a turning point in modern politics: just watch me


Humanity is born free, yet everywhere it is … in thrall to the military-industrial complex using threats of terrorism to manipulate the cowed multitudes.

My question is this: why, when Pierre Elliot Trudeau imposed the War Measures Act (as a response to the kidnapping of only two individuals and with no sign of a war) did we accept this as right and good, yet when Tony Blair and George W. Bush impose similar measures (and they are both actively fighting wars…well, the poor people in their countries are; and there have been terrorist attacks in each of their countries which have killed a significant number of regular citizens) we reject it as nothing more than a cynical fascist control technique?

For me, I have an excuse: I was little when Trudeau ruled the Earth. But even then I was anti-fascist. I don’t think there’s any question about whether or not the technique if fascist: it is. The question is why did it seem right then but not now?

Is it personality-driven? Is it the charm factor? Is it because Trudeau was so obviously more intelligent than either Blair or Bush? or, come to think of it, more intelligent than the citizenry and we damn well knew it? Blair‘s no moron, though; is it because he’s so much Bush‘s catamite that he gets zero IQ points by association (or as a penalty for bad taste)? And can you imagine Stephen “RoboTory” Harper getting away with something like that? He’d be run out of Ottawa at the head of a mob armed with insulated buckets of boiling Steeped Tea.

Pierre Trudeau‘s speech announcing the imposition of the War Measures Act is after the jump, and very interesting reading it makes, too:

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Notes for a national broadcast, October 16, 1970

I am speaking to you at a moment of grave crisis, when violent and fanatical men are attempting to destroy the unity and the freedom of Canada. One aspect of that crisis is the threat which has been made on the lives of two innocent men. These are matters of the utmost gravity and I want to tell you what the Government is doing to deal with them.

What has taken place in Montreal in the past two weeks is not unprecedented. It has happened elsewhere in the world on several recent occasions; it could happen elsewhere within Canada. But Canadians have always assumed that it could not happen here and as a result we are doubly shocked that it has.

Our assumption may have been naive, but it was understandable; understandable because democracy flourishes in Canada; understandable because individual liberty is cherished in Canada.

Notwithstanding these conditions  —  partly because of them  —  it has now been demonstrated to us by a few misguided persons just how fragile a democratic society can be, if democracy is not prepared to defend itself, and just how vulnerable to blackmail are tolerant, compassionate people.

Because the kidnappings and the blackmail are most familiar to you, I shall deal with them first.

The governments of Canada and Quebec have been told by groups of self-styled revolutionaries that they intend to murder in cold blood two innocent men unless their demands are met. The kidnappers claim they act as they do in order to draw attention to instances of social injustice. But I ask them whose attention are they seeking to attract. The Government of Canada? The Government of Quebec? Every government in this country is well aware of the existence of deep and important social problems. And every government to the limit of its resources and ability is deeply committed to their solution. But not by kidnappings and bombings. By hard work. And if any doubt exists about the good faith or the ability of any government, there are opposition parties ready and willing to be given an opportunity to govern. In short, there is available everywhere in Canada an effective mechanism to change governments by peaceful means. It has been employed by disenchanted voters again and again.

Who are the kidnap victims? To the victims’ families they are husbands and fathers. To the kidnappers their identity is immaterial. The kidnappers’ purposes would be served equally well by having in their grip you or me, or perhaps some child. Their purpose is to exploit the normal, human feelings of Canadians and to bend those feelings of sympathy into instruments for their own violent and revolutionary ends.

What are the kidnappers demanding in return for the lives of these men? Several things. For one, they want their grievances aired by force in public on the assumption, no doubt, that all right-thinking persons would be persuaded that the problems of the world can be solved by shouting slogans and insults.

They want more, they want the police to offer up as a sacrificial lamb a person whom they assume assisted in the lawful arrest and proper conviction of certain of their criminal friends.

They also want money. Ransom money.

They want still more. They demand the release from prison of 17 criminals, and the dropping of charges against 6 other men, all of whom they refer to as “political prisoners”. Who are these men who are held out as latter-day patriots and martyrs? Let me describe them to you.

Three are convicted murderers; five others were jailed for manslaughter; one is serving a life imprisonment after having pleaded guilty to numerous charges related to bombings; another has been convicted of 17 armed robberies; two were once parolled but are now back in jail awaiting trial on charges of robberies.

Yet we are being asked to believe that these persons have been unjustly dealt with, that they have been imprisoned as a result of their political opinions, and that they deserve to be freed immediately, without recourse to due process of law.

