More Anti-Rogueness

Constitutional law professor Errol Mendes at The Star:

This behaviour [the prorogation] by the Prime Minister is another piece of evidence of a major shift in Canadian constitutional democracy taking shape. First, there is the unconstitutional behaviour of the Harper government to deny the committee uncensored documents despite a motion of the House of Commons. Second, there is the boycott of the committee by the Conservative MPs at the committee. Third, we have seen the sandbagging of the Military Police Complaints Commission and the “yanking” of its chair, Peter Tinsley. This commission, a quasi-judicial tribunal has been stymied in its attempt to determine the truth over the detainee transfer issue. Finally, there is the unprecedented slamming of Richard Colvin for just doing his job of speaking truth to power and then accusing anybody who supports him of either being Taliban dupes or undermining our brave Canadian military heroes.

These are serious examples of abuse of executive power over Parliament, the Governor General, the public service and ultimately the Canadian voters who elected MPs to make Parliament work.

. . .

Some Canadians may not pay much attention to archaic constitutional terms such as prorogation of Parliament or even to the fate of Afghan detainees transferred to torture. Other Canadians will care greatly about both these issues. But all Canadians must care about a minority government that undermines the fundamental democratic institutions of this country while also manipulating quasi-judicial tribunals and intimidating the public service from speaking truth to power. This abuse of executive power is tilting toward totalitarian government and away from the foundations of democracy and the rule of law on which this country was founded.  [you can have more]

A bit more at The Star:

“What this is is a continuation of a very authoritarian approach to government by the current prime minister … this particular prime minister does not want to govern in an accountable democratic manner. It is extremely dangerous,” [constitutional law professor Peter] Russell told the Star.  [there is more]

[links via impolitical]

Dawg on Michael Ignatieff’s less than rousing response to the prorogation:

Leaders are supposed to lead, dammit. This empty suit has been asking for input almost since his coronation. Doesn’t he have any ideas of his own by now? Any gut reactions? Any strategy? Any vision? Any passion, for crying out loud?

I’m not even a Liberal, and I’m yearning to hear something real, just for once, come from this man’s mouth.  [always more and always worth it!]

ANTI-ROGUE UPPIDY DATE:

From Rick Mercer’s blog:

It is ironic that while our parliament has been suspended we are a nation at war. On New Year’s Eve we greeted the news that five Canadians were killed in a single day with sadness but not surprise. We are at war because ostensibly we are helping bring democracy to Afghanistan. How the mission is progressing is open for debate but this much is certain – at present there is a parliament in Afghanistan that it is very much open for business. Canada has no such institution.

In Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s government faces fierce opposition at every turn; many of his cabinet choices have been rejected in a secret ballot by the more than 200 parliamentarians that sit in the legislature. Simply closing parliament down and operating without their consent is not an option for Hamid Karzai; to do so would be blatantly undemocratic or at the very least downright Canadian. If Hamid Karzai suspended parliament on a whim we might be forced to ask why Canadians are dying to bring democracy to that country.

Stephen Harper doesn’t have that problem. The Parliament of Canada has been suspended for no other reason than the prime minister simply can’t be bothered with the relentless checks and balances that democracy affords us. He doesn’t want to have to stand in the House of Commons and hear anyone question him on any subject. I don’t blame him. Parliament is filled with jackals, opportunists and boors. The problem is, like it or not, they were elected.  [the whole thing]

Greenwald on the Torture Memos

The most criticism-worthy act that Obama engaged in yesterday was to affirm and perpetuate what is the single most-destructive premise in our political culture:  namely, that when high government officials get caught committing serious crimes, the responsible and constructive thing to do is demand immunity for them, while only those who are vindictive and divisive want political leaders to be held accountable for their crimes.  This is what Obama said in affirming that rotted premise:

This is a time for reflection, not retribution. . . . But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.

