Omar Khadr: War criminal, child soldier… or neither?


Previously published on VICE

Frames from Omar Khadr’s interrogation. via Flickr.

Omar Khadr made his first appearance in a Canadian court on Monday. After an 11-year journey from Bagram to Guantánamo to Canada’s Millhaven Institution, the Toronto-born man is now in Edmonton’s federal prison. He was 15 when he was captured and tortured at Bagram. He turned 27 last Thursday.  

If you’re not familiar with the case it goes loosely as follows: When the Americans first arrested Omar in Afghanistan, he was accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American solider. For eight years he maintained his innocence, until he signed a plea deal in 2010 that got him out of Guantanamo. Omar was then convicted of five counts of war crimes for his actions, which were not recognized as such anywhere else in the world including Canada.  

Omar’s case is wildly complex. While the American solider he is accused of killing was certainly killed by a grenade, there is no evidence showing that Omar ever had or threw one. While Omar certainly did confess to these crimes, it was after eight years of torture and given his option to either insist he’s innocent and stay in Gitmo, or confess to the crimes and see a judge in Canada, it certainly sounds like the terms of his confession were problematic at best.

All of this is important to note, especially in light of the recent Hamdan appeal in the US—which refers to the case of Osama Bin Laden’s former driver whose terrorism charges were thrown out—that pointed out war crimes tried by the Commission must be internationally recognized. This verdict may end up being leveraged effectively in the Omar Khadr case.

The Canadian Supreme Court has even ruled that our government violated Omar’s rights, but left the remedy up to the Harper government who of course declined to provide any solution.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been making strong statements on the preferred outcome on the day of the trial, in an apparent attempt to influence the court proceedings. Harper has vowed to fight the case “vigorously,” and used almost the same phrasing as that of Steven Blaney, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety.

Omar’s counsel, Dennis Edney, was in court to argue that he should be transferred to a provincialinstitution from a federal institution due to his age when the alleged crimes took place. In a confusing instance of legal doublespeak, the Crown’s prosecutors are arguing that Omar has not really been sentenced to eight years, but rather to five eight-year sentences served at the same time. Associate Chief Justice J.D. Rook has reserved judgment to a currently undetermined future date.

Heather Marsh, a journalist, was at Omar’s trial on Monday and wrote about it for us.

The media swarming Khadr’s lawyer outside of Monday’s hearing.
 Photo by the author.

On Monday, the court was filled with what seemed to be exclusively supporters of Omar Khadr. Many were wearing orange or orange ribbons and I spoke to several of them. There was a high school student who said she was done for the day, students from several different universities skipping class even though they had exams next week, and people of all ages and ethnic groups. After the media were moved to the jury box and people were encouraged to squeeze up, 120 people were in the court room and a live feed was set up for more in an overflow room.

A security guard told Omar’s counsel that Omar would be available to talk to them in a private interview room outside—but Edney insisted it was an open court and Omar could appear. After a brief altercation he was allowed to be present.

Contrary to earlier media reports depicting him as a “giant,” Omar is an average sized man with a soccer player build and a neatly trimmed beard. When he came home last year he wrote to Seger M., an 11-year old supporter, “I play soccer too, but I don’t think I’m as good as you. I usually play defense or goal keeper.” He looks it, although since he came home he has been almost entirely in solitary confinement instead.

The author discussing the insanity of the crown’s arguments with Omar’s former chief prosecutor from Guantanamo.

Omar wrote to me when he was finally transferred back to Canada last fall, “At least we have a proper legal system,” and he told another correspondent this week that this would be his first appearance in “a real court.” He seemed composed and happy throughout the proceedings, smiling frequently at people. Most of the discussion I overheard during the breaks was regarding his appearance and demeanor, not the legal arguments. Omar and the gallery of supporters seemed equally amazed that they were finally meeting after 11 ½ years of hearing about each other.

During the afternoon, a man interrupted proceedings to rip off his shirt and say “Enough! He was 15,” and object to the endless paper shuffling and statute citing. He was escorted out with no acknowledgement from Omar or the rest of the court room. At the end of the day, after the judge had left and as Omar was being led away there was a spontaneous outburst from the room with people waving and calling “Good job, Omar!” and “Stay strong!”

After the hearing Edney met with media outside and told them Omar’s chances of parole would be much greater in a provincial institution as he would have access to the programs and the society he needs to rehabilitate himself. “If he remains in a federal penitentiary, where he doesn’t get any programs, where he spends most of his life locked away, where his life was threatened, he’ll never get out.”

An Omar Khadr protester in 2009. via WikiCommons.

