Will the Iran Deal-Wreckers Prevail?

Iran appears ready to sign an agreement tightly constraining its nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief, but neocons and other U.S. hardliners appear determined to wreck the deal, which could make Mideast tensions even worse, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Inflection points in the history of U.S. foreign relations sometimes are marked by new departures and new roads taken. But they might instead entail blown opportunities to take new and better roads, with significant damage resulting from the failure to take them.

That failure involves opportunity costs at a minimum, and other costs as well. We may be getting close to the latter type of inflection point, with significant danger that opponents of any agreement to restrict Iran’s nuclear program will succeed in wrecking the deal.

As of this writing the greatest chance of wrecking it appears to involve not what is going on at the negotiating tables in Europe but instead what the U.S. Congress may do back in Washington to sabotage the work of the diplomats. The energy for the Congressional wrecking ball comes, as it always has, from three sources.

One is a general need for a foreign enemy and a habit of viewing America’s role as one of militant and uncompromising confrontation with that enemy. This habit and felt need have roots in some broader American attitudes, although they are manifested most starkly in neoconservatism. Iran has been filling this role of needed enemy for some time.

A second is the strong opposition of the right-wing Israel government, with everything that customarily implies regarding American politics, to anyone making any agreement with Iran. This opposition serves the Israeli government’s purposes of fixing blame for regional problems firmly on someone else, of positing opposition to such an enemy as supposedly a basis for U.S.-Israeli strategic cooperation, and of diverting international attention from problems directly involving Israel itself.

The third driver, which has become especially relevant the more that the Iran negotiations have become a prominent effort in President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, is the determination of much of the Republican opposition to oppose anything that Mr. Obama favors and to deny him any achievements.

The heightened acrimony over the issue of immigration has made this even more of a factor than before, if that is possible. Amid talk about government shutdowns and freezing of all appointment confirmations, trashing of a diplomatic agreement with Iran would be done while barely batting an eyelash.

If the deal-wreckers succeed, we will have a negative turning point in U.S. foreign relations because the opportunity for any kind of nuclear deal with Iran will be lost for an indefinite future. The conditions that made it possible for the two sides to get as close to agreement as they now would quickly unravel in multiple ways.

The Iranian president would in effect become a lame duck, the influence of hardliners in Iran would rise, and credibility that had been built up during the negotiations would dissipate. The alternative to whatever deal emerges from the current negotiations would be no deal at all.

Having an agreement emerge during a lame-duck Congress was supposed to be the most sabotage-resistant timing, and it probably is. But expectations now are that what will most likely be announced this month is not a complete agreement but rather some version of an extension of the previous interim deal and a partial agreement with additional details yet to be negotiated.

This situation unfortunately will be an invitation to those wielding the wrecking ball to do serious damage after the new Congress convenes. They probably will take multiple whacks with the ball. There is, for example, a bill sponsored by the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, that is designed to get a hasty vote of disapproval of the agreement before anyone would have much chance to study it.

There also would be a push (most fervently from Sen. Mark Kirk) to impose more sanctions, which would violate the interim agreements and provide cause for the Iranians to walk away from the table. The fact that keeping the terms of the current interim agreement in effect would achieve the presumed goal of freezing or rolling back the Iranian nuclear program would do little to slow down the deal-wreckers.

Blowing the opportunity for an agreement would be all the more a shame because, according to the preeminent criterion of preventing any Iranian nuclear weapon (not to mention other consequences of an agreement), the choice between a deal and no deal is almost a no-brainer.

No deal would mean fewer restrictions on the Iranian program and lesser inspection and monitoring of it. Iran would have a much clearer path to a nuclear weapon, if it chose to take it, without an agreement than with one.

We are approaching a critical point in U.S. foreign relations. It is gut-check time especially for Democrats who have to decide whether they are going to take the responsible position for the sake of U.S. interests in the Middle East or instead be tempted into being part of a veto-proof Iran-bashing or “pro-Israel” majority.

