Ted Lewis

'No More Drug War' Caravan to Visit Five Impacted Countries on way to UN Session in NY

Starting in Honduras on March 28th, the Caravan for Peace, Life and Justice will travel through El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States with the goal of reaching New York City on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs beginning on April 19.

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Terrorism Is Not Inevitable

Three weeks have passed since government officials unleashed dire warnings that the United States is destined to suffer future terrorist attacks and, incredibly, there has been little public outcry.

Perhaps the full meaning of the doomsday rhetoric emanating from Washington is not clear: Our national leaders have said we are bound to lose the struggle against terrorism. Imagine Franklin Roosevelt saying that there was no way of turning back the Japanese navy, or Winston Churchill proclaiming that the British would not be able to stop the Nazi onslaught.

Statements that future terrorist attacks are "not a matter of if, but when" represent an admission that White House's current strategy is doomed to failure. The Bush Administration does not believe we can win this conflict -- but that is because they are fighting the wrong war. The warnings from Washington reveal an important truth: There is no way to defeat terrorism with warfare alone. As long as our counter-terrorism strategy relies on force, terror attacks will remain a threat. Yes, it's true -- sending US troops to the Philippine jungles, Georgia, or the troubled lands of Central Asia won't make us safe.

But that does not mean that terrorism is inevitable. A strategy that focuses on addressing the sources of resentment and uprooting the causes of terrorism in cooperation with other nations offers a way to ensure American security.

Government officials don't believe they can find a solution to terrorism because they misunderstand the problem. The threats toward the U.S. are not based on hostility to our values -- as some of our leaders have claimed -- but because we have abandoned so many of our values when it comes to our foreign policy.

We say we are committed to freedom, and yet for decades we have supported dictators just because they are willing to send us their oil or harbor our military bases. We pledge ourselves to justice, and yet our policymakers actively opposee the creation of the International Criminal Court. We say we want peace, and yet the U.S. is the largest weapons dealer in the world.

The disconnect between rhetoric and reality helps explain why we are threatened. Propping up dictatorships and monarchies just to keep the oil flowing makes enemies easily. If, on the other hand,  we put human rights, democracy, and justice at the center of our policymaking, we are less likely to attract such hatred. The U.S. should also re-orient its policies to tackle social ills like injustice and poverty -- which provide fertile territory for terrorist recruiters. We need a new foreign policy that genuinely puts these principles at the heart of our decision-making.

At the same time, we need to rethink the criteria for choosing friends and allies. Saudi Arabia is described as a "moderate" state while Iran is lumped in with the "axis of evil." Yet Iran boasts a more energetic democracy, a more lively press, and a more active role for women in society than what the house of Saud will permit under its reign. And did our relationship with their corrupt government help enrage the 15 Saudis who attacked on Sept. 11? So which country is more of a "valued ally" -- Iran or Saudi Arabia?

But it's possible that even in a world of perfect freedom and universal affluence, terrorism would persist. Religious fanaticism can be far more unyielding than despotism or inequality. But if religious fanatics can't be eliminated, at least they can be isolated. Unfortunately, Washington's unilateralism is an obstacle to the sort of cooperation needed to isolate people determined to do harm.

The United States' military and economic strength has led us to believe that we can act alone and without regard for the opinions of other nations. Our resistance to cooperative action is short-sighted, one example being Washington's opposition to ratifying the UN Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings. At other times disregard for the opinions of others has been self-defeating -- for instance, our refusal to acknowledge Afghan captives at Guantanamo Bay as prisoners of war, which has led some European countries to refuse to turn terrorist suspects over to us.

This kind of behavior has left us in a position with few genuine friends and only reluctant allies. With the security of Americans at stake, we can no longer afford a unilateralist approach that annoys our partners and needlessly enrages our adversaries.

Our current leaders say they cannot protect us. To scare peace-loving people with visions of slaughter only aids terrorists, for it sows the kinds of fears terrorism depends on. That fatalism is wholly unacceptable in individuals entrusted with protecting the public.

An outcry against this fatalism is overdue. If our officials really believe they cannot stop terrorism, then it is up to the citizens to start looking for leaders who will.

Jason Mark and Ted Lewis work for the international human rights organization Global Exchange.

Justice For All

Human history just took a momentous step forward, but sadly the United States may have been left behind.

Earlier this month, 10 countries ratified the 1998 Rome Protocol establishing the first-ever International Criminal Court (ICC). This brings the total number of ratifying nations to 66, six more than the 60 required for the court to come into existence. As many as 139 countries have signed the treaty, which calls for the creation of a permanent tribunal to deal with those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The court will be formally established on July 1 in The Hague.

Ad-hoc tribunals have been created before to try those accused of war crimes – most memorably in Nuremberg against the Nazis and most recently in the Hague against former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic. But the court will be the first permanent body set up specifically to try those responsible for crimes against humanity. The establishment of the ICC will mark a historic step toward building a global criminal-justice system and instituting a universal legal code.

Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that the United States will join the ICC any time soon.

In December, the Senate (which must ratify the ICC treaty to establish U.S. participation) voted 78-21 for a law that unilaterally exempts US armed forces from prosecution by the Court. Titled the American Service-members' Protection Act, the bill authorizes the use of military force to gain the release of any U.S. or allied personnel detained or imprisoned by the court. The proposed law is so outrageous that some critics have dubbed it "The Hague Invasion Act."

