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Should Children Be Tried for War Crimes?

February 10th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Omar Khadr is the youngest detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He was 15 when he allegedly threw a grenade that killed a U.S. Special Forces medic in Afghanistan.

Wednesday’s Washington Post has the story:

…The struggle against al-Qaeda has thrown up few detainees with as baleful and unlikely a background as Khadr’s — a father who moved his family to Afghanistan and inside Osama bin Laden’s circle of intimates when Omar was 10; a mother and sister who said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were deserved; and a brother, the black sheep of the clan, who said he became a CIA asset after his capture in Afghanistan.

This background has convinced U.N. officials, human rights advocates and defense lawyers that Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was an indoctrinated child soldier and, in line with international practice in other conflicts, should be rehabilitated, not prosecuted.

Here also is a 2007 60 Minutes segment on Omar Khadr, who Bob Simon reminds is us theonly person in modern history to be charged for war crimes he allegedly committed while a minor.

This is a no brainer. What is Eric Holder thinking?

Posted in international issues, International politics, juvenile justice, Pakistan | 11 Comments »

Social Justice Shorts

April 28th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



LA Observed has this story. Kevin and I talked about the issue at the LA Times Festival of Books, and we were both shocked and saddened by the Times’ short-sightedness .

LA Youth is a remarkable project that has been around for two decades, and the LA Times has always helped out by picking up the tab for the printing. Not anymore. Yes, we understand they’re cost-cutting to the bone. But I bet if I looked at a few executive salaries (cough….publisher…cough) I could find the $15 grand it takes to put out this newspaper that has done so much to give LA’s kids a voice.

LA Observed also has ways that you can donate to help out.
(Or click here.)

To give you an idea of what is worth saving, here’s a story by a 15-year-old video journalist who found, through reporting, what in his South LA community really matters.



Today, AG Jerry Brown will release a 30-page report
saying that the City of Maywood Police Department “routinely used excessive force, did not obtain probable cause to justify arrests and searches, and operated without adequate oversight by the Maywood City Council and the City’s Chief Administrative Officer.” This report is the result of a 16-month investigation which exposed “gross misconduct and widespread abuse,” including unlawful use of force against civilians.

According to the press release, Brown has sole legal authority under California Civil Code 52.3 to ensure that police departments do not deprive “any person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States or by the Constitution or laws of California.”

Okay, Jerry, now that you’re on a roll,
and we’ve discovered you have that “sole legal authority” thingy, how about taking a look at Men’s Central Jail?



USC sent out a Swine Flu Alert yesterday-–as did, I imagine, a lot of other institutions, even though the number of confirmed cases in the US are still few, located mostly on the East Coast, and thus far there have been no fatalities.

But the CDC is sending out jittery warnings because this is a nasty flu that, in Mexico anyway, has spread uncomfortably quickly out of season.
So caution is appropriate. Thus USC, as the responsible parent, is appropriately telling everyone to be cautious too.

Which brings us around to the political side of this story—namely when certain Republican lawmakers elected not to be appropriately cautious, but to play politics instead by insisting that pandemic preparedness be stripped out of the stimulus package.

My pal Marc Cooper also has a smart take on the issue.



Fatima Bhutto, niece of the late Benazir Bhutto, has written an excellent and alarming column for the Daily Beast that I hope the right people in the Obama administration manage to read. It says that the biggest cause of the rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan is the government’s failure to provide the simplest of desperately services for the nation’s poor. The Taliban has moved into that vacuum handily with schools, with medical relief and with generators when the government does not even provide electricity.

She writes:

In Pakistan things move at a leisurely South Asian pace. We missed our goals to eradicate polio recently because we, a nuclear nation, could not sustain electricity across the country long enough to refrigerate the vaccines. Garbage disposal is a nonexistent concept, and plush neighborhoods in Karachi boast towers of rubbish piled on street corners and alleyways. Prisons and police cells are full of prisoners awaiting trials, and our justice system, despite the reinstatement of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry, leaves a lot to be desired in terms of meting out free and fair access to justice.

One thing moving ridiculously fast, however, is the Taliban’s stranglehold on the country…..

In a conversation a year and a half ago, Fatima warned me the fundamentalists could gain power if the government continued to neglect its most poverty-stricken citizens. Her views turned out to be prescient.

When Pakistan’s weak and notoriously corrupt president, Asif Zardari, comes to Washington next week to ask for money, Fatima suggests that the U.S. should instead, insist that Mr. Zardari’s government do its job.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Los Angeles Times, Pakistan, Public Health, Social Justice Shorts | 31 Comments »

MUMBAI ONLINE: the Eyes and Ears for Millions

November 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Although I am still in the midst of a Tryptophanic haze,
I want to again link to some of the remarkable citizen journalists (and in some cases professional journalists using unconventional means) who have been eyes and ears for the rest of us who wanted to understand the human dimension of the events that unfolded with deadly force in Mumbai over the past three days.

There was for example Dina Meta , an ethnographer and social media consultant whose Twitter feed can be found here.

