Archive for April, 2007

Canadian child in the dock at Guantanamo show trials

While mistreatment of Afghan detainees has made the news this week, a Toronto-born Canadian is about to be put on trial by a U.S. military kangaroo court at the notorious Guantanamo prison camp for “crimes” he committed as an “illegal combatant” between the ages of 10 and 15.

More and more citizens of the world’s democracies are speaking out loudly against the “Guantanamo gulag” and the so-called “military tribunals” as flagrant violations of international law, human rights, and the Convention on Torture. The U.S. Administration stubbornly flouts the rule of law in the name of the “war on terror” (grammatical aside: how do you make war on a noun?), and many human rights advocates are asking whether the war is not against terrorism but against justice.  

But more compelling for the average Canadian are the brutal facts of one particular case, published this week by Amnesty International. Nineteen-year-old  Mr. Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen born in Canada was captured by American Forces in Afghanistan in July 2002. Even though a child of 15 at the time, he was sent to Guantanamo, where he was held under appalling conditions. He was refused pain medications for his wounds. A bag was placed over his head and guard dogs let loose in his cell. He was immersed in ice water. His hands were tied above a door frame where he dangled for hours. His pleas to use the toilet were denied until he urinated on himself. He was frequently held in isolation for more than a month. He was beaten by guards and partially throttled by a hand on his neck, then lifted up by his neck while shacked and dropped to the ground. Still a child, he was threatened with rape and torture. 

Conditions like this would, I think, reduce many of us to whimpering wrecks. But Omar didn’t break. He joined dozens of other prisoners in hunger strike. My physician friends tell me that a hunger strike is extremely dangerous for one so young. He lost 30 pounds, and was sent to the hospital only after he vomited blood, either from a stomach lesion or from the tube used to force feed him. No civilian doctors were allowed to examine or treat him, despite warning from experts that Khadr’s treatment could cause permanent harm and put him at severe risk for suicide.    

And now he has been put on trial for crimes that may put him in a military prison for life. The main charge against him: that he threw a grenade at a US soldier when a group of fighters, including members of his own family, were being mowed down by American fire. Throwing a grenade was a futile gesture, at worst a really stupid move. But in all honesty, how many of us did not do at least one really stupid thing in our adolescence? 

Even at the tender age of 15, Mr. Khadr believed himself to be a soldier of God fighting a godless enemy. He was, in effect, a child soldier. As such, his rights and safety are protected by a half dozen or more United Nations conventions and Security Council Resolutions. Every one of these was voted on and ratified by the United States.

And what was the Canadian government’s response? Not to send help, but to bring in interrogators from CSIS to assist the Americans. Mr. Kadr quotes one as saying, “I’m not here to help you. I’m not here to do anything for you. I’m just here to get information”. Only after Amnesty International turned its powerful spotlight on Omar Khadr’s plight did the Canadian government agree to raise the case with the US authorities and attempt to provide him with an independent medical evaluation. But at no time has our government publicly criticized the United States for such despicable treatment of a Canadian child.

In time, history will probably view the Guantanamo gulag as a blot on the American human rights record comparable to the American (and Canadian!) internment of their citizens of Japanese origin. But retrospective condemnation, while safe and comfortable, does not help those who suffer now. Edmund Burke (a conservative, like our Prime Minister) famously remarked that for evil to prevail it is only necessary that good men do nothing. Whatever else you may do, everyone who reads this can do one thing for Omar Khadr: email the Prime Minister and demand that his rights as a Canadian citizen be restored to him.

In her award-winning short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas“, the American writer Ursula K. LeGuin describes a utopian society whose happiness depends upon the abominable wretchedness of a single child. At the end, she writes of those who could not bear the Faustian bargain, and walk away. As I read the Amnesty report on Omar Khadr, her powerful words took on a prescient meaning: what does our well-being avail us, if it is bought with such misery?




April 29, 2007 at 12:20 am 3 comments

Calls for O’Connor’s resignation gaining traction, say journalists

Columnist Don Martin, writing in the National Post (and Ottawa Citizen) today, says that calls for Defence Minister O’Connor to resign may be picking up political steam.

“Most House of Commons resignation calls are cheap political posturing, a dramatic plea to be quoted by the media and best paid no heed. But the O’Connor’s-a-goner campaign is starting to gain traction — and may rate serious consideration.”

Martin goes on to say that Defence Department officials have been working overtime to try to save O’Connor.

“But for now, it’s Mr. O’Connor whose credibility is hemorrhaging so badly, departmental officials were contacting Conservative television talking heads to promote some positive spin for weekend politics shows, a sure sign they’re deeply worried about his survival.”