Perhaps taking the responsible route will be made a bit easier by seeing how the opposition to an agreement has become increasingly and blatantly partisan, as illustrated by a hard-line letter initiated this week by Kirk and Marco Rubio that got signatures from 43 Republican senators but not a single Democrat.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




Bought-and-Paid Congress Divides the Spoils

Never has the Golden Rule of Politics glittered so bright: the corporate-person with the most gold rules. And the Republicans are now firmly in control of Congress after having their pockets filled more than the Democrats, as Bill Moyers and Michael Winship explain.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

We’ve been watching Congress since the mid-term elections and reading Zephyr Teachout’s terrific history book, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United.

That snuff box was a gift from King Louis XVI of France. His Majesty was a good friend of the American Revolution but when he gave Benjamin Franklin the gold box, featuring the monarch’s portrait surrounded with diamonds, some of our Founding Fathers objected. They worried that the gift would corrupt his judgment and unduly bias Franklin in France’s favor.

The Framers debated the meaning of corruption at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and Americans have been arguing about it ever since. Today, gifts to politicians that were once called graft or bribes are called contributions. The Supreme Court has granted corporations the rights our Founders reserved for people, and told those corporations they can give just about anything they want to elect politicians favorable to their interests.

Diamond and gold snuff boxes are as outmoded as the king’s powdered wig. Now we’re talking cash — millions upon millions of dollars. Quadrupled, quintupled and then some and it’s not considered corruption.

Consider the new report from the watchdog Sunlight Foundation: From 2007 to 2012, the 200 most politically active corporations in the United States spent almost $6 billion for lobbying and campaign contributions. And they received more than $4 trillion in U.S. government contracts and other forms of assistance. That’s $760 for every dollar spent on influence, a stunning return on investment.

Peter Overby at National Public Radio reported that “Military contractors lead the list of contract recipients, and they hover in the upper ranks of companies with the biggest campaign contributions.” Raytheon, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin all of them made hefty political donations to Republican campaigns. Not coincidentally, this year the Pentagon is due to spend $163 billion on research, development and procurement.

Then look at who’s expected to be the new Republican chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Breathlessly, The Washington Post writes, “This could mean additional funding for the Navy to modernize its fleet and potentially benefit contractors such as shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls.”

Guess what company describes itself as “the largest manufacturing employer in Mississippi and a major contributor to the economic growth of the state,” not to mention a major contributor this year to Thad Cochran’s re-election campaign? Why, shiver our timbers, it’s Huntington Ingalls.

“The other dominant corporate sector is finance,” Overby said. “Some of the country’s biggest financial institutions — Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and others — are the top recipients of federal aid. That’s because it cost so much to rescue the financial sector after the 2008 market crash.”

Throw in the health insurers, media and telecommunications, retailers, Big Pharma no wonder Washington’s K Street is lobbying’s road to Paradise. But it runs in both directions. NPR’s Overby talked with political scientist David Primo, who thinks Congress may be spending more time studying The Godfather than Robert’s Rules of Order.

Primo told him, “The conventional wisdom out there is that businesses are going to Washington, writing checks and expecting big returns. But the other side of the story is that members of Congress may implicitly threaten businesses that if they don’t change their policy, or if they are not heavily involved in the political process, that bad things might happen to them.”

It’s not personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business. Our government has become a clearing house for corporations and plutocrats whose dollars grease the wheels for lucrative contracts and easy regulation. It’s all pay for play, and look the other way. Partisans of the system say, hey, it’s just business as usual, but that, of course, is the problem.

We were struck by this headline in The Washington Post after the November elections: “Parties head back to Capitol to begin carving up spoils, remains from midterms.” Right: Not only leadership posts and committee chairmanships, but carving, dividing up the spoils also means divvying up the loot. And those contributions were not made for the sake of charity.

Once upon a time the GOP stood for Grand Old Party — now it stands for Guardians of Privilege, and this is payback time for everything from fracking to getting the big banks off the hook; from doing away with the minimum wage and coddling off-shore corporate tax avoiders to privatizing Medicare and Social Security; to gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency, even the U.S. Postal Service.

