What are Legos Good For?

Everything, including forensic science:

After more than two decades, investigators say they’ve finally solved the brutal murder of Lucille Johnson, 78. John Sansing — a prison inmate on death row in Arizona — was charged Thursday with first-degree murder, a first-degree felony, in the woman’s death.

A daughter discovered her mother dead in bed with a pillow over her face.

Investigators at the time found LEGO bricks on Johnson’s living room floor, in the home’s entry and on the driveway, Hoyal said. Detectives collected the toys as evidence after family members told them that while Johnson had toys for her grandchildren, she would never leave them lying around, the charges state.

Salt Lake County sheriff’s investigators worked on the case but were unable to solve it. They stopped investigating in 2006 because they lacked any new leads.In August 2013, a team led by Unified Police Sgt. Michael Ikemiyashiro reopened the case. The detectives sent scrapings that had been collected from under Johnson’s fingernails for DNA testing and recovered a profile that matched a Combined DNA Index System profile for Sansing, Ikemiyashiro said.

Investigators also matched fingerprints from the LEGO toys gathered during the original investigation with one of Sansing’s children who was 5 years old at the time of the killing, according to the charges. Police now believe that Sansing’s son was present at the time Johnson was viciously killed.


Speaking About Comfort Women Without Speaking About Them

Today I sat in on a senate hearing on the status of US alliances in Northeast Asia. The hearing was held by the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Yesterday’s snowfall has apparently had repercussions for the ability of senators to travel to the Hill because Senator Cardin, the Subcommittee Chair, was the only senator in attendance.

Several issues were covered including the relocation of 9,000 Marines from Okinawa, Japan to Guam and Hawaii, but most interesting to me was the discussion around what were cryptically labeled “sensitive historical issues” that are the subject of a diplomatic row between South Korea and Japan.

One such issue is the Japanese prime minister’s (PM) visit to the Yakasuni Shrine. Last year, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yakasuni Shrine where fallen Japanese WWII soldiers, including high officials convicted of war crimes, are interred. Korean and Chinese leaders, whose peoples generally view the Shrine as a symbol of Japan’s aggression toward them during WWII, were outraged by the visit. It is tradition for the Japanese PM to honor Japan’s war dead but visits to the controversial Shrine had been discontinued in recent years.

One other “sensitive historical issue” that wasn’t explicitly mentioned but that I think figures large in Northeast Asian affairs is Japan’s institutionalized use of Korean “comfort women” as enslaved prostitutes for Japanese military forces stationed close to the front lines in WWII. The issue of comfort women was repopularized in the US in 1996 when Nick Kristof wrote an article on a reparation fund for the Koreans forced into the comfort women system.

There have been a string of headlines in recent months about the comfort women system in Korea-Japan relations. The issue has even spread to Glendale, California, where a local resident with a Japanese-sounding name is suing the city to remove a statue honoring the memory of the comfort women. Japanese leaders maintain that Korea is focusing on the past to the detriment of the future, which seems to have been Senator Cardin’s attitude at today’s hearing.

This is why I’m more comfortable with human rights advocacy than with peacebuilding. Peacebuilding emphasizes the process of coming to terms with and moving past traumatic experiences so that groups in conflict can coexist without violence. It doesn’t discount justice processes per se, but if former oppressors are not interested in facing the music, then demands for justice can stand in the way of reconciliation. I prefer to see abusers deal with the consequences of their actions. I’m not sympathetic to their desire that we all move on.

Why is Rape Common in War? Ctd

Kim Murphy considers the notion that Victorian gender norms prevented rape in the US Civil War:

Historians, Murphy says, largely had the idea that the Victorian era was characterized by restraint, and therefore there was little rape. For example, she mentions a passage from Reid Mitchell’s book, The Vacant Chair: The Northern Soldier Leaves Home, which reads:

“Few northern soldiers raped…True manhood was characterized by sexual restraint not sexual assertion; even mutually agreeable intercourse would have threatened masculine identity. Letting anger toward women break out in unsanctioned violence against women would have been unmanly.”

“There were 109,397 cases of gonorrhea, and 73,382 cases of syphilis—and that’s just among the U.S. white troops; we don’t have the records for the Confederacy,” Murphy says. “Quite frankly, that doesn’t suggest restraint.”

Murphy thinks the Civil War rapes were largely crimes of opportunity:

[Read more…]

James Fallows on Comparisons to the Remsburg Moment

James Fallows has posted several blogs about Cory Remsburg’s acknowledgment during the State of the Union address focusing on “what is right about this young man, but wrong about the spectacle.”