That passage, more than anything else, is the mindset that has destroyed the rule of law in the U.S. and spawned massive criminality in our elite class.  Accountability for crimes committed by political leaders (as opposed to ordinary Americans) is scorned as “retribution” and “laying blame for the past.”  Those who believe that the rule of law should be applied to the powerful as well as to ordinary citizens are demonized as the “forces that divide us.”  The bottomless corruption of immunizing political elites for serious crimes is glorified in the most Orwellian terms as “a time for reflection,” “moving forward,” and “coming together on behalf of our common future.”

Regardless of the reasons, it is clear that Obama will not single-handedly eliminate the immunity from the rule of law which the political class and other elites have arrogated unto themselves.  If anything, as his comments yesterday reflect, he is likely to affirm and defend that immunity (and, obviously, he personally benefits from its ongoing vitality).  Demanding that political leaders be subjected to the rule of law — and finding ways to force the appointment of a Special Prosecutor — is what citizens ought to be doing.  Either we care about the rule of law or we don’t — and if we do, we’ll find the ways to demand its application to the politically powerful criminals who broke multiple laws over the last eight years.  Obama’s release of those torture memos yesterday makes that choice unambiguously clear and enables the right to choice to be made.

The whole thing is here

Celebrating Moral Victory in Sudan

How can anyone be unhappy about the International Criminal Court’s indictment of President Omar al-Bashirs of Sudan?

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has finally earned his day of infamy: On March 4, he became the first sitting head of state to be indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the fledgling International Criminal Court . He joins Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, Charles Taylor of Liberia, and Jean Kambanda of Rwanda as heads of state subject to international justice for their international crimes. The fact that al-Bashir – sitting at the apex of a corrupt and brutally repressive state – is being prosecuted internationally is more important than the outcome of any particular charge in the indictment.   [more]

Well, some in the human rights community are not so happy and for good reason:

… at least five of the NGOs asked to leave Sudan have been UNHCR implementing partners carrying out important humanitarian programmes in Darfur but also Blue Nile State and Khartoum State. So it is noteworthy that this could have an impact not only on Darfur, but on vulnerable people elsewhere in the country.

We also have to be concerned at the possible implications this could have more broadly in the region. Our experience shows that when vulnerable populations are unable to get the help they need, they go elsewhere in search of protection and assistance. If food can’t get through to people, for example, then those people will soon suffer and have to look elsewhere.

 With some 4.7 million Sudanese – including 2.7 million internally displaced – already receiving assistance in Darfur, we are very concerned over the prospect of new population movements in the region should the fragile aid lifeline inside Sudan be disrupted. There are also 40,000 Chadian refugees in West Darfur.

Our work for internally displaced people as part of the UN team in Darfur has helped IDPs stay as close to home as possible while also relieving pressure on neighbouring Chad, where UNHCR and its partners are already caring for nearly 250,000 refugees from Darfur in a string of 12 remote camps spread over 600 kms near the Sudan border. These isolated camps and the remote communities surrounding them are already struggling to provide the basics needed to sustain 250,000 refugees. In addition, there are some 180,000 internally displaced persons in eastern Chad.

 Any influx to Chad would be an additional challenge for UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies because of ongoing insecurity and instability in the country, as well as limited resources such as water.

Moral victories can’t be celebrated by people who are starving to death and dying of thirst.

Others think Western support is simply hypocritical:

Criminals, including international ones, must be put behind bars, but the world is known to have put off justice “in the name of peace.” Unfortunately, this tolerance allows many people, in particular in conflict-ridden Africa and Asia, to think they should wait, close their eyes to crimes, unless they want to face difficult “consequences.”

This faulty reasoning is based on confrontation between the ethics of principles and the ethics of consequences. But it cannot be abandoned outright because it developed long ago and has become a fixture in international relations. All major players in the West use it selectively, when and if it suits them, which is unfair.

