Japan

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Resolution of the Sixth International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees

Resolution Sixth International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees Seoul, South Korea, February 16, 2005

We have gathered for the 6th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees from the countries of France, Poland, Norway, Republic of Korea, Russia, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, as well as defectors from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to affirm to the people of the world, especially to the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, that they are entitled to the same freedoms, democratic values and human rights enjoyed by free people everywhere and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The regime of North Korea is among the worst violators of human rights in our time despite having obligated itself to protect human rights by becoming a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

In addition to these activities we have pledged to undertake during the conference, we call for the following actions:

To the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we call upon the regime to abide by the four human rights treaties it has signed, specifically to abolish the political prison camps and detention centers in North Korea where people are subjected to inhumane and cruel treatment, to end the use of torture, forced abortion and infanticide; to end the use of the testing of weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical weapons experimentation on political prisoners, and to release all returnees, detainees, abducted citizens of Japan and South Korea, prisoners of the Korean War, and any citizens currently being held in North Korea against their will;

To the People’s Republic of China, we call upon the PRC to release all humanitarian workers, including its own citizens and citizens of South Korea and the United States and any nation, it has jailed for helping North Korean refugees.

We furthermore call upon the PRC to abide by the international agreements it has signed, the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and Article III, paragraph 5 of the 1995 agreement on the Upgrading of the UNHCR Mission in the UNHCR Branch office in the PRC, and end the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees and provide unimpeded access to the UNHCR to interview all North Koreans seeking refuge.

To the International Community, We applaud the United States Congress for its recent unanimous passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act and encourage the U.S. administration to implement the provisions of the Act in a timely manner in order to save lives of the North Korean people and we applaud the legislators in the Republic of Korea and Japan who have pledged to adopt similar humanitarian measures, and furthermore, we call for other legislatures around the world to adopt similar humanitarian measures to help the North Korean refugees, to reach out to the North Korean people, to ensure that food aid reaches its intended recipients, and to make human rights a central component of any policy with North Korea.

We call on the citizens of the world to join in the peaceful demonstrations to be held on April 28, 2005, at the embassies and consulate offices of the People’s Republic of China which are aimed at changing the PRC’s policy of forced repatriation of North Korean Refugees and at gaining the release of Chinese citizens and international humanitarian workers who have been incarcerated for providing food, shelter and safety to North Korean refugees.

We especially appeal to those countries in the region to allow safe passage of North Korean refugees, to consider adopting a first asylum policy to protect at-risk North Korean men, women, and children, and to work cooperatively towards a multilateral agreement that provides safe haven.

We call for the adoption by business firms investing in the DPRK, especially South Korean and Japanese firms of a code of fair labor standards, including protecting children, similar to the Sullivan principles which were adopted during the Apartheid era in South Africa.

We also call upon the international trade union movement, especially the labor organizations in South Korea, to defend and protect their brother and sister workers in the DPRK from being exploited as a source of slave labor and subjected to inhuman working conditions.

To the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, we applaud the Commission for its condemnation of the North Korea regime for its human rights abuses, for their appointment of a Special Rapporteur for North Korean human rights and urge that the Commission continue to support his work and use all possible means to see his recommendations are carried out, and furthermore we applaud the Special Rapporteur’s findings defining nationals of the DPRK who cross the Chinese border as “refugees” or “refugees sur place.”

To the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, we ask you to simply do your job, to implement your mission to secure your right to unimpeded access to the North Korean refugees in China and any nation by invoking binding arbitration and call upon the nations in the region to allow safe passage for North Korean refugees.

To the International Olympic Committee, we call upon you to change the venue of the 2008 Olympics from Beijing to another city, unless the People’s Republic of China ends its violent action of repatriation of North Korean refugees who face imprisonment and execution when they are returned to North Korea.

To the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we especially want to affirm to you that we have heard your cries and know your suffering and that we stand with you in solidarity and pledge to work for the day when you may enjoy the same human rights and freedoms as enjoyed by free people throughout the world.

To this 6th International Conference on North Korea Human Rights and
Refugees, we pledge to continue to expand the international network devoted to saving the lives of North Koreans, working with as individuals and with our respective governments to focus the greatest attention on the human rights of the North Korea people until the light of human rights will shine on the entire Korean peninsula.

We express our deep appreciation to the Citizens Alliance for North Korea Human Rights and Refugees and the people of Seoul for hosting this International Conference and look forward to gathering in Norway next year for the 7th International Conference.

Resolutions Committee
Suzanne Scholte, Chairman, USA
Seong-Phil Hong, ROK
Pierre Rigoulot, France
Ann Buwalda, USA
Fumiaki Yamada, Japan

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Libya Uranium Story Update

Are We Certain that North Korea Was the Source?

No one ever said we were, of course, but today, dedicated axis-of-evil skeptic Glenn Kessler, has written a second WaPo piece on the story in as may days, this time raising doubts, via the IAEA (remember them?), about the U.S. conclusion that North Korea was Libya’s supplier:

IAEA tests on the same container — using samples taken at the same time the United States took samples last spring — did not indicate the presence of plutonium, and the United States has not shared the results of its plutonium tests with the international agency. Moreover, the suspect container originated from Pakistan, officials said yesterday. The presence of plutonium indicates that it was in North Korea but there is no way to know the origin of the contents of the cylinder, investigators said.


On that last point, skip down to the next quote (from the same article) and come back. I’ll be right here.

So here is an internal inconsistency that North Korea could easily resolve regain the benefit of our doubts. Note that this is mostly IAEA harrumphing that it hasn’t seen our data, which is probably a smart move on our part, given where its Chairman originates, some of the things that have been going on there lately, and who else they might well be working with. Of course, there’s a big difference between saying you haven’t seen the evidence of Fact X and saying that you have seen the Fact X evidence, but that it doesn’t lead to Conclusion Y. More from the WaPo story:

“In order to come to this conclusion, you need a sample from North Korea and no one has a uranium sample from North Korea,” said one official investigating the network and Libya’s former programs. “The Pakistanis won’t allow any samples of their UF6, either,” said the official, who discussed the investigation on the condition of anonymity.


Excellent question. You’re the IAEA. Why don’t you go get that sample right now? Oh, I almost forgot.

North Korea and Pakistan:
A Distinction Without a Difference

Not that the distinction much matters, because it’s apparent that the North Korean and Pakistani nuke programs were born and matured as conjoined twins. At least some of Pakistan’s own UO6 originally came from North Korea, North Korea and Pakistan cooperated in the design and construction the centrifuges used for enrichment, Pakistan got missile technology in return, North Korea may well have been the source of Pakistan’s unenriched uranium, A.Q. Khan himself visited North Korea to provide technical assistance, and many experts have long suspected that Pakistan and North Korea jointly tested a Bomb made from North Korean plutonium in the Pakistani desert. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera. Ad nauseum.

The picture that emerges is of a unified weapons development network with more-or-less shared facilities for research, development, testing, and production in North Korea, Pakistan, and Malaysia. Next, Kessler tosses out this whopper:

North Korea has natural uranium, but there is no direct evidence that it can convert the material to UF6, a gas state that prepares the uranium for enrichment.

Deceptive at best, but clearly intended to mislead. Of course we don’t have any direct evidence of what North Korea is doing in its underground facilities, but we do have a pretty good idea that they can and have enriched UF6. I mean, just follow the links. But direct evidence? Absolute certainty? Isn’t that asking a lot when we’re talking about the most carefully guarded secrets of the world’s most secretive place, especially considering the consequences of being wrong? As proliferation expert Phillip Saunders explains,

Experts agree that verifying the elimination of uranium enrichment activities is more difficult than verifying the elimination of plutonium production. Plutonium production requires a large infrastructure that includes nuclear reactors and reprocessing facilities; uranium enrichment can be performed in smaller facilities that are much harder to locate and to monitor.


Returning to the WaPo article, Kessler continues:

The IAEA and U.S. intelligence launched investigations into the network and were told by Pakistan that North Korea was the source of the uranium shipment. But Khan’s Malaysian-based partner, B.S. Tahir, told U.S. intelligence Pakistan was the source. Even if North Korea made the uranium gas, some investigators believe it is unlikely that Pyongyang intended to sell it to Libya. They believe North Korea would have sold the material to Pakistan, which then sold it to Libya. Another theory is that North Korea sold raw uranium to Pakistan, which converted it to UF6 and sold it to Libya.


Those theories are plausible enough, but not comforting in the least. A destructive, noxious product sold through Amazon does not become less noxious or destructive because the Amazon gives in and stops selling it. There’s always E-Bay. Note that the New York Times reported just a year ago that North Korean nuclear scientists have been spotted living in Iran, which is probably sheltering senior Al Qaeda operatives (possibly including Sa’ad bin Laden, and under the pretense of “house arrest”). Hezbollah, which had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group until 9/11, is Iran’s wholly-owned subsidiary. Whatever the stream of commerce, the amounts are substantial and sustained enough that North Korea, at the very least, had a completely reckless disregard for the end user of this stuff. Does their specific intent really matter at that point? What matters is what past behavior tells us about the risks. According to this report, the uranium traffic been going on for a long time:

Pakistani investigators told the IAEA that 1.7 tons of UF6 were shipped to Libya in 2001, a year before Kelly presented North Korean officials with proof that North Korea was conducting a uranium program in violation of the 1994 Geneva agreement.


. . . and according to this one, the commerce appears to have been growing so fast that some of the stuff appears to have started falling off the trucks. This, from Kessler’s piece:

Libya put out an order in 2003 for 20 tons of UF6 in the hopes of beginning research and development on uranium enrichment. But it received only 1.6 tons from the Khan network, delivered in the metal cylinder [again, the cylinder was allegedly made in Pakistan], when its program was exposed in 2003.

The WaTimes, meanwhile, adds a few interesting details (print edition only, unf), beginning with some support for the idea that the North Korean uranium came through an intermediary, presumably Pakistan, and that Libya either hasn’t fingered North Korea, or perhaps we’re just not saying:

A State Deparment official said the Libyan government . . . likely purchased the North Korean material through intermediaries and as a result may not have known of the North Korean involvement.

U.S. officials . . . have said nuclear goods continued to be sent to the North African state as late as last spring, indicating the government of Col. Moammar Gadhafi may not have completely abandoned its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.

An Honest Accounting of the Unknowns,
A Rational Assignment of the Risks

The strength of the evidence matters very much, because sensibly enough, “[t]he United States regards as crossing a red line any transfer of nuclear materials from the North to a third country or terrorist groups.” In other words, we’re prepared to do something fairly drastic if North Korea is in fact selling loose nukes, and that gives some a very powerful interest raising sufficient doubt to keep us paralyzed a while longer, in the hope that perhaps we’ll eventually decide to just live with a status quo ad infinitum.

Which leads us to the predictable reaction of the BUSHLIED! constituency: raising the standards of proof to unsustainable levels, relieving the secretive rogue state of any burdens of transparency or proof, and arguing by extension that the absence of evidence in one case is the evidence of absence in all cases. Most importantly, they realize that they must present us with the false choice of appeasement or nuclear war, and that they must at all costs distract us from other, better choices that are equally disruptive of their plans. The real intent, of course, is to assign the risks such that you, I, and our kids will always bear them, as opposed to the tyrannical leader of the secretive rogue state. And since we’re not dealing with certainties here, let’s be honest about the fact that what we’re really talking about is the assignment of unthinkable risks.

I do, in fact fault President Bush for some of his pre-Iraq arguments, with the benefit of hindsight: we should not pretend that intelligence is an exact science, that its practitioners are always competent, that sources always tell the truth, that we know what all the unknowns are, or that we can ever be sure of what people are hiding from us. Sometimes it’s not as bad as we thought, sometimes it turns out to be a lot worse. Sometimes we get lucky and people are dumb enough to admit things, but for the BUSHLIED! crowd, that won’t suffice either. Nothing will, because they’re just as immune to damning facts as they are to logic. You can’t reason a person out of something he was never reasoned into.

Here’s my question for these commenters, plus Michael Moore, Chung Young-Dong, Glenn Kessler, and Mohammad El-Baradei: Would it be unreasonable to ask North Korea to provide a sample of their uranium, which all of us know damn well does exist? If they refuse to provide one, why should we continue giving them the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt–or of doubts they themselves have created about issues where we can’t afford to have them?

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Libya Uranium Story Update

Are We Certain that North Korea Was the Source?

