Savile Lumley. commissioned by The British Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. 1915. Victoria&Albert Museum. UK.


Miranda in Canada

January 28, 2011

Last weekend, a group of friends spent an evening sipping and talking from our hats. Somewhere in the middle of a string of friendly port-accompanied arguments, the Canadian equivalent of the “Miranda Rights” came up. (How this came up is lost in a fog).
The following brief, written during a typical lull at work, is alarming. It is also oddly unhelpful in a practical sense. Understanding and insisting on your Miranda Rights is useful if ever arrested in the US… it is less clear the utility of knowing that you have no such rights here.

Finally, it is odd for being the only thing I know of which is more frightening about the Canadian police (hardly angels to be frank), as opposed to their American comrades.  Put in other words:  that Canadian police have the right to act in a manner even worse than those in the US, should make Canadians not only nervous but also deeply embarrassed.


In the briefest of summaries:

The Supreme Court (Canada) ruled on a trio of cases in 2010. According to a 5:4 decision:
As ruled in R. v Bryden (1990), detainees have a right to “a single consultation’ with a lawyer prior to being interrogated, and must be informed of that right. This right, however, is “one-time-matter”. After that first phone-call, they have no right to any further contact with a lawyer. (There are three exceptions, see below).

After that initial phone-call, the detainee’s right expires

A detainee may be interrogated (without any defined time limit) without being allowed to re-contact a lawyer for further advice… let alone insisting on having a lawyer present.
A detainee, of course, may refuse to speak to police at all… but he must do so despite any pressure the police wish to apply, and must consider the risk that remaining silent will “look” very bad if they must be defended in court.

Illustrations: a little about two of the three 2010 Supreme Court Cases

(1) The court refused to overturn the conviction of Mr. McCrimmon (convicted of eight sexual assaults).
Prior to his interrogation, McCrimmon was unable to reach his chosen lawyer by telephone. Instead, he was allowed a brief discussion with legal-aid/duty-counsel. During the ensuing interrogation, McCimmon repeatedly asked to be able to have more assistance of a lawyer and to have a lawyer present. Police denied his requests.

(2) The court refused to overturn the conviction of Mr. Sinclair (convicted of manslaughter).
After being arrested, he was advised of his rights and spoke to a lawyer twice, each time for about three minutes.
He was then interrogated for about five hours. During the interrogation, Sinclair told police five times that he wanted his lawyer to be present. Police told him that he had no such right, and resumed the interrogation.
Sinclair ended up giving an implicating statement during the interrogation.


There are three types of situations in which a detainee DOES have the right to re-contact legal counsel:
(a) If the police wish to use “non-routine procedures, including participating in a line-up or submitting to a polygraph, which do not generally fall within the expectation of the advising lawyer at the time of initial consultation”
(b) Changes in jeopardy. [if police make any changes to the detainee is accused of]
(c) If the police should reasonably doubt a detainee’s understanding of their right to contact a lawyer prior to being interrogated, he/she must be advised of this right again.

here’s a tip kids: the use of gradually revealing (actual or fake) evidence
”The common police tactic of gradually revealing (actual or fake) evidence to a detainee to demonstrate or exaggerate the strength of their case does not automatically trigger the right to a second consultation, giving rise to renewed s.10(b) rights.
and another tip: why the police might choose to allow a detainee to contact a lawyer more than once
Police are certainly permitted to choose to allow the presence of a lawyer interrogation.
“There is, of course, nothing to prevent counsel from being present at an interrogation where all sides consent, as already occurs. The police remain free to facilitate such an arrangement if they so choose”  (from majority decision, written by justice Charron, R. v Sinclair) (emphasis added)
The same majority opinion pointed out that “police may allow any number of further consultations, perhaps even using this as a technique to reassure a detainee that further access will be available if needed.”  (emphasis added)

from the dissenting opinion
(written by justice Binnie, on behalf of the four dissenting judges)
“What now appears to be licensed is that a presumed innocent individual may be detained and isolated by the police for at least five or six hours without reasonable recourse to a lawyer – during which time the officers can brush aside assertions of the right to silence or demands to be returned to his or her cell in an endurance contest in which the police interrogators, taking turns with one another, hold all the important legal cards,..”  (emphasis added)

one last bit from the majority opinion
“…a rule that would require the police to automatically retreat upon a detainee stating that he or she has nothing to say would not strike the proper balance between the public interest in the investigation of crimes and the suspect’s interest in being left alone.”  (justice Charron)

In a flurry of Leaks

December 9, 2010

For the past week or so, we have been in a flurry raw tidbits of evidence.

Wikileaks has been releasing its 250,000 “diplomatic cables”. Prominent politicians and their advisers have been openly calling for murder of Julian Assange (who, as head of WikiLeaks, they blame).