The responsibility of deciding whether to release one or other of these criminals is that of the Federal Government. It is a responsibility that the Government will discharge according to law. To bow to the pressures of these kidnappers who demand that the prisoners be released would be not only an abdication of responsibility, it would lead to an increase in terrorist activities in Quebec. It would be as well an invitation to terrorism and kidnapping across the country. We might well find ourselves facing an endless series of demands for the release of criminals from jails, from coast to coast, and we would find that the hostages could be innocent members of your family or mine.

At the moment the FLQ is holding hostage two men in the Montreal area, one a British diplomat, the other a Quebec cabinet minister. They are threatened with murder. Should governments give in to this crude blackmail we would be facing the breakdown of the legal system, and its replacement by the law of the jungle. The Government’s decision to prevent this from happening is not taken just to defend an important principle, it is taken to protect the lives of Canadians from dangers of the sort I have mentioned. Freedom and personal security are safeguarded by laws; those laws must be respected in order to be effective.

If it is the responsibility of government to deny the demands of the kidnappers, the safety of the hostages is without question the responsibility of the kidnappers. Only the most twisted form of logic could conclude otherwise. Nothing that either the Government of Canada or the Government of Quebec has done or failed to do, now or in the future, could possibly excuse any injury to either of these two innocent men. The guns pointed at their heads have FLQ fingers on the triggers. Should any injury result, there is no explanation that could condone the acts. Should there be harm done to these men, the Government promises unceasing pursuit of those responsible.

During the past 12 days, the Governments of Canada and Quebec have been engaged in constant consultations. The course followed in this matter had the full support of both governments, and of the Montreal municipal authorities. In order to save the lives of Mr. Cross and Mr. Laporte, we have engaged in communications with the kidnappers.

The offer of the federal government to the kidnappers of safe conduct out of Canada to a country of their choice, in return for the delivery of the hostages has not yet been taken up, neither has the offer of the Government of Quebec to recommend parole for the five prisoners eligible for parole.

This offer of safe conduct was made only because Mr. Cross and Mr. Laporte might be able to identify their kidnappers and to assist in their prosecution. By offering the kidnappers safe exit from Canada we removed from them any possible motivation for murdering their hostages.

Let me turn now to the broader implications of the threat represented by the FLQ and similar organizations.

If a democratic society is to continue to exist, it must be able to root out the cancer of an armed, revolutionary movement that is bent on destroying the very basis of our freedom. For that reason the Government, following an analysis of the facts, including requests of the Government of Quebec and the City of Montreal for urgent action, decided to proclaim the War Measures Act. It did so at 4:00 a.m. this morning, in order to permit the full weight of Government to be brought quickly to bear on all those persons advocating or practising violence as a means of achieving political ends.

The War Measures Act gives sweeping powers to the Government. It also suspends the operation of the Canadian Bill of Rights. I can assure you that the Government is most reluctant to seek such powers, and did so only when it became crystal clear that the situation could not be controlled unless some extraordinary assistance was made available on an urgent basis.

The authority contained in the Act will permit Governments to deal effectively with the nebulous yet dangerous challenge to society represented by the terrorist organizations. The criminal law as it stands is simply not adequate to deal with systematic terrorism.

The police have therefore been given certain extraordinary powers necessary for the effective detection and elimination of conspiratorial organizations which advocate the use of violence. These organizations, and membership in them, have been declared illegal. The powers include the right to search and arrest without warrant, to detain suspected persons without the necessity of laying specific charges immediately, and to detain persons without bail.

These are strong powers and I find them as distasteful as I am sure do you. They are necessary, however, to permit the police to deal with persons who advocate or promote the violent overthow of our democratic system. In short, I assure you that the Government recognizes its grave responsibilities in interfering in certain cases with civil liberties, and that it remains answerable to the people of Canada for its actions. The Government will revoke this proclamation as soon as possible.

As I said in the House of Commons this morning, the government will allow sufficient time to pass to give it the necessary experience to assess the type of statute which may be required in the present circumstances.

It is my firm intention to discuss then with the leaders of the Opposition parties the desirability of introducing legislation of a less comprehensive nature. In this respect I earnestly solicit from the leaders and from all Honourable members constructive suggestions for the amendment of the regulations. Such suggestions will be given careful consideration for possible inclusion in any new statute.

I recognize, as I hope do others, that this extreme position into which governments have been forced is in some respects a trap. It is a well-known technique of revolutionary groups who attempt to destroy society by unjustified violence to goad the authorities into inflexible attitudes. The revolutionaries then employ this evidence of alleged authoritarianism as justification for the need to use violence in their renewed attacks on the social structure. I appeal to all Canadians not to become so obsessed by what the government has done today in response to terrorism that they forget the opening play in this vicious game. That play was taken by the revolutionaries; they chose to use bombing, murder and kidnapping.

