Saturday, September 23, 2006

Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati, Muayyed Nureddin, RCMP, CISIS and the Canadian Government

Please note that this blog is not updated anymore and most of the links here are not working. I nevertheless believe that the information contained here is important and anybody who wants to check the accuracy can easily do so by using Google.

To uphold what is right, is a good translation of the RCMP's motto Maintien le Droit. However, their tradition of doing so is not without blemishes. The most recent example of this - their actions with resepect to Maher Arar - are not only a betrayal of their motto, they are also a complete negation of what most Canadians believe in.

Canadians could have expected that the RCMP had learned its lessons after its criminal activities of the break-ins at Agence de Presse Libre du Québec (APLQ) in October 1972 and at the headquarters of the Parti Quebecois, a legal political party in Quebec, became public knowledge. They also resorted to arson by burning down a barn alleged to have been the place of a planned meeting between members of the Black Panther Party and people belonging to the FLQ.

The then Solicitor-General of Canada, Francis Fox admitted five years later that the RCMP had participated in the illegal acts of burning the barn and the theft of dynamite in the Montreal area and that computer tapes containing the names of the members of the Parti Québécois had been taken by the RCMP in 1973.

The trial of Robert Samson, a former constable of the RCMP and a member of the RCMP Security Service, took place in Montreal in March 1976. Samson was in court on charges arising from the bombing of the Montreal residence of a Steinberg's supermarket executive. During his trial, Samson testified that he had been involved in other questionable activities for the RCMP besides the bombing incident. When asked to explain he referred to "Operation Bricole." This was the code name for the unlawful entry and removal of documents from the Agence de Presse Libre du Québec (APLQ), a left-wing news agency located at 3459 St. Hubert Street, Montreal, which had occurred on 7 October 1972. ...

The APLQ matter was far from an isolated incident. The RCMP Security Service had indeed been involved in other unlawful activities.

After Samson, and others who took part in the APLQ incident, pleaded guilty, the implications of the case became widely known. The fact that officers from three different police forces namely: the RCMP Security Service, the Quebec Provincial Police Force and the Montreal City Police had participated in the APLQ break-in indicated that it was a highly organized operation. The Government of Quebec reacted to the APLQ affair by appointing a commission of inquiry under Jean Keable to investigate that incident, as well as other unauthorized activities of the RCMP in the province.

Soon, more about activities of the RCMP Security Service that were not authorized or provided for by law became known, but the most disturbing revelations came from within the force itself. When ex-Staff Sergeant Donald McCleery and ex-Sergeant Gilles Brunet met with senior officials of the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice, on 6 and 23 June 1977, concerning their discharge from the force, they made allegations that other members of the RCMP Security Service had been involved in searches without warrants, unauthorized mail openings and the use of forged documents.

Jean-Guy Chrétien, an MP, claimed that police officers involved in these crimes were subsequently promoted.

It is an elementary rule that most understand: You cannot do good, not to mention 'uphold the law', by doing evil.

The findings of the Keable Inquiry so embarrassed the Liberal government that the MacDonald Commission was hurriedly set-up as damage control. They recommended the establishment of CISIS, which was given wide ranging powers including the right to carry out activities which would otherwise be illegal. However, these powers do not include the right to hand over a Canadian citizen to the US government in order to transfer him to Syria to extract by torture what they could not prove. It was not only illegal but also stupid as it is a known fact that torture is not only repulsive but does not lead to useful results either. Victims will say anything they think their torturers want to hear to stop the pain.

Maher Arar was traveling through New York when he was arrested by US authorities on spurious charges of being involved with terrorism, and then “rendered” to Syria. He was incarcerated there for nine months and tortured. From the beginning, it was apparent that US authorities had acted on the basis of allegations forwarded by their Canadian counterparts, CSIS and the RCMP. To compound their travesty he was smeared upon his return by leaking to the press a “confession” extracted from him by torture.

The Toronto Star published a letter, on September 23, 2006, written by Don Weitz. (This had been linked to the Toronto Star site but the link went dead.) I couldn't have said it better myself with the exception that I would have said officials should be charged and fired.

