News, analysis, action

Donate

In the past, media was protected in most democracies because in order to govern themselves, people need access to accurate and timely information on all topics relevant to their governance. The news needs to be the match that starts analysis and action which doesn’t stop till we have change. Otherwise it is silly to pretend that news has anything at all to do with governance. If news requires no action, it is probably not the news we require in order to govern ourselves. If activism requires no analysis, it is probably not informed or effective.

News

The first right of all people must be the right to communicate. Without communication there is no way to safeguard our other rights or participate in society. Everyone needs a voice and the ability to call for help in emergencies.

Corporate media was long ago co-opted as a propaganda vehicle for corporations and governments, but people still supported it for three reasons: it provided a paying job for reporters, it provided access to an audience and it loaned official credence to the news.

The laughably small amount news media pays for most stories now (if they pay at all) is no longer tempting. Having to write material to fill a slot instead of writing because a story needs to be told, writing only on topics and only to audiences dictated and then having work butchered by editors who have less knowledge of the topic than the author is not the path to job satisfaction or quality information. Editors decide their audience must be fed the exact same story in the exact same way every day. Every story that brings different information or perspective is considered ‘biased’ and modified to reiterate the standard line. News must have an established audience before it is told, which defeats the purpose of news. Articles are produced as quickly as possible, are not interactive like micro-blogging and are seldom thoughtful and crafted like the best blogs. Corporate media reads like advertising copy, inoffensive, unsurprising, unoriginal.

Once this journalism at least brought community respect. Now it is more likely to bring open contempt and public criticism. Many bloggers have received far more recognition and respect by creating their own work and publishing it their own way on their own blogs. They sometimes manage to earn an equivalent or better living as well through a combination of donations, grants, paid appearances, website ads, etc.

The audience provided by official platforms online is now largely driven by online sharing and authors are expected to push their stories on social media when they are published. This could easily be (and sometimes is) replaced by promoting personal blog posts directly to social media instead. For those who are not interested in domain values and page hits, it is far easier to create viral media without restrictive copyright and pay walls. The unrealistic delays in publishing on official platforms make them obsolete as breaking news platforms.

The official status once brought by publication in corporate media is starting to bring the opposite result. Unless the official status is needed to update an archaic resource such as Wikipedia, there is little benefit.

There are many reasons to argue that journalism as it is practiced ought not to be a profession. While a good writer or investigator is always valuable, stories should be published when there is something important to say, not to fill a slot on demand. The people news is happening to seldom need others to translate their experience. First hand interviews and affidavits should replace journalist viewpoints. Our voices, not our votes are what gives us the ability to participate in our world and the people who tell our stories instead of just amplifying them are acting as our representatives with no mandate from us. The best articles are written by people actually affected by the news. They are the ones best able to answer questions and explain to us why their news is important. They should not have to beg some western man to find their story newsworthy and tell it through a western man filter.

Whistleblowers are journalists. The sight of whistleblowers and witnesses explaining what they found and why it is important to journalists who then turn and repeat what they have heard to an audience is a strange leftover from a long gone era. Expert opinions can also come directly from the experts, they do not need an intermediary.

In an interactive, decentralized world, the voiceless do not need someone to be their voice. They need a megaphone.

Analysis

The idea that news must be constantly new makes it an impossible option for deep ongoing analysis. Once an atrocity has been reported there is not much new to say. With no analysis or action as standard responses to news, the atrocities continue in silence and the audience attention wanders. The occasional bits of isolated investigative brilliance that make it past editors and accountants are left floating on isolated, seldom read url’s where only those that know they exist will find them.

Action

Journalism is a tool to an end, not an end. Investigators and writers who are not journalists may do their work for any or no reason; journalists are meant to bring information that the public needs to know in order to govern themselves into the public domain. The claim that journalists ought not to be activists is completely counter to the purpose of journalism. The only reason an item is newsworthy is if it requires action.

Reporters who are not activists are voyeurs. Their reporting is not journalism to aid self-governance, it is a distraction from self-governance.

There is a reason it is citizen journalism that terrifies governance. Only activists will do journalism for free and it is action that creates change, not passive reporting. Activists are not simply replacing corporate media, they are also replacing corporate NGO’s, those leeches that lie between those that need help and those that provide it and turn those in need into products to be owned and marketed.

NGO’s bring the bureaucracy and the official channels into giving. They stifle the voices of those in need except as pre-packaged marketing gimmicks and they block access to direct aid. They siphon large amounts of the aid for their own empires and spend the rest frequently without consultation with or in the interest of those it is intended for. They are also easily corruptible by political power which gives them their mandate, their access and their funding.

The huge amount of people working in NGO’s because of a desire to help those in need would be far more effective acting directly, responding to voices of those on the ground instead of power points by those who have commodified their need. Direct relationships between activists around the world have built trust and reputations. People in a position to help receive instant feedback on whether their help was effective.

Direct action and investigation can also provide real shadow cabinets to monitor and lobby government ministries and user group regulatory bodies to monitor corporations.

The future of journalism

The future of journalism is not in official platforms, page views and registered domains. The future of journalism is not in Exclusive! and Scoop! The future of journalism is not in celebrities with no knowledge of the topic who are begged to help activists aid citizen journalism. The future is not in Invisible Children or Falling Whistles style plastic-bracelets-to-stop-genocide-in-Africa commercialized snake oil dressed up as activism. Or in the centralized nodes of unofficial-official channels created out of formerly horizontal movements. Or in celebrity journalists. Or in lists of Who to Follow and Thought Leaders.

The future of journalism is in a stigmergic mesh network of amplifiers, investigators and activists who can filter and fact check news in real time, combine it with investigative global knowledge resources and create appropriate local and / or global action. The future is in collaborative investigators sharing knowledge to map everything we need to know to govern ourselves. The future is in activism and aid requested directly by the people who require it and responded to directly by the people who can provide it. The future is in the right and ability of every single person to broadcast their own voice and call for amplification when needed.

The future of journalism is in all of us.

The Rohingya movement, as seen by a journalist in Burma

Children at an unregistered Rohingya refugee Camp in South East Bangladesh. Photo by no_direction_home.

Previously published by VICE

Heather Marsh is an activist working within the #RohingyaNOW movement.

Last Sunday, the Internet was temporarily shaken up by a campaign designed to highlight the plight of the Rohingya people of Burma. On Twitter, the hashtag #RohingyaNOW was aworldwide trend for more than two hours, peaking at the top spot. Two in-person demonstrations were held (and livestreamed), one for several hours in front of the CNN building in LA. Plus, an article about the campaign made the front page of Reddit.

Most dismissed it all as a cute trick, a one-day initiative amplified by the Anonymous and Occupy collectives and human rights activists around the world wanting to raise awareness. Instead, it was a milestone in a campaign that has been running for many months, an idea we have had for years and an introduction to our next phase.

Since the second Rohingya massacre in October, the Burmese people have watched the world ignore or misrepresent what many experts are calling a genocide. President Thien Sien has been on a world tour where he has been met with open arms, receiving a 21 gun salute in Australia and $5.9 billion of international debt cancelled. Canada has opened its first ever Burmese embassyand multinational resource corporations are queuing for contracts. No one is in the mood to bring up genocide, even when a third massacre was openly planned for this month.

The difference social media can make in public awareness was highlighted last fall as violence in Gaza was covered in great detail, and violence in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma almost not at all. The activists behind the latest campaign believe in grass roots journalism where everyone speaks their own story. If a population of 800,000 people are in refugee camps and villages that look like concentration camps and are completely cut off from communication, what then? They die silently? Not if the Internet can help it.

On March 10, we started a crowdsourced campaign to help boost grassroots journalism from Burma. We have used crowdsourced funding to purchase airfare for two established independent journalists familiar with the Rohingya story. They flew there and we are now working to get as many long distance interviews with locals set up as possible. In the last week, the campaign for the Rohingya has expanded against violence in the rest of Burma as well.

I spoke with journalist Assed Baig about why we felt it was necessary for him to go to Burma in person and what he has seen.

“As a ‘westerner’ I have certain privilege and protection,” says Baig. “I am working with local journos. Using their expertise and crediting them without landing them in jail. We need to report in context, socially, historically and take in the balance of power. We shouldn’t wait for death to take place before we report, we should shine a light on shit that is going to go down. Call power to account. Be the voice of the voiceless. Sounds cheesy, but it is true.”

Baig says he is “of Kashmiri origin, working class background, had to work damn hard to get where I am today. My mum still doesn’t speak English!” and he has experienced media bias. It is important to give people their own voices. “They report themselves and we listen. They are not ‘poor brown people’ these are real people, with names, lives, feelings, and they have a right to be heard.”

