Recent Attacks Targeting Canadian Soldiers Offer Politicians Rationale to Boost Security Policies, Erode of Civil Liberties
Interview with Beau Grosscup, professor of Political Science at California State University, Chico, conducted by Scott Harris
Attacks on soldiers in Canada last week that resulted in two deaths, one in Ottawa and the other in a town in Quebec – were the focus of U.S. and world attention, and fears about a possible connection to the terrorist group ISIS on the offensive in both Iraq and Syria. The first attack occurred on Oct. 20, when a recent convert to Islam, Martin Couture Rouleau, who was on a government monitoring list and whose passport was seized, drove his car into two Canadian soldiers, killing one before being shot to death by police. The second incident occurred two days later on Oct. 22, when a soldier guarding Canada’s war memorial was shot dead. The attacker, Michael Abdul Zehaf-Bibeau, another recent Muslim convert, then entered the Canadian Parliament building where he was killed by the legislature’s sergeant-at-arms. Zehaf-Bibeau left behind a videotape that authorities say is evidence that the shooting was driven by politics and ideological motives.
Both attacks occurred only days after the Canadian government had sent six jet fighters to assist the U.S. in its air campaign against Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria. Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper responded to the attacks by introducing new anti-terrorism legislation, dubbed the Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act, which gives the nation’s domestic spy agency explicit power to carry out its activities around the world, request revocation of citizenship and provide legal protection to individuals who provide evidence to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Harper said this measure and additional legislation to come would be expedited in view of the recent attacks.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Beau Grosscup, professor of political science at California State University, Chico and author of the book, “The Newest Explosions of Terrorism.” Here, he discusses the recent attacks in Canada and the concern that these terrorist incidents will be used as a justification to further militarize government security policies and erode civil liberties.
See more information on the book, “The Newest Explosions of Terrorism”.
Obama White House Considers Adopting Bush Era Policy Allowing Torture Abroad-(Overseas)
Interview with Kathy Roberts, executive director of the Center for Justice and Accountability, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
When he was a candidate for the presidency, then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of ending U.S. torture that had been endorsed and practiced by George W. Bush’s administration. After he was elected and took office Obama issued an executive order in 2009 that prohibited cruel interrogations anywhere – and made it harder for future presidents to return to torture. An Oct. 19 article in the New York Times, titled “Obama Could Reaffirm a Bush-Era Reading of a Treaty on Torture,” cited a current debate within the Obama administration over whether to adopt the Bush administration’s interpretation that the “The Convention Against Torture” – which the U.S. has ratified – only prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment within the territory of the United States. The White House debate comes as the Obama administration must clarify its position on the torture treaty in November, when a U.S. delegation will travel to Geneva to issue a report to the Committee Against Torture, a U.N. panel that monitors compliance with the treaty.
In a disturbing case of what some observers describe as “blowback,” a British hostage held by the ISIS terrorist group reported in a recently released video message that prisoners were waterboarded as punishment for their attempts to escape captivity. Other press reports maintain that ISIS prisoners have been subjected to various other forms of torture before their executions.
The Center for Justice and Accountability is a San Francisco-based human rights group dedicated to deterring torture and other human rights abuses around the world, while advancing the rights of survivors to seek truth, justice and accountability. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with the center’s executive director, Kathy Roberts, who discusses her concern about a current debate on torture within the Obama administration that could revive the Bush administration interpretation that the U.S. government had the option of engaging in cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners it holds abroad.
KATHY ROBERTS: President Obama has made clear that torture and cruel treatment are prohibited by executive order. What the Committee Against Torture has asked him to clarify is, what is the territorial reach of the Convention Against Torture? And, of course, any kind of traditional legal scholarship would say that the CAT prohibits torture everywhere; in fact, it just codifies an underlying international norm that pre-existed the treaty. It’s always been illegal – or almost always been illegal – to commit torture or cruel treatment anywhere. What’s concerning about this report that came out last week is that there are lawyers in the administration who are pushing for something more like the Bush-era legalistic, if we could call it, interpretation of the treaty, which is to try to find loopholes that are law-free zones within the whole network of treaties. It’s not legitimate, logically or morally, or according to principles of international law and interpretation, and it’s very dangerous.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Can you explain what the Committee Against Torture is?
KATHY ROBERTS: Under the Convention Against Torture, there’s a treaty monitoring body called the Committee Against Torture. Many of the human rights treaties – multilateral human rights treaties have a kind of committee that oversees the reports from states and can ask them questions and makes determinations on how to understand the treaty as time goes by. So the U.S. will be sending a delegation to report on the U.S. compliance with the Convention Against Torture next month. I’m not sure of the exact time but it should be between November 3rd and the end of November. So they have sent questions asking what the U.S. position is on a number of issues where it remains a bit unclear, so that’s their job, to try to determine if the U.S. is still in compliance – or in compliance – and to encourage the U.S. – or whichever country is before it – to comply with the treaty.
BETWEEN THE LINES: My understanding is that lawyers at the State Dept want torture to be illegal everywhere, but that within the Defense Department and the CIA, I think, they’re talking about moving back to the Bush-era definition. Can you speak to that, and I wonder how that would play out in the administration.
