Rereading 1984

By David Michael Newstead.

Last summer, I unexpectedly found a first edition of George Orwell’s 1984 in a used bookstore in Washington D.C. The novel had been buried in a pile of miscellaneous paperbacks, hiding in plain sight. For how long? I’m not sure. So when I realized what it was, I immediately grabbed it and headed to the register. I guess I was surprised to even see something that rare. Then again, finding the book in 2016 might have been an omen of things to come. Eagerly, I bought it and re-read it. The story, of course, was the same: Big Brother, the Thought Police, and the rest. The difference was that the world around me had changed since the last time I’d read it. It’s a book that only becomes more relevant with each passing day. And in some countries, it isn’t far from reality as it is.

Besides the narrative though, the paperback itself started to intrigue me: the look, the feel, how the pages smell, how it fits in my hands, the original cover art, and the signs of wear and tear from over the years. This particular copy was slightly beat up, but still in good condition for something printed in the late 1940s. And that’s when I thought about it more. Here’s an object – almost 70 years old now – that’s an analog relic in an increasingly digital world. It is a lingering connection to and a warning from the distant past. When it was first printed, World War Two had just finished and the Cold War was in its earliest stages.

Plenty has happened since then and who knows where this book was for all those years before I got it. Regardless, today some Orwellian themes are just a description of disturbing norms across the planet: widespread government surveillance, propaganda, and political doublespeak. Maybe the methods have been updated overtime, but there’s a reason 1984 and other dystopian novels have had skyrocketing sales lately. George Orwell, for his part, fought against fascism and oppression and passionately believed in objective truth. Safe to say, that battle continues.

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Top Five Politicians with Facial Hair 2017

By David Michael Newstead.

Politicians with facial hair are few and far between, especially in Western democracies. While it’s normally associated with left-wing revolutionaries, here’s a look at the top five politicians with facial hair in 2017 from around the world and across the political spectrum.

5. Jeremy Corbyn – Head of the British Labour Party, Corbyn is a committed leftist and longtime member of Parliament who’s party leadership has often been challenged as Labour struggles to appeal to voters.

4. Beppe Grillo – Grillo is an Italian comedian and activist who founded the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in 2009. Since then, the Five Star Movement has had notable success, winning mayoral elections in Rome and Turin as well as helping to defeat Italy’s 2016 constitutional referendum.

3. Steve Bannon – A top advisor in the Trump administration, Bannon is formerly the head of Breitbart News. Synonymous with the Alt-Right movement, Bannon expounds a far-right and economic nationalist vision for the United States.

2. Jagmeet Singh – An up-and-coming politician in Canada’s New Democratic Party, Singh is popular on social media and a prominent member of the Sikh faith who was recently featured in GQ magazine for being so well-dressed. Read Here.

1. Tom Perez – Until recently Perez was Secretary of Labor in the Obama administration. Now the newly elected Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Perez is tasked with rebuilding the Democratic Party after their losses in 2016. It’s worth noting that his main opponent for DNC Chair was Representative Keith Ellison who also has facial hair, a rarity in American politics.

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Our Work Never Ends: An Interview with David Crane

By David Michael Newstead.

War crimes investigator David Crane returns to discuss the conflict in Syria, proposed human rights laws in the United States, and the impact of populist elections around the world.

David Newstead: How do you think this wave of populist elections around the world will impact international law and human rights?

David Crane: The honest answer is, I don’t know. One could certainly seem to think that it is not going to augur well for the future. However, that just remains to be seen. I would hope that we could at least keep where we are as opposed to taking steps back. But frankly, I am not confident. This is a clarion call for all of us to work harder, particularly in the public relations realm, to keep the concept of seeking justice for people who are oppressed in some kind of light so that it just doesn’t disappear back into the shadows as it was before the early 1990s.

David Newstead: Human rights laws like the original Magnitsky Act were bipartisan pieces of legislation and had strong Republican support. Do you see any hope for the expanded version of the Magnitsky Act or the Caesar Act in either the Republican controlled Congress or the Trump administration?

David Crane: I helped draft the Magnitsky Act and had testified on the Caesar Act before the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier in the summer. You know, it’s interesting. It’s kind of a bellwether as to what the sense of Congress is at least right now. The other week, the Caesar Act passed on a voice vote in the House, which was a positive sign.

I’m not so sure about the Senate. I don’t have as good a read on it as I do in the House. I’m very good friends with Congressmen Ed Royce and Chris Smith, two champions of human rights who have worked with me since 2002 when I was doing my work in West Africa. I just don’t think it has the sense of urgency in the Senate that it does in the House. I’m not confident, though I could be surprised, that this is going to move forward. It has to move forward now obviously or it will not see the light of day. And I can’t see within the next year anything like a Caesar Act working its way through a Trump Administration.

I could be wrong, but I’m just not sure. I don’t think the new President-elect has any interest in this area at this point. Sees no need in it. Sees no political benefit in spending his time and energy on these types of issues. I’m not even sure who his main contact is in this area. If it’s Michael Flynn, then that doesn’t augur well.

