Monday, November 30, 2009

Of spinning camp followers, liars and knaves

The forces of darkness continue to be unleashed against Richard Colvin.

Today, several items.

Here's the way the Ottawa Citizen
spins a story :

"Red Cross blasts Colvin on torture claims."

Sound like the IRC is questioning whether torture actually took place, doesn't it? Well, no. The IRC is apparently annoyed with him for spilling the beans about tortured detainees.

The IRC has complained to Canadian authorities in the past about late notifications with respect to detainee transfers. It is certainly not claiming now that Colvin made anything up. It is fussing, instead, about the release of what they consider confidential information.
What Brian Lilley of CJAD is pleased to call part of an supposed "unraveling" of Colvin's allegations turns out, for all of the column-inches devoted to it, to be almost a non-story, one about process, not substance.

More Citizen spin: "[Eloi Fillion, the IRC spokesperson] indirectly cast serious doubt on whether Colvin would have been informed if Red Cross officials had significant concerns that Canadian soldiers had violated international humanitarian laws."

What is the basis of this? Well, if the IRC had had problems with the treatment of detainees and breaches of international law, we are told, it would have communicated these to the "person or persons concerned." In Canada's case, it would have made its representations to the "state through the military as well as to the state at home."

Who is implying tha
t Richard Colvin, a senior diplomat on the scene, would have been left out of this loop? The IRC official--or Canwest News Service?

And then the clincher: "Asked if such reports had been sent to Canadian authorities at any time since Canadian combat forces arrived in Kandahar to fight the Taliban in 2006, Fillion declined to comment."

Wow. What a stunning refutation of Colvin's claims.

Then back to that inveterate camp-follower Christie Blatchford, who apparently has not had enough of purveying selective Tory leaks. Here she is this morning (with Rosie diManno dutifully in tow), eeling on again about Colvin.

She now admits that there were six emails issued by Colvin in 2006, but is very cagey indeed as to whether she has actually read all of them. That doesn't prevent her, of course, from suggesting that their contents are anodyne. Calling Colvin a "so-called whistleblower," she finds it very suspect indeed that he ramped up his warnings after the first Globe and Mail revelations of detainee torture appeared on April 23, 2007.

It doesn't seem to have occurred to her that Colvin, stymied by officialdom for nearly a year, saw the opportunity to raise his concerns once again now that a media spotlight was shining brightly on the issue. Indeed, she thoughtlessly quotes from an email he sent about a Globe reporter covering the story, Graeme Smith, who apparently uncovered "terrible" accounts of torture, "systematic and regularized" abuse, and "Canadian involvement [that was] too close for comfort." Clearly Colvin felt corroborated.

But her conclusion? That Colvin only discovered abuse "after or as" the Globe did in 2007, and lashed out in "hyperbolic fury." The proof? Had he been saying anything in 2006, she says with a straight face, the media would have gotten hold of the story earlier.

Good grief.

But, drop by drop, the truth is getting out, and the right questions are being raised by more responsible journalists. In her earlier column, Blatchford snorted at the idea that any detainees might be innocent, as Colvin has stated. (Evidently addicted to CSI, she rabbited on at length about GSR--but her superficiality is exposed here.) This morning, however, we learn that Afghanistan officials themselves were complaining that our troops were detaining too many innocent people.

So far, the facts remain securely with Richard Colvin, and the sleazy innuendo with Harper's ministers, sympathizers, flacks and shills. The government continues to sit on nearly all of the relevant documents, for "security reasons." Even the responsible conservative side of the journalistic spectrum has had just about enough of this.

Once again, then, the pressing question: if Colvin (a respected senior public servant promoted by the Conservative government) has almost overnight become a naif, a "Taliban dupe," or, worse, a liar, what on earth has the government got to hide? Yet concealment seems to come naturally to the Harper administration--as well as its on-going campaign of character assassination, aided and abetted by its journalistic buddies, so touchingly eager to be of use.

Meanwhile, as collateral damage, the notion of an independent public service continues to unravel.

[H/t Contrarian.]

UPDATE: Scott Taylor: "When you start taking flak, you know you're over the target."

[H/t commenter Holly Stick via POGGE.]

Scratch a Speech Warrior™...

...and you'll find a certain, ah,

Freedom of religion? If you're a raging homophobic pastor or a neo-Nazi quoting Scripture, the Warrior
s™ will go to the wall on behalf of principle. Hell, they'll even raise funds for you.

Muslim? Not so much.

If you want to cast a clinical eye on double standards made flesh, wander over to Jay Currie's place, and don't forget to read the comments by the Usual Suspects.

While the world watches a direct assault on religious freedom in Switzerland, prompted by the neo-fascist
Schweizerische Volkspartei, the Speech Warriors™ are celebrating. Yup, the Moozlums have been given another black eye, and that's all that really counts, now, isn't it?

The SVP showed its true colours back in 2007, when it introduced a proposed law based upon the Nazi concept of
Sippenhaftung, or "kin guilt." If persons from another country commit crimes, says the SVP, and they are under eighteen, they should be deported--and their entire families as well.

Enjoy their company, Speech Warriors™. Party on.

Strenuously jamming their alleged principles into an oubliette is an exercise that apparently causes blindness, as well. The poster reproduced above--one eventually banned by the Swiss authorities for obvious reasons--hardly needs comment. But shorter Currie: "
Racist? Hell, no. It's just like calling someone the blacksheep of the family."

What an obscene public display of naked hypocrisy. Barely safe for work.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Next: yellow crescents?

Muslims have been relegated to ghetto status by the good burghers of Switzerland, to whom their human rights were put to a vote, as the progress of neo-fascism in Europe continues.

But aren't the Muslims--as Mark Steyn and others of his political bent like to warn us--taking over? Moving next door? Carrying off your daughters and murdering their own? Outbreeding whites?

Here's the reality in Switzerland:

The 'yes' vote, if confirmed, shows the strength of feeling against a Muslim population which has grown over the past 20 years to 350,000 or four per cent of the population. The majority are not regular practitioners of their faith.* Most are from Turkey and the Balkans.

