Inside the Russian Penal Colony Where Brittney Griner Will Serve Her 9-Year Prison Sentence

People

Inside the Russian Penal Colony Where Brittney Griner Will Serve Her 9-Year Prison Sentence

Jason Duaine Hahn – August 10, 2022

After nearly six months in Russian custody, Brittney Griner was sentenced Thursday to nine years in prison and will begin her stay in a Russian penal colony.

The WNBA star and her lawyers had asked for leniency after officials at a Russian airport allegedly found less than a gram of hash oil in her luggage in February, but a Russian court sentenced Griner to nine years, just below the maximum-possible sentence of 10.

There’s hope that Griner could leave earlier — her lawyers previously told PEOPLE that they’re putting together an appeal to attempt to reduce her sentence, and the Biden administration confirmed that they are working on a potential prisoner exchange to bring her home — but for now, she’ll live in a penal colony in Russia.

Across Russia, there are 35 women’s penal colonies that house an estimated 60,000 inmates, Ivan Melnikov, the vice president of the Russian Department of the International Human Rights Defense Committee, and Yekaterina Kalugina, a Russian human rights activist who observed Griner and her living conditions in March, tell PEOPLE.

RELATED: Brittney Griner Sentenced to 9 Years in Russian Prison on Drug Possession Charges

The cells have just over 11 feet of private space, with most cells holding anywhere between 40 to 60 women who sleep in bunk beds.

Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in the Khimki district court
Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in the Khimki district court

Jim Heintz/AP/Shutterstock Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in the Khimki district court

Melnikov and Kalugina say much of what goes on in the colonies depends on the prison governor, with some being more strict than others. (Both say they cannot reveal which colony Griner is located.)

“Brittney is being held in a detention cell within a penal colony,” Melnikov says. At the detention center, the spaces are cramped and there’s only a small exercise yard, but there is a benefit to staying there — each day counts as two towards a prison sentence.

Kalungina expects that the guards will keep Griner in the detention center until Russia and the U.S. decide if they’ll go through with her prisoner exchange.

Melnikov adds that “she is likely to stay there for the time of her appeal, which might be up to three months if she isn’t pardoned and exchanged before then, but if her appeal fails, she might be sent on to another colony.”

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner sits in a cage in a courtroom prior to a hearing at the Khimki City Court outside Moscow, Russia, 27 July 2022. Griner, a World Champion player of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury team was arrested in February at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport after some hash oil was detected and found in her luggage, for which she now could face a prison sentence of up to ten years. US basketball player Brittney Griner attends hearing on drug charges, Moscow, Russian Federation - 27 Jul 2022
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner sits in a cage in a courtroom prior to a hearing at the Khimki City Court outside Moscow, Russia, 27 July 2022. Griner, a World Champion player of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury team was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after some hash oil was detected and found in her luggage, for which she now could face a prison sentence of up to ten years. US basketball player Brittney Griner attends hearing on drug charges, Moscow, Russian Federation – 27 Jul 2022

ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock Brittney Griner

Inside the colony, there’s more space and Griner will have to work eight hours a day. For most prisoners, this means sewing, cleaning, cooking and serving food, but, because of her career as a WNBA player, Griner can see about coaching women’s basketball. There’s a precedent for such an arrangement — Russian soccer players Alexander Kokorin and Pavel Mamayev coached inmates while they served time in one of the colonies.

RELATED: What’s Next for Brittney Griner as Lawyers Plan Appeal and She Awaits a Potential Prisoner Exchange

Melnikov says that it’s up to the prison governor to decide if Griner can coach.

“I hope that she will be sent to a colony with a lenient governor who allows her to coach basketball in the daytime rather than being a seamstress,” he says. “Prisoners are encouraged to play sports or do yoga and so on, and basketball is popular. I think that would be the best thing for her.”

Brianna Turner #21, Skylar Diggins-Smith #4, Kia Nurse #0 and Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury
Brianna Turner #21, Skylar Diggins-Smith #4, Kia Nurse #0 and Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury

Ethan Miller/Getty (L-R) Brianna Turner, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kia Nurse and Brittney Griner

Each morning, Melnikov says, the prisoners “are woken at 6 a.m., they wash, dress, make their beds, stand to attention for the register, go to breakfast and then start an eight-hour working day, usually as a seamstresses. But we are trying to encourage governors to use the talents of the inmates. For example, working with art.”

Prisoners in the colony get some free time outside of their work requirements, Melnikov says.

“Their free time is set by the governor, from half an hour to two hours a day and during that time they can just chat with each other, read a book from the library, write letters home, play sports, play board games and call friends and family.”

The prisoners are supposed to get a minimum wage of $180 a month, Melnikov says, which they can spend in the prison shop on items like toiletries, tampons, cigarettes and fresh fruit and vegetables, and they can also pay for the internet to send emails.

Generally, though, the conditions are difficult. Tuberculosis is common in the colonies, many prisoners are malnourished from the limited food and the medical care is poor. Most need friends and family to send them food and basic toiletries, but that isn’t possible for some prisoners.

Sarah Krivanek, another American who has been imprisoned in Russia for the last nine months on charges of assaulting a Russian man who quickly dropped any charges against her, went through a similar process to Griner. She stayed in a detention center through her trial and appeal, and is now serving a one-year, three-month sentence at a penal colony in Ryazan, a city about 120 miles southeast of Moscow, PEOPLE reported. Krivanek, too, is hoping for the U.S. to bring her home.

RELATED VIDEO: ‘Forgotten’ American Woman Jailed in Russia with Brittney Griner Tried to Flee with U.S. Help Before Arrest

For now, though, Griner is again waiting to hear what will happen to her. She’s staying in the detention center, where she can choose to work to get outside and see other people, but the two-time Olympic gold medalist doesn’t know if she’ll be exchanged, have a successful appeal, or if she’ll live out her next nine years in a Russian penal colony.

When Griner heard about the potential exchange, she was “quite happy to know that she’s not been forgotten and that there are some possible developments,” her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, previously told PEOPLE. “But she’s quite realistic about what’s going on.”