To answer your question, it’s really up to the likes of Senators Bob Corker and Mitch McConnell. I’m just not getting a sense that they’re going to spend a lot of time of this. I could be wrong, but we just don’t have that momentum in the Senate that we used to have even when it was bipartisan. People like Senators Pat Leahy and Judd Gregg worked the hallways for these laws and worked together for decades. I’ve worked with them myself on getting international criminal law and human rights legislation through and they’ve been pretty good on it. But you know, I’m just not seeing a lot of momentum in the Senate on this.

David Newstead: If Trump’s recent endorsement of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war is any indication, what kind of human rights policies do you think we can expect?

David Crane: I’ve thought this through a lot. We either have a great moment or a moment of tragedy. For some bizarre reason, we have this moment with Russia that is something that is not comfortable for those of us who are old Cold Warriors, but also just individuals who look at Russia very skeptically for a lot of reasons. What an interesting thing if Trump and Putin actually formed a kind of grand alliance to handle some of the challenges internationally. The method may not be palatable, but the end product may be a solution for Syria, for example.

But I don’t know. This is the first time in a long, long time when everything is new and everything is on the table. No one really has a sense, because it’s a complete paradigm shift. Even all the key players in that crazy town that I lived in and worked in for so many years, all the key contacts and the people that make things happen… They’re no longer in power or even in anybody’s inner circle. We can’t shape, mold, or effect current and future policy, because they’re just not listening. Either the new administration is eventually going to come around, because they’re going to have to or they’re not going to get anything done. Or we’re going to see an amazing series of policy shifts internationally the likes of which we haven’t seen since Harry Truman and the Truman Doctrine.

David Newstead: But a modern rendition of that?

David Crane: Yeah. Whether we like it or not, we’re at a very fascinating and interesting time and both of us in different disciplines are a part of this. And it’s going to be fascinating to see how this evolves. I don’t have a cornerstone by which I can rely on and take my answers to you based on that, because there’s no cornerstones anymore. Everything is being questioned and challenged.

David Newstead: In your view, what’s behind this rise of populism internationally and the “Strong Man” figure common to many of these movements?

David Crane: Yeah, it’s a fascinating thing. This isn’t just a U.S. thing. I mean, it’s happening across all of Western democracies. And it’s that we have just been complacent in our democratic processes. We were just almost prefunctionally moving democracy forward in these countries, which had begun to drift from the general populace from which they are elected. What caused the spark, which started this low-burning bush fire, is the Great Recession. People were directly affected personally: job loss, concern about the future, loss of houses, etc. They began to become angry and lashed out particularly as democracies failed them.

Remember back in 2008 how excited we were around this time? Barack Obama had been elected and it just seemed like the world was brighter. Truly, there was hope. Boy, that has faded and I think everybody is just disappointed. Even some of us who are more establishment oriented, even we began to go “Are these really the best candidates that we can offer out of all the talent that’s in this country?” And so we see the same kind of thinking in Great Britain, in France, and even in Germany now. And of course, last month in Italy. In the Philippines, etc. The “Common Man” is just pissed off and he’s getting even. He’s shaking things up. I think this is a trend that will go on for years.

And in some ways, it’s a backlash to the rapid global development of the world. When the Berlin Wall came down, everybody was thrilled with the idea of a global village. Remember that term? We embraced it. At the end of the day, we’ll all go back to this more global approach to life, because our entire information and financial systems are now global. We can’t go back. Tariffs and those kind of things would be too disruptive. It used to be that tariffs were cyclical and affected goods and services from one country to another. But now, raising tariffs and increasing the costs of trade on a nationalistic basis is just bad for business. It affects everybody. So, we’re going to have these spikes that we’re seeing and this nationalistic trend is going to fly in the face of it. But at the end of the day, it’s just a practical reality that we are now global anyway. The United States or France or Great Britain can’t turn back internally to an industrial age mentality of nationalism. It just doesn’t work anymore. We’ve already drunk the Kool-Aid and we’re all a part of it now. We’re not going to see things like World War 3, because anybody who does something stupid in a cyber war or a nuclear attack their economy fails as well. Their destroying their own country regardless of their intent. In the information age, conflict is bad for business. In the industrial age, conflict was good for business, but those are days past.

It’s a fascinating thing. Russia is really kind of the beginning of that. For political reasons, Putin is doing these 1950s-style nationalistic policies that make him very popular at home. But at the end of the day, Putin realizes he really can’t do what he would really like to do, because we are all global now. His entire country is tied to the global financial and information systems. And his country would fail if he broke off from that.

David Newstead: Since you mention Russia, I wanted to ask about your current work. How do you think Russia’s recent decision to leave the International Criminal Court will impact the investigation and future prosecution of Syrian war crimes?