As long as Omar is in federal prison he will probably be in solitary as necessary protection. As he wrote a friend last February about Millhaven, “My new place is different definitely. People are generally nice, but with a lot of bad habits. Life here compels you to live like an animal because it is like a jungle. I have to change a little to defend myself, but not lose my humanity and who I am.”

In order to be eligible for parole, Omar must prove he can thrive among those our society has deemed most unacceptable. During his trial the point was repeatedly made that he could not be released as he had been supposedly “marinated in jihad” as an inmate of Guantanamo and Bagram during his formative years. The catch-22 continues.

Canada famously violated Omar Khadr’s rights by interrogating him for the US when they knew he had been subjected to three weeks of severe sleep deprivation torture and other ‘softening up techniques’ prior to questioning. They also refused for eight years to provide even a pair of glasses to preserve the vision remaining in his one good eye or to provide any education for him to rehabilitate himself. After receiving no formal education past elementary school, he recently passed Ontario’s Grade 10 high school equivalency exams with more than 90 percent in all subjects, English, math, history, geography and science.

Solitary confinement is widely recognized as torture, and many years of studies have shown the permanent damage that can result. After over 11 years of almost entirely solitary, Omar appears to be one of the exceptions. He can even find benefit in the deprivation of experience, education and companionship. In April he wrote to Aaf Post in the Netherlands, “Usually we don’t appreciate the small things. We take them for granted. Once you lose these things like opening your window in the morning and taking a breath of fresh air or seeing a bird chirping, you really appreciate these things. Even though I’m in prison there are still a lot of small beautiful things around us. Seeing the sun rise or set or to see the snow fall.”

“Being back in Canada is, as you said, a wonderful thing. As big or difficult as change may be, it’s worth it. There are too many good things in this life (as hard as it might be) to worry or even care about the bad things. Things are what we make out of them. Prison can be a deprivation of freedom, or a time to enlighten ourselves. For me it is the latter.”


The author would like to thank the Free Omar Khadr group for research assistance. 

Follow Heather on Twitter: @GeorgieBC

2011-01-01 The Internet and the State Cables

For all those who felt that the world would never wade through 251,287 United States embassy cables, once more, they have underestimated the internet. Presenting, the US State Cables:

Cablegate Comix

Cablegate Chronicles


And to warm up:

So why is Wikileaks a good thing again?

Leaky World

Wikileaks: The Game

Real-time Wikileaks Twitter search results set to the Beatles

It’s going to be a great year.

2011-03-21 Greek SKAI media group has access to all of the US state cables

Yesterday, the Greek newspaper “Kathimerini” started publishing US state cables relating to Greece with a six page review of the cables focused on Greek political figures and current items of interest. Tonight Greek TV station SKAI TV and web site will also begin reporting on the cables.

“The New Files” newsprogram along with SKAI TV, and the daily “Kathihimerini” has gained access to all 250.000 US embassy cables leaked to Wikileaks exclusively for Greece. The access has been granted by the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. More on “The New Files” broadcast Monday March 21 at 23.00.

SKAI TV, and the newspaper Kathimerini are all part of the SKAI Group, one of the largest media groups in Greece.

Greece had a mini-Wikileaks scandal on January 13, 2011 when Regional Development Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis was quoted in a cable telling former US ambassador in Athens regarding Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP): “EYP is nothing. It does not serve its mission of protecting Greece and in fact is dangerous to national security because of its many shortcomings, not least of which is a unionized labor force.” He is also reported as saying that Greek police know the identity of virtually all members of domestic terrorist groups but do not have the evidence to prosecute them.

In comments to Skai Television, Chrysochoidis, previously in charge of the public order portfolio, spoke of “hypocrisy” and “conspiracy theories,” noting that the comments attributed to him had been made several times on the record in the past and did not constitute news. “All this has been expressed publicly and I am surprised that it is being presented as a revelation,” he told Skai. The minister added: “I have described publicly thousands of times the unsatisfactory situation that existed then. EYP was not fulfilling its role for the protection of the country.”

2011-03-19 The Guardian: Redacting, censoring or lying?

Ed. Original post on WL Central referred to this cable which was modified to this.

WL Central published an article two days ago, outlining the extraordinarily heavy handed redaction by the Guardian of a Bulgarian cable. Wikileaks tweeted the article, saying it was“Another very serious example of the Guardian “cable cooking” in violation of WikiLeaks agreements”. Guardian investigations editor David Leigh responded with “@wikileaks Another stupid lie from #Assange alleging ‘cable censorship’ by #Guardian, (stuck with UK libel laws as he knows). What a liar!”