Officials should be charged or fired.

RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli should immediately resign and those RCMP and consular officials involved in any way with the Maher Arar case should be criminally charged and suspended or fired.

RCMP and Canadian consular officials in Jordan and Syria did not just "mishandle" the Arar case but lied to American security officials by feeding them information they knew was false or unsubstantiated.

Since Judge Dennis O'Connor has declared Arar completely innocent of all charges, both Zaccardelli and Prime Minister Stephen Harper owe Arar, his wife and children a formal apology and substantial financial compensation.

Gar Pardy, former ambassador and director general of consular affairs at Foreign Affairs, wrote an excellent article in the Ottawa Citizen, September 23, 2006. (The link might not work; I got there via Google News but often it's impossible to get to a piece linked by Google News when one tries using the url, or sometimes the url expires.)

The same old Mounties

Justice Dennis O'Connor, in the quiet demeanour of a wise and intelligent man, has provided a comprehensive and devastating account of the tragedy of Maher Arar. ...

The fundamental problem with the Arar Commission's first report is that it provides little historical context or policy prescriptions for the issues associated with policing in Canada. Its specific recommendations, laudable as they all are, do not (and perhaps could not given Justice O'Connor's mandate) address any of the serious structural, policy and political-oversight issues that have plagued policing and security matters in Canada for a large number of years.

These issues are not new. Twenty-five years ago, the McDonald Commission of Inquiry looked at many of these questions and provided comprehensive recommendations to the Trudeau government in 1981. As a result the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) was established along with an independent oversight body called the Security Intelligence Review Commission (SIRC). The RCMP was stripped of responsibility for national security matters, although the staffing for the new CSIS was made up of former members of the RCMP.

There were even earlier reports on these matters. The Kellock-Taschereau Commission concerning the defection of Igor Gouzenko as long ago as 1946 highlighted some of these issues. Twenty years later, in 1968, it was necessary to again look at some of the same problems and the Mackenzie Royal Commission again made recommendations.

A reading of the McDonald report provides a sense of deja vu when compared to what Justice O'Connor has to say. Many of the same issues are covered and, given the record of the RCMP, it will bob and weave on Justice O'Connor's recommendations. ...

The respected journalist Eric Margolis sees it this way:

Officials directly involved in the most sordid, disgraceful case in Canada’s modern history, must face justice. They are as much guilty as the torturers who beat Maher Arar mercilessly for 10 months.

Maher Arar: "They ruined my life"

Click on the black space to listen to Maher Arar tell his story on this video. (It's not quite 3 minutes long.)

There are three more men, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, who have endured ordeals similar to Maher Arar. Most Canadians probably don't even know about them. But we should really ask ourselves what kind of society we live in where such lawless acts can be carried out by the police and intelligence forces who are supposed to uphold the law. Justice O'Connor was surprised that a commission of inquiry was necessary for this. Every Canadian should be too. We should also critically examine the so-called war on terror and try to see through the haze of official propaganda even if it is not an easy task.

The official report by The Honourable Dennis R. O'Connor, Associate Chief Justice of Ontario, into the wrongdoing inflicted upon Maher Arar can be found here. There will be another report in a few months with recommendations for the future.

Added Sep 29, 2006:

I think RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli should be charged in a court of law. He swore to uphold the law and he is subject to Canadian law. I'm not a lawyer but I can't believe that there is no law in this country making it a crime to send somebody to another country to be tortured. And he knew, or should have known, that Arar would get tortured. In any case, after this he is not a person who should be heading the RCMP.

Heafey [former chair of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission] clashed often with him. When she lodged a complaint (this had been linked to an article at the Toronto Star site but the link went dead) on behalf of Arar, she says she received a 1 1/2-page letter eight months later, admitting nothing but a few policy irregularities.

Added October 12, 2006

Amnesty International demands federal inquiry into Canadian detainee cases

Amnesty International on Thursday called on the Canadian government to launch independent investigations into the cases of three more Muslim citizens who were detained and allegedly tortured in Syria while being interrogated about terrorist ties.

