If Korematsu Were Decided Today…

A couple of my students approached me today with what they thought was a rather disturbing discussion in their first year Constitutional Law class (I teach Property to the same group).

The class was discussing Korematsu v. United States, the infamous Supreme Court case from 1944, which upheld the internment of Japanese-American citizens.  Nothing so odd about that, especially in light of modern issues concerning national security and civil liberties.  But here’s the disturbing thing:

Virtually all of the students who commented defended the decision.  It was only after several minutes that any student spoke up and set forth the obvious issues, i.e. 1) that US citizens were convicted of simply being present in their country of citizenship; and 2) that German-Americans and Italian-Americans were not similarly treated.

I should quickly say that I don’t question the professor in this case at all (and neither did the students I spoke with).  He’s very good at raising open-ended questions and allowing the students to think (and speak) for themselves; no one would question his egalitarian and anti-racist bonafides.

So what happened here?

Well, perhaps this is one of those cases where everyone “knows” what the “right” answer is, viz., that Korematsu was an embarrassing abomination, so the students were attempting to argue against the obvious answer.  I wasn’t in the room, so it’s hard for me to tell.  But it doesn’t seem like this group: they don’t hesitate to speak up, but they won’t argue for the sake of arguing.

Rather, I wonder if the post-9/11 world has subtly but powerfully transformed our worldview.  I graduated from law school in 1993; I can’t imagine a room full of law students then defending Korematsu, and I certainly can’t imagine that occurring without a million hands popping up to attack it. 

The drip, drip, drip of anti-Muslim propaganda from the “respectable” organs of the Right and the constant MSM images of Muslim radicalism has made us more willing to understand or accept why decisionmakers would decide that for national security’s sake, perhaps one group has to be focused on.  We might accept profiling, which of course is a far cry from internment, but really, it was more serious then, and in fact they had attacked us, and while I certainly don’t like this and would try to do something else and of course the vast majority of Muslim-Americans are loyal citizens you can’t be too sure and….

Justice Jackson’s Korematsu dissent warned that the decision established a principle that “then lies about like a loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need.”

Perhaps the weapon is still sitting there.

Urgent situation in Cote d’Ivoire

My close friend and colleague David Paltiel sends this important missive from public health colleagues who have worked in Cote d’Ivoire on HIV efforts. They have direct contacts in country who can provide further information for those who would like to help.

Friends & Colleagues,

We are writing to enlist your help in spreading the word about the deteriorating situation in Côte d’Ivoire and in pressing the United Nations to fulfill its mandate to protect civilians from imminent harm.

We collaborate closely with a team of doctors and researchers based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. This team provides medical care to over 10,000 HIV-infected individuals in that city, many through PEPfAR-related programs. Their excellent treatment services have improved the health of thousands; their pioneering research has saved the lives of even greater numbers throughout the developing world. These are brave men and women who have witnessed desperate humanitarian emergencies first-hand, who function with little support, and who are not the least bit prone to exaggeration.

Over the last few days, we have received increasingly dire reports from our colleagues. They describe the situation in Abidjan as “pre-genocidal.” Several neighborhoods of the capital and outlying areas that are loyal to President-Elect Alassane Ouattara have now been fenced in by troops supporting ex-President Laurent Gbagbo. Civilians attempting to cross checkpoints have been robbed and killed. Gangs of militiamen conduct regular sweeps through neighborhood houses, ostensibly to maintain order but, in reality, to intimidate. Civilians in these neighborhoods are trapped, threatened in their own homes, terrified to leave, and not knowing where to turn for safety. For people with chronic conditions like HIV – dependent on access to medications for their own health –an already life-threatening situation is made even worse by the growing national drug shortage and the real danger of leaving one’s home just to fill a prescription or to keep a medical appointment.

The political-military situation in Côte d’Ivoire was front-and-center in people’s minds a few short weeks ago. But events in Egypt, in Libya, and in Japan have overtaken the headlines. Gbagbo has capitalized on our collective inattention to secure his illegal position and to terrorize the people. The UN needs to fulfill its mandate to protect civilians in Côte d’Ivoire. More than 400 people have been killed and some 400,000 persons displaced while UN troops have been on the ground. Specific steps that can be taken immediately include: opening UN and French military bases to civilian refugees; establishing a humanitarian corridor to permit civilians to escape the violence and reach these bases; and jamming the state broadcasting system so that it can no longer incite violence.