And then there are the harrowing accounts from Aran Shanbhag who lives near the Hotel Taj Mahal. (Scroll down to find his first post.) In words and photos, he talks about his best friend’s brother being killed, about the blood from a dead waiter he sees on the pavement in front of the barbershop where he gets his hair cut every week, about the shock at seeing a landmark that had known all his life becoming a flaming palace of death.

NPR did a wonderful story on an Indian journalist named Sreenath Sreenivasanwho is the dean of student affairs at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York. Within an hour of the attacks, Sreenivasan set up a call in radio show to aggregate and curate the observations of his fellow journalists who were on the ground in Mumbai and related areas.

“It was technology allowing us to do things we could never have done even a year ago…” he said.

Here’s a link to the first of the series of broadcasts he did as news of the situation was just beginning to filter out. (And here is the link to subsequent broadcasts.) It makes for remarkable listening.

And, of course, there are the collective Twitter feeds, with #MUMBAI the biggest one

Instead of conventional linear journalism, suddenly we had an Einsteinian explosion of reporting in which many pieces came together to form an dynamically-evolving whole.


(Photo of school children in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad taking part in a vigil for the victims of the Mumbai attacks, by Amit Dave for REUTERS)

Posted in India, international issues, International politics, Pakistan, South Asia | 15 Comments »

Pakistan UPDATE

February 18th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


The promised new story on the Pakistan election rigging
, the opposition sweeps, and other related drama, has been delayed. Look for it tonight or tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has reportedly obtained audio tape of Pakistan’s attorney general saying there will be massive vote-rigging, according to Canadian TV.

Yet, Musharraf’s party has conceded, and the election is being looked at as “resurrecting” democracy in Pakistan.

More soon.

(graphic from Teeth Maestro)

Posted in Pakistan | 10 Comments »

Rigging the Pakistani Vote

February 18th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

Senator Joe Biden, who along with John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, flew in to observe the parliamentary elections vote today in Pakistan, told reporters in Washington on Friday that if the elections can be shown to be “patently rigged,” he will propose that the United States cut off military aid to Pakistan.


Well, Joe, I think your cards are about to be called. All day there have been instances
of widespread vote rigging, fraud and bribery, being reported on some of Pakistan’s most prominent blogs, like here at Teeth Maestro and here at Metroblogging Karachi.

I’ll have a brand new report on all this early tomorrow morning from a first-hand source, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, it looks like the opposition parties (Benazir Bhutto’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N), not that of Musharraf’s (PML-Q and his reactionary allies, MQM), are winning. So one of the questions hanging in the air is this one: Who is doing the rigging?

Posted in International politics, Pakistan | 4 Comments »

Pakistan: Fatima Bhutto’s Name Comes Up

January 6th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

(Fatima Bhutto in Tehran)

It was inevitable that her name should eventually come up.

Now that the elections in Pakistan have been delayed for six weeks, there is more time to talk about who will take part in said elections, most specifically who really ought to lead the PPP—the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party.

At the moment, leadership is supposed to go to Benazir’s 19-year-old son, Bilawal, who was named his mother’s successor in her will.

There are one or two problems with this idea of Bilawal leading his mother’s party.
For one thing, there is his young age and complete lack of anything resembling political experience. Plus Bilawal has spent very little time in Pakistan. (He’s going to school at Oxford now but grew up primarily in Dubai during the period of Benazir’s exile.) And, although it has been deemed important to have a Bhutto to replace the murdered Benazir, while Bilawal is a Bhutto by blood, he is not by name. He goes by the`last name of his father, Asif Ali Zardari. As a result, the necessary “Bhutto” has been hastily added to Bilawal’s moniker as a middle name.

However the biggest difficulty in having Bilawal
take over the PPP is that he won’t be doing so for a number of years. Instead, he will continue his studies at Oxford while his father acts as regent. And since his father—Benazir’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari— is roundly disliked by much of the Pakistani populace, this is an arrangement that is likely to unravel.

As a consequence many Pakistan watchers, both within the country and without, have been wondering when someone would get around to mentioning that there is, in fact, another Bhutto who is far better suited than Bilawal for a central role in Pakistani politics, and that Bhutto is Fatima, Benazir’s niece, a 25-year-old newspaper columnist and author. (For the earlier WLA interview with Fatima click here.)

Finally someone did mention it: On Sunday,
the London Telegraph published an article by Jemima Khan–ex-wife of Pakistani cricket star turned politician, Imran Khan—suggesting that “If a Bhutto Must Run Pakistan, why Not Fatima.” The article was quickly quoted by a
string of papers in the region, then some of the Pakistani bloggers picked it up. Now even regional TV is reporting the idea.

It seems unlikely that either Fatima
or the PPP will embrace this notion any time soon—given their past antipathy, and Fatima’s stated reluctance to run for office. On the other hand, Fatima is a very bright, talented and impassioned young woman, and sometimes with the passage of time and the right circumstances, what was once unlikely can suddenly seem very likely indeed.

