No Scrutiny Please, They’re Saudi.

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on October 1, 2015. 

In 2014, on the shores of Lake Geneva and next to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a lavish ceremony was held to honour the recipient of the Moral Courage Award — an annual honour bestowed by UN Watch, a Geneva-based NGO dedicated to “(monitoring) the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter.“

Surrounded by Canadian diplomats and at least one fellow cabinet minister, Jason Kenney was feted “for demonstrating the courage to lead in upholding the founding principles of the United Nations, and defending the true principles of human rights.”

Lauding the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer declared: “When others have been silent while serial perpetrators of human rights abuses like Iran and Syria seek to hijack the UN’s human rights and anti-racism causes, Minister Kenney has been a clear and consistent voice for their millions of victims, opposing tyranny, hypocrisy and injustice.”

Accepting the award “on behalf of my colleagues and Prime Minister Stephen Harper,” Kenney sought to reiterate what he, his colleagues, and the prime minister have long portrayed as their unequivocal stance in defending the rights and dignities of those living under the world’s most oppressive regimes.

“Human rights are not subject to interpretation,” he said. “They exist by virtue of the dignity of the individual person. They cannot be written off simply because a handful of particularly brutal regimes have been given a veto powers in a bureaucratic body.”

You’d expect, then, after word leaked that Saudi Arabia, a leader in the abuse of human rights, restriction of religious freedom, and repression of women, was selected to head a panel of independent experts on the UN Human Rights Council, that both Kenney and Harper would be among the prominent human rights advocates – including UN Watch – leading the condemnation of the appointment.

One could argue the confluence of events coinciding with this incomprehensible decision — allegations of indiscriminate killing of civilians and ethic cleansing of Shiites in the Saudi-led aerial campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen; the imminent beading and crucifixion of Ali al-Nimr, nephew of a well-known Shia cleric and prominent critic of the Saud dynasty, arrested as a 17-year-old high school student for taking part in pro-democracy protests — made it incumbent upon Kenney and Harper, both of whom position themselves as global leaders in human rights advocacy, to front the charge in seeking to have the UNHRC appointment rescinded, to call for for an investigation into atrocities in Yemen, to demand clemency for a man condemned to death simply for seeking political reform.

Instead, they’ve offered absolute silence on each crucial matter detailed above. That’s not to say the government’s relationship with the Saudis has gone entirely unmentioned in recent days: When questioned about the ethics of his government’s secretive, multi-billion dollar arms deal with Riyadh — secured without the requisite human rights assessments or assurances such weaponry wouldn’t be used against the civilian population — Harper defended Saudi Arabia as a valued ally. He was concerned only, evidently, about possible job losses in Ontario should the deal be axed.

A key element of the Conservatives’ re-election bid has been to present themselves as warriors against fundamentalist ideologies and extremist entities. That they’ve deemed a woman who — entirely of her own accord — wears a niqab a greater threat than providing arms to a regime which adheres to and exports the actual medieval ideology which imposes draconian dress codes on women hints at the emptiness beneath the government’s veil of nationalistic rhetoric and international proclamations of moral authority.

Further reading:

Ten facts about Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia http://opencanada.org/features/ten-facts-about-canadas-arms-deal-with-saudi-arabia/

This thread of links.

Questions for the Minister: HERE and HERE 

Need To Know: On Syria And The Migrant/Refugee Crisis

This was initially meant to be a lengthy Facebook post for those who look to me for information on complex matters (which I do happily, by request). However, it received such appreciation and requests to make it open to all (which I eventually did) that I thought I’d post it here, too, but with additional links/further info for those seeking a one-stop landing for information on the issue.

——

Here’s a round-up of information on the current migrant/refugee crisis, the impossible situation in the Middle East driving it, and what – if anything – can/should be done.

First off, however, regarding the loathesome, xenophobic memes making the rounds, courtesy of extremist websites/blogs, FB pages, and media personalities:

The FB page I’ve seen many sharing patently fake anti-Mulsim nonsense from – Britain First – is a NEO-NAZI OPERATION. It’s a white-supermacist organization, full-stop. If you find yourself sharing anything from that page/site – especially when it comes to anything about Muslims or Islam – perhaps you need to re-examine your own values before calling into question the beliefs of others.

A few helpful links on that:

1. http://www.channel4.com/news/britain-first-far-right-anti-muslim-extremists-mosques
2. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/25/truth-britain-first-facebook-far-right-bnp
3. http://www.buzzfeed.com/jimwaterson/britain-first-has-quietly-become-the-most-popular-uk-politic

The same goes for the bigotry emanating from other notoriously-ignorant FB pages – Right Wing News, Chicks On The Right, The Blaze (Glenn Beck’s operation), Fox News, The Rebel, Atlas Shrugged – or the personal pages of disgraced conservative figures like Allen West, Sarah Palin, Pamela Geller, Franklin Graham, Ben Carson, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Ezra Levant, Brian Lilley, etc.

There’s nothing wrong with being C/conservative, or holding a C/conservative world view. That’s not who these people are, nor what they represent. All of the above are part of a hateful segment which no respectable person takes seriously.

Granted, once in a while a few of those pages might post something innocuous (often one of those feel-good viral memes from other sites). That’s fine. It’s their intentional misinformation and fomenting of hatred that’s the problem.

There are reputable C/conservative publications / personalities in existence. These are not them.

A few quick (but hardly thorough) links debunking some of the most-shared — and so obviously BS — anti-refugee memes:

1. http://www.vice.com/read/kleinfeld-refugee-memes-debunking-846

2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/16/no-that-viral-image-doesnt-show-an-islamic-state-fighter-among-europes-refugees/

3. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/surprised-that-syrian-refugees-have-smartphones-well-sorry-to-break-this-to-you-but-youre-an-idiot-10489719.html

And related: http://www.vice.com/read/debunking-the-racist-memes-passed-around-by-the-nativist-right-765

Here’s Shannon Gormley, deftly tackling the xenophobic nonsense: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/gormley-yes-lets-be-rational-about-the-syrian-refugee-crisis

And now…

The full story of the boy whose death woke the world up to the already years-long humanitarian catastrophe: http://www.macleans.ca/news/world/inside-the-tragedy-that-woke-up-the-world/

One of just many reports by Terry Glavin, who broke the Kurdi story: http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/glavin-lets-talk-about-the-kurdi-family-we-did-turn-away

A simple (but in being simple, not nearly thorough) explanation of why people are fleeing Syria: http://www.vox.com/2015/9/4/9261971/syria-refugee-war

More on that, with a deeper look at the death toll of ISIS versus the death toll of Syria’s Assad regime (Spoiler: ISIS isn’t the problem): https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/islamic-state-has-killed-many-syrians-but-assads-forces-have-killed-even-more/2015/09/05/b8150d0c-4d85-11e5-80c2-106ea7fb80d4_story.html

A phenomenal visualization of the death toll from Syria’s ISIS/Assad civil war: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/09/14/world/middleeast/syria-war-deaths.html

In the war on ISIS: Friends, foes and in between http://www.macleans.ca/news/world/in-the-war-on-isis-friends-foes-and-in-between/

The new Cold War in the Middle East: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/21/moscow-relishes-revamped-role-in-mideast-as-israel-seeks-assurances-in-syria/

More: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/22/putin-russia-syria-assad-iran-islamic-state/

“Why can’t they just go home”? Because THERE IS NO HOME TO GO TO.