No one ever said we were, of course, but today, dedicated axis-of-evil skeptic Glenn Kessler, has written a second WaPo piece on the story in as may days, this time raising doubts, via the IAEA (remember them?), about the U.S. conclusion that North Korea was Libya’s supplier:

IAEA tests on the same container — using samples taken at the same time the United States took samples last spring — did not indicate the presence of plutonium, and the United States has not shared the results of its plutonium tests with the international agency. Moreover, the suspect container originated from Pakistan, officials said yesterday. The presence of plutonium indicates that it was in North Korea but there is no way to know the origin of the contents of the cylinder, investigators said.


On that last point, skip down to the next quote (from the same article) and come back. I’ll be right here.

So here is an internal inconsistency that North Korea could easily resolve regain the benefit of our doubts. Note that this is mostly IAEA harrumphing that it hasn’t seen our data, which is probably a smart move on our part, given where its Chairman originates, some of the things that have been going on there lately, and who else they might well be working with. Of course, there’s a big difference between saying you haven’t seen the evidence of Fact X and saying that you have seen the Fact X evidence, but that it doesn’t lead to Conclusion Y. More from the WaPo story:

“In order to come to this conclusion, you need a sample from North Korea and no one has a uranium sample from North Korea,” said one official investigating the network and Libya’s former programs. “The Pakistanis won’t allow any samples of their UF6, either,” said the official, who discussed the investigation on the condition of anonymity.


Excellent question. You’re the IAEA. Why don’t you go get that sample right now? Oh, I almost forgot.

North Korea and Pakistan:
A Distinction Without a Difference

Not that the distinction much matters, because it’s apparent that the North Korean and Pakistani nuke programs were born and matured as conjoined twins. At least some of Pakistan’s own UO6 originally came from North Korea, North Korea and Pakistan cooperated in the design and construction the centrifuges used for enrichment, Pakistan got missile technology in return, North Korea may well have been the source of Pakistan’s unenriched uranium, A.Q. Khan himself visited North Korea to provide technical assistance, and many experts have long suspected that Pakistan and North Korea jointly tested a Bomb made from North Korean plutonium in the Pakistani desert. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera. Ad nauseum.

The picture that emerges is of a unified weapons development network with more-or-less shared facilities for research, development, testing, and production in North Korea, Pakistan, and Malaysia. Next, Kessler tosses out this whopper:

North Korea has natural uranium, but there is no direct evidence that it can convert the material to UF6, a gas state that prepares the uranium for enrichment.

Deceptive at best, but clearly intended to mislead. Of course we don’t have any direct evidence of what North Korea is doing in its underground facilities, but we do have a pretty good idea that they can and have enriched UF6. I mean, just follow the links. But direct evidence? Absolute certainty? Isn’t that asking a lot when we’re talking about the most carefully guarded secrets of the world’s most secretive place, especially considering the consequences of being wrong? As proliferation expert Phillip Saunders explains,

Experts agree that verifying the elimination of uranium enrichment activities is more difficult than verifying the elimination of plutonium production. Plutonium production requires a large infrastructure that includes nuclear reactors and reprocessing facilities; uranium enrichment can be performed in smaller facilities that are much harder to locate and to monitor.


Returning to the WaPo article, Kessler continues:

The IAEA and U.S. intelligence launched investigations into the network and were told by Pakistan that North Korea was the source of the uranium shipment. But Khan’s Malaysian-based partner, B.S. Tahir, told U.S. intelligence Pakistan was the source. Even if North Korea made the uranium gas, some investigators believe it is unlikely that Pyongyang intended to sell it to Libya. They believe North Korea would have sold the material to Pakistan, which then sold it to Libya. Another theory is that North Korea sold raw uranium to Pakistan, which converted it to UF6 and sold it to Libya.


Those theories are plausible enough, but not comforting in the least. A destructive, noxious product sold through Amazon does not become less noxious or destructive because the Amazon gives in and stops selling it. There’s always E-Bay. Note that the New York Times reported just a year ago that North Korean nuclear scientists have been spotted living in Iran, which is probably sheltering senior Al Qaeda operatives (possibly including Sa’ad bin Laden, and under the pretense of “house arrest”). Hezbollah, which had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group until 9/11, is Iran’s wholly-owned subsidiary. Whatever the stream of commerce, the amounts are substantial and sustained enough that North Korea, at the very least, had a completely reckless disregard for the end user of this stuff. Does their specific intent really matter at that point? What matters is what past behavior tells us about the risks. According to this report, the uranium traffic been going on for a long time:

Pakistani investigators told the IAEA that 1.7 tons of UF6 were shipped to Libya in 2001, a year before Kelly presented North Korean officials with proof that North Korea was conducting a uranium program in violation of the 1994 Geneva agreement.


. . . and according to this one, the commerce appears to have been growing so fast that some of the stuff appears to have started falling off the trucks. This, from Kessler’s piece:

Libya put out an order in 2003 for 20 tons of UF6 in the hopes of beginning research and development on uranium enrichment. But it received only 1.6 tons from the Khan network, delivered in the metal cylinder [again, the cylinder was allegedly made in Pakistan], when its program was exposed in 2003.

The WaTimes, meanwhile, adds a few interesting details (print edition only, unf), beginning with some support for the idea that the North Korean uranium came through an intermediary, presumably Pakistan, and that Libya either hasn’t fingered North Korea, or perhaps we’re just not saying:

A State Deparment official said the Libyan government . . . likely purchased the North Korean material through intermediaries and as a result may not have known of the North Korean involvement.

U.S. officials . . . have said nuclear goods continued to be sent to the North African state as late as last spring, indicating the government of Col. Moammar Gadhafi may not have completely abandoned its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.

An Honest Accounting of the Unknowns,
A Rational Assignment of the Risks

The strength of the evidence matters very much, because sensibly enough, “[t]he United States regards as crossing a red line any transfer of nuclear materials from the North to a third country or terrorist groups.” In other words, we’re prepared to do something fairly drastic if North Korea is in fact selling loose nukes, and that gives some a very powerful interest raising sufficient doubt to keep us paralyzed a while longer, in the hope that perhaps we’ll eventually decide to just live with a status quo ad infinitum.

Which leads us to the predictable reaction of the BUSHLIED! constituency: raising the standards of proof to unsustainable levels, relieving the secretive rogue state of any burdens of transparency or proof, and arguing by extension that the absence of evidence in one case is the evidence of absence in all cases. Most importantly, they realize that they must present us with the false choice of appeasement or nuclear war, and that they must at all costs distract us from other, better choices that are equally disruptive of their plans. The real intent, of course, is to assign the risks such that you, I, and our kids will always bear them, as opposed to the tyrannical leader of the secretive rogue state. And since we’re not dealing with certainties here, let’s be honest about the fact that what we’re really talking about is the assignment of unthinkable risks.

I do, in fact fault President Bush for some of his pre-Iraq arguments, with the benefit of hindsight: we should not pretend that intelligence is an exact science, that its practitioners are always competent, that sources always tell the truth, that we know what all the unknowns are, or that we can ever be sure of what people are hiding from us. Sometimes it’s not as bad as we thought, sometimes it turns out to be a lot worse. Sometimes we get lucky and people are dumb enough to admit things, but for the BUSHLIED! crowd, that won’t suffice either. Nothing will, because they’re just as immune to damning facts as they are to logic. You can’t reason a person out of something he was never reasoned into.

Here’s my question for these commenters, plus Michael Moore, Chung Young-Dong, Glenn Kessler, and Mohammad El-Baradei: Would it be unreasonable to ask North Korea to provide a sample of their uranium, which all of us know damn well does exist? If they refuse to provide one, why should we continue giving them the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt–or of doubts they themselves have created about issues where we can’t afford to have them?

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Condi Rice and the Tempting Politics of Race

Since the beginning of the Bush Administration, and particularly since the rise of Condi Rice, I have seen a disturbing trend in the rhetoric of conservatives. Many of them have departed from the important principle–though it may be more aspirational than real–that we should be measured by what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the content of our character” rather than the color of our skin. It is tempting to make Condi Rice’s race a part of the discussion about her because her story is so compelling: a little girl of latent promise rises from the most segregated city in America, overcomes a terrorist bombing that killed one of her playmates, and eventually becomes the third most powerful human being on earth–one who is charged with a key role in protecting her entire nation from terrorism. We love what we hope it says about us. I love what I hope it says, too, even as I recognize that there is still much prejudice here and probably always will be.

It’s also tempting to talk about Dr. Rice’s race because many Democrats have argued that race and gender should be factored into a a candidate’s qualifications. This has been true of the debate about affirmative action, and in the specifics of some Democratic nominations, such as the embarrassment of Bill Clinton nominating three white women in a row to be Attorney General, each leaping bravely from the trench after the last was knocked dead by an undocumented nanny. Thus rose the physically gigantic but mentally mediocre Janet Reno. That makes it especially disingenuous for conservatives to say (and correctly, I believe) that race should not be a consideration in hiring and enrollment, but that race should somehow create a boundary of protection around legitimate questions about performance and qualifications. This is the temptation of principle by politics. In this case, it is what conservatives often call “the soft prejudice of low expectations.”

Scott Johnson of the excellent Powerline blog tells Condi Rice’s story beautifully in this piece at the Weekly Standard. Then, he transitions from his insightful and moving discussion of Dr. Rice’s personal story to this passage about her confirmation hearings:

The bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church had been the handiwork of former members of the Ku Klux Klan–brothers under the hood to former Ku Klux Klan Grand Kleagle and current Democratic United States Senator Robert Byrd. Byrd of course opposed Rice’s confirmation as Secretary of State last week. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Byrd and 11 other Democratic senators in opposing Rice’s confirmation was Democratic senator Mark Dayton who is, oddly enough, the occupant of Hubert Humphrey’s seat in the Senate. History takes strange turns and politics makes strange bedfellows.

First, a word about Robert Byrd. He is a senile, addlebrained gasbag whose vile racism should be pounded like so many ten-penny nails into his half-penny head until it rattles no more. If you believe that the bigotry of his early adulthood safely receded like a bad dream just as he decided to run for national elective office, you probably also believe that Michael Jackson sleeps with boys because he’s really a child at heart. Senator Byrd’s knowledge of war and statecraft is about as good as my toddler’s command of transmission repair. His questioning is undiluted demagoguery. No, I can’t say for certain that he has ulterior motives in Dr. Rice’s case, because I can’t get past the question of what an ex-Grand Kleagle who still uses the n-word is doing in the Senate. Take what’s left of him, sweep it him into the dustpan, and bag him up for next Tuesday.

That said, I thought the attack on Mark Dayton and the others who voted against Dr. Rice was over the line. Which of them carries the baggage that Robert Byrd carries, thereby deserving this comparison, even as “strange bedfellows,” or heirs, “oddly enough,” of Hubert Humphrey’s chair? Are war and peace not proper topics for debate, even if they are done in a manner that sometimes smacks of grandstanding for the cameras? Are these not legitimate reasons for a national security advisor who (quite correctly and honestly, in my opinion) recommended war based on information that turned out to be less than fully correct? How exactly is asking these questions tantamount to blocking her at the schoolhouse door? Because Condi Rice is black?

I will passionately reassert until my dying day that it was just a matter of time before Saddam made and used a nuke or a germ in anger, and that the debate over whether he was ready to do it next week, the week after, or from the safety of the next Howard Dean presidency is mostly silly (the question of whether our intel agencies are competent is another matter). My point here is that this is a tough world, people are trying to kill us, betray us, use us, or rip us off, depending on the day, and if someone wants to be our top diplomat, her qualifications should be an open book. This job will not be easy. It will require long-term thinking, intricate planning, thirty-one flavors of tact, enough determination to withstand withering fire, and a balance between courage and caution that is enormously difficult to calibrate. Anyone who wants that job must first answer the bridge-keeper’s questions, which should be good, hard, fearless questions, or none shall pass. That won’t happen if someone pulls the pin and tosses out the paralyzing, radioactive debate-stopper of race every time a someone who is not (a) white and (b) male is nominated to high office; indeed, artificial shields and lowered expectations only harm the idea that a black person might be just as qualified as a white person. For Dayton, Boxer, Kerry, et al.–in short, everyone but Byrd, who doesn’t get the benefit of any doubts with me–this is called “advise and consent,” and it’s fair game. Take it from no less a source than this:

In the economy of God there is but one standard by which an individual can succeed–there is but one for a race. This country demands that every race shall
measure itself by the American standard. By it a race must rise or fall, succeed or fail, and in the last analysis mere sentiment counts for little. During the next half-century and more, my race must continue passing through the severe American crucible. We are to be tested in our patience, our forbearance, our perseverance, our power to endure wrong, to withstand temptations, to economize, to acquire and use skill; in our ability to compete, to succeed in commerce, to disregard the superficial for the real, the appearance for the substance, to be great and yet small, learned and yet simple, high and yet the servant of all.

