The List

Rogue Generals

Five military commanders who took matters into their own hands.

 [Update: On June 22, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan was summoned to the White House to explain remarks he made in a Rolling Stone profile in which disparaged and questioned the competence of senior Obama administration officials.] 

Retired Thai General Khattiya Sawatdipho was dramatically shot in the head on May 17 while giving an interview to a reporter on the street in Bangkok. Khattiya was once one of the most prominent commanders in the Thai military, and claims to have worked closely with the CIA in the 1980s to root out communist rebels in the country's south. But after his friend, former Prime Minsiter Thaksin Shinawatra was deposed, he defected to join the country's anti-government "red-shirt" protesters. This case of a government losing control over a prominent military commander is hardly an isolated incident.

Governments may derive their power from the "legitimate use of physical force," as sociologist Max Weber argued, but there's a natural tension between the leaders who directly command that force -- the generals -- and the political leaders to whom they report in civilian governments. Even the United States is not immune from civil military tensions -- consider Alexander Hamilton's feud with John Adams over the fate of the Continental Army, or the highly public feud between President Harry Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War, for instance -- but the problem is far more serious in countries where political institutions are weaker. Here are five cases in which military commanders have, for better or worse, threatened the stability of the very governments they pledged to serve.


Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Current status: Under house arrest in Rwanda, on trial

Rebellion: Few military commanders can say they've fought in as many wars, armies, sides, and countries as the warlord Laurent Nkunda. An ethnic Tutsi from Eastern Congo, Nkunda studied psychology at university before heading off to Rwanda to fight with the Tutsi rebels who eventually overthrew the country's Hutu-dominated government during the 1993 genocide.

Afterwards, Nkunda returned home and fought with Rwandan-backed Tutsi rebel armies in the first and second Congo civil wars. After his group, the Rally for Congolese Democracy, joined the government in 2003, Nkunda joined the national army as a colonel and was soon promoted to general. But Nkunda chafed under Kinshasha's leadership and formed his own militia to hunt down Hutu rebels in Eastern Congo.

Nkunda's forces now stand accused of killing thousands, displacing hundreds of thousands, conscripting child soldiers, and using rape as a weapon of war during what has become known as the Kivu Conflict in Eastern Congo. Despite this, the current Tutsi government in Rwanda is believed to have supported Nkunda as protection against the return of the Hutu militias who perpetrated the genocide. In late 2008, however, Kigali shifted positions, agreeing to hunt down the Hutus in cooperation with the Congolese government. This made Nkunda, who categorically rejected cooperation with Kinshasha -- a liability, and he was arrested in a joint Rwandan-Congolese operation in January 2009.


Country: Sri Lanka

Current Status: In military custody. On trial for inciting violence, dabbling in politics while in uniform, and corruption

Rebellion: Fonseka spent nearly four decades fighting the Tamil Tiger insurgency as an officer in the Sri Lankan army and was one of the conflict's most distinguished and recognized military leaders. In May 2009, as Sri Lanka's top military commander, Fonseka led the brutal final assault that crushed the final remnants of the rebel group and killed its notorious leader Velupillai Prabakharan.

Rather than basking in the glory of his victory, Fonseka resigned from the government over a dispute with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom he accused of trying to sideline him within the military and hog the spotlight for the victory. Fonseka ran against Rajapaksa in this January's presidential election and, in a bizarre twist, won the support of the country's Tamil minority.

Fonseka was crushed in the election, then complained of fraud and accused the government of trying to assassinate him. He also threatened to testify in an international war crimes tribunal against the president. Fonseka was arrested in February on charges of having tried to overthrow the government as a military commander.


Country: Pakistan

Current status: At large in Pakistan. Designated a terrorist by India and the United States

Rebellion: Gul is emblematic of the murky historical ties that link U.S. and Pakistani intelligence services and South Asia's most dangerous militant groups. A protégé of former military leader Zia ul-Haq, Gul was director of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in the late 1980s and worked closely with the CIA and Saudi intelligence to support the mujahideen uprising against the Soviet Union. After the end of the Afghan war, Gul became staunchly anti-American when the United States condemned Pakistan's clandestine nuclear program.

