Anti-Rogue Right Over the Edge

I’ve been waiting for so long for Canadians to wake up, pay attention, get pissed off, get politicized and boot Harper’s tush out of Ottawa.  For what now seems like  a very brief time in December of 2008 Canadians did wake up  but the lack of leadership, primarily in the Liberal Party, and ignorance about the meaning of a coalition between the Liberals, New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois took the wind out of the sails all too soon.

Since then I’ve been watching and waiting.  Not entirely passively.  I watch the news, the blogs, the independent web reporting sites, the mags, online and off.  I’ve alerted people to good material and hoped they read it.  I expressed my outrage on Twitter, Facebook and occasionally on this blog.  I wrote letters to newspapers, MPs, opposition leaders and the PM.  But mostly I waited.  Many of us waited.  Sometimes I lost hope that anyone in this country was ever going to care.  Care about the war on Gaza and Canada’s blind support of Israel.  Care about Canada’s part in the war in Afghanistan.  Care about the growing number of Canadians locked up in prisons for stupid reasons.  Care about the arrogance and autocracy of Stephen Harper and his effect on our democratic institutions.  Care about people like Omar Khader, Hassan Almrei,  Suaad Hagi MohamudAbousfian Abdelrazik and others whose names and skin colour were not kindred to Stephen Harper.  Care about the introduction of a mandatory minimum sentences bill that would put more Canadians in prison for more stupid reasons and the possible abolition of Canada’s long gun registry that actually seems to be making a difference in preventing or responding effectively to violence against women in domestic situations, the funding of the Status of Women, pay equity, the Court Challenges Programme . . . well, much more than all that believe it or not, but for now and most recently, the treatment of Canada’s Afghan detainees.

So many people lost faith that Canadians were ever going to care that when it began to appear that the frozen giant had awoken from its long slumber, when rumblings of revolt were heard on Facebook in the group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament  – well, many were afraid to believe it.  I wasn’t one of them.  I don’t know why.  But my intuition is that I spend so much time on the web reading, listening, learning, chatting and “networking” that I felt the pulse right away.  If you’re not there you don’t know, you don’t feel it, you can’t see it.  I was a member of that group early on and I sent links to the group to everyone I knew.  I tweeted about the group over and over.  I spread the news in other groups.  I believed it was going to go.  And it did.  Lots of other people believed it too or it wouldn’t have happened.

What’s the difference between last year’s momentary excitement about the possibility of a coalition government that could topple the Conservatives and this year’s moment?  Last year we were dependent upon the potential parties to the coalition to keep it going when Harper prorogued.  The moment was easily brought to an end through a combination of Harper’s willingness to impose his will on Parliament and the country and the appalling and depressing weakness of the opposition.  This year, Harper’s still there, behaving like an autocrat; the opposition has gained no strength.  But the success of the awakening depends upon the people participating.  Stephen Harper can’t shut it down.  The opposition parties are barely able to respond well never mind take leadership roles in the movement.  Its success depends solely upon the will of the people involved.

That might well be the only way it was ever going to work.  Pass it on.

Richard Colvin’s “Further Evidence”

You can read Colvin’s “Further Evidence to the Special Committee on Afghanistan” in pdf format here, via CBC.

And there’s a summary with commentary at Creekside.  For instance:

On the government claim that it took action as soon as it was informed of abuse :
They were informed repeatedly of the risk of torture, the deficiencies of Canada’s monitoring system, and delays in reports to the ICRC in 2006 in reports from the Provincial Reconstruction Team, the US State Department, and the US Secretary General. They finally sent someone in October 2007 who immediately confirmed torture.
The government also twice intervened to keep a torturer named by the PRT in place.

Lots more.

HarperCON response?  “We reject all assertions that Canadian troops have committed war crimes.

Are they trying to incite a coup by the military?  Heh.

Private Boots on the Ground

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been a pot of gold for private contractors.  Gives them a lot of motivation to end the war, doesn’t it?

A hearing in Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Contract Oversight subcommittee on contracting in Afghanistan has highlighted some important statistics that provide a window into the extent to which the Obama administration has picked up the Bush-era war privatization baton and sprinted with it. Overall, contractors now comprise a whopping 69% of the Department of Defense’s total workforce, “the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in US history.”