With credit to a caller on a CBC’s “Cross Country Checkup”… It is remarkable: An amazing amount of public attention is being paid  — encouraged by a riot of governmental blustering — to this pile of documents.  This is well and good, but we are allowing this current mega-leak to overshadow previous Wikileaks releases. Especially the Iraq/Afghanistan “War Logs”, are much more important than the embarrassing, but rather obvious, babble of diplomats and other bureaucrats.


Here in Ontario, a bit of raw evidence has been thrown into our own works.
A fantastic (disturbing) new video-clip has turned up… dating  from this summer’s G20 protests
Police officers have been refusing to help identify their fellows who were involved in assaulting protesters. Investigations have been called off because without this co-operation, they could not proceed… Even with video evidence, it has been impossible to identify offending officers since their faces are hidden behind riot-gear face-shields.
Yesterday, all this changed.

A new video has been turned in by another bystander. This one shows an officer repeatedly slugging an already detained protester. When the thug stands up, he has forgotten to hide his face.

the face of one thug

Certainly this officer should be fired and charged with assault. But I fear he will become a solitary scapegoat…

An entire province of officers have disgraced themselves by refusing to co-operate with investigations into many well established cases involving “excessive use of force”.  We should all be revolted by this obstruction. It should not be legal, in fact it already is.
The chief of Toronto Police has promised that,  if any evidence makes identification possible, offenders will be disciplined.  At the same time he has refused to order his officers to co-operate with investigators by providing such identifications.   He has also been caught lying about a key video (claimed that it was doctored by editing).  Chief Blair is an embarasment, continuing to damage any respect for the police… without respect, we can have no effective policing.

A great day for those who love raw evidence. A great day in a week buried in the stuff.



Spades are Tiddly-Winks

November 25, 2010

“…bland bureaucratic euphemisms [may] conceal great crimes. As their meanings become clear, these collocations gain an aura of horror. In the past century, the Final Solution and Ethnic Cleansing were phrases that sent a chill through our lexicon.”
James Saffire
(quoted in Jane Mayer: “The Dark Side”)

precision bombing (bombing… a term in use since since, at least, WW2)
pacification (Vietnam: driving away and/or obliterating of all potential resistance)
strategic hamlet (Vietnam: camp for the detention of civilians)
enhanced interrogation (interrogation under torture)
robust interrogation (same)
special interrogation (same)
targeted killing (political murder)
assassination (political murder)
elimination (killed)
high value target (human being)
neutralize (kill)
rendition (abduction and transfer of someone to facilitate interrogation under torture)
fallen soldier (dead combatant)
passed away (died)
terrorist (militants we oppose)
militant (a combatant that we do not like)
freedomfighter (a combatant that we like)
contractor (mercenary)
mercenary (combatant hired by someone we do not like)
boot camp (privatized prision, featuring rehabilitation by harsh treatment)
concentration camp (WW2 and beyond: many were death facilities, not holding pens)
internment camp (a concentration camp run by ourselves or our friends)
detention facility/center (variously prision, or concentration camp)
refugee (someone fleeing dangers we ackowledge)
migrant (birds, or someone leaving conditioins we do not acknowledge as troubled)
economic migrants (someone hoping to escape poverty abroad)
asylum seekers (refugees we are not ready, or willing, to recognize as such)
idps (refugees who do not managed to cross a border)
improvised explosive device (bomb… ied helps make the enemy seem like rouge militants, amateurs and terrorists)
soften up (abuse in preparation for, or in the process of, interrogation. In the case of at least one detainee in Afghanistan — admitted by US military coroner’s report — beat his legs until they are, and this is not a paraphrase: “pulpified”).

Euphemisms can also be inverted.

When looking at regimes we dislike, it is not uncommon for the fatal shooting or beating (killing) of an unarmed protester to be referred to as “murder”.  Besides disapproving vague connotations of evil, “murder” more precisely refers an act of violence which deliberately kills a specific individual.
Along the same lines, Chomsky points out that a solider can not be “kidnapped”. The use of the term this way is especially familiar from Israeli conflicts with Lebanon and Palenstian Gaza.  Enemies capture soldiers.




Yoo’s Swiss Cheese

November 16, 2010


Thoughts on the smell of Yoo’s Swiss Cheese

I am no lawyer.

But having slogged my way through what is – since its leaking – known as the “Torture Memo”, I feel no need to be silent.  I may not have the training and knowledge to build a contrary memo of my own, but I am confident that I can highlight errors throughout the memo.

(Maybe this is a measure of how easy it is to find fault with that which we already disagree with.  Maybe its a measure of how incredibly faulty the memo is).

In case you want to read it for yourself – hours of slogging, but certainly not impossible for anyone literate, curious and determined – this document was official titled “Memorandum for William J. Haynes IT, General Counsel of the Department of Defence. Re: Military Interrogation of Alien Unlawful Combatants Held Outside the United States”.