And that’s just for starters. House Speaker John Boehner, his majority now greater than ever, will govern as you might expect from the man who once handed out checks from the tobacco industry to members on the floor. And Mitch McConnell, finally in his ascendancy as Senate Majority Leader, will manipulate more powerfully than ever the Capitol Hill and K Street mechanisms that he has mastered helped along by the clever placement of loyal former staff members in positions of influence. They assist him in the dispensation of favors to donors from on high.

“We’re very excited,” one Republican lobbyist told the Post, the understatement of the century.

Democrats, meanwhile, are so compromised by their own addiction to Big Money they have forgotten their history as champion of the working stiff, the little folks down there at the bottom. The great problems facing everyday people in America inequality, stagnant wages, children in poverty, our degraded infrastructure and stressed environment — are not being seriously addressed because the political class is afraid to offend the people who write the checks — the corporations and the rich. Everyone else can be safely ignored.

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com.

Michael Winship, a native of Canandaigua, New York,  is the senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos.




CIA’s Torturous Maneuvers on Torture

Exclusive: The CIA is fighting congressional demands to release a report on its covert program for torturing “war on terror” suspects, even as the spy agency contemplates a reorganization that could give the covert-action side more ways to bend the truth, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

“CIA may revamp how it is organized” announced a front-page Washington Post headline leading into an article based on remarks by unnamed “U.S intelligence officials” to the Post’s Greg Miller. The anonymous officials were authorized to share some of the contents of a Sept. 24 letter from CIA Director John Brennan to CIA staff, in which Brennan says, “The time has come to take a fresh look at how we are organized as an agency.”

On Brennan’s orders, senior agency officials were put to work on what Miller reported would be “among the most ambitious [reorganizations] in CIA history.” But Miller’s sources emphasized that the activity was in its preliminary stages and that no final decisions had been made; the proposed changes might be scaled back or even discarded.

But the reorganization story on Thursday with its suggestion of CIA “reform” came at an opportune time to possibly distract attention from another behind-the-scenes battle that is raging over how and indeed whether to release the findings of a five-year Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the CIA’s use of torture during George W. Bush’s administration and how the agency lied to Congress about the efficacy of torture techniques and their humaneness.

A New York Times article on Friday by Mark Mazzetti and Carl Hulse described a Donnybrook at the White House on Thursday, with Senate Democrats accusing White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough of acquiescing in CIA attempts to redact the report so thoroughly that its conclusions would be undermined.

The Democratic members of the Senate intelligence Committee are said to be in high dudgeon. But some may have mixed feelings about release of the report because it would surely reflect poorly on their own failures as congressional “overseers” of the CIA.

Recent press reporting would have us believe that the main bone of contention revolves around if and how to use pseudonyms of CIA officers involved in torture, though that seems implausible since there are obvious workarounds to that concern. In past cases, for instance the Iran-Contra report, numbers were used to conceal actual identities of entities that were deemed to need protection.

Ex-CIA General Counsel Spilled the Beans

Hat tip to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, who took the trouble to read the play-by-play of testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee by former CIA General Counsel (2009-2013) Stephen W. Preston, nominated (and now confirmed) to be general counsel at the Department of Defense.

Under questioning by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, Preston admitted outright that, contrary to the CIA’s insistence that it did not actively impede congressional oversight of its detention and interrogation program, “briefings to the committee included inaccurate information related to aspects of the program of express interest to Members.”

That “inaccurate information” apparently is thoroughly documented in the Senate Intelligence Committee report, which, largely because of the CIA’s imaginative foot-dragging, cost taxpayers $40 million. Udall has revealed that the report (which includes 35,000 footnotes) contains a very long section titled “C.I.A. Representations on the C.I.A. Interrogation Program and the Effectiveness of the C.I.A.’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques to Congress.”

Preston also acknowledged that the CIA inadequately informed the Justice Department on interrogation and detention. He said, “CIA’s efforts fell well short of our current practices when it comes to providing information relevant to [the Office of Legal Counsel]’s legal analysis.”