The threat posed by the FLQ terrorists and their supporters is out of all proportion to their numbers. This follows from the fact that they act stealthily and because they are known to have in their possession a considerable amount of dynamite. To guard against the very real possibility of bombings directed at public buildings or utilities in the immediate future, the Government of Quebec has requested the assistance of the Canadian Armed Forces to support the police in several places in the Province of Quebec. These forces took up their positions yesterday.

Violence, unhappily, is no stranger to this decade. The Speech from the Throne opening the current session of Parliament a few days ago said that “we live in a period of tenseness and unease”. We must not overlook the fact, moreover, that violence is often a symptom of deep social unrest. This government has pledged that it will introduce legislation which deals not just with symptoms but with the social causes which often underlie or serve as an excuse for crime and disorder.

It was in that context that I stated in the House of Commons a year ago that there was no need anywhere in Canada for misguided or misinformed zealots to resort to acts of violence in the belief that only in this fashion could they accomplish change. There may be some places in the world where the law is so inflexible and so insensitive as to prompt such beliefs. But Canada is not such a place. I said then, and I repeat now, that those who would defy the law and ignore the opportunities available to them to right their wrongs and satisfy their claims will receive no hearing from this government.

We shall ensure that the laws passed by Parliament are worthy of respect. We shall also ensure that those laws are respected.

We have seen in many parts of Canada all too much evidence of violence in the name of revolution in the past 12 months. We are now able to see some of the consequences of violence. Persons who invoke violence are raising deliberately the level of hate in Canada. They do so at a time when the country must eliminate hate, and must exhibit tolerance and compassion in order to create the kind of society which we all desire. Yet those who disrespect legal processes create a danger that law-abiding elements of the community, out of anger and out of fear, will harden their attitudes and refuse to accommodate any change or remedy any shortcomings. They refuse because fear deprives persons of their normal sense of compassion and their normal sense of justice.

This government is not acting out of fear. It is acting to prevent fear from spreading. It is acting to maintain the rule of law without which freedom is impossible. It is acting to make clear to kidnappers and revolutionaries and assassins that in this country laws are made and changed by the elected representatives of all Canadians – not by a handful of self-selected dictators – those who gain power through terror, rule through terror. The government is acting, therefore, to protect your life and your liberty.

The government is acting as well to ensure the safe return of Mr. James Cross and Mr. Pierre Laporte. I speak for millions of Canadians when I say to their courageous wives and families how much we sympathize with them for the nightmare to which they have been subjected, and how much we all hope and pray that it will soon conclude.

Canada remains one of the most wholesome and humane lands on this earth. If we stand firm, this current situation will soon pass. We will be able to say proudly, as we have for decades, that within Canada there is ample room for opposition and dissent, but none for intimidation and terror.

There are very few times in the history of any country when all persons must take a stand on critical issues. This is one of those times; this is one of those issues. I am confident that those persons who unleashed this tragic sequence of events with the aim of destroying our society and dividing our country will find that the opposite will occur. The result of their acts will be a stronger society in a unified country. Those who would have divided us will have united us.

I sense the unease which grips many Canadians today. Some of you are upset, and this is understandable. I want to reassure you that the authorities have the situation well in hand. Everything that needs to be done is being done; every level of government in this country is well prepared to act in your interests.

23 thoughts on “a turning point in modern politics: just watch me

  1. I think it is as much because of this, and because of the realization that what might have been an appropriate response in the paranoia of the fifties was so out of time in the seventies, that we see the actions of the current crop as abhorrent.

    I also feel that a degree of intercultural understanding plays a role. Trudeau was French Canadian, yes, but he’d been plugged into the Ottawa view for over a decade when the Laporte kidnapping took place. I feel that the people who were briefing him saw the FLQ as a threat writ large, as an idea that had the potential to fire the “Revolution Quebecois”; requiring a military response.

    Modern Anglo-Canucks, who have had more exposure to the culture of Quebec, might, I think, laugh this off as naivete. But to the Quebec-watchers and security apparatchiks in Ottowa the threat was real.

    The lesson of history was that the response must be measured by the reality of the threat. Which is why the neo-con administration’s distortions surrounding Iraq, and the new round of sabre-rattling towards Iran, arouse such contempt in the outer world.

    It seems as though America’s experience with domestic terror leads it to believe that the solution is greater security, hence the current craze.