(Granted, my academic training – for whatever its worth – was in International Relations, which naturally included discussion of International Law).

The memo is bulky: 80 pages. It was written (2003) by the top lawyers at the US Department of Justice to help out the folks at another government department (Defence).  The wording here is deliberate: it is debatable whether the memo was intended to help the Department of Defence understand their obligations under the law, or if and how they could (legally) justify their actions. Skipping over, for the moment, this debate… what follows are a number of opinionated reflections:


It can be assumed that no-one at the top of the US government ever read the Torture Memo.

President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld (Dept.of Defence) – in particular – certainly spoke as if they understood the legality of their interrogation methods.

As has been pointed out elsewhere (journalist Jayne Mayer), the top of the Bush administration was exceptional: against the norm, not one of them was a lawyer. Even if they did read the memo, their understanding of it would be at least as limited as my own.

In any case, folks like the President, Vice-President, and head of the Department of Defence, are too busy to spend hours reading through any single memo. What they would have heard is a summary prepared by an aid. Any summary highlights the conclusion over the contents… and Yoo summed up his conclusion this way:

“Finally, even if the criminal prohibitions outlined above applied, and an interrogation method might violate those prohibitions, necessity or self-defence could provide justifications for any criminal liability. “  The aid would have supplied a translation for this legalistic wrap-up. Here’s mine: even if the treatment of a prisoner breaks a law, it doesn’t matter. It can always be said to be necessary or in self-defence.

This could mean that the top of the White House is not culpable for any treatment (up to and including abuse and even homicide).  Their power was exercised, it should be admitted, with the benefit (handicap) of a summary of legal advice… advice which was (it is now widely agreed) as faulty.

But… doesn’t it matter that the advice told them what they – almost without a doubt – wanted to hear? (Cheney, in particular, had already made plenty of public statements about it being “necessary” to act “on the dark side”). Aren’t we responsible for the things which we want to hear? If someone tells us (in a position of power) what we want to hear, aren’t we partly responsible for what is said?

But… Imagine that, on the basis of faulty legal advice, you smack me over the head with a hammer. I hope that you would still be arrested. The legal advice may be a reason for a little empathy, but it does not completely excuse anything.

But… Even with no legal advice, aren’t we are still held to the law?… whether we understand it, or even know about it.

But… what kind of idiot thinks that its legally permissible to waterboard (a frightening ordeal intended to feel like drowning), chain with arms stretched upwards behind the back (a “stress position” called a “Palestinian Hanging”), confusion by days of sleep deprivation.
… no matter what some lawyer says.

–Doing publicity for his memoir (published 2010), former president George W.Bush was still insisting that waterboarding was legal. How d

demonstration of Waterboarding

id he know? Because, he explained, the lawyers told him so.


We have the memo, but we do not have the request for its production.

an only slightly different version was used by the Spanish Inquisition

It is, however, obvious that it was written assuming (correctly, or incorrectly) that the Department of Defence wanted to know (a) how far it could take “coercive” interrogation, based on (b) the limits of what could be (legally) defended.

The memo does not read like advice to a client wanting to understand their obligations under the law.  The overwhelming emphasis is on (a) arguing that the US is not obliged to obey international treaty x,y,z, and (b) pointing the reader towards ways in which various acts, in the event of prosecution in an American court, could be defended. (It also refers to, and leans on, an argument made elsewhere that “unlawful combatants” are not protected by the laws of war).

The memo works its way through long, escalating list of possible acts: shouting, slapping, hitting, beating… humiliating, creating discomfort, d

eprivation of sleep, drugging…  As it goes through these acts, it suggested defences. These stretch along a spectrum of styles: from meticulously detailed and convoluted, to the broadest of brushes.

Many defences hinge on matters of definition. Most (in)famously, Yoo makes a great deal of hay from puzzling over the meaning of “severe” pain or suffering. He puzzles over the meaning of “assault” (especially, do you need to touch the victim?), the difference between “substantial” and “serious” (bodily injury),  “specific intent” vs “general intent”,

I am all for semantics. They may be tedious, but unless everyone is speaking the same language (defining terms in the same way), or at least understands each other’s language (knows what the other means by x,y,z), there is no point having a conversation.

There are, however, problems.

First, the inevitable difficulty of precisely defining terms can be used to dismiss the entire question. (We can not define “Art”, so there is nothing to be gained by asking “what is art?”)

Second, an unchallenged author (like one preaching an 80 page sermon to the converted) is able to improve his position by defining terms to suit his needs. Most obviously (and infamously) Yoo takes defining “severe pain” as an opportunity to set the bar impossibly high. It must, he reasons, “must rise to a similarly high level that would ordinarily be associated with a physical condition or injury sufficiently serious that it would result in death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions”.