Only four modest-sized minarets exist in Switzerland, where there are 150 prayer houses. None are used to call the faithful to prayer.
[emphases added]

Switzerland, like (for example) Austria, Italy and Hungary, has a less than glorious history when it comes to this sort of thing. Neutral during World War II, it turned tens of thousands of Jewish refugees away from its borders to their certain deaths (although, in fairness, the records of Canada and the US are no better). After the war, Swiss banks fiercely held onto funds placed there for safekeeping by Jewish families.

Bank officials even demanded death certificates before they were prepared to release that money to Holocaust survivors and their descendants. (Meticulous as the Nazis were, they did not provide individual death certificates for Holocaust victims.) Only considerable international pressure made the Swiss cough up at last.

We have an overly sweet view of Europe these days, I believe. It's all old civilization, dropped borders, and a brake, however mild, upon the US. But there is an ugly underside, as any Roma can tell you, and it is bursting forth from national soils in new and malignant blooms.

We've seen this movie before. European Muslims are a convenient Other to scapegoat for everything from the pain of the recession, with its attendant social service cutbacks and unemployment, to those threatening minarets. Switzerland is just the latest domino poised to fall.

*Very odd. This sentence no longer appears at the Times site. But it was there.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Data ... data ... get your data here!

Now that "Climategate" appears to be just about over with nothing to show for a week of pouring over the e-mails, source code and personal relationships I note that there is one good thing to come out of it. Over at RealClimate they have a page devoted to organizing and releasing the data.

This was an excellent move on their part. I suspect that almost none of it is new to the public but it shows their willingness to go out of their way to ensure that the public is informed.

So skeptics, RealClimate has listened to what you said, saw some validity in it and acted. Any chance you could do likewise and review some of the outrageous claims and accusations made over the last week and retract the ones that are not standing up to scrutiny.

While this has not been a pretty incident, there is one individual I would like to single out for his integrity and ability to communicate in a calm manner. Gavin Schmidt, thanks for your thoughtful insight and ability to stay calm under fire. Have a good thanksgiving - you deserve it.

More Colvin emails

The Globe and Mail's Christie Blatchford, an unabashed supporter of the Afghanistan mission, has supposedly got her hands on the secret memos of Richard Colvin--and to hear her tell it, they don't reveal very much of anything.

With these e-mails now, finally, in the public domain, albeit in a redacted form, Canadians may have more information but they know less.

In condemning with the same brush highly professional Canadian soldiers, and to complain that they were complicit in breaches of the law of armed conflict and knowingly buried his reports, it is Mr. Colvin who has some explaining left to do.

The twenty-four-hour rule should apply.

But at this point I smell a rat. How do we know that the Globe has the complete set of emails? (In fact there is some evidence that it does not.) And if this is indeed all that they contained, why the strenuous, grunting exertions of the Harper government over this past many months, including a gag on Colvin himself, to keep them secret in the first place?

The comment thread is worth a read. Some commenters, in fact, appear to have their BS-meter switched on and registering high. But let's wait and see.

UPDATE: (November 29) Ouch. Blatchford's credibility, hanged, drawn and quartered.

My nascent monarchism revealed

Sua Tremendita Giorgio Carbone, the prince of Seborga, is dead.

Seborga, as everyone knows, is a legally autonomous principality unlawfully occupied by Italy, to whom its citizens are forced to pay tribute in the form of taxes.

To quote from the Seborga official website:

The Bourg of Seborga is to the Principality of Monaco what Cancun is to the Belize, it is a place for the uncommon, fill with history, nature and the atmosphere so dear to Ernest Hemingway or was it Sommerset Maughn!

I note, with some reticence, the presence of Knights Templar in the historical account of the principality, but that was then and this is now, so no Dan Browning here, please. Always bear in mind Umberto Eco's caution:

The lunatic ... doesn't concern himself at all with logic; he works by short circuits. For him, everything proves everything else. The lunatic is all idée fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars.

(The Templars are known these days as the 9/11 Knights of Truth. But that's another story.)

Where was I? Oh, yes, Sua Tremendita ("His Tremendousness"), called such because he liked to curse and swear, although the connection escapes me, was an elected Prince, and a very popular one, winning 304 of a possible 308 votes in 1963, and handily winning re-election in 1995. Seborga declared itself sovereign in 1993, issuing "symbolic passports" and coining money, and was consequently recognized by 20 states, Burkina Faso being the first to do so. Seborga maintains consular representation in 10 countries today.

The official motto of Seborga is Sub Umbra Sede ("Sit in the shade.") Whether this is advice or a lively Seborgan curse is not immediately apparent.

Giorgio I planned to step down in 2006, at the age of 70. But an upstart appeared on the scene:

Princess Yasmine von Hohenstaufen Anjou Plantagenet [!] wrote to the newly-elected Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano, claiming that she was the true heir to Seborga's throne and offering to hand it over to Italy. Carbone gruffly dismissed her claim, voicing doubts over her lineage: "I have never seen her," he said. "We call her the internet princess".

The Internet Princess was intelligent enough, it seems, to claim descent from a gaggle of royal Houses in order to stake her claim, but, alas, she was and remains a fraud. And a traitor, as well, meriting, it seems to me, nothing less than full mediaeval justice for such a scandalous act of
lèse majesté.

Giorgio I consequently decided to retain his throne, and so he did until this past Wednesday. It is not clear at this point if an heir of his own is stepping forward, but the pretender Princess Yasmine has lost no time, writing to the President of Italy to request the annexation of Seborga. This has generated at least one response, from a furious former Seborghino:

Sono un ex abitante di Seborga e volevo comunicare la mia indignazione per la totale mancanza di rispetto del suo quotidiano online e, soprattutto, della Principessa Yasmin Aprile Von Hohensatufen Pouti Ventimiglia Lascaris, nei confronti non solo della cittadinanza seborghina ma di una persona che, per Seborga, ha fatto molto. Mi riferisco a SAS Giorgio I° che, nel giorno delle esequie, è stato attaccato solo per pubblicità da parte di una banda che ha provato già in passato a rompere le uova nel paniere e che, con questa uscita, penso abbia veramente passato il limite.