Wikileaks did not however, accuse the Guardian of cable censorship, they accused them of “cable cooking”. A closer inspection of what happened in this one instance of cable redaction by the Guardian indicates that the Wikileaks description was closer to the mark. In fact, an examination of this document brings a feeling that the world will be in for Cablegate 2.0 when we finally get to see these cables without Guardian redaction.

The redaction on this particular cable is best shown here. The parts redacted by the Guardian are in green.

Before we examine further what was done to this document, it would be good to remember the alternative solutions available were the Guardian truly afraid that the libel laws which did not guard against reports on Gaddafi’s botox, hair implants and Ukrainian nurse would suddenly kick in to protect Bulgarian mafia. The first and obvious choice would be to not publish this cable. There were, after all, 251,287 cables to choose from, and after redaction all this cable informed us was that there was crime in Bulgaria, reinforcing the oft repeated claim that the cables tell us nothing new (except gossip about Gaddafi’s botox). The other, even better solution, would be to publish this cable while informing the readers that they were only viewing 1406 of the original 5226 words and showing by the typical ” … ” or other, where the redactions were made. One would think that would be the only course open to an ethical news source.

Instead, point seven, an extensive 3,986 word analysis of organized crime in Bulgaria containing paragraphs A through M and entitled “Who’s Who In Bulgarian Organized Crime?”, is brought down to three short paragraphs (357 words) in the Guardian, with no indication that the redaction has taken place. Taken with the preceding and following sections and the title, the implication is that those three paragraphs contain the complete analysis of organized crime in Bulgaria. Since this redacted cable is included as the official source document from the US State embassy in Sofia, the implication is also that this is what the US embassy felt Bulgarian crime amounted to.

To “cook” this document, the Guardian did not present three sequential paragraphs, or even three self contained paragraphs. Instead, they went through the thousands of words available, and spliced a few sentences together to make up their own paragraphs, further altering the meaning of the document. Now a sentence that reads as though it refers to someone in the previous sentence, actually had referred to someone completely different. Now the extensive and complicated world of Bulgarian organized crime appears to be the work of one Russian. This leaves “censorship” and “redaction” in the dust and proceeds directly to the “lying” the Guardian editor was accusing Wikileaks of.

Apparently, the Guardian believes that Bulgarians, but not Russians, are covered by UK libel laws; looking at the incredible volume of redaction and the few sentences used, the selection criteria seems to be for any sentence containing the words “Russia” / “Soviet Union” (nine references) or “sex” / “prostitution” / similar (six references). Of the three sentences which make up the second paragraph, two are almost the exact same, but it allows prostitution to be mentioned twice along with “trafficking in women for sexual exploitation”, and “escort and intimate services businesses”. Paragraphs one and three are centred around the words “Russia” and “Soviet Union”.

There are many questions brought to mind by this, the first of which is of course, why would anyone read the Guardian? But the second would be, why is the Guardian apparently protecting the Bulgarian mafia and preventing people from accessing the truth? Why is the Guardian deliberately misleading its readers, if not outright lying? And last, if we are to believe the Guardian editor’s claims regarding UK libel laws, in all the talks we have heard about redaction of Wikileaks documents to protect innocent civilians, why was it not also mentioned that documents were being redacted to protect the Guardian from the lawsuits that Wikileaks has been facing down since its inception?

 Comments from original publication: 

The Guardian: Redacting, censoring or lying?

Submitted by david leigh on Sat, 03/19/2011 – 10:42.

The Guardian doesn’t have any earthly reason to protect the Bulgarian mafia from exposure. The process our writers went through in publishing information from the cables, was to write articles drawing attention to e.g. the Russian criminal mafia. We did this to such an extent that our Moscow correspondent, Luke Harding, was thrown out with his family. We also published the text of supporting cables where we were able to: these were vetted by our libel lawyers, and where there were allegations against individuals that couldn’t be proved, these had to be redacted. The Guardian can be sued for what it publishes in the UK. WIkileaks on the other hand, can publish what it likes. We’re not stopping them. It’s a fair point that we could, and perhaps should, have explained all this. But no-one at the Guardian imagined we were going to be accused of conspiring with Bulgarian organised crime!


Protecting, not conspiring

Submitted by Heather Marsh on Sat, 03/19/2011 – 18:18.

David, you are tampering with the text again. No one accused you of “conspiring with Bulgarian organised crime” you were accused of “apparently protecting the Bulgarian mafia”, and, willfully or no, that has been the result of the Guardian’s actions in this case. Anyone reading your version of the cable is left with the absolute impression that this, in the eyes of the world’s most sophisticated intelligence gathering country, is the extent of Bulgarian organised crime.