Third, maybe legal arguments make frequent references to dictionaries… but even as an undergraduate, I was taught that the practice was embarrassingly amateur.

In a number of cases, Yoo proposes defences based on tiny details within the wording of legislation and treaties.  For example, the law sometimes specifically lists sub-types of an offence. The law prohibiting “maiming”, he points out, lists a finite list of types. Since it fails to preface this list with the phrase “such as”, he reasons that anything not specifically mentioned is not forbidden. You may not cut off a nose or ear, but (he implies) you may cut off a toe.

Now he starts to sweep his brush in wonderfully broad strokes.

Yoo repeatedly resorts to insisting upon intent. He points to wordings which do exist in legislation and treaties which demand that, for an act to be torture, an interrogator must “intend” to inflict severe pain.  He takes this so far as to argue that as long as it can’t be proved that an interrogator intended to inflict severe pain, even “maiming” a detainee (which he agrees includes burning with acid) would not qualify as torture. It is, conviently, very difficult to prove intent.

Yoo sweeps in enormous strokes to argue that anything is permissible… as long as harm to the detainee is outweighed by the harm (a major terrorist attack) which can be avoided by extracting information the detainee is concealing.

My knowledge of US law is limited, but if it is really so extremist its Utilitarianism, I fear it even more today that I did yesterday.

Ultimately, this is bettered by one more.  It does not matter if interrogators are incorrect and detainee turns out to be innocent, or at least know nothing of any use.  Anything is permissible as long as the interrogator believes, in good faith, that the detainee is concealing information which could stop a major terrorist attack.


Spotting holes in Yoo’s memo could be assigned as a good exercise in critical thinking.  A student should be able to spot faults in a paper in any subject, provided it is written in a sufficiently straightforward manner.

(This is not a criticism of the Torture Memo. Undecipherable, jargon encumbered prose too common… it should diminish our respect for the author and increase our suspicious of his ideas).


If you read the testimony of the lowly prison guards at Abu Ghraib, you can hear an eerie echo of an important part of the Torture Memo.

Yoo makes a great deal of puzzling over the meaning of “assault” and trying to lay out distinctions between its different types.  While he does not end up advising against all physical contact, he does emphasize his opinion that any treatment which does not involve touching a detainee can not be “assault”.

At Abu Ghraib, a detainee was hooded and told to stand on a box. Wires were attached to his fingers. He was told to keep his arms outstretched and not to fall off the box, lest he be electrocuted. Photographs were taken; these would become the most infamous when a collection of such photos were later leaked to the media.

One of the soldiers – the same one that told the detainee that falling would cause him to be electrocuted – explained later: “I knew he wouldn’t be electrocuted… it was just words.  It would have been meaner if there really was electricity coming out, and he could really be electrocuted.  No physical harm was ever done to him.”
Maybe this is the coincidence of two people with matching views of right and wrong.  Maybe this is the result of Yoo’s argument filtering down to the very the bottom. It is not – to be fair – completely faithful to the memo’s advice. Yoo advises that threatening a detainee with death (as long as that death is imminent) is illegal. The threat in this case (electrocution if he falls) is obviously imminent, and therefore illegal. By the time Yoo’s advice filtered down to the soldiers it, not surprisingly, had lost its coherence.  Understanding Yoo’s advice – in case one finds oneself attaching wires to a detainee who is  standing on a box – requires piecing together two portions of the memo (one explaining that assault, without contact, is not assault, the other explaining that a detainee must not be lead to believe that his death is imminent).

This supports the idea that soldiers – who could not be expected to understand the law – lacked proper supervision.  There’s more than a grain of truth here, but it distracts from the more important points.

(a) Authority is ultimately responsible for any action taken by any and all of its soldiers. From the comfort of their offices, they have put guns into the hands of kids and sent them into danger. Do not believe that authority is stupid enough to be unable to see the inevitability of the unpredictable.

(b) The upper reaches of authority had procured legal advice on the legal defensibility of various types of “coercion”.  Authority may claim that perpetrators (soldiers and interrogators) were acting without orders. Rumsfeld (head of Defence Department) jeered: “Did I authorize soldiers to put underwear on that guy’s head? Of course not.”

The creativity of the soldiers at Abu Grahib (and elsewhere to be sure) was impressive. Just as the Torture Memo advised, they were – while avoiding doing x,y or z – doing whatever came into their heads.

(c) Imaginative, yes, but I can’t believe that soldiers weren’t guided in the types of coercion would be particularly suitable.

The military employs cultural advisors who advise it on how to avoid accidentally offending the locals. No one asked of them the inverse question?

The creativity of soldiers may have been impressive, but did they just happen to focus on  nudity, homosexuality, gender bending, submission to women and sexual exposure? In the case of Omar Khadr, it was admitted that interrogators had threated to arrange to have him gang raped. We know from elsewhere that dogs were brought in with the advice of culture wonks that Arabs (more correctly, Muslims) are taught that they are taboo, and are often very fearful of them.