As ISI chief, Gul was the godfather of Pakistan's strategy of waging proxy war against India by supporting militant groups in Kashmir and Punjab. Among the groups he reportedly nurtured is Lashkar-e-Taiba, the jihadist outfit blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Since leaving the ISI, Gul has emerged a prominent pundit and provocateur, offering vocal (and according to India, material) support for al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other militant groups. He has publicly admitted membership in Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, a group of former ISI members designated a terrorist group by the United States and linked to Osama bin Laden's quest for nuclear weapons. Gul has repeatedly expressed his belief that the 9/11 attacks were an "inside job" perpetrated by the U.S. government.

Gul has also been a dangerous irritation for several Pakistani governments. Former President Benazir Bhutto accused him of trying to assassinate her (when she was eventually assassinated in 2007, he predictably blamed it on the United States), participated in demonstrations against Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and was briefly arrested for his efforts. Gul has been described as a "political ideologue of terror" by current President Asif Ali Zardari.


Country: Venezuela

Current status: Jailed

Rebellion: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who was himself a rogue colonel who attempted to overthrow the government in a failed military coup in 1992 and was elected president in 1999, has his own troublesome military commander in former defense secretary Raul Baduel. Baduel was once one a core supporter of Chávez's Bolivarian Revolution and came to his aid when the president was briefly overthrown in a coup attempt in 2002.

Baduel rose to become Chávez's defense minister, but broke with the president in 2007, accusing him of abuse of power over his attempts to change the constitution to keep himself in office. Baduel's forceful opposition was one of the main factors cited for Chávez's loss in a referendum on the constitutional changes that year.

In 2008, Baduel was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison on corruption charges that his supporters claim are trumped up and barred from ever holding political office again. Undeterred, Baduel continues to assail Chávez from prison using Twitter.


Country: Turkey

Current status: Hospitalized for high blood pressure, awaiting trial

Rebellion: The Turkish military has traditionally considered itself the guardian of the country's stability and secular traditions and has stepped in to overthrow civilian governments four times since the founding of the modern republic in 1920. The so-called "sledgehammer plot" of 2003 was, depending on whom you ask, either the latest of these interventions, or a trumped-up charge by the country's Islamist civilian government to intimidate its secularist opponents.

According to documents published by the Turkish media that were reportedly written by Dogan, a now-retired four-star general, during a training conference in 2003, the Turkish military was planning a series of covert actions to provoke a crisis and set the stage for a military coup. These included downing a Turkish fighter jet and making it look like Greece had shot it down and faking attacks by Islamist groups in mosques, military posts, and other sites in Istanbul. In the documents, the plotters lay out their supposed aim to "remove once and for all, all causes that prevent the functioning of the secular democratic state."

Dogan and around 50 other generals were arrested in February in connection with the plot. He was released by a judge on April 2, then rearrested a few weeks later. He's currently in the hospital being treated for high blood pressure. Dogan says the plot is a fiction and that "the sledgehammer will fall on the heads of those who prepared it." His supporters believe the staunch anti-Islamist is being framed by religious extremists or those seeking to damage the military's credibility.


The List

Europe's Burqa Wars

As Europe's Muslim population continues to grow, Islamic dress, particularly the controversial burqa, has become a focus for wrenching political disputes. From Belgium, which is leading the way toward a full ban, to Turkey, whose enforced secularism inspired the new policies in the West, here's a look at five places where the debate is most contentious.

View a slideshow of the always controversial burqa.


The law: In 2004, France instituted a controversial ban on the wearing of religious symbols and clothing in schools -- a law that was widely interpreted as targeting Islamic headscarves. More recently President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party has begun a push to also ban the burqa (a garment that covers a woman's entire face and body, leaving only a screen for the eyes) and the niqab (a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes open) in all public spaces in France. The parliament passed a nonbinding resolution on May 11 in support of such a ban.

The debate: France is the European country with the largest Muslim minority population (6 percent, or 4 million citizens). The proposed burqa ban has opened difficult questions about national identity and the place of religion in society. Sarkozy was quoted in June 2009 as saying "the burqa is not welcome in France" and has since argued that it is a tool for the suppression of women.

A parliamentary commission, which concluded earlier this year, recommended a partial ban in spaces like hospitals and on public transportation. In an attempt to minimize the controversy surrounding the legislative effort, Jean-François Copé, leader of the UMP party in parliament, argued last week that the ban is based on security concerns ("the visibility of the face in the public sphere ... is essential to our security and is a condition for living together"), not religious discrimination.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Francois Fillon asked the Council of State, a body that provides legal advice to the executive branch, to examine whether a full ban would be constitutional. The council found that such a law would most likely violate the French Constitution and could be challenged in court. However, it also found that a partial ban on face-covering garments could stand in certain "high-risk" places for security reasons. (A similar law is already on the books in Italy, where a woman was recently fined 500 euros for wearing a niqab in public.) Nonetheless, Copé says he will continue to pursue a full ban of the burqa in France.