The human rights group also demanded that recommendations by a federal commission that reviewed the Maher Arar case, which spurred outrage among Muslims and civil libertarians, be quickly implemented. ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stopped short of apologizing to Arar, but told U.S. President George W. Bush he would file a complaint with Washington, saying Arar was done a "tremendous injustice."

In his report released last month, O'Connor said three other cases raised troubling questions about the role of Canadian officials in the torture of Canadian citizens and urged the government to appointment independent investigators into those cases.

Amnesty International wants federal inquiry into other cases like Arar

Amnesty International is calling on the federal government to hurry up and follow the recommendations of the Maher Arar commission by launching an "independent, comprehensive and fair" inquiry into the cases of three men who also were detained and allegedly tortured in Syria.

Similarities among the cases raise disturbing questions about Canada's role in their ordeals, Alex Neve, the group's Canadian secretary general, told a news conference Thursday.

"All of these men were of interest in the course of Canadian national security investigations," Neve said. "All of these men were tortured in the same military intelligence building in Damacus.

"All of these cases raise deeply disturbing questions about the possibility of Canadian complicity in what happened to them - complicity in arbitrary imprisonment, complicity in torture." ...

"Someone has to answer for the 22 months I spent in jail for no reason," Almalki said. "And someone has to be held accountable for continuously feeding unreliable information that kept me in an underground solitary confinement cell for 482 consecutive days." ...

Almalki said reading the Arar report was difficult, especially learning that Canada's ambassador in Damacus handed RCMP questions to Syrian authorities to ask Arar.

"It was hard to imagine to what point the Canadian government degraded and dehumanized me," Almalki said. "It looks like they basically did not consider me as a human being any more, let alone as a Canadian citizen.

"What were they thinking?"

El Maati, who was imprisoned for two years and two months, said he has had no place to go for answers.

His ordeal began on Sept. 11, 2001, when two CSIS agents showed up at his door. He said they threatened him when he asked for a lawyer and implied he could be subjected to torture by secret police.

"They told me they would stop my wife from coming to Canada if I did not co-operate with them," he said. "Two months later, I was in a Syrian cell being tortured" by the very people CSIS had talked about.

"They asked me questions that could only have come from Canada. Two-and-a-half months later, I was in an Egyptian cell being tortured. . . . These (torturers) asked me Canadian questions.

"My life was destroyed." ...

Others who have called for independent review of the three cases include the UN human rights committee and an all-party group of former MPs. ...

"The review must be able to investigate matters fully, without any limitations, without any restrictions on access to information or individuals. The review process must be one that inspires public confidence in the outcome."

What is the Prime Minister waiting for?

Added January 14, 2007:

Time to guard the guardians says Justice Dennis O'Connor calling for a new watchdog to independently monitor and review all RCMP activities, including national security, in a bid to prevent a replay of the Maher Arar affair.

Maher Aarar's own website
. It includes many useful links.

Added January 20, 2007:

Maher Arar sent a video message to the audience at the 2006 Letellier-Moffit Human Rights Award. He and the Center for Constitutional Rights were awarded the International Award. It was impossible for him to attend the ceremony because he was (is?) still barred from entry into the United States.

Length: 7:45 mins

Google video
Length: 7:45 mins

Transcript (pdf file)

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now dealt with "extraordinary renditions" in general and Maher Arar in particular in this program. (It includes part of the video message linked to above. Total length: 29 mins) Stephen Grey, British journalist and author, who helped to expose the secret rendition flights and torture programs of the CIA was the invited guest. In his book he tells the story of 87 CIA victims and according to him some of them are still in their Syrian cells. Incidentally, one of the victims supposedly involved in 9-11 was sent there to prevent him from testifying, which again raises questions about unknown aspects of 9-11.

Sen. Patrick Leahy questioning Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Extraordinary Rendition Victim Maher Arar: "We Knew Damn Well He’d Be Tortured”

The first 5 minutes of this clip. (It is followed by a fascinating interview - albeit about sickening deeds done to African Americans - with Harriet Washington, author of Medical Apartheid. Dr. Mengele wasn't the first to use human beings as subjects.)