I think the spectacle should make most Americans uneasy.

The vast majority of us play no part whatsoever in these prolonged overseas campaigns; people like Sgt. Remsburg go out on 10 deployments; we rousingly cheer their courage and will; and then we move on.

Last month I mentioned that the most memorable book I read in 2013 was Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain. It’s about a group of U.S. soldiers who barely survive a terrible encounter in Iraq, and then are paraded around in a halftime tribute at a big Dallas Cowboys game. The crowd at Cowboys Stadium cheers in very much the way the Capitol audience did last night—then they get back to watching the game.

In his latest piece, Fallows invites readers to find the most apt comparison with the Remsburg event in popular culture. One reader nominates Vietnam war movie Apocalypse Now:

I agree that the spectacle of oblivious war supporters applauding and completely missing the point is disconcerting. War lovers also applauded at the ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’ part of Apocalypse Now, but that doesn’t make the movie a less powerful antiwar statement.

I never watched Apocalypse, but I have seen A Few Good Men similarly abused.

War lovers go gaga when Colonel Jessep barks that he has “neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it.” They do so even though the line comes as testimony that, seconds later, leads to Jessep’s arrest for extrajudicial punishment resulting in the manslaughter of a Marine.

Given how well the line sans context overpowers the film’s message in popular culture, Apocalypse Now might be an apt comparison to the Remsburg event if we assume that the powerful antiwar statement will be mostly lost to cultural memory. But I hope the discussion we’re having will prevent that.

What Does the Law of War Say About Mishandling Human Remains in Iraq?

Stars and Stripes relays word that entertainment website TMZ has obtained pictures of US Marines burning Iraqi bodies in Fallujah in 2004. Stripes is withholding publication of the photos until more is learned about their context.

Likewise, I’ll refrain from commentary on the photos until then. In the meantime, I do want to address the relevant Law of War in response to a point made by Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren:

The pictures show U.S. servicemembers in what could be a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which makes it a crime to mishandle remains. Warren added that these actions would not be a violation of the laws of war — but would be a violation of General Order No. 1, which governs conduct in a given war zone.

“On the burning, you know, it’s hard to tell [whether it’s a violation],” Warren said. “While we don’t routinely burn human remains, there are circumstances when that might be necessary for hygiene, health — things like that.”

I believe Colonel Warren is, if not mistaken, oversimplifying the position of the Law of War on the mishandling of human remains. Mishandling human remains is clearly prohibited by the First Geneva Convention. The only ambiguity that I can see is in whether the First Geneva Convention applied to the Iraq conflict at the time of the incident.

Articles 15 and 17 of the First Geneva Convention require parties to international armed conflict to protect the dignity of the dead and to provide for a proper burial when possible. The first paragraph of Article 15 states [emphasis mine]:

At all times, and particularly after an engagement, Parties to the conflict shall, without delay, take all possible measures to…search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled.

Article 17 explicitly prohibits cremation “except for imperative reasons of hygiene or for motives based on the religion of the deceased.” It requires that burials be conducted “honourably”:

[Parties to the conflict] shall further ensure that the dead are honourably interred, if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged…

So the prohibition on mishandling human remains in international armed conflict is clear. However, the First Geneva Convention applies only in the following circumstances:

to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.

The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party…

Legally, armed conflict between the US and Iraq ended when the US deposed the Iraqi government on April 9th, 2003. Iraq then became subject to US occupation until the US Coalition Provisional Authority transferred power to the Iraqi Interim Government on June 30, 2004.

After June 30, 2004, the US remained in Iraq with the consent of the Iraqi government (such as it was). This agreement marked the legal transition of the Iraq war from occupation to an internal armed conflict in which the US was allied with the Iraqi government against insurgent forces.

Since Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions is the only law that applies to internal armed conflict, mishandling of human remains might not be a violation of the First Geneva Convention if it occurred in Iraq after June 30, 2004 (more in this PDF).

Quite a technicality, I know. The legal transitions I describe had little bearing on the warlike conditions on the ground. But without knowing when in 2004 the pictures were taken, we can’t say whether the Law of War is applicable to the acts depicted in them.

Again, we lack the information to determine if a violation of domestic or international law occurred. But as we wait for more information, we should keep in mind that the law of war does address the mishandling of human remains in certain circumstances. I’d argue as well that mishandling remains always violates the spirit if not the letter of the law.