1. https://twitter.com/sommervillebbc/status/639486321732526081

2. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/02/12/world/middleeast/syria-civil-war-damage-maps.html

Liz Sly, on the emptying of Syria: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/syria-is-emptying/2015/09/14/2b457a86-534f-11e5-b225-90edbd49f362_story.html

Her photo essay on children who only know life inside refugee camps: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/16/the-faces-of-syrian-children-who-only-know-life-in-a-refugee-camp/

And her early – and important – examination of the refugee crisis looming in the Middle East:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/as-tragedies-shock-europe-a-bigger-refugee-crisis-looms-in-the-middle-east/2015/08/29/3858b284-9c15-11e4-86a3-1b56f64925f6_story.html

A must-see photo gallery of Syria’s children, and the hell they’re living: http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/08/syrias-children/402583/

The nightmare that is life for those who’ve not fled: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/16/world/middleeast/for-those-who-remain-in-syria-daily-life-is-a-nightmare.html

And the dilemma many are faced with: http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/in-syria-many-families-face-a-terrible-dilemma

After 4 years of conflict, more than half of Syria’s population of 22 million have been driven out: http://graphics.latimes.com/syria-to-greece/

On that note: It’s not just Syria, or migrants from Syria. We are also involved/supporting/enabling the bombing/destruction of Yemen

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/world/middleeast/airstrikes-hit-civilians-yemen-war.html

2. https://theintercept.com/2015/09/01/yemen-hidden-war-saudi-coalition-killing-civilians/

And, of course, Afghanistan, Iraq …

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/world/asia/afghanistan-migrant-kunduz-iran-europe.html?smid=tw-nytimesworld&smtyp=cur

2. http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/18/europes-refugee-crisis-isnt-only-about-syria-iraq-afghans/?wp_login_redirect=0

Some Iraqis are abandoning the fight against ISIS for safety in Europe: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/21/us-europe-migrants-iraq-military-insight-idUSKCN0RK0EB20150921

Afghan NATO translators who helped coalition forces are having to take illegal routes West after having their asylum applications rejected: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/serbia/11878114/The-Afghan-Nato-interpreters-forced-to-walk-through-Europe-for-refugee-status.html

To those demanding to know “why aren’t Muslim countries doing anything?!”

Uh, they are.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees are hosted in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. http://trib.al/H6RuaiW

Lebanon, Turkey & Jordan have taken so many refugees that it’s changing their demographics. http://on.rand.org/SmFCy

More: https://twitter.com/LATimesGraphics/status/644889552901963776

The tragic lives of refugee children in Lebanon. http://lifeonhold.aljazeera.com/

Meanwhile, after being shuttled on trains and branded with numbers, refugees are being housed in former concentration camps. Yes, you read that right.

1. https://twitter.com/JeffreyGoldberg/status/639600506705473536

2. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/04/world/europe/czech-republic-criticized-after-officers-mark-migrants-with-numbers.html

3. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/19/the-refugees-who-live-at-dachau

Some key explainers on the many factors fuelling the crisis:

1. U.N. Funding Shortfalls and Cuts in Refugee Aid Fuel Exodus to Europe: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/world/un-funding-shortfalls-and-cuts-in-refugee-aid-fuel-exodus-to-europe.html

2. Why migrants risk everything for a new life elsewhere: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/the-real-reasons-why-migrants-risk-everything-for-a-new-life-elsewhere/article24105000/

3. 8 reasons the refugee crisis is happening now: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/18/8-reasons-why-europes-refugee-crisis-is-happening-now/

4. The migrant crisis: here’s why it’s not what you think – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/europes-migrant-crisis-eight-reasons-its-not-what-youthink/article26194675/

What can WE do? Two of the most respectable voices in Canada:

1. Roméo Dallaire: Response to Syrian refugees ‘atrocious’: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/romeo-dallaire-response-to-syrian-refugees-atrocious/

More: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-romeo-dallaire-syrian-refugees-1.3228123#pq=BTWEGU

2. Great interview with former chief of defence Rick Hillier: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-rick-hillier-refugees-military-christmas-1.3225732

Asylum seekers will keep coming, regardless of the chilly welcome from the West: http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/parnesh-sharma-the-asylum-seekers-will-keep-coming-regardless-of-the-chilly-welcome-from-the-west

We should – and can – take in 20 times more refugees: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/why-canada-should-take-in-20-times-more-refugees/

Excellent primer from Laura Payton on where Canadian policy stands: http://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/refugees-primer/

Glavin, on the Conservative’s recent policy change: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/glavin-conservatives-finally-take-responsibility-for-the-roadblock-facing-syrian-refugees

Meanwhile, refugees are left to plead for family reunification: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/refugees-plead-for-family-reunification/article26466051/

A group of notables lay out eight steps to get more Syrian refugees into Canada: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/eight-steps-to-get-more-syrian-refugees-into-canada/article26356841/

Refugees are, in fact, a huge economic and cultural boon to society — not a burden. They are not welfare-seekers.

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/19/opinion/europe-should-see-refugees-as-a-boon-not-a-burden.html?_r=0

Why our chance to help those in desperate need is also a potentially historic economic opportunity:
http://www.macleans.ca/economy/economicanalysis/this-is-the-refugee-debate-we-ought-to-be-having/

And no, we do not give refugees better health care or government services than citizens receive

1. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/jonathan-kay-the-refugee-health-care-decision-lays-bare-harpers-creed-punitive-moral-absolutism

2. http://www.macleans.ca/politics/do-the-cuts-to-refugee-health-care-make-sense/

3. http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/refugee-rules-are-bad-policy-legal-or-not

4. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/christie-blatchford-government-policy-on-refugee-health-care-exposed-as-heartless-and-shameful

No matter the nonsense which continues to come from the current Conservative government: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/conservatives-flyers-survey-refugees-1.3217603

Harper says only bogus refugees are denied health care. He’s wrong. http://www.macleans.ca/politics/harper-says-only-bogus-refugees-are-denied-health-care-hes-wrong/

Why how we refer to those seeking asylum matters: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/28/world/migrants-refugees-europe-syria.html

On fears of radicalization – nothing fights radicalization like opportunity.