KATHY ROBERTS: That’s my understanding, too, and of course it’s always a little difficult to draw too many conclusions from a report of a report of lawyers in different agencies holding different positions, but it’s fairly clear that the State Department, the Office of Legal Adviser, issued exhaustive opinions on this point, that international law prohibits torture and the U.S. is committed to not torturing and not creating zones in which cruel treatment is allowed. The idea that you can send refugees who are likely to be tortured straight into countries where they’re likely to be tortured, it’s not okay just because they’re not in U.S. territory. Those sorts of things are fairly standard definitions under the treaty and obligations under the treaty. I think there are apparently lawyers in the military or in the intelligence services or perhaps both who maybe made made nervous about the idea that the U.S. has legal obligations outside of the U.S. on sort of policy commitments, that we’d like to reserve the ability to change our minds. I think this is obviously a bit misguided, since the U.S. doesn’t have the option to make torture legal somewhere, but it sends a message to other countries and armed groups and actors around the world that the U.S. might consider this prohibition optional, which I think is a lot more dangerous … I would assume there are people in the Dept of Defense and the CIA who are also concerned about the dangers raised by that.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Kathy Roberts, your organization, the Center for Justice and Accountability, sent a letter last week to Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and other officials about this issue. What was the focus of your letter?
KATHY ROBERTS: We sent the letter primarily to express our concern and to urge her and these other officials to maintain the only legally available position, which is that torture and cruel treatment are illegal everywhere.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Do you expect to get some kind of answer, or do you think you’ll just be ignored?
KATHY ROBERTS: I don’t expect to get an answer, but I also don’t expect to be ignored. We do have a democracy and our government should listen to its constituents, and I believe that the people receiving this letter will be aware — they’ll at least be put on notice that the public is concerned, that we’re concerned. I think we’re not the only ones engaging these government officials now. I’m sure they’re engaging each other quite vigorously.
CJA is an international hr org dedicated to deterring torture and other hr abuses around the world and advancing the rights of survivals to seek truth, justice and redress, mainly through litigation to hold perpetrators individually accountable and by developing hour law.
For more information on the Center for Justice and Accountability, visit cja.org.
- “Obama Could Reaffirm a Bush-Era Reading of a Treaty on Torture,” The New York Times, Oct. 16, 2014
- “Executive Order 13491 – Ensuring Lawful Interrogations,” The White House, Jan. 22, 2009
- John Cantlie: Isis prisoners are waterboarded for trying to escape, says British hostage in video, The Independent (UK), Oct. 28, 2014
- UN Committee Against Torture at ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/cat/pages/catindex.aspx
Ralph Nader: No Legal or Ethical Framework Regulates Earth-Shaking Technologies
Interview with Ralph Nader, citizen activist and former independent presidential candidate, conducted by Scott Harris
As the “Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth” conference got underway on a sunny October morning in New York City, Tom Butler of the Foundation for Deep Ecology and president of the Northeast Wilderness Trust noted his skepticism on the unwieldy conference title and proposed a more compact alternative, “The FRED Talks,” an acronym he said stood for “Facing the Reality of Extinction and Doom.”
As it turned out, Butler wasn’t far off the mark. An impressive roster of more than 45 environmental researchers, philosophers, writers and activists gathered for the two-day “teach in” at the Great Hall of the Cooper Union in Greenwich Village, where a wide range of technology critiques were presented that undoubtedly left many in the audience with a sense of dread. Among those participating in the conference were Australian anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott, Randy Hayes, founder of the Rainforest Action Network, Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute, Bill McKibben, author and founder of 350.org; environmental activist Vandana Shiva and Ralph Nader, America’s pre-eminent citizen activist.
The conference focus, as described by its primary sponsor, the San Francisco-based International Forum on Globalization or IFG, was to “examine the profound impacts – environmental, economic and social – of runaway technological expansionism, and cyber immersion, where the tendency is to see technology as the savior for all problems. The IFG concludes that a change of direction is required by returning the fate of nature to the center of economic and social decision-making.” Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with four-time independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, a conference participant, who talks about the need to exert more democratic control over corporate technology and its uses.
Ralph Nader’s latest book is titled, “Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.” Find more information and hear recorded speeches and interviews from the Techno-Utopianism conference.
- “Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth” at ifg.org/techno-utopia
- Techno-utopia Conference speakers biographies, International Forum on Globalization 2014
- Between The Lines’ selected Techno-Utopianism teach-in speeches, presentations and interviews, Between The Lines, Oct. 25, 2014
This week’s summary of under-reported news
Compiled by Bob Nixon
- During the weekend of Oct. 18 an estimated 60 more women and girls were abducted in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram, the Islamist insurgent movement responsible for kidnapping nearly 300 school girls in April. The attack comes only days after the Nigerian military announced a cease-fire with Boko Haram and the expected release of over 200 girls abducted at their school. (“Attacks continue after Nigeria’s truce with Boko Haram militants, “ Los Angeles Times, Oct. 23, 2014; “Nigerian doubtful of Nigerians release after Boko Haram truce breached,” Reuters, Oct. 19, 2014; “#BringBackOurGirls: will it happen? Nigeria say yes, Boko Haram silent,” CNN, Oct. 22, 2014)
- After 28 days of deliberations, a U.S. jury convicted four Blackwater security guards involved in a 2007 shooting melee in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, which killed 17 Iraqi civilians. The bloody incident provoked scrutiny of Blackwater and other private security firms hired to protect American occupation forces in Iraq. (“Blackwater guards found guilty in 2007 Iraqi killings,” New York Times, Oct. 22, 2014; “US jury convicts four Blackwater guards in 2007 Iraqi killings,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 22, 2014)
- In his heated campaign for re-election, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has won praise in TV ads from the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, a group that defends the state’s powerful coal industry. (“Unprecedented amounts of dark money fuels midterm races,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 18, 2014; “Election Spending 2014: 9 toss-up races,” Brennan Center, Oct. 21, 2014)