Added January 26, 2007

Maher Arar will be given a compensation package amounting to more than $10-million, government sources told The Globe and Mail.

The package, the highest in Canadian history and the first relating to the torture of a citizen overseas, will be announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in recognition of the role the government and the security services played in his deportation to Syria in 2002. Mr. Arar had been seeking an apology and $37-million, down from his initial demand for $400-million. ...

Mr. Arar was left shattered by his experience. He struggles with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder while making a new life for himself and his family in British Columbia. ...

... a separate inquiry has been called into the case of three others, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muyyed Nurredin. Former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci is looking into their cases. ...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Junk science

Tobacco smoke is good and does not cause harm. Climate change is not happening.

That's what "grassroots groups" Exxon and Big Tobacco created want you to believe. They call the scientific evidence for climate change and the damage secondary tobacco smoke causes in non-smokers "junk science".

The real junk science belongs to them of course and this also raises the broader question of how political decicions are made in so-called democracies.

Money talks.

For years, a network of fake citizens' groups and bogus scientific bodies has been claiming that science of global warming is inconclusive. They set back action on climate change by a decade. But who funded them? Exxon's involvement is well known, but not the strange role of Big Tobacco. ...

ExxonMobil is the world's most profitable corporation. Its sales now amount to more than $1bn a day. It makes most of this money from oil, and has more to lose than any other company from efforts to tackle climate change. To safeguard its profits, ExxonMobil needs to sow doubt about whether serious action needs to be taken on climate change. But there are difficulties: it must confront a scientific consensus as strong as that which maintains that smoking causes lung cancer or that HIV causes Aids. So what's its strategy?

The website, using data found in the company's official documents, lists 124 organisations that have taken money from the company or work closely with those that have. These organisations take a consistent line on climate change: that the science is contradictory, the scientists are split, environmentalists are charlatans, liars or lunatics, and if governments took action to prevent global warming, they would be endangering the global economy for no good reason. The findings these organisations dislike are labelled "junk science". The findings they welcome are labelled "sound science". ...

... the corporate funding of lobby groups denying that manmade climate change is taking place was initiated not by Exxon, or by any other firm directly involved in the fossil fuel industry. It was started by the tobacco company Philip Morris. ...

... the fake citizens' group had a name: the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition. It was important, further letters stated, "to ensure that TASSC has a diverse group of contributors"; to "link the tobacco issue with other more 'politically correct' products"; and to associate scientific studies that cast smoking in a bad light with "broader questions about government research and regulations" - such as "global warming", "nuclear waste disposal" and "biotechnology". ...

There are clear similarities between the language used and the approaches adopted by Philip Morris and by the organisations funded by Exxon. The two lobbies use the same terms, which appear to have been invented by Philip Morris's consultants. "Junk science" meant peer-reviewed studies showing that smoking was linked to cancer and other diseases. "Sound science" meant studies sponsored by the tobacco industry suggesting that the link was inconclusive. Both lobbies recognised that their best chance of avoiding regulation was to challenge the scientific consensus. As a memo from the tobacco company Brown and Williamson noted, "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy." Both industries also sought to distance themselves from their own campaigns, creating the impression that they were spontaneous movements of professionals or ordinary citizens: the "grassroots".

But the connection goes further than that. TASSC, the "coalition" created by Philip Morris, was the first and most important of the corporate-funded organisations denying that climate change is taking place. It has done more damage to the campaign to halt it than any other body. ...

[George Monbiot wrote] I have no evidence that Fred Singer or his organisation have taken money from Philip Morris. But many of the other bodies that have been sponsored by Exxon and have sought to repudiate climate change were also funded by the tobacco company. Among them are some of the world's best-known "thinktanks": the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, the Reason Foundation and the Independent Institute, as well as George Mason University's Law and Economics Centre. I can't help wondering whether there is any aspect of conservative thought in the United States that has not been formed and funded by the corporations. ...