Compassion towards needy Muslims is part of the antidote to a hateful jihadist ideology http://econ.trib.al/wIk3K1x

More: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/18/the-donald-versus-the-scriptures-migrants-refugees/

Things to note re: the claims of ISIS infiltrating migrants.

1. https://twitter.com/DougSaunders/status/643947905594822656

2. https://twitter.com/a_picazo/status/643949522968690688

3. https://twitter.com/KarlreMarks/status/644614714958475264

ISIS doesn’t want Syrian migrants to flock to Europe, either: http://theweek.com/speedreads/578405/isis-doesnt-want-syrian-migrants-flock-europe-either

More: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/aylan-kurdi-isis-propaganda-dabiq/404911/

Further reading – Follow the journey of the refugees with these in-depth journals:

1. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/reporters-notebook/migrants

2. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/balkan-odyssey-a-desperate-journey-through-centraleurope/article26438596/

Of Torture And Tortured Logic

This piece appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on December 18, 2014 

The executive summary of a nearly 7,000 page report into the C.I.A.’s Detention and Interrogation program under the Bush administration confirmed not only what has long been public knowledge – that America did, in fact, engage in torture – but also revealed that, despite an aggressive PR blitz extolling the virtues of its interrogation program, the C.I.A. knew full well the “enhanced” techniques had failed.

Not only was it ineffective; it was counter-productive, just as it had proven to be in the late 1950s, early 1960s and again in the 1980s, as Richard Stolz, chief of the clandestine service under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, testified to Congress: “Physical abuse or other degrading treatment was rejected not only because it is wrong, but because it has historically proven to be ineffective.”

Yet, as the Senate’s report reveals, just weeks after 9/11, C.I.A. lawyers prepared a draft memorandum regarding hostile interrogations, noting “a policy decision must be made with regard to U.S. use of torture.”

“States may be unwilling to call the U.S. to task for torture when it resulted in saving thousands of lives … C.I.A. could argue torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm.”

The resulting torture program – not my definition, mind you; despite officials’ attempts to sanitize the term, first referring to “enhanced interrogation techniques”, now further reduced to the innocuous “EIT” acronym, torture is the C.I.A.’s own definition – as described in the report, wasn’t devised out of necessity, it was borne out revenge, modelled after methods intended to yield false confessions, and developed by a pair of retired Air Force psychologists, neither of whom “had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of Al Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.”

One of the two psychologists, in an interview with Vice News following the report’s release, conceded the committee’s conclusion that torture failed to result in actionable intelligence. According to Dr. James Mitchell, his methods were only meant “to facilitate getting actionable intelligence by making a bad cop that was bad enough that the person would engage with the good cop.”

“I would be stunned,” said Mitchell, “if they found any kind of evidence that EITs, as they were being applied, yielded actionable intelligence.”

The extent of the torture, the full scope of the program’s depravity went far beyond what had been previously known, as the report painstakingly documents: Waterboarding so frequent, a detainee so broken, that “when the interrogator ‘raised his eyebrow,’ without instructions, ‘(detainee) slowly walked on his own to the water table and sat down … when the interrogator snapped his fingers twice, (detainee) would lie flat on the waterboard,” prepared for torture.

Sexual assault under the guise of “reverse sustenance” as a means of exerting “total control over the detainee”; sodomy so frequent and/or forceful it resulted in a torn anus and dislodged intestine.

Mock burials and executions, games of Russian Roulette; Threats to rape or murder family members; Torture even if a detainee agreed to fully cooperate.

Wrongful detention and torture of innocents — some of whom were the C.I.A.’s own informants, another whom was tortured to death.

The torture proved so extreme some C.I.A. personnel attempted to halt the techniques; others reached “the point of tears.” When officers questioned the program, they were “strongly (urged)” by then-head of the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Centre Jose Rodriguez, “that any speculative language as to the legality of given activities or, more precisely, judgment calls as to their legality vis-à-vis operational guidelines for this activity agreed upon and vetted at the most senior levels of the agency, be refrained from,” as “such language is not helpful.”

As for the C.I.A.’s “most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism successes” attributed to torture, the report dismantles them all. From the identification and capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the tracking down and killing of Osama Bin Laden, all quality, actionable information was gathered through conventional means prior to the ‘enhanced’ methods.

One instance where torture did produce ‘actionable’, though entirely fabricated, information: Establishing a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, including those notorious WMDs.

This bogus admission was later recanted after the detainee admitted he’d only told the interrogators what he “assessed they wanted to hear” to end the torture. But that false intelligence nevertheless made its way to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell – who, the report notes, was kept in the dark about the C.I.A.’s program over fears he’d “blow his stack” – and was cited in Powell’s U.N. speech to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Perhaps that’s why former Vice President Dick Cheney insists – facts be damned – that torture worked; why he shrugs at the notion of an innocent man tortured to death; why rape is no longer an abhorrent weapon of war when given a euphemism and committed by Americans.

Why he – a man who sought and received five draft deferments, thus successfully avoiding military service – feels he is more knowledgable on the matter than fellow Republican John McCain, a man who served his country honourably and, as a prisoner of war, endured the brutality of his captors.

A man who, in response to the torture report, delivered a remarkable address:

“In the end,” McCain argued, “torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, rather than seeking justice, those in power sought revenge, and in doing so found themselves both financially and morally bankrupt. The wounds terrorism inflicted on America were deep, but it’s those which were self-inflicted that continue to do damage.

Until Republicans choose to be the party of McCain rather than the party of Cheney, those wounds will never heal.

9/11 – A Decade Later

Take this opportunity to educate yourself of the facts surrounding the rise of Radical Islam, Neo-Conservatism, and the Politics of Fear. It may change the way you view the attacks of September 11, the subsequent “war on terror,” and the never-ending wars in the Middle East.

For those largely unfamiliar American Politics, you’ll be surprised to learn how long notorious figures of the George W.Bush administration, namely Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, have been on the political scene.

The BBC Documentary Series: The Power Of Nightmares 

Part 1 –  “Baby it’s Cold Outside“

Part 2 –  “The Phantom Victory”

Part 3 – “The Shadows in the Cave”

Summary/explainer courtesy of CBC’s The Passionate Eye:

Part 1 – Baby It’s Cold Outside

Sayyed Qutb: Father of Radical Islam
In the 1950s Sayyed Qutb, an Egyptian civil servant was sent to the U.S. to learn about its public education system. As he traveled around the county, Qutb became increasingly disgusted by what he felt was the selfish and materialistic nature of American life.