There is an absurd limit to this line of argument. Its odd to imagine that even a Dutch combatant wouldn’t be bothered by being held naked with woman’s underwear on his head, simulating oral sex for the amusement of his captors, being threatened with rape by a dog.  But if US soldiers were interrogating Dutch detainees, I would not be surprised to see them following advice to mock their shoes, and the foul taste of Heineken.


As has been noted elsewhere, notice that the memo is dated March of 2003… well after the “enhanced interrogation” methods were already in use.

(6) “Why don’t we read history?”   (Robert Fisk)

detainee in a stress position known as a "Palestinian Hanging"

the same technique, used here by the S.S. at Buchenwald

cowards and martyrs

October 23, 2010

On this day, in 1983, suicide bombers attacked two targets is Beirut.

I was eleven, and my memory is terrible, but I remember Reagan calling it a “cowardly act”.



The US-sponsored “peace process” is back in the news lately.
Almost nobody is holding their breath this time around. Netanyahu is hardly cuddly. Mahmoud Abbas is weak and, even if propped-up in the West Bank, he certainly can not speak for Gaza. Hamas, of course, is not welcome at the table.

I think about the middle east a lot… I’ll work at articulating why some page soon. But here’s a rough outline of what I (in some fantasy world where somebody would listen) would advise.

Middle-Eastern Thoughts.

I am not completely content to accept the existence of the state of Israel. I can’t completely get around my belief that its creation was a regrettable act.

I see Israel’s creation as largely the result of European feelings of guilt over the Holocaust, mixed with their own anti-Semitism. There were other factors… (1) European possession of most of the Middle East — spoils from the destruction of the Ottoman empire — set the stage. (2) A file of treaties and declarations (Balfour 1917, especially) became a box of props. (3) The deflating of the British empire gave it all a shove.
But…. more than anything else… Carving out a state for the Jews soothed “western” guilt, and it encouraged Jews to go somewhere else.

Today – for better, worse or some combination – the state of Israel exists. We need to work around this fact.  Having been the reality for decades, I do not wish to see it eliminated… or to see its population “pushed into the sea”.

I am not at all optimistic that the Palestine/Israel conflict will be settled (let alone the violence ended) in the foreseeable future. It could, but it won’t.

Until the US convincingly threatens to cut off the torrent of aid, the is really no hope that Israel will ever make the concessions that it must. That aid-tap will not be turned off until, in a world very different from today, Israel is no longer useful to the US. Maybe when the oil runs out, and the strategic value of the entire region fades…

…but then maybe the Saudi dessert
will turn out to be a great place to bury
the toxic waste  generated by whatever
energy source comes in its place.

One State or Two?

The one-state solution – dissolving the line between Israel and Palestine – is attractive. But I think there is no point waiting for Israel to accept it. From the Israeli point of view, the one-state solution is the most extreme of solutions. Palestinians (Arabs) vastly outnumber Israeli Jews… Palestinians may be badly weakened, but their numbers would make a very big difference if a single state were to be a democracy.

So, a two-state solution may be what must be settled for.

the Lines of 1967

Israel must withdrawal back to the “green line” – the borders as they existed before the summer of 1967.

This should be a familiar point. Most of the world agrees that – since 1967 – Israel has been illegal occupying Gaza, West Bank and Golan Heights.

Returning to the green line is, to my mind, is a major concession.

Putting aside the carving of the state of Israel out of Arab land… a great deal of land was seized by Israel in the violence which followed its creation (1948).  If Israel were to shoulder (at least) some of the blame for that conflict (elsewhere I’ve argued that they should do so) it would change the status of these territories.  Rather than accepted parts of Israel, the 1948 seizures would be remembered as illegal annexation by an aggressor-state.

So why not insist on returning to the borders drawn during the

creation of Israel?  …I’m not sure there is a good reason… other than bending to a realistic expectation of how just peace will ever be.


All “settlements” must be removed from occupied territory. Their residents should be assisted in re-establishing themselves with the state of Israel, or elsewhere.


Before it was seized in 1967, Jerusalem/al-Quds was within Palestine. Despite this, a compromise may be wise: remove Jerusalem from the control of both Palestine and Israel. The city could become a UN protectorate, administered with the explicit goal of facilitating the common by all groups.

A State for Who?

No matter what sort of government Israel has – democracy or dictatorship – it can not be “the Jewish state”.

The world, thankfully, does not have states for White people, tall people, Christians or Buddhists. Pakistan comes the closest, but (a) it does not claim to be the home of all Muslims, (b) non-Muslims are not (officially, at least) second-class citizens,

We do not tolerate (let alone support) countries which hand out rights according to race, religion or gender. (Except, for the past 62 years, Israel).