Recognize the words yet? They have been out of fashion lately.

Continue Reading

Condi Rice and the Tempting Politics of Race

Since the beginning of the Bush Administration, and particularly since the rise of Condi Rice, I have seen a disturbing trend in the rhetoric of conservatives. Many of them have departed from the important principle–though it may be more aspirational than real–that we should be measured by what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the content of our character” rather than the color of our skin. It is tempting to make Condi Rice’s race a part of the discussion about her because her story is so compelling: a little girl of latent promise rises from the most segregated city in America, overcomes a terrorist bombing that killed one of her playmates, and eventually becomes the third most powerful human being on earth–one who is charged with a key role in protecting her entire nation from terrorism. We love what we hope it says about us. I love what I hope it says, too, even as I recognize that there is still much prejudice here and probably always will be.

It’s also tempting to talk about Dr. Rice’s race because many Democrats have argued that race and gender should be factored into a a candidate’s qualifications. This has been true of the debate about affirmative action, and in the specifics of some Democratic nominations, such as the embarrassment of Bill Clinton nominating three white women in a row to be Attorney General, each leaping bravely from the trench after the last was knocked dead by an undocumented nanny. Thus rose the physically gigantic but mentally mediocre Janet Reno. That makes it especially disingenuous for conservatives to say (and correctly, I believe) that race should not be a consideration in hiring and enrollment, but that race should somehow create a boundary of protection around legitimate questions about performance and qualifications. This is the temptation of principle by politics. In this case, it is what conservatives often call “the soft prejudice of low expectations.”

Scott Johnson of the excellent Powerline blog tells Condi Rice’s story beautifully in this piece at the Weekly Standard. Then, he transitions from his insightful and moving discussion of Dr. Rice’s personal story to this passage about her confirmation hearings:

The bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church had been the handiwork of former members of the Ku Klux Klan–brothers under the hood to former Ku Klux Klan Grand Kleagle and current Democratic United States Senator Robert Byrd. Byrd of course opposed Rice’s confirmation as Secretary of State last week. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Byrd and 11 other Democratic senators in opposing Rice’s confirmation was Democratic senator Mark Dayton who is, oddly enough, the occupant of Hubert Humphrey’s seat in the Senate. History takes strange turns and politics makes strange bedfellows.

First, a word about Robert Byrd. He is a senile, addlebrained gasbag whose vile racism should be pounded like so many ten-penny nails into his half-penny head until it rattles no more. If you believe that the bigotry of his early adulthood safely receded like a bad dream just as he decided to run for national elective office, you probably also believe that Michael Jackson sleeps with boys because he’s really a child at heart. Senator Byrd’s knowledge of war and statecraft is about as good as my toddler’s command of transmission repair. His questioning is undiluted demagoguery. No, I can’t say for certain that he has ulterior motives in Dr. Rice’s case, because I can’t get past the question of what an ex-Grand Kleagle who still uses the n-word is doing in the Senate. Take what’s left of him, sweep it him into the dustpan, and bag him up for next Tuesday.

That said, I thought the attack on Mark Dayton and the others who voted against Dr. Rice was over the line. Which of them carries the baggage that Robert Byrd carries, thereby deserving this comparison, even as “strange bedfellows,” or heirs, “oddly enough,” of Hubert Humphrey’s chair? Are war and peace not proper topics for debate, even if they are done in a manner that sometimes smacks of grandstanding for the cameras? Are these not legitimate reasons for a national security advisor who (quite correctly and honestly, in my opinion) recommended war based on information that turned out to be less than fully correct? How exactly is asking these questions tantamount to blocking her at the schoolhouse door? Because Condi Rice is black?

I will passionately reassert until my dying day that it was just a matter of time before Saddam made and used a nuke or a germ in anger, and that the debate over whether he was ready to do it next week, the week after, or from the safety of the next Howard Dean presidency is mostly silly (the question of whether our intel agencies are competent is another matter). My point here is that this is a tough world, people are trying to kill us, betray us, use us, or rip us off, depending on the day, and if someone wants to be our top diplomat, her qualifications should be an open book. This job will not be easy. It will require long-term thinking, intricate planning, thirty-one flavors of tact, enough determination to withstand withering fire, and a balance between courage and caution that is enormously difficult to calibrate. Anyone who wants that job must first answer the bridge-keeper’s questions, which should be good, hard, fearless questions, or none shall pass. That won’t happen if someone pulls the pin and tosses out the paralyzing, radioactive debate-stopper of race every time a someone who is not (a) white and (b) male is nominated to high office; indeed, artificial shields and lowered expectations only harm the idea that a black person might be just as qualified as a white person. For Dayton, Boxer, Kerry, et al.–in short, everyone but Byrd, who doesn’t get the benefit of any doubts with me–this is called “advise and consent,” and it’s fair game. Take it from no less a source than this:

In the economy of God there is but one standard by which an individual can succeed–there is but one for a race. This country demands that every race shall
measure itself by the American standard. By it a race must rise or fall, succeed or fail, and in the last analysis mere sentiment counts for little. During the next half-century and more, my race must continue passing through the severe American crucible. We are to be tested in our patience, our forbearance, our perseverance, our power to endure wrong, to withstand temptations, to economize, to acquire and use skill; in our ability to compete, to succeed in commerce, to disregard the superficial for the real, the appearance for the substance, to be great and yet small, learned and yet simple, high and yet the servant of all.

Recognize the words yet? They have been out of fashion lately.

Continue Reading

My Post-Mortem on the Graner Verdict

I’m veering off-topic briefly to talk about an old love that will not die, court-martial practice. In this case, it was superbly performed by Major Michael Holley, who prosecuted Specialist Graner of Abu Ghraib fame. As I’ve previously mentioned in this blog, I was Major Holley’s supervisor when both of us were on active duty, back when he was still Captain Holley. Most of my supervision, incidentally, consisted of me telling him to keep doing what he was already doing, and occasionally, of helping him get travel orders. The Army showed that it was very serious about the Abu Ghraib cases by assigning Mike to prosecute them. I say this because he’s unquestionably the finest courtroom attorney among the many dozens I observed in my five years of court-martial practice (which is about as much as the Army lets you get, unf) and that’s obviously not just my opinion. Mike has the rare ability to be erudite yet modest, prepared yet never cocky, solemn yet never sanctimonious, humorous but always respectful. That said, I have no inside knowledge from Mike, which is how it should to be.

Here are some generalized observations, not necessarily in any order. In a few cases, I have cited the Army’s official jury instructions and trial procedure from Department of the Army Pamphlet 27-9, the Military Judges’ Benchbook. It’s a big pdf beast, so if you intend to follow this bouncing ball, the best I can do is to give you the page number that appears in your pdf window, in the lower left corner:

1. Result: Military panels are human beings who return unpredictable results. Lawyers can give great performances and obtain bad results, and vice versa. No person who did not hear the evidence can know what result was appropriate. Still, the conviction and sentence were strong, Andrew Sullivan’s hyperbolic criticism notwithstanding. The panel convicted him of every charge, save one conviction on a lesser included offense. The max sentence was 17 1/2 years; Graner got ten. Max sentences, by the way, almost never happen if there’s any evidence of good duty performance, which there usually is. Graner will miss the remainder of his youth in prison, and that’s no small punishment for a man who was not convicted of killing anyone.

2. Sentencing in the Military. The accused has the option of being tried and sentenced by a judge alone, by a panel of officers, or (except for officers) by a mixed panel of officers and enlisted, as in this case. Military panels need not reach unanimous verdicts except to agree on a death sentence. It normally requires a 2/3 vote by a panel to convict on a charge or agree on a sentence, but to agree on a sentence in excess of ten years, it requires a vote of 3/4 or more. Page 23. For a ten-member panel (as in this case, although the number varies from case to case according to member detailing and counsel challenges), that means just three members could have capped the sentence at ten. Pages 42, 103.

3. Punishing Graner for Embarrassing America. Sullivan and some others may be motivated by the publicity factor here. In a case like this, a panel has a fine line to walk. The judge will instruct the members to make their own decisions, based solely on the evidence properly before them, and free of any “command influence” by superior officers or civilian officials. Those issues are inevitably the subject of motions and detailed question by the defense counsel, and indeed those became issues in this case. If there is any hint that a member will consider it, he’s probably going to be excused from the panel. In my own experience as a committed defense hack, panel members tend to follow these instructions–in fact, all their panel instructions–very strictly, although counsel cannot know how the members deliberated or voted, which means that there’s admittedly some guesswork in my conclusion here. Panel members may consider the effect of a crime on morale, good order, and discipline in aggravation, but in their rulings and instructions, judges (in this case, Colonel Pohl, an experienced trial judge) err on the side of caution, particularly when it comes to the (highly improper) consideration of bad media coverage (courts-martial are open to the public and the media, although few judges permit cameras or recording devices and summarily administer sucking chest wounds if a cell phone goes off). The key issue is whether the publicity prejudiced the accused’s right to a fair trial (for an excellent discussion of these issues, see this case, which originated in the trainee rape cases at Aberdeen Proving Ground several years ago). The panel probably discounted most of the publicity here, and rightly so.

4. Close that door and lock it. One of the defense witnesses was asked by the defense counsel about Graner’s obedience to orders. Ouch. That flung open the door for Major Holley to ask about Graner’s tendency to disobey orders. So much for the Nuremberg defense, which is no defense in this case (Page 818) because any order to abuse a prisoner was patently unlawful. Why argue it? The defense counsel has wide latitude to present a defense, and panels never have to explain their verdicts. Lawyers call that asking the panel or jury to “nullify” the law, but panels only do that in the most sympathetic cases, which this wasn’t. I don’t have the transcript, but asking about Graner’s tendency to obey orders may have been a tactical error by the defense (and I’ve made my share of those, too). In this case, Major Holley must have done his homework by carefully interviewing the defense witnesses before their testimony.

5. It strikes me as odd that Graner was the first to be tried. The typical tactic is to try a small fish first–one who knows where the bodies are buried. The small fish then makes a deal for a sentence cap and immunity from the use of his testimony against him. The lawyers for those small fish might be worried about that by now.

6. Graner didn’t testify. That’s his absolute right. P. 92. The members would have been instructed not to consider it, unless the Defense Counsel asked the judge not to give the instruction. I also believe that panels generally follow that one. I’ve had my share of clients not testify and still get acquitted of the major charges, despite plenty of evidence of guilt that didn’t quite reach “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Most panels won’t hold it against an accused that he didn’t testify, and that, too, is how it should be, since it’s no use exercising a right if doing so only guarantees your conviction.

Continue Reading

My Post-Mortem on the Graner Verdict

I’m veering off-topic briefly to talk about an old love that will not die, court-martial practice. In this case, it was superbly performed by Major Michael Holley, who prosecuted Specialist Graner of Abu Ghraib fame. As I’ve previously mentioned in this blog, I was Major Holley’s supervisor when both of us were on active duty, back when he was still Captain Holley. Most of my supervision, incidentally, consisted of me telling him to keep doing what he was already doing, and occasionally, of helping him get travel orders. The Army showed that it was very serious about the Abu Ghraib cases by assigning Mike to prosecute them. I say this because he’s unquestionably the finest courtroom attorney among the many dozens I observed in my five years of court-martial practice (which is about as much as the Army lets you get, unf) and that’s obviously not just my opinion. Mike has the rare ability to be erudite yet modest, prepared yet never cocky, solemn yet never sanctimonious, humorous but always respectful. That said, I have no inside knowledge from Mike, which is how it should to be.

Here are some generalized observations, not necessarily in any order. In a few cases, I have cited the Army’s official jury instructions and trial procedure from Department of the Army Pamphlet 27-9, the Military Judges’ Benchbook. It’s a big pdf beast, so if you intend to follow this bouncing ball, the best I can do is to give you the page number that appears in your pdf window, in the lower left corner:

1. Result: Military panels are human beings who return unpredictable results. Lawyers can give great performances and obtain bad results, and vice versa. No person who did not hear the evidence can know what result was appropriate. Still, the conviction and sentence were strong, Andrew Sullivan’s hyperbolic criticism notwithstanding. The panel convicted him of every charge, save one conviction on a lesser included offense. The max sentence was 17 1/2 years; Graner got ten. Max sentences, by the way, almost never happen if there’s any evidence of good duty performance, which there usually is. Graner will miss the remainder of his youth in prison, and that’s no small punishment for a man who was not convicted of killing anyone.