Evictions spiking as assistance, protections disappear

Associated Press

Evictions spiking as assistance, protections disappear

Michael Casey – August 10, 2022

Jada Riley sits in her car at night with her son Jayden Harris, 6, as she contemplates where she might spend the night, having had to move out of her apartment a few days before, Thursday, July 28, 2022, in New Orleans. “I've slept outside for a whole year before. It's very depressing, I'm not going to lie,” said Riley, who often doesn't have enough money to buy gas or afford food every day. “I don't want to have my son experience any struggles that I went through.” (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Jada Riley sits in her car at night with her son Jayden Harris, 6, as she contemplates where she might spend the night, having had to move out of her apartment a few days before, Thursday, July 28, 2022, in New Orleans. “I’ve slept outside for a whole year before. It’s very depressing, I’m not going to lie,” said Riley, who often doesn’t have enough money to buy gas or afford food every day. “I don’t want to have my son experience any struggles that I went through.” (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Jada Riley poses with her son Jayden Harris, 6, as they play on a basketball court near her former apartment, Thursday, July 28, 2022, in New Orleans. Two months behind on rent, Riley made the difficult decision last month to leave her apartment rather than risk an eviction judgment on her record. Now, she's living in her car with her 6-year-old son, sometimes spending nights at the apartments of friends or her son's father. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Jada Riley poses with her son Jayden Harris, 6, as they play on a basketball court near her former apartment, Thursday, July 28, 2022, in New Orleans. Two months behind on rent, Riley made the difficult decision last month to leave her apartment rather than risk an eviction judgment on her record. Now, she’s living in her car with her 6-year-old son, sometimes spending nights at the apartments of friends 
Jada Riley blows bubbles on a basketball court to entertain her 6-year-old son Jayden Harris, Thursday, July 28, 2022, near her former apartment in New Orleans. “I've slept outside for a whole year before. It's very depressing, I'm not going to lie,” said Riley, who often doesn't have enough money to buy gas or afford food every day. “I don't want to have my son experience any struggles that I went through.” (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Jada Riley blows bubbles on a basketball court to entertain her 6-year-old son Jayden Harris, Thursday, July 28, 2022, near her former apartment in New Orleans. “I’ve slept outside for a whole year before. It’s very depressing, I’m not going to lie,” said Riley, who often doesn’t have enough money to buy gas or afford food every day. “I don’t want to have my son experience any struggles that I went through.” (AP
Jada Riley goes through her possessions in the trunk of her car near her former apartment, Thursday, July 28, 2022, in New Orleans. Two months behind on rent, Riley made the difficult decision last month to leave her apartment rather than risk an eviction judgment on her record. Now, she's living in her car with her 6-year-old son, sometimes spending nights at the apartments of friends or her son's father. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Jada Riley goes through her possessions in the trunk of her car near her former apartment, Thursday, July 28, 2022, in New Orleans. Two months behind on rent, Riley made the difficult decision last month to leave her apartment rather than risk an eviction judgment on her record. Now, she’s living in her car with her 6-year-old son, sometimes spending nights at the apartments of friends or her son’s father. (AP
Jayden Harris, 6, sits in the backseat of his mother Jada Riley's car, after having to move out of her apartment days before, Thursday, July 28, 2022, in New Orleans. Eviction filings nationwide have steadily risen in recent months and are approaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels in many cities and states. That's in stark contrast to the pandemic, when state and federal moratoriums on evictions, combined with $46.5 billion in federal Emergency Rental Assistance, kept millions of families housed. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Jayden Harris, 6, sits in the backseat of his mother Jada Riley’s car, after having to move out of her apartment days before, Thursday, July 28, 2022, in New Orleans. Eviction filings nationwide have steadily risen in recent months and are approaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels in many cities and states. That’s in stark contrast to the pandemic, when state and federal moratoriums on evictions, combined
Jada Riley leaves a basketball court as she walks to her car with her 6-year-old son Jayden Harris, Thursday, July 28, 2022, near her former apartment in New Orleans. Eviction filings nationwide have steadily risen in recent months and are approaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels in many cities and states. That's in stark contrast to the pandemic, when state and federal moratoriums on evictions, combined with $46.5 billion in federal Emergency Rental Assistance, kept millions of families housed. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Jada Riley leaves a basketball court as she walks to her car with her 6-year-old son Jayden Harris, Thursday, July 28, 2022, near her former apartment in New Orleans. Eviction filings nationwide have steadily risen in recent months and are approaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels in many cities and states. That’s in stark contrast to the pandemic, when state and federal moratoriums on evictions, combined with $46.5 billion in federal Emergency Rental Assistance, kept millions of families housed. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Jada Riley thought she had beaten homelessness.

The 26-year-old New Orleans resident was finally making a steady income cleaning houses during the pandemic to afford a $700-a-month, one-bedroom apartment. But she lost nearly all her clients after Hurricane Ida hit last year. Then she was fired from a grocery store job in February after taking time off to help a relative.

Two months behind on rent, she made the difficult decision last month to leave her apartment rather than risk an eviction judgment on her record. Now, she’s living in her car with her 6-year-old son, sometimes spending nights at the apartments of friends or her son’s father.

“I’ve slept outside for a whole year before. It’s very depressing, I’m not going to lie,” said Riley, who often doesn’t have enough money to buy gas or afford food every day.

“I don’t want to have my son experience any struggles that I went through.”

Eviction filings nationwide have steadily risen in recent months and are approaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels in many cities and states. That’s in stark contrast to the pandemic, when state and federal moratoriums on evictions, combined with $46.5 billion in f ederal Emergency Rental Assistance, kept millions of families housed.

“I really think this is the tip of the iceberg,” Shannon MacKenzie, executive director of Colorado Poverty Law Project, said of June filings in Denver, which were about 24% higher than the same time three years ago. “Our numbers of evictions are increasing every month at an astonishing rate, and I just don’t see that abating any time soon.”

According to The Eviction Lab, several cities are running far above historic averages, with Minneapolis-St. Paul 91% higher in June, Las Vegas up 56%, Hartford, Connecticut, up 32%, and Jacksonville, Florida, up 17%. In Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, eviction filings in July were the highest in 13 years, officials said.