David Crane: We’re still continuing to investigate. Nothing changed in that respect. I think the Syrian conflict will continue until Russia allows Assad to win the war or at least militarily bring it to a point where it doesn’t make sense anymore. Now, they’ll be ruling over a completely devastated piece of Earth, but Russia isn’t leaving. Russia will not pull out of Syria until Assad wins. So, that could be next week. That could be five years from now. There’s nothing the U.S. can do to stop it other than this strange bromance that’s going on between Putin and Trump. If for some strange reason, Trump says “Let’s go get drunk somewhere and hash this out,” and everybody sits down at the table and stops the war. And we throw the rebels off the boat. I don’t see this ending well. It’s just a matter of when.

I’ve coined this term called Kaleidoscopic Conflict where we have a new kind of paradigm and Syria is one of these situations. For the first time, we cannot use our old planning processes to predict outcomes. We don’t know anything. No one can advise the President of the United States as to what we should do or what’s going to happen in Syria, because no one knows. Because if one thing changes, everything changes. We’re starting to enter into a geopolitical circumstance where we can no longer restore international peace and security as we’ve tried in the past under the UN paradigm. We’re reaching a point on various parts of the planet where we can only manage international peace and security. To use an analogy, the situation in Syria is like a cancer. If managed, the person can live a generally normal life. So we can manage the disease, but we can’t get rid of it. Same thing with Syria. We can’t solve Syria, but we can try to manage Syria to the point that it doesn’t spread to other parts of the world. And keeping Israel out of this, which is the ignored and unknown part of the conflict. As we all know, Israel has bright red lines in the sand and if you step over them, they don’t ask anymore. They just launch.

We have to manage Syria now, we’ll never solve Syria. In a world where we try to solve everything, particularly in Type-A Washington D.C., that’s anathema to anybody’s thinking. I’ve mentioned this in public and given speeches on it. I’ve said “Gosh, I’d love to solve Syria. But tell me how do we solve Syria?” And of course, they can’t answer, because there is no solution at this point. To show you how absurd this is, we are allied with Syria and Russia to fight ISIS. But yet we’re also sending money and personnel to fight Syria by supporting the rebels. We’re actually working with and working against the same person. That’s absurd.

David Newstead: I just feel like, you know, the Syrian conflict led to the migrant crisis, which influenced all these elections. And it all interrelates and it’s very complicated and really dark.

David Crane: Oh, it is. You’ve got the middle class and the lower class who have been affected by a Great Recession, who are trying to just get basic services. And all of a sudden, the country is letting in a million refugees and giving them more than they are getting. And all of a sudden, they’re choking on it. You know, European liberalism and progressivism went out the window when this wave of human beings with a great deal of hope showed up at their doors.

David Newstead: As we wrap things up, I’m curious. For people who work in human rights and for people who support human rights, where do we go from here and what do you think people should do in the interim?

David Crane: Well, continue what we’re doing. But also in the business that we’re in, there are a lot of altruists. They’re always out there trying to buy the world a coke and make them live in harmony. I’m the complete opposite. I’m a practical, hard-nosed person who has a goal in mind, but realizes that I have to do it from a practical point of view. We just have to look for places and spaces where we can affect policy in the new administration and make them see that this is good for America. But just coming in with your hair on fire, screaming “This isn’t right! These people have a right to do XYZ!” As we say in North Carolina, that dog isn’t going to hunt. You’ve got to come in and show them practically why this makes sense, why this is good for America, and why we should continue to do this. Speak their language. Don’t sit there and be arrogant or think that these people are cretins and that they’re just a flash in the pan. So, I’ve been advising others. I’m on a couple of boards of some big human rights organizations. And I’ve been telling them to stop running around with their hair on fire and sit down and think about what we can do to start developing contacts and have a voice in appropriate places to continue our work.

Now I think people are starting to calm down a little bit more. And I think more reasonable voices are starting to echo that it is what it is. Let’s figure out strategies and policies by which we can have a voice where that makes sense. But not stop what we’re doing! This is a political event, not a world changing paradigm. You know, we have a politician who has now been elected for four years. They come and go, but our work never ends.

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My Failed Writing Projects

By David Michael Newstead.

This is a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction kind of post. For many years, I’ve brainstormed a lot of different writing projects. And I followed through with some of those concepts, while other ideas just never materialized. I bring it up now, because some of the stories were supposed to be so weird that they’d be impossible. They were basically intended as a vehicle for conveying an interesting thought experiment about the world and the people in it. I would make elaborate notes on my idea and I tried to write some drafts, occasionally mentioning it to friends as a “What If?” or “Isn’t this clever?” But not really believing that the world would be where we are now. Two specific examples come to mind and I think they’re pretty relevant. The only problem is, there isn’t any reason to pursue these ideas anymore since the real world has already made whatever point I was trying to make and is far weirder than I could ever be!

The first was called Pangaea. And it was about if the prehistoric super-continent of Pangaea reformed overnight in modern times, reducing the Atlantic Ocean to a small river and closing the geographic distance that separates humanity. All of a sudden, Europe would be directly next to North Africa, Brazil would border Nigeria, and Morocco would sit just off the coast of South Carolina. Then as people began to realize what happened, cultures would clash. Refugees would pour into more affluent countries. Walls would be erected, but eventually the old order would breakdown against the unrelenting tide of change. The world would become more interconnected and globalized and hopefully things would change for the better.