As Katherine Hawkins, the senior investigator for last April’s bipartisan, independent report by the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, noted in an Oct. 18, 2013 posting, the memos from acting OLC chief, Steven Bradbury, relied very heavily on now-discredited CIA claims that “enhanced interrogation” saved lives, and that the sessions were carefully monitored by medical and psychological personnel to ensure that detainees’ suffering would not rise to the level of torture.

There’s more. According to the Constitution Project’s Hawkins, Udall complained and Preston admitted that, in providing the materials requested by the committee, “the CIA removed several thousand CIA documents that the agency thought could be subjected to executive privilege claims by the President, without any decision by [Barack] Obama to invoke the privilege.”

Worse still for the CIA, the Senate Intelligence Committee report apparently destroys the agency’s argument justifying torture on the grounds that there was no other way to acquire the needed information save through brutalization. In his answers to Udall, Preston concedes that, contrary to what the agency has argued, it can and has been established that legal methods of
interrogation would have yielded the same intelligence.

Sen. Udall has been persistent in trying to elicit the truth about CIA torture, but has failed. Now that he has lost his Senate seat in the November elections, he has the opportunity to do what Sen. Feinstein is too afraid to do invoke a senator’s Constitutional right to immunity by taking advantage of the “speech or debate clause” to read the torture report findings into the record, a tactic used most famously by Sen. Mike Gravel in 1971 when he publicly read portions of the Pentagon Papers.

Sen. Udall has said he would consider doing something along those lines with the torture report, and that is precisely what is needed at this point. It remains to be seen whether Udall will rise to the occasion or yield to the fear of ostracism from the Establishment.

A Terrible Idea

One of the issues to be addressed by the reorganization group that Brennan has set up reportedly is whether or not the agency should be restructured into subject matter divisions in which analysts and clandestine operators work together.

There are far more minuses than plusses in that kind of structure. Greg Miller cites the concerns expressed by his sources over the potential for analysts’ judgments to be clouded by working too closely with the operators. Miller quotes one officer who worked in the Counter-Terrorism Center, which is being cited as the template for reorganizing the rest of the CIA.

The former CTC officer speaking from personal experience said, “The potential for corruption is much greater if you have analysts directly involved in helping to guide operations. There is the possibility for them to get too close to the issue and to be too focused on trying to achieve a certain outcome.” Like targeting/killing suspected “militants” by Hellfire missiles from drones, rather than pausing long enough to try to discern what has made them “militants” in the first place and whether killing them is a major fillip to recruitment of more and more “militants.”

Or take Iran, for example. If the leaders of a new Iran “issues center” are focused on sabotaging Tehran’s nuclear development program, how much visibility will be given to analysts who are trying to discern whether there is enough evidence to conclude that Iran is actually working toward a nuclear weapon.

As some may recall, in November 2007 an honest National Intelligence Estimate concluded unanimously and “with high confidence” that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon four years earlier in the fall of 2003 and had not resumed work on a nuclear warhead.

The importance of such independent analysis cannot be overestimated. In that particular case, the Estimate played a huge role in preventing the war with Iran planned by Bush and Cheney for their last year in office. Read what Bush himself writes in his Decision Points about how that “eye-popping” NIE deprived him of the military option:

“But after the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?” (Decision Points, p. 419)

Split the CIA in Two

There are examples galore of the important value of keeping analysts free from leaders and pressures more in favor of operations than cogent intelligence analysis. Indeed, there is a strong argument to split the CIA in half and let the covert operations part, which President Harry Truman said he never intended to be joined with the analysis part of the agency, go its own way

The Defense Department and Air Force can surely find extra chairs for those CIA killing-by-drone aficionados not already at the Pentagon. And “regime change” specialists could likely find space with others engaged in similar work at the National Endowment for Democracy or the State Department.

It is of transcendent importance to insulate the serious analysts from politically motivated managers and directors or other easy-to-manipulate bureaucrats who are enmeshed in covert operations. Harry Truman, who established the CIA, had very strong thoughts about this for very good reason.