Some legal advocates said the sharp increase in housing prices due to inflation is partly to blame. Rental prices nationwide are up nearly 15% from a year ago and almost 25% from 2019, according to the real estate company Zillow. Rental vacancy rates, meanwhile, have declined to a 35-year low of 5.8%, according to the Census Bureau.

A report last month from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that a tenant working full time needs to make nearly $26 per hour on average nationally to afford a modest two-bedroom rental and $21.25 for a one-bedroom. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

“Landlords are raising the rent and making it very unaffordable for tenants to stay,” said Marie Claire Tran-Leung, the eviction initiative project director for the National Housing Law Project.

“Inflation has really shrunk the supply of housing that is available for people with the lowest incomes,” she added. “Without more protections in place, which not all states have, a lot of those families will be rendered homeless.”

Patrick McCloud, chief executive officer of the Virginia Apartment Management Association, said the trend is a return to normal. “No one likes evictions, but they are in some ways a reset to the economy,” McCloud said, adding that evictions have been “artificially depressed.”

“Housing is based on supply and demand. And when no one moves and you have no vacancies, you have a tight market and prices go up.”

Graham Bowman, a staff attorney with Legal Aid Society of Columbus, Ohio, said evictions there are rising — 15% above historic averages in June alone — at a time when there are fewer places for those forced out to go.

Sheryl Lynne Smith was evicted in May from her two-bedroom townhouse in Columbus after she used her rent money to repair a sewage leak in the basement. Smith, who is legally blind and has a federal housing voucher, fears she won’t be able to find anything by September when the voucher expires because of rising housing prices and the eviction on her record.

“It’s very scary,” said Smith, 53, whose temporary stay at a hotel funded through a state program ends this weekend.

In Boise, Idaho, Jeremy McKenney, 45, moved into his car last week after a judge sided with a property management company that nearly tripled the rent on his two-bedroom house. The Lyft and DoorDash driver will have to rent a hotel room whenever he has custody of his children, 9 and 12.

“It’s definitely mind blowing,” said McKenney, adding that everything on the market is beyond his reach even after a nonprofit offered to cover the security deposit. “I have never been homeless before. I have always had a roof over my head.”

The other challenge is the federal emergency rental assistance that helped keep millions housed during the pandemic has dried up in some jurisdictions or been increasingly rejected by some landlords.

“What really gets me is there is rental assistance and so many landlords just don’t want it. They would rather throw someone on the street than take money,” Eric Kwartler, managing attorney of Lone Star Legal Aid’s Eviction Right to Counsel Project, which covers Houston and Harris County in Texas. “If you take the money, you can’t evict them. They want them out.”

The U.S. Treasury said last week that more than $40 billion of the $46.5 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance had been spent or allocated.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Virginia have gone through at least 90% of their first disbursement. Twelve states and the District of Columbia had used 50% of the second allocation, known as ERA2, by the end of May. Three — Idaho, Ohio and Iowa — haven’t spent any ERA2 money and two — Nebraska and Arkansas — didn’t accept the funds.

“The public health emergency may still be here but the funds to deal with it are rapidly disappearing,” said Martin Wegbreit, director of litigation for the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.

Treasury is encouraging states and cities to tap other federal stimulus funds to cover the gaps. So far, over 600 state and local governments had budgeted $12.9 billion in stimulus funds to meet housing needs, including affordable housing development.

Gene Sperling, who oversees President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, highlighted the success of its rental assistance program, which has reached 7 million mostly low-income households.

But, more needs to be done to ensure the country doesn’t return to pre-pandemic times when 3.6 million tenants were evicted annually and “evictions were too often a first resort, not a last resort,” he told a forum on eviction reforms at the White House last week.

Some lawmakers said the answer is a permanent rental assistance program. A bill introduced in July would provide $3 billion annually for rental assistance and fund services to keep families housed. A study commissioned by the National Apartment Association and the National Multifamily Housing Council says the answer is building 4.3 million apartments by 2035.

Other advocates called for permanent legal protections like right to counsel for tenants or eviction diversion programs to resolve evictions before they reach the courts.

In Richmond, Virginia, eviction filings in June were 54% below historic averages, attributed to rental assistance and more legal representation for tenants in court, Wegbreit said. Similar programs were credited with New Mexico’s eviction filings being 29% below historic averages in June.

Philadelphia, which passed a law making eviction diversion mandatory through this year, saw filings down 33%. The City Council in Philadelphia also approved spending $30 million over two years for rental assistance.

“We are trying to change the way we look at this issue in Philadelphia, where the only thing you do is go to landlord tenant court or start an eviction,” said Catherine Anderson, supervising attorney with Philadelphia Legal Assistance, who oversees the paralegals on the Save Your Home Philly hotline.

Associated Press writers Jesse Bedayn in Denver, Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia, and Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia contributed to this report

This story has been corrected to show that McKenney is from Boise, Idaho, not Boise, Utah.

Russia’s Trump Raid Tantrum Is a Spectacle You Don’t Want to Miss

Daily Beast

Russia’s Trump Raid Tantrum Is a Spectacle You Don’t Want to Miss

Julia Davis – August 9, 2022

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

The FBI raid on former U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida triggered shockwaves across Russia, with outraged Kremlin propagandists rushing to defend their favorite American president and going so far as to predict that the raid will eventually spark a civil war in the United States.

When Trump lost the last presidential election to Joe Biden, experts and pundits in Moscow worried out loud that his prosecution for a bevy of potential offenses is imminent. They even contemplated offering their beloved “Trumpushka” asylum in Russia. As time went by, Putin’s mouthpieces became convinced that Trump was in the clear, and their fears subsided.

On Monday’s broadcast of The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, the host and his panelists praised the participants of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and expressed their admiration for Trump and his allies. The same day, appearing on state TV program 60 Minutes, military expert Igor Korotchenko openly called for Russia to support Trump’s candidacy in the 2024 elections.

News of the raid landed in Moscow with a thud, as angry propagandists embellished the search with made-up details, claiming that “one hundred FBI agents” and hordes of police dogs rummaged through Mar-a-Lago. On Tuesday’s broadcast of 60 Minutes, Korotchenko angrily condemned the raid: “There is a straight-up witch hunt happening in America. Trump, as the most popular politician in the United States—who has every chance of prevailing in the upcoming presidential election—was chosen as such a witch,” he raged. “They won’t just be vilifying him, they will be strangling him. These raids, involving dozens of FBI officers and police dogs—this is worse than McCarthyism, my friends! This is a symbol of inordinate despotism.”