More from Jeremy Scahill

Chaos in Afghanistan

From Afghanistan on the Brink by Ullrich Fichtner at Speigel:

… in the eighth year of the Afghanistan mission, at the beginning of an Afghan election year that could spell the end of President Hamid Karzai’s government this summer, there are still many difficult questions to be asked: What exactly are the 60,000 international troops stationed there fighting for, if Afghanistan, despite their presence, actually dropped by 59 positions on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, to 176th out of 180 countries, in only three years? How is it possible that Afghanistan’s opium production did not shrink during the years that NATO has been present in the country, but in fact grew larger, so that 92 percent of worldwide opium production today comes from Afghanistan?

[…]

Day after day, foreign soldiers are killed and Afghan policemen are murdered, and the life of President Karzai is constantly in danger. Nowadays, his convoy only ventures into the streets outside the presidential palace walls in Kabul with an escort of two Apache attack helicopters. Is Afghanistan lost? Is it a failed state? A failed experiment by one of the biggest coalition of nations ever formed? Is this the end of the world order dominated by powers like the United States, the UN and NATO? And exactly how strong is the Taliban?

[…]

To gain a realistic picture of the current situation in Afghanistan, one should consult the grand old men of Afghan politics, representatives of the Aga Khan, provincial mayors, members of parliament and Turkish reconstruction workers, bankers involved in micro lending and telecommunications entrepreneurs, election monitors, bodyguards, school principals and even the owner of the “Humaira Aria” beauty salon, where wealthy Kabul girls come to prepare for their weddings. Their comments merge into a single conclusion, namely that their country is on the brink, that the global public is being strung along with empty promises that perseverance will lead to success, and that 2009 will be the decisive year for Afghanistan.

Read the whole thing here

Afghanistan FAIL

From Peter Beaumont at the Guardian:

A highly critical analysis of the US-led coalition’s counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan has raised serious questions about combat operations in both countries – and the intelligence underpinning them.

The confidential document presents a bleak picture of a counterinsurgency effort undermined by intelligence failures that at times border on the absurd.

Based on scores of interviews with British, US, Canadian and Dutch military, intelligence and diplomatic officials – and marked for “official use only” – the book-length report is damning of a US military often unwilling to share intelligence among its military allies. It depicts commanders in the field being overwhelmed by information on hundreds of contradictory databases, and sometimes resistant to intelligence generated by its own agents in the CIA.

Counterinsurgency efforts are also shown as being at the mercy of local contacts peddling identical “junk” tips around various intelligence officials, with the effectiveness of the intelligence effort being quantified by some senior officers solely in terms of the amount of “tip money” disbursed to sources.

[…]

An anonymous source quoted in the report stated that “operational commanders” continued to “indulge in the fallacy of body counts, and a month in which more Taliban are killed than in the previous month” was seen as progress. He added: “This is actually more likely to reflect the fact that there are more enemy on the battlefield than there were before.”

Despite the huge emphasis on counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last two years, the report’s authors, Russell Glenn and Jamie Gayton, find it necessary to remind military readers of the importance of the civilian population in their efforts, not least in protecting civilians “against attack by both the enemy and your own forces”.

“Those interviewed in support of this research,” they wrote, “noted with no little frustration that coalition forces themselves too frequently neglect to treat local community members properly.”

Well, you know, shit happens.

Read the whole thing here

InConvenient Questions!

On Friday, the US Justice Department, Barack Obama’s Justice Department, told a federal court that it shouldn’t consider the legal challenges of prisoners held at Bagram Prison near Kabul and under US control:

In a short legal filing, Justice Department lawyers said they planned to maintain the Bush administration’s claim that the roughly 600 prisoners held in Afghaninstan have no right to contest their detention in the courts. “The Government adheres to its previously articulated position,” the attorneys said.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that war-on-terror prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have the right to file court petitions because the U.S. has “de facto sovereignty” over the base, located on land leased from Cuba.

However, the Justice Department has argued that prisoners in Afghanistan, held at the Bagram Airbase outside Kabul, lack recourse to the courts because the U.S. does not have similar control over that region.

“Bagram is in a theater of war where the United States is engaged in active hostilities,” so extending those legal rights to the prisoners would be “impracticable,” Justice Department lawyers argued in a brief filed last November. They also argued that the habeas petitions are barred by the Military Commissions Act of 2006, a law Obama vocally opposed.   [more]

How large does the area of de facto sovereignty have to be?  Big as Bagram?  Bigger?

How big is a “theater of war” that isn’t a war on a nation but on an activity, i.e. terrorism?  Very, very big?

