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Book Review: Temkin’s The Sacco-Vanzetti Affair

This install­ment in our ongo­ing series of book reviews fea­tures J. Ben­ton Heath’s assess­ment of Moshik Temkin’s The Sac­co-Vanzetti Affair: Amer­i­ca on Tri­al. In his review, Heath finds that Temkin’s book brings a unique inter­na­tion­al dimen­sion to the analy­sis of the Sac­co-Vanzetti affair, and reveals how events sur­round­ing Sac­co and Vanzetti informed ongo­ing dia­logue on U.S. glob­al dom­i­nance and domes­tic pol­i­cy.

By J. Ben­ton Heath

Two years after the 1927 exe­cu­tion of Ital­ian-Amer­i­can anar­chists Nico­lai Sac­co and Bar­tolomeo Vanzetti, H.L.Mencken wrote that their case “refus­es to yield.… The vic­tims con­tin­ue to walk, haunt­ing the con­science of Amer­i­ca, of the civ­i­lized world.” Eight decades have passed since Mencken’s writ­ing, yet Sac­co and Vanzetti con­tin­ue to stalk the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion, attract­ing renewed inter­est from schol­ars, jour­nal­ists, com­men­ta­tors, and nov­el­ists. Temkin’s engag­ing and insight­ful work attempts to estab­lish the his­tor­i­cal place of Sac­co and Vanzetti by focus­ing on the nation­wide and transat­lantic dimen­sions of their case. By focus­ing on the inter­na­tion­al reac­tions to the con­vic­tions and exe­cu­tions, and on the effects of for­eign crit­i­cism, Temkin finds his own unique niche among the exten­sive schol­ar­ship on the case.

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The International Relations Value of Criminal Tribunals

By Gra­ham Dumas, (J.D. Can­di­date 2011)

Much has been made in recent(ish) lit­er­a­ture about the defects of crim­i­nal tri­bunals in post-con­flict soci­eties. Mul­ti­ple authors over the past decade have right­ly not­ed that such fora have dubi­ous pos­i­tive effects on the tran­si­tion­al jus­tice process when viewed inter­nal­ly: tri­bunals fail to deter war crim­i­nals either because the chances of pros­e­cu­tion are very low, or because offend­ers act with­in the con­text of over­whelm­ing social stress, often believ­ing they are work­ing for the greater good of soci­ety; as a mea­sure of ret­ribu­tive jus­tice, tri­bunals fail because the vast major­i­ty of per­pe­tra­tors go unpun­ished; tri­als may upset the del­i­cate bal­ance of peace and con­cil­i­a­tion, which in the end is the bedrock of ongo­ing sta­bil­i­ty in post-con­flict soci­eties. The list is long, and the points are large­ly valid.

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Book Review: Begley’s Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters

This install­ment in our ongo­ing series of book reviews takes on Why the Drey­fus Affair Mat­ters by lawyer/novelist Louis Beg­ley.  Hugh Murtaugh’s com­pli­men­ta­ry review of Begley’s work inter­twines the Drey­fus and the Guan­tanamo nar­ra­tives.  Both Beg­ley and this review­er con­clude with the same lament from Proust: “As for ask­ing one­self about its val­ue, not one thought of it now .… It was no longer shock­ing. That was all that was required.”

By Hugh K. Murtagh

The sto­ry of Guan­tanamo Bay is not over. Pres­i­dent Oba­ma will not be able to shut­ter the island prison until at least 2011, and then only by mov­ing the remain­ing detainees to a state­side facil­i­ty. Time pass­es, details emerge: the “Camp Delta Stan­dard Oper­at­ing Pro­ce­dures” find their way onto the inter­net; a mil­i­tary judge will not allow the pros­e­cu­tion of a ter­ror­ist leader because he has been so bad­ly abused; Sami al-Hajj, the al-Jazeera jour­nal­ist held for years on chang­ing unsub­stan­ti­at­ed charges, is final­ly released to Sudan, with his diaries.

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Cohen on Human Rights in China

On Saturday, the New York Times published an interview with NYU Professor Jerome A. Cohen regarding legal developments in China and the country's human rights record.  From the interview: “There are now some 200,000 judges, close to 180,000 prosecutors, roughly…

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Making Amends

Over at Opinio Juris this morning, my good friend and colleague Scott Paul introduced the Making Amends Campaign, which is led by the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC).  Scott and CIVIC are working to develop a general practice…

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Book Review: The Least Worst Place (Karen Greenberg)

Con­tin­u­ing with the theme of armed con­flict, deten­tion, and ter­ror­ism, the lat­est install­ment in our occa­sion­al series of book reviews address­es Karen Greenberg’s The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 DaysThis review may also be found in Issue 42:3 of the Jour­nal of Inter­na­tion­al Law and Pol­i­tics.

By John Wun­der­lin

In the pref­ace to The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days, Karen Green­berg briefly sets out the aim of the book: to describe the ear­ly days of the Guan­tanamo Bay deten­tion facil­i­ty, in which few abus­es occurred despite incred­i­bly try­ing cir­cum­stances, and to ask whether this nar­ra­tive sheds any light on how lat­er abus­es came to occur and how such abus­es might be avoid­ed in the future. Per­haps in def­er­ence to the com­plex­i­ty and dif­fi­cul­ty of the sub­ject, Green­berg nev­er tries to for­mu­late the lessons as a set of pol­i­cy pre­scrip­tions. Nev­er­the­less, she suc­ceeds in devel­op­ing a strong under­stand­ing of how cer­tain forces and cir­cum­stances gath­ered to cre­ate a dis­as­ter at Guan­tanamo while oth­er forces worked to keep dis­as­ter at bay.

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Thoughts on the Targeted Killings Report

By Ben Heath

To con­tin­ue the dis­cus­sion of Pro­fes­sor Philip Alston’s report on tar­get­ed killings, I can imag­ine no bet­ter dis­cus­sion on the self-defense ratio­nale for drone strikes than that pre­sent­ed by Marko Milanovic at the EJIL blog.  (At Opinio Juris, Ken­neth Ander­son promis­es a response, which will most cer­tain­ly pro­vide for inter­est­ing debate.)

I also ful­ly agree with Milanovic’s cri­tique of Alston’s asser­tion that, out­side of armed con­flict, “the use of drones for tar­get­ed killing is almost nev­er like­ly to be legal.”  This state­ment is unnces­sar­i­ly con­clu­so­ry: there should be some lim­it­ed room for these strikes in the law enforce­ment par­a­digm of human rights, pro­vid­ed that the tar­get pos­es a sig­nif­i­cant dan­ger, that no oppor­tu­ni­ty for cap­ture exists, etc.  One imag­ines that this might be the case in coun­tries where the gov­ern­ment holds only loose con­trol over wide swaths of ter­ri­to­ry.  But, to be sure, drone strikes on the New Jer­sey Turn­pike are almost cer­tain­ly ille­gal.

I would not pre­sume to step fur­ther into such well-cov­ered ground.  Instead, I will use this space to high­light some oth­er aspects of the report, while rec­og­niz­ing that these are def­i­nite­ly side­notes to the major issues.

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