UPDATE:  Hmmmmmm.  From Rob Crilly at the Al Salaam Camp, North Darfur –

Aid officials warn that a humanitarian emergency is in danger of becoming a disaster. The move has put the supply of food to 1.1 million people in doubt, as the UN’s World Food Programme scrambles to find lorries to deliver sacks of grain. It had been using four of the expelled charities to get food to people in need. Outside the hospital – run by the International Rescue Committee until it was ordered out – a mother brushed flies from the face of her daughter. “My baby is sick,” Fatima Abdulrahmen said. “She has a fever and I brought her here and now I don’t know what to do. Who will help me now?”

The people who should be helping – the staff of 13 international charities including Oxfam, Médicins sans Frontières and Care – were boarding flights to the capital, Khartoum.

[..]

In El Fasher, capital of North Darfur, government officials began the process of seizing millions of pounds in assets belonging to the charities. Men with dark glasses and clipboards arrived at the Oxfam office to begin itemising equipment. They left with laptops, desktop computers and satellite phones, choking off communication. There was a similar scene at the French agency Action Contre La Faim. “We are due to start distributing food to the camps in a fortnight,” one worker said. “Who else is going to do this and stop people starving? Words cannot describe what is happening.”

Charities reported that their bank accounts were being frozen. Doctors with Médicins sans Frontières were trying to contain two deadly outbreaks of meningitis before being expelled. Their clinics have closed.

It’s all here

Braidwood

Kelly McParland does an admirable job of summing up the testimony of RCMP officers at the Braidwood Inquiry:

Whatever conclusion is ultimately reached at the Braidwood inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski, one conclusion now seems inevitable: the original tale peddled by the RCMP about that day at Vancouver airport was overwhelmingly bogus.

The 40-year-old Mr. Dziekanski did not grab a killer stapler and wave it threateningly over his head, as the police claimed. He did not advance on four officers with threatening gestures. He did not stay on his feet after the first jolt of the Taser they fired at him. He did not have to be wrestled to the ground. He did not, it appears from the testimony of the officers who were there that day, represent any kind of threat at all. Continue reading

Obama Amazes Hysperia

She just wishes it wasn’t in this way, for this reason:

… the Obama administration — in the case brought by two American lawyers and their charity-client claiming that their conversations were illegally intercepted by the Bush administration — has announced that it intends to try to appeal, yet again, in order to prevent the court from hearing the lawsuit.  On Friday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Obama’s request to stay the District Judge’s Order, which had held that it will review a classified document that the plaintiffs claim proves they were subjected to the illegal eavesdropping (thus conferring standing on the plaintiffs to challenge the legality of Bush’s NSA program), and also ordered the Obama administration to provide security clearances to the plaintiffs’ lawyers so that they could review the document as well.  The Obama DOJ immediately announced they intend to try to appeal again — the third time, since Obama’s Inauguration, that the Obama DOJ will try to argue before a court that the case should not heard at all.

In the meantime, though, the Obama DOJ is now refusing to comply with the Judge’s order, actually arguing to the court that only the President can decide whether classified information can be used in a court proceeding, and that courts have no power to make such decisions.  Here is the remarkable description of Obama’s actions by The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Bob Egelko:

Read the rest and sigh with me here … gotta hope like hell that Obama doesn’t win this one.

UPDATE:  From Matt Browner Hamlin

The similarities between the Obama administration’s response to the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling in the Al-Haramain case, requiring the government to turn over classified information and the legal views espoused under the Bush-Cheney administration by the likes of John Yoo and David Addington are simply stunning.

Read the whole thing here

US Turns From Truth

Glenn Greenwald on the Pentagon’s self-serving conclusion that conditions at Guantanamo Bay meet the standards of the Geneva Convention:

For reasons that human rights groups and detainees’ lawyers immediately pointed out, this self-exonerating Pentagon report, from the start, was suspect in the extreme.  But a sign of how broken our discourse is and how in love with ourselves we continue to be is that, on the question of current Guantanamo conditions, the conclusions of the United States Pentagon released this week were treated not only as credible, but authoritative. If the DOD — which has long overseen Guantanamo and continues to do so — says that everything is great there, well, that’s the end of that.  What else is there to know?