The second was entitled Bat Shit Nation. And the main character was a paranoid, conspiracy theory loving member of the Birther movement who was trying to write a science fiction novel in his spare time. The idea being, the story would shift between the main character’s actual day-to-day life and his post-apocalyptic novel about America’s future. In his book, Barack Obama had become an African-style president-for-life who established a tyrannical left-wing kleptocracy and signed peace treaties with terrorist groups and dictatorships, while arresting his critics. And in this fictional future, any and every nightmare scenario had been realized, requiring a committed band of freedom fighters to come together and save the day. Of course, one of the jokes was that these conspiracy theories were absurd fiction. The other joke was that the main character was basically supposed to be a Bizarro version of myself – doing, saying, and believing the exact opposite of me at any given point in the story.

In both cases, reality defies all expectations. For one, Pangaea doesn’t have to reconstitute itself for cultures to clash or migrants to cross borders. And it turns out, conspiracy theories are standard fare these days and the main character from my story would probably work at the White House now. Today, plenty of people might wonder where we go from here. And far down on that priority list, I think it’s also worth asking what writing fiction even means in a post-truth world.

A Nation of Immigrants, Revisited

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By David Michael Newstead.

Before his presidency, John F. Kennedy wrote A Nation of Immigrants. The book discusses the different origins, motivations, and numerous social contributions of immigrants arriving at different points in U.S. history. It’s a short book, but a meaningful one since Kennedy himself was a descendant of Irish immigrants. What’s especially noteworthy though is that later in the book JFK advocated for more open immigration policies and an end to the discriminatory national quota system which had been put into place in 1924 to limit immigration in general and non-white immigration specifically. And while Kennedy would not live to see his proposals enacted, America today is much more diverse because of them.

I bring this up for several reasons. First, to underline that contributions to American society by recent immigrants have only continued since Kennedy’s time. Second, this increase in diversity going forward is an asset, not a curse. And third, the racial makeup of the United States was kept homogeneous for so long through means which were blatantly racist at the time and would be completely unacceptable today. This includes things like the Chinese Exclusion Act and as soon as such policies were abandoned, America became more multicultural.

The other reason I mention A Nation of Immigrants is that I have my father’s copy of it sitting on my bookshelf. He was an immigrant to the United States. And while there’s nothing harrowing about his story compared to Syrians and others, it makes it pretty hard not to sympathize with a group that practically everyone’s relatives belonged to once upon a time.

Russia Past & Present with Peter Kenez

By David Michael Newstead.

Next year marks the centennial of the Russian Revolution and to reflect on the significance of those events I reached out to historian Peter Kenez. Kenez is a professor emeritus at the University of California Santa Cruz where he specializes in Russian history and the history of Eastern Europe. His books include The Birth of the Propaganda State, Varieties of Fear: Growing up Jewish under Nazism and Communism, and A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End. Recently, Professor Kenez joined me for an in-depth discussion on Russian history, politics, and propaganda.

David Newstead: There’s a new edition of one of your books coming out entitled The Soviet Union and Its Legacy. What are some of the main points of that legacy?

Peter Kenez: As far as the world is concerned, it’s one thing. And as far as the Russian people are concerned, it’s another thing. That is, the Russian people remember Stalin. A large number of them remember him very fondly, because Russia was propelled to be one of the two great powers. However silly it is, people do derive pleasure from being citizens of a major power. And that is what the Russian people today recall as the legacy of the Soviet Union. Namely, that “We were respected!” And people want to be respected. As far as the world is concerned, it was a great blow against Marxist ideology. People identify the Soviet experiment quite wrongly with Socialism of any kind. And that obviously is false on the face of it.

David Newstead: So, the Socialism of the British, the Swedish, and Bernie Sanders doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the Socialism of the Soviet Union?

Peter Kenez: Certainly not!

David Newstead: One thing I did want to ask concerns your book The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization. Do you see any similarities between the propaganda techniques pioneered by the Bolsheviks a hundred years ago and the techniques of modern Russian?

Peter Kenez: No, I don’t. There are two kinds of historians: those who see patterns all the time and those to whom every event seems as something new. Now, obviously the similarities are always there. But how much stress are we going to put on it? My sense is that looking for the similarities is likely to confuse us, because our task is to look at the work as is. We should understand how effective propaganda can be and what are effective propaganda means.

Yes, obviously the Soviets were pathbreakers inasmuch as they believed that they were in possession of a blueprint for a perfect society. Consequently, for them to try to advocate for that blueprint seemed like a noble undertaking. So in their understanding, propaganda was not a dirty word.

Now, I think the power of propaganda goes only so far. What I mean by this is, it depends on your target audience. There is an audience that finds an appeal in what Donald Trump says. That doesn’t mean that he’s a superb propagandist. It means that he stands for something which resonates in the soul of many. So to ask “Who is the better propagandist?” it is pretty much an impossible question to me, because it does matter on your target audience.