Baig is referring to Meiktila refugees who fled to Mandalay to escape the violence. He was given pictures of the massacre in Meiktila by people who were there, from their own cameras. “There are pictures of charred remains. People driving and walking past. Their family members have fled so there is no one to bury them or even identify them.” Baig also spoke to a fourteen year old who saw people beaten to death, and then burnt, as he and others hid in some houses and watched the slaughter.

A 17 year-old student told him about running for his life in Meiktila. He told him: “We saw the younger children falling over, the older kids had to help them. “I’m not sure where some of my other friends are.” Baig showed him the pictures he had from a local journalist. Some were teenagers. Two had massive gashes on the back of the neck, as if hit by a machete. They all had been lying out for three days before someone took the picture. The boy touched the screen and struggled to speak. “That’s my friend,” he said “and this one, those are Osama and Karimullah.” The rest of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition.

These are the stories we set out to tell, but Baig has found others. A convoy led by monks has set out from Yangon and is en route to Meiktila. On board are students and others, Muslims and Buddhists together, bringing food, water and good will to the displaced people still camped in the Meiktila stadium and elsewhere. Buddhists and student groups from Mandalay city launched a rescue operation saving hundreds of lives in Meiktila when the violence started. People who have lived peacefully side-by-side for years are helping each other and standing up against extremism and intolerance.

Rights organizations and witnesses have accused the military of complicity or participation in the last two massacres. Many sources in Burma have worried the violence is being incited to justify a return to military rule, a spectre which reared its head this week with martial law surrounding Meiktila. Baig quotes a Muslim in Yangon who said: “the military want to assert their power, and want to prove they are the ones that can restore order. They are using us as to prove their point.”

Follow Heather on Twitter: @GeorgieBC

Follow Assed Baig on Twitter: @AssedBaig

2011-11-23 Omar Khadr Part 4 of 4: “Punitive post-conviction confinement”

Image

This article is in lieu of the long delayed fourth part of the Omar Khadr series written on WL Central last May. The original fourth part consisted of hours of interviews regarding the astoundingly corrupt and illegal military process which culminated in a verdict which allows the Canadian press to refer to Omar Khadr as a ‘convicted terrorist’. One day the information in those interviews will be widely known, but today we are still prevented from publishing any of it for fear of retribution to those we do not wish to harm.

Today, Omar should be at home in Canada, as promised by the Canadian government as a term of his acceptance of a plea deal. Today, he is still in Guantanamo Bay serving what the US military terms “punitive post-conviction confinement.”. A little known fact regarding the Guantanamo sentences is that time served before sentencing is not considered ‘punitive’ and therefore does not count as time served towards his sentence. Omar’s sentence is to be carried out in a solitary confinement ‘enhanced interrogation’ environment, and at the end of his sentence he can be placed back in ‘Prisoner Of War’ status in the Guantanamo cells he has spent his life in since he was 15 years old. Without repatriation to Canada, his eight year plea deal is just an eight year sentence to solitary confinement in the middle of a lifetime sentence in Guantanamo.

Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg writes, But Bahlul and Qosi, Khadr and Noor are segregated because they are “serving punitive sentences,” says Navy Cmdr. Tamsen Reese, a Guantánamo spokeswoman. Under the 1949 Third Geneva Conventions, she said, the other captives are “detained under the Law of War only as a security measure” and “should not be subjected to a penal environment or comingled with prisoners punitively incarcerated as a consequence of a criminal conviction.” Once their sentences are over, under Pentagon doctrine, they become ordinary detainees again — put back with the others in a penitentiary away called Camp 6, the closest thing at Guantánamo today to POW-style barracks housing.

I spoke last summer to Omar’s former defense attorney Dennis Edney about his current condition. “Omar is doing his post sentencing time back in Camp 5 which as the Pentagon states is “designed for enhanced interrogation techniques”. He is back in solitary confinement where he has spent so much of his life. Prior to trial, we were able to have him removed to the cages where he was able to socialize with others which made him happy. He is not happy and has been subject to interrogations by the FBI.”

In this isolated and unsupported environment, “He is never allowed mail from other than family which rarely arrives.” As part of his ‘plea deal’ he is not allowed to have legal counsel present during his interrogations.

Thanks to Canadian Prime Minister Harper’s appeals, all levels of court in Canada have agreed, in 2008 and again in 2010, that the Canadian government has violated Omar’s rights under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by interrogating him at the Guantanamo Bay facility in 2003 and 2004 and by sharing information from those interviews with U.S. authorities despite knowing that in 2004 U.S. authorities had subjected him to illegal interrogation methods, including sleep deprivation. It further found that his status as a minor, his detention without counsel, and his interrogators’ awareness that he had been subjected to sleep deprivation were“not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

Omar was sentenced in October of last year. In a diplomatic exchange with the United States which formed part of Omar’s plea deal, the Canadian government wrote “The Government of Canada therefore wishes to convey that, as requested by the United States, the Government of Canada is inclined to favourably consider Mr. Khadr’s application to be transferred to Canada to serve the remainder of his sentence, or such portion of the remainder of his sentence as the National Parole Board determines” after his first year of post-trial incarceration.

Omar’s defense counsel filed the paperwork for his return in October. Now we are told:Corrections officials have received the request for transfer and now have to determine if Khadr is eligible to return to Canada to finish out his sentence. Once Canadian officials determine that, they send an official request to American officials. If U.S. officials agree, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has the final say. He has the option of refusing the transfer if he decides Khadr is a risk to public safety. The process is expected to take about 18 months. A spokesman for Toews said he doesn’t comment on individual cases.

In addition to this, the United States now must certify Canada as a fit place to send a convicted terrorist, a nation not likely to permit him to attack the United States, and one that has control of its prisons. That certification must be delivered to Congress signed by U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta with “the concurrence of” U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton.

It is well documented in the US State cables released by Wikileaks that Canadian indifference and hostility have had everything to do with the torture and unlawful confinement of a child and the continuing suffering of the only western citizen left in Guantanamo Bay. “There would be virtually no political blowback domestically for the Conservative Party if the government chooses to pursue an appeal, making this a strong likelihood.” reports one cable.

December 10 is World Human Rights Day, the day the world celebrates the 63rd birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written first by Canadian John Humphrey. If Canadians are ever again to hold their heads up on this day, we must remove this human rights blight from our actions by finally repatriating the man we have victimized since he was a child.

WL Central calls for immediate action to defend the rights of this Canadian citizen.

Previous WL Central coverage on Omar Khadr here.

Omar Khadr Part 1 of 4: “Omar Khadr is a lovely young man”
Omar Khadr Part 2 of 4: Canada, the entire world is still watching
Omar Khadr Part 3 of 4: “The world doesn’t get it”

 

2011-05-21 Omar Khadr Part 3 of 4: “The world doesn’t get it”

Image

Dennis you always say that I have an obligation to show the world what is going on down here and it seems that we’ve done every thing but the world doesn’t get it, so it might work if the world sees the US sentencing a child to life in prison, it might show the world how unfair and sham this process is, and if the world doesn’t see all this, to what world am I being released to? A world of hate, unjust and discrimination! I really don’t want to live in a life like this. – Omar Khadr in a letter to defense attorney Dennis Edney.

Omar Khadr was the first child soldier to be charged with a war crime since world war two. The non-existent crime that he was charged with, “murder in violation of the law of war” can be summed up as: It is legal for US soldiers to kill children. It is a war crime for children to kill US soldiers.

After eight years of delays while the US government searched for a possible crime and changed courts and judge, Omar found himself in front of a military tribunal with seven military officers who decided his fate ought to be another forty years of imprisonment. (For a sentence of ten years or more, six of the seven jurors had to agree.) Human Rights Watch said of the fifteen officers selected as potential jurors, All of the 15 indicated that Khadr’s age held no significance for the case. … An Air Force Captain said that in his opinion, a child would need to be as young as five or six to avoid adult courts if accused of a homicide.