Posted in Pakistan | 12 Comments »

Benazir, Fatima and the Psychology of Bhutto Farewells

December 30th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


Out of all the homages
and the farewell essays pursuant to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto there are two that have stayed with me, one written by my friend Amy Wilentz, who went to school with Benazir, and kept in touch with her over the years. (Actually, Amy knew much of the family and even dated Benazir’s brother, Murtaza, Fatima Bhutto’s father, who was himself murdered in 1966, likely with Benazir’s complicity at least in the cover-up afterward.)

Amy writes in the Los Angeles Times of the last time she saw Benazir, 10 days before Bhutto’s return to Pakistan. It is a close-up and poignant glimpse of the personal woman behind the dynastic juggernaught.

It was nighttime as we spoke in her enormous fortress of a house in a gated community in Dubai. Outside, in the side yard behind walls and barriers, the guard dog barked. In the front receiving room was a little library stuffed with paperbacks, titles such as “Facial Workout,” “The Little Book of Stress,” “Eat to Beat Your Age” and Deepak Chopra’s “How to Know God.”


On walls everywhere in her Dubai house
were enlarged photographs of Zulfikar Bhutto. As prime minister, Benazir had been notoriously high-handed, but she had an unpretentious manner in private. For an Oxford and Harvard graduate, she was unembarrassed by her addiction to bestsellers, blockbusters and psychobabble books. When I asked if she was frightened of going back to Pakistan, she was matter-of-fact: “For all the lows in my life, those self-help books helped me survive, I can tell you. There’s a focus on the present; don’t worry about tomorrow. … When the time comes that I have to die, I’ll die.” When I left her late that night, she seemed lonely, standing on the doorstep in a pool of light, waving goodbye. She had lost so much in her struggle to become great, to take on what she thought of as her father’s mantle.


And then there is the essay that all Bhutto watchers have been waiting for, written by Benazir Bhutto’s harshest critic, the newspaper columnist who called Benazir the most dangerous woman in Pakistan. I’m talking of course about her niece, Fatima.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in International politics, literature, Pakistan | 9 Comments »

Would-Be Commanders-in-Chief and the Death of Benazir Bhutto

December 28th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


The death of Benazir Bhutto is assuredly going to matter
in the US presidential primaries that begin in Iowa next week. Exactly how much and to whom is as yet unclear. The majority of Americans know little of the nuances of Pakistani politics. And, for the most part, whatever knowledge voters gain in the coming days will be dependent on the information and spin they are fed by TVs nattering nabobs.

Last night, when talking about the meaning of Bhutto’s death, Wolf Blitzer in conversation with Dan Rather put forth a decidedly non-nuanced message that can best be summed up as follows: Terror central!!! Islamic extremism!!! Danger, danger, danger!!!

Of course, how events in Pakistan affect the US Prez race is, in the main, dependent on the candidates themselves, all of whom—Dem and Repub—have had something to say about the assassination and what it portends:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in International politics, Pakistan, Presidential race | 26 Comments »

“Pakistan is Bleeding” – The Killing of Benazir Bhutto

December 27th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


As most of you know by now,
former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday (today) as she left a political rally.

Benazir, despite her charisma and her passion,
was a controversial and, in the eyes of many, a deeply problematic leader, both beloved and reviled, her two administrations marred by corruption. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, was arguably one of the most hated men in the country. (Fatima, Benazir’s niece, explains some of the issues in the WLA interview here.) Yet, however complex the feelings toward her, Benazir belonged to Pakistan, and her death leaves Pakistanis spinning and grief stricken.

Here’s what popular Pakistani blogger
Teeth Maestro writes of these confusing moments as they continue to unfold. His words say much about the country’s roiling emotions, and about its attitude toward what it regards as U.S. meddling.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a suicide attack today in Rawalpindi outside the Liaquatbagh rally she addressed moments earlier. In all honesty, I was never a fan of her style of politics corruption but on hearing this sad news it leaves me and the entire nation in shock, quite literally forgiving her for everything, May Her Soul Rest in Peace.

As the country plunges into chaos with news of riots already afoot throughout Pakistan. Yes we will recover, yes the world will move on, but we will surely remember her ultimate sacrifice for Pakistan.

My analysis of who is to blame may be quite simple as we have been repeating the same thing over and over again – The Americans MUST stop their adventures and infiltrations into other countries and their war on terror has destroyed Afghanistan, Iraq and now Pakistan stands on the edge ready to plummet into darkness. This war on terror is a war of the Americans and NOT our war.

We Pakistanis Plead with the movers and shakers in United States to Please For Gods Sake Leave US ALONE

Here and here and here are a few other links to top Pakistani bloggers. And here also Metroblogging Lahore pleads with everyone to stay home for safety’s sake as the country tips increasingly toward chaos. The words of the bloggers, in many ways, give a much fuller picture of what is going on inside Pakistan than anything you can get from CNN.

This event is loaded with implications
for the U.S. and for the world—as well as for Pakistan itself. Naturally, all the presidential candidates, Republicans and Democrats, are rushing to make comments. (More on that later.)

But right now, our hearts simply go out to the Pakistani people in these dark hours.


Posted in International politics, Pakistan, parole policy | 6 Comments »