Truman’s Edict

On Dec. 22, 1963, exactly one month after President John Kennedy was assassinated, former President Truman published an op-ed in the Washington Post titled “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence.” The timing was no coincidence. Documents in the Truman library show that nine days after Kennedy was murdered, Truman sketched out in handwritten notes what he wanted to say.

The op-ed itself reflected Truman’s concern that he had inadvertently helped create a Frankenstein monster, lamenting that the agency had “become removed from its intended role. … It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government.” Truman complained that the CIA was shaping policy through its control of intelligence and “cloak and dagger” operations.

Truman appealed for the agency to be “restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President … and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere.”

Five days after Truman’s op-ed appeared, retired Admiral Sidney Souers, whom Truman has appointed to lead his first central intelligence group, sent a “Dear Boss” letter blaming former CIA Director Allen Dulles for making the CIA “a different animal than the one I tried to set up for you.”

Souers was particularly sour on Dulles’s attempt “to conduct a ‘war’ by invading Cuba with a handful of men and no air cover.” He also lamented the fact that the agency’s “principal effort” had evolved into arranging “revolutions in smaller countries around the globe,” adding, “With so much emphasis on operations, it would not surprise me to find that the matter of collecting and processing intelligence has suffered some.”

Souers and Truman both felt that the CIA’s operational tail had been wagging the analytical dog a serious problem that persists today.

Five years ago, on the anniversary of Truman’s Washington Post op-ed, I posted a piece titled “Break the CIA in Two,” demonstrating that it is indeed time that the agency’s operational duties be, as Truman had suggested, “terminated or properly used elsewhere.” In another piece, posted on the 50th anniversary of Truman’s prescient op-ed, I went into more detail not only on Truman’s article, but also on fresh signs of corruption and lying to Congress on the part of senior CIA officials.

The coin of the realm in intelligence analysis is truth and the trust that comes of consistently speaking truth to power. For intelligence analysts to have a decent chance at being taken seriously, there has to be some space between them and the self-licking ice cream cone of covert action.

Surely, there is no better way to create a steadily increasing supply of jihadists than by ignoring clear-headed analysis about why young Muslims are angry enough to strap bombs to themselves and instead dreaming up new covert operations that will have that inevitable effect of creating more jihadists.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He is a 30-year veteran of the CIA and Army intelligence and co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). McGovern served for considerable periods in all four of CIA’s main directorates.




Why US Balks at Accord on Children’s Rights

With its powerful political-media apparatus, America’s right wing can create hysteria over pretty much anything, even something as innocuous as a U.N. agreement on the rights of children, leaving the U.S. as one of only three countries not to ratify it a quarter century later, writes Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

We have just past the 25th anniversary of the adoption by the U.N. General Assembly of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It may come as a shock to many Americans to learn that the three rogue nations in the world that have refused to ratify this no-brainer convention are Somalia, the United States and South Sudan (which just became a nation in 2011).

To put the holdouts in further perspective, North Korea ratified the convention in 1990.

The convention sets out the legal requirements for the world to protect its most vulnerable citizens. According to UNICEF, it “spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere without discrimination have: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life. The convention protects children’s rights by setting standards in health care, education and legal, civil and social services.”

The convention clearly spells out the rights of children in criminal cases. “No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment… The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time,” it says.

If you want to know what the consequences are for American children of the U.S. government not ratifying this convention, watch the film “Kids for Cash,” written, produced and directed by Robert May. The film masterfully tells the devastating story of two Pennsylvania judges who sentenced 3,000 children to jail for offenses as minor as shooting spitballs, getting into a schoolyard fight or creating a spoof MySpace page.

The two judges were helping fill up a private prison. Judge Mark Ciavarella is serving 28 years in jail and Judge Michael Conahan 17 years for financial crimes related to payments of $3 million they received from a developer who built a private prison where the judges sent the convicted children for years at a time.

The film, but not the state, puts on trial the so-called “zero-tolerance policy” that shackles and jails juveniles for years for petty misconduct, deeds that in years past would be punished by after-school detention for an afternoon. It harrowingly focuses on how five children suffered at the hands of these judges, leading one to drug abuse and another to his death.