2. Sentencing in the Military. The accused has the option of being tried and sentenced by a judge alone, by a panel of officers, or (except for officers) by a mixed panel of officers and enlisted, as in this case. Military panels need not reach unanimous verdicts except to agree on a death sentence. It normally requires a 2/3 vote by a panel to convict on a charge or agree on a sentence, but to agree on a sentence in excess of ten years, it requires a vote of 3/4 or more. Page 23. For a ten-member panel (as in this case, although the number varies from case to case according to member detailing and counsel challenges), that means just three members could have capped the sentence at ten. Pages 42, 103.

3. Punishing Graner for Embarrassing America. Sullivan and some others may be motivated by the publicity factor here. In a case like this, a panel has a fine line to walk. The judge will instruct the members to make their own decisions, based solely on the evidence properly before them, and free of any “command influence” by superior officers or civilian officials. Those issues are inevitably the subject of motions and detailed question by the defense counsel, and indeed those became issues in this case. If there is any hint that a member will consider it, he’s probably going to be excused from the panel. In my own experience as a committed defense hack, panel members tend to follow these instructions–in fact, all their panel instructions–very strictly, although counsel cannot know how the members deliberated or voted, which means that there’s admittedly some guesswork in my conclusion here. Panel members may consider the effect of a crime on morale, good order, and discipline in aggravation, but in their rulings and instructions, judges (in this case, Colonel Pohl, an experienced trial judge) err on the side of caution, particularly when it comes to the (highly improper) consideration of bad media coverage (courts-martial are open to the public and the media, although few judges permit cameras or recording devices and summarily administer sucking chest wounds if a cell phone goes off). The key issue is whether the publicity prejudiced the accused’s right to a fair trial (for an excellent discussion of these issues, see this case, which originated in the trainee rape cases at Aberdeen Proving Ground several years ago). The panel probably discounted most of the publicity here, and rightly so.

4. Close that door and lock it. One of the defense witnesses was asked by the defense counsel about Graner’s obedience to orders. Ouch. That flung open the door for Major Holley to ask about Graner’s tendency to disobey orders. So much for the Nuremberg defense, which is no defense in this case (Page 818) because any order to abuse a prisoner was patently unlawful. Why argue it? The defense counsel has wide latitude to present a defense, and panels never have to explain their verdicts. Lawyers call that asking the panel or jury to “nullify” the law, but panels only do that in the most sympathetic cases, which this wasn’t. I don’t have the transcript, but asking about Graner’s tendency to obey orders may have been a tactical error by the defense (and I’ve made my share of those, too). In this case, Major Holley must have done his homework by carefully interviewing the defense witnesses before their testimony.

5. It strikes me as odd that Graner was the first to be tried. The typical tactic is to try a small fish first–one who knows where the bodies are buried. The small fish then makes a deal for a sentence cap and immunity from the use of his testimony against him. The lawyers for those small fish might be worried about that by now.

6. Graner didn’t testify. That’s his absolute right. P. 92. The members would have been instructed not to consider it, unless the Defense Counsel asked the judge not to give the instruction. I also believe that panels generally follow that one. I’ve had my share of clients not testify and still get acquitted of the major charges, despite plenty of evidence of guilt that didn’t quite reach “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Most panels won’t hold it against an accused that he didn’t testify, and that, too, is how it should be, since it’s no use exercising a right if doing so only guarantees your conviction.

Continue Reading

The Alternative Reality of Christine Ahn

Dave at No Illusions wants to know more about Christine Ahn, the North Korean apologist (and American, as it turns out) whose views OhMyNews found worthy of the extensive interview I linked and fisked below. Even a cursory exploration of Christine Ahn’s views immediately raises questions about the honesty of OhMyNews’s coverage of her, given its failure to disclose that she is an active member in a pro-Pyongyang organization based in Oakland, California.

Who Is Christine Ahn?

North Korea is only the lastest far-left cause for Christine Ahn, and although she certainly appears opposed to just about all U.S. foreign and military policy, most of her issues have been economic: her belief that corporations exploit workers, her opposition to free trade, and advocating government redistribution of food. She takes strong exception to the idea that “corporations/business can do things better than government” and considers the very idea of a “free market” to be “far from reality.” She co-authored a book that even criticized corporations for their charitable giving, advocating the establishment of food-growing collectives instead. She recently published a book on how “globalism” has “shafted” workers. In it, she argues that workers worldwide are at the losing end of a class war waged on them by corporations. Dennis Kucinich wrote the foreward. Ms. Ahn believes that “it is the government’s responsibility to assure the human right to food for all in the United States.” (emphasis mine)

Here is the key to how Ms. Ahn frames her discussions of human rights–she redefines them in terms of wealth redistribution, not in terms of the fundamental human rights most of us would list, such as the right to vote, freedom of speech and religion, a free press, freedom of movement and travel, freedom from arbitary arrest and imprisonment, and the right to a fair trial. Another example:

With this ruling, many of our nation’s farmers, factory workers, office and house cleaners, trash collectors and restaurant and service workers have lost a basic human right. They do the work undesired by most, their jobs lack benefits, child care or a living wage, but if they dare fight for humane working conditions, they can be fired without just cause and back pay. (emphasis mine)

At least, that’s how she usually defines human rights. As we will see, Ms. Ahn freely departs from consistency in her positions on human rights, economic equality, and free trade when she sees an opportunity to attack the United States or a parry a potential criticism against North Korea. Since she adopted North Korea as one of her primary causes, Ms. Ahn has not been above making base appeals to ethnicity and nationalism, either. This NKZone comment virually accuses LiNK members of race treason:

Korean-Americans and South Koreans have come out vocally and forcefully against the NKFA and the NKHRA. And it’s so sad that the Korean-Americans who support these poorly written bills, in particular young college students, are being co-opted by a coalition of right-wing conservative evangelical Christians. But that won’t be for long. Dramatic and energizing changes in South Korea, largely due to the opening of free speech, have unleashed han that is radically altering South Koreans’ understanding of the Korean War and the role of US occupation on the Korean peninsula.

Lest anyone misunderstand, I’ve literally offered up my life to defend Ms. Ahn’s right to free speech–even speech of this low caliber–and would do so again. But freedom of speech should not be mistaken for freedom from critcism, and this is not to be mistaken with patriotic dissent. It’s a poisonous cocktail of race-mongering, Bible-baiting, and America-hating libel. Incidentally, the Essence Korean-English Dictionary defines “han” as “a grudge, resentment, a bitter feeling, spite, hatred, rancor, discontent, regret, unsatisfied desire.” That’s what Ms. Ahn openly wishes on a country that has freely permitted her to attain a good education, a presumably decent living, and a life spent in the pursuit of radical leisure.

What OhMyNews Didn’t Tell You
About Christine Ahn

What OhMyNews said about Christine Ahn is perhaps less significant than what any objective journalist should have told us about her. In the case of Ms. Ahn, what Ms. Jang didn’t bother to tell us is that Christine Ahn is a very active member of the Korea Solidarity Committee, a pro-Pyongyang group based in Oakland, California (the KSC is part of a broader coalition called the Korea Peace Action Coalition, which appears to share indistinguishable views). All of this information is easily found on the Internet. It tells us that there is nothing mainstream about Christine Ahn or the KSC.

The author of the OhMyNews article on Ms. Ahn, Jang Yun Seon, has a history of publishing softball interviews of far-left figures that portray them as mainstream or influential. In this one, entitled “U.S. Imperialism One Big Vicious Circle,” she interviewed an obscure left-wing figure named John Cobb, dubiously calling him “influential.” In a recent interview with a former Unification Minister, Ms. Jang wrote a section heading that summarized his position this way, apparently without intentional irony: “North Korea’s closing the door is a necessary measure in opening and reform.” War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is bliss, and the dreamy ends justify the hellish means.

OMN also fails to mention the long-standing connections between the KSC and OMN columnist Cheong Woon-Sik, most recently infamous for this logical masterpiece: Two Koreas Ensnared in U.S. Nuclear Trap. Cheong’s thesis is that both Koreas’ violations of their nonproliferation obligations–and their subsequent outings–are the fault of (all together now . . ) America.

To their credit, both Ms. Ahn and Mr. Cheong both admit that North Korea is repressive. Here ends the discussion, abruptly, and with the word “but.” The KSC saves its real energy for the United States, which it simultaneously accuses of trying to provoke a war with North Korea and preserving a state of eternal tension so that President Bush and his cronies in the military-industrial complex can sell more arms to the South Koreans.

The Korea Solidarity Committee Uncritically
Supports Pyongyang’s Views and

Reflexively Opposes U.S. Views

In a recent “solidarity” letter to a Korean farmers’ anti-free trade group, the KSC described its views this way:

As Korean Americans committed to working for justice, peace and human rights as part of a global movement for social change, we at KSC are truly inspired by your work. We draw strength from the Korean farmers’ movement that refuse neoliberal trade policies; the anti-war and anti-imperialism activists that demand sovereignty and peaceful reunification of North and South Korea; and the labor movement that stands up for the rights of all workers. THANK YOU for your important work, and we are proud to support you in this struggle.

In solidarity,

Korea Solidarity Committee (KSC)
Oakland, California
USA

If you’re seeking to tell the world where you stand ideologically, you could do worse than belting out words like “imperialism,” “struggle,” and “solidarity.” Elsewhere on its Web page, the KSC declares its “desire to debunk the racist portrayals of North Korea, and to present a more critical perspective on the continuing North Korean nuclear crisis.” Before the election, the KSC claimed that “there is no difference” between President Bush and Senator Kerry on the issue of North Korea; it did not support either candidate. It opposes the South Korean military presence in Iraq through “popular resistance,” participates in anti-Iraq war protests with A.N.S.W.E.R., and opposes a U.S. military presence pretty much everywhere else–even in Haiti. Noam Chomsky features prominently on its reading list. It strongly opposed the North Korea Human Rights Act, calling it “U.S. aggression,” and reminded us again of its alternative definition of “human rights:”

Human rights are a legitimate international concern – but they cannot be systematically addressed until movement is made towards ensuring peace and security on the Korean peninsula. If passed, this bill will severely jeopardize this movement.
. . . .
While purporting to promote human rights for North Koreans, this bill actually stands in the way of meeting the most basic human rights, such as the right to food, by politicizing humanitarian and other aid.

As we will see later, not even this dramatic redefinition of “human rights” permits a consistent defense of North Korea, and Ms. Ahn repeatedly makes demonstrably false statements and half-truths in her tortured effort to do so.

Ms. Ahn’s KSC affiliation and pro-Pyongyang views may also explain why she was able to get a North Korean visa, while Rebecca McKinnon wasn’t. Even Lonely Planet says that Americans who wish to visit North Korea “can pretty much forget about it,” although you can always get in with the help of Alejandro Cao de Benos, the official Webmaster of North Korea and the president of the “Korean Friendship Association,” an organization so avowedly pro-Kim Jong Il that its members write poems and learn songs in tribute to him.


The KSC’s Views on Mass Starvation

in North Korea

This photograph, from KSC’s Web site, is a fair representative of the KSC’s view–that U.S. sanctions are to blame for the deaths of North Korean kids. North Korea isn’t even burdened with the easy, morally neutral blame (some would say excuse) for “mismanagement.” Christine Ahn agrees:

[M]ost experts agree that geopolitical and ecological events led to a one-two punch that resulted in the North Korean famine in the 1990s. The first major blow to North Korean food production was the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the socialist trading bloc, which eliminated North Korea’s major trading partners. The end of subsidized oil from the former Soviet Union and China literally halted the tractors of North Korean farmers. The second blow-major droughts and floods that were the worst of the century-destroyed much of the harvest and forced Pyongyang to seek Western and Japanese aid.

The persistence of famine, however, is due to economic sanctions led by the U.S. and its refusal to end the 50-year Korean War. What is scarcely known about North Korea is that up until the 1980s, North Korea’s agricultural and economic growth far outpaced South Korea.

