The popular vlogger and comedian Katie Halper, whose journalistic take-downs of the Democratic Party establishment have certainly been deftly exploited (at least) by the Kremlin propaganda machine, wears the accusation that she is a "useful idiot" for Russia as a badge of pride—"Useful Idiots" is actually the (presumably sarcastic) name of the podcast she co-hosts with the equally problematic Matt Taibbi. We've always wondered, in an academic way, if such figures really are useful idiots, or something more sinister—knowing propagandists for Vladimir Putin's deeply reactionary global ambitions. The debate has suddenly exploded onto the left-wing vlogosphere.
With whole nations under lockdown, sweeping powers are being assumed by governments across the world in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary's parliament on March 30 voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree, without a set time limit. While the emergency legislation remains in place, all elections are suspended, as are several government regulations including (ironically) some concerned with protecting public health. Individuals who spread what is deemed false or distorted information may face up to five years in prison. Other measures include up to three years in prison for anyone who disregards quarantine orders. (Jurist, Politico)
The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on March 5 unanimously approved an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by both sides in the Afghanistan conflict. The investigation will focus on "alleged crimes committed on the territory of Afghanistan in the period since 1 May 2003, as well as other alleged crimes that have a nexus to the armed conflict in Afghanistan." The Pre-Trial Chamber had rejected a request to open an investigation last year, but the prosecutor appealed based on Article 15 of the Rome Statute. The appeal attempts to resolve the apparent disparity between Article 15, mandating investigations when a prosecutor provides a "reasonable basis to proceed," and Article 53, which allows the court discretion in the interest of justice.The Appeals Chamber’s decision overturned the Pre-Trial Chamber's ruling on the grounds that the determination that the investigation "would not serve the interests of justice" and was an abuse of discretion.
Will an "October surprise" in the prelude to the mid-term elections in the US be the outbreak of world war—that is, direct superpower conflict? Things are escalating fast on the frontlines with both of the United States' major imperial rivals. The US Navy's Pacific Fleet has drawn up a classified proposal to carry out a "global show of force" as a warning to China. The draft proposal reportedly calls for the Pacific Fleet to conduct a series of exercises in the coming weeks, involving warships, combat aircraft and troops, to demonstrate that the US can "counter potential adversaries" quickly on several fronts. (CNN) The plans come after a near-skirmish between a US warship and a Chinese destroyer in the disputed South China Sea on Oct. 2. The two vessles came within yards of each other, compelling the US ship to abruptly switch direction. US officials called the Chinese vessel's behavior "unsafe and unprofessional." while Beijing is accusing the US of violating its sovereignty. (WaPo)
The European Court of Human Rights on May 31 found that Lithuania and Romania violated articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (PDF) by allowing secret CIA prisons to operate on their territory. Lithuania had allowed the CIA to open a "black site" on where agents subjected the applicant, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn AKA Abu Zubaydah, to "ill-treatment and arbitrary detention." Lithuania must pay Husayn 130,000 euros (over $150,000). The applicant in the Romania case, Abd al-Rahim Husseyn Muhammad al-Nashiri, was transported to a "black site" on that country's territory, and faced capital charges in the US. The court censured Romania for transferring al-Nashiri to the US when it was likely he would face the death penalty. Romania must pay the applicant 100,000 euros (over $115,000). Both men remain interned at Guantánamo Bay.
International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda made a formal request (PDF) on Nov. 20 to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the US military and the CIA. The proposed investigation focuses on alleged crimes committed in Afghanistan by the US military in May 2003, in addition to crimes at secret CIA detention facilities in Poland, Romania and Lithuania since July 2002. The allegations are brought under articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute and include murder, unlawful imprisonment, torture and cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence, and using, conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years.
The rights situation in Crimea "has significantly deteriorated under Russian occupation," the UN Human Rights Office finds in a Sept. 25 report (PDF), citing arbitrary arrests. disappearances, torture, infringements of the Geneva Conventions. The report especially highlights discrimination against those who have resisted taking up Russian citizenship. Individuals without Russian Federation citizenship are denied many rights, including the right to vote or run for office, the right to own agricultural land, and the right to register with a religious community. The groups most susceptible to rights violations are "those who formally rejected citizenship; civil servants who had to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship or lose their jobs; and Crimean residents who did not meet the legal criteria for citizenship and became foreigners." This prominently includes the Crimean Tatars, who have strenuously rejected Russian annexation of the peninsula. (RFE/RL, Jurist)
Well, this is some very telling—and deeply disturbing—timing. Let's review what has happened in the one day since Mike Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor over his pre-election phone calls with the Russian ambassador. Trump, having heretofore been completely acquiescing in Putin's illegal annexation of Crimea, now tweets: "Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?" On the very day of Flynn's resignation, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said: "President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to deescalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea." (Russia's Foreign Ministry quickly responded, no dice: "Crimea is part of the Russian Federation.") Also that fateful day, the Pentagon said that multiple Russian military aircraft buzzed a US Navy destroyer in the flashpoint Black Sea, in "unsafe and unprofessional" maneuvers. This is said to have happened last week, but it is notable that it is only reported now. Russia of course denies it. (RFE/RL)