I would also really like to know why your lawyers felt that the Bulgarians were a libel risk but not the Russians? And Atanas’ excellent question also deserves an answer. And your readers deserve to know, at the very least, what you have redacted, why you have redacted it and where you have redacted it.

As to Wikileaks being able to publish what it likes, so can the Guardian if they, like Wikileaks, are willing to suffer the consequences. True journalism has never been for the faint of heart.


Professional advantage vs Public interest

Submitted by Bivol on Sat, 03/19/2011 – 16:31.

Dear David,

As I wrote in my article (cited here “We can only guess the reason of the Guardian journalists to conceal individuals and businesses the Embassy believes are part of organized crime.”

Thank you for clearing this point. We also consult our libel lawyer and we know what we are risking under bulgarian law.

In the extended version of my article I wrote the following:

“It will be real pity if it turns out journalists from reputed international media use information, provided by Wikileaks as merchandise, whose value depends on the selection of the precise moment to offer it on the market.”

So nobody is accusing you of conspiring with Bulgarian organized crime. Instead, there are reasons to believe that Guardian and the other mainstream media, having access to the WL cache, can use exclusively the information hidden from the public, following their own agenda.

Take the example with Petr Smolar, a journalist from Le Monde, who wrote on the same topics, but NEVER published the corresponding Wikileaks cable from Sofia, dated September 11, 2009

Two monts later as a special envoy of the Le Monde, Petr Smolar emerged in Sofia and wrote an extensive article about the conflict between the “public ennemy N°1” Alexei Petrov (his name is in the redacted Sofia cable) and Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, with details about a big wiretap scandal.

Clearly, in such a case, a journalist from Figaro or Liberation, or whatever, will have less information then the journalist from Le Monde, isn’t it?

So does the professional advantage is more important then the need of transparency and the public interest to expose the criminal activities?

Thank you for discussing this and excuse my English.


2011-02-15 Cameroon’s rumoured protests


Despite all search engines showing nothing but football for news in Cameroon, Twitter insists they are having a revolution, beginning with protests on February 23. The hashtags are being used, but there is very little under them. The Cameroon Tribune reports “Thousands of youths last Thursday, February 10 marched in the streets of Yaounde to demonstrate their patriotism and commitment to preserve peace, stability and development in Cameroon. The march in support of President Paul Biya and the institution he incarnates was in reaction to the wind of violence and destabilisation of State institutions blowing across some African countries.”

There are three pictures circulating online that say they depict “Youngsters from Cameroon protest against the government and the president Biya, willing to stay in power by changing the Constitution. The crowd was also protesting against the unemployment and the inflation. They burnt public building, cars, and even a bus.” But the pictures are from the February 2008 riots which killed between 40 and 139 people. Those riots broke out when 78 year old Biya , who has been president for 29 years, brought in a constitutional change that did away with presidential term limits and enabled him to run again. There is another presidential election due in October, but Cameroon’s elections, always regarded as some of the most corrupt in the world, received a new blow in March 2010 when parliament passed a bill giving the government oversight of poll preparations, supplanting the previous independent electoral body.

“This law is the worst law we’ve ever had because it brings back the administration and members of the judiciary into the electoral process in full force,” said Afany Ngeh, executive president of the Foundation for Human Rights and Development. “These are two very corrupt groups in this country that have paralysed elections in the past.”

Cameroonian Presidential candidate and women’s rights activist Kah Walla has warnedCameroon President Paul Biya that protests could come to Cameroon in an open letter on February 12. “It is a very bad season for presidents who have been in power for over 20 years, maintaining their power through dubious, ritualistic elections, which have credibility neither with their own people nor with the global community,” she wrote.

According to US state cable 09YAOUNDE369 from 2009, “Cameroon’s ability to track its own budget is among the worst in Africa. … The Embassy believes there is significant variance between the projected budget and the budget as it is actually executed. Embassy contacts tell us that the GRC does not have the capacity to track its own budget execution because there is no interface among various computer programs used by the Office of the Budget (which plans the budget) and the Office of the Treasury (which spends the money), meaning even the Minister of Finance is incapable of giving a detailed account for how funds were spent. Additionally, numerous civil society organizations have reported difficulty in obtaining detailed expenditure information for their efforts to track budget execution in certain localities or in certain sectors. For many years, the GRC was engaging in off-budget spending, including especially use of oil revenues to finance security and defense projects. This practice was increasingly reduced during the GRC’s participation in the IMF program, but recent reports indicate the GRC is again spending substantial sums “off-budget.”