It must be forbidden for either Israel or Palestine to grant special citizenship privileges according to factors such as religion, ethnicity and language. On the other hand, either state could choose steer its immigration policies towards accepting members of such a group. (ala Quebec’s efforts to attract francophone immigrants).

Right of Return and Reparations

All Palestinians who have fled since 1948 (or later conflicts), must be able to return. This would also apply to any Jews who fled the conflict.

This is not impossible, and being complicated is no excuse for not trying. Further, the “cultural genocide” argument must be rejected.

The most basic (and common) complaint is that a massive increase in the Arab population within Israel would be genocide by demographics. Clearly their arrival would swamp the Jewish character of the state of Israel. Since I do not accept that states should ever be reserved for members of particular races or religions, this objection seems outrageous.

The land and homes of many Palestinians are simply not available. Many no longer exist. Many have been built upon. Some have Israeli families living in them.

If a Palestinian family has papers to prove that a particular piece of land was theirs – many still have such deeds – they should either be paid compensation according to the current value of that land, or be allowed to return (respectively: if it has, or has not been built on). This applies equally to land and property lost in 1948, 1967 or by the building of Israeli “settlements”.

Those families which can prove ownership of a house or other building which still stands, should be paid compensation based on the current value of that property.

Those who are unable to prove historic ownership of any land in particular should still be offered compensation. This includes the descendants of those who fled Palestine/Israel as a result of Israeli action (provoked or not). Negotiations would have to set a standard amount to be paid to each individual.

Shouldering the Cost

The cost of reparations (outlined above) should be paid by just by the state of Israel, but also those who have supported from inception until today. This would include the countries who sponsored the UN creation of Israel (such as Britain), those who have provided military aid (the United States, in particular), and those who have given diplomatic support to Israeli aggression (especially the US, which has so often vetoed UN resolutions condemning Israeli actions).

Safe Passage

A safe corridor must be created to allow free passage of people and material between the two occupied (Palestinian) territories — Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel may seal this corridor anyway she wishes, as long as it does not limit or threaten passage. Fences may be built, a buffer zone laid out, etc… however: pointing (let alone firing) weapons through such a fence, into the corridor, would be forbidden; as if it were any other international border.

Israel could not, by force, control what types of material passes through the corridor. Diplomacy (trade accords) would provide a way to limit, by agreement, what is permitted.

It seems sensible that parts of this corridor would be elevated on overpasses to permit Israeli traffic below… cutting Israel in two is obviously to be avoided.

Palestinian Politics

Israel, nor the international community, can continue forcibly interfering with the internal politics of Palestine. The current blockade and sanctions imposed on the Hamas-dominated government is exactly what must stop.

With very rare exceptions, it is seen as unacceptable for one state to interfere in the internal politics of any other. If the Palestinians choose to elect Hamas into power, no one should be changing their mind asking Palestine to be democratic.

Palestine as a Demilitarized State

Putting aside a Palestinian state’s obvious need to defend itself from a yet to be trusted Israel…
…being seen to have a “right” to the use of force (a military included) is one of the defining features of statehood, without one Palestine would only be a sort-of state.

It’s depressing that the idea of a demilitarized Palestine is regularly treated seriously by the “peace process”… it is absolute stupidity.

And so on…

There are many more issues to be settled… access to water resources, the ability of Palestinians and Israelis to cross borders (to work, or visit religious sites), the fate of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, etc, etc, etc.

“Pastor’s ‘Jesus had HIV’ sermon angers South African Christians”  August 25, 2010
David Smith (Johanesburg)
A pastor has angered Christians in South Africa by preaching a sermon entitled “Jesus was HIV-positive” in an attempt to break what he regards as a conspiracy of silence by the South African church.

Xola Skosana said that HIV is stigmatised as evil and a sin in the country that has the world’s biggest caseload.

Skosana, 43, underwent a HIV test in front of his congregation last Sunday at the non-denominational Way of Life church in Khayelitsha , Cape Town. The test was also taken by 100 young people from the impoverished township.

The pastor said he chose the title for his three-part sermon to draw attention to “a very serious issue”.

“In many parts of the Bible, God put himself in the position of the destitute, the sick, the marginalised,” he said. “When we attend to those who are sick, we are attending to him. When we ignore people who are sick, we are ignoring him.”

Skosana cited a passage in the Bible where Jesus says: “I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” But he has had a hostile reaction in some quarters.

“The scathing attacks I’ve received from Christians are unbelievable,” he said. “They’re saying you can’t reconcile Jesus and Aids. They assume it means Jesus was promiscuous and had a louche lifestyle with many sexual partners.”

Skosana lost two sisters to Aids. One died last month at the age of 44. The other died in 2003 in her early 20s.