When he returned to Egypt, Qutb turned into a revolutionary. Determined to find some way to control the forces of selfish individualism that he saw in America, he envisioned an Arab society where Islam would play a more central role. He became an influential spokesperson in the Muslim Brotherhood but was jailed after some of its members attempted to assassinate Egyptian President Nasser.

In prison a more radical Qutb wrote several books which argued that extreme measures, including deception and even violence, could be justified in an effort to restore shared moral values to society. He was executed in 1966 for treason in Egypt. But his ideas lived on and formed the basis of the radical Islamist movement.

Leo Strauss: A Neo-Conservative
At the same time Leo Strauss, an American professor of political philosophy, also came to see western liberalism as corrosive to morality and to society. Like Qutb, Strauss believed that individual freedoms threatened to tear apart the values which held society together. He taught his students that politicians should assert powerful and inspiring myths – like religion or the myth of the nation – that everyone could believe in.

A group of young students, including Paul Wolfowitz, Francis Fukuyama and William Kristol studied Strauss’ ideas and formed a loose group in Washington which became known as the neo-conservatives. They set out to create a myth of America as a unique nation whose destiny was to battle against evil in the world.

Both Qutb and Strauss were idealists whose ideas were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world. The two movements they inspired set out, in their different ways, to rescue their societies from this decay.

Two Movements
By creating an alliance with the growing Christian fundamentalist movement in America the neo-conservatives rose to power during the Reagan administration. Senior American civil servants and politicians came to believe their view that the Soviet Union was an evil force against which the U.S. should be presented as a force for good.

The neo-conservatives turned to fear in order to pursue their vision and created a hidden network of evil run by the Soviet Union that only they could see. They used anti-communist propaganda which included Donald Rumsfeld’s over-estimation of Soviet military technology and the William Casey led CIA assertion that various terrorist organizations were backed by the Soviet Union to further their cause.

At the same time, the Islamists faced a refusal of the masses to follow their dream and began to turn to terror to force the people to “see the truth”. Underground Islamic leaders like Ayman Zawahiri, who would become a mentor to Osama bin Laden, ordered the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in an attempt to shock the masses into seeing their version of reality.

Afghanistan: A Battleground 

In 1979, Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan. War in this remote country marked the beginning of key battleground in the Cold War and an extraordinary alliance between radical Islamists in Afghanistan and around the world and the neo-conservatives in the U.S.

Washington provided money and arms including Stinger missiles capable of shooting down Soviet helicopters. But it was Islamic Mujahideen fighters who would fire them. Among the many radical Islamists drawn to Afghanistan was a young, wealthy Saudi called Osama Bin Laden. Long before 9/11, he was seen by neo-conservatives in Washington as one of their foot soldiers, helping fight America’s cause.

After nearly 10 years of fighting, Soviet troops pulled out of Afghanistan and shortly afterwards, their own government collapsed.

Both the neo-conservatives and the Islamists believed that it is they who defeated the “evil empire” and now had the power to transform the world.

Part 2 –  The Phantom Victory

The neo-conservatives – determined to push on with their agenda – were convinced that there were other evil regimes that needed to be conquered in order to spread democracy. So they turned their focus to Saddam Hussein, who had just invaded Kuwait. But at the end of the first Gulf War, President Reagan was not in power and the neo-conservatives no longer had a leader that shared their vision. Once Kuwait was secured, President George HW Bush called a halt to the fighting.

The neo-conservatives turned to the religious right and began a campaign to bring moral and religious issues back into the center of conservative politics. And they invented a new enemy, Bill Clinton, focusing on the scandal surrounding him and Monica Lewinsky.

Meanwhile, the Islamists descended into a cycle of violence and terror to persuade people to follow them. They launched attacks against the leaders of the Arab world – in Egypt and Algeria – to overthrow what they believed were corrupt regimes. Then they began using bloody terrorist attacks to shock ordinary people into rising up.

But both groups failed in their revolutions. The neo-conservatives did not succeed in their attempt to impeach Bill Clinton because polls showed that Americans simply didn’t care about the moral issues involved. And the Islamists – lacking the popular support to topple regimes across the Arab world – returned to Afghanistan.

Defeated, the Islamists formed a new strategy. In the late 1990s Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and a follower of Sayyid Qutb, paid the Taliban to allow them to recruit and train Islamist fighters for attacks on a new enemy – the U.S. The new jihad would be against the source of corruption itself.

Zawahiri and bin Laden began to implement their new strategy in the late 90’s. Suicide bombings outside American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania attracted the attention of the West. And the neo-conservatives now had a new phantom enemy.

Then bin Laden funded a plan first proposed by an Islamic militant, Khalid Sheik Mohammed. On September 11th, 2001 19 hijackers brought down the World Trade Center, killed thousands of Americans and shocked the world.

But the attacks had another dramatic effect: they brought the neo-conservative agenda back into the forefront.

Part 3 – The Shadows in the Cave

In the wake of the shock and panic created by the devastating attack on the World Trade Center, the neo-conservatives reconstructed the radical Islamists in the image of their last evil enemy, the Soviet Union.

They created a sinister web of terror run by Osama bin Laden from his lair in Afghanistan. And they were able to convince George W. Bush to begin a “War on Terror”.

The war in Afghanistan removed bin Laden’s main source of recruits, but the U.S. military and the Northern Alliance also captured and killed many people in the Taliban camps that had nothing to do with bin Laden’s goal.

The story circulated that bin Laden and the core of al-Qaeda had retreated to a complex in Tora Bora, but an exhaustive search revealed no sign of an underground fortress.

The arrests of various groups of suspected terrorists in the U.S. following the September 11 attacks failed to find any substantial evidence of terrorist sleeper cells. Similarly, in the UK, arrests under new terrorism laws have resulted in only three convictions of Islamists, all for fundraising or possessing Islamist literature.

Much of the media coverage of potential terrorist attacks also became highly speculative and sensational. There were reports that al-Qaeda was poised to use a radiological weapon, referred to as a “dirty bomb”, which would kill thousands of people. But nuclear scientists argued that this was a false threat. They said that a “dirty bomb” wouldn’t kill many people from fallout because the radioactive material would be spread thinly by any explosion.

Still, the neo-conservatives had found they could use the threat of Islamist terrorism and claimed that they had found hidden links between al-Qaeda and their old enemy, Saddam Hussein. Iraq became an important enemy against which to unite the U.S., and other politicians such as Tony Blair who wanted to play an important role in protecting their countries from attack.

Politicians and counter-terrorist agents have decided that they must be pro-active in imagining the worst possible attacks and in stopping those who seem likely to carry out attacks. They are convinced that it’s the only way to save the world from a looming catastrophe.

Further viewing: 2011 Maddow/Engel Documentary – Day Of Destruction, Decade of War 

Great reads:

This Is What War Looks Like – The aftermath of the 9/11 attacks took photojournalist Kate Brooks to Afghanistan and Pakistan to cover the fall of the Taliban.