Blaming U.S. trade sanctions is an odd position for Ms. Ahn to take, given her strenous opposition to free trade generally. Here’s more of Christine Ahn on the famine and the NKHRA:

The NKHRA is based on the assumption that the famine in North Korea was a result of Chief of State Kim Jong Il ´s mismanagement of the country. However, most experts agree that the main cause of famine was a series of catastrophic events beyond North Korea ´s control. The first was the collapse of the Soviet Union, which brought an end to the shipments of oil needed to run tractors and other agricultural machinery. The second cause was the historic droughts and floods that destroyed 300,000 hectares of agricultural land and devastated 1.9 million tons of grain.

At least she didn’t call him “Dear Leader.” Contary to Ms. Ahn’s assertions, however, most experts do not agree that “geopolitical and ecological events” alone caused the North Korean famine. The World Food Program a U.N. agency that reliably softens any criticism of governments, lists a series of causes for food shortages, which include natural disasters (all of which presumably also struck South Korea), as well as “deforestation and consequent silting of rivers, economic downturn, lack of agricultural inputs such as fertilisers, limited capacity to access international capital markets and import food,” and “a new economic adjustment policy [leading] to increased wages and higher prices on staple foods, accommodation and utilities.”

KSC on the Distribution of Food Aid
in North Korea

Ms. Ahn sees no particular reason for concern that food is reaching the hungry; she supports giving food aid directly to the regime, with no strings attached:

The monitoring of humanitarian aid, strangely, seems less of an issue to the relief agencies providing the aid. In 2003, James Morris, Executive Director of the World Food Program (WFP), testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: ‘It would be wrong for me to depict the regime in Pyongyang as totally uncooperative,’ he said, noting that the WFP staff have access to 85 percent of the population and that they ‘believe that most food is getting through to the women and children who need it.’

Not totally uncooperative, you say? It’s hardly glowing praise, but do go on:

A recent study by UNICEF showed that food aid is reaching the most vulnerable North Koreans. From 1998 to 2002, the number of underweight children dropped by two-thirds, acute malnutrition was almost cut in half, and chronic malnutrition dropped by one-third. Caritas International, the largest private humanitarian network in North Korea, is confident that food aid is reaching the most needy.

Medicins Sans Frontieres does not agree:

Even population groups such as children, pregnant women, and the elderly, who are specifically targeted for assistance by the United Nations World Food Program, are being denied food aid.

MSF pulled out of North Korea in 1998 because the North Korean government restricted its operations and prevented its workers from monitoring food distribution, adding that “violations of humanitarian principles have made conditions impossible for international aid organisations.” At the time, MSF also claimed that the regime was discriminating against certain classes in its distribution of food:

North Korean refugees across the Chinese border spoke of widespread famine, and reported that the authorities had distributed international aid according to social position and party loyalty.

Amnesty International also recently issued a paper, entitled “Starved of Rights,” that reports that North Korean continues to use food as a weapon against members of lower political classes.

As millions starved, there were reports that food aid was diverted to the military and the black market. The World Food Program also complained, at the very height of the famine, that the North Korean government was preventing to from monitoring the distribution of food aid.

This suggests more than irresponsibility or incompetence in the distribution of aid. It suggests the use of food as a weapon of mass murder against members of North Korea’s disfavored political classes, a class system that David Hawk, author of a detailed report on the North Korean gulag system (and opponent of the NKHRA) calls “political apartheid.”

Here, I will state one small point of agreement with Ms. Ahn. I do agree that feeding the people should be everyone’s first priority. I merely disagree that the North Korean government is likely to distribute the food to the hungry, which means that I’m prepared to go to some admittedly extreme lengths to feed them. Any effective program to aid the people of North Korea must begin with the assumption that the hungry won’t see food that isn’t given directly to them, away from the watchful eyes of the state.

Christine Ahn on the North Korean Health System

Not surprisingly, she offers unqualified praise:

The World Health Organization and other United Nations agencies have praised their delivery of basic health services, noting that North Korean children were far better vaccinated than American children, and that life expectancy rates in North Korea surpassed that of South Korea.

It turns out, however, that the WHO’s latest report is more than two years old and was prepared in collaboration with the North Korean government, casting considerable doubt on the reliability of its statistics. She even fails to cite the WHO’s own statistics accurately; for example, South Korea actually has a life expectancy that’s a full decade longer than North Korea. The latest WHO statistics don’t actually address North Korea’s child innoculation rates, but they indicate that North Korea’s child mortality rates are approximately seven times higher than in the United States. Medicins Sans Frontieres’s assessment of North Korea’s health situation is particularly bleak:

The public health system of North Korea is in disrepair: regular vaccinations stopped in 1994, leaving a whole generation susceptible to preventable diseases; there is a shortage of antibiotics and other medical materials; health centres lack proper heating, electricity, fuel and food; water quality is poor; disinfectants are in short supply.

In one especially disturbing incident, aid workers were actually prevented from treating 600 sick children of “mysterious” background. North Korea today is literally crawling with dying children, many of them sick, starving, amputees, or alcoholics. You can see video of them starving and dying while North Korean soldiers ignore them or eat here.

Christine Ahn’s Praise
for North Korea’s
Juche System

Ms. Ahn either can’t or doesn’t choose to hide her admiration for the North Korean system. With that admiration comes the implicit conclusion that she is untroubled by that system’s repression. Her silence about the repression bolsters that conclusion. To Ms. Ahn, North Korea’s problems are all the result of America’s “stranglehold” on North Korea:

After North Korea signed the armistice, the North Korean people set out to rebuild their devastated nation according to the juche philosophy that promoted self-reliance and national independence. This inspired two New York Times writers in 1972 to note with astonishment that this country, the size of Mississippi, had developed a “well organized and highly industrialized socialist economy, largely self-sufficient, with a disciplined and productive work force.”

Despite their efforts to remain food sovereign, and because of events beyond their control, North Korea could not sustain the stranglehold of the United States. For five decades, the U.S. has pursued military and economic policies that have held 22 million North Koreans hostage and threatened them with nuclear annihilation. These same mad politics are driving the insane military budgets of both nations, diverting vital government resources that would improve the welfare of its people.

Economic policies–such as sparing North Korea the economic slavery of free trade, something Ms. Ahn bitterly condemns in other contexts? Ms. Ahn even wrote this bit of praise for North Korea’s agricultural system. In the process, she minimizes the mass starvation that has reportedly killed two million people and is starving and permanently stunting millions more:

On a recent trip to North Korea, I expected to find a depressed society completely devoid of foreigners, but this was not the case. I met many conservation agriculturalists from around the world who were working with the government to move their food production to a more sustainable, less energy-intensive model.

To be fair, Ms. Ahn admitted in her OMN interview that she saw hungry children outside her hotel when she visited Pyongyang (a view not entirely consistent with her depiction of North Korea as a very normal place here and here). Whichever view Ms. Ahn espouses today, it’s rather frightening that an obviously intelligent, literate, and articulate person could hold up the world’s hungriest, most dysfunctional nation as a model for “sustainable, less energy-intensive” agriculture.

KSC Ignores Inequality
in North Korea

Christine Ahn’s passion for reducing the gap between rich and poor does not apply to North Korea, where that gap is probably among the highest of any nation on earth. The photograph at left is of a Pyongyang bowling alley, apparently of recent manufacture and some considerable expense. The Korean Friendship Association regularly leads foreign tour group, perhaps even including Ms. Ahn herself, through this facility. If the recent report by Russian diplomat Konstantin Pulikovsky bears any truth, this luxury is just a small taste of the resources the North Korean elite spends on itself while ordinary people starve:

In 1998, a Mercedes-Benz representative was taken aback when Kim ordered 200 Class S Mercedeses at $100,000 apiece; the $20 million price tag was one fifth of the aid promised to North Korea that year by the United Nations. An avid womanizer, Kim has been married at least four times, once to a dancer, and is said to favor leggy Scandinavian blondes. As a young man, he created “pleasure teams” to service him and his father. One defector described a party at which women band members gyrated in tank tops and microminis while the guests cheered them on with toasts of a fiery rice liquor called Eternal Youth. A visitor to Kim’s seven-story pleasure palace in Pyongyang (complete with karaoke machine) watched him riding about his pool on a raft propelled by an automatic wave maker, as a female doctor and a pretty nurse swam alongside.

On the train journey across Russia in 2001, Kim dined on lobster–with silver chopsticks–and fine wines flown in from Paris. “He prefers Bordeaux and Burgundy,” reported Pulikovsky in his published account of the trip, which caused a minor diplomatic flap for its indiscretions. Kim has actually cut back on his drinking to about a half bottle of red wine a night. For many years the then Dear Leader favored Hennes-sy VSOP cognac, but in 1992 he switched to Hennessy Paradis, at $630 a bottle. In 1994 Hennessy confirmed that Kim was its single biggest buyer of cognac for two years running. When, at the pleading of his doctors, Kim quit smoking (three packs of Dunhills a day), every senior officer in the North Korean Army was required to quit smoking with him.

In his private railway car, meals sometimes ran to 20 courses. Kim the gourmand is also fond of the American teenage staple, pizza. In 1999 he imported pizza ovens and two Milanese chefs to teach the North Koreans how to make pizza. One of the chefs, Ermanno Furlanis, later reported (in an article entitled “I Made Pizza for Kim Jong Il”) that he endured a “brainwashing session” to learn to eliminate capers and anchovies after the Pyongyang higher-ups deemed one of the lamb dishes to be too salty.

If you sincerely believe in a right to food and equitable distribution of wealth, it’s hard to escape some tough questions while you’re tying your bowling shoes: just how much rice can you buy for the price of a 40-lane bowling alley or a Mercedez S-Class? How many children could you feed and vaccinate for the cost of some of the Dear Leader’s personal amenities, such as his bevy of mistresses, his imported cars, or his 10,000-bottle wine cellar? If you believe that weapons purchases steal from the mouths of the hungry, why doesn’t that believe apply to North Korea’s arms purchases?

KSC on the Mass Murder of North Koreans

I could find no statement in which Christine Ahn directly addresses deaths that are unquestionably state-directed homicide. It’s impossible to know how many North Koreans have died in gulags, gas chambers, through forced abortions, or by a policy of infanticide against defectors and prisoners. The North Korean government has refused all calls–such as this one by the Simon Wiesanthal Center–for inspections of the sites of the alleged atrocties. What all of this evidence tells us, if we will hear it, is that we could give North Korea Nebraska’s entire 2005 harvest, and members of the “hostile classes” and the gulag inmates would still starve. The available evidence strongly suggests that the regime wants a substantial percentage of its own people to die.

KSC on North Korean Refugees

You might suspect that Christine Ahn supports sanctuary for the North Korean refugees, based on some of her writings on the subject of immigration:

[I]mmigration and displacement is [sic] very much tied to globalization. People often say, “well these people should be lucky that they get to come to this country and work.” Clearly, such a statement says so much about that person’s intelligence, but it also signals the lack of humanity and compassion. Does that mean that people, whether they are immigrants or not, aren’t entitled to a life of dignity and humanity?

So why not North Koreans, too? Contrast that tone with the KSC’s views on accepting North Korean refugees, which are decidedly less compassionate:

The humanitarian plight of refugees living in fear in China must be addressed. However, the NKFA provisions offering safe haven to North Koreans in the U.S. are unrealistic, as China allows North Koreans to leave the country only on a case-by-case basis. . . .

Where is the KSC’s fearlessness confrontation of human rights abuses when China is clearly doing just that, in direct violation of the U.N. Convention on Refugees? Not even a demand to pressure China to meet its obligations under international law? It almost seems that in the eyes of the KSC, only the United States can do wrong.

. . . And realistically, given the de-funding of assistance for U.S. refugees; massive cuts in welfare and health benefits to non-and to U.S. citizens; the mass monitoring, incarceration, and deportation of refugees previously viewed as political friends of the U.S.; and the low levels of admissions of refugees in recent years

. . .yes, I think I saw this coming.

. . . it is unlikely that many North Korean refugees will be admitted to the U.S. Moreover, NKFA provisions regarding the admission of North Korean refugees, due to their complexity, are unlikely to be passed by Congress, at this time.

In other words, we shouldn’t change the law because it’s not legal under existing law, and because it’s so complicated that Congress won’t pass it. It seems to be something worse than circular reasoning.

The NKFA nevertheless risks encouraging large numbers of defections by North Koreans without overcoming the aforementioned obstacles to their admission to the U.S. If anything, efforts to promote massive defections could cause China and North Korea to tighten the border, which would sever a vital lifeline for those who travel back and forth across the border carrying food and other goods, thus worsening the plight of refugees there.