Russian Media Wants Moscow to Grant Asylum to Trump

In the days preceding the raid, the host of 60 Minutes, Evgeny Popov, who is also a deputy of Russia’s State Duma, repeatedly referred to Trump as Russia’s “friend,” “protégé”, and a favored candidate, but cautiously added that Moscow is yet to decide on who to support in the upcoming U.S. elections. On Tuesday, Popov said: “As soon as Donald Trump complained that Biden was the worst president in the history of the United States, which is fast becoming a third world country, there was a knock on Donald’s door: “Knock-knock, this is the FBI!” More than one hundred agents stormed in and searched Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.” Popov joked that the agents were said to have found a couple of matryoshka, Putin’s portrait, a pioneer scarf, two icons, a parachute, and a chained bear with balalaika.

Without a hint of irony, the state TV host described the search of the former president’s home as a symptom of political persecution of dissidents in the United States. “Dozens of agents ransacked every office, went through every box, and took every document that was of interest to them. It is thought that the FBI was interested in the Top Secret documents supposedly taken by the ex-president from the White House… Biden, with his dictatorial tendencies, repressions, and persecution of dissidents, is turning America into Ukraine. He already did that, since the opposition is being persecuted by authorities,” Popov said. He fantasized that as the result of the raid, Florida would split from the United States and its new constitution would feature Trump’s assertion that there are only two genders: male and female.

Decorated Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov started Tuesday’s broadcast of his radio program, Full Contact With Vladimir Solovyov, by bringing up the raid of Trump’s Florida digs. He brought on state TV correspondent Valentin Bogdanov, reporting from New York City. “You couldn’t say we didn’t anticipate this turn of events. Machinery, meant to squeeze Trump out of political life, has been activated… They want to deprive him of an opportunity to participate in the upcoming presidential election… All of this is designed to create a nasty aura, to make Trump more toxic.”

Summing up the potential penalties for the suspected removal of top secret government documents, Bogdanov said they weren’t all that bad and were limited to a three-year prison term or a fine. He added: “The scariest consequence is that a person convicted for such a crime can’t be a candidate in the presidential election. Bingo! That’s what his opponents want: to deprive him of the opportunity to take part in this race.”

Assuming that Trump would be knocked out of the upcoming presidential election, Bogdanov speculated that Florida governor Ron DeSantis—whom he described as “Number Two” in the GOP—could easily defeat Joe Biden.

Solovyov asked: “Could this be the beginning of a civil war?” He ominously opined: “This is totally unprecedented, I don’t remember anything like this in American history. If Trump calls on his supporters to come out—and half the states are led by Trump’s allies—there’ll be hell to pay.”

Bogdanov replied: “The civil war is already underway in the United States. For now, this is a cold civil war, but it keeps heating up.”

How Ruth Bader Ginsburg Will Have The Last Laugh on Samuel Alito

Politico

How Ruth Bader Ginsburg Will Have The Last Laugh on Samuel Alito

John F. Harris – August 4, 2022

Susan Walsh/AP Photo

Justice Samuel Alito, in drafting Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, said he and the other justices who joined him in ending a constitutional right to abortion had no ability to foresee what the political implications would be. Even if they could know, he added, justices have “no authority to let that knowledge influence our decision.”

Does Alito genuinely write his opinions with no concern at all of what the practical political consequences might be?

In overturning Roe v. Wade, a decision he said was “egregiously wrong,” Alito asserted that the place to decide the morality and legality of abortion is not the Supreme Court but the political process in 50 states.

So what does Alito think now, in the wake of Kansas voters resoundingly rejecting a proposal to remove protections for abortion rights from their state constitution?

These are not gotcha questions. Alito presumably would answer that what happened in Kansas on Tuesday is precisely the kind of democratic process that the Supreme Court “short-circuited,” as he wrote in Dobbs, when it established a national right to abortion by judicial edict even as the issue remained deeply unsettled in the society.

They are questions, however, that highlight how life is full of surprise and paradox, even for a Supreme Court justice who specializes in blustery self-assurance. Alito’s career as an advocate for social conservatism began long before he joined the court. His record is replete with deference to religious tradition and skepticism of loosening sexual mores on all fronts, including gay rights. His references to “abortionists” in the Dobbs opinion hardly conceal his personal disdain. There can be little doubt of how he would have cast his ballot if he were a Kansas voter.

Yet the Kansas result raises an arresting possibility: Alito’s long-term legacy may well be as the justice who facilitated a national consensus on behalf of abortion rights. Quite unintentionally, today’s hero of the “pro-life” movement could end up being a giant of the “pro-choice” movement.

Alito’s achievement was to take abortion out of the arena where it has been for a half-century — a place in which aggrieved advocates on both sides invoked a hypothetical world in which abortion is no longer legal — and move it to an emphatically real-world arena. In this new environment, all kinds of people who under ordinary circumstances would prefer not to have to think and argue about abortion must decide which side they are on.

There is good reason to be wary the old maxim of Fleet Street journalism — first simplify, then exaggerate — in some of the post-Kansas analysis. The impact of abortion politics on the mid-term elections remains murky. In most cases, voters will be choosing among candidates, not deciding a sharply framed referendum. Moreover, while Kansas is undoubtedly conservative, it is also a state with a Democratic governor and is not necessarily predictive of the dynamics in conservative states with abortion bans that took place immediately after the Supreme Court’s June ruling.

But if the Kansas result isn’t necessarily a portent of the politics of 2022 it is suggestive of the politics of 2032. Long-term, under current trends, it is easy to envisage a decisive shift that would leave a national resolution of the issue in favor of abortion rights, even in states that do not currently support that. It is hard to envisage the opposite result.

The difference lies in the gap between abstract politics and concrete politics. This is the same dynamic that makes Social Security highly popular among people who claim they disdain big government. The Kansas result, which mirrors polling showing solid majorities of people supported leaving Roe v. Wade intact, suggests that opponents of legal abortion do better when the prospect of an abortion ban is hypothetical, while abortion-rights supporters do better when the issue is tangibly real.