Well, according to his lawyer, US Army Lieutenant colonel Yvonne Bradley, Binyam Mohamed was beaten at Guantanamo, right up until his release today:

He has been severely beaten. Sometimes I don’t like to think about it because my country is behind all this.

According to The Guardian:

… doctors discovered injuries and ailments resulting from apparently brutal treatment in detention.

Mohamed was found to be suffering from bruising, organ damage, stomach complaints, malnutrition, sores to feet and hands, severe damage to ligaments as well as profound emotional and psychological problems which have been exacerbated by the refusal of Guantánamo’s guards to give him counselling.

Mohamed’s British lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, said his client had been beaten “dozens” of times inside the notorious US camp in Cuba with the most recent abuse occurring during recent weeks. He said: “He has a list of physical ailments that cover two sheets of A4 paper. What Binyam has been through should have been left behind in the middle ages.”

But it wasn’t.  It wasn’t left in the middle ages.  If those responsible for the torture are not held to account, it won’t be left in the 21st century either.

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]

Because Women Are Only Incubators

A Baptist pastor who violated an Oakland, CA ordinance that prohibits anti-abortion protesters from coming within eight feet of women entering an abortion clinic for a legal surgical procedure has been fined $1000. and put on three years’ probation.  His crime could have led to a two-year jail sentence.

The court noted that the pastor didn’t “lay hands” on anyone [um, that would have been assault] and asked him if he would obey an order to stay 100 feet away from the Oakland clinic.  The pastor said “no”.  The judge let him go anyway.  Because this law isn’t serious, the “victims” aren’t real.  They’re only women incubating babies.  It’s pretty clear the law was drafted to prevent disorder around abortion clinics and not to protect its patients. 

The anti-abortionists call this a “free speech” case.  I don’t even think they believe themselves on this one.  These are people who try to exploit whatever “right” or “freedom” suits their overriding wish for control over women’s bodies.  The justice system, in this case, is more sympathetic to them than it is to the women harassed by fundies carrying mendacious posters of baby bits.

The pastor’s lawyer was at pains to point out the “conspicuous absence” of patients at the trial to testify that they felt threatened by him.  Of course, the law doesn’t require the presence of threatened patients.  The fact that the pastor was inside the “protected zone” with his sign is enough.  It doesn’t require a woman who’s visited an abortion clinic and been harassed to show up in court – an obvious invasion of the very privacy, safety and security that’s put at risk by people like the pastor.

Here’s what a women’s health specialist had to say:

When anyone restricts access to reproductive health services, every woman affected is a living example of a colonized body.

I suppose we’re expected to be grateful that there’s any protective law at all, even when it’s taken so lightly that a man standing in a courtroom who says he’s going to break it again is given the “all clear”.

The Sorry Case of Binyam Mohamed

It is beyond my understanding how we know these things and do so little about them.  From an article by Glenn Greenwald that Barack Obama should read:

Mohamed is an Ethiopian citizen and British resident who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and then “rendered” by the U.S. to multiple countries (such as Morocco); held incommunicado (no access to lawyers, the International Red Cross or anyone else) and interrogated by U.S. agents until 2004; and then shipped off to Guantanamo, where he has remained ever since.  Mohamed alleges — and (as British courts have ruled) there is substantial evidence to confirm — that he was brutally tortured during this time period, including having his genitals sliced, being severely beaten, and having guns aimed at his head and threatened with death if he did not confess.  [more]

Surely Obama does not want these horrors to be his.  But if not, and I simply must assume not, he must do everything in his power to allow these stories to be told and justice to be done, in America, in Britain, in Canada [Omar Khadr] and wherever it is necessary to do so.  Nothing less than full disclosure is required.