    Unfortunately the lesson is deceptive. Timothy McVeigh had no true political goal when he blew up the Murragh building. American viewers daily consume military-style gun violence daily on the news, and it seemed as if, in this culture, McVeigh’s crime was written off as an aberration rather than an indictment of “militias” and of their associations.

    The attacks of September 11th, 2001, had a purpose: to create misery, fear, and unpleasantness. And it was a 66% likely win-win for the terror groups. If Bush and co failed to be seen to respond, they might be perceived as weak. If they over-reacted and started throwing their weight around, they’d lose sympathy and credibility both internationally and amongst their own citizenry. In that sense, the attacks succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of terrorism.

    The only threat was the possibility that the US would make the appropriate internal security adjustments (as both McVeigh and the September attacks were facilitated by loose internal controls) and make steady, moderate changes in its international behaviour, while enlisting true, broad international support, especially propelled by the wave of pro-US sentiment around the world after the attacks. They needn’t have worried.

    The terror attacks goaded the Bush administration into taking actions that went far beyond, in inappropriateness, Trudeau sealing off Quebec. Trudeau never claimed the right to torture, never suggested that the FLQ terrorists be detained indefinitely without charge, and never suspended the British North America act (Canada having no constitution).

    And from this standpoint he still looks damn silly. Almost as silly as George W. Bush. Of course, Stephen Harper’s government is currently fighting to continue to hold prisoners who have been detained for three years thus far without charges.

    You’d expect a trained economist to be better at the lessons of history, no?

  2. It’s always easy to second guess history in the relative insanity of the future. There was a huge amount of hope and good will on Trudeau’s side. There may have been some panicking, MAY HAVE BEEN ?!?!?, they kidnapped a British Diplomat for crying out loud and murdered a Quebec Cabinet Minister. The hope was that police and military forces across the country would somehow “get it” that the act was pretty much called as the only legal way to get that situation under control as soon as possible. They, quite simply, did not get it or chose to make the best of their new found powers. It s always important to remember that that act was a temporary decree at best, as opposed to Patriot Acts which become constitutional. No doubt this is the most controversial moment of Trudeau’s political career and that is as it should be.

    I was a teenager when it all went down. We were not in Beirut, and there were no bombs going off, but seeing military vehicles and helicopters at a certain level of intensity was unsettling. I don’t like the idea of any one having any absolute type of power, but over the last 35 or more years I have heard more attempts to discredit Trudeau than I have even begun too hear anyone come up with an alternative solution that would have made everyone happy.

    To me this is as much about the fascination with Trudeau (sort of Canada’s JFK) as it is anything else. Want government behaving badly? Think Oka!


  3. Indeed.

    I’m still working through this…not sure I support Trudeau, but not sure I have a constructive alternative to his actions. Was making the societies illegal really even productive in the long or short run? And there were already laws against kidnapping and bombing, and the police were empowered to make arrests…and it was routine for dangerous suspects who posed a flight risk to be denied bail.

    Does “Do no harm” apply to politicians as to doctors?

    I think Trudeau got this through without a huge uprising (at a very activist time, obviously) simply because we as Canadians had faith in him. But why? I can’t help but think it comes down to his simple star power…although he was probably one of the most intelligent world leaders in modern history. Was it faith in his brain?

  4. I’ve sometimes thought that if similar measures had been immediately taken against ETA in Spain the whole problem with them (in terms of using violence) might have been nipped in the bud – but I admit I say this without understanding the complexity of Spanish history. As in, it probably would have been very bad timing. I do know that the Spanish government sends reps to Canada to study how there has been a (mostly) non-violent separatist movement going on there for all these years.

    I’ve somehow always felt proud of PET for taking that stance, but other than the fact that I’ve always felt proud of him in general, I’ve really never questioned why. Good thought-provoking post, RC.

  5. Neath, I must respectfully disagree. A military or police force is in essence a tool, for the application of political force at a point. The members thereof “aren’t there to think” as my drill seargeants often told me, but to apply that force.

    What is demanded of a military force in particular is that they give up their rights to opinion and free expression thereof in the service of what they hope to be the greater good. The Candian Forces applied martial law as it was intended and as it has always been used. They did not “take advantage of their powers”. There may have been abuse, but it is inherent to the suspension of civil society that there will be abuse–endemic rather than systemic.

    Therefore, those who bring out those tools must ensure that they are right and that the force applied is appropriate to the job at hand.

