Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Guantanamo Bay prison is a monument to failure

Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national who married a British citizen and was a resident of the UK, was set to be released Saturday after 13 years of unlawful detention at Guantanamo Bay.  Mr. Aamer has a wife and four children, the youngest of whom he has never seen.  Mr. Aamer, now 46, was working with a charity Afghanistan when he was kidnapped by bounty hunters and handed over to the Americans in 2001.

Mr. Aamer's release was delayed, once again, because of a "fact-finding" visit to Guantanamo by three Republican Senators, prompting his lawyer to state, "Shaker is being held for purely logistical and political reasons now, which is dreadful. They have had 30 days to prepare for his release – it only took 28 days after 9/11 to start a war in Afghanistan."

During the invasion of Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence agents let it be known that they would pay anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000 for al Qaeda or Taliban fighters handed over to them. "Get wealth and power beyond your dreams," stated a typical flyer handed out by the U.S. in Afghanistan, introduced as evidence in a 2002 U.S. federal court filing on behalf of several Guantanamo prisoners. "You can receive millions of dollars helping the anti-Taliban forces. This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life."

Soon enough, the cells of Bagram and Guantanamo were overflowing with goatherds, cabdrivers, cooks and shopkeepers – all lethally dangerous according to the men who turned them over and collected the rewards.

"Do you have any theories about why the government and the Pakistani intel folks would sell you out and turn you over to the Americans?" a member of a military tribunal asked an Egyptian prisoner held in the Guantanamo prison.

In the declassified transcript, the prisoner appears incredulous. "Come on, man," he replied,
"you know what happened. In Pakistan you can buy people for $10. So what about $5,000?"

"So they sold you?" the tribunal member asked, as if the thought had never before occurred to him.


According to the Pentagon's own figures, 86 percent of the prisoners at Guantanamo were handed over by Afghan and Pakistani fighters or agents after the bounties were announced. As of December 2006, the Pentagon had released 360 prisoners from Guantanamo. The Associated Press was able to track down 245 of them; 205 had been freed or cleared of all charges when they returned to their home countries

– from Chapter 14, The Shock Doctrine:The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein, 2007

The Taguba report (the result of an investigation in the Guantanamo Bay prison abuses by a US Army Major General, Antonio Taguba) which was released in April 2004, concluded that 60% of the detainees at Abu Ghraib "were no longer deemed a threat and clearly met the requirements for release."

The revelations of abuses at Abu Ghraib (and Guantanamo) were never about US treatment of terrorists.  They are about how Americans have treated people against whom no evidence of terrorist activities can be demonstrated.

The logic used in both cases is "since we can't prove them not guilty of any crime, they must, therefore, be assumed guilty."

That is obviously contrary to a long-standing principle of American justice; codified as the supreme law of our land, but espoused in the US Declaration of Independence as the God-given rights of all men.  The presumption of innocence is a basic tenet of the American system of justice (a system of justice that Americans, hypocritically, claim they want to spread to the entire world).

What difference does it make now?  It makes all the difference. Because it means that Americans chose to violate (not the civil rights of others) but their own principles.  They crapped on their own Constitution.  And there's a price to pay for that failure of courage.  Because, if Americans can't uphold and defend their own values in a time of crisis; they have already lost the fight to preserve them. 

The Guantanamo Bay prison facility, and the men held there extra-judiciously, is a monument to that failure.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tommy Douglas (born October 20, 1904)

In the summer of last year, when Canadians were given the chance to name the greatest Canadians ever, the list was topped by Pierre Trudeau, the father of Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and the prime minister who gave this country its Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  But near the very top of that list, they also chose a diminutive rural minister from the prairie province of Saskatchewan, a man who espoused a philosophy of collective compassion, equal access to health treatment for all, and fairness in hiring, among other things. A man I bet most Americans have never even heard of.

Tommy Douglas, the Canadian social reform politician and Baptist minister, is honored by Canadians for one thing ... he gave Canadians universal health care.  But it is not just Canada's health care system for which Canadians honor Douglas, it is his belief that every Canadian deserves the right to have quality health care, regardless of their economic or social situation.  That has become a core Canadian principle.

And last night, I believe, Canadians voted for a return to the Canada of Tommy Douglas, of Pierre Trudeau, Lester B. Pearson, and Jack Layton.  Not the Canada of the past ten years.