How difficult would it be, or should I say “impracticable”, for the US to set up a system for holding hearings in or around Bagram?

How long can the US hold prisoners in places like Bagram without hearings?  Till the war on terror is over?

NB:  The US is now handing over thousands of its prisoners to Iraq according to a security agreement that took effect on January 1st.  Do they remember or care that Iraq is known to torture and mistreat its prisoners?

Articles 10 and 12 of  The Geneva Convention govern the “transferrability” of prisoners of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Prisoners can only be transferrred between countries that are both signatories of the Convention.  The Republic of Afghanistan is not a signatory.  Prisoners cannot be transferred by an occupying authority into the hands of the country it occupies.  Iraq is occupied.

Back to Afghanistan.  When Canadian forces take prisoners, should they turn them over to the US when it’s widely known the Americans torture their prisoners?

I remember watching a movie that began with an trip into an Morrocan prison where infidels had languished for so long the bony hands of skeletons were clamped to the mouldering walls.

Please write to me if you have answers.

UPDATE:

The word “Guantanamo” serves as shorthand among some Afghans for all the reasons they hate foreign troops, but the impending closing of the notorious prison has gotten surprisingly little attention in this country.

Nothing changed with last month’s U.S. presidential order to close Guantanamo, many people here say, because another prison inspires even greater fear: Bagram.

Even a man who could be expected to feel the most joy about Guantanamo closing, a former detainee who spent more than six years in the camp, quickly turns the conversation to the detention facility north of Kabul, inside the U.S. military base at Bagram.  [more]

Swamp in the Desert

More reactions to Obama’s decision to send 17,000 US troops into Afghanistan:

… in a TV interview Tuesday, Obama said he was “absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban (insurgency), the spread extremism in that region solely through military means.”

“If there is no military solution, why is the administration’s first set of decisions to continue drone attacks and increase ground troops?” Marilyn B. Young, a professor of history at New York University, told IPS.

She said the uncertainty around Afghan policy seems to be spreading even while the Obama administration announces an increase in troops.

“This is one of the ways events seem to echo U.S. escalation in the Vietnam War,” said Young, author of several publications, including ‘Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam: Or, How Not to Learn From the Past’.

On Tuesday, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report revealing that in 2008, there were 2,118 civilian casualties in Afghanistan, an increase of almost 40 percent over 2007.

Of these casualties, 55 percent of the overall death toll was attributed to anti-government forces, including the Taliban, and 39 percent to Afghan security and international military forces.

“This is of great concern to the United Nations,” the report said, pointing out that “this disquieting pattern demands that the parties to the conflict take all necessary measures to avoid the killing of innocent civilians.”

During his presidential campaign last year, Obama said the war in Iraq was a misguided war.

The United States, he said, needs to pull out of Iraq, and at the same time, bolster its troops in Afghanistan, primarily to prevent the militant Islamic fundamentalist Taliban from regaining power and also to eliminate safe havens for terrorists.

But most political analysts point out that Afghanistan may turn out to be a bigger military quagmire for U.S. forces than Iraq.

Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy said Obama’s moves on Afghanistan have “the quality of a moth toward a flame.”

In the short run, Obama is likely to be unharmed in domestic political terms. But the policy trajectory appears to be unsustainable in the medium-run, he added.

“Before the end of his first term, Obama is very likely to find himself in a vise, caught between a war in Afghanistan that cannot be won and a political quandary at home that significantly erodes the enthusiasm of his electoral base while fueling Republican momentum,” Solomon argued.

Dr. Christine Fair, a senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation and a former political officer with UNAMA in Kabul, told IPS she is doubtful that more troops will secure Afghanistan.

“Perhaps several years ago more troops would have been welcomed. My fear is that more troops means more civilian losses and further erosion of good will and support for the international presence,” Fair said.

Read the whole thing here

UPDATE:  Check out Ethel the Blog on this – here’s just a bit –

Now that we’ve discovered that the only difference between Obama and McCain vis a vis foreign policy is that the former doesn’t visibly drool when contemplating spilling more blood, we can better understand Obama’s plan to stimulate the economy by increasing the demand for body bags in Afghanistan.