Amnesty international describes Cameroon as routinely using killings and torture to repress political dissent,and says of the victims of the 2008 riot killings, “Amnesty International has received photographs and testimonies suggesting that some of the victims were shot at point blank range, without any effort made to arrest them.”


2011-02-14 Kuwait Shaikh Jaber, investigated for death by torture, in the state cables – protests on March 8


Twitter and Gulf News reported a Kuwaiti group called Fifth Fence (AlSour AlKhamis) using Twitter to attempt to organize a mass rally outside parliament on February 8. That protest has since been rescheduled to March 8. “We at the Fifth Fence call on the Kuwaiti people to assemble at parliament … on Tuesday at 11am (0800 GMT) to press for our legitimate right of holding sessions and to declare our rejection of the continuity of this government and its undemocratic practices.” the group wrote, inviting opposition MPs to join them.

The protests were, by some accounts, related to an investigation into Minister of the Interior Shaikh Jaber al-Khalid Al Sabah about the death by torture of a 35 year old Kuwaiti citizen, Mohammad Gazzai Al Mutairi, at a police station after he was arrested for possessing alcohol. The government and parliament postponed sessions for six weeks which was described as unconstitutional by the opposition. The death occurred on January 11 after six days of torture, and resulted in the arrest of sixteen policemen and the resignation of the Shaikh Jaber, a member of the family that has ruled Kuwait since 1756, but the cabinet asked Jaber to stay on.

US state cable 09KUWAIT110 details a meeting between the US ambassador and Shaikh Jaber. The US ambassador deplored “the ongoing deficiencies in Kuwait’s legal system that stymie effective prosecution and restraint of … individuals once captured.” They discussed the Kuwaiti prisoners still at Guantanamo, who the ambassador described as “nasty, unrepentant individuals” and she said that “Kuwait’s record had been tarnished by the example of former GTMO detainee al-Ajmi, who’d allegedly blown himself up in Mosul following his release to the Kuwaiti authorities.” Kuwait “had to take steps to show its seriousness in changing and controlling the behaviors of extremists within its society.”

Jaber told the Ambassador: “You know better than I that we cannot deal with these people (i.e. the GTMO detainees). I can’t detain them. If I take their passports, they will sue to get them back (Note: as happened with Al-Ajmi. End note.) I can talk to you into next week about building a rehabilitation center, but it won’t happen. We are not Saudi Arabia; we cannot isolate these people in desert camps or somewhere on an island. We cannot compel them to stay. If they are rotten, they are rotten and the best thing to do is get rid of them. You picked them up in Afghanistan; you should drop them off in Afghanistan, in the middle of the war zone.”

They went on to discuss the recent rescue by US NAVCENT forces in the northern Gulf of seven Iranian smugglers whose boat was foundering while engaged in smuggling hashish. The ambassador said they needed to think about dealing with similar episodes in future in “expeditious fashion”. Smiling broadly, the Interior Minister deflected the question, saying “God wished to punish them for smuggling drugs by drowning them, and then you saved them. So they’re your problem! You should have let them drown.”

The Kuwaiti Ministry of Information ordered the Al Jazeera station in Kuwait closed on December 13, 2010 after they aired live footage of Kuwaiti police cracking down on an opposition gathering and broadcast an interview with an opposition member of parliament.

Since the announcement of the protests (originally scheduled for an earlier date) there have been a number of government reforms announced. Yesterday the Kuwait Human Rights Society (KHRS) issued a press release on “positive developments in the country’s political terrain … to strengthen the values of leniency, sublimation and accepting others’ opinion” and announced their intention to continue pressing for amendment to the law on peaceful gathering and meetings, in line with Article 44 of the Constitution which permits such meetings. They are also asking for the government to stop any attempt to amend the Audio-Visual, Print and Publication Laws to suppress opinion to be in accordance with Article 36 of the Constitution which states that the freedom of opinion and scientific research is guaranteed for everyone, and article 37 which states that freedom of press and publication is guaranteed.

The Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah agreed yesterday to withdraw the request to the Constitutional Court on the interpretation of articles 50, 100, 101, 111 and 163 in the Constitution to help diffuse the current hostility, and the Amir ordered all lawsuits against the media to be thrown out.


2011-02-12 Obama overrules Amnesty International & President of Yemen, Journalist remains imprisoned


Protesters in south Yemen called for the secession of the once independent south today. Security forces were out early in the day with tanks and police to force protesters back inside. Scores of protesters were moved off of the streets of Aden, but dozens managed to get out in Crater, Khor Maksar, and Al-Mansura, and several hundred people in Zinjibar. Police in Al-Masura, fired warning shots and tear gas. Some reports say thousands of protesters were out in all provinces.

