- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 (UPI) — The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the second of two wrap-ups for Feb. 25.

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The Institute for Public Accuracy

(The IPA is a nationwide consortium of policy researchers that seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for experts whose perspectives are often overshadowed by major think tanks and other influential institutions.)

WASHINGTON — Turkey, Israel and international law

— Kani Xulam, director of the American Kurdish Information Network.

"Basically, the Kurds have been handed over to the Turkish government. It is being reported that the United States has approved some 80,000 Turkish troops in northern Iraq. The gains of autonomy that the Kurds have made in northern Iraq could well be lost. The Turkish military has depopulated thousands of

Kurdish villages and killed tens of thousands of Kurds over the last 15 years. Northern Iraq could end up much like northern Cyprus, which Turkey has illegally occupied for decades … Also, crucially, the government of Iraq should come from the people who live in Iraq, not someone appointed from Washington."

— Ramzy Baroud, author of the recently released book "Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion April 2002."

"In the last two months, there has been an alarming escalation of violence by the Israeli government. There's been a far greater systematic campaign to demolish Palestinian homes … There are people in the Israeli cabinet, including Benjamin Netanyahu, who have advocated the 'transfer' — the ethnic cleansing — of Palestinians to take advantage of global instability, so many are concerned that the Israeli government is going to use an invasion of Iraq as a pretext to carry out ethnic cleansing again.

"In the past when Israel has done this … Israel has not been held to account by the international community. It has violated nearly 70 Security Council resolutions (in total), so there's the expectation that it could certainly get away with another mass expulsion of Palestinians."

— Laurie King-Irani, North American coordinator for the International Campaign for Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila and a lecturer at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.

"The recent decision by Belgium's highest court to proceed with the indictment of Israeli military officers and Lebanese militia leaders for the 1982 massacre of up to 2,500 civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon is a ground-breaking legal ruling for the global campaign against impunity for war crimes. The ruling will of course have a serious impact on Israeli-Belgian relations, but more profoundly, it begins to 'give teeth' to international law and advances the use of the principle of universal jurisdiction against war crimes and crimes against humanity, which is encoded in the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture.

"As long as Ariel Sharon is Israel's prime minister, he enjoys procedural immunity from prosecution, but the Belgian ruling gives a needed boost to cases against war criminals like Chad's Hissein Habre and Iraq's Saddam Hussein."

Lawyers from Belgium will speak Friday about the Sharon case at Princeton University; King-Irani can arrange interviews with them.

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The Reason Foundation

LOS ANGELES — The fire this time: Can we regulate our way to safety?

by Brian Doherty

I have been an audience member or on stage crew for more than a handful of performances in small clubs that involved the use of fire on a stage — without a careful examination of exits or the presence of functioning sprinkler systems. We always had a fire extinguisher or two around, of course, but those can stop being effective pretty quickly.

We were not being — in our minds — criminally negligent. All the performers in question had done what they were doing many times before. After you've done dangerous things for awhile with no dire consequences (think about driving, for example) you tend to stop thinking of them as so horribly dangerous that you are somewhat of a fool for even doing them. And pyro in small clubs has a pretty good safety track record, after all.

The safety record of small-club pyro was changed irrevocably last week when The Station in West Warwick, R.I., went up in flames, killing 97 people, thanks to a pyro display by rock band "Jack Russell's Great White."

But this was, as far as I know, the first time anyone had been killed by this action which, according to "legal experts" quoted in the New York Times, is "so obviously hazardous that any defendant aware that they would be used might face essentially automatic liability."

The club and band are now engaged in a pathetic, if understandable, game of hot potato, with the band claiming they got club approval to use the pyro and the club saying they had no idea. On the club's side is Great White's detailed rider about their show, which doesn't mention a fireworks display. It would be fair to say that whoever is responsible is guilty of mass manslaughter, but that's for the courts to decide.

Whatever their intentions — and from personal experience I know that they were nothing worse than wanting to provide an entertaining spectacle — they did something that led to many, many deaths. Financially, such liabilities, beyond the ability of most normal people to make good on, are the reason that human beings developed the market institution of insurance.

Of course, there is ultimately no making good on a life — and something unseemly tawdry about such huge loss of life for Jack Russell's Great White. A new Hannah Arendt could write a book on the banality of tragedy here — that the washed-up remnants of a one-hit-wonder hair-metal band from a past decade should be the cause of the hugest, by far, rock n' roll tragedy in our nation's history is mocking the very gods in rock n' roll heaven.

USA Today ran a detailed history of nightclub tragedies. Careful consideration of the circumstances of past nightclub tragedies helps show that there are no hard-and-fast lessons about safety regulations to be learned from this tragedy, Nor is it likely that a similar tragedy in Chicago last week, where 21 people died in a stampede after a security guard used pepper spray to stop a fight in a crowded upstairs room, has much to teach us.

After all, the problem in the Chicago nightclub was that there were not enough exits to get the room up to code. The Station in Rhode Island had plenty of exits, but people — understandably in a mass panic — didn't choose them wisely. The Chicago nightclub had already been shut down by relevant safety officials. Legal requirements — especially given the inherent limitations in time, attention, and honesty of the human beings enforcing them — are never enough to ensure safety and are probably the least part of what safety we have in an inherently hazardous world.

Most such safety comes from intelligence and care on the part of human beings, both as audience members and business operators.

(And a lot of it, frankly, comes from the fact that even "obviously hazardous" things like pyro in a small club, if done with care, rarely create fatal hazards in the first place.)

There are ways to be maximally safe and sensible. They would involve never being in a large crowd, never driving a car, and never leaving your house — while making sure to be very, very careful around slick, wet bathroom floors.

The events in the Rhode Island and Chicago nightclubs this past week were horrible beyond words. In a world of 24-hour commentary (and I'm aware of the self-reflexive irony operating here), there's always a rush for a lesson to be learned or a solution to be offered. The real tragedy is that sometimes there aren't any overarching lessons or solutions that can definitively prevent such tragedies from recurring.

(Brian Doherty is an associate editor of Reason magazine.)


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