Europe Not Into Afghanistan

NATO defense ministers are meeting this week in Poland.  The conversation should be interesting now that Obama has decided to send 17,000 US troops in.  If only Canada’s defense minister was inclined to make the fuss that Europe’s defense ministers are going to make.  Maybe they know something that we’re not yet prepared to admit.  From Speigel Online International:

It is no secret that the Obama administration would like to see NATO member states in Europe agree to send more troops. Both Gates and his spokesman Geoff Morrell have dropped plenty of hints that additional troop commitments would be most welcome. That, though, isn’t likely to happen. European capitals have for years shown a reluctance to send more soldiers, often hampered by a voting public that has long since lost enthusiasm for the war.  [Smart!]

[…]

The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“Afghanistan hasn’t yet become NATO’s Vietnam. But to avoid such a scenario, the alliance has to undertake a detailed examination of its engagement. First and foremost, NATO has to bid farewell to the idea that, as is often said internally, ‘the fate of NATO will be decided in Afghanistan.’ This sentence is nonsense. A defeat or even a withdrawal without real success would certainly plunge the alliance into turbulence. But stubbornly staying the course out of fear of this scenario, blindly hoping that the amount of troops and quality of weapons will one day prevail, isn’t a strategy. Such logic bears witness to a dangerous degree of helplessness.”

“NATO has to find the courage to rethink everything. Instead of, as will happen this week with alliance defense ministers gathered in Krakow, busying themselves with demands for more troops, the member states should take a realistic look at the situation in Afghanistan and then decide what can be achieved and, most importantly, how large a commitment the alliance is prepared to make. It is time to abandon the illusion — especially popular in Germany — that the Afghanistan mission is one primarily focused on redevelopment and on providing a safe place for the delicate flower of a halfway free society to flourish.”  [more]

Afghanistan Becomes Obama’s War

From MSNBC:

President Barack Obama approved adding some 17,000 U.S. troops for the flagging war in Afghanistan, his first significant move to change the course of a conflict that his closest military advisers have warned the United States is not winning.

“To meet urgent security needs, I approved a request from (Defense) Secretary Gates to deploy a Marine Expeditionary Brigade later this spring and an Army Stryker Brigade and the enabling forces necessary to support them later this summer,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.

About 8,000 Marines are expected to go in first, followed by about 9,000 Army troops. Some 34,000 U.S. troops are already in Afghanistan.

“There is no more solemn duty as president than the decision to deploy our armed forces into harm’s way,” Obama added. “I do it today mindful that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention and swift action. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe-haven along the Pakistani border.”

Of the 17,000 troops authorized, deployment orders have been issued for 12,000 and some of those are being reassigned from roles in Iraq. Where the remaining 5,000 troops will come from will be determined later.

I was holding on to the hope that Obama might be converted to sanity on this issue.  Sob.

Read the whole thing here

UPDATE:  From NYT

… the decision also carries political risk for a president who will be sending more troops to Afghanistan before he has begun to fulfill a promised rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Many experts worry that Afghanistan presents an even more formidable challenge for the United States than Iraq does, particularly with neighboring Pakistan providing sanctuary for insurgents of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. [more]

Tragic.  Error.

Also from NYT:

The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan leapt by nearly 40 percent last year, according to a survey released Tuesday by the United Nations, the latest measure of how the intensifying violence between the Taliban and American-led forces is ravaging that country.

The death toll — 2,118 civilians killed in 2008, compared with 1,523 in 2007 — is the highest since the Taliban government was ousted in November 2001, at the outset of a war with no quick end in sight.

Civilian deaths have become a political flash point in Afghanistan, eroding public support for the war and inflaming tensions with President Hamid Karzai, who has bitterly condemned the American-led coalition for the rising toll. President Obama’s decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan raises the prospect of even more casualties.   [more]

Afghanistan’s Wars

On Afghanistan’s recent wars and their effects from Barnett R. Rubin at Boston Review:

Under the more open conditions that have prevailed since the fall of the Taliban, I have seen clearly more of what I had only sensed on visits in previous decades. The human effect of decades of war: how the collapse of even a relatively weak state authority forced people back to their kin, clan, or tribal groups; how violence, which could erupt at any moment, from any direction, quickly rekindled memories of earlier traumas. Over the years, with violence and its legacy a constant presence, the trust that institutional cooperation demands had been blown to bits as surely as the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Afghans returning from prolonged exile found a society they did not recognize; they often commented that there was no trust between people. Against that corrosive background, every effort to reconnect the scattered fragments of the former national elites—or to reconnect returning elites with those who had remained—could be undermined with a careless word, a careless dollar, or a careless bomb.

A brief and personal modern history of war in Afghanistan.  Read the whole thing here