Values take on meaning not in the abstract but in the particular. What do you really believe when it is your adolescent child who is pregnant or has impregnated someone? Or your extramarital affair that results in a pregnancy? Or your obstetrician who calls to say she has unwelcome news from the results of a genetic test?

Thankfully, most people do not get to learn what they really believe by landing in such a situation. But lots of people — of all political persuasions — do get to learn. The Guttmacher Institute, which conducts research on abortion policy, found that about one in five pregnancies in 2020 ended in abortion. In an earlier study, from 2017, it found that about one in four women will have an abortion by age 45.

Is that number surprising? As long as abortion was a legal right, plenty of these women and their partners were likely animated by plenty of other political issues. The question now is what has changed, and Kansas suggests an answer.

Even many abortion-rights advocates acknowledge there is some truth to what Alito asserted multiple times in his opinion: That the court hindered, rather than helped, a national resolution of the abortion question. Somewhat tauntingly, the Dobbs opinion cited a 1992 speech from one of the most prominent abortion-rights supporters of all, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that Roe “halted a political process that was moving in a reform direction and thereby, I believed, prolonged divisiveness and deferred stable settlement of the issue.”

It was as if Alito was playing a joke on Ginsberg’s memory by quoting her. It seems entirely likely that she will end up having the last laugh.

Justice Kagan gives pointed warning about the ‘legitimacy’ of the court, seemingly calling out justices with ‘political social preferences’

Insider

Justice Kagan gives pointed warning about the ‘legitimacy’ of the court, seemingly calling out justices with ‘political social preferences’

Azmi Haroun – July 21, 2022

Justice Elena Kagan
Justice Elena KaganErin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images
  • SCOTUS Justice Elena Kagan opened up about the public perception of the Supreme Court on Thursday.
  • She said that “partisan” justices harm the legitimacy of the court, according to The Washington Post.
  • Only a quarter of Americans have confidence in the SCOTUS, according to a June 2022 Gallup Poll.

US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan ruminated on the legitimacy of the Supreme Court at a conference full of lawyers and judges, warning that a disconnected court and political appointments could be “a dangerous thing for the democratic system.”

Kagan said that SCOTUS justices had their work cut out for them in terms of earning and maintaining “legitimacy” in the eyes of Americans, according to a report from The Washington Post.

“By design, the court does things sometimes that the majority of the country doesn’t like,” Kagan said. “Overall, the way the court retains its legitimacy and fosters public confidence is by acting like a court, is by doing the kind of things that do not seem to people political or partisan, by not behaving as though we are just people with individual political or policy or social preferences.”

In June, Supreme Court justices voted 5-4 to overturn Roe v. Wade, in a majority opinion supported by conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

The core of the challenge to abortion rights that had been codified for 50 years was a Mississippi law that aimed to ban abortion after 15 weeks – which is stricter than the 24-week standard set by Roe v. Wade.

At least 61% of people support abortion access in the US, according to a Pew Research poll.

Within two weeks, the court also expanded gun rights and imposed limits on the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to implement greenhouse gas regulations.

She added that the court generally being on the opposite side of public opinion could have grave consequences for democracy.

“I’m not talking about any particular decision or any particular series of decisions. But if, over time, the court loses all connection with the public and the public sentiment, that’s a dangerous thing for democracy,” Kagan told the conference.

In the days before the Roe V. Wade decision, a Gallup poll showed that confidence in the Supreme Court had tanked — with only 25% of Americans saying that they had faith in the institution.

“We have a court that does important things, and if that connection is lost, that’s a dangerous thing for the democratic system as a whole,” Kagan reiterated.

Liz Cheney says Trump is ‘preying’ on his supporters by pushing 2020 election lie

Yahoo! News

Liz Cheney says Trump is ‘preying’ on his supporters by pushing 2020 election lie

Jon Ward, Chief National Correspondent – July 21, 2022

The patriotism of many Americans was turned into a “weapon” during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, by a former president who continues to prey on his supporters, Rep. Liz Cheney said Thursday night.

Cheney, the vice chair of the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the attack, delivered a forceful and sober final statement at the conclusion of a nearly three-hour hearing on Capitol Hill.

The Republican congresswoman from Wyoming addressed her comments to those who are skeptical of the committee’s work, which includes many voters in her own home state.

“The case against Donald Trump in these hearings is not made by witnesses who were his political enemies. It is, instead, a series of confessions by Donald Trump’s own appointees, his own friends, his own campaign officials, people who worked for him for years, and his own family,” Cheney said.

Rep. Liz Cheney at a House select committee hearing.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., delivers a closing statement during the House select committee hearing on Thursday. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Cheney made a distinction between Trump and his supporters, noting that many who voted for the former president would eagerly defend the country with their own lives. “Donald Trump knows that millions of Americans who supported him would stand up and defend our nation were it threatened. They would put their lives and their freedom at stake to protect her,” she said.

But, she said, on Jan. 6, 2021, Trump “turned their love of country into a weapon against our Capitol and our Constitution.”

Trump is even now “preying on their patriotism” by continuing to insist he somehow won the 2020 election, despite no evidence to support his baseless claims, Cheney said.

The nine hearings so far, she said, have shown that “Donald Trump’s plan to falsely claim victory in 2020, no matter what the facts actually were, was premeditated.”

A video of former President Donald Trump plays during a Jan. 6 committee hearing.
A video of former President Donald Trump plays during Thursday night’s hearing of the Jan. 6 committee. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The hearing Thursday showed evidence that Trump did nothing to stop the violence on Jan. 6, that Vice President Mike Pence called in police and military units to shut down the riot and that Trump rejected calls from his family and aides to call off the mob until he knew the attack would be repelled by law enforcement.

Cheney closed her comments by asking Americans to consider the gravity of allowing Trump back into power again.

“Every American must consider this: Can a president who is willing to make the choices Donald Trump made during the violence of Jan. 6 ever be trusted with any position of authority in our great nation again?” she said.