The plea deal

The entire trial process was filled with irregularities. The killed US Special Forces fighter became a “medic” for the duration of the trial. Jurors attended church and Sunday brunch with prosecution witnesses and the widow of the Special Forces fighter. The plea deal revealed a completely rigged trial with some horrific implications for post trial:

    • The defense was not allowed to test physical evidence (including DNA) brought by the prosecution, or bring any physical evidence of their own, and the prosecution was granted permission to destroy such evidence upon sentencing
    • He is never allowed to “initiate or support” any action against the United States or any official with regards to his “capture, detention, prosecution to include discovery practice, post conviction confinement and/or detainee combatant status,” and he must dismiss all presently pending action.
    • While in custody he must submit to “interviews” “whenever and wherever requested by United States law enforcement officials, intelligence authorities, and prosecutors”, without legal counsel present, and “appear, cooperate, and testify truly, before any grand jury, any court, military court or hearing, military commission or any other proceeding requested by the United States Government.”
    • He agrees that if he is not “truthful” in his testimony, he “may be prosecuted for perjury, false statement or other similar offense before any court or Military Commission having jurisdiction over me.”

His own defense was determined by the prosecution:

      • I will not seek to offer any testimony, in any form, from any detainee presently held at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay:
      • I will not seek to obtain any depositions to be offered at the presentencing hearing, nor will I offer any depositions at the presentencing hearing;
      • I will not seek to offer the testimony, either in court or via VTC of any witness, other than: (I) Dr. Katherine Porterfield: (2) Dr. Steven Xenakis. (3) Captain McCarthy; and (4) Dr. Arlette Zinck, all of whom the Government has agreed to produce at U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for sentencing. (understand that sentencing proceedings will not be delayed to if these witnesses are unavailable.)

His transfer to Canada is “contingent upon the consent of the Government of Canada,” which is still open to refusal, diplomatic notes notwithstanding.

The petition for clemency

Earlier on WL Central we reported that Khadr’s defense was petitioning for clemency and asking that his sentence be reduced from eight years to four (he had already served eight by the time of his trial). His US defense counsel have written that a few days before trial, they first learned that the prosecutors’ witness, Dr. Welner, proposed to testify that Omar was at high risk to recidivate as a violent extremist. The defense obtained expert testimony from Dr. Marc Sageman, a far more qualified expert, which completely refuted Dr. Welner’s credentials and testimony.

The prosecutors informed the defense that they had consulted with the Convening Authority and, if the defense filed to have Welner’s testimony withdrawn, the prosecutors had the Convening Authority’s permission to withdraw from the pretrial agreement. The defense then agreed to only object orally. The prosecutors countered that if they objected orally, they would still withdraw. The defense attempted to negotiate further, the prosecutors refused. “Faced with the immediate prospect of the Government withdrawing from the pretrial agreement and with no time to make any further record” the defense agreed to it all. The defense now maintains that the government relied on witness Dr. Welner’s testimony to “intimidate the sentencing panel” and “wrongly shielded Dr. Welner’s testimony from the standards of admissibility clearly defined by the Supreme Court and the Military Commission Rules of Evidence.”

In an initial phone call, Dr. Sageman told Omar’s defense, “Dr. Welner’s proposed testimony and conclusions are not valid; Dr. Welner does not have a baseline to make anything more than a guess; and Dr. Welner’s sample size is Omar Khadr.” In a following letter, provided pro bono, Sageman writes, “… as an internationally recognized expert in terrorism and counter-terrorism, I know of no published study that addresses the issue of dangerousness in terrorists. This piqued my curiousity about the basis of Dr. Welner’s “professional” opinion at testimony. … His c.v. mentioned that he took a fellowship in forensic psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania in 1991-1992. I was at the University of Pennsylvania at the time and the university did not have a forensic psychiatry fellowship at the time. … he did not do a fellowship in forensic psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania as he testified under oath … Indeed, his c.v. shows that at the time, 1991-1992, he engaged in a full time residency in psychiatry at Beth Israel Medical Center, in New York City.

Regarding Welner’s testimony, Sageman writes, “the interview lacks the usual ethical warning to a defendant that the defendant has the right to not answer questions and that there is no confidentiality between the expert for the prosecution and the defendant. The interview did not ask for any past psychiatric history and did not review potential psychiatric symptoms to assess the mental health of the defendant that could have a bearing in the assessment. Later, Dr. Welner claims that religiosity is correlated to dangerousness – a claim that is in fact without foundation – but he never probed the defendant’s level of religious understanding, beliefs and piety.”

Dr. Sageman then goes on for pages, devastating the credibility of the background sources Dr. Welner relied upon for his authorities. In Dr. Sageman’s opinion, Dr. Welner is very articulate and quite persuasive on the stand, mostly because he conveys very positive and forceful opinions to a jury. He concluded that Dr. Welner displayed this trait in this case. If the jury was indeed swayed by Dr. Welner, which seems unavoidable since he was the star witness, Dr. Sageman’s testimony should have made a very significant difference. It is hopefully unlikely that a judge would have allowed testimony from a witness who falsified their background and relied on completely unscientific methods and misunderstood or unreliable authorities. If he had, surely the jury would have agreed, given the proper rebuttal from the defense, with judge Colonel Parrish who the defense quote as stating, “Dr. Welner would have been as likely to be accurate if he used a Ouija board.”

 

 

Omar Khadr’s Lawyer Dennis Edney Speech at FNC from Ezra Winton on Vimeo.

Omar Khadr Part 1 of 4: “Omar Khadr is a lovely young man”
Omar Khadr Part 2 of 4: Canada, the entire world is still watching
Omar Khadr Part 4 of 4: “Punitive post-conviction confinement”

 

2011-05-20 Star witness for the crown against Toronto 18 on US suspect list

Image

Photo credit: CBC

In the post 9/11 frenzy there was immense pressure brought by the US government on the Canadian government to ensure that terrorists were not crossing the world’s longest border to attack the US. That pressure is clear in the US state cables, and it led to many highly questionable activities by the Canadian government, such as submitting names of their own citizens to the infamous US suspect lists, lists that Maher Arar is still on, even after being cleared of all wrongdoing and apologized to by Canada, as well as awarded 10.5 million dollars and one million in legal costs.

Canada was also under urgent pressure to seek out and prosecute any terrorists at home, which led to the tracking and capture of the Toronto 18 in 2006. Much about this case has been widely criticized over the years. The decision by the federal government to cancel the preliminary inquiry and proceed directly to trial, denying the defense the opportunity to hear the Crown’s case, and, more importantly, the chance to cross examine the crown’s star witnesses is one controversial element. A preliminary hearing is not a necessary component of a trial, but it is unusual to schedule one and cancel abruptly halfway through. Defense attorneys said they had made concessions to have the right to cross examine these witnesses and they were incensed at the change. And of course, the question rose, never to be put to rest, of what the federal government was afraid of in not allowing the preliminary cross examination.

Along with the preliminary hearing, the publication ban was highly controversial. All evidence was secret, as were trial proceedings, but one of the crown’s star witnesses decided to go public. In the words of the Toronto Star in September 2007, Now you can’t shut him up. He’s been interviewed by the Star, the National Post, the Los Angeles Times, the CBC and most recently the BBC. While the star witness was covering the world with extraordinary allegations about the suspects, there was a ban on anything that may have been said in their defense.

The case against the Toronto 18 was built primarily on both the testimony and actions (which many have called entrapment) of two of the crown’s witnesses, Mubin Shaikh, who was paid almost $300,000 by the RCMP for his services, and Shaher Elsohemy, who was given a package worth $4 million. The case is huge, with years of evidence on all aspects, but to get a brief picture of the importance of the crown witnesses, and their credibility, read points 171 – 183 of the reasons for judgement in one case where Justice Sproat applies “The Carter Test” for allowing hearsay evidence of co-conspirators and assesses the credibility of the crown’s witness, Mubin Shaikh. The justice’s opinion of Shaikh’s integrity and credibility was not shared by all. Defense lawyer Dennis Edney suggested that Shaikh — who was 30 years old at the time — was egging on the younger and gullible men. (Four of the suspects were juveniles.)

And what does all of that have to do with us now, in 2011? Well, according to a recently released US state cable* from Wikileaks, Mubin Shaikh was included on a list of names provided to the US as being associated with terrorism. “It was his evidence that took them all down,” Edney told CBC. “Most of the warrants for wiretaps that were obtained were obtained as a result of conversations he had with the suspects.”

“We aren’t commenting on your story,” CSIS public relations person Isabelle Scott wrote to CBC. But the story will not go away that easily. At this point, CSIS and the Canadian federal government get to pick their poison. They can state that, once again, their policy of handing over names of the Canadian citizens they are supposed to protect has resulted in a devastating mistake, and attempt to compensate Shaikh while dealing with further loss of credibility. Or, they can state that they were correct in treating Shaikh as a terrorism suspect, leaving them open to liability in the cases of every suspect they prosecuted using Shaikh’s testimony.