The film posits that the “zero-tolerance policy” is a reaction to Columbine and other school massacres. The policy takes the place of stronger gun control laws and is a clear violation of the convention’s prohibition against “degrading treatment” of children, and of its requirement that imprisonment “be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”

Combined with the militarization of local police across the country and intrusive National Security Agency surveillance, “zero tolerance” contributes to a growing police-state mentality in the U.S. The film also shows how the children and their parents were intimidated into waiving their right to a lawyer, another cornerstone of the convention.

There are 1.1 million children behind bars around the world, according to Kerry Neal, a child protection specialist at UNICEF. The U.S. imprisons as many as 70,000 children a day. The majority of children in detention have not committed serious offenses, Neal says.

“We should remember that committing at least one non-serious offense during adolescence can be considered ‘normal’. Studies all over the world consistently indicate that 70 percent to 80 percent of children have committed at least one – usually petty offense,” he said.

“A significant number have not even committed a minor criminal offense and are deprived of their liberty for what are called ‘status offenses’ such as dropping out of school, running away from home and alcohol use,” said Neal. “Status offenses are not considered criminal offenses when committed by adults, but these children’s cases are often processed through justice systems designed for adults that are not adapted to children’s rights and specific needs.”

The convention the U.S. rejects that would protect these children was negotiated over ten years with substantial input from both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. They contributed seven articles that came directly from the U.S. Constitution. Five and a half years after its adoption on Nov. 20, 1989, Madeleine Albright, the then U.S. ambassador to the U.N., signed it for the United States.

Right-wing fringe groups immediately screamed bloody murder, claiming falsely that it would outlaw corporal punishment and otherwise have the state impose itself on parenting. Then Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, called the convention “a bag of worms.” It was typical American parochialism: a country living in a world of its own but trying to dominate the rest of the world, while shielding itself from international law.

The conservative Heritage Foundation said: “Although not originally promoted as an entity that would become involved in actively seeking to shape member states’ domestic policies, the U.N. has become increasingly intrusive in these arenas.” Heritage said the convention raised questions about “sovereign jurisdiction, over domestic policymaking.”

Article 5 of the convention says governments must respect “the rights, responsibilities, and duties of parents” to raise their children. Other U.S. groups, like the Girl Scouts and the Kiwanis support ratification.

Though his administration signed it, President Bill Clinton never pushed the Senate for ratification. Nor did George W. Bush. At a debate on youth issues a month before the 2008 election, candidate Barack Obama said: “It’s embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. I will review this and other treaties to ensure the United States resumes its global leadership in human rights.” (At the time, South Sudan was not yet an independent nation.)

Obama has not acted, despite this campaign pledge, losing the opportunity of the anniversary and the last six weeks of Democratic rule in the Senate to push for ratification. It seems clear the Obama administration does not want to waste political capital on it.

The U.S. kept a very low profile around the U.N. in regard to the anniversary. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador and a vocal champion of human rights in an earlier life, hasn’t said a word about it, though people at the U.N. made speeches all day about the convention.

To make matters worse, Power gave a speech on Nov. 19 at a Save the Children event and never once mentioned the convention. The U.S. mission ignored a request from me to speak to a U.S. official about it.

Some U.S. officials have previously argued that U.S. ratification is unnecessary because U.S. law has caught up with the conventions’ provisions over the past 25 years. For example in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Roper v. Simmons case made it unconstitutional to execute prisoners who are younger than 18. Twenty-two states were still doing that in 2002.

In 2010, the high court ruled unconstitutional life without parole for crimes other than murder. But that does not comply with the convention, which bans life without parole for children for any crime.

According to Human Rights Watch, U.S. law still exempts children as young as 12 from working in agriculture “under dangerous conditions in violation of the convention’s prohibitions on the economic exploitation of children.”

U.S. leaders like to say the U.S. is the world leader on human rights. That claim is undermined by its failure to join the rest of the world in ratifying this convention.

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@gmail.com .