Those Who Face Death  – Photojournalist Kate Brooks spent the decade after 9/11 photographing the U.S. military struggles and political upheaval in the Greater Middle East. The following collection is from her time in Iraq in 2003-2004.

Fareed Zakaria –  Reflections on 9/11 and its aftermath
Juan Cole – A tale of two Afghan Leaders, before and after 9/11
Noam Chomsky The Imperial Mentality and 9/11
Foreign Policy Mag The Black Hole of 9/11
A Television News Archive – Understanding 9/11
Foreign Policy MagThe 9/11 Anniversary Reader: FAIL edition
Foreign Policy Mag9/11 from Arab Shores
Globe & Mail – The Muslim world’s 9/11 generation emerges from a long shadow 
Al Jazeera – The Decade of 9/11: war without end
SlateTrutherism 2011: The Rise and Fall of the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory
Doug Saunders – Al-Qaeda’s zealots of yesteryear turning to politics, democracy
The Nation – The Years Since 9/11: A Lost Decade
Mother Jones – Patriot Acts
Paul KrugmanThe Years of Shame 
The AtlanticThe Soldier and the Rap Star: A Tale of Two Post-9/11 Students 
Michael Ignatieff9/11 and the age of sovereign failure 
Daily Mail UKThe 9/11 victims America Wants To Forget – the 200 jumpers who’ve been ‘airbrushed from history’
Alternet“I Stayed to Fight” — Being a Muslim Immigrant in Post 9/11 America 
ReutersDecade after 9/11, Afghans languish in Pakistan 
The Independent9/11 lost decade: The American dream, and the missing years 
Reuters – Iraq: Victim or beneficiary of September 11 attacks?
Washington PostPublic sees wars in Iraq, Afghanistan as least effective means of reducing terrorism 
New York TimesOne 9/11 tally – 3.3 Trillion 


On TV:

National Geographic Channel – 9/11 and the American Dream  (Phenominal footage of the day’s events)
Raw Story – Paul Simon performs ‘The Sound of Silence’ at Ground Zero

Sounds:

Eminem – Mosh

Child Soldiers: The Other Taliban and Al-Qaeda Militants

A poignant reality of contemporary conflicts is that increasingly children are being used as cheap and readily available weapons of war. From Colombia to Sri Lanka, from Sierra Leone to Uganda, thousands of children have been used in armed conflict situations. In Afghanistan, our forces are seeing the increasing use of children in combat operations, including as suicide bombers.” ~  Senator Roméo A. Dallaire – Retired Lieutenant General and former commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) & Ishmael Beah – Former child soldier, author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier and a UNICEF representative from Sierra Leone, August 18, 2010.

In the city of Peshawar, situated along Northwest Pakistan’s tribal area, lies Kachegori – one of the makeshift camps erected to house nearly one million citizens displaced by warring between the Taliban and the Pakistani Army.

More than 15,000 children call Kachegori Camp home, including Wasifullah and Abdurrahman who, in an interview with Frontline correspondent Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, call themselves best friends.

However, despite their shared interests and deep camaraderie, the boys hold opposing views on who’s to blame for the bombings and missile attacks that destroyed their village.

Wasifullah describes finding his 12 year old cousin among the 80 civilians who were killed by an American missile attack.

“His body was being eaten by dogs,” Wasifullah says, his face void of any emotion. “We brought his remains home in bags, [but] we could only find his legs, so we buried [his legs] in our village.”

Obaid-Chinoy notes that although American missile strikes “target the Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders,” they inevitably kill civilians, adding that militants “are quick to make use of the destruction [which] becomes recruitment rally for the Taliban.”

When asked what he aspires to become in the future, Wasifullah replies “God willing, I will join the Taliban.”

In what some ways represents the burgeoning civil war within Pakistan, Wasifullah’s best friend Abdurrahman believes it’s the Taliban who are responsible for the destruction.

When asked what he believes the future hold for him, Abdurrahman replies he’d like “to be a Captain … in the Pakistani Army and kill all the terrorists in Pakistan.”

When confronted with the notion of the two boys meeting in battle, Obaid-Chinoy inquires whether each youngster would be willing to take the life of his best friend.

“Yes,” replies Abdurrahman, the future captain of the Pakistani Army. “If [Wasifullah] is attacking the army, I will retaliate fiercely.”

“Definitely,” counters Wasifullah, the prospective Taliban militant. “If [Abdurrahman] does wrong, I will fight him.”

Displaced, discontented and disconcerted, Wasifullah and Abdurrahman are eager to take up arms and fight against those whom they perceive to be the cause of the growing strife within Pakistan.

Which side of the fight each boy finds himself on, however, largely depends on which side of the battle is first to recruit him.

Looking South to Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, where the slums have become “a recruiting ground for the next generation of Taliban fighters,” it’s easy to see what becomes of boys like Wasifullah and Abdurrahman.

With nowhere else to go, impoverished children are invited to study at talibanized madrassas. They receive free food and shelter in exchange for their unwavering commitment to learning a bastardized interpretation of the Koran – spending hours rocking back and forth ‘reading’ from a book “written in Arabic, a language they don’t understand.”

It is here they are indoctrinated with the teachings of the Taliban, and of Sharia Law.

“Women are meant for domestic care, and that’s what they should do,” explains Shaheed, a 14 year old madrassa student whose name literally translates as ‘martyr’.

“Sharia Law says it, so why are women wandering around? The government should forbid women and girls from wandering around outside. Just like the government banned plastic bags – no one uses them anymore – we should do the same with women.”

When asked by Obaid-Chinoy what he’ll do after he graduates, Shaheed says he’ll join the Taliban and fully intends to “support them in their war.”

Taking it one step further, Shaheed says he’d ‘love to’ become a suicide bomber, “[because] when I look at suicide bombers younger than me, or my age, I get so inspired by their terrific attacks.”

This sentiment is echoed by Shaheed’s teacher, who jovially tells the Frontline reporter that war is “in our blood.”

“No matter how many Muslims die, we will never run out of sacrificial lambs [children] … [who] consider this an opportunity to achieve martyrdom. Someone who sees death as a blessing — who can defeat him?”

Qari Abdullah is the Taliban leader personally responsible for recruiting children to carry out suicide bombing operations. Abdullah was himself educated in a radicalized madrassa, and as a child was recruited to fight in Afghanistan.

Explaining in detail how he grooms children – some as young as 5 years of age – for a future with the Taliban, Abdullah tells Obaid-Chinoy:

“The kids want to join us because they like our weapons. They don’t use weapons to begin with, they just carry them for us – and off we go. They follow us because they’re just small kids.”

When asked if he thinks it’s wrong to use children for suicide attacks, Abdullah doesn’t flinch.