[I am an ex-Seborgan and I would like to express my indigation at the total lack of respect of your on-line journal and, above all, of Princess Yasmine Aprile Von Hohensatufen [sic] Pouti Ventimiglia Lascaris [one or two new royal titles have apparently been added--ed.], towards not only Seborgan citizens, but a person who has done much for Seborga. I refer to HRH Giorgio I, who, on the day of his funeral, was attacked, just for the publicity, by a gang whose bubble has already burst and who in this latest outing, I think, has truly crossed the line.]

Hear, hear. Off with her head, I say. Sit in the shade, dear Prince, and rest in peace. And Viva Seborga.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Harper's war on watchdogs

First it was Kevin Page, casting too beady an eye on Conservative government spending. Appointed amid much fanfare by the government to the position of Parliamentary Budget Officer, created by the risibly-named Federal Accountability Act, Page has been relegated to flunky status in the Library of Parliament, with a tiny budget and no authority. His treatment by the Cons has been so mean-spirited that even conservative commentators have been moved to protest.

Then there was Peter Tinsley, the courageous head of the Military Police Complaints Commission, due for the chopping block next month, apparently for doing his job too effectively as he tried to investigate Torturegate. His inquiry, which he has done much to get underway, has still not left the starting gate, because of endless procedural obstacles thrown in his path by the Harper regime. Given recent revelations about the government's complicity in torture, it's not hard to see why.

Now we have Paul Kennedy, in charge of the relatively toothless Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. He's being given the heave as well. Apparently his work, which included a good dig into the Dziekanski file (his report on the matter has not been released, and may never be*) was upsetting to the law-and-order types in government--even if he presently has the power only to make recommendations. However, he had money for research, which he deployed well, and consequently had those funds slashed. He fought hard, perhaps too hard, to keep that budget, and managed to retain a little over 80% of it. He's now, it seems, paying the price.

Once again the Harper minority government has let the mask slip, giving us a foretaste of what a Conservative majority might hold in store for us. These successive acts of muzzling and euthanasia reveal a regime that hates and fears accountability, one bent on the politicization of "independent" agencies and offices (e.g., the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Elections Canada), and one that favours an untrammeled military and national police over the rights of citizens here and human rights abroad.

This is an increasingly dangerous government, an out-of-control government, flexing its muscles in the face of a weak Opposition, and giving us all a sneak peek at its Maximum Program. Following hard on the heels of another outrage--a gross breach of Parliamentary privilege, to be dealt with on Monday--one is left wondering: how much more dirt is this gang scrambling to keep under its now-bulging rug?

*UPDATE: My pessimism was unfounded: the report was released on December 8.


From Mound of Sound:

Safely-retired ex-general Rick Hillier isn't too worried about the likelihood that Afghan detainees turned over by Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities were in fact tortured. He sort of dismisses all that by claiming that most of them were probably Taliban anyway. I think the term he used was "farmers by day, Taliban by night." Using Hillier's perverse logic, in Afghanistan there are no innocents....

Even if that bemedalled jackass is right, most of those detainees, the 'farmer/insurgent' types, would be the very moderate Taliban we're supposed to be working to win over. Rick, you moron, that's 'win over' not 'work over.'

(Naw, Rick's old-school: "If you grab 'em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.")

Gates within gates

Torturegate has now morphed into Docugate.

There is clear evidence at this point that the Conservative government has colluded with witnesses before the parliamentary committee looking at allegations of torture in Afghanistan, by furnishing them with crucial documents that it continues to withhold from the committee.

These documents include the numerous emails that Richard Colvin sent in 2006, warning any senior military or political official who cared to listen that Afghan detainees were being tortured. None did care, as it turned out, and the emails have now been conveniently classified--or, alternatively, they are "in translation."

The release of these emails is now a matter of prime concern. They could well reveal--in fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that they are very likely to reveal--that, by transferring Afghan prisoners when there was a reasonable apprehension that they would be tortured, Canadian authorities committed a war crime.

It's either that, or Richard Colvin is a liar. True to form, the government is not permitting him to defend himself.

But Canadians are quickly getting the message. A new poll reveals that a pitiful 10% now believe the federal government line: five times as many believe Colvin.

The increasingly sleazy Peter MacKay is in this new scandal up to his neck, and he can't smirk his way out of it forever. Even seasoned mainstream journalists are appalled. Don Martin
succinctly makes the point that needs to be made:

If Mr. Colvin's correspondence reached high into government circles and warned of detainee torture a full year before the transfers were stopped, the Conservatives have a serious problem that could qualify as a war crime.

But if Mr. Colvin's torture warning was never delivered, the government could be in the clear.

Release them, leak them, accidentally leave them on a street corner, but somebody should get those emails out so the truth can set the Conservatives free -- or into deep trouble.

The committee is stalled until the documents are released. Kady O'Malley nailed it yesterday when she referred to an "increasingly reverse-Kafkaesque scenario": this time K has lawyers and all the information, while his nameless inquisitors have no idea what to ask him.

My MP and friend Paul Dewar was quick off the mark with a motion of breach of parliamentary privilege, which passed quickly. As O'Malley pointed out, that means the matter of the Colvin memos is now before the whole House.

Theoretically at least--but will the committee have the stones to push this matter to a proper conclusion?

Meanwhile, the Conservative torture cover-up continues.

[H/t Far and Wide, Scott Tribe, POGGE]

Apparently I needn't have doubted the committee's resolve. From Kady O'Malley:

Today -- or possibly Monday morning, depending on his availability -- the Speaker will hear a broader, potentially more serious claim from members of the Afghanistan committee, which passed the following motion yesterday afternoon:

That, the committee report to the House that it believes a serious breach of privilege has occurred and members' rights have been violated, that the Government of Canada, particularly the Department of Justice and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, have intimidated a witness of this committee, and obstructed and interfered with the committee's work and with the papers requested by this committee. Therefore this committee reports the breach to the House so that it can consider the matter.

Although there's no way to predict what will happen once the House is seized of the matter, it's probably safe to say that even the initial debate over whether a breach has occurred will be worth watching, so keep an eye on CPAC during routine business, and if you see committee chair Rick Casson stand up, take the TV off mute. (Or just watch this space, since I'll be doing just that, and will keep y'all posted.)

