Canadian McCarthyism

Bill C-36 has imperiled civil liberties for Canadians. Legitimate political dissent is now within the sweep of the definition of terrorism. The Canadian government and judicial system have gone behind closed doors. There are many cases now of Canadian authorities perfervidly clamping down on innocent individuals such as the detention of many South Asian Muslims in late summer. It was found that these arrests were based on embarrassingly thin evidence and none were ever charged by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

Project Threadbare

Recently a twenty-fourth detainee has come to the attention of Project Threadbare , a Toronto-based coalition whose raison d’être is to provide a response to the originally known arrest and detention of twenty Pakistani men and one south Indian man in August 2003.

“Project Threadbare alludes to the RCMP investigation called ‘Project Thread’ which, although it has produced no hard evidence of any wrongdoing by any of the men, is the basis on which they’ve all been held.”

The RCMP admits that the origin of the men was a factor in their roundup. RCMP Commissioner Guiliano Zaccardelli has admitted, “that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that there’s any terrorist threat anywhere in the country related to this investigation.”

These men were targeted on the basis of their race. In multicultural Canada it is not supposed to be a crime to be south Asian or Muslim.

The case of Mahar Arar

A high profile case that has gained international attention is that of Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar who was picked up in the US, strip searched, chained and shackled, and held incommunicado until the fifth day of his detention. Thereafter he was sent to Jordan to be transferred to Syria despite his expressed fear of being subjected to torture there. Mr. Arar was detained in Syria for over 10 months in the darkness of a grave-like cell. Torture included beatings with electrical cable and being hung from a tire for hours.

Mr. Arar seeks a public inquiry to clear his name. But, although Prime Minister Jean Chretien labels Mr. Arar’s deportation as “unacceptable,” he and fellow responsible cabinet ministers have blocked attempts at an inquiry into how a Canadian citizen was shipped to a country known to practice torture. US officials have pointed fingers at their Canadian counterparts. How far beyond Canadian intelligence and into the government this collusion extends is a tightly-maintained secret.

Just prior to assuming the Canadian prime ministership, Paul Martin, intoned that “what Mr. Arar has said is both tragic and very, very compelling and we’ve got to make sure that this kind of an issue does not arise ever again.” Nevertheless, Mr. Martin is playing both sides of the fence much as his predecessor did. Says Mr. Martin, “I must say that I certainly can understand the American position.”

Mr. Arar has filed a lawsuit through his lawyer in Canada seeking millions in damages from Syria and Jordan, accusing both countries of kidnapping, assault, and torture.

Why the Canadian and US governments are not named in the suit is curious. Nonetheless, the Canadian government remains unhelpful. It claims that the State Immunity Act prevents torture victims from seeking redress against foreign governments in the Canadian judicial system. It seems like all the more reason to include the Canadian authorities among the plaintiffs.

Prime Minister Martin has vowed to get to the bottom of the Arar case. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP have been implicated in exchanging information with US counterparts. An independent commission headed by the Security Intelligence Review Committee has been charged to investigate the matter although its findings may not be made public.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham opposes the public inquiry because he maintains that US participation is unenforceable, rendering the whole commission a waste of time. Canadian Bar Association president Bill Johnson termed that a “lame excuse.”

While acknowledging that the investigation would be incomplete without information from the American side, most important was the involvement of Canadian authorities. Thus the findings of the commission would be relevant.

The secretary general of Amnesty Canada Alex Neve iterates Mr. Johnson’s contention: “It’s absurd to suggest that the only way we can get clarity was to look to the United States to get those answers. If we can’t get answers here in Canada then there’s something terribly wrong with accountability in our system.”

Nonetheless, the defiant US ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci avers that the US will continue to deport any citizens it deems a threat to US security to third countries.

Oh, the trials and tribulations of being an innocent and lonely superpower. For all its benignity, to be so threatened; life can be so unfair.

The case of Abdullah Almaki

Would that it were that Mr. Arar represents a freak case, yet Mr. Arar has brought the case of another Syrian-Canadian being held and tortured in Syria to the forefront. He saw Abdullah Almaki who he described as being “very, very thin and pale” as well as “very weak.” Mr. Almalki was taken into custody upon arrival in Damascus in May 2002 and was held in an undisclosed location until Autumn 2003.