Defense attorneys Chernovsky and Edney have both said they would probably make formal demands to the Crown, asking why they were not told of whatever information led CSIS to denounce Shaikh to the Americans. Defence counsel are legally entitled to disclosure of all such information, in order to prepare their cases.

In either case, the ongoing policy of handing the names of Canadian citizens over to the US government as “terrorism suspects”, without trial or public accountability, has got to stop.

 

*CBC has elected to redact the names of all people on these lists (except those convicted) to “protect their privacy.” It is the opinion of this writer that their privacy was lost the day they were added to a list given to a country famous for abduction and torture of people on this list, and both the people named and the rest of the Canadian public have an overwhelming right to see these names and hear why they were added. If ever there was information that we require in order to make informed decisions in a democracy, this is it.

 

2011-05-19 Omar Khadr Part 2 of 4: Canada, the entire world is still watching

Image

“There would be virtually no political blowback domestically for the Conservative Party if the government chooses to pursue an appeal, making this a strong likelihood.”

The above statement from US State cable #09OTTAWA629sums up the last decade of Omar Khadr’s life. The Canadian government, under the last three prime ministers, two Liberal and one Conservative, have done nothing about the plight of a tortured fifteen year old Canadian boy imprisoned with no trial in the world’s most notorious torture camps. They have contributed nothing to his education, nor to his emotional or psychological welfare. They have expressed no concern for his well being. They have not requested his repatriation, nor have they requested that the illegal and amoral conditions of his confinement be improved. (Read a summary of the conditions here.) US State cable 09STATE11937 describes a February 5, 2009 meeting between French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and US Secretary of State Clinton, where the French Foreign Minister requested that the US review his case, but there is no similar suggestion from the country with a legal obligation to defend him.

In Omar’s affidavit statement, of February 22, 2008 he wrote of visits “on numerous occasions” from people claiming to be from the Canadian government who came to interview him in a special “more comfortable” room than the usual interrogation room. These people, however, did not ask how he was or offer him assistance or offer to deliver a message to his family. Instead they asked him about people, such as his father and Maher Arar, or asked him to identify people in photographs they presented.

I was very hopeful that they would help me. I showed them my injuries and told them that what I had told the Americans was not right and not true. I said that I told the Americans whatever they wanted me to say because they would torture me. The Canadians called me a liar and I began to sob. They screamed at me and told me that they could not do anything for me. I tried to cooperate so that they would take me back to Canada. I told them that I was scared and that I had been tortured. …

After the Canadians left and I told the Americans that my previous statements were untrue, life got much worse for me. They took away all of my things except for a mattress. I had no Koran and no blanket. They would shackle me during interrogations and leave me in harsh and painful positions for hours at a time. One navy interrogator would pull my hair and spit in my face.

Approximately one month before Ramadan in 2003, two different men came to visit me. They told me that they were Canadian. One of the men was in his 20s and the other in his 30s. These two men yelled at me and accused me of not telling the truth. One of the Canadian men stated, “The U.S. and Canada are like an elephant and an ant sleeping in the same bed,” and that there was nothing the Canadian government could do against the power of the U.S.

One of the men returned alone approximately one month after the Eid al-Adha holiday. The visitor showed me his Canadian passport, the outside of which was red in color. The Canadian visitor stated, “I’m not here to help you. I’m not here to do anything for you. I’m just here to get information.” The man then asked me questions about my brother, Abdullah.

Within a day of my last visit from the Canadians, my security level was changed from Level 1 to Level 4 minus, with isolation. Everything was taken away from me, and I spent a month in isolation. The room in which I was confined was kept very cold. It was “like a refrigerator”.

Complicity, lies and endless lawsuits

The Canadian government has not just been remiss in its duty towards Omar. On June 25, 2008, Justice Richard Mosley of the Federal Court of Canada ruled that a report from a visit to Khadr in March 2004 by Jim Gould of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, which mentioned how Khadr had been subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation for three weeks before his visit, “in an effort to make him more amenable and willing to talk,” constituted a breach of the UN Convention against Torture and the Geneva Conventions. The Federal Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court of Canada have all ruled in 2008, and again in 2010, that the participation of Canadian officials in Khadr’s interrogations at Guantanamo clearly violated his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Canadian government (with taxpayer money) has fought in court to avoid giving him access to his own file to use as his defense. In 2008 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that the government had again acted illegally, contravening Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and ordered that the videotapes of the interrogation be released.

The Canadian government has lied to the Canadian people and said they had every reason to believe he was being treated well, when they were both told and shown evidence of the torture and abuse by Omar.

Contempt for Canadian opinion and laws

Besides freely spending tax dollars to fight every aspect of the case up to the Supreme Court, and ignoring all of the rulings that told the government to request Omar’s repatriation, US state cable 08OTTAWA918 shows CSIS Director Judd’s complete contempt of Canadians and their courts who he described as having an “Alice in Wonderland” worldview. He jeered at any potential Canadian concern for Omar as “paroxysms of moral outrage, a Canadian specialty.” Canadian government concern for public opinion in the US was much higher, with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day asking in 08OTTAWA440 for clarification from the Attorney General on how the US government views the terrorist threat emanating from Canada. Periodically, he said, there is a media reaction in the United States to something like the Khadr case that leads to the image of large numbers of terrorists “prancing around” in Canada uncontrolled.

A special committee formed by the The House of Commons recommended Khadr’s repatriation in 2008, but was ignored by the government. Cable 08OTTAWA828 explains that Conservative members opposed Khadr’s repatriation on the grounds “that it was unlikely he would ever be convicted in Canada.” So, because Canadian law did not suit their worldview, they sent Canadian Omar to US justice instead. Cable 08OTTAWA878, says of Justice Mosley of the Federal Court of Canada “He also revealed that U.S. authorities had inquired whether Khadr might be tried in Canada and had provided details about the U.S. evidence against Khadr to Canadian officials for that purpose.”

The US state cables show the concern in the US over Canadian public opinion. Cable08OTTAWA990 is happy to announce “eight in ten Canadians who saw the interrogation footage did not subsequently change their views on Khadr. … The apparent hope of Khadr’s Canadian and U.S. lawyers that dramatic footage of Khadr’s tears and complaints about sleep deprivation in his meeting with CSIS officials would create a groundswell of more favorable public opinion and impel the government to reverse course seems to have failed. … competing joys of the all-too-brief Canadian summer essentially have kept any genuine pressure off the government.” The same concern is shown in 09OTTAWA298 In addition, students constantly criticized the U.S. for its treatment of Omar Khadr, a Canadian detainee at Guantanamo, arguing that the U.S. should return him immediately to Canada and claiming he faced no possibility of a fair trial or humane treatment in the U.S. (The Canadian government has never requested his repatriation, indicating instead that it will await the outcome of ongoing judicial processes.)

The US concern for the opinions of Canadian people seems greater than that of the Canadian government. From 08OTTAWA960 “The Conservatives are likely gauging public reaction to the images carefully, but no change in current official policy appears likely.”

While the details of all of the Harper government’s court cases against Omar Khadr are meticulously recorded, the US government has no illusions that Harper will obey the court orders. Cable 09OTTAWA313 states: The Conservatives have little if any political capital to lose from sticking to their position of allowing the U.S. military’s legal process against Khadr to take its course. The government is unlikely to rush to Washington with a formal repatriation request, despite the court ruling.

Cable 09OTTAWA629, states that the Crown had conceded in oral arguments that making such request would not damage Canada’s relations with the U.S., nor “pose a threat to Canada’s security.” The Court highlighted that, contrary to the Crown’s oral argument that there was “only a remote possibility that the United States would comply” with such a request, “the fact (is) that the United States has complied with requests from all other western countries for the return of their nationals from detention in the prison at Guantanamo Bay.” …

According to an official of the Privy Council Office on August 14, the government was still trying to “digest” the decision, but he took note our informal request for the government to consult privately with us before making public any possible request for repatriation.The vigorous dissent opinion should give the government some hope that an appeal to the Supreme Court could be successful, and could — not incidentally — also at least delay action until the next steps become clearer in the legal procedures against Mr. Khadr by the U.S. military authorities. Mr. Khadr’s family remains deeply unpopular in Canada, although there is some sympathy for him since he was only 15 years old at the time of his capture. There would be virtually no political blowback domestically for the Conservative Party if the government chooses to pursue an appeal, making this a strong likelihood.

Harper’s policy of exhausting his opponents in court with taxpayer money is reaffirmed in09OTTAWA423: The court labeled Abdelrazik “as much a victim of international terrorism as the innocent persons whose lives have been taken by recent barbaric acts of terrorists.” As in a similar ruling on the government’s responsibility to seek the repatriation of Canadian detainee at Guantanamo Bay Omar Khadr, the government is likely to appeal this unfavorable ruling.