In the Soviet case, this was not an issue. Because the success of Soviet propaganda was their ability to suppress every opposing point of view. This kind of approach to propaganda in the modern United States does not exist. And as far as I can tell in the foreseeable future, it could not exist. In Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Russia, it was easy to be a propagandist, because anybody who wanted to shout “What you are saying is silly. It’s not true!” was hit over the head. And that was that. It’s not that they were such clever propagandists. They had the means to suppress every opposing point of view. You know, it’s not that they hit on some brilliant ways to influence the human soul.

By the way, the Soviets were always convinced that the Americans in particular were much better than they were at spreading their message. But everybody thinks that the other side is the better propagandist. The reason for that is because as we live we find that people see the world differently and how can that be? How can that be that people don’t see what I see? The answer to this is, “Because they have been misled by propaganda!” And everybody always thinks that the other side is better at propaganda than their own side. The Russians were convinced that the Americans were very clever.

David Newstead: How does the Putin regime fit that description?

Peter Kenez: To be sure, the current Russian state has the means to achieve not complete uniformity and not a complete monopoly when expressing their views. But at the same time, what Putin has to say is that “We have been humiliated by the West!” This finds an echo in the current Russian soul. It’s not that they’ve been so clever as propagandists, but what Putin has to sell means something to the Russian people.

What is striking to me is how great a rebellion there is in the modern world against liberalism and Putin is not standing alone. The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the regime in Poland, Erdoğan in Turkey, Netanyahu in Israel, the close results of elections in Austria. And Trump seems to be a parody of all that. But nonetheless, it’s a parody of something which is an international phenomenon. What I am saying is that Putin is not standing alone. It’s not that there is something called Putinism that is so extraordinary. It’s not attractive mind you. I mean, I’m no fan. But there is so much that is unattractive in much the same way: nativism, suspicion of foreigners, rebellion against liberalism, craving for identity. Brexit is another example. And Trump fits into this as a parody, but a parody of something that is genuine. I just saw the polls today as I was coming in here and Trump has something to sell. It’s not that he’s so clever as a propagandist. He represents something that reverberates in the soul of man.

David Newstead: Probably not our better angels.

Peter Kenez: We agree.

David Newstead: What’s the historical significance of a former agent of the KGB leading Russia? Recently, a harsh anti-terrorism law was passed there. And, of course, there’s the alleged hacking of the Democratic Party in America. Do these things relate to his background in your view?

Peter Kenez: I think that Putin was an ordinary Soviet man and his work for the KGB matters little.

David Newstead: Because a lot of your research has focused on Southern Russia and Ukraine, have you been paying attention to the current conflict there?

Peter Kenez: Very much so. I just wrote for the new edition new chapters on Putin and there, of course, Crimea comes up. What gave Russians today trouble was not the Ukrainians in Crimea, because there’s a rather small Ukrainian minority in Crimea. But in the Donbass region! The main reason that Putin found it necessary to take Crimea was that he assumed for good reasons that the lease for Sevastopol would not be renewed in 2017, which is the only base for the Russian Navy on the Black Sea. So, it had far reaching consequences.

David Newstead: Shifting gears some, I’m curious. Is the world still feeling the impacts of the Russian Revolution? And if so, how?

Peter Kenez: Every great historical event changes the world. The French Revolution changed the world. Hitler coming to power changed the world. In that sense, the Russian Revolution changed the world. There are continuities and there are abrupt changes. In the case of Russian history, the continuities are striking. But so are the changes followed by the Russian Revolution of 1917.

I do think that the 1917 Revolution was surely one of the great events of the 20th century. I cannot imagine Hitler coming to power without the Russian Revolution. I think that the German’s fear of Marxism and Communism was a major source of Hitler’s strength. This more than anything else enabled Hitler to come to power. And anti-Bolshevism was, of course, a main plank in his ideology. Without the Russian Revolution, that’s difficult to conceive.

This is not to blame Lenin for Hitler, but things are connected. You know, the famous Butterfly Effect of a butterfly flaps its wings in Asia and from this such and such things follow… The Russian Revolution was more than a butterfly. So, I don’t think that anybody would dispute that Nazism and Communism fed on one another, which is not to say that Nazism is like Communism or that there’s nothing to distinguish them. But the great communist appeal in the 1930s and, indeed during the Second World War, was precisely that the Soviet Union was the main bulwark against Nazism.

Let us just say, yes. The Russian Revolution was enormously significant. And even though after seventy years the Soviet Union disappeared, that does not mean it has not changed the world.

David Newstead: You’re well-known for writing several histories of the White Army in the Russian Civil War. And I wanted to ask your view on the legacy of the Whites and their relevance today?

Peter Kenez: Well, the interesting thing is those people who want to highlight the Whites in Russian history also look favorably on Stalin. The logic being, they wanted to make us great, they stood for Russia, and Stalin stood for Russia. So, you can have the White leader Denikin as a hero and Stalin as a hero at the same time. Obviously, what the Whites stood for has no future and they are really a throwback to a previous era anachronistic in the modern world. But inasmuch as they were passionate nationalists, they have an appeal. I mean, Denikin fought a war against Georgia, which was absurd. It was absurd given the fact that he also had to fight the Red Army!