    Had Pierre Laporte not been a cabinet minister, and had the kidnappings been accompanied by ransom demands instead of political ones, would martial law have been determined to be an appropriate tool? Or would the RCMP have worked the affair like any other case?

    I think that those in charge felt that there was in fact potential for civil disorder and possibly revolution. Hence martial law. But in the context of those times it became obvious early on that the response was inappropriate.

  6. So would you say that the Patriot Act, because it is permanent, renders systemic those abuses which would be endemic during a crisis response such as the October Crisis?

    And what is it about October and politics?

  7. Absolutely.

    I think that it must be acceptable in a civil society to conceive of a disruption or attack that would justify the use of military force and the temporary suspension of civil rights within that society. I can think of one benign instance under which martial law and temporary rights suspension might be required: look at hurricane Katrina, for example.

    But the Patriot act and the related Freedom-From-Fear-of-Prosecution-for-Torture act enshrined the authority of the state to go against its own founding documents which explicitly said that certain rights were “inalienable”. I’d say they’re good and “aliened” now. These laws are permanent (though the Patriot Act gets reviewed periodically, I think). This suggests that the Republicans who drew the infernal things up don’t forsee an end to their current war.

    Habeas Corpus is history. Unjustified wiretapping and espionage are the law, and torture is the routine.

    And unfortunately I don’t yet hear the Democratic caucus shouting for repeal.

  8. No, you don’t, and for that I condemn them. What exactly did they get the job for, if not to roll back those abuses? They think they got elected for not being the guys whose fingerprints were on it, but they’ll find out next election that this is an advantage that a lot of Republicans have, too.

    Justify, though, the suspension of civil rights during Katrina…I’m not feeling it, to say the least. Where is the inadequacy in the pre-existing laws about arrest and detention, for instance? Be specific.

    The Patriot Act was renewable, but I believe earlier this year it was made constitutional: Jesus’ General marked the day with a black site and RIP for America.

    I would also suggest that the Republicans made these laws permanent not because they believe the war will last, but rather because they find it in the interest of the government to have this much scope. From a government’s point of view, it’s real handy, one must admit.

  9. Let me clarify a little about military and police forces taking advantage of the situation. I was in a vague way referring to the example of the Vancouver police making arrests of radicals, etc. that they normally couldn’t pick up. I think under the war measures act anyone can be held without reason for 48 hours. I know of no misbehaviour by the military in Quebec at the time. And I normally don’t blame the soldiers for doing the jobs their governments have sent them to do. I think it was a remarkable situation that actually ended up pretty darn good given the tempestuousness of the times. I think the FLQ members responsible got a huge hug and a kiss getting deported to Cuba.

    Bottom line on it is that it set the stage for the creation of the Parti Quebecois and seperation as a legitimate political option instead of the terrorism endorsed by the FLQ. It was a turning point and there has not been a violence based activist group of any note since.

    We have done some things quite well!


  10. Trudeau, to give him his due, also got reasonable emergency measures legislation passed after the crisis. In the crisis, he used the only tool he had; then he stocked the toolbox with something more subtle.

    Note that the Canadian anti-terrorist measures up for renewal haven’t been used since they were passed in the post 9/11 flurry. This doesn’t stop some people from insisting they should be kept.

  11. Neath, interesting. I didn’t actually know that about the Vancouver activists, but it surprises me not in the least.

    Henry, thanks for your input. Now that you mention it, I do recall that Trudeau also realized the potential for abuse and as you can see from the speech above, called for creative solutions from all sides. I’d like to see an analysis of the changes he made.

  12. Also, it is so very Canadian of me to note, and love, that when they arrested the 17 terror suspects last year nobody seemed to give a rat’s ass about the rumour they were going to assassinate the Prime Minister. We cared, instead, and passionately, about the rumour they were going to blow up the Peace Tower.

  13. The difference, of course, is that in the case of Bush and Blair, you have a strong entrenched cultural interest bent on working against them by repeating the most absurd and foolish of memes so often most people regard them as true without question. For example, the silly accusation that terrorists are held “without trial, indefinitely” by the United States. Good Lord, you hear people prattle on about that when in fact it is NORMAL in wartime to hold enemy fighters, WITHOUT TRIAL, until the conclusion of hostilities- and that is supported by the Geneva Conventions. (In fact, you can’t try them merely for being enemy fighters, that is against the Geneva Conventions)

    Can you possibly imagine Canadians being asked, in late 1944, to release the Germans captured 90 days before because there have been no trials? “What? You don’t have the right to hold those Wehrmacht indefinitely! Let them go!” There is no “indefinitely”, even on Guantanamo. The term is: until conclusion of hostilities. Nazi soldiers were held until Nazis were no longer fighting the allies, and the Nazi establishment had accepted that no such fighting would resume- and if Germany had never surrendered they would still be in the camps. Enemy fighters in today’s will be held until such time as fundamentalist muslim terrorist forces are not killing people, or threatening to do so, and their leadership abandons these acts even in principal, just as the Nazis did. If they choose to continue such behavior, they have only themselves to blame if their brethren are not released to fight again.


