That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Caution: foreign policy principles at work

Recently, Harperite Ottawa finds itself frequently pulled between opposing forces: the force of international responsibility and expectation, versus the inertial force of the Reform Party’s anti-world, shoot-em-all, god’ll-sort-em-out base.

We can be sure Harper and friends would love nothing more than to indulge the latter force whenever possible, but they know they will lose all hope of support in moderate, suburban southwestern Ontario if they go all John Bolton on us. So they have to accede to international expectation once in a while, and they find it very tricky business.

The Khadr saga is an example of how this can work. Obama’s administration wants few things more than Guantanamo shut down, its inmates repatriated, or even transferred to whatever country will take them, to serve their time (should these inmates ever be convicted, of course…). The end goal of a mothballed Camp X-Ray is noble but well-nigh impossible with a labyrinthine legal limbo, the fairy-tale “combatant” status of the inmates, myriad obstructionist forces in the U.S. and at the state level, and with many countries proving less than warm to the idea of taking “enemy combatants” into their justice systems.

Washington wants Khadr out of their hair and back in Canada. Britain, among all other Western nations with citizens formerly occupying Gitmo cells, have openly and determinedly repatriated their detainees, and it’s expected Canada would do the same – not only for the maple leaves on Khadr’s passport, but for the fact he was a juvenile and shouldn’t be locked up in the first place. Afraid of embarrassing himself in front of his Reformist base, though, Harper has gone to none of the lengths of the British or Australians – he has allowed the farcical military tribunal in Gitmo to run its course, and has appeared cool at best to Khadr’s fortune, or to the principle of protecting juveniles from what amounts to unlawful detention and prosecution.

Indulging in Reformist ideological baubles, though, runs the risk of mortally offending moderates and potential new votes in Canada, and it leads to the blocking up of the process of dismantling Gitmo, which Obama’s circle can’t like one bit. So Ottawa’s had to acquiesce to the Americans, while appearing not to have, or not to care.

Naturally, the outcome of such double-mouthedness is an apparent (and familiar) discombobulated dishonesty.

Tories under fire over Khadr plea deal

Canadian officials, including Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, repeatedly said before, during and after Khadr’s hearing in front of a U.S. military commission in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that Canada wasn’t involved in any plea agreement.

But NDP MP Wayne Marston said the document shows that either Cannon doesn’t know what’s going on in his own department or was disingenuous in his statements to the House of Commons about the deal.

Appearing not to know something is the strongest defence that Ottawa makes for itself when it appears to have pursued and advocated mutually-conflicting ends. The public relations component to managing the exposure of double-standards and dishonesties seems to be: denial is good, redaction is better, and if the heat gets turned up too high, remember – the Liberals did something quite similar back in nineteen-ninety-x.

If Harper is too “principled” in his foreign policy to admonish the prosecution of a child soldier, and a Canadian one at that, at least we could see him leading from the front and being clear about the need to repatriate, and why. Not to feign an aloofness of the very sort that gets us ignored and whispered about in the halls of the United Nations.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , , , , , ,

On Khadr and kangaroo courts

The BBC notes the Khadr trial with the observation that:

The US is the first country since World War II to prosecute a person at a war crimes tribunal for actions allegedly committed as a juvenile.

What could I possibly add? Through Guantanamo, the U.S. has (along with Canadian acquiescence) a new record – one which the DR Congo, the Saudis, and the Afghan government itself couldn’t achieve. First a moon landing, and now the prosecution of a child soldier. Glad Canada could participate in at least one of the two!

Show me a 15-year old boy with perfect authority over his actions, and I’ll not only eat my hat, I’ll eat the Geneva Convention too. If it’s still around.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, ,

War crimes and kangaroo courts

While Naomi Campbell complains about the colour of her blood diamonds at Charles Taylor’s UN SCSL war crimes tribunal, another farce of a trial is taking place elsewhere – and this farce could set horrendous international precedent as well.

In the first war crimes trial under President Obama‘s watch, a former child soldier is being tried by an American military court that hasn’t gained international legitimacy. Never mind the fact that Omar Khadr is Canadian, and the only western, and by far the youngest, tenant still resident at Guantanamo. That’s an embarrassment principally to Canadians, as our government denies any of the responsibility that other Western nations have taken in repatriating their citizens from a prison of felons without charges – indeed, our government helps people to stay in there. So much for protecting our citizens, or standing up for international law.

Where other western countries have successfully lobbied for the return of their nationals from Guantánamo, Canada has refused to intervene despite a recent court ruling that ordered it to remedy its failure to protect Khadr’s rights. The Guardian

The greater farce is that a boy of 15, without any real capacity to choose whether he’d be brought to Afghanistan or not, was incarcerated as a war criminal by sweeping U.S. forces in the earliest stages of the Afghan invasion, and is now being tried in a kangaroo court for crimes he may/may not have committed, using evidence that may/may not have been extracted under torturous duress, subject to a legal framework which isn’t internationally recognised, and which diminishes habeas corpus as well as the moral upper-hand in anything that the U.S. has been up to over the past 10 years in the Middle East.

Sucking up potential combatants and associates (including children) with a giant military vacuum cleaner, locking them up for a decade, and then deciding to press charges and try them in an illegitimate court is teeth-gnashingly wrongheaded for any democratic regime. To press ahead with this trial of a child soldier who’s spent over a quarter of his life in Guantanamo lays bare 1) Obama’s helplessness and 2) Obama’s carelessness. Of course, pressure from Ottawa could have helped, if only Harper would dare!

Charles Taylor’s UN-SCSL trial may have been temporarily dropped in tabloid muck thanks to Naomi Campbell’s airheaded testimony. But at least the United Nations acts as our singular, global agent for convening, designing and upholding international law, and it maintains a globally recognised convention of what a war crime is. The military tribunals for Guantanamo can’t even claim to have that legitimacy.

Filed under: International, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,


June 2020

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