While they have been most effective in the United States, the impacts of the climate-change deniers sponsored by Exxon and Philip Morris have been felt all over the world. I have seen their arguments endlessly repeated in Australia, Canada, India, Russia and the UK. By dominating the media debate on climate change during seven or eight critical years in which urgent international talks should have been taking place, by constantly seeding doubt about the science just as it should have been most persuasive, they have justified the money their sponsors have spent on them many times over. It is fair to say that the professional denial industry has delayed effective global action on climate change by years, just as it helped to delay action against the tobacco companies.

Here is a fascinating list of organisations Exxon gave more than 12 million US Dollars to since 1998, details about them, other organisations providing funds and their relation to the denial of climate change taking place in addition to other more general info.

For a riveting Flash presentation about the climate change deniers, Exxon's political connections and much more go to this site. Check the menu on the top left after the Introduction and instructions how to use the presentation. It's a motherlode of information.

You need the Flash 7 player available free here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Pope's dangerous meddling in international politics

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

Who am I to criticise the Pope?

And yet I feel I have a right to do so because of the importance attached to his office and the repercussions we might all feel for anything unwise done in its name. To fan the already smoldering flames between so-called Christian countries and those where the Muslim faith prevails is a totally irresponsible thing to do. It's not the first time the Vatican gets involved in politics but this time people have already died because of it.

It doesn't even matter very much if the Pope got it right or if he was wrong in his interpretation of the teachings of the Prophet.

According to the BBC:

In his speech at Regensburg University, the German-born Pope explored the historical and philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity, and the relationship between violence and faith.

Stressing that they were not his own words, he quoted Emperor Manuel II Paleologos of the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox Christian empire which had its capital in what is now the Turkish city of Istanbul.

The emperor's words were, he said: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Benedict said "I quote" twice to stress the words were not his and added that violence was "incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul".

"The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application," he added in the concluding part of his speech.

"Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."

Read the Pope's speech here.

To say "I quote" twice doesn't change a thing in my opinion. He enunciated the inflammatory words. (Imagine somebody reciting parts of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to make a point about Judaism!) Others have charitably said the Pope 'didn't think' about his words. I don't accept this for a moment. One may safely assume that the Pope always thinks before saying something, besides it's not the first time he made inappropriate comments about Islam.

It appears to me that his words are also contrary to accepted Catholic teachings.

Vatican II on Islam (Thank you, Juan Cole.)

The Church therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.

The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes great pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgement when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this Sacred Synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.
But, perhaps, what made me - a non-Muslim - the most upset is the Pope's ignorance of the history of his Church. First contact for natives in the Americas with the Spanish often meant their death. The Spaniards read the Requirement in Spanish, which the natives obviously didn't understand, and then massacred them blaming them for their own death. The "Christian" religion provided the "justification".

The Requirement:

I, Francisco Pizarro, servant of the high and mighty kings of Castile and Leon, conquerors of barbarian peoples, and being their messenger and Captain, hereby notify and inform you ... that God Our Lord, One and Eternal, created Heaven and Earth and a man and a woman from whom you and I and all the people of the world are descended. . . . Because of the great multitude begotten from these over the past five thousand and some years since the world was made . . . God placed one called Saint Peter in charge over all these peoples. . . . And so I request and require you ... to recognize the Church as your Mistress and as Governess of the World and Universe, and the High Priest, called the Pope, in Her name, and His Majesty [king of Spain] in Her place, as Ruler and Lord King. And if you do not do this . . . with the help of God I shall come mightily against you, and I shall make war on you everywhere and in every way that I can, and I shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and His Majesty, and I shall seize your women and children, and I shall make them slaves, to sell and dispose of as His Majesty commands, and I shall do all the evil and damage to you that I am able. And I insist that the deaths and destruction that result from this will be your fault.

Ronald Wright (who quotes the Requirement) discusses various population estimates of the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans in Stolen Continents and there is no agreement among scholars about how many people lived there at the time. However, one thing is certain, Europeans slaughtered millions and millions in the name of the Christian faith. They also destroyed invaluable treasures of the Maya, Incas and others, which many consider genocide as well.