  14. Ben, it is absolutely true that the law now allows the US government to hold people indefinitely without a trial in the court system of the United States. Surely you’re familiar with the case of Maher Arar, who was held and tortured for three years in a Syrian prison at the request of the United States, who at the end of that time were forced by the Canadian government to free him because they had not even sufficient evidence to bring him to trial.

    If you don’t have enough evidence to even try someone, you cannot hold him indefinitely without giving up all pretense to being a just government. As far as I am aware, the US is not at war against Canada. The reason Habeas Corpus exists is not to free the guilty, but to protect the people from abuse by the powers that be. I cannot think of anything more abusive than imprisoning someone you don’t have reason to believe is guilty; if you have such reason, by all means bring him to trial. The current situation benefits only those who would do away with their political enemies, their critics and with occasional patsies sacrificed to give everyone a feeling of urgency.

    And I refer you to Boris Johnson’s site; you appear to think the new laws are being applied only to Islamic terrorists, when in fact there are several British bankers who are facing time in Gitmo for banking crimes which, if they were committed at all, were committed in the UK, against the British people.

    Canada, thankfully, is not at war. The whole point of the discussion is what is permissable when the country isn’t at war…starting one as a way to retroactively justify a government’s actions is something that hasn’t been suggested yet, unless one reads between the lines of your comment.

    Why aren’t you in Iraq, by the way?

  15. A few points, Raincoaster.

    Firstly, bear in mind what I said about memes. They get repeated and repeated, but not analyzed. I did read Boris Johnson’s website onyour suggestion, and I see that you have not, for it certainly does not say the bankers are not getting a trial. To quote:

    “In fact the only reason they are going for trial in America is that their actions ”

    They are not going to Guantanamo. Johnson merely complains that they will have to wear “Guantanamo-like” outfits! As Boris Johnson reports, they are going to Houston for a trial. But for unknown reasons you refer to this as an example of “Facing time in Gitmo”, without trial. Here you have a perfect example of the hostile meme, invented by who knows, but with pretty clear intent.

    In fact, the whole article is merely a complain that the venue for the trial is wrong. I see nothing wrong with making that argument. But who twisted it into a “now trial, incarceration at Gitmo” meme?

    Second, regarding Arar, you mean. The US government is not Syria. The US has no control over Syria. And Syria is a respected member of the international community- see how few anti-Syria votes there are in the General Assembly of the UN. Considering how Syria regularly thumbs its nose at the US, claiming that they act as torture subcontractors whenever the White House asks is absurd. So, no, the US did not “hold him”. If anyone did, Syria did, lord knows why.

    Third, my point is that the “hold indefinitely” concept is normal procedure for nations at war. Always has been, always will. Without trial. Again, refer to the Geneval Conventions, trials of enemy fighters for the mere fact that they are fighting is not permitted. Prisoners under the Geneva Conventions are protected against trials.
    You may not think Canada is at war, but Al Queda thinks otherwise. Check the recent news. It only takes one side to make a war, in fact, it’s a whole lot easier that way. You may also have noticed a number of Canadians in drab greenish-brownish looking clothes, with somber and serious faces, shooting at people on the far side of the world. This is a good sign that on some level, Canada is at war. Now, as you said, the point of the discussion is the acts by Trudeau, at a time not at war. But, I was responding to your question of the difference in public opinion, not the inherrent rightness or wrongness of the act, and I remain convinced that the difference is in the memetic environment each man faces/faced. Your question, I felt, dealt more with perceptions of ethics than with actual ethics.

    Fourth, while naturally, I beleive that all people who support the war in Iraq should be there, I am torn because I also strongly and fervently believe that people should have well built, high quality buildings that do not fall down on them. All people who believe that, of course, should be builders, all people who beleive in eating food should be farmers. All who support access to fresh water should be plumbers, and all people who believe in health should be doctors. So, I am a builder. I have heard it said, by the lunatic fringe, that a society has many necessary functions and therefore its best to expect that each function be handled by those who choose that particular calling, but that is just silly, don’t you think?