Cheney is facing the possibility of losing her seat in Congress if she loses the Aug. 16 primary in Wyoming to a Republican challenger who has parroted Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. But her words Thursday demonstrated a resolve on her part to continue waging a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.

Rep. Liz Cheney shakes hands with Sandra Garza, the longtime partner of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.
Cheney shakes hands with Sandra Garza, the partner of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died from injuries he sustained in the insurrection. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

When Cheney was stripped of her leadership position in the House Republican Conference last year, she vowed then to stop Trump from being reelected. “I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office,” she said.

If Cheney loses her congressional seat, and even if she wins, she’s likely to run for president in 2024 in order to keep making the case that Trump is unfit to lead the GOP, much less the nation, according to conversations with Republicans close to the matter.

Cheney ended the hearing Thursday by making clear that the committee’s work is not done, and that there will be more hearings after Labor Day.

“Ronald Reagan’s great ally Margaret Thatcher said this: ‘Let it never be said that the dedication of those who love freedom is less than the determination of those who would destroy it,’” she said. “Let me assure every one of you this: Our committee understands the gravity of this moment, the consequences for our nation. We have much work yet to do, and will see you all in September.”

It’s the accumulation’: The Jan. 6 hearings are wounding Trump, after all

Politico

‘It’s the accumulation’: The Jan. 6 hearings are wounding Trump, after all

David Siders – July 20, 2022

Shawn Thew/AP Photo

The conventional wisdom about the Jan. 6 committee hearings was that no single revelation was going to change Republican minds about Donald Trump.

What happened instead, a slow drip of negative coverage, may be just as damaging to the former president. Six weeks into the committee’s public hearing schedule, an emerging consensus is forming in Republican Party circles — including in Trump’s orbit — that a significant portion of the rank-and-file may be tiring of the non-stop series of revelations about Trump.

The fatigue is evident in public polling and in focus groups that suggest growing Republican openness to an alternative presidential nominee in 2024. The cumulative effect of the hearings, according to interviews with more than 20 Republican strategists, party officials and pollsters in recent days, has been to at least marginally weaken his support.

“It is definitely kind of this wet drip of, do you really want to debate the 2020 election again? Do you really want to debate what happened on Jan. 6?” said Bob Vander Plaats, the evangelical leader in Iowa who is influential in primary politics in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. “Frankly, I think what I sense a little bit, even among some deep, deep Trump supporters … there’s a certain exhaustion to it.”

Trump’s public approval rating among Republicans remains high as he prepares for a widely expected run for president again in 2024. He still tops most primary polls, and Republicans largely haven’t been persuaded by much of what the Jan. 6 committee is doing. They were more likely last month than last year — before the hearings began — to describe the events of Jan. 6 as a “legitimate protest.”

But for many Republicans, the ongoing, backward-looking call-and-response between the committee and Trump may nevertheless be getting old.

“I think what everybody thought was that the first prime-time hearing was such a non-event that that would continue,” said Randy Evans, a Georgia lawyer who served as Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg. “But over the course of the hearings, the steadiness, the repetitiveness, has had a corrosive effect. You’d have to be oblivious to the way media works, the way reputations work, the way politics works, to not understand that it’s never the one thing. It’s the accumulation.”

Evans said, “This is all undoubtedly starting to take a toll — how much, I don’t know. But the bigger question is whether it starts to eat through the Teflon. There are some signs that maybe it has. But it’s too early to say right now.”

For more than a year after Trump lost the presidential election, his political durability was not even in question. But the committee hearings appear to have had an effect on Trump’s enormous fundraising operation, which has slowed in recent months. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who may run in 2024, has been gaining on Trump in some polls, including in New Hampshire, the first primary state, where one recent survey had DeSantis statistically tied with Trump among Republican primary voters. Republicans are still poring over a New York Times/Siena College poll last week that showed nearly half of Republican primary voters would rather vote for a Republican other than Trump in 2024.

In a series of focus groups with 2020 Trump supporters from across the country since the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2001, Sarah Longwell, a moderate Republican strategist who became a vocal supporter of Joe Biden in 2020, for more than a year found about half of participants consistently said they wanted Trump to run again. But that number has fallen off since the hearings began, she said.

“We’ve had now three focus groups where zero people have wanted him to run again, and a couple other groups where it’s been like two people,” Longwell said. “Totally different.”

The Trump supporters in her focus groups are still dismissive of the hearings, Longwell said, “and I don’t think people are sitting down and being persuaded” by them.

However, she said, the hearings have “turned the volume up on the Trump baggage.”

“The other thing,” she said, “is I cannot tell you how much these Republican voters want to move on from the conversation of January 6th.”

‘Political Theater’

That’s a far cry from the Republican view of the hearings when they started: Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) derided what he called a “prime-time dud.” Jim Justice, the Republican governor of West Virginia, dismissed them as “political theater.” And Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri called them a “complete waste of time.”

One reason that the hearings are resonating now is that even if Republicans don’t agree with the committee’s findings, they read polls. The percentage of Republicans who say Trump misled people about the 2020 election has ticked up since last month, while a majority of Americans say Trump committed a crime. Perhaps most problematic for Trump, 16 percent of Republicans in the Siena College survey said they would vote for someone else in the general election or aren’t sure what they will do in 2024 if Trump is the nominee.

That’s a relatively small segment of the Republican electorate, but a critical one in competitive states that will decide which party controls the White House.

“I think you’re starting to see the impact of the hearings, and just overall his behavior since he lost the election,” said Dick Wadhams, a former Colorado Republican Party chair and longtime party strategist.

“He’s got a hard-core base, and there’s no doubt about that,” said Wadhams. “I voted for him twice, I loved his accomplishments. But I do think he’s compromised himself into a situation where it would be very difficult for him to win another election for president.”

Electability concerns may loom especially large this year for Republicans, who view Biden as a beatable incumbent. His cratering public approval ratings, now hovering below 39 percent, are worse than Trump’s at this point in his presidency. One senior House Republican aide described the resonance of the Jan. 6 committee hearings as in part a product of the contrast they are drawing between “a golden opportunity to win back the White House in 2024 and the only person who might not be able to do it.”