Just as outrageous is the Bush Administration’s public admission that it is considering "unsigning" the ICC treaty, which President Clinton signed before leaving office. This is a frightening prospect. No president has ever revoked the signature of a former chief executive on a treaty. If the White House takes this unprecedented action, it will signal to countries around the world that it is acceptable to withdraw from treaties that they find inconvenient or burdensome. The "unsigning" would shake whatever global confidence remains in United States’ commitment to abide by international norms.

Some of the opposition to the ICC is based on procedural concerns, while other lawmakers oppose the court on ideological grounds. The first set of anxieties is unwarranted and the second short-sighted.

Some senators fear that the ICC would trump national courts – an outcome that is highly unlikely. The ICC jurisdiction would be complementary to U.S. courts. National governments would still have the primary responsibility to prosecute the most serious international crimes, and the ICC would step in only as a court of last resort.

Some lawmakers have also complained that the Court could be used to launch "political" prosecutions. But the ICC has many checks and balances built into the process designed to prevent such actions. Prosecutors could not start an investigation without permission from a pre-trial chamber of three judges. And the suspect and the nations involved also have the right to challenge investigations conducted by the prosecutor. They can also challenge the jurisdiction of the court or the admissibility of the case at the trial stage.

But aside from these narrow – and unfounded – procedural concerns, some senators and the White House oppose the court for ideological reasons. These critics – who are either go-it-alone unilateralists or stay-at-home isolationists – fear the court will undermine U.S. sovereignty. But given our desire to end terrorism worldwide, the aversion to international cooperation is self-defeating. How can the Bush administration and a majority of the U.S. Senate turn their backs on a new institution best-equipped to bring to justice criminals like those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. And do so even as we ask other countries to assist us in isolating and arresting terrorists?

The U.S. government’s resistance to the ICC sends a dangerous message to the rest of the world: that we are unwilling to abide by the same rules as other nations. This is no way to win the friends we so badly need during this dangerous time in American history. More than ever, the United States needs to cooperate with other countries in pursuing justice.

The United States must work with the rest of the world, not against it. Instead of resisting the International Criminal Court, the U.S. ought to be vigorously supporting the court. It offers the best way of creating a global rule of law that would serve as an alternative to war and conflict.

Ted Lewis and Jason Mark work for the San Francisco-based international human-rights organization Global Exchange.

The Virtue of Vulnerability

In the chaos of September 11, the first instinct of people at the foot of the World Trade Center and of those at the Pentagon was to save human lives. Distinctions of race, class and national origin were erased amid the trauma of terror, and on that morning every person was equally vulnerable, equally human. One of the most important questions now facing us as a nation is whether we can take that instinct to save, to protect, and to heal and extend it to an international level. Our answer will greatly determine whether we will be able to end the scourge of terrorism.

The September 11 attacks made Americans painfully aware of our own vulnerability. The recognition of how exposed we are to attacks has led to a great amount of understandable fear. But recognizing our vulnerability is not a bad thing. If we are to make the world safe from terrorism -- and safety and security are clearly the most important challenges we face -- then we must acknowledge and grapple with our weaknesses and susceptibilities.

For most of humanity, vulnerability is a way of life. Poverty, hunger, civil war and ethnic strife force billions of people to live at the whims of forces beyond their control. Before September 11 most Americans, buffered by privilege, had never felt that sort of insecurity. But now we do. Suddenly we know the frailty of our place in the world just like those billions of people for whom frailty is all-too-familiar. The hope is that our newfound sense of vulnerability will lead to a kind of international empathy and solidarity. Such empathy could be the cornerstone of a new spirit of international cooperation -- a cooperation that provides the only way to ensure global security.

Future terrorist attacks will only be eliminated when all the peoples of the world work together to isolate suicidal fanatics. Unfortunately, current US policies are an obstacle to collaboration. The US's political, military and economic policies have bred a seething resentment of the US around the world. That resentment presents a very real barrier to international cooperation. It is important, then, that we take our just-discovered sense of vulnerability and use it to reflect on who we are as a people and how we want to relate to the rest of the world.

The widespread, and in some places very deep, bitterness toward the US has arisen not because of our values, but because we have abandoned so many of our values when it comes to our foreign policy. We are a country founded on the ideal of justice, and yet our policy makers have resisted calls to establish an international criminal court. We pledge ourselves to freedom, yet one administration after another has supported brutal dictatorships around the world. And even as we talk about opportunity and the "pursuit of happiness," our economic policies propagate sweatshops and our national leaders refuse meaningful debt cancellation that would create the opportunities for other countries to pursue happiness.

The status quo has created a vast distrust of the US. Until we embrace policies that truly reflect our values, we won't be able to disarm that distrust. If we want the world to work with us to isolate terrorism, then we will have to work with the rest of the world. For too long parochial self-interest has driven our national policies. Now more than ever we need foreign policies informed by enlightened self-interest. The requisite for global security is global justice.

How can we win the lasting goodwill of the world's peoples? It may not be easy, but a few immediate steps come to mind. First, we should commit ourselves to working collaboratively with other countries. That would mean ratifying treaties like the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, and the international land mines agreement, among others. Unconditional debt cancellation would be another way of proving our commitment to real justice. Thousands of people in Africa are dying of AIDS every day because their countries, which suffer under massive debt burdens, can't afford the drugs or the medical services to treat them. Canceling third world debt and showing that we care about such suffering would win us many new friends. Finally, the US should promise not to support any country, including allies such as Turkey and Israel, which violates international human rights standards.

No country, not even one as powerful as the US, can go it alone in eliminating terrorism. As September 11 showed, when it comes to the terror of suicide attacks, we are all equally vulnerable, all equally human. Only by recognizing that, and by working together, will we become safe.

Ted Lewis directs the political and civil rights program at Global Exchange, an international human rights organization.