“If you are fighting, then God provides you with the means. Children are tools to achieve Gods will, and whatever comes your way, you sacrifice it. So it’s fine”

Youngsters who’ve been ‘sacrificed’ often appear in Taliban recruitment videos; Their loyalties are showcased, their final deeds glorified, their pledge to martyrdom chanted in a disturbing lullaby:

If you try to find me / after I have died / you will never find my whole body. / You will find me in tiny little pieces.

Three boys featured in a Taliban propaganda video are Zenola, Sadic, and Mehsud; all three recruits became child suicide bombers who killed six, twenty-two, and twenty-eight respectively.

Wasifullah, Abdurrahman, Shaheed, Zenola, Sadic, and Mehsud – these are The Children of the Taliban: Youngsters who are impoverished from birth, displaced by war, plucked from obscurity, indoctrinated by militants, and ultimately, recruited for terrorism.

They are brought up to believe they’ll be carrying out Gods will; that martyrdom will deliver them eternal salvation.

The indoctrination and recruitment of the Children of the Taliban, in many ways, mirrors the indoctrination and recruitment of Omar Khadr – the Child of Al-Qaeda.

Khadr, a Canadian citizen who, at 15 years of age, was seized by U.S. forces in Afghanistan following an intense firefight, was by every definition a child soldier.

Indoctrinated by his father Ahmed Said Khadr, a senior member of Al-Qaeda, and raised along side the Bin Laden family, Khadr was quite literally Al-Qaeda’s child; a “sacrificial lamb;” a “tool to achieve God’s will.”

Following his capture, however, Khadr became a tool to achieve the Bush Administration’s will; a sacrificial lamb for the Bush/Cheney ‘War on Terror.’

In a 2010 episode of Doc Zone entitled The U.S. vs Omar Khadr, CBC documents the questionable case against, and unjust prosecution of, Khadr; a situation Senator Roméo Dallaire (Lieutenant General, Ret’d) warned of three years earlier:

Canadians must realize by now that the [Harper] government’s cynicism toward Omar Khadr’s tragic predicament reflects an unacceptable moral position. We are permitting the United States to try a Canadian child soldier using a military tribunal whose procedures violate basic principles of justice […]

In recent years, we have heard troubling facts about Guantanamo Bay and incontrovertible evidence of U.S. malfeasance.

In July, 2006, the United Nations called for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, terming the indefinite detention of individuals without a charge “a violation of the convention against torture.” Two months later, more than 600 U.S. legal scholars and jurists called on Congress not to enact the Military Commissions Act of 2006, as it would rob detainees of fundamental protections provided by domestic and international law.

This act allows prosecutors to use evidence gleaned from abusive interrogations, including coercion and torture. The commissions also sabotage individuals’ ability to defend themselves by barring access to exculpatory evidence known to the U.S. government. In Mr. Khadr’s case, documents to be used as evidence for war-crimes charges, laid in February, 2007, have been altered.

Furthermore, Dallaire detailed the global ramifications of prosecuting Khadr, a child soldier, as an adult:

Within the international community, Canada is viewed as gullible for allowing one its citizens to be processed by an illegal tribunal system at Guantanamo, and as hypocritical for quietly acceding to the first ever child-soldier war-crimes prosecution.

Canada’s inaction has profound ramifications. The UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, says Khadr’s prosecution sets a hazardous precedent in international law, which will endanger child soldiers in conflict zones. The impunity enjoyed by the real criminals – those who have recruited child soldiers – continues to the detriment of real victims: the thousands of child soldiers around the world.

Militants throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan are recruiting child soldiers at record pace, using them to monitor the movement of NATO forces to ensure the insurgents’ attacks have maximum impact; Relegating to them the risky assignment of assembling and planting IED’s and land-mines; Arming them with high-tech weaponry and sending them into battle.

As the NATO mission in Afghanistan extends to 2014 and beyond, it’s only a matter of time before soldiers are faced with another ‘Omar Khadr;’ a child in the heart of the battle fighting alongside the either the Taliban or Al-Qaeda.

When that time comes, what will NATO’s response be? Will soldiers turn a blind eye to the thousands of youngsters planting IED’s and land-mines? Will child soldiers who engage in armed combat simply be slaughtered alongside those who recruited them? If apprehended, will adolescents follow theprecedent set by the Khadr prosecution, and be arrested, tried, and convicted of war crimes?

It’s time for NATO to live up to it’s international obligations and adhere to the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and “[recognize] the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities … [and] of the need [for] the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.”

NATO cannot expect to achieve any lasting progress against either the Taliban or Al-Qaeda unless they’re fully prepared to focus, not on the prosecution, but the treatment and rehabilitation of the youngest generation of militant recruits.

Because ultimately, it’s with this generation of children in the Middle East on which the future stability of the entire region rests.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

Watch the documentary, Children of the Taliban.

The Crisis In Gaza — An International Tipping Point

If, and as long as between the Jordan and the sea, there is only one political entity, named Israel, it will end up being either non-Jewish or non-democratic… If the Palestinians vote in elections, it is a binational state, and if they don’t, it is an apartheid state. – Ehud Barak

This sentiment expressed by Israel’s former Prime Minister and current Defence minister Barak provides ammunition to those who refer to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and the resulting humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as Israeli Apartheid. In 2008, the BBC reported that little more than basic humanitarian aid had been permitted to enter the Gaza Strip by the Israeli government. In recent years the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip has intensified further, leaving an estimated 1.5 million residents of the coastal territory in a state of abject poverty. The plight of the people of Gaza further deteriorated following the December 2008- January 2009 Gaza war.

The military assault on the Gaza Strip by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) completely devastated the region, the U.N. World Food program noting “it was precisely the strategic economic areas that Gaza depends on to relieve its dependency on aid that were wiped out.” A similar assessment was given by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights which found “it was obvious that IDF intended to erase any civilization features in the Gaza Strip. They deliberately and systematically destroyed the entire vital facilities to make Gaza go decades back.”

The Goldstone Report, an independent U.N. investigation into the Gaza conflict, concluded that Israel’s military operation was “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population.”

As a direct result of this ‘Israeli Apartheid’, Gaza remains in a state of ruin, A 2009 Red Cross report concluding Israel’s blockade is ‘strangling’ the economy, and preventing reconstruction efforts, warning “Gaza neighbourhoods particularly hard hit by the Israeli strikes will continue to look like the epicenter of a massive earthquake unless vast quantities of cement, steel and other building materials are allowed into the territory for reconstruction.”

As Israel continues to resist international calls to lift the blockade, the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip grows increasingly dire. This is precisely the reason a fleet of ships called dubbed Freedom Flotillas set out to defy the blockade; seeking to deliver tens of thousands of tonnes of food, medicine and reconstruction materials directly to the people of Gaza.