David Newstead: One book I read said that the Reds outnumbered the Whites ten-to-one or something to that effect.

Peter Kenez: The Reds mobilized more people, it is true. They occupied more territory. The White Armies were much better led and much better organized. If a White Army and a Red Army met on the battlefield and they were the same size, the Whites were likely to win. And a large number of Red Army soldiers never ever saw combat.

Obviously, the Reds won. But it was not pre-determined. The Whites had things going for them, but they had more things against them since they lost. They were divided geographically. Their policy concerning the peasants was very stupid. If the peasants occupied land, the Whites took it back and returned to the landlords. Therefore, the peasants liked the Whites less than the liked the Reds and that’s very important. Anti-Semitism was also a great force for the Whites. Hatred of Jews and communists was a very powerful propaganda message for the Whites. And for Hitler, for that matter.

David Newstead: Tying the two together, I’ve heard the White Army loosely described as a proto-fascist movement.

Peter Kenez: Again, I shy away from comparisons. We have such a tendency to describe anything that we don’t like as fascist and that’s not very helpful for understanding the nature of that group. They were royalists. They wanted to bring back the old regime. And that’s not what fascism stood for. I mean, that they were anti-Semitic… Well, most people were anti-Semitic then. That’s not enough to make them fascists. To be sure, there is a continuity. Some of these White leaders ended up in Nazi Germany and contributed to their cause during the Second World War and they had a role to play. But in my mind, it’s not helpful to describe them as fascists. Resisting the modern age? Yes. Anti-Bolsheviks? Of course.

David Newstead: Do you have any closing thoughts?

Peter Kenez: You know, many people have made the point that the 20th century was from 1917 to 1991 in accordance with the existence of the Soviet Union. That is, the 19th century ended with the First World War and a new era started with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States becoming the only superpower. This century included the two world wars, included Nazism, included Communism, included all sorts of exciting moments.

Reads Part Two

Seek Justice for Us – An Interview with David Crane

By David Michael Newstead. 

David Crane is a law professor at Syracuse University and the former Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. As Chief Prosecutor, he indicted then Liberian President Charles Taylor, leading to Taylor’s conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Today, David Crane joins me to discuss impunity in Africa, his investigation into Syrian war crimes, and the need for expanded human rights laws in the United States.

David Newstead: Considering that you helped to prosecute Liberian President Charles Taylor and that Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré was recently convicted for human rights abuses, do you feel like particularly in Africa’s case that impunity has ended for heads of state and elected officials?

David Crane: Oh, not at all. Unfortunately, impunity has raised its head in a very negative way. When we indicted Charles Taylor back in June of 2003, it was a beginning. I thought a very hopeful beginning against the good old boys club of Africa. We had broken down that barrier and heads of state in Africa would be held accountable.

But because of some missteps by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the withdrawal of the African Union as a participant largely in the ICC for a lot of reasons. And the recent declaration a year ago by African heads of state saying they will not be held accountable for whatever they do in office, I thought we took about a thirty year step backwards.

The Habré investigation and trial were on-going. So even though it appears that we have some positive steps, in reality I just have to tell you I’m not confident where this is going. And I’m a little bit disappointed in the attitudes politically of African leaders related to dealing with their own people. It’s not a good step forward frankly. Even though the Habré conviction is important, there are other political leaders in Africa that need to be held accountable. And I fear that they will not, particularly with the political climate against international justice at this point.

David Newstead: You’ve also been working on possible war crimes prosecutions related to the Syrian conflict, is that correct?

David Crane: Yes. I’ve been working on this from the very beginning since March 2011. Over five years.

David Newstead: Would that mainly focus on prosecuting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad? Or other actors in the conflict as well?

David Crane: The Syrian Accountability Project, which we put together to deal with this back in March of 2011, is looking at all parties neutrally. So, we’re looking at all sides, all players. Which has gone from just the Free Syrian Army versus Assad to about eleven significant players who are just chewing the people of Syria apart. So, we want to make sure this is considered and known as a neutral effort to seek justice for the people of Syria. It’s not about going after just Assad, but everyone. Because everyone is going after the people of Syria.

David Newstead: So, not only Assad, but also ISIS and Al-Nusra Front and other factions?

David Crane: Oh yeah. All of the factions. To include the Free Syrian Army. Everybody.

David Newstead: In 2014, you were involved in the release of some 55,000 photographs of human rights abuses in Syria.

David Crane: Yes, I was the co-author of the Caesar Report detailing those abuses.

David Newstead: Can you say more about the evidence that your group has been collecting since then and what that consists of?

David Crane: That’s a good question. A fair question. Again based on my long term experience in this business particularly taking down one of the few heads of state in history, I’ve basically built a practical legal way of doing that. Using the same techniques that we used in West Africa, we’re doing the same thing in Syria and in the Levant region. And that is developing a conflict map, a crime-based matrix, and associated documents, which we can then build into indictments.