Finally, the author has a valid point. I’m the first to admit that life in the United States will be an extraordinary adjustment for North Koreans–mostly because of the pyschological depravity of their homland–but then again, the streets of Washington are now full of Somalias, Ethiopians, and Ivorians. Some make it here; some don’t. In any case, their odds here are a lot better than they are in Chongjin. All changes to our legal system balance costs against benefits. Ms. Ahn simply fails to see the benefit of saving North Koreans from hell on earth. As for the second argument, China and North Korea have deployed large numbers of soldiers and militia to close the border, but it doesn’t seem to be terribly effective.

Moreover, “Since the outflow of North Korean refugees is originally driven by the food shortage, building refugee camps or coordinating a massive flight [of refugees] without resolving the food crisis would not solve the fundamental problem,” South Korean civic organizations say. Clearly, food and medical aid to the border regions in China and North Korea should be a priority in any effort to alleviate the suffering of North Koreans refugees.

Again, we are being steered into a circular argument. We can’t resolve the food crisis because the North Korean regime is brutal and isn’t transparent; we are then told that the only way to achieve reform and transparency is to offer North Korea “food first.” This is a formula reducing North Korea’s population by another two million . . . not to mention the South Korea and the United States.

The “root cause”beneath all of this is a government that by every measure appears to want many of its own people dead. You can’t reform a system that sociopathic. Regime change addresses that root cause; sustaining the regime extends and exacerbates it.

The KSC on Repressive
Governments Generally

Ms. Ahn revealed much about her view of human rights with this statement:

“We mustn’t forget that the Congress and president who signed the NKHRA are the people who stood on security and human rights to illegally invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Stop. Is she actually suggesting that the Afghan people were better off living like this? Had we followed Ms. Ahn’s prescription, this is how life would still be for the Afghan people. Has anyone (other than the new Afghan government, through its election) asked any Afghans whether they would support that?

I can claim to be one of those who cared about the Afghan people when no one else did. I was writing Congress on behalf of the people of Afghanistan and giving hundreds of hours of my time to teach English to Afghan refugees back when I was still a high school kid.

While the Soviet Air Force was killing millions of Afghans–while it was strafing refugee caravans, massacring entire villages, using chemical weapons, and running one of world’s most hideous dungeons at Pol-e-Charki, the left was too busy making Central America safe for forced collectivization and Cuban-built thousand-foot runways to care. And now, they expect us to believe that they do care? The child above, at right was wounded by Soviet bombing of his village. Moments after an MSF volunteer took this photograph, he died. The left never did a thing for him then.

Today, Christine Ahn stands bravely against atrocities like the one pictured at left. It shows Afghan women voting for the first time ever. It is a distorted compassion indeed that might pay lip service to giving these women the right to vote, but which fiercely opposes any action that could conceiveably give them any hope of exercising it.

Christine Ahn’s Final Irony

Ditto the inmates in the gulags in North Korea–at least, those who would live to see their freedom. It might be the ultimate irony. Christine Ahn has become the unwitting accomplice of what she detests the most–corporate enslavement of workers, such as those at the Kaesong Industrial Park. Those workers aren’t like the ones she wrote about in Shafted. They can’t quit, form unions, go on strike, or demand better pay or working conditions. They really are slaves. They will earn just $58 a month (one assumes the money will be paid through the North Korean government; one wonders if the workers will even see this much) and South Korean corporations will earn a small fortune from stealing their labor.

Christine Ahn undoubtedly hasn’t the slightest intention of bringing about such a result, but those are the wages of han. She forgot that han for the rich does not equal compassion for the poor, that han for corporations does not equal compassion for workers, and that han for America does not equal compassion for Korea. Somewhere, Christine Ahn forgot that not everything in life is a zero-sum game and let han be her guide. If her views prevail, the result will be more years of slavery, hunger, and perhaps even war for the Korean people.

Continue Reading

The Alternative Reality of Christine Ahn

Dave at No Illusions wants to know more about Christine Ahn, the North Korean apologist (and American, as it turns out) whose views OhMyNews found worthy of the extensive interview I linked and fisked below. Even a cursory exploration of Christine Ahn’s views immediately raises questions about the honesty of OhMyNews’s coverage of her, given its failure to disclose that she is an active member in a pro-Pyongyang organization based in Oakland, California.

Who Is Christine Ahn?

North Korea is only the lastest far-left cause for Christine Ahn, and although she certainly appears opposed to just about all U.S. foreign and military policy, most of her issues have been economic: her belief that corporations exploit workers, her opposition to free trade, and advocating government redistribution of food. She takes strong exception to the idea that “corporations/business can do things better than government” and considers the very idea of a “free market” to be “far from reality.” She co-authored a book that even criticized corporations for their charitable giving, advocating the establishment of food-growing collectives instead. She recently published a book on how “globalism” has “shafted” workers. In it, she argues that workers worldwide are at the losing end of a class war waged on them by corporations. Dennis Kucinich wrote the foreward. Ms. Ahn believes that “it is the government’s responsibility to assure the human right to food for all in the United States.” (emphasis mine)

Here is the key to how Ms. Ahn frames her discussions of human rights–she redefines them in terms of wealth redistribution, not in terms of the fundamental human rights most of us would list, such as the right to vote, freedom of speech and religion, a free press, freedom of movement and travel, freedom from arbitary arrest and imprisonment, and the right to a fair trial. Another example:

With this ruling, many of our nation’s farmers, factory workers, office and house cleaners, trash collectors and restaurant and service workers have lost a basic human right. They do the work undesired by most, their jobs lack benefits, child care or a living wage, but if they dare fight for humane working conditions, they can be fired without just cause and back pay. (emphasis mine)

At least, that’s how she usually defines human rights. As we will see, Ms. Ahn freely departs from consistency in her positions on human rights, economic equality, and free trade when she sees an opportunity to attack the United States or a parry a potential criticism against North Korea. Since she adopted North Korea as one of her primary causes, Ms. Ahn has not been above making base appeals to ethnicity and nationalism, either. This NKZone comment virually accuses LiNK members of race treason:

Korean-Americans and South Koreans have come out vocally and forcefully against the NKFA and the NKHRA. And it’s so sad that the Korean-Americans who support these poorly written bills, in particular young college students, are being co-opted by a coalition of right-wing conservative evangelical Christians. But that won’t be for long. Dramatic and energizing changes in South Korea, largely due to the opening of free speech, have unleashed han that is radically altering South Koreans’ understanding of the Korean War and the role of US occupation on the Korean peninsula.

Lest anyone misunderstand, I’ve literally offered up my life to defend Ms. Ahn’s right to free speech–even speech of this low caliber–and would do so again. But freedom of speech should not be mistaken for freedom from critcism, and this is not to be mistaken with patriotic dissent. It’s a poisonous cocktail of race-mongering, Bible-baiting, and America-hating libel. Incidentally, the Essence Korean-English Dictionary defines “han” as “a grudge, resentment, a bitter feeling, spite, hatred, rancor, discontent, regret, unsatisfied desire.” That’s what Ms. Ahn openly wishes on a country that has freely permitted her to attain a good education, a presumably decent living, and a life spent in the pursuit of radical leisure.

What OhMyNews Didn’t Tell You
About Christine Ahn

What OhMyNews said about Christine Ahn is perhaps less significant than what any objective journalist should have told us about her. In the case of Ms. Ahn, what Ms. Jang didn’t bother to tell us is that Christine Ahn is a very active member of the Korea Solidarity Committee, a pro-Pyongyang group based in Oakland, California (the KSC is part of a broader coalition called the Korea Peace Action Coalition, which appears to share indistinguishable views). All of this information is easily found on the Internet. It tells us that there is nothing mainstream about Christine Ahn or the KSC.

The author of the OhMyNews article on Ms. Ahn, Jang Yun Seon, has a history of publishing softball interviews of far-left figures that portray them as mainstream or influential. In this one, entitled “U.S. Imperialism One Big Vicious Circle,” she interviewed an obscure left-wing figure named John Cobb, dubiously calling him “influential.” In a recent interview with a former Unification Minister, Ms. Jang wrote a section heading that summarized his position this way, apparently without intentional irony: “North Korea’s closing the door is a necessary measure in opening and reform.” War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is bliss, and the dreamy ends justify the hellish means.

OMN also fails to mention the long-standing connections between the KSC and OMN columnist Cheong Woon-Sik, most recently infamous for this logical masterpiece: Two Koreas Ensnared in U.S. Nuclear Trap. Cheong’s thesis is that both Koreas’ violations of their nonproliferation obligations–and their subsequent outings–are the fault of (all together now . . ) America.

To their credit, both Ms. Ahn and Mr. Cheong both admit that North Korea is repressive. Here ends the discussion, abruptly, and with the word “but.” The KSC saves its real energy for the United States, which it simultaneously accuses of trying to provoke a war with North Korea and preserving a state of eternal tension so that President Bush and his cronies in the military-industrial complex can sell more arms to the South Koreans.

The Korea Solidarity Committee Uncritically
Supports Pyongyang’s Views and

Reflexively Opposes U.S. Views

In a recent “solidarity” letter to a Korean farmers’ anti-free trade group, the KSC described its views this way:

As Korean Americans committed to working for justice, peace and human rights as part of a global movement for social change, we at KSC are truly inspired by your work. We draw strength from the Korean farmers’ movement that refuse neoliberal trade policies; the anti-war and anti-imperialism activists that demand sovereignty and peaceful reunification of North and South Korea; and the labor movement that stands up for the rights of all workers. THANK YOU for your important work, and we are proud to support you in this struggle.

In solidarity,

Korea Solidarity Committee (KSC)
Oakland, California
USA

If you’re seeking to tell the world where you stand ideologically, you could do worse than belting out words like “imperialism,” “struggle,” and “solidarity.” Elsewhere on its Web page, the KSC declares its “desire to debunk the racist portrayals of North Korea, and to present a more critical perspective on the continuing North Korean nuclear crisis.” Before the election, the KSC claimed that “there is no difference” between President Bush and Senator Kerry on the issue of North Korea; it did not support either candidate. It opposes the South Korean military presence in Iraq through “popular resistance,” participates in anti-Iraq war protests with A.N.S.W.E.R., and opposes a U.S. military presence pretty much everywhere else–even in Haiti. Noam Chomsky features prominently on its reading list. It strongly opposed the North Korea Human Rights Act, calling it “U.S. aggression,” and reminded us again of its alternative definition of “human rights:”

Human rights are a legitimate international concern – but they cannot be systematically addressed until movement is made towards ensuring peace and security on the Korean peninsula. If passed, this bill will severely jeopardize this movement.
. . . .
While purporting to promote human rights for North Koreans, this bill actually stands in the way of meeting the most basic human rights, such as the right to food, by politicizing humanitarian and other aid.

As we will see later, not even this dramatic redefinition of “human rights” permits a consistent defense of North Korea, and Ms. Ahn repeatedly makes demonstrably false statements and half-truths in her tortured effort to do so.

Ms. Ahn’s KSC affiliation and pro-Pyongyang views may also explain why she was able to get a North Korean visa, while Rebecca McKinnon wasn’t. Even Lonely Planet says that Americans who wish to visit North Korea “can pretty much forget about it,” although you can always get in with the help of Alejandro Cao de Benos, the official Webmaster of North Korea and the president of the “Korean Friendship Association,” an organization so avowedly pro-Kim Jong Il that its members write poems and learn songs in tribute to him.


The KSC’s Views on Mass Starvation

in North Korea

This photograph, from KSC’s Web site, is a fair representative of the KSC’s view–that U.S. sanctions are to blame for the deaths of North Korean kids. North Korea isn’t even burdened with the easy, morally neutral blame (some would say excuse) for “mismanagement.” Christine Ahn agrees:

[M]ost experts agree that geopolitical and ecological events led to a one-two punch that resulted in the North Korean famine in the 1990s. The first major blow to North Korean food production was the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the socialist trading bloc, which eliminated North Korea’s major trading partners. The end of subsidized oil from the former Soviet Union and China literally halted the tractors of North Korean farmers. The second blow-major droughts and floods that were the worst of the century-destroyed much of the harvest and forced Pyongyang to seek Western and Japanese aid.

The persistence of famine, however, is due to economic sanctions led by the U.S. and its refusal to end the 50-year Korean War. What is scarcely known about North Korea is that up until the 1980s, North Korea’s agricultural and economic growth far outpaced South Korea.