As WL Central reported on February 1, President Ali Abdullah Saleh had announced that he would step down after his second presidential term expires in 2013. Subsequent cables released by Wikileaks indicate that may have been more of a prearranged concession to the US than to the protesters. Cable 05SANAA1790 from June 2005 says regarding Saleh, “Domestically, however, he has run-out of reforms he can implement at no political cost to himself. Increasingly anxious about upcoming Presidential elections, and already preoccupied with succession, it is unlikely Saleh will allow a viable opposition candidate to challenge him in 2006. The visit is an opportunity to pressure Saleh not to amend the constitution so he may run again in 2013 by praising him for bringing Yemen to the point where he can rely on the system in place to produce a legitimate successor. The inducement here might be a public show of support via a greater role in public fora such as the G-8.”

Abdul Ilah Shayi

WL Central also reviewed a report on January 19 of a Yemeni journalist jailed after alleging US involvement in missile attack. Abdul Ilah Shayi had accused the US of being involved in an attack on the community of al-Ma’jalah in the Abyan area, southern Yemen, which took place on 17 December 2009 and killed 55 people, including 14 women and 21 children. Shayi had written articles accusing the US government of involvement and had been interviewed by Al Jazeera. He was sentenced on January 18 to five years in prison by the Specialized Criminal Court in the capital Sana’a, for his purported links to al-Qa’ida. His acquaintance, Abdul Kareem al-Shami, was jailed for two years on similar charges. He “appears to have been targeted for his work uncovering information on US complicity in attacks in the country,”Amnesty International has said.

As Yemen Times reports, President Saleh issued a decree of pardon to Shayi, as part of the concessions he was offering to protesters. But on February 2, according to a statement from the White House, US President Barack Obama expressed his ‘concern’ over the proposed release and the promised release has since been ignored.

Lawyer and activist Khaled Al-Anesi told the Yemen Times that there were suspicions from the beginning that the US wanted him jailed and it was an American demand to arrest him. “This American interference insures that Yemen’s dealing with terrorism is run by the US. If they wanted to release him they would have released him immediately straight after the pardon was announced. This is a sign that they don’t want to set him free.”

Hamoud Hazza’a from the Committee to Protect Journalists said if Shayi is not released soon it will confirm that “the Yemeni government has no power in the country and they are only a follower of the US. We only want to make sure they release him, although the way he was arrested was wrong, the trial was wrong and the way he is being pardoned is also wrong.” The fact that the US president can cancel a Yemen judge’s verdict shows that the judicial system in Yemen is not independent and that the US president controls everything, according to Hazza’a. “The US and the NGO’s supported by the US are taking a negative stand against Shaye’ as he exposed what happened in Al-Ma’jala.”

“This is an internal issue and we don’t care what Obama or anyone else has to say. This is a gift from the President and we should respect our internal affairs,” Sinan Al-Ajji, a member of the Yemen ruling party, told the Yemen Times.

As shown in cable 09SANAA2251 the government of Yemen was lying to the Yemeni people and claiming responsibility themselves for attacks on the people which were carried out by the US. The cable complains that Saleh “appears not overly concerned about unauthorized leaks regarding the U.S. role and negative media attention to civilian deaths.”

Cable 04SANAA3023 documents Saleh casually agreeing to keep 28 people imprisoned that were meant to be released in 2004 under a Ramadan amnesty “based on US government objections”. Saleh told the US Ambassador that the 28 were arrested under suspicion of al-Qaeda membership, having returned to Yemen from Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, but that after investigation there was no evidence they were involved in terrorist acts. “We are waiting for information from you,” said Saleh. Despite being offered no indication of guilt from the US, Saleh agreed to continue imprisoning the 28 people, deemed a violation of the country’s constitution by a Yemeni parliamentary report, and asked in return, “Where is the money for the Army? And what about my spare [F-5] parts?” The Yemen government received USD 155 million in US military aid last year.


2011-02-12 The Gabonese Revolution on February 21


On January 25, as Egypt began the first day of its revolution, Andre Mba Obame declared himself president of Gabon and set up his own government, stating “We have information that Obame got 42% and Ali Bongo 37%, and that the results were practically inverted.”. The incumbent president, Ali Ben Bongo, the late president’s son, came to power after a widely criticized election in August 30, 2009 which was followed by days of riots. Gabon was further inflamed in December when the parliament adopted a constitutional amendment allowing the president to extend his mandate in the case of an emergency. Opposition leader Zacharie Myboto at that time objected that “This leaves the door open to dictatorship.”