UPDATE:  From Scott Horton at The Nation

Articles 4 and 5 of the Convention Against Torture require the United States to prohibit torture under domestic criminal law and to investigate and prosecute incidents in which it is practiced. The failure even to begin criminal investigations has placed the United States in breach of its obligations under the treaty, a point that even torture apologists like University of Chicago Law School professor Eric Posner freely concede.  [more]

Injury & Insult

Why do we put up with these corporate criminals?  Aghgh, not a good night for me.

From Richard Paddock at the LA Times:

Chevron Corp., which prevailed in a human-rights lawsuit seeking to hold it responsible for the shooting of Nigerian protesters at an oil platform, is seeking nearly $500,000 in legal costs from the villagers who brought the suit.

Chevron‘s claim for reimbursement, filed in federal court, includes $190,000 in copying charges. The San Ramon-based company, which posted a record $23.8-billion profit for 2008, says it is entitled to the money because a nine-member jury decided in the company’s favor in December. [emphasis mine]

Lawyers for the villagers had sought to hold the oil giant responsible for the 1998 shooting and mistreatment of protesters by Nigerian soldiers at the Parabe oil rig off the coast of Nigeria. They have filed an appeal in the case, which is scheduled to be heard next month.

Advocates and lawyers for the Nigerians said they were outraged by Chevron’s attempt to seek money from the plaintiffs, including one who was shot and wounded, another who was arrested and tortured and others whose husbands or fathers were killed.

Laura Livoti, founder of Bay Area-based Justice in Nigeria Now, said the $485,000 sought by Chevron, California’s largest company, would constitute a fortune for the Nigerians. That sum would be enough to sustain at least four villages in the Niger Delta for a year, she said.

“Chevron’s attempt to squeeze nearly half a million dollars out of poor villagers who don’t even have access to clean drinking water and who had wanted jobs with the company is a dramatic illustration of Chevron’s heartlessness,” she said.

In its claim, Chevron is seeking reimbursement from 19 plaintiffs and 30 former plaintiffs who dropped out of the case before it went to trial. At least a dozen of those named are children, Livoti said. [emphasis mine]

Morgan Crinklaw, a spokesman for Chevron, said the company had spent a significant amount of money on the lawsuit and was entitled to reimbursement. “Chevron is exercising its legal right to recover a portion of the costs we were forced to incur from responding to 10 years of litigation, and to comment any further, before the judge has ruled on this motion, would be inappropriate,” he said.

Bert Voorhees, who represented the Nigerians at trial, said Chevron’s goal was not necessarily to collect money from the plaintiffs but to deter others from pursuing similar suits.

“They are trying to bring this cost bill as a warning to any other folks who might seek justice,” the L.A. lawyer said. “My assumption is that it’s punitive and it’s designed as a shot across the bow of any would-be plaintiffs in the future.” [emphasis mine]

The lawsuit was brought under the 1789 Alien Tort Statute, which was signed by President Washington. Rarely used, the law increasingly has become a vehicle for activists attempting to hold U.S. corporations accountable for their actions overseas.

Survivors of the 1998 incident at the Parabe rig argued that Chevron was responsible because it paid the police and soldiers and flew them by helicopter to the platform, where they shot and killed two unarmed protesters and wounded two others.

Chevron countered during the trial that the villagers were holding its workers hostage and that the company acted responsibly by calling in the authorities.

The Nigerians and their lawyers say that Chevron’s oil operations caused extensive environmental harm in much of the delta, ruining farmland and the fishery. They argued in court that the villagers who went to the oil platform staged a peaceful protest in an attempt to win jobs and compensation for the damage.

“Chevron has already impoverished these people due to its lousy environmental practices in the area,” Voorhees said. “Stealing their livelihood wasn’t enough, stealing their lives wasn’t enough. Now they are seeking half a million too.”

That half a mill is peanuts, peanuts and a few more peanuts to Chevron.  The villagers have no peanuts.  These fellas are trying to make a point.  Point taken I’d say.