A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Trump has regularly criticized the committee’s work as a partisan exercise. And because most other Republicans view it that way, too, it’s unlikely that many of Trump’s opponents will leverage the committee’s revelations explicitly in the run-up to 2024.

Proxy wars

Still, the Republicans who may run against Trump in 2024 are increasingly breaking with him as the midterm year drags on.

On Friday, former Vice President Mike Pence will campaign in Arizona for gubernatorial candidate Karrin Taylor Robson, while Trump that same day appears in the presidential swing state for Robson’s rival for the GOP nomination, former TV news anchor Kari Lake. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, among others, have split with Trump in midterm endorsements in other states. So has outgoing Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who engaged in proxy war with Trump in the gubernatorial primary held Tuesday in Hogan’s home state.

As much has anything, those midterm primaries – coinciding with the Jan. 6 committee hearings – have laid bare the willingness of Republicans in at least some cases to disassociate their adoration for Trump with support for him politically. Trump’s endorsement has pulled Republicans across the line in competitive primaries in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, but his chosen candidates have flopped in other races, including in Georgia and Nebraska.

“The effect of the hearings will be negligible on Trump’s favorable ratings among Republicans,” said Whit Ayres, the longtime Republican pollster. “The ‘Always Trumpers’ and the ‘Maybe Trumpers’ are resolute in their insistence that they are paying no attention whatsoever to the hearings. It’s almost an article of faith among Republicans to say, ‘I am not paying attention to these hearings’.”

However, Ayres said, “The way it translates is that they believe that other candidates will carry less baggage … and that gets reinforced by what seeps into the political water from these hearings.

And as the Jan. 6 committee prepares for another hearing on Thursday, the ongoing focus on Trump’s behavior on Jan. 6 is now in the political waters.

John Thomas, a Republican strategist who works on House campaigns across the country, said that in recent conversations with state party chairs and Republican activists in numerous states, “almost to the T, and I don’t really care what state it’s in, they all say, ‘Love Trump, love his policies, wish he would just be a kingmaker.’ And that’s really a shift, because six months ago, a year ago, it was, ‘Trump’s got to run again, he’s the only one who can fight the swamp, drive the policy agenda.’”

“It’s not Trump hatred,” Thomas added. “It’s Trump fatigue. I think [the Jan. 6 committee hearings] reminds people to the degree that they’re tuning in that, eh, is this that important of an issue? No. But damn … And then Trump goes on his rants and it’s like, ‘We’re tired of it.’”

House Democrats tout bill to add four seats to Supreme Court

The Hill

House Democrats tout bill to add four seats to Supreme Court

Julia Mueller – July 18, 2022

A group of House Democrats called for legislation on Monday that would add four seats to the Supreme Court, lamenting a “ultra right-wing” branch that just overturned the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights.

The eight lawmakers cited recent Supreme Court decisions that rolled back Miranda rights, threw out a New York gun control law and allowed religion to surface in schools — as well as the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision that overturned the right to abortion in Roe — in saying there was a need to add new justices to the court.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), the lead sponsor of the 2021 Judiciary Act, called the current makeup “a Supreme Court at crisis with itself and with our democracy” where “basic freedoms are under assault” from the 6-3 conservative supermajority on the bench.

The Supreme Court isn’t susceptible to the popular vote the way Congress is, Johnson said, and it has used that fact to amass power. “It’s making decisions that usurp the power of the legislative and executive branches,” he said.

Facing Republican opposition and some Democratic skepticism, the bill has little chance of becoming law, but it illustrates the deep anger among progressive Democrats about the court’s direction under three conservative justices nominated by former President Trump: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Those three justices have radically altered the direction of the court, which now has twice as many conservative justices as liberal ones. Kavanaugh replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy, a previous swing vote who had been nominated to the court by a Republican, while Barrett replaced liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Adding to Democratic anger, a GOP Senate blocked former President Obama’s last nominee to the court, Merrick Garland, who is now the attorney general. Gorsuch ended up being nominated to the court in place of Garland.

Introduced last year, the Judiciary Act has not progressed in Congress.

Some Democrats wary of the proposal are concerned that expansion would open the court up for Republicans to push more of their nominees into the openings.

“The nightmare scenario of GOP court-packing is already upon us,” said Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.). “That’s how they got this far-right 6-3 majority in the first place.”

Lawmakers at Monday’s press conference, hosted by the Take Back the Court Action Fund, blamed Trump and the conservative legal movement for enabling a partisan court.

Republican politicians made controlling the judicial branch part of their platform, said Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), adding that the court has “gone rogue” and “become a radical institution.”

The lawmakers also emphasized that the longevity of the lifelong terms the sitting justices are now serving makes action to expand the court more urgent.

Of 72-year-old conservative Justice Samuel Alito, Johnson said, “You can see the gleam in his eye as he thinks about what he wants to do to decimate the rights of people and put us back in the Dark Ages.”

Trump-nominated Gorsuch, Barrett and Kavanaugh, in their 50s, are “gonna be there for a while,” Johnson said.

Congress has changed the number of seats on the nation’s highest court seven times in the nation’s history. The new proposal would bring the total seat count to 13, meaning a decision from the court would need a 7-6 majority rather than the present 5-4.

Reps. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) were also at the conference, along with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who sponsored the bill in the Senate, and a handful of progressive activists.

The 18 House Republicans who voted against a resolution to support Finland, Sweden joining NATO

The Hill

The 18 House Republicans who voted against a resolution to support Finland, Sweden joining NATO

Mychael Schnell – July 18, 2022

More than a dozen House Republicans voted against a resolution on Monday that expressed support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

The House passed the measure, which had bipartisan sponsorship, in a 394-18 vote, with all the opposition coming from the Republican Party. Two Democrats and 17 Republicans did not vote.

Eighteen House Republicans objected to the measure: Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Dan Bishop (N.C.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), Ben Cline (Va.), Michael Cloud (Texas), Warren Davidson (Ohio), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Bob Good (Va.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Morgan Griffith (Va.), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), Mary Miller (Ill.), Ralph Norman (S.C.), Matt Rosendale (Mont.), Chip Roy (Texas) and Jefferson Van Drew (N.J.).