Two things come up repeatedly in the cables for Khadr and all other cases related to the US “War on Terror”. One, the Canadian government’s complete contempt for the Canadian people and courts, and two, the idea that the Canadian government can do as it pleases because the Canadian people will not care.

 

From the Documentary You Don’t Like the Truth

 

The following two videos are the excerpts from the documentation that Khadr’s lawyers fought to the Supreme Court to obtain access to, of which the state cables said “The apparent hope of Khadr’s Canadian and U.S. lawyers that dramatic footage of Khadr’s tears and complaints about sleep deprivation in his meeting with CSIS officials would create a groundswell of more favorable public opinion and impel the government to reverse course seems to have failed. … competing joys of the all-too-brief Canadian summer essentially have kept any genuine pressure off the government.”

Omar Khadr Part 1 of 4: “Omar Khadr is a lovely young man”
Omar Khadr Part 3 of 4: “The world doesn’t get it”
Omar Khadr Part 4 of 4: “Punitive post-conviction confinement”

 

2011-05-06 Abdullah Khadr wins extradition appeal

Image

In December 2005, Abdullah Khadr, older brother of Omar, Abdurahman and Abdul Karim Khadr and younger brother of Zaynab, returned to his home in Toronto, Canada after fourteen months of being held in a Pakistan prison without charges. One week later he was arrested in Canada and held without bail, pending extradition to the US. The US had earlier obtained information from the Taliban which suggested to them Abdullah may have been the suicide bomber who killed a Canadian soldier in Kabul in January 2004. In an interview with CBC News on Feb. 25, 2004, Abdullah Khadr said, “If I was the suicide bomber, I wouldn’t be doing this interview with you right now.”

This time he was indicted in the US on charges of supplying weapons to Al Qaeda in Pakistan. In August 2006, Khadr’s lawyer Dennis Edney filed an application to stay the extradition proceedings, arguing that the US government’s evidence against Khadr was inadmissible because it relied on information gathered under torture in Pakistan. Khadr was held in a detention centre for the next five years until his release last August when the stay was granted and the presiding judge called his treatment “both shocking and unjustifiable.”

The Attorney General of Canada brought the case to the Court of Appeal in April, arguing that the lower court judge did not properly balance the benefits of Khadr’s release with the seriousness of the charges. Today, Ontario’s Court of Appeal (the highest court in Ontario) agreed unanimously with the lower court’s decision and answered the appeal with a 33 page decision. The decision stated that to allow the extradition would amount to the Canadian courts being complacent with the torture.

“We must adhere to our democratic and legal values, even if that adherence serves in the short term to benefit those who oppose and seek to destroy those values, for if we do not, in the longer term, the enemies of democracy and the rule of law will have succeeded. They will have demonstrated that our faith in our legal order is unable to withstand their threats. … It surely can come as no surprise that in a country like Pakistan with a constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights and freedoms, it is illegal to accept a bounty or bribe from a foreign government, to abduct a foreign national from the street, to beat that individual until he agrees to co-operate, to deny him consular access, to hold him in a secret detention centre for eight months while his utility as an intelligence source is exhausted, and then to continue to hold him in secret detention for six more months at the request of a foreign power,” said the decision. They also pointed out that refusing the extradition does not prevent the Attorney General from bringing the case before Canadian courts.

Khadr’s father, a Canadian named Ahmed Said Khadr who ran orphanages and other charities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, was a friend of Osama Bin Laden and his family has been under constant threat from the US government. His brother Omar was tortured by the US military and kept in prison as a possible source of intelligence since he was 15 years old. He remains in Guantanamo today, now 24 years old.

Abdullah was abducted by Pakistani intelligence, who were paid a $500,000 bounty by the US government for him. (The Globe and Mail had to take the Canadian government to court in 2008 to be able to publish information about the bounty. The Canadian government held that publication would “threaten national security.”) He was beaten and denied access to Canadian consular services, and held for fourteen months without charges while being interrogated by Pakistani, Canadian and US authorities. US authorities requested that Canadian intelligence not push for consular access. Pakistani authorities told Canadian authorities in June 2005 that Khadr would be released without charges, but US intelligence persuaded Pakistan to continue to hold him until December while the FBI interrogated him and arranged for his extradition to the US from Canada.

Khadr’s lawyer, Dennis Edney, said his newly married client is looking forward to getting on with his life, and the decision shows the US, “When they come to the court, they are supposed to come with clean hands, meaning that the evidence they are relying on to extradite that person is legal, it’s not evidence that has been relied on through torture and abuse.”

The federal government has 60 days to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. In an earlierinterview with Dennis Edney, he told WL Central that he was very tired after eight years of fighting the Canadian government, but he had no choice but to continue. The US State cable #09OTTAWA629 discussing the case of Abdullah’s brother Omar shows that he was fighting more than the Canadian government:

“In a discussion with CDA on the eve of the decision, a senior official of the Prime Minister’s Office predicted that the government would appeal to the Supreme Court if it lost at the appellate level. According to an official of the Privy Council Office on August 14, the government was still trying to “digest” the decision, but he took note our informal request for the government to consult privately with us before making public any possible request for repatriation. [bolding added] …. Comment: The vigorous dissent opinion should give the government some hope that an appeal to the Supreme Court could be successful, and could — not incidentally — also at least delay action until the next steps become clearer in the legal procedures against Mr. Khadr by the U.S. military authorities. Mr. Khadr’s family remains deeply unpopular in Canada, although there is some sympathy for him since he was only 15 years old at the time of his capture. There would be virtually no political blowback domestically for the Conservative Party if the government chooses to pursue an appeal, making this a strong likelihood.

 

2011-05-19 Omar Khadr Part 1 of 4: “Omar Khadr is a lovely young man”

Image

Omar Khadr (centre in the picture at left) was born in Toronto, Canada on September 19, 1986. His father was an Egyptian born Canadian who ran charities to provide food and education for orphans, and was an old friend of Osama Bin Laden. His mother was a Canadian of Palestinian descent. Omar spoke four languages fluently. When he was 15, his family sent him to accompany a group as a translator. The US military identified that group as Al Qaeda.

In July 2002, US Special Forces attacked the camp where he was staying. When US military entered the site, Omar was buried face down under rubble, blinded by shrapnel and crippled. Another man was beside him. US military documents say a US militant stood on top of Omar’s body before realizing that someone was buried beneath. The first US fighter to arrive on the scene shot the man beside Omar dead and then shot Omar twice in the back, leaving two large exit wounds in his chest and chunks of his chest and shoulder … blown out. He was somehow identified as being the son of his father, either before or after a second US militant prevented the first from shooting him again. He was consequently captured instead.

During the attack on the camp, a US special forces soldier was wounded and later died. There is evidence from forensic analysis of his wounds that he was killed by a US grenade, which the camp did not have, and US military was throwing grenades into the compound at the time of his injury. The US military rewrote the initial report of Omar’s capture to make it look as though he had thrown the grenade, possibly to defend their actions in shooting a shrapnel wounded and buried fifteen year old in the back.

From Lawyers Rights Watch CanadaFebruary also saw the accidental release of a five-page “OC-1” witness report to reporters, which revealed that Omar had not been the only survivor in the compound, as previously claimed, and that nobody had seen him throw the grenade. Officials insisted that the reporters all had to return their copies of the document or face expulsion from the hearings, but after a 90-minute standoff between reporters and military officials, it was agreed that they could retain their copies of the report, but had to redact three names from the report. In March, Kuebler insisted that “Lt. Col. W.” had initially written in his report the day after the firefight that “the person who threw a grenade that killed Sgt. 1st Class Christopher J. Speer also died in the firefight”, implying that the grenade had indeed been thrown by the surviving Mujahideen, and not by Omar. The report was rewritten months later to say that the grenade thrower had been “engaged”, rather than “killed”, changing the wording that exonerated Omar.

Omar Khadr was found buried under the rubble in photograph one. His body was highlighted in photograph two with the rubble cleared off. Photograph one is the position from which he is being accused of throwing the grenade.