Pass the popcorn.

Vancouver Olympics--the sinicization continues [updated]

VANOC is at it again with its lead-gloved hand. Performing artists are just learning about a condition of their contracts: no negative comments about the Olympics or its corporate sponsors are permitted.

And now the Globe and Mail has deep-sixed the original story!

UPDATE: Reader Frank Frink notes that the story is still on-line here. (This may be a time-limited offer, so hurry.) Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, the RCMP are on the job, squelching freedom of speech in Antigonish.

UPPERDATE: (November 27) And now the uniformed censors of the Canadian Border Services Agency muscle in. Since when do our customs and immigration officials get to interrogate journalists about stories they might be planning to write?

Today, it's all about the Olympics. But if various state actors are permitted to get away with this, someday we might be remembering Vancouver 2010 "security" measures as a dry run.


Last man standing

That was I.

This evening my Ottawa co-blogger and I decided to take in a public meeting with Malalai Joya, the brave young Afghan woman I have written about before (and defended against the trash-talkers on the Right). The event was sponsored/organized by the Ottawa Peace Assembly, an affiliate of the Canadian Peace Alliance. The place--a large church with two floors of pews--was packed.

I really wanted to hear what she had to say, unmediated. You don't get that kind of opportunity every day. Unfortunately, though, the acoustics were so bad that I could grab about one word in three. I thought it might have been my hearing, but those around me were in the same boat. So for us her presence became merely iconic. From time to time, usually when she paused, we clapped.

Joya was deeply critical of the Taliban, but also of the warlords and druglords sitting in the Afghan parliament today. She wanted the occupation (what we call "the mission") to end, because, as she put it, it's easier to fight one enemy than two. She made the sensible point that oppression in one country is rarely lifted by invasion and occupation by others. She talked about the terrible on-going civilian toll in Afghanistan, and attacked the misogyny that pervades the place.

I wish I could say that I learned something new from her this evening. But it was a set speech. Besides, Joya was tired after her three-month book tour. And she had another meeting right after this one. I'm not being critical of her.

These big meetings, though--what are they for? Perhaps in this case, besides promoting her book, to give us the opportunity to ask the central question about Afghanistan, the one we all ask in one way or another right across the political spectrum. The one that none of us, frankly, do very well in answering.

If the troops leave, whither Afghanistan? Here's Malalai Joya. She's on the ground over there.
She was an underground organizer when the Taliban were running the show.When she ran for parliament she received the second-highest number of votes in her province, and was seated, only to be tossed out on her ear when she criticized some of her colleagues too loudly. She knows the terrain and the people and the politics.

Maybe she could help us out.

We were supposed to have a Q&A session. The moderator, whom I know slightly, announced that we'd have two women and two men at the mics. I assumed that he meant two by two for gender parity--no problem there.

As it turns out, the mics got stacked by opponents. The first question was, however, quite reasonable--Ms. Joya, what do you want? In other words, The Question: how would you like things to unfold in your country if the troops leave? Problem was, she then began in a hostile manner to pepper Joya with more questions, not letting her finish. Joya rose to the occasion, becoming more animated and spontaneous, but I was left none the wiser for her answer.

Blame it on acoustics and the language barrier, but nothing coherent seemed to emerge. There was something about "the people of Afghanistan," but I used to talk that way myself. Obviously by "the people" she didn't mean the warlords, druglords, Taliban, their assorted
footsoldiers, their followers, their families and so on. So who, then? Is there a progressive movement we can pin our hopes on? Or is a spontaneous upswelling on the way, like all those revolutions in Eastern Europe, Orange, Rose, Velvet?

It was the level of vagueness that was causing me increasing grief, even if there are good reasons for it. As noted, big public meetings aren't the place (usually) for nuance. So vague it was, and vague it remained throughout.

The second questioner was a whiny little right-winger who kept yammering on,
never really getting to his question, if he even had one. He preferred to attack Joya with innuendo, suggesting for example that when she referred to 9/11 as a "tragedy," she didn't really mean it. Finally people began to object, leading inevitably to a further whine about "democracy." The man was, in other words, the living incarnation of an Internet troll.

Next up was another version of The Question, this time from someone more sympathetic. Again, words rocketed around the room, but nothing seemed to come together. And then a woman, who really just wanted to thank Joya for gracing us with her presence.

There were two of us left at the mic. The fellow ahead of me, alas, turned out to be a Truther. I was suddenly deathly afraid that Joya would turn out to be one too, but she deflected his insinuating question about bin Laden quite skilfully. He wanted to know if the man in the cave had really taken responsibility for 9/11, or was that just, you know, translation error, because the towers were actually brought down by explosives. She talked about bin Laden's terrible influence in her country.

I was all set to ask my question: a soft lob about Richard Colvin. But: "No more questions," barked the moderator. Joya summed up in a rush of words and everyone stood up to applaud her. Some lined up to buy her book, others headed for the exits.

The meeting, from start to finish, had lasted just over an hour.

Five, count them, five questioners, limited to one minute each to ask their questions. An old acquaintance outside made the mistake of teasing me about not being heard. I let her have it.

I don't like Stalinist control-freaky meeting organizers, I said. Why have a Q&A session at all, I asked. (Why not just intone The Line, commissar-like, from the podium, signal for applause, or wild applause, or prolonged and stormy applause, and let us out so we can go back to the evening shift at Grommet Factory #234?)

But this sort of thing has happened before, she said--meaning right-wingers at the mics--and they just wanted to keep a lid on it. The moderator knows me, I said weakly, giving her the opportunity to lecture me about privilege.

What I should have said was this: when I used to address numerous large meetings myself, union leader to rank and file, I often preferred hostile questioners to nice ones. Crowd apathy was my greatest fear. Hostility can mask a genuine desire to know, if not always. You can work with it. Admittedly a couple of questioners at this evening's meeting were jerks, but so what? We've got jerks running the country.

In any case here I am, left wondering about this meeting with Joya, where everyone played their appointed roles: guest-with-message, sponsoring-organization-with-shorter-message-and-buckets-for-donations, applauding audience (with, however, a sizeable dissenting presence), questioners, and organizers to make things run smoothly and contain the opposition.

