Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


1 Comment

We need to talk about Omar

Omar Khadr, who spent 10 years at Guantanamo Bay after being captured by US soldiers as a 15 year old, has been in the Canadian news this week because the federal government has apologized to him and agreed to a payout of $10.5 million for violating his human rights.

Many Canadians, including a number of prominent Conservative politicians, are upset about this. It’s fine to debate the amount, the timing of, the manner in which the settlement was announced. But so many of the arguments seem to be based on an an emotional response that ignores or denies a number of inconvenient facts. Which is what upsets me.

For instance:

1. He is not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of throwing the grenade

See What if Omar Khadr isn’t guilty? in the National Observer for the full report (by a former prosecutor), but it points out a number of problems in the legal case, including:

  • Lack of any eye witness to the event
  • Inconsistent and inaccurate accounts by variou US military personnel about what happened immediately before and after the grenade was thrown
  • Photographic evidence that appears to exonerate Kadr

2. Whoever did throw that grenade wasn’t committing an act of terrorism

For details, see the “Is it a crime?” section of Unanswered questions in 8-year Omar Khadr saga, along with the Observer article previously referenced. But the point is, terrorism means attacking civilians going about their daily business. So, launching a grenade in a shopping mall or at a rock concert would most definitely be an act of terrorism.

But in this case, the grenade was thrown at an armed Special Forces soldier who was part of a team that had just spent four hours trying to kill everyone in the compound. (Note that I’m not accusing the US military of anything here, either: in attacking that compound, the US military was just doing their job, of rooting out al-Qaeda cells.)

But the response of survivors to that attack was just self-defense, wasn’t it? Or just… war? But, “murder in violation of the laws of war” is what Khadr was charged with. It is not part of the Geneva convention, but something that the George Bush administration brought in (and Obama upheld) after 9/11.

However, 1300 US service members have been killed in the war in Afghanistan. And Omar Khadr is the only person ever charged with “murder” for doing so. Suggesting considerable doubt, even by its drafters, about how valid a charge that is.

3. But killing a medic…

Could be a war crime, yes, but Speer wasn’t a medic. He was in training to become one. On that day, he was not acting as a medic, but as a combat soldier. (The media unfortunately often gets this one wrong, so no wonder many people think he was a medic.)

4. But Khadr confessed to the charge!

  1. Under torture, yes. Making the confession unreliable. We know that some of the other things Khadr told his interrogators, such as information about Maher Arar, were untrue. (Remember that the Central Park 5 also confessed, yet DNA evidence later proved that they were all innocent.)
  2. As part of a plea deal, fearing he’d face indefinite detention at Guantanamo otherwise. There was no trial. And Khadr is now appealing that conviction.

But at any rate… What Khadr did or didn’t do in Afghanistan is somewhat beside the point, because that’s not what the government compensated him for. It’s for what the Government of Canada did to him—or did not do for him—after he was captured.

Per Here’s what Canada is making amends for in the Omar Khadr case

Canada was complicit in the rights violations Omar Khadr experienced; most notoriously by allowing our intelligence officers to interview him knowing he had been softened up by his U.S. captors through their notorious “frequent flyer” sleep deprivation program, a particularly cruel form of mental and physical torture.

That was under the Chrétien Liberal government.

That was then exacerbated by the subsequent Harper Conservative’s government’s refusal to extradite him from Guantanamo. Canada was the only Western country to leave its citizen in place there for years, and the Conservative government fought his release to the bitter end.

And all worsened by the fact that Khadr was 15 was he arrested, after his conscription into al-Qaeda group by his father at age 11. (11!) Canada didn’t consider him old enough to drive, buy cigarettes, vote, get married, or join the army, yet somehow he’s not considered (still today) to have been a child soldier

The Supreme Court of Canada has therefore ruled that his rights were violated.

So, why the persistence in insisting he’s definitely guilty of terrorism and denying that his age at the time should be taken into account? Well, as might surmise from that whole “made him join al-Qaeda at 11” thing), his family really is terrible, as noted in this  great Colby Cosh column:

The intractable problem with Omar Khadr is simply his existence. The politicians who seem to crave (more of) his blood are, in an understandable way, trying to punish the behaviour of his father, and to retroactively abnegate the slack application of dual-citizenship principles that allowed Khadr Sr. to become Canadian while leading a double life as an international terrorist.

But the son is not the father.

In the interviews and documentaries I’ve seen of him, he seems like a remarkably decent man. (If you’re Canadian, or versed with VPNs, you can watch one yourself: http://www.cbc.ca/firsthand/episodes/omar-khadr-out-of-the-shadows). But that’s beside the point, too.

This is the point:


1 Comment

These are a few of my favorite tweets

I didn’t get Twitter for a long time. I’d go there and not really see the point. In practical terms, I didn’t really understand how anything of value could be provided in 140 characters. And there was all that talk of people just tweeting about what they had for breakfast.

Now, though, I’m addicted.

I initially signed on based on a friend’s advice to do so just to get a good Twitter-name, even if I didn’t do much with it right away. Turned out she had a point; most variations of my name and my most commonly used web pseudonyms were already in use by others. But I did find an available combination.

Twitter has a bit of learning curve to it. I started by just following a small number of people and trying to figure it out from there. I soon learned that a lot of power is in the link; sure, you can’t say that much in 140 characters, but you can link to those details. (And to photos. And to videos.)

But when I’m say addicted, it’s not to tweeting itself, which I remain a little gun-shy about. (Apparently I have tweeted 28 times in total.) In fact, I’m still not completely clear on who sees what when it comes replies, direct replies, direct messages, retweets, private message… ? All in all, it’s easier to just listen, most of the time.