Blaming U.S. trade sanctions is an odd position for Ms. Ahn to take, given her strenous opposition to free trade generally. Here’s more of Christine Ahn on the famine and the NKHRA:

The NKHRA is based on the assumption that the famine in North Korea was a result of Chief of State Kim Jong Il ´s mismanagement of the country. However, most experts agree that the main cause of famine was a series of catastrophic events beyond North Korea ´s control. The first was the collapse of the Soviet Union, which brought an end to the shipments of oil needed to run tractors and other agricultural machinery. The second cause was the historic droughts and floods that destroyed 300,000 hectares of agricultural land and devastated 1.9 million tons of grain.

At least she didn’t call him “Dear Leader.” Contary to Ms. Ahn’s assertions, however, most experts do not agree that “geopolitical and ecological events” alone caused the North Korean famine. The World Food Program a U.N. agency that reliably softens any criticism of governments, lists a series of causes for food shortages, which include natural disasters (all of which presumably also struck South Korea), as well as “deforestation and consequent silting of rivers, economic downturn, lack of agricultural inputs such as fertilisers, limited capacity to access international capital markets and import food,” and “a new economic adjustment policy [leading] to increased wages and higher prices on staple foods, accommodation and utilities.”

KSC on the Distribution of Food Aid
in North Korea

Ms. Ahn sees no particular reason for concern that food is reaching the hungry; she supports giving food aid directly to the regime, with no strings attached:

The monitoring of humanitarian aid, strangely, seems less of an issue to the relief agencies providing the aid. In 2003, James Morris, Executive Director of the World Food Program (WFP), testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: ‘It would be wrong for me to depict the regime in Pyongyang as totally uncooperative,’ he said, noting that the WFP staff have access to 85 percent of the population and that they ‘believe that most food is getting through to the women and children who need it.’

Not totally uncooperative, you say? It’s hardly glowing praise, but do go on:

A recent study by UNICEF showed that food aid is reaching the most vulnerable North Koreans. From 1998 to 2002, the number of underweight children dropped by two-thirds, acute malnutrition was almost cut in half, and chronic malnutrition dropped by one-third. Caritas International, the largest private humanitarian network in North Korea, is confident that food aid is reaching the most needy.

Medicins Sans Frontieres does not agree:

Even population groups such as children, pregnant women, and the elderly, who are specifically targeted for assistance by the United Nations World Food Program, are being denied food aid.

MSF pulled out of North Korea in 1998 because the North Korean government restricted its operations and prevented its workers from monitoring food distribution, adding that “violations of humanitarian principles have made conditions impossible for international aid organisations.” At the time, MSF also claimed that the regime was discriminating against certain classes in its distribution of food:

North Korean refugees across the Chinese border spoke of widespread famine, and reported that the authorities had distributed international aid according to social position and party loyalty.

Amnesty International also recently issued a paper, entitled “Starved of Rights,” that reports that North Korean continues to use food as a weapon against members of lower political classes.

As millions starved, there were reports that food aid was diverted to the military and the black market. The World Food Program also complained, at the very height of the famine, that the North Korean government was preventing to from monitoring the distribution of food aid.

This suggests more than irresponsibility or incompetence in the distribution of aid. It suggests the use of food as a weapon of mass murder against members of North Korea’s disfavored political classes, a class system that David Hawk, author of a detailed report on the North Korean gulag system (and opponent of the NKHRA) calls “political apartheid.”

Here, I will state one small point of agreement with Ms. Ahn. I do agree that feeding the people should be everyone’s first priority. I merely disagree that the North Korean government is likely to distribute the food to the hungry, which means that I’m prepared to go to some admittedly extreme lengths to feed them. Any effective program to aid the people of North Korea must begin with the assumption that the hungry won’t see food that isn’t given directly to them, away from the watchful eyes of the state.

Christine Ahn on the North Korean Health System

Not surprisingly, she offers unqualified praise:

The World Health Organization and other United Nations agencies have praised their delivery of basic health services, noting that North Korean children were far better vaccinated than American children, and that life expectancy rates in North Korea surpassed that of South Korea.

It turns out, however, that the WHO’s latest report is more than two years old and was prepared in collaboration with the North Korean government, casting considerable doubt on the reliability of its statistics. She even fails to cite the WHO’s own statistics accurately; for example, South Korea actually has a life expectancy that’s a full decade longer than North Korea. The latest WHO statistics don’t actually address North Korea’s child innoculation rates, but they indicate that North Korea’s child mortality rates are approximately seven times higher than in the United States. Medicins Sans Frontieres’s assessment of North Korea’s health situation is particularly bleak:

The public health system of North Korea is in disrepair: regular vaccinations stopped in 1994, leaving a whole generation susceptible to preventable diseases; there is a shortage of antibiotics and other medical materials; health centres lack proper heating, electricity, fuel and food; water quality is poor; disinfectants are in short supply.

In one especially disturbing incident, aid workers were actually prevented from treating 600 sick children of “mysterious” background. North Korea today is literally crawling with dying children, many of them sick, starving, amputees, or alcoholics. You can see video of them starving and dying while North Korean soldiers ignore them or eat here.

Christine Ahn’s Praise
for North Korea’s
Juche System

Ms. Ahn either can’t or doesn’t choose to hide her admiration for the North Korean system. With that admiration comes the implicit conclusion that she is untroubled by that system’s repression. Her silence about the repression bolsters that conclusion. To Ms. Ahn, North Korea’s problems are all the result of America’s “stranglehold” on North Korea:

After North Korea signed the armistice, the North Korean people set out to rebuild their devastated nation according to the juche philosophy that promoted self-reliance and national independence. This inspired two New York Times writers in 1972 to note with astonishment that this country, the size of Mississippi, had developed a “well organized and highly industrialized socialist economy, largely self-sufficient, with a disciplined and productive work force.”

Despite their efforts to remain food sovereign, and because of events beyond their control, North Korea could not sustain the stranglehold of the United States. For five decades, the U.S. has pursued military and economic policies that have held 22 million North Koreans hostage and threatened them with nuclear annihilation. These same mad politics are driving the insane military budgets of both nations, diverting vital government resources that would improve the welfare of its people.

Economic policies–such as sparing North Korea the economic slavery of free trade, something Ms. Ahn bitterly condemns in other contexts? Ms. Ahn even wrote this bit of praise for North Korea’s agricultural system. In the process, she minimizes the mass starvation that has reportedly killed two million people and is starving and permanently stunting millions more:

On a recent trip to North Korea, I expected to find a depressed society completely devoid of foreigners, but this was not the case. I met many conservation agriculturalists from around the world who were working with the government to move their food production to a more sustainable, less energy-intensive model.

To be fair, Ms. Ahn admitted in her OMN interview that she saw hungry children outside her hotel when she visited Pyongyang (a view not entirely consistent with her depiction of North Korea as a very normal place here and here). Whichever view Ms. Ahn espouses today, it’s rather frightening that an obviously intelligent, literate, and articulate person could hold up the world’s hungriest, most dysfunctional nation as a model for “sustainable, less energy-intensive” agriculture.

KSC Ignores Inequality
in North Korea

Christine Ahn’s passion for reducing the gap between rich and poor does not apply to North Korea, where that gap is probably among the highest of any nation on earth. The photograph at left is of a Pyongyang bowling alley, apparently of recent manufacture and some considerable expense. The Korean Friendship Association regularly leads foreign tour group, perhaps even including Ms. Ahn herself, through this facility. If the recent report by Russian diplomat Konstantin Pulikovsky bears any truth, this luxury is just a small taste of the resources the North Korean elite spends on itself while ordinary people starve:

In 1998, a Mercedes-Benz representative was taken aback when Kim ordered 200 Class S Mercedeses at $100,000 apiece; the $20 million price tag was one fifth of the aid promised to North Korea that year by the United Nations. An avid womanizer, Kim has been married at least four times, once to a dancer, and is said to favor leggy Scandinavian blondes. As a young man, he created “pleasure teams” to service him and his father. One defector described a party at which women band members gyrated in tank tops and microminis while the guests cheered them on with toasts of a fiery rice liquor called Eternal Youth. A visitor to Kim’s seven-story pleasure palace in Pyongyang (complete with karaoke machine) watched him riding about his pool on a raft propelled by an automatic wave maker, as a female doctor and a pretty nurse swam alongside.

On the train journey across Russia in 2001, Kim dined on lobster–with silver chopsticks–and fine wines flown in from Paris. “He prefers Bordeaux and Burgundy,” reported Pulikovsky in his published account of the trip, which caused a minor diplomatic flap for its indiscretions. Kim has actually cut back on his drinking to about a half bottle of red wine a night. For many years the then Dear Leader favored Hennes-sy VSOP cognac, but in 1992 he switched to Hennessy Paradis, at $630 a bottle. In 1994 Hennessy confirmed that Kim was its single biggest buyer of cognac for two years running. When, at the pleading of his doctors, Kim quit smoking (three packs of Dunhills a day), every senior officer in the North Korean Army was required to quit smoking with him.

In his private railway car, meals sometimes ran to 20 courses. Kim the gourmand is also fond of the American teenage staple, pizza. In 1999 he imported pizza ovens and two Milanese chefs to teach the North Koreans how to make pizza. One of the chefs, Ermanno Furlanis, later reported (in an article entitled “I Made Pizza for Kim Jong Il”) that he endured a “brainwashing session” to learn to eliminate capers and anchovies after the Pyongyang higher-ups deemed one of the lamb dishes to be too salty.

If you sincerely believe in a right to food and equitable distribution of wealth, it’s hard to escape some tough questions while you’re tying your bowling shoes: just how much rice can you buy for the price of a 40-lane bowling alley or a Mercedez S-Class? How many children could you feed and vaccinate for the cost of some of the Dear Leader’s personal amenities, such as his bevy of mistresses, his imported cars, or his 10,000-bottle wine cellar? If you believe that weapons purchases steal from the mouths of the hungry, why doesn’t that believe apply to North Korea’s arms purchases?

KSC on the Mass Murder of North Koreans

I could find no statement in which Christine Ahn directly addresses deaths that are unquestionably state-directed homicide. It’s impossible to know how many North Koreans have died in gulags, gas chambers, through forced abortions, or by a policy of infanticide against defectors and prisoners. The North Korean government has refused all calls–such as this one by the Simon Wiesanthal Center–for inspections of the sites of the alleged atrocties. What all of this evidence tells us, if we will hear it, is that we could give North Korea Nebraska’s entire 2005 harvest, and members of the “hostile classes” and the gulag inmates would still starve. The available evidence strongly suggests that the regime wants a substantial percentage of its own people to die.

KSC on North Korean Refugees

You might suspect that Christine Ahn supports sanctuary for the North Korean refugees, based on some of her writings on the subject of immigration:

[I]mmigration and displacement is [sic] very much tied to globalization. People often say, “well these people should be lucky that they get to come to this country and work.” Clearly, such a statement says so much about that person’s intelligence, but it also signals the lack of humanity and compassion. Does that mean that people, whether they are immigrants or not, aren’t entitled to a life of dignity and humanity?

So why not North Koreans, too? Contrast that tone with the KSC’s views on accepting North Korean refugees, which are decidedly less compassionate:

The humanitarian plight of refugees living in fear in China must be addressed. However, the NKFA provisions offering safe haven to North Koreans in the U.S. are unrealistic, as China allows North Koreans to leave the country only on a case-by-case basis. . . .

Where is the KSC’s fearlessness confrontation of human rights abuses when China is clearly doing just that, in direct violation of the U.N. Convention on Refugees? Not even a demand to pressure China to meet its obligations under international law? It almost seems that in the eyes of the KSC, only the United States can do wrong.

. . . And realistically, given the de-funding of assistance for U.S. refugees; massive cuts in welfare and health benefits to non-and to U.S. citizens; the mass monitoring, incarceration, and deportation of refugees previously viewed as political friends of the U.S.; and the low levels of admissions of refugees in recent years

. . .yes, I think I saw this coming.

. . . it is unlikely that many North Korean refugees will be admitted to the U.S. Moreover, NKFA provisions regarding the admission of North Korean refugees, due to their complexity, are unlikely to be passed by Congress, at this time.

In other words, we shouldn’t change the law because it’s not legal under existing law, and because it’s so complicated that Congress won’t pass it. It seems to be something worse than circular reasoning.

