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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Actually, 'wanted' world leaders often face justice, new study finds

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. 

The big idea

Actually, ‘wanted’ world leaders often face justice, new study finds

It’s been a historic week for world leaders accused of atrocities:

  • On March 17, judges for the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on war crimes charges.
  • And on March 20, the world marked 20 years since the U.S.-led war in Iraq to topple dictator Saddam Hussein, who was deposed, arrested, tried and ultimately executed in 2006.

The ICC news about Putin drew understandable skepticism.

After all, he’s the leader of a nuclear-armed country that is a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. The ICC doesn’t do trials in absentia, so he’d have to be handed over. And, as Bloomberg reported, “of the two dozen people against whom the ICC has pursued war crimes cases, about a third remain at large.”

Justice often served?

But now comes a new study from Tom Warrick, who served as deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism policy at the Department of Homeland Security and is now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank. It publishes this week, but The Daily 202 got an early look. You should be able to read the whole thing here.

Warrick’s conclusion? It’ll surprise skeptics (including, in all honesty, The Daily 202), but in recent times, high-profile targets of war-crimes prosecution mostly do not evade justice and certainly don’t die peacefully in their sleep. With some exceptions, of course.

“Heads of state and major political or military leaders wanted by international courts have faced justice far more often than not,” he found. “If modern history is a guide, the ICC arrest warrant has dramatically changed Putin’s fate.”

The Daily 202 readers are surely familiar with the Nuremberg trials of Nazi military and political leaders. But the modern era of war-crimes accountability began in 1992 with the U.N. Security Council’s establishment of mechanisms for punishing atrocities in the former Yugoslavia.

That was followed by a wave of other actions, some of them country-specific, like an international tribunal for Rwanda or domestic courts in places like Cambodia or Iraq, as well of course as the creation of the ICC. (The China, India, Russia and the United States, notably, don’t recognize ICC jurisdiction.)

Warrick looked at 18 heads of state or leaders or major military forces sought by international justice for genocide, crimes against humanity and serious war crimes. (They’re all men.)

Of the 18, he wrote:

  • 15 (83 percent) have faced justice of some kind before a tribunal.
  • Two were acquitted “for lack of evidence under less-than-ideal circumstances” but still appeared before ICC judges.
  • Two others were killed before they could face trial (meaning 94 percent have either faced a tribunal or were killed before that could happen).
  • Just one of the 18 is still at large.

And here’s the mic-drop: “Of the seven who have died, 0 percent died in their beds at home as free men.”

The administration’s hand

President Biden’s administration this week looked to leverage the ICC warrant for Putin, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying Wednesday European countries should detain him and hand him over to the ICC if he visits their countries.

“Anyone who is a party to the court and has obligations should fulfill their obligations,” Blinken said, my colleagues John Hudson and Missy Ryan reported.

The ICC warrant “is not just a symbolic action, it has consequences that are going to change the trajectory of Putin’s life,” said Warrick, who has decades of experience as an international lawyer, including years of work in the State Department on war-crimes issues.

It could restrict his travel options, it could restrict what world leaders choose to meet with him or associate with him — though obviously his recent summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping shows some of the limits to the limits, so to speak. And many ICC signatories have declined to sign on to condemnations of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The warrant could also “fundamentally alter the way other Russians deal with him,” Warrick said.


In Russia, “there will eventually come to power a group of people who want to break with the crimes of the current leadership [and the international price to pay] and so putting someone like Putin on an airplane to The Hague becomes an option that solves several problems,” he said in an interview with The Daily 202.

Warrick pointed to Putin’s widely reported revulsion at images of ousted Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi being killed in a ditch, seeing his brutal and bloody end as a lesson in what happens to leaders who play by the West’s rules.

“If there’s not a measure of accountability for mass murder, there will be vengeance,” he told The Daily 202. Qaddafi’s fate was evidence of that. So was Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s. Or that of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the Romanian dictator.

“The world has changed since 1992,” said Warrick, “and it’s time everyone catch up.”


See an important political story that doesn’t quite fit traditional politics coverage? Flag it for us here.

What’s happening now

TikTok CEO testifies before Congress as China says it will oppose a forced sale

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is testifying before Congress for the first time, in an attempt to address lawmakers’ worries that the extraordinarily popular video app represents a dangerous national security threat because it is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance,” Cat Zakrzewski, Drew Harwell, Cristiano Lima and Will Oremus report.

Follow our live coverage of the hearing here

Swastikas and conspiracies: K-12 antisemitic incidents surge, ADL says

“The [Anti-Defamation League] recorded 3,697 cases of antisemitism across the country in 2022, a 36-percent increase from 2021 and a record high since it began tracking the data in 1979,” Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff reports.

  • Educational facilities outpaced the rate of growth of such incidents in the country at large: The ADL chronicled a roughly 50 percent rise in reported incidents in K-12 schools, and a roughly 40 percent increase in reported incidents at colleges and universities.”

N.Y. prosecutor rebuffs GOP demand for documents related to Trump investigation

“Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on Thursday emphatically rebuffed a House Republican demand for documents and testimony related to his office’s investigation of former president Donald Trump, saying their request was “an unprecedent inquiry into a pending local prosecution,” Amy B Wang reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Zooming out

TikTok’s CEO is testifying before Congress. Here’s what to know.