O’Connor’s spin doctors seem to have landed a front page story in the Globe and Mail. The headline for reporter Daniel LeBlanc’s article declared, “O’Connor being hung out to dry on detainee file, official says.” The article went on to say,

“Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor feels he has been left to twist in the wind by his cabinet colleagues, senior federal sources said yesterday as finger-pointing burst into the open over the government’s handling of the Afghan detainee crisis.”

“A senior defence official, seeking to present Mr. O’Connor’s views as he fights for his political life, said the Defence Minister feels he has been shouldering the blame for Canada’s policies toward Afghan detainees for more than a year.”

But having other government officials speak up may have only made things worse for the minister, as contradictory comments from Peter MacKay, Stockwell Day and others aren’t helping anyone. As Don Martin writes,

“The once proud Mr. O’Connor now finds himself gagged on the front bench while third-stringers try to explain the latest version of what’s happening in his department.”

I was asked to reflect on this week’s events and how this could impact the war and he government by A Channel’s Inquiry program. Here is a link to a YouTube video of the interview.


April 28, 2007 at 11:40 pm Leave a comment

Tories accuse constituents of believing “Taliban terrorists” over Harper government

In a letter to a supporter this week, Conservative Member of Parliament Dick Harris shot back from his Blackberry saying, “I am confused why you are taking as fact, the allegations coming from the Taliban terrorists themselves.”

Here is his email:

>From: “Harris, Richard – Personal”

>To: <[Ceasefire supporter’s email address – Steve]>

>CC: “Harris, Richard – Riding 1” <>

>Subject: Your email

>Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2007 11:41:19 -0400


>Thank you for your email. While I appreciate your taking the time to

>contact, I am confused why you are taking as fact, the allegations

>coming from the Taliban terrorists themselves.


> Last time I looked, these are the same people who are murdering

>women, children, and anyone else who is trying to rebulid a country

>that was destroyed by the murderous regime of the Taliban.


>If you choose to believe the Terrorists over your own government that

>is your choice, however I would suggest that your choice of news

>sources is sadly misplaced.

>Dick Harris Mp


>Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

The Canadian Press’ Murray Brewster writes today that the new Tory strategy of denying the damning allegations was used by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day in the House of Commons yesterday, “Day accused the opposition again Friday of believing “false allegations” of torture made by insurgents.”

The government strategy is a page torn from the Bush administration’s “you’re with us or your with the terrorists” playbook. Brewster writes, “Day and other Conservatives again tried to deflect criticism by accusing opposition MPs of attacking the integrity of Canadian troops — even though the abuse allegations are not directed at soldiers.”

Rather than taking action and investigating the allegations, the Tories seem to be lashing themselves to the wheel of this sinking ship.


April 28, 2007 at 2:40 pm 1 comment

Harpers’ Week from hell

I’m not trying to fill this blog with material from the NDP, but I thought their compilation of the “week from Hell” for the Conservatives was too good to pass up. 


From the NDP:

Afghan detainees: Conservatives deliver chaos, confusion and contradiction

“This is not foreign policy, this is chaos.”
Jack Layton, NDP Leader

The NDP’s calls for Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor to be fired grew louder this week as the Harper government delivered ordinary Canadians a week of chaos, confusion and contradiction.

NDP Leader Jack Layton asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper to respond to allegations that Afghans detained by Canadian troops and handed over to local authorities are being brutally tortured. Did the government know about the allegations? Will they immediately put an end to the transfer of prisoners?

Instead of straight answers, the Harper Conservatives gave ordinary Canadians a day by day patchwork quilt of inventions and fabrications.

When Canadian troops are asked to put their lives on the line, they deserve a clear mandate and a leader who knows what he’s doing – Gordon O’Connor is not that leader.


  • The Globe and Mail details allegations of abuse of 30 detainees, including savage beatings, electrocution and extreme cold
  • Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor calls the report “rumours” and says that the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission is responsible.


  • Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission says it does not have access to most detainees.
  • The government says there are no accurate reports, and that these are Taliban rumours.
  • Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day says prisoners will continue to be handed over to Afghan police, despite the allegations and says humane treatment of prisoners is “a radical thought for a lot of people in that part of the world.”


  • Government report on Afghanistan is released that says torture and extra judicial killings are “routine” – the government attempted to censor the document by blacking out all references to torture.
  • NDP Defence Critic Dawn Black files a formal request with the information commissioner to investigate the government’s denial and censoring of the report.
  • O’Connor stuns Foreign Affairs Committee by announcing that “Within the last few days we basically have made an arrangement with the government in the Kandahar province so that we can have access to our detainees.”
  • Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier say they didn’t know about the agreement.
  • Hillier also contradicts O’Connor’s claim that Defence officials would be responsible for the prison monitoring.