While they expected to meet resistance, no one could have predicted the bloody assault by the IDF on the Turkish flagged ship, the Mavi Marmara. So egregious were the actions of the Israeli government, so disproportionate was the use of force, a major in the IDF reserves felt the need to pen a scathing op-ed, declaring “the events off the shores of Gaza last week, in which Israeli commandos stormed a blockade-busting aid ship and killed nine activists, were a painful reminder that I also belong to a class of Israelis that is deeply concerned about the direction of our country. Increasingly, our conflict with the Palestinians is separating us, not only from our moral faculties, but also from the rest of our senses.”

The U.N. Security Council condemned the actions of the IDF and called for “a full investigation into the matter and … a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.”

The request for an independent investigation was immediately rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who attributes the international condemnation he’s facing to rampant anti-semitism, claiming “the State of Israel faces an attack of international hypocrisy.”

However, past events reveal that the true hypocrisy rests with Israel.

In his article Echoes of Raid on ‘Exodus’ Ship in 1947, Robert Mackey reports on the “parallels between Monday’s killing of pro-Palestinian activists by Israel’s military in international waters, as commandos intercepted a flotilla of ships trying to break the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza, and a seminal event in the Jewish struggle for an independent homeland.” Mackey includes an obituary of the captain of the Exodus 1947, adding “the violent way the British Navy seized that ship and deported the refugees backfired, creating global sympathy for the plight of stateless Jews.”

The obituary reads, in part:

“The refugees had no legal authority to enter Palestine, and the British were determined to block the ship. In the battle that ensued, three Jews aboard the Exodus were killed. The ship’s passengers – more than 4,500 men, women and children – were ultimately deported to Germany.

The attack and its aftermath, which focused attention on the plight of many European Jews after the war, made headlines worldwide and helped marshal support for an Israeli state. […]

Captain Ahronovitch was 23 when he took the helm of the Exodus. On July 11, 1947, he picked up the refugees at Sète, in southern France. On July 18, as the ship neared the coast of Palestine, the British Navy intercepted it. Captain Ahronovitch tried to break through, but two British destroyers rammed the ship.

Several hours of fighting followed, with the ship’s passengers spraying fuel oil and throwing smoke bombs, life rafts and whatever else came to hand, down on the British sailors trying to board, The Times reported at the time. Soon the British opened fire. Two immigrants and a crewman on the Exodus were killed; scores more were wounded, many seriously. The ship was towed to Haifa, and from there its passengers were deported, first to France and eventually to Germany, where they were placed in camps near Lübeck.”

Mackey also cites the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, whose records state “large protests erupted on both sides of the Atlantic. The ensuing public embarrassment for Britain played a significant role in the diplomatic swing of sympathy toward the Jews and the eventual recognition of a Jewish state in 1948.”

Israel’s self-righteous outrage extends to the massive public relations strategy it undertook following the massacre on the Mavi Marmara. In his article How Israeli propaganda shaped U.S. media coverage of the flotilla attack, Glenn Greenwald notes “it was clear from the moment news of the flotilla attack emerged, that Israel was taking extreme steps to suppress all evidence about what happened” to prevent reports which undoubtedly would contradict it’s own version of events.

As passengers and journalists return home and detail their their experiences aboard the IDF raided ship, Israel’s account of what happened continues to unravel.

Autopsy reports of nine Turkish men killed by the IDF on the Mavi Marmara conclude the nine men were shot a total of 30 times, five of whom were killed by gunshot wounds to the head. This contradicts Israeli assertions the IDF fired in ‘self defence.’

A detailed Guardian account of the autopsy’s states “a 60-year-old man, Ibrahim Bilgen, was shot four times in the temple, chest, hip and back. A 19-year-old, named as Fulkan Dogan, who also has US citizenship, was shot five times from less than 45cm, in the face, in the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back. Two other men were shot four times, and five of the victims were shot either in the back of the head or in the back.”

Award-winning journalist Man Blumenthal has also been hard at work debunking Israel’s propaganda, exposing outrageously doctored audio released by IDF, “which purports to show flotilla passengers telling the IDF to ‘go back to Auschwitz’.” Caught red handed, Blumenthal further reports on the non-clairification clarification made by the IDF, revealing the lengths the Israeli government will go to in an effort to garner international sympathy.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is once again calling for an end to the Israeli blockade, proclaiming “had the Israeli government heeded to international calls and my own strong and urgent and persistent call to lift the blockade of Gaza, this would not have happened.” There are also reports that Moon will move forward with an independent investigation of Israel’s raid the Gaza bound ship, despite the refusal of Israeli Prime Minister Netenyahu.

It’s important that the international community support the actions called for by Moon. Moreover, it’s imperative that the United States, Canada, and other enablers of Israeli Apartheid recognize their role in creating the international crisis.

Mark LeVine, a professor of history at UC Irvine, equates the ‘friendship’ between the United States and Israel to the relationship a drug dealer has with an addict. “We ‘defend’ Israel from every criticism – ‘No! It doesn’t have a problem!’ ‘It’s the only democracy in the region!’ ‘We stand with Israel!’ … The occupation (of Gaza) has been an act of sheer brutality for decades. What has happened in Gaza the US and the world community have allowed to happen.”

An editorial in The Nation details the role the international community played in creating the crisis in Gaza:

“The attack on the Freedom Flotilla is the culmination of more than four years of failed policy, in which a siege has been imposed on the entire population of Gaza in an attempt to weaken and isolate Hamas after its victory in the 2006 parliamentary elections. Israel does not bear sole responsibility for an unjust blockade that also undermines its own long-term security; indeed, the policy was jointly crafted and executed with the United States and has enjoyed the collusion of the European Union, Egypt and even the Fatah wing of the Palestinian Authority.

The effects of this policy on the people of Gaza have been devastating. According to various UN agencies, the formal economy has collapsed. More than 60 percent of the people are food insecure, and nearly 80 percent depend on the UN for sustenance, with rising levels of malnutrition. The destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure has been comprehensive, with the reduction in electricity supply damaging food production and storage and dangerously limiting access to safe drinking water. The blockade has prevented all but minimal repair of the damage from Israel’s 2008-09 military assault; thousands are still displaced from their homes.”

One distinguished voice to propose a solution for the stalemate in the Middle East comes from Zbigniew Brzezinski, the United States National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter. Brzezinski, who played a key role in the attainment of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, offers an historical comparison followed by a four step plan to achieving stability between Israel and Palestine.