Some money was collected for a project in Afghanistan about which we learned little. But nothing really happened. In a way, the bad acoustics were symbolic. Real communication, the lifeblood of organizing, was all but absent. The meeting was like countless others I have attended in my life, few of them memorable. When I was a teenager I used to feel daring going to them. Now I just feel frustrated at the lifelessness of it all.

We--and by "we" I mean the Left--need more. Much more than this. And I'd say the same thing, by the way, if I'd been allowed to ask my question.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ludicrous parsing

Anyone remember Bill Clinton, in a moment of desperation, stating "I did not have sex with that woman?" Well, of course, that depends on what you mean by "sex."

Now that former general Rick Hillier and two other generals are in a tight little spot of their own, we see that they learned a trick or two from Slick Willie:

Three generals declared Wednesday that there was no mention of the word "torture" in reports from a senior diplomat who asserts that he repeatedly warned the government against surrendering Afghan detainees to local authorities because they would almost certainly be abused.

Here's a "blue dress" memo that Richard Colvin sent in 2006*, on the occasion of his first prison visitation. It was copied, inter alia, to NDHQ, David Mulroney (who was heading up the Privy Council Office-appointed Afghan Task Force at the time) and Colleen Swords (then the Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security Branch and Political Director Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade).

Some excerpts:

Of the [redacted] detainees we interviewed, [redacted] said [redacted] had been whipped with cables, shocked with electricity and/or otherwise "hurt"....detainees still had [redacted] on [redacted] body; [redacted] seemed traumatized.

Individual sat with his toes curled under his feet. When he straightened his toe, it could be seen that the nails of the big toe and the one next to it, were a red-orange on the top of the nail, although the new growth underneath appeared fine. When we asked him about his treatment [redacted] rather than Kabul, he became quiet. He said that [redacted] he had been "hurt" and "had problems." However, he is "happy now." He did not elaborate on what happened [redacted]. [Redacted] seemed very eager to please, very deferential, and expressed gratitude for our visit. General impression was that he was somewhat traumatized.

When we asked him about his treatment [redacted] he said he had "a very bad time. They hit us with cables and wires." He said they also shocked him with electricity. He showed us a number of scars on his legs, which he said were caused by the beating. He said he was hit for [redacted] days....

He and others told [redacted] that three fellow detainees had had their fingers "cut and burned with a lighter"....When we asked about his own treatment [redacted] he said that he was hit on his feet with a cable
or a "big wire" and forced to stand for two days, but "that's all." He showed us a mark on the back of his ankle, which he said was from the cable. [Note: There was a dark red mark on the back of his ankle.]

That's just the first one of a series of communications from Colvin. Beatings, burnings and whippings--but these men were not "tortured," the generals appear to be saying. Nothing to see here: move along. Not even worth a probe. Subsequent emails, sent to Peter MacKay, conveyed the concerns of the International Red Cross Committee about detainee abuse. They landed in the circular file.

The word "ludicrous," used defensively by Hillier yesterday to describe Colvin's testimony, might better be applied to the testimony of the generals, but it doesn't begin to cover this. "Deliberate culpable negligence" would seem a better fit.

Meanwhile the Conservative government is still flailing, attempting even at this late date to maintain their cover-up, while being given aid and comfort by credulous media commentators. Now, that's ludicrous.

*My mistake. It was Colvin's first visit to that particular prison (Sedarat). Since Mulroney didn't arrive on the scene until January 2007, and the email is copied to him, the email was clearly sent in that year.

Protocols of the elders of climate science [updated]

All you need to know about the CRU hack right here, courtesy of Desmogblog. You're welcome.

UPDATE: (November 26) The elders respond with a smackdown.

The denialists will continue to gibber and spin, of course, but here's the skinny:
  • No FOI request has ever been stymied by the CRU researchers.

    The researchers have been subjected to a barrage of FOI requests, no doubt from the usual suspects, and have been working with the Information Commissioner's Office
    to process them.

    The main difficulty is that the data obtained from around the world does not belong to them, and obtaining permissions from all and sundry has proven to be an exhausting process. But that process continues.

    In relation to the specific requests at issue here, we have handled and responded to each request in a consistent manner in compliance with the appropriate legislation. No record has been deleted, altered, or otherwise dealt with in any fashion with the intent of preventing the disclosure of all, or any part, of the requested information. Where information has not been disclosed, we have done so in accordance with the provisions of the relevant legislation and have so informed the requester.

    The Climatic Research Unit holds many data series, provided to the Unit over a period of several decades, from a number of nationally-funded institutions and other research organisations around the world, with specific agreements made over restrictions in the dissemination of those original data. All of these individual series have been used in CRU’s analyses. It is a time-consuming process to attempt to gain approval from these organisations to release the data. Since some of them were provided decades ago, it has sometimes been necessary to track down the successors of the original organisations. It is clearly in the public interest that these data are released once we have succeeded in gaining the approval of collaborators. Some who have requested the data will have been aware of the scale of the exercise we have had to undertake. Much of these data are already available from the websites of the Global Historical Climate Data Network and the Goddard Institute for Space Science.

  • The CRU researchers have nothing to hide:

    We have...decided to conduct an independent review, which will address the issue of data security, an assessment of how we responded to a deluge of Freedom of Information requests, and any other relevant issues which the independent reviewer advises should be addressed.

  • "The facts speak for themselves; there is no need for anyone to manipulate them."

    Tim Jones is right: as he points out, even if you discount the CRU findings holus-bolus, the same results have been replicated elsewhere.

    There is excellent agreement on the course of temperature change since 1881 between the data set that we contribute to (HadCRUT3) and two other, independent analyses of worldwide temperature measurements. There are no statistically significant differences between the warming trends in the three series since the start of the 20th century. The three independent global temperature data series have been assembled by:

    • CRU and the Met Office Hadley Centre (HadCRUT3) in the UK.
    • The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Asheville, NC, USA.
    • The Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS), part of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) in New York.

    The warming shown by the HadCRUT3 series between the averages of the two periods (1850-99 and 2001-2005) was 0.76±0.19°C, and this is corroborated by the other two data sets.