    At least I am not a theatre critic, both the left and right generally hate them and agree that if any person serves no vital function in society, it is the theatre critic. By comparison, even the street bum has purpose, albeit primarily to serve as a warning to others!

    But for the record, I gave a few years of my life, and won a free trip to Korea.


  16. You are aware, of course, Ben, that a large number of those now in Iraq and Afghanistan are just that: builders. Engineers Without Borders is just one of the charitable organizations working to rebuild there, and of course Haliburton and other contractors are engaged in for-profit building projects. So there’s plenty of opportunity there.

    Agree with you about the theatre critics, by the way. As I understand it, the system is rather like putting a gelded racehorse out to pasture; he’s too well-known to shoot, but useless all the same.

    I take your point about the Enron bankers (West Ham Five? Tunbridge Wells Threesome? I can’t remember the catchy title) but the fact is that under the Patriot Act they could indeed face incarceration at Gitmo without a proper criminal trial. That they’re receiveing one, that anyone does, is entirely at the discretion of the US government; THAT is the point that I am making. That the powers they have given themselves under the banner of fighting terrorism can be applied to anyone, and that they have no expiry date.

    If one were to allow ones’ self to work under the parameters you lay out, there is no country on Earth at any point in history that was not “at war.” This is exactly the kind of overgeneralization and escalation that we’re talking about here. We are not at war.

    We are fighting, but what we are attempting to do in Afghanistan isn’t wage war; that’s neither the goal nor the day to day reality. Getting shot? Yes, they’re certainly getting shot at, and if you read back in the blog you’ll see that one of my peers here in Vancouver is still in the hospital as the result of an ambush and axe attack during a parley session. And yes, we’re shooting back. But that’s not what we’re there for, nor is it the focus of the majority of day to day activities. Not that I think we have any business being there at all, but that’s opinion, not reality. Afghanistan was always destined for a bloody and unfathomable crisis, and one can only hope that they’ve turned the corner, but looking at it from outside, who can say?

    Your information about Syria does not apply to the Arar case. You may recall that Syria has little to zero problem with terrorists; you may ask anyone in Israel for clarification. Why would they have tortured someone suspected of terrorist links? If you’ll do the research you’ll see that he was seized in New York and sent to Syria by the US, and that he was held there by the request of the US and released on the request of the US which was itself a result of the rather strong request of the Canadian government. There is more information here:
    And the info about extraordinary rendition is here. Please do not mistake it for regular deportation (Arar would have ended up in Canada if that had been the case):

  17. Holding folks without trial is indeed normal in wartime. But only for the duration of hostilities. And Canada is not at war. Show me the declaration of war otherwise.

    Al-Qaeda’s threat is no different from that of any other gang of criminal thugs, except in scope and scale. It has no weight as a war declaration, and more resembles a bomb threat. Terrorism is a crime.

    But the Afghan war is over. Any NATO forces still in place have the far more difficult job of policing the peace. Therefore any fighters seized there are criminals and should be treated so, including trials, protection under the laws that exist and so on.

    The Iraq war is also over–or did I miss a statment that “Major combat operations have re-started” after that ludicrous “mission accomplished” business? What the US is endeavouring to do there is contain a civil war, not fight one. Therefore likewise, the “insurgents” are criminal gangs and should be treated so.

    The “War Against Terror” will never be over. It provides a good excuse for a load of bureaucracy and corrupt contracting, but there’s no goal. Define for me what victory in a war against an idea consists of.

    People captured during the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns should presumably qualify for a speedy trial under criminal law, or under Geneva be either sent home or tried for such war crimes as they might have comitted.

    People captured in the “War Against Terror” are not combatants in a war under Geneva and are either criminals, and entitled to speedy criminal trials rather than military “justice”, or they are fighters in a war, then they’re entitled to Geneva protections including freedom from torture and a basic standard of humane treatment.

    The Bushies keep trying to have it both ways.

    Oh, and Maher Arar WAS stopped by the US, and WAS deliberately extradited to a torture state with the full connivance and blessing of the State Department. Whether they asked that he be tortured or whether the Syrians decided to do it on their own, the United States is complicit. Their own testimony has proven that they fully knew and expected that he would receive such treatment.

    Because if we treat people like humans, with full rights under the Constitution and the law, then the terrorists, presumably, have already won?

  18. I knew you would agree with me about theatre critics. It’s an extraordianry thing, one surefire area of “common ground” upon which to lay the foundations of consensus. I sometimes think that if I had a roomful of the most rabid loons of the far left and right, I could get them to start thinking together just by leading off with “to begin with, we all hate theatre critics.”