He condemned the national church for failing to tackle the issue when nearly 1,000 people are dying from Aids-related causes every day. The South African government had been accused of Aids “denialism” but has more recently been praised for its prevention and treatment programmes.

“It baffles me why in the church this is the most untalked-about subject,” Skosana said. “If I went to church and never heard the pastor talk about this, I would assume I must go home and die in silence. The message is that it’s an unpardonable sin and we must just forget about HIV/Aids.

“My responsibility as a pastor is to open a Bible and paint a picture of a God who cares for people and wants the best for them, not who judges them and is ashamed of them.”

He called on other churches to be more open about the subject. “I hope this will change the paradigm, especially in the Pentecostal background. I come from the Pentecostal background and I know this discussion is totally alien there.”

Skosana will not disclose the result of his public HIV test in case it puts pressure on the churchgoers who followed his example. They had heard him explain the virus, possible treatments and the importance of knowing their status and were given professional counselling.

Skosana’s stance was praised by South Africa’s National Aids Council. Mark Heywood, its deputy chairperson, said: “I applaud his actions. It’s very important that church leaders set an example, destigmatising HIV and encouraging testing so people know their status.

“There are many churches that have done a lot to combat HIV. The problem is that the church as a whole has not been vocal enough. It’s often been left to individual church leaders and organisations. We would like to hear a clearer message.”

The South African Council of Churches was unavailable for comment.

Weaving Our Stories Into the Carpets of Afghanistan
Huffington Post. September 17, 2010
written by: Seema Jilani

I am as American as it gets and a bit too Texan for my liking: “y’all” occasionally creeps into my colloquialisms. But originally, my family hails from Pakistan. In my culture, we have a great love of carpets. Carpets, spicy food and colorful, kaleidoscopic clothes with too much bling. Yes, it is because of the fine embroidery, but mostly it is because some carpets can take generations to make. Between the carefully knotted silk threads you will find our family histories. Carpets function as anything from a prayer mat to a dining table, but really, they are breathing, animated family photo albums.

My mother taught me how to shop for carpets:

  • Double-knotted are always woven tighter. Each knot carries the burden of the other, so the carpet will last longer if it is tightly interwoven.
  • Make sure the colors are made from vegetable dye and not chemicals. Natural is always better.
  • An intricate design doesn’t make a fine carpet. Simple is more meaningful.
  • Look at the back, not just the front. It’s where you can see the carpet’s depth and it’s where the character lies.
  • The carpet should not be perfect. Flaws indicate that it is man-made. Asymmetry makes it valuable and lends it authenticity. Some flaws will make you cringe, but they are a reflection of humanity.
  • The rug is not just for you to place in your living room, or to be trampled upon by high heels at a cocktail party while people swirl martinis. Women have sewn their lives into it. They have whispered about their husbands, gossiped about in-laws, and exchanged riveting hopes and dreams while their fingers diligently worked the loom. Take your shoes off and don’t tread heavily. Respect their stories.

As I left Afghanistan, I felt how humans are woven together — sometimes a bit too closely, sometimes not closely enough. I realized that this stunning tapestry of life we find ourselves in unravels when we are not intricately enmeshed. There is a sense of camaraderie amongst my patients — that sentiment that I will carry you, and you will carry me. It is something we could all stand to learn from. Each knot carries carries the burden of the other, so the carpet will last longer if it is tightly interwoven.

We cannot come to the negotiating table with false promises, fake alliances and mouths full of venom. It takes genuine, wholesome attitudes of sincerity to make honest deals that will pave the way for progress. Natural is always better.

I recently assisted in a surgical procedure in Kabul on a young boy. The chief surgeon was an Afghan man. I didn’t know how he would respond to a woman in the operating theatre with him. At the start of the case, our fierce Asian eyes met over surgical masks. He handed me the scalpel and stepped aside from the patient, offering me the prestigious first cut on the patient. The simple, powerful gesture showed his immense respect for me and his willingness to yield to an outsider, not to mention a female physician. Simple is more meaningful.

The back is where the depth is.
It is not in burqas or in the front page news. It is in the details: the back stories of women helping other women succeed, or how Afghan doctors extended their hospitality to a Pakistani-American, or how Pakistan’s borders are open to offer medical care to Afghan children. It’s in the story of a widow who buries her ten children, but also in the one where a young Afghan couple in love rejoices at the birth of their daughter. It’s when Afghan doctors are ecstatic over a few medical textbooks an American doctor bought for them. It’s in the fact that everyone is a victim, but no Afghan is consumed by their victimhood.