The NKFA nevertheless risks encouraging large numbers of defections by North Koreans without overcoming the aforementioned obstacles to their admission to the U.S. If anything, efforts to promote massive defections could cause China and North Korea to tighten the border, which would sever a vital lifeline for those who travel back and forth across the border carrying food and other goods, thus worsening the plight of refugees there.

Finally, the author has a valid point. I’m the first to admit that life in the United States will be an extraordinary adjustment for North Koreans–mostly because of the pyschological depravity of their homland–but then again, the streets of Washington are now full of Somalias, Ethiopians, and Ivorians. Some make it here; some don’t. In any case, their odds here are a lot better than they are in Chongjin. All changes to our legal system balance costs against benefits. Ms. Ahn simply fails to see the benefit of saving North Koreans from hell on earth. As for the second argument, China and North Korea have deployed large numbers of soldiers and militia to close the border, but it doesn’t seem to be terribly effective.

Moreover, “Since the outflow of North Korean refugees is originally driven by the food shortage, building refugee camps or coordinating a massive flight [of refugees] without resolving the food crisis would not solve the fundamental problem,” South Korean civic organizations say. Clearly, food and medical aid to the border regions in China and North Korea should be a priority in any effort to alleviate the suffering of North Koreans refugees.

Again, we are being steered into a circular argument. We can’t resolve the food crisis because the North Korean regime is brutal and isn’t transparent; we are then told that the only way to achieve reform and transparency is to offer North Korea “food first.” This is a formula reducing North Korea’s population by another two million . . . not to mention the South Korea and the United States.

The “root cause”beneath all of this is a government that by every measure appears to want many of its own people dead. You can’t reform a system that sociopathic. Regime change addresses that root cause; sustaining the regime extends and exacerbates it.

The KSC on Repressive
Governments Generally

Ms. Ahn revealed much about her view of human rights with this statement:

“We mustn’t forget that the Congress and president who signed the NKHRA are the people who stood on security and human rights to illegally invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Stop. Is she actually suggesting that the Afghan people were better off living like this? Had we followed Ms. Ahn’s prescription, this is how life would still be for the Afghan people. Has anyone (other than the new Afghan government, through its election) asked any Afghans whether they would support that?

I can claim to be one of those who cared about the Afghan people when no one else did. I was writing Congress on behalf of the people of Afghanistan and giving hundreds of hours of my time to teach English to Afghan refugees back when I was still a high school kid.

While the Soviet Air Force was killing millions of Afghans–while it was strafing refugee caravans, massacring entire villages, using chemical weapons, and running one of world’s most hideous dungeons at Pol-e-Charki, the left was too busy making Central America safe for forced collectivization and Cuban-built thousand-foot runways to care. And now, they expect us to believe that they do care? The child above, at right was wounded by Soviet bombing of his village. Moments after an MSF volunteer took this photograph, he died. The left never did a thing for him then.

Today, Christine Ahn stands bravely against atrocities like the one pictured at left. It shows Afghan women voting for the first time ever. It is a distorted compassion indeed that might pay lip service to giving these women the right to vote, but which fiercely opposes any action that could conceiveably give them any hope of exercising it.

Christine Ahn’s Final Irony

Ditto the inmates in the gulags in North Korea–at least, those who would live to see their freedom. It might be the ultimate irony. Christine Ahn has become the unwitting accomplice of what she detests the most–corporate enslavement of workers, such as those at the Kaesong Industrial Park. Those workers aren’t like the ones she wrote about in Shafted. They can’t quit, form unions, go on strike, or demand better pay or working conditions. They really are slaves. They will earn just $58 a month (one assumes the money will be paid through the North Korean government; one wonders if the workers will even see this much) and South Korean corporations will earn a small fortune from stealing their labor.

Christine Ahn undoubtedly hasn’t the slightest intention of bringing about such a result, but those are the wages of han. She forgot that han for the rich does not equal compassion for the poor, that han for corporations does not equal compassion for workers, and that han for America does not equal compassion for Korea. Somewhere, Christine Ahn forgot that not everything in life is a zero-sum game and let han be her guide. If her views prevail, the result will be more years of slavery, hunger, and perhaps even war for the Korean people.

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Winter in Korea

I reneged on my promise to give you pictures during the last two weekends. I hope you’re not disappointed with this week’s selection. As always, the photographer is my sister-in-law, who photo-blogs under the name Carou. I’d link her, but her blog isn’t public yet. I’m trying to convince her to change her mind.

Apukujong looks cold. I love the light in this picture.

Seoul City Hall just before New Year’s Day, 2005. My wife and I were married in a hotel just across the street from this building. City Hall is one of the few buildings from the Japanese colonial period that the Koreans haven’t torn down, and rumor has it that it’s not long for this world.



I was surprised to see pictures of this place. This is the Seoul Express Bus Terminal, where I spent many hours waiting for the bus to Taegu, passing the time reading newspapers or eating delicious Korean tangerines. I was the assigned Trial Defense Counsel at Camp Henry for 18 months, although many of my cases–and my then-fiancee, now my wife–were in Seoul. I’d usually come to Seoul on the Saemaul express train, but I’d return on the bus. Tickets were cheap, a bus was always leaving every 20 minutes, and with fewer stops and crying babies, it was easier to sleep. The bus made one stop at a rest area called kumgang, high in the mountains. It would arrive at Taegu in the early morning hours.

This is the sea near Kangnung, on the northeast coast of Korea, and it looks grey and angry in these pictures.

About a year before I met my wife, I went to Kangnung with some friends–one of whom had a pretty sister, who did not join us because G-d is ever merciful (except when He isn’t, but that’s another topic). I actually talked them into sleeping on the beach . . . what the hell was I thinking? Oh sure, it was summer, but the ocean currents there are freezing, and so was the beach by midnight. Worse, there were throngs of teenagers blaring 80-decibel Korean pop and firing roman candles at each other all night. It was a miracle that none of us was set on fire, although the fact that the tide came in may have had something to do with it. One of my friends ended up catching a wave at about 4 a.m.

By morning, we were freezing, exhausted, and hungry. We walked around the shoreline until we found an open store. I built a fire out pieces of a discarded cargo pallet (despite the strong, cold breeze) and cooked the only remotely appetizing thing we could find: frozen beef, which we sliced with a dull paring knife. Sand added texture, but not much flavor.

This week on “Celebrity Death Match”–the Lucky Charms gang! Bravo your life, you say? Bravo this, star boy!



These small pancakes come with a sugary syrup. They were pretty good, but my favorites were the little cakes called kaeranbang, which were made by pouring pancake batter into a cast iron mold, adding an egg, closing the mold, and cooking the contents for the longest two minutes of your life. Mmmmm. Always, always followed by another long two minutes, because it’s simply impossible to eat just one. Enjoy with a steaming, delicious, unsanitary cup of wondoo kopi (picture horked from the Korea Life Blog).

The best place to find kaeranbang was along the Chong-ro near Tapkol Park, famous for the grandfathers who gather there to remember the 1919 independence movement.

In four years of eating at Korean street food stalls, I got one case of food poisoning, which I consider an acceptable level of risk (the case I got from a so-called “Good Restaurant” was the one that nearly killed me). In the winter, steam rises out of the plastic and canvas sheeting that serves as their walls and roof, giving them a look that’s both mysterious and welcoming.

Haggle!

This is the second time I’ve published this picture, but that’s how much I love it. This man is selling roasted sweet potatoes, called kuguma. The Korean variety has a pale yellow flesh. Grandfathers like this man appear in front of just about every neighborhood in Korea during the winter and fill the air with wood smoke, which never failed to make me homesick for the wood stove we used during the harsh South Dakota winters. The men always seemed impervious to the cold. I sometimes wondered if they had any nerve endings. Koreans, especially the ones from that generation, hold their pain well.

Kuguma were delicious, even though you always had to scrape off layers of ashes to get to the eating. On a freezing day, they’d warm you up.

Continue Reading

Winter in Korea

I reneged on my promise to give you pictures during the last two weekends. I hope you’re not disappointed with this week’s selection. As always, the photographer is my sister-in-law, who photo-blogs under the name Carou. I’d link her, but her blog isn’t public yet. I’m trying to convince her to change her mind.

Apukujong looks cold. I love the light in this picture.

Seoul City Hall just before New Year’s Day, 2005. My wife and I were married in a hotel just across the street from this building. City Hall is one of the few buildings from the Japanese colonial period that the Koreans haven’t torn down, and rumor has it that it’s not long for this world.



I was surprised to see pictures of this place. This is the Seoul Express Bus Terminal, where I spent many hours waiting for the bus to Taegu, passing the time reading newspapers or eating delicious Korean tangerines. I was the assigned Trial Defense Counsel at Camp Henry for 18 months, although many of my cases–and my then-fiancee, now my wife–were in Seoul. I’d usually come to Seoul on the Saemaul express train, but I’d return on the bus. Tickets were cheap, a bus was always leaving every 20 minutes, and with fewer stops and crying babies, it was easier to sleep. The bus made one stop at a rest area called kumgang, high in the mountains. It would arrive at Taegu in the early morning hours.

This is the sea near Kangnung, on the northeast coast of Korea, and it looks grey and angry in these pictures.

About a year before I met my wife, I went to Kangnung with some friends–one of whom had a pretty sister, who did not join us because G-d is ever merciful (except when He isn’t, but that’s another topic). I actually talked them into sleeping on the beach . . . what the hell was I thinking? Oh sure, it was summer, but the ocean currents there are freezing, and so was the beach by midnight. Worse, there were throngs of teenagers blaring 80-decibel Korean pop and firing roman candles at each other all night. It was a miracle that none of us was set on fire, although the fact that the tide came in may have had something to do with it. One of my friends ended up catching a wave at about 4 a.m.

By morning, we were freezing, exhausted, and hungry. We walked around the shoreline until we found an open store. I built a fire out pieces of a discarded cargo pallet (despite the strong, cold breeze) and cooked the only remotely appetizing thing we could find: frozen beef, which we sliced with a dull paring knife. Sand added texture, but not much flavor.

This week on “Celebrity Death Match”–the Lucky Charms gang! Bravo your life, you say? Bravo this, star boy!



These small pancakes come with a sugary syrup. They were pretty good, but my favorites were the little cakes called kaeranbang, which were made by pouring pancake batter into a cast iron mold, adding an egg, closing the mold, and cooking the contents for the longest two minutes of your life. Mmmmm. Always, always followed by another long two minutes, because it’s simply impossible to eat just one. Enjoy with a steaming, delicious, unsanitary cup of wondoo kopi (picture horked from the Korea Life Blog).

The best place to find kaeranbang was along the Chong-ro near Tapkol Park, famous for the grandfathers who gather there to remember the 1919 independence movement.

In four years of eating at Korean street food stalls, I got one case of food poisoning, which I consider an acceptable level of risk (the case I got from a so-called “Good Restaurant” was the one that nearly killed me). In the winter, steam rises out of the plastic and canvas sheeting that serves as their walls and roof, giving them a look that’s both mysterious and welcoming.

Haggle!

This is the second time I’ve published this picture, but that’s how much I love it. This man is selling roasted sweet potatoes, called kuguma. The Korean variety has a pale yellow flesh. Grandfathers like this man appear in front of just about every neighborhood in Korea during the winter and fill the air with wood smoke, which never failed to make me homesick for the wood stove we used during the harsh South Dakota winters. The men always seemed impervious to the cold. I sometimes wondered if they had any nerve endings. Koreans, especially the ones from that generation, hold their pain well.

Kuguma were delicious, even though you always had to scrape off layers of ashes to get to the eating. On a freezing day, they’d warm you up.

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America’s Energy Future

Although new oil reserves are routinely discovered in the U.S. and other parts of the world, eventually oil will be almost entirely consumed.

And the looming lack of oil is about much more that just transportation (which includes asphalt for roads, by the way), and keeping the lights, heat, and air-conditioning on. Take a look around you ““ see any plastic? Plastics and many other synthetics are manufactured from oil, from the mouse in your hand, to the insulation of conductors (all wiring), to the fibers in your carpet, to the siding and roof on your house (probably), a lot of the fibers in your clothes, the tires on your car, and even a good portion of the car itself these days.

I’m not saying there will be apocalyptic consequences, and am not concerned about “˜global warming,’ but if planning doesn’t take place soon there could be. Luckily we have some options.

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This is an example of a WordPress page, you could edit this to put information about yourself or your site so readers know where you are coming from. You can create as many pages like this one or sub-pages as you like and manage all of your content inside of WordPress.

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