Image

He was taken to Bagram torture camp where he was unconscious for about one week. “Interrogations” began as soon as he regained consciousness, and while he was on on a stretcher for the first two weeks to a month. According to his affidavit statement, of February 22, 2008, he was “not right and was out of my wits for about three days. I was in extreme pain and my pain was all I could focus on. … During the first three days, they would shackle my feet and hands out to my sides with handcuffs when they did not like the answers I was giving to the questions. Due to my injuries, this caused me great pain. At least two of the interrogations during these first three days occurred when I was shackled by my hands and feet and in pain. I was unable to even stand at this time, so I was not a threat, and I could tell that this treatment was for punishment and to make me answer questions and give them the answers they wanted. … During the interrogations, the pain was taking my thoughts away. After I regained consciousness after being unconscious for a week, the first soldier told me that I had killed an American with a hand grenade. They would only give me pain medication at nighttime but the interrogations occurred during the daytime.”

A torturer present at all of his Bagram ‘interrogations’ was a man named Joshua Klaus, who was convicted of his role in killing two other prisoners at Bagram, Dilawar and Mullah Habibullah in December of 2002. Omar wrote that Klaus “would often scream at me if I did not give him the answers he wanted. Several times, he forced me to sit up on my stretcher, which caused me great pain due to my injuries. He did this several times to get me to answer his questions and give him the answers he wanted. It was clear that he was making me sit up because he knew that it hurt and he wanted me to answer questions. I cried several times during the interrogation as a result of this treatment and pain. During this interrogation, the more I answered the questions and the more I gave him the answers he wanted, the less pain was inflicted on me. I figured out right away that I would simply tell them whatever I thought they wanted to hear in order to keep them from causing me such pain.”

Also from his affidavit:

  • Bandage changes were used as an excuse for more abuse.
  • His “interrogations” included barking dogs, bagging his head so tightly he choked, cold water thrown on him, hands pulled above his head and chained to the ceiling (with bullet wounds in his chest) for hours at a time, and making him sit up when he was on a stretcher to create pain.
  • Guards made him scrub floors all night, lift and stack heavy crates and carry five gallon buckets of water to cause pain from his chest wounds. (His lawyers have documents that state his “wounds were wet” at the time.)
  • Extremely bright LED lights were shone in his shrapnel wounded eyes to cause discomfort and destroy his vision (he is now blind in one eye and has poor vision in the other due to being denied medical treatment for shrapnel wounds).
  • Torturers repeatedly threatened to have him raped or send him to other countries where he would be raped.
  • During questioning he was frequently not allowed to use the bathroom, but forced to urinate on himself instead.
  • He was told he could go free if he told them something that would help them capture someone important.
  • Guards and torturers made him pick up garbage, then emptied it and made him pick it up again repeatedly, farted in his face, spit in his face and interrogated him approximately 42 times in 90 days.
  • Before being transferred to Guantanamo in October 2002, the prisoners were given no food for two nights and one day, had their heads and beards shaved, and were put in mouth and nose masks, goggles and earphones and shackled to the floor for the entire trip.
  • They were dragged off the plane, stripped naked and cavity searched.
  • After an initial two days in hospital where he was interrogated for six hours each day, Omar was put into isolation.
  • The torture continued as before, including forcing him to urinate on himself then using him as a human mop to scrub urine and pine oil off the floor and leaving him in those clothes for days.

The picture below shows the condition Omar was in when he arrived at Bagram.

Image

Not only was Omar given no consideration for his age, he was “treated worse than anyone else” according to cellmate Moazzem Begg. Australian prisoner David Hicks wrote“On one occasion, I saw US soldiers dragging Omar from his cage to a room used for interrogation just opposite from mine. For at least an hour, I heard him scream and yell in pain as they abused him. Omar was yelling, ‘Why are you doing this? … Please stop. … Somebody help me!’ There seemed to be no point to this brutality except to hurt him and break his will.” He was alsoreportedly drugged, subjected to extreme temperatures for long periods, and refused basic medical treatment including the removal of shrapnel from his wounds.

Besides being in contravention of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which both Canada and the United States have signed and ratified, Omar’s treatment is completely contrary to the US government’s ownrecommendations for the treatment of minors at Guantanamo, on every single point.

Here is Omar’s story as explained by Dennis Edney of his Canadian defense team. He explains not just the circumstances of Omar’s abduction and imprisonment, but also who Omar is today. Although the quote in the title of this article is from the video below, it is echoed by similar statements from almost everyone who has spoken to Omar throughout his confinement, defense attorneys (both currently employed and fired), psychiatrists, cellmates, and guards.


Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Resources for information on Omar Khadr

  • Previous WL Central coverage of Omar Khadr here.
  • If you only have a few minutes to click on one link, this is it. Defense attorney Dennis Edney.
  • Orwellian Circus Khadr’s trial.
  • Michelle Shephard is a Canadian journalist who has covered Omar extensively and wrote a book, Guantanamo’s Child about his detention.
  • Videos from Michelle Shephard’s website.
  • Documentary from CBC, The U.S. vs Omar Khadr.
  • Khadr timeline from CBC.
  • Khadr in the US state cables
  • Documentary You Don’t Like The Truth
  • Moazzam Begg: Who Cares For This Boy?
  • University of Toronto Faculty of Law archive on Khadr’s case
  • Lt. Cmdr. William C. Kuebler and Rebecca S. Snyder, U.S. Department of Defence attorneysreport on Khadr’s case on March 26, 2008
  • Defense attorney Dennis Edney at the human rights film festival
  • Amnesty Canada Omar Khadr Sentencing Concludes: One Last Injustice

 

Omar Khadr Part 2 of 4: Canada, the entire world is still watching
Omar Khadr Part 3 of 4: “The world doesn’t get it”
Omar Khadr Part 4 of 4: “Punitive post-conviction confinement”

 

2011-05-05 In defense of Canadian voters

Image

The recent Canadian election has been the topic of much foreign news coverage, with pundits trying to explain why liberal-minded Canada has given a majority to the most right leaning party in its history, what exactly the New Democratic Party is, and why on earth Canada turned its back so firmly on its ‘traditional ruling party’, headed by a man described in the Guardian as “known to the British as a fine writer, historian and BBC talking head, who had returned to Canada to lead the Liberals”. Embassy Magazine wrote an astoundingly condescending piece about Canada’s lack of interest in foreign policy which contained the following:

Given Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s background, many had expected him to campaign on foreign policy. And at the start of the campaign he did try to frame the election around the question of ethics, especially the tenor of Conservative foreign policy. … But … Mr. Ignatieff failed to inspire with this foreign policy-tinged message. In fact, the more he talked about it, the less traction he seemed to be getting with centrist or progressive voters. … At one point, the Liberal leader’s frustration became quite evident, with Mr. Ignatieff wondering why Canadians were not latching onto the many controversies that had dogged the Conservatives before the election. Mr. Ignatieff’s plea that Canada should regain its international standing was a version of this idea that the country should be undergoing some soul-searching prior to voting. But with his historic low, it appears Canadians weren’t up for that sort of deep think.

So according to this report (and many others, since Ignatieff started campaigning) a public that did not vote for Michael Ignatieff is anti-intellectual, anti-US, and even a nation full of uncaring or stupid people. While it would be excessive to imply that all of the Liberal Party’s current woes can be set at the feet of Michael Ignatieff, or that Canadians feel a great deal of interest in foreign policy, the election result does not prove the writer’s point but rather the opposite.

It is an uncontested fact that public support for the Liberal Party under Michael Ignatieff plummeted, even compared to the disastrous prior leadership of Stéphane Dion. Contrary to much foreign opinion, the Liberal and Conservative parties of Canada are both strong corporatist parties, neither is socialist leaning like the NDP. And labour issues were not a big topic during the election and could not be said to have been a strong influence in turning Liberal voters to NDP. There are, historically, two things that matter very much to Canadian Liberals: a liberal philosophy towards laws and citizen rights, including a dislike of military involvement outside of strict peacekeeping missions and a strong support of human rights, and Canadian federalist sovereignty.

Michael Ignatieff was hilariously brought in by the Liberal Party of Canada, to be the ‘next Pierre Trudeau’, referring to a strong federalist former prime minister who suffered his biggest backlash from his own Liberal party when he invoked the War Measures Act, which allowed the police to arrest and detain without trial, during the October Crisis of 1970. He also received some of his biggest support for standing up to the US. Michael Ignatieff, has advocated torture (which he does not call torture, but others do, more anon), ‘pre-emptive wars’, and indefinite detention without trial. He was a supporter of the Iraq war for far too long. He has openly preached the manifest destiny of the United States for years and self identified as nothing but an American, also for many years. In 2003 he wrote Empire Lite: Nation-Building in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, which argued that the US had a responsibility to create a “humanitarian empire” through nation-building and, if necessary, military force, and when he talks of Canada’s “leadership in the world” it is always in reference to an expanded military.