“More than three decades ago, Israeli statesman Moshe Dayan, speaking about an Egyptian town that controlled Israel’s only outlet to the Red Sea, declared that he would rather have Sharm el-Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm el-Sheikh. Had his views prevailed, Israel and Egypt would still be in a state of war. Today, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, with his pronouncements about the eternal and undivided capital of Israel, is conveying an updated version of Dayan’s credo — that he would rather have all of Jerusalem without peace than peace without all of Jerusalem. […]

First, a solution to the refugee problem involving compensation and resettlement in the Palestinian state but not in Israel. This is a bitter pill for the Palestinians, but Israel cannot be expected to commit political suicide for the sake of peace.

Second, genuine sharing of Jerusalem as the capital of each state, and some international arrangement for the Old City. This is a bitter pill for the Israelis, for it means accepting that the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem will become the capital of Palestine.

Third, a territorial settlement based on the 1967 borders, with mutual and equal adjustments to allow the incorporation of the largest West Bank settlements into Israel.

And fourth, a demilitarized Palestinian state with U.S. or NATO troops along the Jordan River to provide Israel greater security.

Most of these parameters have been endorsed in the Arab peace plan of 2002 and by the Quartet. And the essential elements have also been embraced by (Ehud) Barak and another former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

Some believe a tipping point was reached when the IDF descended on the Mavi Marmara, slaughtering activists who’s sole intention was to provide relieve the suffering of those in Gaza living under siege. The international community can no longer look the other way when the Israeli government violates international law. It can no longer allow Israel to operate under a separate set of rules when it comes to Middle East policies.

As Bradley Burston of Haaretz puts it, “We were determined to avoid an honest look at the first Gaza war. Now, in international waters and having opened fire on an international group of humanitarian aid workers and activists, we are fighting and losing the second. For Israel, in the end, this Second Gaza War could be far more costly and painful than the first … We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege, which is itself becoming Israel’s Vietnam.”

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

A Landmark Decision, A Democratic Victory

In a historic decision regarding the battle for access to documents on Afghan detainees, Speaker of the House Peter Milliken ruled in favour of the opposition, reaffirming the notion that Parliament reigns supreme over the powers of Prime Minister and the Federal Government.

“Before us are issues that question the very foundations upon which our parliamentary system is built,” Milliken asserted. “In a system of responsible government, the fundamental right of the House of Commons to hold the government to account for its actions is an indisputable privilege and, in fact, obligation.”

This was precisely the argument opposition MPs had made in their attempts to obtain uncensored documents containing key information on the reported abuse and torture of Afghan detainees. In December 2009, the three opposition parties unanimously passed a Commons motion which demanded the Harper government provide them access to the confidential detainee files believed to reveal government knowledge of torture. After months of stonewalling by the Conservatives, as well as the Prime Minister’s adamant refusal to comply with the December motion, the opposition raised the question of privilege with the Speaker of the House, calling for the government to be held in contempt.

Milliken was tasked with wading through the debate, and in an unprecedented ruling, found the Harper government had violated parliamentary privilege and overstepped their powers in their handling of the request for unredacted documents.

“It is the view of the chair,” stated Milliken “that accepting an unconditional authority of the executive to censor the information provided to Parliament would in fact jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of our parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts. Furthermore, it risks diminishing the inherent privileges of the House and its members, which have been earned and must be safeguarded. Therefore, the chair must conclude that it is perfectly within the existing privileges of the House to order production of the documents in question.”

On the decision by Harper to thwart the opposition’s motion by appointing former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci to independently review the documents, Milliken had this to say:

“The (Harper) government has argued that in mandating this review by Mr. Iacobucci, it was taking steps to comply with the Order consistent with its requirements to protect the security of Canada’s armed forces and Canada’s international obligations. However, several Members have pointed out that Mr. Iacobucci’s appointment establishes a separate, parallel process outside of parliamentary oversight, and without parliamentary involvement. Furthermore, and in my view perhaps most significantly, Mr. Iacobucci reports to the Minister of Justice; his client is the (Harper) government.”

In a telling observation, the Speaker addressed accusations coming from the Conservative caucus that granting opposition MPs access to confidential information somehow posed a threat to national security.

“There have been assertions,” noted Milliken “that colleagues in the House are not sufficiently trustworthy to be given confidential information, even with appropriate security safeguards in place. I find such comments troubling. The insinuation that Members of Parliament cannot be trusted with the very information that they may well require to act on behalf of Canadians runs contrary to the inherent trust that Canadians have placed in their elected officials and which Members require to act in their various parliamentary capacities … from the submissions I have heard, it is evident to the Chair that all Members take seriously the sensitive nature of these documents and the need to protect the confidential information they contain.”

Milliken called for co-operation from all parties involved, and though he acknowledged “finding common ground will be difficult,” he urged them to work together to find a solution to the ongoing stalemate.

“Now, it seems to me, that the issue before us is this: is it possible to put into place a mechanism by which these documents could be made available to the House without compromising the security and confidentiality of the information they contain? In other words, is it possible for the two sides, working together in the best interest of the Canadians they serve, to devise a means where both their concerns are met? Surely that is not too much to hope for.”

“But the fact remains that the House and the Government have, essentially, an unbroken record of some 140 years of collaboration and accommodation in cases of this kind. It seems to me that it would be a signal failure for us to see that record shattered in the Third Session of the Fortieth Parliament because we lacked the will or the wit to find a solution to this impasse.
The House has long understood the role of the Government as ‘defender of the realm’ and its heavy responsibilities in matters of security, national defence and international relations. Similarly, the Government understands the House’s undoubted role as the ‘grand inquest of the nation’ and its need for complete and accurate information in order to fulfill its duty of holding the Government to account.”

In granting the Government and the opposition fourteen days to break the current impasse, Milliken warned “if in two weeks’ time, the matter is still not resolved, the Chair will return to make a statement on the motion that will be allowed in the circumstances.”

Having provided a thorough analysis of the events which played out over the past year, explaining in depth the reasoning behind his decision, Milliken rendered his verdict on the conduct of the Prime Minister and the Conservative government.

“Accordingly,” ruled Milliken “on analyzing the evidence before it and the precedents, the chair cannot but conclude that the government’s failure to comply with the order of December 10, 2009 constitutes prima facie a question of privilege.”

Somewhere in the span of his 45 minute address, the Speaker of the House reignited the flame of democracy that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had all but extinguished. Members of the opposition applauded Milliken for his hard work and dedication concerning the matter, and political observers celebrated a rare victory for transparency and accountability in the ‘culture of deceit‘ that embodies the Harper government.

There is much work yet to be done, and it will take an honest effort from all parties involved to agree on a course of action from which to proceed. Nevertheless, with the balance of power between Members of Parliament and the Federal Government restored, Milliken’s decision was an unequivocal victory for democracy in Canada.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

These are some of the redacted documents which, until now, have been the only form of documents released to members of the opposition by the Harper government.