    Then there would be just one, small, meek sobbing voice from the back of the room:
    “Hey, I’m a Theatre Critic, and… it’s true, it’s true, I hate myself too.”

    Thank you for the information about Engineers Without Borders. I had no idea they existed! Haliburton, (really a small player, the big American engineering firm in Iraq is Bechtel) and its ilk are clueless and abusive bureaucracies which get their projects simply by being too big to fail, sort of the Walmarts of engineering. And World Monuments Fund seems to want donations far more than they want people who actually fix things. So I will investigate Engineers Without Borders. It so happens I am not simply a builder, I am one experienced in the repair and restoration of historic structures, so maybe they have something they need me for.

    Of course, if WMF ever called and said “funding finally came through to rebuild the Buddhas at Bamayan, can you help?” I would be thrilled. Things like that don’t come along every day.

    I still don’t get this Syria-US-Arar thing. I just can’t see it as reasonable, given US-Syrian relations. What’s the Syrian motive for torturing this guy? Did it happen something like this:

    “Assad, it’s Bush. Can you do something for me?”

    “Blow it out your rear you lackey of the zionist imperialist pigs, I will do nothing for you.”

    “I was gonna ask if you could beat someone up for me.”

    “Oh. I see. Well, who could say no to that? We could use a little diversion here.”

    As bad as the picture painted of them it’s simply not Syrian custom to torture everyone who arrives in their nation. (For one, the Syrian tourism industry would frown on this practice.) Why this case? Why him? What about Arar, arriving in Syria, would trigger a “let’s abuse this poor sap” response? I do not for a minute believe that “because the White House said so” carries any weight there.

    As for whether we are at war or not, I think some of the old easy definitions are fading away, and the world is a grayer, murkier place, and lines are harder to draw. Terrorists have no openly supportive nation anymore, but are they merely criminals? From their perspective, they are at war- and I think it is short sighted to ignore their point of view. True, Alqueda and its peer groups don’t have tank divisions, but they can rally together mobs with machine guns, mortars, and very nasty guided missles called “suicide bombers”. One large gang of Taliban has more “war power” than a regiment of soldiers did a century ago. If they are a criminal organization only, they are a very, very well armed one, to the point where we should rethink the definition of police work. Crime also implies some degree of sociopathy- when an arsonist torches a building or a drug dealer shoots a rival in a ghetto, we don’t expect the general population to be supportive of those acts. But the acts of terrorists, among some small populations, are very popular. Osama is a virtual hero in the north western strip of Pakistan. (More sophisticated Pakistanis think he is a nut.) We’ve lost the clean lines between crime and war, now that criminals can take up war’s ideological mantle and military weapons. This is the Era of Fuzzy Definitions. We certainly are up against a warlike ideology- did you read that “what is fascism” thing from Mussolini you referenced? Lines like “Heroism and Holiness”, dear lord, they sound like they could come from any radical imam today.

    I love the scope and eclecticism of your blog, btw. You must be an artist.


  19. Ben, thanks for your comments; sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to this. I did find some more specific information on the Arar detention and rendition from the New Yorker here:

    Arar, a thirty-four-year-old graduate of McGill University whose family emigrated to Canada when he was a teen-ager, was arrested on September 26, 2002, at John F. Kennedy Airport. He was changing planes; he had been on vacation with his family in Tunisia, and was returning to Canada. Arar was detained because his name had been placed on the United States Watch List of terrorist suspects. He was held for the next thirteen days, as American officials questioned him about possible links to another suspected terrorist. Arar said that he barely knew the suspect, although he had worked with the man’s brother. Arar, who was not formally charged, was placed in handcuffs and leg irons by plainclothes officials and transferred to an executive jet. The plane flew to Washington, continued to Portland, Maine, stopped in Rome, Italy, then landed in Amman, Jordan.

    During the flight, Arar said, he heard the pilots and crew identify themselves in radio communications as members of “the Special Removal Unit.” The Americans, he learned, planned to take him next to Syria. Having been told by his parents about the barbaric practices of the police in Syria, Arar begged crew members not to send him there, arguing that he would surely be tortured. His captors did not respond to his request; instead, they invited him to watch a spy thriller that was aired on board…

    It does seem clear that this was not exactly a normal deportation, which would have been to Canada or the country from which the arrivee had arrived, not a third country of which he was no longer a citizen. And yes, I have read the definition of fascism many times. Mussolini, although he was an evil man, was at least a lucid thinker. His is by far the best definition I’ve read.

  20. Pingback: Young John McCain: Hawt or Nawt « raincoaster

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