The case of Hassan Almrei

Then there is the case in which the Canadian government sought to deport a Syrian who has been in custody without charge for more than two years because the Canadian Security Intelligence Service suspects he has terrorist connections. His name is Hassan Almrei. Mr. Almrei was held in solitary confinement and forbidden to wear shoes in a cell so cold that he could see his exhalations. He staged a 40-day hunger strike to bring attention to his cold predicament. Even the prison guards humanely supported Mr.Almrei’s plea for shoes and warmth.

Mr Almrei says he shouldn’t be sent back to Syria because he faces torture or execution there. A Canadian judge finally relented today and has allowed him to stay in Canada while his case is reviewed because he might “suffer irreparable harm” if deported to Syria. Duh!

The case of Abdul Rahman Khadr

Abdul Rahman Khadr is a 21-year-old Canadian recently released from the US military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The US transported Mr. Khadr back to Afghanistan. His family claims that Canadian officials refused to provide him with assistance. The Prime Minister’s Office is refusing to answer questions about his release, conveniently citing national security as the pretext for remaining silent.

His return to Canada is reportedly being blocked by Canadian officials.

His lawyer, Rocco Galati, accuses Canadian officials of “lying through their teeth” adding that “if the only answer they can give me about my client’s release and whereabouts and what they know is that they can’t tell me anything because of national security, that’s more lies.”

Mr. Khadr’s two-year ordeal is now over and he has since returned to Canada. Said Mr. Khadr of his travails: “Why was I captured? Because I was Arab. That was the only reason I was captured in Kabul. There was nothing against me. There is nothing against me until this day. Anywhere — Afghanistan — anywhere. And that’s why I’ve been released after two years of my life being wasted.”

Mr. Galati has since dropped all national security cases after receiving, what he considers to be, a serious death threat.

McCarthyism rears its ugly head again

McCarthyism was a period of intense anti-communist hysteria fomented by US Senator Joseph McCarthy, which occurred in the US in the late forties and fifties. The US government actively persecuted the Communist Party USA, its leadership, and others suspected of being communists.

McCarthyism, in the generic meaning of the word has returned with a vengeance in the US. The communist boogeymen of the past are now the Muslim terrorists. Dark-skinned, Muslim-looking individuals risk abduction and being secretly held by government agents on suspicion of terrorist links. The elite establishment has cooked up a new enemy from within and the US Constitution and civil rights are among the victims.

Canada has been unable to withstand the hyper-imperial pressures brought to bear on it and has joined in the so-called War on Terrorism and subverted the rights of its own citizens in an unbridled racist manner.

Fighting terrorism is a legitimate battle but many things need to be considered.

First, an attempt to understand the etiology of terrorism is needed. To deal with the root causes underlying terrorism is a more reasoned approach than engaging in a knee-jerk Orwellian never-ending war. If we have learned anything from war, it is that violence begets violence.

Al Qaeda has been clear in its grievances: the presence of US bases on holy territory, the continued brutality in Occupied Palestine, and support for the dictatorial regimes in the Middle East. Never have they mouthed the lie of US President Bush that they hate western freedoms. The absurdity of this claim and that it even gets coverage is symptomatic of a mass media psychosis.

Second, Canada has so far not been targetted by international terrorists. Neither has Sweden, Finland, nor New Zealand. This is not entirely true. For instance, in a case of state terrorism, we know that French government terrorists sunk a Greenpeace ship in New Zealand. Why are these countries not the scorn of Muslim terrorists?

A purported statement from Al Qaeda following the Turkish bombings warned: “We tell the criminal Bush and his Arab and Western tails – especially Britain, Italy, Australia and Japan – that cars of death will not stop at Baghdad …” The indicated countries are part of the “coalition of the killing”. To be a member of this coalition is to become a target for terrorists.

While the public is being duped into a search for embedded terrorists and ignoring the roots of Muslim terrorism, western state terrorism is nurturing the seeds of the next generation of terrorism in the never-ending, corporate-driven war.

Western state terrorism is driven by capitalism. It is a bid for land and control over resources. Even former president Bill Clinton recognizes the role played by the disparity in wealth between the haves and have-nots in fomenting terrorism. This disparity needs to be addressed said Mr. Clinton in Winnipeg: “This stuff is not rocket science but every time you do it, you make a world with more partners and fewer terrorists.”

If only Mr. Clinton had acted on his hypocritical words when he was president, he might have spared the world the horrors that are now being unleashed.

Kim Petersen is a former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be reached at: kimohp@gmail.com. Twitter: @kimpetersen. Read other articles by Kim.