  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper says there is no formal agreement with Afghanistan guaranteeing access to detainees.
  • Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day claims Canadian officials in Kandahar have had access to detainees all along.
  • Afghan human-rights commission says its officials are not allowed to meet with prisoners while in the custody of intelligence officers.
  • Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor is silent.

“What is going on here? Are we seeing fabrication on the fly? Are we seeing serious policy making? Are we seeing responsible government? The fact is, no. We are seeing day by day a patchwork quilt of inventions and fabrications.”
– NDP Leader Jack Layton

April 27, 2007 at 6:43 pm Leave a comment

They Knew? Tell Harper to fire O’Connor and Hillier

They Knew? 

According to reports, Prime Minister Harper, Defence Minister O’Connor, and General Hillier all knew about the torture of Afghan prisoners – and tried to hide it. O’Connor and Hillier should be fired immediately. Go to our action centre at


April 26, 2007 at 1:58 pm 3 comments

Time to show real leadership

As I hoped it would, my earlier post set the cat among the pigeons. Many who responded heaped scorn upon me and pointed out (quite correctly) that the Liberals began Canadian involvement in Afghanistan, and that the Liberal motion, calling for a delayed withdrawal but meanwhile supporting the military effort, was seriously flawed. Others pointed out (correctly) that the NDP has tabled its own motion calling for our military to withdraw from Afghanistan. Still others were shaking their heads in disbelief that the NDP voted with the Conservatives.

My friend and colleague Steve Staples explains both the obvious flaws in the Liberal motion and the NDP vote by the fact that the Afghan war has become a “wedge issue” used to “score political points against opponents”. Steve has put his finger right on the problem I was trying to address. The pro-war forces are united, and the opposition is divided. Whatever the specific reasons for this, the blunt fact is that the opposition parties have handed Mr. Harper an easy political victory that should have been denied him in a minority Parliament.  

Without question, antiwar groups need to work harder influence the public consensus. But a divided electorate does not absolve politicians from responsibility. In a CBC poll, Canadians voted former NDP leader Tommy Douglas the greatest Canadian of all time. What defined his greatness was his understanding that true leadership consisted in a bold adherence to principles and a willingness to act on them responsibly in the face of media manipulation and orchestrated hysteria.

There will never be another Tommy Douglas, but our current generation of politicians would do well to remember his legacy of moral courage in these troubled times.  



April 25, 2007 at 6:23 pm 1 comment

NDP tables its own Afghanistan motion

Confusion seems to be widespread amongst progressives today with the media reports saying that “The NDP voted with the Conservatives” to defeat the Liberal motion on Afghanistan.  This story is still unfolding – today the NDP put forward its own motion for debate on Thursday.

APRIL 25, 2007

THE WRONG MISSION IN 2009 IS THE WRONG MISSION IN 2007: NDP NDP tables opposition motion for safe and immediate withdrawal from Afghan combat role

OTTAWA – The NDP tabled a motion today to put an end to the counter-insurgency Afghanistan mission that the Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc Québécois want to last until 2009.

“The NDP motion, to be debated Thursday and voted on Monday, calls for an immediate safe and secure withdrawal of our troops from the counter-insurgency mission and to focus our assistance, not through counter-insurgency but through development and aid,” said NDP Leader Jack Layton.  “Both Liberals and Conservatives admit that the conflict in Afghanistan won’t be won militarily. We believe that two more years of participating in the wrong mission for Canada is two years too long.”

The NDP motion is consistent with the party’s position since the counter-insurgency mission began, unlike Liberal leader Stéphane Dion’s recent flip-flop on the issue.

“One year ago, Stéphane Dion voted against extending the mission in Afghanistan, on Tuesday he voted to extend it until 2009,” said Layton. “NDP MPs take their responsibility as parliamentarians very seriously when we put young women and men in harm’s way. The question for the Liberals is simple:
If the mission is wrong for Canada, why are they asking our brave men and women to participate in it for two more years?”

The NDP’s motion reiterates the NDP’s support for Canadian troops and calls on Canada to focus its efforts in assisting the people of Afghanistan by re-doubling its commitment to reconstruction and development. 

The wording of the motion:

(1) all Members of this House, whatever their disagreements about the mission in Afghanistan, support the courageous men and women of the Canadian Forces; (2) the government has admitted that the situation in Afghanistan can not be won militarily; (3) the current counter-insurgency mission is not the right mission for Canada; (4) the government has neither defined what ‘victory’ would be, nor developed an exit strategy from this counter-insurgency mission; therefore this House condemns this government and calls for it to immediately notify NATO of our intention to begin withdrawing Canadian Forces now in a safe and secure manner from the counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan; and calls for Canada to focus its efforts to assist the people of Afghanistan on a diplomatic solution, and re-double its commitment to reconstruction and development.


April 25, 2007 at 1:07 pm 2 comments

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