111 years ago, on October 20, 1904, Tommy Douglas was born in Falkirk, Scotland.  If you're Canadian, please take a minute to think about how we want to perceive ourselves, and be proud of a Canada in which a man like Tommy Douglas easily ranks among the greatest and most noble citizens.
Charles Aulds
October 20, 2015

Tommy Douglas

In preparation for Canada's 150th birthday (which will be in 2017), an online survey was conducted by the Canadian government, in which 12,000 Canadians participated, which produced a list of those Canadians who are most esteemed by the Canadian public.   Only one of these men is a military leader.

Top Canadian Heroes

  1. Pierre Elliot Trudeau
  2. Terry Fox
  3. Tommy Douglas
  4. Lester B. Pearson
  5. Chris Hadfield
  6. David Suzuki
  7. Jack Layton
  8. Sir John A. Macdonald
  9. Wayne Gretzky
  10. Romeo Dallaire

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Don't let fear determine your future

By the time of the next election; I will have been a resident of Canada for a full ten years, a citizen of this country for 3 and a half years, and will vote for the first time in a Canadian federal election.

I lived in the United State for 48 years, before immigrating to Canada from the state of Alabama in October 2005.  When I came to Canada, everything seemed pretty much like the US, but with a few differences, of which I was keenly aware.  In 2005, Canadians were not obsessed with their fears.  They did not talk about what they feared all day, they didn't try to convince me that I should be afraid, like them ... if I only understood the danger we're all in!  They didn't try to tell me that, in other words, that if I were smarter, I'd be more fearful.  What a bullshit attitude; but that was the attitude of the South I left. Constant fear, and bold talk, but just talk. 

I think the gun culture of the States defines the difference in Canadians and Americas.

I know the gun culture well, I was a part of it. It's a culture of fear ... Americans are a frightened people, controlled by that fear.

The guns – and I possessed my own share; I'm not exempting myself – are pacifiers. Americans need them to feel safe, secure, and in control. Canadians don't; and that's a huge cultural difference.

But consider what’s happened in the ten years since I crossed the border.  There is a large growing segment of Canada's population that is starting to obsess over fear. And fear has taken center stage in the upcoming federal election.

Fear is like anger.  It's an emotion that must be constantly fed, or it will diminish.  Canada has an entire political party, it seems to me, devoted to stoking fear, and anger, and hatred ... seeking to exploit those emotions.  Just like our American neighbors. 

Canada can avoid the same. On October 19, two weeks from today, I believe Canadians are going to soundly renounce the Conservative Party government of Canada; and reject the politics of fear that have controlled this nation for far too long.

Friday, October 2, 2015

How social media took out Vic Toews

Here's how social media was used to take out one sanctimonious Canadian politician.  I love this story.

Vic Toews was the Canadian Minister of Public Safety in Stephen Harper's Conservative Party government until he resigned on July 8, 2013. The year before, Toews had introduced the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act (also known as Bill C-30).  Bill C-30 was widely seen as introducing American-style warrantless surveillance to Canada.   In defending the bill, Vic Toews made the repugnant statement that people "can either stand with us or with the child pornographers."

In other words, "If you aren't a pornographer, you've nothing to fear."  The insinuation: "if you protest our surveillance bill, you might be suspected of viewing child porn"

And there's the logical fallacy: "if you've done nothing wrong, you have no reason to protect your privacy."

Public response to that statement, and protest of Bill C-30, was immediate. And within days, someone using an anonymous Twitter account began posting personal information of the court proceedings during Toews' divorce from his wife of 30 years, Lorraine Kathleen Fehr, after she discovered that he had fathered a child with their underage babysitter. All of the information posted was already on the public record, filed with the Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba, but posting in on Twitter was a violation of his privacy; true ... and it was a perfect use of irony to disprove Toews' claim that people who have done nothing wrong should have no expectation of privacy.

Toews later denied that he made the "child pornographers" reference, despite his comments being available on video. In February 2013 the government announced Bill C-30 would be scrapped entirely, Vic Toews resigned from his position on July 8th of that year, and retired from politics.

Do you think the mainstream media would've revealed the hypocrisy underlying Vic Toews' claim that no Canadian is entitled to a private life? 

Social media brought this one down.  He got what he deserved.