It was not one of the greatest moments in the papacy of Benedict XVI and the words of Cardinal Walter Kasper do not not sound encouraging:

Europe's experiment with multiculturalism, or the side-by-side existence of different cultures, has failed throughout the continent. Integration requires a minimum basis of shared values, that is, a culture of mutual tolerance and respect -- in other words, what constitutes the heart of European culture. This is why integration is not possible without excluding those who do not recognize this culture.

The cardinal's tone sounds anything but apologetic and he's old enough to know that the "mutual tolerance and respect" were not practised when the Holocaust was unleashed in his native country while his church turned a blind eye not wanting to see the mass murder taking place. It's highly debatable that "tolerance and respect" constitute "the heart of European culture." I think the massive genocide of Amerindians and Jews as well as unprecendented destruction and killing in two world wars are much more the heart of European culture than tolerance and respect. Over 6 million perished in the Holocaust, milions and millions of Amerindians were killed in the name of the Christian God and doctrines such as Manifest Destiny. In the last century almost 100 million people were killed in war, most of them unleashed by Europeans.

Where does the cardinal see tolerance and respect?

Added September 25.

The Pope has said many things and talked to many people since he made the ill advised comment but one thing he has yet to say is "I'm sorry for what I've said". It's difficult, if not impossible, to say that when one is considered to be infallible.

Hizzbollah's war crimes

There is a saying (or cliche) that the first casualty of war is the truth. If that is so the second casualty must be decency.

Recent reports of Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuse both Hizzbollah and Israel of war crimes. HRW - apparently being able to read minds - sees a difference in intent on the part of the two sides and concluded that Hizzbollah deliberately hit the civilians while Israel's actions were simply a technical failure, a failure to take precautions, and not intentional.

It wouldn't surprise me if Hizzbollah fighters are indeed guilty of war crimes as well. But let's take a closer look at some of the targets and perhaps also wonder whether there was some US and Israeli pressure to make such statements.

The BBC reported:

Hezbollah had fired nearly 4,000 rockets into northern Israel, killing 43 civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee. Amnesty International noted that although Hezbollah had said its policy was not to target civilians, its leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said the policy was changed in reprisal for Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilian areas.

Haaretz quoted Sheikh Nasrallah as saying:

"As long as the enemy undertakes its aggression without limits or red lines, we will also respond without limits or red lines." This is no excuse but let's have a look at the some of the "civilian" areas subjected to rocket attacks.

The Israeli Air Force launched more than 7,000 air attacks on about 7,000 targets in Lebanon between 12 July and 14 August, while the Navy conducted an additional 2,500 bombardments. The attacks, though widespread, particularly concentrated on certain areas. An estimated 1,183 people died, about one third of whom were children, 4,054 people were injured and 970,000 Lebanese people have been displaced.

Jonathan Cook wrote:
It is also not clear, as I tried to document during the war, from the geographical locations where Hizbullah's rockets struck. My ability to discuss those locations was limited because all journalists based in Israel are subject to the rules of the military censor. We cannot divulge information useful to the "enemy" about Israel's myriad military installations -- its army camps, military airfields, intelligence posts, arms stores and Rafael weapons factories.

What I did try to alert readers to was the fact that many, if not most, of those military sites are located next to or inside Israeli communities, including Arab towns and villages. [my emphasis]

At least it is now possible, because some army positions were temporary, to reveal that many communities in the north had artillery batteries stationed next to them firing into Lebanon and that from Haifa Bay warships continually launched warheads at Lebanon. That information is now publicly available in Israel, and other examples are regularly coming to light.

I reported, for example, the other day that the Haaretz newspaper referred to legal documents to be presented in a compensation suit which show that the Arab village of Fassouta, close to the border with Lebanon, had an artillery battery stationed next to it throughout much of the war. A press release this week from a Nazareth-based welfare organisation, the Laborers' Voice, reveals that another battery was positioned by an Arab town, Majd al-Krum, during the war. Arab member of Knesset Abbas Zakour has also gone publicly on the record: "During a short visit to offer condolences to the families of victims killed in Hizbullah's rocket attacks, I saw Israeli tanks shelling Lebanon from the two towns of Arab Al-Aramisha and Tarshiha."