    My co-blogger John Cross has noted that, since this "scandal" broke, no one in the denialist camp has been able to point to a single email that undermines the scientific consensus on AGW. There is just no "there" there. In fact, Canadian Cynic has issued a challenge on this point, which I think the denialists will be very, very slow to take up.
  • The "trick"; "hiding the decline."

    Here's CRU:

    One particular, illegally obtained, email relates to the preparation of a figure for the WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate in 1999. This email referred to a “trick” of adding recent instrumental data to the end of temperature reconstructions that were based on proxy data. The requirement for the WMO Statement was for up-to-date evidence showing how temperatures may have changed over the last 1000 years. To produce temperature series that were completely up-to-date (i.e. through to 1999) it was necessary to combine the temperature reconstructions with the instrumental record, because the temperature reconstructions from proxy data ended many years earlier whereas the instrumental record is updated every month. The use of the word “trick” was not intended to imply any deception.

    Phil Jones comments further: “One of the three temperature reconstructions was based entirely on a particular set of tree-ring data that shows a strong correlation with temperature from the 19th century through to the mid-20th century, but does not show a realistic trend of temperature after 1960. This is well known and is called the ‘decline’ or ‘divergence’. The use of the term ‘hiding the decline’ was in an email written in haste. CRU has not sought to hide the decline. Indeed, CRU has published a number of articles that both illustrate, and discuss the implications of, this recent tree-ring decline, including the article that is listed in the legend of the WMO Statement figure. It is because of this trend in these tree-ring data that we know does not represent temperature change that I only show this series up to 1960 in the WMO Statement.”

There are several conclusions that one might reasonably draw at this point.

First, ferret around as they might, the denialists have not found anything to uphold their conspiracy theory: no smoking gun.

Secondly, parse as they might, they can't turn a scientific "trick" into guile, nor make a negative colouration stick to the phrase "hide the decline" when the CRU folks themselves have published papers on it.

Thirdly, eel about as they might, they have discovered nothing in private emails that indicates anything other than human frustration on the part of the CRU people at having to deal with fringe elements and cranks when they'd rather be doing science.

And just a note about George Monbiot's too-quick reaction to all this. He was moved to attempt a human sacrifice as a purification rite. But, as it turns out, no such purification was necessary. The rest of his article, by the way, is a good read.

ADDENDUM: John Cross, who found the East Anglia link above, points to another one worth taking a look at:

Earlier there was some talk about the comments on the code that have been found. While I have not followed this side of the argument much, there is a new site called AllegationAudit (cute name) which has looked at the gory details of the IDL code.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Great Wall of America

From a couple of American expats trying to visit their families back home, this tale of Homeland Security arrogance and paranoia.

Freedom of expression in Canada is a right: just don't try to exercise it if you're a US citizen. America doesn't like it. May we have your attention, please, Speech Warriors™?

[H/t Buckets, b/c]

General misinformation on Parliament Hill

Kady O'Malley liveblogged the testimony today before the Afghanistan committee from General Rick Hillier (ret.), Lieutenant General Michel Gauthier (the one whom Richard Colvin had found "somewhat unpleasant to deal with"), and Major General David Fraser.

As might have been expected, the committee members were denied access to documents to which the witnesses had access.

Hillier was up first, complaining about being called a "liar" and "incompetent," although O'Malley could not recall anyone having done so, and neither can I. He claimed that the Red Cross had had access to the detainees, but neglected to mention that the Canadian Forces were late--sometimes months late--notifying the Red Cross of prisoner transfers. He also claimed that he had never seen a memo from Richard Colvin warning him of what was happening to transferred detainees.

...Mr. Hillier told MPs that when Canada in 2007 temporarily stopped transfers of detainees to Afghan authorities, it wasn't based on Mr. Colvin's reports – which were emailed across government starting in May 2006 – but on more substantive evidence.

“We didn't base our work on reports written in May and June, 2006, which said nothing about abuse, nothing about torture, or anything else that would have caught my attention or the attention of others,” Mr. Hillier said. [emphasis added]

When Canada did act, “we didn't base it on hearsay, hypothesis or second-hand information,” he said. “We didn't base it on Taliban detainees saying things without corroborating evidence.”

The bolded part of Hillier's testimony, above, is in direct contradiction to a memo from Colvin, which in fact contained several references to torture. The date is redacted, but in it Colvin says this was his "first visit" to the Sedarat prison complex, which fixes the year as 2006.* It had been sent to NDHQ and, as it happens, to the head of the Afghanistan mission task force at the time, the serviceable David Mulroney. Hillier, however, stoutly maintained that he had heard no reports of prisoner mistreatment until "late 2007."

Hillier concurred with Colvin on only one detail: Lieutenant General Gauthier was, as he put it, "a pain in the butt." As it happens, Gauthier was up next, claiming that he, too, had received no report from Colvin prior to 2007. Recall that the memo from Colvin noted above was sent to NDHQ the previous year. How could General Gauthier not have known about it?

Major General David Fraser was last. He didn't see nuthin' or hear nuthin' either. No way were any detainees innocent, he insisted, but in any case he never saw a report of any detainee mistreatment in 2005 and 2006.

Three blind generals? I have my doubts.

fter the testimony and the Q and A, NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar moved that the committee be given access to the relevant documents. The motion passed 6-0, with all of the Conservatives abstaining, after Con MP Laurie Hawn accused members from the other parties of using delaying tactics to prevent David Mulroney from testifying tomorrow.

On the face of it, this is an absurd claim, given that the documents are likely already available to the government side. In fact, a motion to hear Mulroney tomorrow was subsequently moved by Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, and passed.

No doubt--you read it here first--the government will find a way to thwart the will of the committee in the meantime.
In the words of the inimitable Cheryl Gallant this evening, the Liberals withheld documents from committees when they were in power.

UPDATE: And right on time... [H/t Impolitical]

*CORRECTION: No, it doesn't. The memo was sent in 2007: Mulroney, who is copied on it, took up his post in January of that year. According to Richard Colvin's testimony, the missing 2006 memos--suppressed by the Conservative government--also contain warnings about abuse. Those remain to be leaked.

The face of American fascism

Law and order, American style.