He campaigned on an insult to the Canadian system of multi-party governance, decreeingfrom day one that Canadians had but two choices. I am saying as clearly as I can to the Canadian people, looking them straight in the eye”—here he focused his gaze into the TV camera directly in front of him, so it would seem to a television viewer that Ignatieff really was looking him in the eye—“if you want to replace the Harper government, you’ve got to vote Liberal.” Which, if believed, left the Canadian people with two options for prime minister, both strongly disapproving of everything Canada is.

Ignatieff in the past

Here are a few things from Michael Ignatieff’s background that Canadians may have been subjecting to that “deep think” they supposedly were not having about foreign policy. His writings and interviews are many and diverse, but the parts that mattered the most to Canadians were neatly summed up in a New Humanist article by Laurie Taylor at the point where he resigned from the advisory board of the Index on Censorship and requested that all syndication of an article referencing him be withheld. Everything in this article is easily verifiable from Ignatieff’s own writings, but whenever the Conservative party used these facts in their ads, the Canadian people were told that the Conservatives were bad people and were trying to destroy Ignatieff’s reputation. Maclean’s magazine quotes a Conservative staff member as saying, “Michael Ignatieff, in our narrative, is a political opportunist who is calculating, who will do and say anything to get elected.” In Maclean’s narrative, and in that of much of the Canadian media, this constitutes a political attack on Ignatieff. Of course it is. But that does not make the facts any less true or mean that Canadians should not be listening to them. It means Canadians should have been asking why they had to hear this material primarily from Conservative attack ads instead of their own media.

So what are these facts? Given the volume of his writing, it is perhaps most helpful to look at comments from his peers.

Conor Gearty, Professor of Human Rights Law at the LSE, wrote in the February 2005 edition of the Index on Censorship that Ignatieff was “probably the most important figure to fall into this category of hand-wringing, apologetic apologists for human rights abuses.” for his support of the Iraq invasion and more. “The trick… is to take the ‘human’ out of ‘human rights’. This is done by stressing the unprecedented nature of the threat that is currently posed by Islamic terrorism, by insisting that it is ‘a kind of violence that not only kills but would destroy our human rights culture as well if it had a chance’. In these extraordinary circumstances, ‘who can blame even the human rights advocate for taking his or her eye off each individual’s puny plight, for allowing just a little brutality, a beating-up perhaps, or a touch of sensory deprivation?’. But once intellectuals do open this door then scores of Rumsfeldians pour past shouting ‘me too’ and (to the intellectual’s plaintive cries of protest) ‘what do you know about national security – go back to your class work and the New York Review of Books’.” … Ignatieff is the best exemplar of this type of intellectual because of his apparently total commitment to the idea that we are now faced with ‘evil’ people and that unless we fight evil with evil we will succumb. It is precisely because we are democratic and special that, in Ignatieff’s words “necessity may require us to take actions in defence of democracy which will stray from democracy’s own foundational commitments to dignity.” … If Abu Ghraib was wrong then that wrongness consisted not in stepping across the line into evil behaviour but rather allowing a ‘necessary evil’ (as framed by the squeamish intellectuals) to stray into ‘unnecessary evil’ (as practised by the not-so-squeamish Rumsfeldians).”

Michael Neumann, Professor of Philosophy at Trent University in Ontario, called Ignatieff’s Empire Lite (2003) “a web of foolishness, error and confusion” and described Ignatieff’s argument as: “The US should, having first consulted its own interest, occupy ‘failed states’ and suppress disorder. Then, over what Ignatieff repeatedly emphasises is a long period of time, Americans are to teach these little folks abut judicial procedure, democracy and human rights. Then Americans will help their apt pupils to create sustainably democratic institutions.”

Mariano Aguirre, in a 2005 article called ‘Exporting Democracy, Revising Torture: The Complex Missions of Michael Ignatieff’ calls Ignatieff’s arguments ‘and yet and yet’. “Ignatieff considers himself a liberal, so sometimes he criticizes the Bush administration. And he is an intellectual, so he has doubts about almost everything and airs them with the liberal readers of the New York Times. But in the end he shares the US government’s vision of the violent and compulsory promotion of democracy, the war against terrorism and the use of instruments, for example torture, which are apparently in need of revisionist treatment. … he has established a sort of rational framework for democratisation by force and also for the revision of our understanding of human rights. … His proposal (quoting Alan Dershowitz to cover his back) is that “the issue then becomes not whether torture can be prevented, but whether it can be regulated”. He goes even further, and seems to like the idea that when the police need to torture a suspect they could apply to a judge for a “torture warrant” that would specify the individual being tortured and set limits to the type and duration of pain allowed … In this book he plainly says that “actions which violate foundational commitments to justice and dignity … should be beyond the pale”. But next he indicates: “The problem is to protect them in practice, to maintain the limits, case by case, where reasonable people may disagree as to what constitutes torture, what detentions are illegal, which killings depart from lawful norms, or which pre-emptive actions constitute aggression.” According to Aguirre, Ignatieff also feels George W Bush could be recognized in the future as “a plain-speaker visionary”. When the WMD did not appear in Iraq, he wrote: “I never thought that the key question was what weapons Hussein actually possessed, but rather what intentions he had.”

International relations professor, Ronald Steel, wrote in the New York Times in July 2004: “Michael Ignatieff tells us how to do terrible things for a righteous cause and come away feeling good about it … but is it really true that an evil act becomes lesser simply because it is problematic? Does suffering a twinge of bad conscience justify what we do in a righteous cause? It is comforting to think so, but saying ‘this hurts me as much as it does you’ is neither true nor considered an excuse.”

In 2004, Ignatieff wrote several articles in New York Times Magazine defending both the Iraq war and Bush. On 2 May 2004 he wrote: “Permissible duress might include forms of sleep deprivation that do not result in lasting harm to mental health or physical health, together with disinformation and disorientation (like keeping prisoners in hoods) that would produce stress.” (The Abu Ghraib photos of hooded prisoners were released on April 28.) Michael Ignattieff was also interviewed by Charlie Rose on April 28, 2004, the day the Abu Ghraib photos were released. In the interview he is still clearly in support of the Iraq war. In late 2004, Ignattieff was interviewed on CNN about the US role in the war on terror, where he spoke of its duty to “support the right regimes”, etc. And in 2004 the Liberal Party of Canada began talks with Ignatieff asking him to come back and enter the leadership race for the Liberal Party.

Ignatieff in opposition

From the US state cables, a few points about Ignatieff’s time as the leader of the opposition in Canada:

In cable 09OTTAWA341 the Liberals were the first party Canadians tried to turn to as their ‘Not Harper’ party of choice: “some noted specifically that Ignatieff’s leadership and/or anger over Prime Minister Harper’s performance had motivated them to join the party.” The pro-US stance was apparent from the beginning. “A number of delegates cited in private conversations “synergy” between the new U.S. administration and a future Liberal government. An enthusiastic crowd cheered five images of Ignatieff with President Obama during his visit to Ottawa in February as part of a video backdrop to Ignatieff’s keynote speech to the Convention.” Traditionally, free trade and one-America type policy has been the realm of the Conservative Party, not the Liberals.

Differentiating between the parties was difficult in many cases. In 09OTTAWA377 “The efforts nonetheless put greater ideological light between the Conservatives and the Liberals under Michael Ignatieff, who has as of yet publicly identified few clear policy differences with the Conservatives.” Cable 09OTTAWA954 tells of “the New Democratic Party – which previously had boasted of voting against the government on more than 70 consecutive votes and ridiculed the Liberals for failing to act like a genuine opposition party”.

Opponents of torture and tough on crime legislation had no voice in parliament. Cable09OTTAWA452 writes: “Under new leader Michael Ignatieff, the Liberals have been careful quietly to support the robust Conservative anti-crime agenda in order to deprive the Conservatives of a wedge issue in the next election. Similarly, they are unlikely in principle to oppose, or substantially modify, the anti-terrorism bills.” Cable 10OTTAWA84 describes: “The Truth in Sentencing bill spent just over two months in the House of Commons and passed without amendment on June 8. … Reportedly, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff insisted privately that the party not be seen as “soft on crime,” prompting some Liberal Senators to absent themselves from the vote.” Cable 09OTTAWA198 “noted that Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was “flexible” and has a record in his life before politics of supporting robust anti-terrorism measures,” regarding the government’s reintroduced bill to amend the 2001 Anti-terrorism Act.