On December 28, Wikileaks released a July 2009 US US state cable which showed senior Gabonese officials in the Bank of Central African States (BEAC) accused of embezzling more than 18.3 billion CFA (about US$36 million) from the pooled reserves of the six states of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) over the past five years. “According to the Embassy source, senior Gabonese political`leadership, including the late President Omar Bongo and his son, Defense Minister and presidential hopeful, Ali Bongo benefited from the embezzlement. The source said Gabonese officials used the proceeds for their own enrichment and, at Bongo’s direction, funneled funds to French political parties, including in support of French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Asked who received the funds, the BEAC official responded, “both sides, but mostly the right; especially Chirac and including Sarkozy.” The BEAC official said “Bongo was France’s favorite President in Africa,” and “this is classic France Afrique.” The BEAC official said his own government and others would seek jail time for some of the officials, but that there would be pressure to deal delicately with the new Gabonese Government. Ali Bongo, he said, is close personal friends with BEAC Governor Anzembe.”

On February 2, IQ4News noted that although some 5,000 opposition supporters took to the street in support of Obame calling for President Odimba to step down, and riot police fired tear gas in the country’s capital, Libreville injuring reportedly twenty people, these protests have gone largely unnoticed by the media because of the focus on Egypt. Julie Owonowrote in GlobalVoices of a demonstration organised at Carrefour Rio in Libreville, on January 29, where more than 2,000 of opposition leader Mba Obame’s supporters went to protest against Ali Bongo’s government and faced public security forces including an attackon the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP) building in Libreville, where Mba Obame and his Government sought asylum. Voice of the Gabonese People reported 2,000 people demonstrated in Bitam, on January 31, 2011 and riots in many districts of Libreville on February 2.

On February 5, Gabon opposition politician Bruno Ben Moubamba announced demonstrations in Paris to denounce the Bongo presidency:

On February 8, Direct Scoop.netdescribed thousands of young people claiming victory for Andre Mba Obame through a peaceful march were violently dispersed by security forces.

Julie Owono reports that “self proclaimed ‘President’ Obame has sought asylum in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) building in Libreville, along with other members of his ‘government’ for two weeks now. National Union, Gabon’s main opposition party, was dissolved on the order of Ali Bongo at the beginning of the political crisis.”

Jean-pierre Rougou, a source reputed to be close to the unofficial ‘government’ wrote on hisfacebook profile “Tension has gone up a notch here with the UN officials. The Algerian representative was quite embarrassed to tell us that his superiors in NY were wondering if we could willingly depart the premises because they cannot force us to leave. Additionally, they asked that we let go of all our communication devices and only use the fixed line in the only office that we can access.”

Òwono reports, “The unofficial opposition Gabonese government accused the United States’ ambassador in Gabon of keeping a guilty silence on violations by Ali Bongo and his regime against civil liberties.”

La Révolution Gabonaise

Lately, the protests against the election seem to be gaining momentum and are becoming more widespread. La Voice Du People Gabonais documents the latest stories. On February 10 LVDPG reports that students at the University Omar Bongo (UOB) held a protest demanding:

1 Payment of their monthly scholarship which they have not received since July 2010.

2 The return of three teachers removed because they are part of the current “unofficial” government in hiding in the UNDP building.

3 Remedy of overcrowded classrooms.

4 Toilets within the University (currently only available for the minority of residence students).

5 Reverse the action taken by the Government of Ali Bongo on the relocation of UOB.

6 Opening of the university canteen.

Violent clashes later broke out between students and army to prevent them from protesting.

On February 12, LVDPG published a series of articles calling for revolution in Gabon. La Révolution Gabonaise demands the immediate departure of Ali Bongo, the creation of a new republic, and a new constitution with two presidential terms. They are asking for a 100,000 people to protest on February 21. They ask why they should continue to live in misery, “dying like dogs”, when their country is rich. LVDPG received another letter from the Membre du Collectif pour la libération Totale du Gabon demanding the punishment of the people who murdered at least 9 people in Port-Gentil and the freeing of General Jean Philippe Ntoumpa Lebans and accusing the Bongo government of launching, since January 25, 2011 “a true death squad against the worthy son and daughters of the nation of Gabon, who want to live free in a country freed from the dictatorial sham Bongoïste”. This group and several others call for the people of Gabon to follow the examples of Tunisia and Egypt.