A nine-months-pregnant Hispanic woman was arrested in Arizona by deputies of neo-Nazi sympathizer Sheriff Joe Arpaiao, about whom I've blogged before.

Under Sheriff Joe's watch, as I noted then, unspeakable brutality and violence have been the order of the day, from breaking the neck of a paraplegic to strangling a mental patient to deliberately burning a family's puppy alive.

The arrested woman went into labour, and the pigs (there is simply no other word that fits, although this does scant justice to the actual species), who had shackled her arms and legs, refused to remove the shackles during childbirth. When the baby was born, they refused to allow her to hold it. She was then informed that, if no one came to pick up her baby, it would be seized by the state.

Arpaio is wildly popular with the grubs who inhabit Arizona: the sadistic goon appears slated to become the next Governor of the state.

[H/t Creative Revolution]

Collateral damage

The Globe and Mail's Christie Blatchford thinks with her gut, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. But the gut has a limited repertoire. We need more.

Once upon a time, repelled (rightly) by Canada's treatment of First Nations people, and in particular the Ontario government's collaboration with Big Mining to despoil Indian lands and jail their leaders, she preached aboriginal revolution:

Native pleas for genuine negotiation--whether in these specific cases, where they want the provincial Mining Act, which allows private companies to stake mineral rights on anyone's land without having to bother with getting permission, at least on the table for review, or in the sweeping land claims which drone on for decades--go unheard. Their letters to everyone from premiers to department heads and provincial coroners go unanswered. Their reports on poverty and suicide rates get no response.

And at the end of it all, in various courts across the country, government lawyers mouth words like "reconciliation" and "conciliation" with an ease that their collective daily conduct--they appeal every loss, fight on every technicality, argue for the harshest punishments, stall and obfuscate--utterly belies.

A national day of action? After yesterday, a national day of insurrection sounds more in order.

But now, following a lawsuit by a couple who were trapped in a no-man's-land in Caledonia, she is singing quite a different tune. The native protesters are all violent thugs and bums, the police are unnaturally compliant, and a decent family is slowly allowed to come apart at the seams by what appears to be deliberate Ontario government inaction.

Predictably, other commentators are falling into line: the Natives are restless
, and it's high time for the cavalry to put down the lawless hostiles, because the insurrection that Blatchford welcomed last year is actually happening.

My sympathies are with Dave Brown and Dana Chatwell, by the way. At this point, of course, I have no idea of the Native side of the story so far as the couple is concerned. Clearly the latter have been through a lot, and suffered much. No one in Canada should have to live in a war zone, as they have done for years. I hope that they win their case against the Ontario government.


They are two people, in the grip of forces well beyond the horizons that Blatchford draws for us. On the one hand, there is an outstanding land claim; on the other, the usual foot-dragging governmental response, jurisdictional ping-pong, and all of the other deliberate ploys that Blatchford was so on top of in her earlier article back in May, 2008.

Don't we need that missing context, not to excuse what happened to the couple, but to understand it? Doesn't a solution to the Caledonia issue require far more than a cash settlement for a couple caught in the crossfire?

People do not behave well in conflict. The First Nations protesters are angry, and anger tends to extinguish common humanity. The Ontario government, not wanting a repeat of Mike Harris' cavalry charge into Ipperwash, not to mention the SQ's cavalry charge into Oka, is stymied by indecision. Brown has been doing cocaine and swilling alcohol, which, frankly, I'd be doing too in his situation.

Something has to give. We all know that. Perhaps, at long last, it is time for the McGuinty government to stop siding with mining interests and jailing Native leaders, and for both federal and provincial levels of government to stop evading their responsibilities towards First Nations people, stop the inexcusable delays in land claims negotiations, and get to work.

A lawsuit by an ill-treated couple is unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things, a minor matter. But that doesn't make it insignificant. It is always important to realize that abstract "issues" have flesh-and-blood consequences, and sometimes that point must be driven home. Because of Blatchford's engaging account, our own passions for justice are aroused. But "observing" the Caledonia conflict from a mediated distance as most of us must, we would be better served, I think, with a far wider lens.

Cruel Britannia

And speaking of torture, Human Rights Watch has just released a shattering new report detailing British complicity in the torture of five of its own citizens, using Pakistan as its proxy:

Human Rights Watch has no evidence of UK officials directly participating in torture. But UK complicity is clear. First, it is inconceivable that the UK government was unaware of the systematic use of torture in Pakistan. In the circumstances of the close security relationship between the two countries this would represent a significant failure of British intelligence. Reports by governments, including the United States, reports by NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, court cases in Pakistan, and media accounts put everyone on notice that torture has long been endemic in Pakistan. No one in government in Pakistan has ever challenged this in conversations with Human Rights Watch.

Second, UK officials engaged in acts that virtually required that they knew about the use of torture in specific cases. Four men-Salahuddin Amin, Zeeshan Siddiqui, Rangzieb Ahmed, and an individual who wishes to remain anonymous-have described meeting British officials while detained in Pakistan. In some cases this happened shortly after sessions in which the individuals had been tortured, when it was likely that clear and visible signs of torture were present. For example, Rangzieb Ahmed alleges that he was interrogated by British security officials shortly after three fingernails had been pulled out.

Further, UK officials supplied questions and lines of enquiry to Pakistan intelligence sources in cases in which detainees were tortured. UK officials knew that interrogations of these UK citizens were taking place and that torture was routinely used in interrogations. The UK was also putting pressure on Pakistani authorities for results. In this environment, passing questions and offering other cooperation in such cases without ensuring that the detainees were treated appropriately was an invitation to abuse.

Members of Pakistani intelligence agencies have corroborated Human Rights Watch's information from detainees that British officials were aware of specific cases of mistreatment. They have said that British officials knew that Pakistani intelligence agencies routinely tortured detained terror suspects-what Pakistani officers described to Human Rights Watch as being"processed"in the "traditional way."Officials describe being under immense pressure from the UK and the United States to "perform" in the "war on terror," and have noted "we do what we are asked to do." Pakistani intelligence sources described Salahuddin Amin, for example, as a "high pressure" case, saying that the British (and American) agents involved were "perfectly aware that we were using all means possible to extract information from him and were grateful that we were doing so."

