Falling out of love with Obama & Koh

Israel/Palestine
on 14 Comments

A rather depressing moment in a talk by the beloved Harold Koh last night at Yale Law School. He is Legal Adviser to the State Department, i.e. the US’s foremost international lawyer.

He was speaking about international law and arguing, amongst other things, that foreign policy under Obama is an improvement from that under Bush. Amongst the “achievements” he listed this: (see photo of his powerpoint slide) which I have transcribed below:

koh

“US Rejoined the HRC [UN Human Rights Council] in fall 2009 to much criticism focusing on the Goldstone Report, whose author has now partly recanted. Since then, US’ engagement has been working.

Major accomplishments include:

-first US Universal Periodic Review

-New Commissions of INquiry on Libya, Cote D’Ivoire

-shifting debate from defamation of religions

-new UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association, new UN Working Group on Discrimination of Women.

He was asked mostly questions about Libya and asked about Bradley Manning’s treatment which was the subject of a letter signed by over 250 legal academics (and originated by Bruce Ackerman of YLS too). I think Harold has learned the ways of DC well: his response to the Manning protest letter was to say that it contained inaccurate statements (without saying what they are). It made me sad that a man who is capable of nuance ignores it when it suits his role, ie. Goldstone. Also makes me sad that he cited the Goldstone reconsideration as a “success” for the US. Sorry, no signature.

14 Responses

  1. seafoid
    April 12, 2011, 2:16 pm

    I thought the Goldstone turning was down uniquely to Zionist thuggery but could the US have had a hand in it too ?

  2. Citizen
    April 12, 2011, 2:31 pm

    Any legal advisor to the US State Dept today is a political hack by virtue of his occupation of that position. It use to be a tad less so, but those days have been gone since 1967. Great awareness and equally great nuance talents are used only in a manner to keep the job. High US governmental appointees have been ruining America from both sides for a long time now, totally immune from the electorate.

    • lysias
      April 12, 2011, 3:02 pm

      I didn’t have the impression that Koh was a political hack when he was Dean of the Yale Law School.

      • Donald
        April 12, 2011, 6:06 pm

        “I didn’t have the impression that Koh was a political hack when he was Dean of the Yale Law School.”

        I know nothing about Koh, but the instant he decided to become a State Department spokesman he had to have known he was agreeing to be a hack.

      • Hostage
        April 12, 2011, 6:35 pm

        At Yale, he wasn’t justifying the use of drones to target and kill civilians when they aren’t anywhere near a battlefield.

        Mary Ellen O’Connell, an American Society of International Law Vice President had written in support of Koh’s nomination, but in no time at all she was giving him and the new administration failing grades for the use if “Unlawful Killing with Combat Drones”

      • lareineblanche
        April 12, 2011, 7:55 pm

        In the case of Obama, some never were wooed in the first place, for some the honeymoon was short, for others, they are still trying to cling on like to an abusive husband because they feel they have no other choice. Bad stuff.
        “Great awareness and equally great nuance talents are used only in a manner to keep the job.”
        Yup. It stands to reason that a talented individual, if the mission is to justify certain behavior, he will use the full talent at his disposal, regardless of any moral or ethical implications, to do it. I can see many situations where someone could become absorbed in the details of how to perform his specific function well and lose sight of everything else, and how this can become a real personal dilemma.
        One gets the impression with these lawyers (Yoo, Bybee, Koh, Dershowitz, etc.) are sufficiently talented verbally to transform almost any act into something legally acceptable given certain circumstances, or certain contexts (AUMF in the “War on Terror”, etc.), and their constant redefining of certain terms and phrases to suit their needs (the needs of their employers) can go on indefinitely if need be – which causes all of the commentariat :
        link to emptywheel.firedoglake.com
        to constantly scramble after them to unravel and interpret their statements in an endless game of cat and mouse. In the words (purportedly) of Karl Rove :

        ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

        The difference is that on one side, the rationalizations are backed by the formidable power (violence) of the state, and on the other side, nothing – so, we always come back to the relationship of power vs. powerless as the overriding factor, it seems there’s no way around it.
        Or in the words of Mr. Madar :

        In the words of the late international law eminence Tom Franck, at State the legal culture “is that of the defense counsel when it finds ways to justify, post hoc, the client’s actions, rather than that of an expert advising the client to choose the best legally-permissible course of action.” In short, the primary function of State Department lawyers is to come up with legal rationalizations that can pass the smell test.

  3. Chespirito
    April 12, 2011, 3:24 pm

    Harold Koh is an Establishment hack, from a young age muy íntimo with the Rostows and now busy spinning casuistic justifications for indefinite detention, drone strikes, the criminalization of WikiLeaks, and more wars whenever requested. His opposition to the Iraq invasion was never because it entailed the mass death of civilians and destruction of a country but because the campaign lacked a good-enough legal rationale; those two might at first seem to be the same reason, but they are really quite different. Now Koh is giving small-minded legalism a bad name. If I may toodle my own horn,
    link to counterpunch.org

    • annie
      April 12, 2011, 3:36 pm

      thanks, that’s a really good article. i was previously unfamiliar w/koh and appreciate the background.

  4. MRW
    April 12, 2011, 7:18 pm

    Initially, I thought he was being sarcastic:

    Major accomplishments include:
    –first US Universal Periodic Review
    –New Commissions of Inquiry on Libya, Cote D’Ivoire
    –shifting debate from defamation of religions
    –new UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association, new UN Working Group on Discrimination of Women.

    Major? Accomplishments?

  5. Justice Please
    April 13, 2011, 1:49 pm

    “He is Legal Adviser to the State Department, i.e. the US’s foremost international lawyer.”

    Some day, some how, there is a new Nuremberg waiting for “lawyers” like him, Jon Yoo etc.

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