2011-02-08 Cable: Israel pressures Suleiman to close Gaza’s ‘feeding tube’ tunnels

Today, Wikileaks released two more cables detailing Israeli pressure on the residents of Gaza Strip. As reported by WL Central here, the closure of tunnels bringing basic supplies into the Gaza Strip from Egypt have caused an urgent humanitarian crises for the people of Gaza. But US state cables show Israel pressuring the US to link aid to Egypt with the complete closure of those tunnels and the prevention of any supplies reaching Gaza through Egypt. Egypt’s new vice president’s involvement is also discussed.

In November of 2007, Israel Security Agency (ISA) Director Yuval Diskin met with US officials to discuss the ‘problem’ of supplies moving from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. In 07TELAVIV3258Diskin outlines “a growing crisis in Israeli-Egyptian relations over smuggling across the Gaza border”. Diskin told the US representatives that the ISA had, on several occasions, provided Omar Suleiman, Chief of Egyptian Intelligence Services, with detailed intelligence on the names of smugglers. In 2005, Diskin said he met personally with Suleiman in Egypt, at which time Suleiman promised personally to take responsibility for “cleansing the Sinai.” Despite these promises, and Israeli offers to initiate joint operations, Diskin said Egypt has not acted to eliminate the smuggling networks. In Diskin’s view, there is a core policy problem, in that the Egyptians view themselves as the primary mediator between the Israelis and Palestinians, and are careful not to alienate either side. “This is not possible with Hamas in Gaza,” insisted Diskin.

Diskin noted that the Egyptians do act promptly when they receive tangible information on imminent terrorist attacks and seek out tunnel openings in the Philedelphi corridor. In Diskin’s view, however, the tunnels are only a symptom of the more systemic smuggling problem. Goods are also transferred by sea and above ground by bribing Egyptian soldiers and officers, said Diskin. The tunnels themselves are designed with multiple openings, he continued, and remain operational even after the Egyptians seal up one or another.

Diskin shared that sources among the smugglers have told the ISA that Egypt permits their activities as long as they do not result in terror attacks within Egyptian territory. This shows that they can crack down on the smugglers if they have the will, said Diskin.

Suleiman recently sent a delegation to Israel to ask the ISA for help in blocking Congressional efforts to link aid to Egypt with security measures on the Gaza border. … The ISA believes that cooperation would be greatly improved by direct links to Egypt’s “Administration for National Security Investigations,” the domestic security agency operated within the Ministry of Interior. According to Diskin, Suleiman is blocking such discussions out of a desire to remain the sole point of contact for foreign intelligence. Such a relationship could be established if Mubarak were to support it directly, said Diskin, who suggested that USG assistance in facilitating contact between the agencies might be helpful.

2011-02-08 Suleiman is Israel’s preferred successor in Egypt

Cable 08TELAVIV1984, released by Wikileaks today, is headlined at Uruknet “New Wikileaks cable shows 2008 war on Gaza was unprovoked: Israel knew Hamas was enforcing ceasefire” referring to the 2008 massacre that resulted in approximately 1,400 Palestinians killed in 22 days, an operation in which Israeli soldiers had orders to “cleanse” entire neighbourhoods, orders which they carried out. That is evident in the first part of the cable, where MOD Arab Affairs Adviser David Hacham, says Suleiman was keeping the pressure on Hamas, but the Israelis were frustrated at Hamas’ ‘stalling tactics’ – Hamas was demanding Egyptian guarantees that Israel would not attack Gaza once Shalit was released. Regarding the Tahdiya, Hacham said Barak stressed that while it was not permanent, for the time being it was holding. There have been a number of violations of the ceasefire on the Gaza side, but Palestinian factions other than Hamas were responsible. Hacham said the Israelis assess that Hamas is making a serious effort to convince the other factions not to launch rockets or mortars.

The cable also returns to Egypt’s anti-smuggling efforts, enforced by Israel and the US, and this time Israel has “decided to praise Egypt’s performance publicly both in genuine acknowledgement of some improvements in destroying tunnels and in order to show the Egyptians that Israel was capable of praising as well as criticizing them. In private, however, Barak also pushed the Egyptians to do more, particularly in terms of stopping the smuggling well before the arms reach the Gaza border.”

“Hacham also said the Israeli delegation was “shocked” by Mubarak’s aged appearance and slurred speech. Hacham was full of praise for Suleiman, however, and noted that a “hot line” set up between the MOD and Egyptian General Intelligence Service is now in daily use. Hacham said he sometimes speaks to Soliman’s deputy Mohammed Ibrahim several times a day. Hacham noted that the Israelis believe Soliman is likely to serve as at least an interim President if Mubarak dies or is incapacitated. (Note: We defer to Embassy Cairo for analysis of Egyptian succession scenarios, but there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Suleiman.)”