“TikTok’s chief executive is set to go toe-to-toe with lawmakers on Thursday morning, a culmination of years of back-and-forth over whether the Chinese-owned app can be trusted,” Julian Mark reports.

“It will likely be the grilling of a lifetime for Shou Zi Chew. Arguing that one of the world’s most popular apps is a national security threat, the Biden administration is pushing for TikTok to be sold to an American company, and a bipartisan slate of lawmakers have stepped up efforts to ban the app.”

Ukraine, pumped up by Western weapons, is held back by slow deliveries

While President Biden has pledged to stand with Kyiv ‘for as long as it takes,’ Ukrainian officials, Western diplomats and analysts warn that the help is simply taking too long. As both sides gird for a spring fighting season that could tilt the outcome of the war, Ukraine still lacks the force strength and weapons to fully expel the Russian invaders from its territory,” Siobhán O’Grady, Alex Horton, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Anastacia Galouchka report.

… and beyond

Jeff Zients was the man to make the trains run on time. It’s been a bumpy start.

“House Democrats are still stewing over Biden’s about-face on a D.C. crime bill that blindsided them, and left vulnerable lawmakers to deal with the political fallout. And within a wider circle of White House allies, Zients’ arrival has sparked complaints that they are cut out of the loop after enjoying direct West Wing access through his predecessor, Ron Klain,” Politico’s Adam Cancryn, Eugene Daniels and Nicholas Wu report

Ignoring experts, China’s sudden zero-COVID exit cost lives

“Experts estimate that many hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps more, may have died in China’s wave of COVID — far higher than the official toll of under 90,000, but still a significantly lower death rate than in the United States and Europe. However, 200,000 to 300,000 deaths could have been prevented if the country was better vaccinated and stocked with antivirals, according to modeling by the University of Hong Kong and scientist estimates. Some scientists think even more lives could have been saved,” the Associated Press’s Dake Kang reports.

The Biden agenda

White House disbanding its covid-19 team in May

The White House will shut down its covid response team after the public health emergency ends in May, with some staffers already departing and national coordinator Ashish Jha likely to leave the administration once his team is disbanded, according to multiple current and former officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal operations,” Dan Diamond and Tyler Pager report.

Biden approval dips near lowest point, AP-NORC poll finds

“That’s according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which shows there have been modest fluctuations in support for Biden over the past several months. The president notched an approval rating of 38% in the new poll, after 45% said they approved in February and 41% in January,” the AP’s Josh Boak and Emily Swanson report.

  • His ratings hit their lowest point of his presidency last July, at 36%, as the full weight of rising gasoline, food and other costs began to hit U.S. households.”

Why Biden’s not talking about Trump's potential indictment

“There’s no blueprint for what a sitting president should do when a predecessor is charged with a crime — something that’s never happened in the nation’s history. Biden’s approach, for now, has been to keep silent and avoid a scrum that threatens to pull him in, Democratic strategists and people close to the White House said,” NBC News’s Peter Nicholas reports.

The experiences of transgender adults, visualized

Transgender Americans experience stigma and systemic inequality in many aspects of their lives, including education, work and health-care access, a wide-ranging Washington Post-KFF poll finds,” Casey Parks, Emily Guskin and Scott Clement report.

“Yet most trans adults say transitioning has made them more satisfied with their lives.”

Hot on the left

Sinema’s strategy: Courting GOP donors by ridiculing her former Democratic colleagues

“As she races to stockpile campaign money and post an impressive, statement-making first-quarter fundraising number, Sinema has used a series of Republican-dominated receptions and retreats this year to belittle her Democratic colleagues, shower her GOP allies with praise and, in one case, quite literally give the middle finger to President Biden’s White House. And that’s before an audience,” Politico’s Jonathan Martin writes.

Speaking in private, whether one-on-one or with small groups of Republican senators, she’s even more cutting, particularly about Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, whom she derides in harshly critical terms, according to senior Republican officials directly familiar with her comments.”

Hot on the right

Making a case for a restrained Republican foreign policy

Conservatives need to accept that the world has changed dramatically over the last seven years, to say nothing of the last 40. The United States faces much greater economic and military constraints today than it did at the end of the Cold War, and these constraints can’t be overcome through inauthentic optimism or sheer willpower,” Dan Caldwell writes for Foreign Affairs.

  • “By its very nature, conservatism recognizes limits — whether of government, social progress, or human nature. A conservative foreign policy should accept that the United States exists in a world of limits and must behave accordingly.”

Today in Washington

At 1 p.m., Biden will hold an event marking the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.

The Bidens will leave for Andrews at 4:40 p.m., where they will fly to Ottawa.

At 6:40 p.m., the Bidens will greet Mary Simon, the governor general of Canada and her husband.

The Bidens will greet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife at 8:25 p.m. at the Prime Minister’s residence. They will also attend a “private gathering.”

In closing

Fake images of Trump arrest show ‘giant step’ for AI’s disruptive power

[Eliot Higgins, the founder of the open-source investigative outlet Bellingcat,] turned to an AI art generator, giving the technology simple prompts, such as, ‘Donald Trump falling down while being arrested.’ He shared the results — images of the former president surrounded by officers, their badges blurry and indistinct — on Twitter,” Isaac Stanley-Becker and Naomi Nix report.

Two days later, his posts depicting an event that never happened have been viewed nearly 5 million times, creating a case study in the increasing sophistication of AI-generated images, the ease with which they can be deployed and their potential to create confusion in volatile news environments.”

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.