Not only do British officials and agents appear to have been complicit in torture, but their cooperation in the unlawful conduct of the ISI has interfered with attempts to prosecute terrorist suspects in British courts. Rashid Rauf, the alleged mastermind of plans for a second 9/11 involving planes departing Heathrow airport in London, was tortured so badly that British officials quickly realized he could not be prosecuted in a British court. His guilt or innocence has never been established, and never will, since he was reportedly killed in a US drone missile strike in Pakistan in November 2008. If he was indeed guilty, the failure to bring Rauf to justice represents an enormous missed opportunity for intelligence services and the public to learn more about this terror plot.

The UK government's response has been far from decisive. Rather than investigating the alleged complicity of its intelligence services, the UK government has responded with assurances that it does not use or condone torture and by making general denials to specific allegations. It has never responded to the specific claims made by victims, their lawyers, the media, or Human Rights Watch.

The comparisons here with the case of Maher Arar and other Canadians are stark. Canadian officials, too, knew that torture was routine in Syria, but the RCMP fed questions to Arar's torturers. In the case of Omar Khadr, Canadian officials questioned him after sustained mistreatment by his US jailers. Abousfian Abdelrazik was imprisoned in Sudan twice, subjected to torture, and interrogated with the assistance, once again, of helpful Canadian officials.

In any case, the new report makes grim reading, and invokes a compelling sense of
déjà vu. The UK, well before this, has been implicated in extraordinary rendition to hell-holes like Uzbekistan, where prisoners are boiled alive. The widespread use of torture by the US is by now common knowledge, and some there are calling openly for its legalization. Canada's complicity in torture in Afghanistan is now before a special parliamentary committee.

At this point one is forcibly reminded of Gandhi's response when asked about Western civilization: "I think it would be a good idea." An idea, alas, whose time has not yet come.

Harper's last stand

Its complicity in the torture of Afghan civilians no longer in question, the Harper government really has only two ways to go: brazen it out and hope for the best, or cut and run.

Brazening is the current favourite. Harper wants his well-prepared and articulate flunky David Mulroney to testify before the parliamentary committee that heard from Richard Colvin last week, without providing the committee members with documentation that would allow proper questions to be put. Needless to say, the other parties are unwilling to be set up in this fashion, and attempts to paint them as obstructionist are so far proving unsuccessful.

Canadians, 51% of whom prefer Colvin's account over the government's ever-widening bucket defence, know what is being attempted here. Unable to formulate searching inquiries, committee members would be placed in the position of having well-phrased government denials read into the record with no means to clarify or rebut them effectively.

Harper has now weighed in with his own attacks on Colvin. These strike me as slightly schoolboyish--"Well, you say yes, but your friends say no, nyah, nyah"--perhaps reflecting the growing desperation of a government increasingly anxious to extricate itself from what is, in fact, clear involvement in a war crime.

Its case is not helped by a clarification issued by Colvin through his lawyer yesterday. In his testimony to the committee, he had opened up the possibility, at least, that government ministers had been kept blissfully ignorant of any unpleasant goings-on in Khandahar, by stating that he had not personally sent warnings directly to them. But he has now recollected, one assumes through a careful review of his files, that he did indeed transmit warnings to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, although it is unclear whether Peter MacKay or the ill-starred Maxime Bernier held that office at the time.

Meanwhile the Globe and Mail has acquired some emails that further weaken the government's case. It appears that as far back as 2007, officials were leery of publicity about the treatment of detainees, realizing that Canada might be vulnerable on the issue:

E-mail conversations in February, 2007, show that the federal government sought to minimize media questions on its record of tracking Afghan prisoners. At the time, Foreign Affairs staffers were preparing to designate an Afghan human-rights commission as a watchdog for the treatment of people transferred from Canadian hands. In effect, Ottawa was trying to remedy shortfalls in a 2005 agreement with Kabul that was supposed to ensure the humane treatment of suspects handed over to the Afghans.

But one official questioned how much this move should be publicized.

It was, after all, 14 months after Canada struck what was supposed to be a solid agreement on prisoner transfers.

"There is some discussion ongoing here still re: whether there should be a public affairs push on this," Department of Foreign Affairs official Elizabeth Baldwin-Jones wrote in a Feb. 1, 2007, e-mail to colleagues about how to herald the pending watchdog designation.

"I'm of two minds – the detainee-transfer agreement was signed in December, '05," she said. "A high-profile event now invites the question, why did it take us so long?"

The government eventually decided against attracting the attention of journalists on the matter. "This is not intended to be a media event in any way," one Canadian Forces major wrote on Feb.16, 2007, citing a Foreign Affairs official as his source.

Stay tuned as ever-sleazier attacks on Richard Colvin emanate from the PMO. The cornered Harper is playing for keeps: and at this point, he really has no choice.

UPDATE: Peter MacKay received warning emails from Colvin--in 2006.

UPPERDATE: CBC's Kady O'Malley has some of the memos up. [H/t reader Navvy]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Harper's mentor, on child porn

An aside from Indian-fighter Tom Flanagan:

But that’s actually another interesting debate or seminar: what’s wrong with child pornography — in the sense that it’s just pictures? But I’m not here to debate that today.

And here, revealed in all its splendour, is the concept that lies at the rotting heart of social relations under capitalism--commodity fetishism. The rupture between consumption and production has become so wide that a picture is no longer a picture of someone, but just a fantasy aid. An object for sale.

Let's have that debate, Tom. I guarantee it'll be the last we hear of you.

[H/t Confessions of a Liberal Mind]

If only his name had been Mohammed

...the media would be using the t-word. Or at least bothering to report on a neo-Nazi bombfest in Calgary.

Police are looking for the jerk in the white tee. Note the presence of a "free speech activist" in the crowd, or so he is described by a Free Dominion regular.

As usual, the Anti-Racist Collective is miles ahead of the curve. This may in fact have been internecine warfare. If so, I can't help hoping that both sides win.

UPDATE: (November 29) Whoops. I guess I should let ARC continue to do the heavy lifting on the neo-Nazi file. But I'm sure neither gentleman would be particularly bothered.