We’re very careful in the data that we use in our crime-based matrix, which shows chronologically time, location, unit involved, and then the alleged crime itself. And then also what we do is we list the violation of the Rome Statute, the violation of international humanitarian law as well as the violation of the Syrian criminal code. So, this could be used by either a local prosecutor, a regional prosecutor, or an international prosecutor, referring to this package that we’ve been putting together over the past five and a half years. So, they could use this to start building their own case against those who they feel have committed either Syrian crimes or international crimes.

The data is carefully vetted. We have contacts throughout the world (to include the Middle East, to include in Syria) providing us real-time, real-world criminal information that we then take and verify. Our rule is that it has to be verified as has happened. We have a rumor of an incident and then we have to verify it by two other sources before we put it on the crime-based matrix. But the fascinating thing is that crime-based matrix is now over 7,000 pages. And it’s on an Excel spreadsheet.

David Newstead: You have a 7,000 page Excel spreadsheet?!

David Crane: Yeah, 25 incidents per page. Now again, this is just verifiable incidents of possible international crimes. You have to understand that when I was doing this just twelve years ago, we had to create our case the old-fashion way. You know, getting out there and finding the evidence. Now, it’s completely reversed. All of the data that’s coming out of Syria and it’s in terabytes almost daily, it’s a tsunami of information. And what ends up happening is that you’re looking for that needle in the haystack as opposed to no haystacks.

And I think this is important for you and your readers to understand that 99.99% of the information coming out of Syria in whatever capacity it is – through social media, internet, direct testimony, whatever – is not useful in court. We can’t turn it into evidence, because of the authenticity of it, the chain of custody, and all of that. So, we have a great database for the history of the events and that’s important. The data can be used for other things.

But as a former international chief prosecutor, I’ve got to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt using rules of evidence before a court. And that data creates leads. But at the end of the day, if they called me right now and said “You’re now the Chief Prosecutor for Syria!” all of this would be useful to me. We’ve converted that into useful information. That’s how the Syrian Accountability Project takes it one step further. We’ve converted this information into criminal information, which then can be converted into evidence by a future prosecutor. So, we’ve kind of strained it a bit if you get my drift. You know, we’re moving it to where a future prosecutor be they local, regional, or international can go into court and prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. So, that’s the data issue.

David Newstead: That sounds like a very important, but involved effort of trying to put all those pieces together.

David Crane: It’s a very considerate process by which we then put that on a database. But it is amazing, isn’t it? You multiply 7,000 or now it’s almost 7,500 pages times 25 incidents, you get a sense of what is happening over there.

David Newstead: And that the conflict has dragged on for so long.

David Crane: Now again, it’s important to note that the Caesar Report I mentioned earlier is direct evidence and it is credible evidence and can be used in a court of law. After we finished our report, it was importantly treated by the press and really put a heavy burden on Assad. The sad thing about this is, this is only coming from 3 detention facilities. And yet, we can probably verify that between 10,000 and 12,000 human beings were destroyed in just 3 detention facilities. We estimate that there are over 52 detention facilities. So, the Caesar Report may have just been the tip of the iceberg.

In this business, it’s very unusual to have direct evidence of atrocity in the sense of one you can take into court. The smoking gun, so to speak. We had it in Nuremberg, because the Nazis wrote everything down. We have found that the Assad regime, very much like the Nazis in Germany, writes these things down. And we were able to get a look in the window of some of this through the Caesar Report.

So after the Caesar Report, what I did was to have a neutral country meet with the people who had the original thumb drives. And we were able to negotiate an agreement between the organization that Caesar was a part of and this country to have their chief prosecutor and evidence custodian take the originals and put them in an evidence bag and to start a chain of custody and then put those thumb drives in the country’s evidence locker. So some day when a prosecutor asks for that, there’s a chain of custody. There’s an authenticity. It can be signed over to them and put into their evidence room. So when they bring these documents and these photographs into evidence, they can authenticate it. Because the issue is with all these videos and all these pictures we’re seeing is – What’s the authenticity? Who took that? Why? Is that a real photo? Is that a real video? Who took the video? Where is it? You see where this gets very complicated very quickly.

But the Caesar Report and the evidence that we were able to seize and put in an evidence locker, that’ll convict Assad in and of itself of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

David Newstead: Shifting gears some, I wanted to ask about the Magnitsky Act, which currently bans Russian human rights abusers from using the U.S. banking system or vacationing in the United States. We’re in an election year, but there is a proposal in Congress to expand that law to place similar restrictions on human rights abusers from all over the world. Do you feel it’s necessary to expand the Magnitsky Act? And if so why?

David Crane: Well again, this is a beginning of a beginning to be honest with you. I think the Magnitsky Act is a signal of U.S. commitments to addressing these types of acts such as what happened with Sergei Magnitsky and other human rights abuses by countries around the world.

Of course, it’s really kind of tongue in cheek. After the first ten years of the 21st century, we did not cover ourselves in glory for obvious reasons. So, it’s very difficult. It’s going to take a while for the U.S. to regain the credibility that it built up since the My Lai massacre of being a country that did take care of these things.