On the issue of Afghan detainees being handed over by Canadian forces without ensuring their safety from torture, 09OTTAWA906 states: “The opposition parties, together with Amnesty International Canada, insist that the only way to clear up the contradictions in the two versions of the story is for the government to call a public inquiry. … The detainee issue has consumed the daily parliamentary Question Period, but both PM Harper and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff have largely absented themselves from the debate.” [Bolding added.] When Harper prorogued parliament, outlined in cable 09OTTAWA909, “Opposition Members of Parliament quickly howled in protest, with Liberal house leader Ralph Goodale calling the move “beyond arrogant, almost despotic” and a “shocking insult to democracy.”(Liberal leader Ignatieff has yet to make a public comment.) [Bolding added.] New Democratic Party house leader Libby Davies called prorogation a “political scam.” There has been widespread speculation in the media and among MPs that the Conservatives’ key goal was to block additional committee hearings on allegations of the abuse of Afghan prisoners whom the Canadian Forces had transferred to Afghan authorities.”

Cable 09OTTAWA944 opines “As in the case of post-2011 Canadian plans for Afghanistan (reftels), public interest is extremely limited, and confidence levels in the PM and the Conservatives remain relatively high.” The cable may feel that public interest was low, but Liberal voters were taking note. As is apparent.

On extending Canada’s involvement in the Afghanistan war, cable 08OTTAWA124 writes “Currently all Liberal MPs are publicly onside to end the combat mission in 2009, but doubts remain over the position of deputy leader Michael Ignatieff and other Liberals who supported a continued combat role in 2006, and probably still do today.”

05OTTAWA696 reminds us: “Ignatieff is best known for his recent writings on political ethics in an age of terror, which lays out a middle course between the requirement for aggressive actions to protect liberal societies against sub-national mega-threats, and the need for Western Civilization to retain its ethical soul in the process. …

“Ignatieff opened by paying tribute to the four RCMP officers killed in the line of duty earlier in the day, reminding the audience that this brutal killing of members of a force that is the very symbol of Canada ought to invoke not only sorrow but anger among Canadians. Ignatieff’s belief in the measured and prepared use of force while also consistently trumpeting the social roots of Canadian liberalism, was a common theme. …

“… Ignatieff suggested, but need our own military, our own intelligence service, and we need to be real players in the global war on terror. He reminded the audience that Canada is next door to the main target of terrorism and must ensure it is not used as a staging ground for terrorists. He then spoke of the larger war on terror, suggesting that the central problem in failed states is security, and if Canada is going to be active working in the failed states that are the breeding ground for terrorism, its military & must be able to fire back. …With regards to missile defense Ignatieff sounded a note of caution over the party’s rejection of the BMD program. He said he understood that the government had listened to the party and the party had listened to the country. But he suggested that it was necessary to balance fear of weapons in space, with the protection of Canada’s own sovereignty.”

While Ignatieff was loudly or quietly refusing to stand up for anything Liberal voters traditionally expect their candidates to stand up for, the NDP’s Jack Layton was hard at work. Cable 10OTTAWA12 tells us “The Liberals’ muted response to PM Harper’s late December prorogation of Parliament (ref b) suggests a lack of energy and hands-on leadership (Michael Ignatieff reportedly remains on vacation in France) … Ignatieff personally trailed PM Harper on indices of trust, competence, vision and leadership, even ranking behind New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton on overall leadership and trust.” From cable 09OTTAWA766“Despite its pledge to work with the government on EI, the NDP is increasingly positioning itself as the party trying to get results for Canada’s unemployed, while the other parties only fight each other for partisan advantage and seek another expensive federal election. New NDP ads feature Layton with rolled-up sleeves, ready to “get to work.””

While the “leadership role in the world” espoused by Ignatieff consistently revolved around a greatly expanded military, Layton was, in cable 06OTTAWA3423 providing leadership of a different kind. “Jack Layton leveraged a meeting with Prime Minister Harper by threatening to bring down the Conservative minority government on a confidence vote unless Harper agreed to meet with him to discuss the Clean Air Act. … the government surprised many observers by agreeing to Layton’s proposal to send its draft legislation (C-30) directly to a “legislative committee”. … Front runner Michael Ignatieff is no Kyoto fan, whereas second-place Bob Rae is more supportive. … Federal Liberal MP John Godfrey, Bloc Quebecois MP Bernard Bigras, Quebec’s Environment Minister Claude Bechard, and Canadian environmentalists openly mocked Ambrose and derided the government’s climate change stance as “scandalous,” “idiotic,” and “ridiculous.” Bechard, whose comments were less vitriolic, said he hoped Ambrose would acknowledge Quebec’s Kyoto plan at the Conference this week. “We can’t say that Kyoto is impossible in Canada when one of the provinces, Quebec, has a plan to meet Kyoto with minimum participation from the federal government”.

The future in Canada.

Yes, Stephen Harper is a Bad Man, found in contempt of parliament and many other things, who was elected by 23% of the eligible voters, including many who were “holding their noses” and voting Anyone But NDP. Yes, he will enact policies that very few Canadians agree with, disrespect all parliamentary and legal restrictions, and, as he has promised so many times, make Canada unrecognizable in four years. But Canada is a democracy, and in four years there will be another election. If 1993 is anything to base guesses on, the Conservative party will be wiped off the political map at that point, after 4 years of unfettered, unpopular policy making. In four years the NDP will be a strong, experienced socialist leaning opposition party. In four years, some form of proportional representation may be implemented which will guarantee at least some seats for the Green, Pirate, Marijuana, etc. parties. And in four years, the Liberal Party of Canada will hopefully have woken up to the fact that Canada is a multi party democracy, the people have choice, and if they are not given a leader they can stomach they will not vote Liberal. The new leader will probably be this guy or this guy. Neither are internationally acclaimed (or reviled) intellectuals. But neither would dream of suggesting torture and pre-emptive wars to the Canadian public as Liberal ideas.

Canadians have not destroyed their home, they are just spring cleaning. This is the point where they have emptied all the closets into the middle of the room and it looks awful. But in four years, it should be much better than ever, and all credit will be to the bravery of the voters who refused to be told by any media or politicians, national or international, that they did not have a choice.

 
 

2011-04-29 Canadians plot to bring down a government they haven’t voted for yet #Elxn41 #wlcan #Cdnpoli

Image

As pollsters and pundits all agree that none can guess what the votes, much less the seats will look like after the May 2 election, almost all of the possibilities are anything but straightforward. A Conservative majority would be straightforward, and may happen. Ontario controls 106 of Canada’s 308 seats and is subject to a three way vote split in many ridings. The latest EKOS seat projection states it is conceivable that the Conservatives could back into a majority with just slightly more than one-third of the overall votes. This would see the Conservatives in power until they call another election.

Other than that, here are the options likely now:

1. The Conservatives win a minority government. This we have seen for five years. The Conservatives will then be open to another non confidence vote, which may bring their government down for a third time. They were not able to pass their budget in March so would probably have to bring it before the House soon. Or not. One idea from Murray Dobbin:

A number of constitutional experts are already mulling over the possibility of what some refer to as a kind “informal constitutional coup” – Harper refusing to accept the results of a non-confidence vote. According to a Hill Times story quoting University of Ottawa constitutional law expert Errol Mendes, ignoring such a vote “…would amount to a sort of informal constitutional coup. Essentially that position he’s taking is he’s not the Prime Minister shackled by the will of the people, he’s the elected president of Canada.”

Queen’s University professor Ned Franks, stated: “If it’s early in the new Parliament, if it’s a defeat on a vote of confidence, the Governor General is entitled to inquire whether there is another person who would enjoy the confidence of the House.”

But Harper could delay the opening of Parliament, funding the government with special warrants through Order in Council and the Governor General. Running the government in this manner for six or eight months would provide Harper with the argument that the opposition parties were simply conspiring to defeat a government that had been functioning effectively for many months. And he then refuses to go.

2. A party that is not the conservatives wins a minority government. Usually, this means that party will govern. But the Conservatives still have the option (and there is a good chance it would be exercised) of facing the House in a post election confidence vote instead of leaving quietly.

The outcome of any minority scenario is going to depend on the third place party, now looking to be the Liberals, who may have made themselves the most powerful party in Canada by dropping to third. Most pundits agree that convincing the Liberals to accept third place, and drop from “Canada’s natural ruling party” to support the NDP in a coalition government would be difficult. But within the eroded ranks of the Liberals, there are people who are violently against supporting the NDP and others who are violently against supporting the Conservatives. If the Liberal leader attempts a coalition with either the NDP or the Conservatives, he risks having a large number of MP’s cross the floor or risk losing the support of their constituents.

May should be interesting.