In other Arab communities, including Jish, Shaghour, and Kfar Manda, the Israeli army requisitioned areas to train their troops for the ground invasion of south Lebanon. According to the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA), based in Nazareth, army officials justified their decision on the following grounds: "The landscape of Arab towns [in Israel] is similar to Arab towns in Lebanon." ...

It might be possible to dismiss Bouckaert's comments as the private opinion of one researcher (even if one of HRW's most senior) were it not for the fact that the organisation has stood by his statements in correspondence with me. I have been told that Bouckaert's assertions are justified because "we generally conclude that the use of weapons that can't be targeted / are not precise, eg. are indiscriminate, when fired into civilian areas, are in and of themselves evidence of targeting civilians."

In fact, I know from conversations with Israeli journalists that Hizbullah's rockets were not as inaccurate as HRW would like to assume. Several important military sites were hit by Hizbullah rockets, though none of those incidents were reported and apparently cannot be as long as the military censorship rules apply.

I have also seen the deep scarring and charred brush on a hillside in northern Israel where an important army bunker used by military planners is located -- evidence that Hizbullah knew exactly what was there and successfully aimed many of its rockets at the site.

Is it still possible to presume that Hizbullah is "directly" targeting civilians, as Bouckaert claims? HRW again: "We can conclude that they [Hizbullah] are targeting civilians and not just failing to discriminate sufficiently because the weapons themselves are not capable of being targeted with any real degree of precision, according to our arms division, so they know full well that the likelihood is that the weapons will not hit their target / will kill civilians."

What are we supposed to make of this argument from the world's foremost human rights organisation? HRW is accusing Hizbullah of committing graver war crimes than Israel, even though it killed far fewer civilians both numerically and proportionally, because its rockets are "less accurate". HRW is saying, in effect, that whatever Hizbullah's and Israel's respective intentions and whatever the respective outcomes of their attacks, Hizbullah must be treated as the greater pariah because its technology is inferior. Whether or not Hizbullah was aiming for military targets is irrelevant, says HRW, because its primitive rockets were likely to hit civilians -- as opposed to Israel, which struck at Lebanese civilians with precision weapons.

And all of this, of course, entirely ignores Israel's use of as many as 100,000 cluster bombs, leaving an indiscriminate legacy of bomblets across south Lebanon that will kill and maim for months, and possibly years, to come. Is that not "clear" proof that Israel was "deliberately" targeting Lebanese civilians?

HRW's logic appears to be arguing that Hizbullah had no right -- given its inadequate rocket technology -- to defend its country from Israel's massive bombardment of Lebanon's civilian population. In other words, it had no right of self-defence because its military arsenal was inferior. It should have sat out the weeks of aerial attacks, refusing to engage Israel until the Israeli army decided it was time to mount a ground invasion. Only at that point, HRW implies, did Hizbullah have the right to strike back.

Such an argument effectively legitimises the use of military might by the stronger party, thereby making a nonsense of international law and the human rights standards HRW is supposed to uphold.

Now have a look at this video produced by AI and AI satellite images from Lebanon and speculate about the "accuracy" of Israel's bombs and artillery.

Of course, a war crime is a war crime regardless who commits it and should be prosecuted.

I just wish that there was a little more perspective and that the biggest war criminals in terms of definitions laid down in the Nuremberg war crime trials and UN conventions (G.W. Bush and Rumsfeld for the catastrophy they unleashed in Iraq) had their day in court first. Then after putting Sharon on trial for his responsibility (Kahan Commission) in the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla in the previous invasion of Lebanon by Israel they could see if Nasrallah is guilty of these crimes as well.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Mr Siniora on the prospects of peace in the Middle East

Listen to Prime Minister Siniora of Lebanon within Amy Goodman's report of Sep 1, 2006. If he ever was the West's man (an impression one could easily have had given the press coverage after the Syrians were forced to leave Lebanon), he isn't anymore.