The Magnitsky Act is a beginning of a new beginning where we’re trying to turn the ship around. We’re showing the world that those who commit crimes such as these will be held accountable and will be held accountable at a larger level than just domestically – that there’s an international price to pay dealing with embargos and seizures of assets and those kind of things. So, I think it’s a very positive step.

But I think you’re very correct. It’s an election season. So, two things can happen. If we have a Republican administration, then I’m not sure where this is going to go. It certainly could die a sad death. In a Democratic administration, I think there’s more hope for it to move forward. It just depends on the balance of power in the House of Representatives and the Senate. I think we’re going to be in a hiatus for right now. As we get closer to the election, you know everybody is running campaigns right now.

David Newstead: So to clarify, you don’t think the Magnitsky Act would be prioritized under a possible Trump administration?

David Crane: I don’t know. I mean, your guess would be as good as mine. There’s been no discussion at all in the campaign about human rights in any way, shape, or form that I’ve noticed. I’ve just not noted any of that. And it’s not inconsistent with the way the U.S. is from a political point of view domestically. You know, human rights does not get you votes. I mean at the end of the day, that’s just a fact. It’s not that Americans don’t care, but that’s just not going to cause people to vote for you. So what you’re going to see, the human rights issue writ large is just going to be set aside. I don’t see anything getting done in the next year frankly, regardless of who is in the administration. Because it takes a new administration a year or six month just to figure out where they’re going. And that’s another hiatus as well. So, you’ve got the political buildup to the election and then you’ve got the new administration trying to establish itself. And so, these kind of things tend to get put aside or dumped depending on the political perspective.

David Newstead: Are there any specific examples of human rights abusers that you feel epitomize why we need an expanded version of the Magnitsky Act?

David Crane: Oh sure. I mean, we can go around the world. I can spend the rest of the afternoon talking to you about that. A good example is Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe. He would be directly affected by a more globalized Magnitsky Act. Africa would be very much affected by a lot of this.

David Newstead: In terms of leaders’ banking and their ability to go on vacation and so forth?

David Crane: Of course. Absolutely. You know even if the International Criminal Court can’t do anything or if the world has just decided not to do anything about a crime… At the end of the day, international criminal law is driven by politics. The bright red thread of all this is politics. It’s always a political decisions to hand over a head of state to somebody as opposed to a legal reason. That’ll always be a political decision. But it’s important for the U.S. have this ability. Because really at the end of the day, if you’re going to get a thug or a dictator or a tyrant’s attention just grab him by the money. That and his ability to move around the world, that definitely gets their attention.

I think the beauty of the Magnitsky Act concept is that it hits them where it hurts. These are basically mafia characters. I mean, it’s all about money and power and greed with them. And if you limit them or cause them to reconsider travelling or doing something like that, I think that’s a real benefit. So, I very much support this kind of initiative that was started with the Magnitsky Act and now is going to be expanded in a broader sense.

David Newstead: I remember several years ago Assad’s wife was banned from going shopping in Europe. And prior to that, she was known for taking these very expensive shopping trips to Paris and places like that. And I assume other dictator’s wives and family members are the same?

David Crane: Sure. And you know with the Magnitsky Act, something like that could cause detention. That could cause seizure of assets. That could cause extradition. Yeah, exactly. And she goes back to her husband saying “I can’t go to Paris anymore!” She’s not going to be happy about that. And from just a domestic point of view, it can be really problematic for these guys. And it’s all guys. It’s not women. So yeah, their wives and families are potentially giving them hell, because they can’t go to the places they’re used to. Because they’re not going to go shopping in downtown Damascus. That’s a good example though of how that can hurt.

Question from a Reader: Given your experience in West Africa and your current project related to Syria, I’m curious what motivates you to do this work?

David Crane: Well, let me just give you a simple example of that. One day I was at one of our outreach programs where I walked the countryside of Sierra Leone, listening to my clients talk to me about what happened. I was at school in McKinney that used to be the headquarters of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the ones that used to cut people’s hands and arms and noses and ears and buttocks off just because they liked doing it. And I was in the audience just standing among them talking and a young man stood up. He was about twelve years old. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and he said “I killed people. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.” And he fell into my arms, crying. And of course, I had tears in my eyes. And as I looked up, there was a young woman who stood up and half her face was missing. I was told later her face had been put in a pot of boiling water by the RUF. She was holding a young child and she just looked at me from her one good eye and said “Seek justice for us.

So, it’s for the little guy. We tend to talk to about 50,000 here or 100,000 there. But it’s one person at a time. So, that’s what motivates me. It’s a righteous fury. You know, I had the honor and privilege of doing something about that when Kofi Annan appointed me to go to Sierra Leone and do that. But that’s what keeps me going, because I always remember those individuals who the world just steps over and moves on. Whereas, I don’t. I remember them and this is for them. And so, there are very much the same kind of people in Syria and around the world. So, I do this for them.

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