Currently I follow 59 accounts, some of whom haven’t tweeted in two years, some of whom tweet so frequently, I don’t know how they stay employed.

Among my favorites are the following.

@Elizabeth May:  A lot of the politicians I follow tweet mostly dull platitudes, toeing the party line. Elizabeth May (federal leader of the Green Party, but you knew that) tweets more like a real person would. I particularly enjoy her tweets from Parliament Hill, which give insight into things that wouldn’t necessarily make the media:

I had planned to make a statement marking Remembrance Day. I am shocked the CPC has blocked my chance to speak.

They didn’t like the point I was making. 40 years 1913-1956 closure used 10x; in last 40 days, 7x

Conservatives keep limiting debate. They have the votes. Not sure why everything has to be forced thru.

Ban asbestos motion. First vote to keep asbestos trade, our PM.

John McCallum asked Tony Clement about an answer by tweet! Twitter seems to be Clement’s only forum 4 G8 $ Q’s. Baird takes all Qs in QP.

Though must say it’s not exactly improving my opinion of the Conservative Party of Canada.

@simont400000: He being Simon Townshend, the much younger brother of one Pete Townshend, and who also tours with Roger Daltrey. Been kind of fun “following” him on tour:

Great show in Vancouver. Smokin’ crowd! Two shows left on tour and the TCT charity gig in LA. Come along… 2.5k a ticket. Rock n’ Roll!

And his random tweets are also kind of funny:

@Kimmittable: I’m a real fan of your earlier work.” I said that to Joni Mitchell once and she told me to Fuck off. True!

And if you’re wondering what it’s like to not be famous yourself (though he is himself quite a talented composer and musician), but hanging with the very famous:

Getting home from tour is strange… no daily sheet, no room service, no living from suitcase or doing laundry – no gigs. Not being a pop star

@dizzyfeet: This being the moniker of Nigel Lithgow, producer of American Idol and judge on So You Think You Can Dance. It’s in the latter capacity that I’m interested, but I don’t follow anyone else connected with that show. Nigel’s feed is just hilarious as he so frequently engages in public battles with those who reply to this tweets. There’s a whole “Moron” meme running through his feed that you’d have to read back on to completely understand.

RT @Clamanity: @izzyfeet Emmy voters are morons. [I KNOW. I’VE BEEN HANDING OUT #MORON NUMBERS ALL NIGHT. HA, HA!]

He’s also satisfyingly blunt (not mean) in posting his opinion. He’s recently been listed on “Recommend people to follow on Twitter”, so I’m not the only one to notice the fun to be had here. His response:

Welcome to all my new followers. Thank you#NewYorkPost I felt truly proud. Bring on the#Morons.

Of course!

@karenscian: Who? Right! She makes Simon Townshend seem famous. She’s my city councillor. Who has actually gotten in trouble for tweeting during council meetings.

But her feed covers a great deal more than the goings-on at Waterloo City Hall. She comments on Waterloo news in general, federal and provincial politics, food, family… An eclectic mix that very often seems to jibe with my own interests.

And I’ll leave the last tweet to her.

Oh Twitter, you are such a procrastination-enabler.


2 Comments

Is it just me, or does the redesigned Globe kind of suck?

The Globe and Mail has spent a fortune redesigning itself—again. And certainly, I have no problem with the smaller page size, the increased colour, the glossy pages. But the content…?

The rumor was that, in trying to attract a younger audience (or something), there would be more “fluff”. But really, I find it’s in the “fluff” — the arts, the life stuff — that have been downsized the most.

The 7-day TV listings on Friday I used to program the PVR to? Gone.

Rick Salutin’s always interesting Friday column? Gone.

Tabitha Southby’s often hilarious Saturday column? Gone.

Movie reviews? Greatly reduce. Book reviews? Ditto.

The Style section, which I used to generally love its seemingly being aimed primarily at rich Torontonians, is barely worth looking at anymore. Pictures of expensive clothes. Repeats of the Style emails I already get. Russell Smith’s column reduced to a paragraph. Wine reviews now in list format, with rating numbers. So easy to scan–I sometimes miss it completely!

I’m starting to feel like I should be getting a discount, I’m getting so much less that actually seems worth reading. For the first time in many years, I’m actually think of cancelling my subscription.


Leave a comment

Unequal access to information

I’ve been noticing this trend…

On the one hand, it seems, corporations feel they can use our personal information for whatever purpose. For example, Facebook declares that privacy is so passé, and why should anything stand in the way of them selling us stuff? And insurance company decide they can run credit checks on their clients, and raise their house insurance rates accordingly—without any prior consent.

On the other hand, governments and related agencies have to be fought tooth and nail to release information in the public interest:

  • The Conservatives would not release files on Afghan detainees to members of Parliament, our representatives, until ordered to do so by the house speaker.
  • All media coverage of court appearances related to Victoria (Tori) Stafford’s murder trial has been banned. (Apparently, even commenting on stories about the ban has been banned. So don’t comment on the ban here, please. I guess.)
  • Though ordered to disclose the files on Ashley Smith, the young woman who killed herself as guards at the correctional institute watched, Corrections Canada has refused, saying they will appeal. In this case, note that Ashley Smith herself first requested her own files, and was supposed to get them within 30 days. Corrections gave themselves a 30-day extension from that, but didn’t meet that deadline, either. 123 days after the request, Ashley Smith died.

So corporations can use our personal information however they see fit, but we are not allowed to know what is being done in our name by our politicians, military, courts, and corrections.

Seems like someone should get upset about this, or something.