Please help to bring this emergency back to the front burner. If it would help you – or anyone you think might be influential – to obtain direct, eyewitness testimony, we would be happy to help you to make contact with our colleagues in Abidjan.

A. David Paltiel, PhD
Professor, Yale School of Medicine/Yale School of Management

Kenneth A. Freedberg, MD, MSc
Professor , Harvard Medical School

Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH
Associate Professor, Harvard Medical School

We Are All Kissinger Now

We have met Dr. Kissinger, and he is us.

Henry Kissinger has come under withering outrage for volunteering to his famously anti-Semitic boss these words of realpolitik concerning the emigration of persecuted Soviet Jews to Israel:

And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern.  Maybe a humanitarian concern.

How horrible, we think.  But we don’t think about the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

What does that have to do with anything?  Everything.

Nearly five and a half million people have died in the Congo’s ongoing civil war.  And no, this isn’t just about war casualities.  It is a crime of world-historical proportions: more than 200,000 women raped, forcible recruitment of child soldiers, and continuing atrocities committed by all sides and particularly the Orwellian-named “Lord’s Resistance Army.”  If you are talking about numbers of people slaughtered, Congo puts Darfur to shame.  I’m proud to say that the American Jewish World Service, with which I’ve been involved for a while, supports several human rights organizations there, but the security and human rights situation is so bad there that AJWS can’t even list them on its website for fear of brutal and violent reprisals.

And what has been the American official response to this monstrous disaster?  Yawn.  Is it ignoring the popular will?  Hardly.  Most Americans don’t know and don’t care about what is happening in this far-away place about which we know little.  And why?  It’s not really regarded as being central to US vital national interests.  It’s not a principal national security concern. I recently discovered that here at RBC “Human Rights” is listed as an “older thread.”  Yawn again.

In other words, the ongoing atrocities in the Congo aren’t really an American concern.  Maybe a humanitarian concern. 

So maybe there is some justification for the attacks on Kissinger.  But perhaps it’s time to press the pause button on the self-righteousness and look in the mirror.

The Uighurs Find a Home — Finally

Palau has agreed to take in the Uighurs — and has demonstrated just about every other nation’s hypocrisy and cowardice.

So it looks like Palau has agreed to temporarily resettle the Uighurs, who have been detained at Guantanamo for no apparent reason for several years. As background, the Uighurs are Chinese Muslims. 17 of then were detained by the United States in Afghanistan, locked up in Guantanamo even though there wasn’t a shred of evidence that they were dangerous, were officially exonerated — and then still had to remain in Guantanamo because no one wanted to take them.

This has been a really nauseating episode. Remember: these people were completely innocent, except that the Chinese government continued to insist that they were somehow dangerous. Lots and lots of hypocrisy here.

The Obama Administration? It refused to admit them to the United States. So much for give me your tired, your poor.

What about the Muslim world, and all those leaders and fighters who claim that they are warriors for the umma? Didn’t hear a peep out of them. Apparently, supporting Islam means shooting up half of Bombay, but you can’t be bothered with, you know, actually caring for innocent Muslims.

I always thought that Israel should take them. Wouldn’t that have been a great PR coup? But apparently Israel is too busy talking about how it shares enlightened western values and being a light unto the nations to actually do the right thing.

So they are off to Palau.

“What they will encounter in Palau is paradise,” said Stuart Beck, an American lawyer who is Palau’s permanent United Nations representative. “From the time the first British vessel hit a reef in Palau in 1783, it has welcomed refugees.”

And now maybe it’s the only place left that does.

Your tax dollars at work

“Extradjudicial killings” in Colombia. You’re paying.

Plan Colombia“: half a billion of your dollars each year going to pay for certainly hundreds, likely thousands, of “extrajudicial killings” (i.e., murders) by the Colombian military each year. No, that doesn’t count the slaughter carried out by the army’s paramilitary allies, whose leaders now run the cocaine trade and have seats in the parliament.

But don’t worry: only some of the murder victims are “false positives.” Others were actually associated with the FARC.

If adherence to “free trade” requires voting for a free trade agreement with the Uribe regime, include me out.