The chronicles of Afghanistan will continue long after military forces withdraw. It is up to us to decide whose narrative we choose to engrave in our carpets. We cannot continue to paint this region with broad strokes of rhetoric akin to re-runs of Three’s Company: massive amounts of chaos and confusion (Jack), interjected with a few sleazy references to women (Larry), some emotional blackmail (oh-so-cute-Chrissy), and a smart alec quote (Janet), followed by a hollow, yet authoritative one by a General (Mr. Furley). Afghanistan has more substance than “X amount of people killed again in Blank-abad Province,” and a cliched reference to Alexander the Great and the Soviet invasion. Tread lightly and respect their stories.

Some flaws will make you cringe, but they are a reflection of humanity. I struggle with the idea of sharing my faith with a people whose vision of Islam is vastly different than mine. Until we Muslims collectively recognize that our religion is being raped by zealots who are ignorant of the progressive texts of Islam, all our future holds is more atrocities committed in the name of Islam.

The flaws lend a degree of authenticity. There is something to be said for my Afghan colleagues who initially suspected I was a Pakistani spy, but who later realized that I was just a doctor treating Afghan children. As much as I complain, I like having to prove myself to the Afghan people. I respect the fact that they are a bit suspicious and that their threshold for fake niceties is low. I enjoy rising to the occasion to prove that my intentions are pure, and not poisoned by ulterior motives. I admire the intelligence it takes to cultivate such a seasoned litmus test for people. Their refined radar for artificiality resonates with me.

As I close this chapter in Afghanistan, I hope I have approached my medical work and my writing with a sense of responsibility. I hope I have told a few Afghans’ stories with truth and allowed their dignity to flicker through, that I have done their magnificent and inspiring stories justice.

I chose pediatrics because I wanted to advocate for a forgotten population, and perhaps I was a delusional, young hippie when I thought I could be the voice for the voiceless. Shoved to the periphery, children are the most marginalized demographic of the world’s population, but also the most insightful. My pediatric patients are the colors in this great tapestry and without them, there would be no vibrance, no depth to my life. Natural, simple, and innately keen judges of character, children have taught me more and healed my heart more than I could ever hope to do for them. They understand things we struggle with, like dying young. “I’ve been chosen to leave this world early because the walk home is easier when you are younger. I have less suitcases than you grown-ups,” one of my patients with cancer once told me. She was 9 years old. They get it, more than we ever will.

Now back in the U.S., I am honored to have received several letters from my Afghan colleagues asking me to hurry back. We are woven together now. The way to keep this great carpet brilliant and strong for decades is to continue to hold the Afghans up, to continue to advocate for their children. We must do more than begrudgingly allow them a few crumbs from the table. We must sit on their floors with them, drink their teas, eat together, share tales of our families, and shower affection on their children. When we step up to the plate we will we be accepted as friends and more importantly, sewn into the tapestry of their lives. If we can weave our stories together tightly enough, what a magnificent carpet we would share – one we could all be proud of, and one that holds tender tales that we can pass on to many generations

photo by: Majid Saeedi -GettyImages

You bungle, I cry foul.

September 25, 2010

On this day in 1997:
Two Mossad agents bungled an assassination in Amman, Jordan. The target was Khaled Mashal, a member of the Hamas leadership. (He was, in 1997, the “Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau”).
As is not uncommon, they were carrying non-Israeli passports. (Stealthy spy stuff aside, an Israeli passport will not get you far traveling around the Middle East).
In this case, this time, the passports were Canadian.

Its not really very surprising that Mossad was able to get their hands on foreign passports.
It is quite possible that these were forged from scratch.  They may have been fabricated by altering passports belonging to Canadian-Israeli citizens. Dual citizens, living in Israel, have complained of being asked (pressured) by authorities to lend their foreign passports for use by such hit-squads. In other cases, dual citizens have protested that their identities were stolen by Mossad.
A little further, it is not impossible that foreign states have helped Mossad create their fake identities. Of course, they make a show of protesting when the media reports note that a hit-squad was carrying their passports.   It seems like a pretty simple favour to do for a state considered a friend… and besides, the governments involved are hardly sympathetic towards Hamas.
In the 1997 case, very little — a show of finger-wagging, and the temporary recall of the ambassador — was done in response. This unfortunately is the norm… the Israeli government continues to sign off on Mossad’s use of foreign passports.
The problem?
(a) The practice troubles (border hassles to personal safety) those who travel in the Middle East on (real) Canadian passports.
(b) If  we confine ourselves to bit of protest over the use of forged passports, we are missing a golden opportunity to condemn a state’s use of  murder to eliminate their opponents.
(c) We must accept that — partly our own fault — the practices will continue… both the forging of (more) reputable passports the use of murder. Indeed, continue it does. Most recently, a Mossad hit-squad killed  Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. (A Hamas figure, reportedly a target because of his role in the killing of two Israeli soldiers twenty years ago). The hit-squad was traveling using forged British, German and French passports.

I want to tell myself that it slips by because we are distracted,
but maybe we don’t see a problem with murder?