The law: Belgium has taken great steps toward a ban on face-covering veils. On April 29, the lower house of parliament approved a bill that bans burqas and niqabs; the bill is expected the pass the upper house of parliament later this year. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have forcefully condemned the bill.  The new law would impose a fine of 15 to 25 euros, or jail time of one to seven days.

The debate: If the ban is approved, Belgium will become the first country in Europe to completely outlaw face-covering veils. Although Belgium has an estimated Muslim population exceeding 600,000, legislators estimate that only a small percentage, 300 to 400 women, wear the burqa. Opponents of the bill therefore argue that the root issue is Islamophobia in a country with a rapidly growing Muslim population.

Meanwhile, in making the case for the ban, the head of the Liberal Party, Daniel Bacquelaine, told National Public Radio: "To forbid the veil as a covering is to give [Muslim women] more freedom. I'm proud Belgium is the first country to do that."

Amnesty International's John Dalhuisen, an expert on religious discrimination in Europe, counters, "The Belgian move to ban full-face veils, the first in Europe, sets a dangerous precedent. Restrictions on human rights must always be proportionate to a legitimate goal. A total ban on full-face veils would not be."



The law: Half of Germany's 16 states have passed laws restricting the wearing of religious clothing and symbols, including the burqa and hijab (headscarf), in schools. (Meanwhile, five of these states have made exceptions for Christian items.) Throughout Germany, women are not allowed to drive while wearing the burqa, allegedly for safety purposes.

The debate: This month Silvana Koch-Mehrin, a German representative in the European Parliament, called for a Europe-wide ban on face-covering veils, saying "the burqa is a massive attack on the rights of women. It is a mobile prison."

In the wake of moves toward bans in Belgium and France, as well as Koch-Mehrin's statement, German Muslim leaders such as Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims, have voiced their disapproval of a similar national ban in Germany, calling it a "a completely senseless debate. It would only further widen the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims." German politicians like Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere agree with Mazyek, calling a ban "inappropriate and therefore unnecessary."

Sean Gallup/Getty Images


The law: Geert Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom and well-known anti-immigration politician, has been at the forefront of the international movement to ban burqas and veils. In 2006, he introduced legislation before the Dutch parliament to ban burqas, but worries that a ban would breach religious freedom laws together with personnel changes in the Dutch cabinet stopped it from being voted into law.

The debate: Because of concerns over freedom of religion and offending the country's growing Muslim community, Dutch lawmakers have been especially reticent about a burqa ban in recent years. Yet 66 percent of the population would support it, according to a February 2007 opinion poll. Wilders attempted to once again put forward legislation banning the burqa in public places in 2008, but concerns about religious freedom have elevated the political opposition.

Wilders's party gained in recent local elections, and with general elections scheduled for June, he will probably gain more seats in parliament. Last fall, Wilders suggested a 1,000 euro excise tax on headscarves, which he dubbed a "head-rag tax."



The law: Turkey is officially a secular state; the wearing of veils almost vanished after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk launched his modernization drive in 1923. Headscarves were practically nonexistent in Turkey's big cities by the 1960s, but this trend reversed thanks to a religious revival in the 1970s.

Today, all veils are banned in universities and public buildings. The ban was introduced after Turkey's 1980 military coup; further restrictions were enacted in 1997. In November 2005, the European Court of Human Rights upheld the university headscarf ban against challenges, setting a precedent for current legislative efforts in Europe.

The debate: More recently, the election of Islamic-leaning parties such as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) has led to enforcement of the ban being relaxed somewhat. Still, every year thousands of women -- such as Leyla Sahin, the plaintiff in the European Court of Human Rights case -- find themselves in trouble for refusing to remove their headscarves.

Lawmakers have made several attempts in the last decade to lift the ban, but all have been unsuccessful. Despite the growing influence of religious parties in government, the headscarf ban is unlikely to be overturned anytime soon; Turkish military leaders see themselves as protectors of Turkey's secular status and remain fierce critics of religion entering the public space.