“Lone Survivor” Marcus Luttrell Tells Us What He Thinks About War Crimes

You may know Marcus Luttrell as the subject of Lone Survivor, the hit movie about a Navy SEAL team overrun in Afghanistan. You may also know that Luttrell wrote a book about his experience.

Mother Jones compiled a list of quotes from said book in which Luttrell offers views on the Law of Armed Conflict, the “liberal media,” the organizational identity of his enemies, democratic accountability, and the lengths to which we should have gone to win in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rather than subtly manipulate the context of Luttrell’s quotes or, depending on whom you ask, remind you of the context that his supporters probably wish you’d overlook, I’ll let Luttrell’s words speak for themselves:

For me, it began in Iraq, the first murmurings from the liberal part of the U.S.A. that we were somehow in the wrong, brutal killers, bullying other countries; that we who put our lives on the line for our nation at the behest of our government should somehow be charged with murder for shooting our enemy.

This entire business of modern war crimes, as identified by the liberal wings of politics and the media, began in Iraq and has been running downhill ever since. Everyone’s got to have his little hands in it, blathering on about the public’s right to know. Well, in the view of most Navy SEALs, the public does not have that right to know…

I promise you, every insurgent, freedom fighter and stray gunman in Iraq who we arrested knew the ropes, knew that the way out was to announce he had been tortured by the Americans, ill treated, or prevented from reading the Koran or eating his breakfast or watching the television. They all knew al-Jazeera, the Arab broadcasters, would pick it up, and it would be relayed to the U.S.A., where the liberal media would joyfully accuse all of us of being murderers or barbarians or something. Those terrorist organizations laugh at the U.S. media, and they know exactly how to use the system against us.

I guess we’d better start getting used to the consequences and permit the American liberals to squeak and squeal us to ultimate defeat. I believe that’s what it’s called when you pack up and go home, when a war fought under your own “civilized” terms is unwinnable.

And if the liberal media and political community cannot accept that sometimes the wrong people get killed in war, then I can only suggest they first grow up and then serve a short stint up in the Hindu Kush. They probably would not survive.

[Letting the goat herders go] was the stupidest, most southern-fried, lamebrained decision I ever made in my life. I must have been out of my mind. I had actually cast a vote which I knew could sign our death warrant. I’d turned into a fucking liberal, a half-assed, no-logic nitwit, all heart, no brain, and the judgment of a jackrabbit.

Was there ever a greater uproar than the one that broke out over Abu Ghraib? In the bigger scheme of things, in the context of all the death and destruction that Muslim extremists have visited upon this world, a bunch of Iraqi prisoners being humiliated does not ring my personal alarm bell. And it would not ring yours either if you ever saw firsthand what these guys are capable of. I mean, Jesus, they cut off people’s heads, American heads, aid workers’ heads.

Don’t Trust Power When It’s Trying to Frighten You

Conor Friedersdorf rants against implications by Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers that the United States is less safe from terrorism than it was two years ago. His punchline:

The national-security establishment has really figured out how to sustain itself: If the risk of terrorism decreases, it proves that they ought to be given more power to continue their demonstrably successful policies; and if the risk of terrorism increases, it proves that they need more power to fight terrorists who are more dangerous than ever. Whatever happens, whats needed is to give the the people in charge more leeway and resources to do what they’re already doing.

Down at the level of the infantry battalion, the same logic dominated during my Iraq deployments. If IED attacks were down, we had the enemy on the ropes. If IED attacks were up, the enemy was getting desperate. Always was there cause for self-satisfaction.

Of course what Conor’s warning about isn’t self-satisfaction; it’s power-seeking. Power largely derives from physical force. For this reason, we must default to skepticism when evaluating the threat assessments made by those who seek power (e.g., the chairs of the congressional intelligence committees). In any given case, their assertions may be correct. However, their incentive structure makes it impossible for us to determine this from their words alone.

In this case, I think Feinstein and Rogers’ claims are obviously fallacious. “Terror is up worldwide” says nothing about the security of us in the United States, and it may even be an indication that “terror” has moved onto more permissive pastures. “They’ve now switched to this notion that smaller events are OK” says nothing about the frequency or likelihood or cumulative effect of those hypothetical smaller events, and it may even be an indication that terrorists have resigned themselves to a less permissive environment.

In my experience, those who claim to represent national security interests are often enormously motivated by validation of their importance and their exclusive ability to provide security. I think their body language and choice of rhetoric often speaks volumes in this regard. But such intrinsic motivation is rarely demonstrable beyond the level of intuition. What’s demonstrable is that those who seek power have the extrinsic incentive to inflate national security threats. We should set their burden of proof accordingly.

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