The measure specifically demonstrates support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO — which they applied to do in May — and urges member states to formally support their push to join the alliance.- ADVERTISEMENT -https://s.yimg.com/rq/darla/4-10-1/html/r-sf-flx.html

Additionally, the resolution opposes any attempts by the Russian Federation to adversely react to the decision by the two Nordic countries to join the military alliance and urges NATO countries to fulfill their 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) defense spending pledge that was agreed to at the 2014 Wales summit.

Passage of the measure came exactly two months after Finland and Sweden applied to become members of NATO and less than three weeks after the military alliance invited the pair of countries to join the group.

The push for Sweden and Finland to join NATO ramped up after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Moscow has since continued its offensive.

Massie said on Twitter on Monday following the vote that “America can’t afford to subsidize socialist Europe’s defense, nor should we. Tonight, I voted against the House Resolution urging NATO’s expansion into Sweden and Finland.”

His tweet included a link to a Newsweek article from March that said only eight of the 30 NATO countries met the guideline of spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense in 2021 — a fact that was reflected in the NATO secretary general’s annual report.

Massie and other GOP lawmakers who objected to Monday’s resolution have voted against measures related to the Russia, Ukraine and the invasion in the past.

In May, Massie and Greene voted “no” on three bills connected to the invasion. One compelled foreign entities and individuals under U.S. authority to comply with sanctions on Russia and Belarus. Another called for making it U.S. policy to bar Russian officials from participating in meetings and activities in the Group of 20 and other financial institutions. The third would forbid the Treasury secretary from taking part in transactions related to the exchange of special drawing rights that Russia or Belarus possesses.

Belarus has supported Russia throughout its invasion of Ukraine.

The lawmakers also joined 54 Republicans that day in voting against a bill to suspend multilateral debt payments Ukraine owes.

In April, Massie, Greene, Cawthorn and Roy joined with four progressive lawmakers in opposing a measure urging President Biden to seize assets from sanctioned Russian oligarchs and use the money to help Kyiv amid its battle with Moscow.

Also in April, 10 GOP House members — including Massie, Greene, Biggs, Bishop, Davidson, Gaetz and Norman — voted against the Ukraine lend-lease bill, which sought to make it easier for the U.S. to send military assistance to Ukraine during Russia’s invasion.

Russia is using rape as a weapon of war in Ukraine. Here’s what can be done about it.

USA Today

Russia is using rape as a weapon of war in Ukraine. Here’s what can be done about it.

Carli Pierson, USA TODAY – July 13, 2022

Warning: This column contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence against women, men and children.

“This is how an 11 year old boy sees the world after having been raped by #Russia soldier in front of his mother.” That was the caption above a photograph of chaotic swirls of black marker on a white background painted by a Ukrainian child tweeted by that country’s lawmaker Lesia Vasylenko.

There are many more equally horrific reports, too many to detail here.

As Russian dictator Vladimir Putin continues the onslaught of Ukraine, and this week, as Bosnian Muslims remember the massacre at Srebrenica 27 years after it happened, the unlearned lessons from the horrors of Balkan war scream out at us: “What can we do better?”

The answer isn’t as elusive as it might seem. In fact, it has been proposed by international criminal law and human rights experts for years.

‘Sexual violence can be used strategically as a method of warfare’

Rape has been considered a war crime since the 1949 Geneva Conventions. But it has not been prosecuted like other war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It wasn’t until 1993 that the United Nations Security Council officially recognized mass rape as a weapon of war, and made it eligible for prosecution in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Bosnian refugees carry bags of relief aid near the besieged town of Srebrenica in 1993.
Bosnian refugees carry bags of relief aid near the besieged town of Srebrenica in 1993.

Catherine Dunmore specializes in international criminal law, human rights law and sexual and gender-based violence. She has served on legal teams that have investigated and prosecuted war crimes, including conflict-related sexual violence.

I reached out about her work investigating sexual violence as a war crime. She said, “The vast majority of victims of conflict-related sexual violence are women and girls, although it’s also perpetrated against men, boys and the LGBTIQ+ community in many settings.”

“Sexual violence” Dunmore said, “can be used strategically as a method of warfare, for instance as a deliberate tactic to undermine the opposition or strike fear in civilian populations.”

She also pointed out that sexual violence can be committed by any party to the conflict, including humanitarian actors.

What is Russia doing in Ukraine?

►Over the past five months of conflict, Russia has carried out repeated, deadly assaults on civilian targets, including a shopping mall and apartment buildings.

►Last week, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told USA TODAY that the number of cases of war crimes is likely more than 10,000.

►As of June 3, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights’ monitoring team had received over 120 reports of alleged conflict-related sexual violence in Ukraine.

►On July 5, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet reported that her team had “verified 28 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, including cases of rape, gang rape, torture, forced public stripping, and threats of sexual violence. The majority of cases were committed in areas controlled by Russian armed forces, but there were also cases committed in government-controlled areas.”

An independent investigative organization

While investigators inside and outside Ukraine work to collect evidence of war crimes with the hope of eventually prosecuting those crimes, additional options have long been proposed.

A protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Bucharest, Romania, on May 16, 2022.
A protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Bucharest, Romania, on May 16, 2022.

In an interview on National Public Radio in May, British lawmaker Arminka Helic talked about her work to “create a permanent, independent and international body to investigate and prosecute rape and sexual violence as war crimes,” reported Leila Fadel.

Helic explained, “If we had a body that is funded, in existence, that has forensic trauma and medical experts already available to be deployed or to be approached by the investigators in Ukraine, we would have by now had an opportunity to collect this evidence, either from the internally displaced people or from the people who have crossed the border.”

My late mentor, the godfather of international criminal law, M. Cherif Bassiouni, had been proposing the same idea since the Balkan war.

The knowledge of a swift, efficient and powerful investigative body charged with the full U.N. authority might also serve as a deterrent to potential war criminals. For instance, fighters would be on notice that it would be much harder to get away with the evidence of their crimes, including the so-called silent ones like rape. Perhaps they would think twice before joining in on the criminal sadism.

We’ve known for decades what we need to do – it’s about time we call on world leaders to make it happen.

Carli Pierson, a New York licensed attorney, is an opinion writer with USA TODAY and a member of the USA TODAY Editorial Board