Wednesday, January 28

A Step Forward 


The Prime Minister is calling for an Inquiry into Arar's case.  Finally!

Concerning Power Rangers (what an unfortunate title) 

Reading The New Yorker yesterday I came upon this article by Joshua Micah Marshall. It is well worth reading (although I recommend printing it up first or even, gasp, buying a hard copy since it is rather long for screen perusal).  Although some have criticized his blog, Talking Points Memo, as being a tad arrogant, I've been a longtime fan. Not only is his political analysis intelligent, but he writes well.

Here, his theme is the American Empire.  And as an Americanist (who did his doctorate in American History at Brown) he uses an American historical analogy to understand where the US is now, noting:  
Hard-liners like Perle and Frum would do well to remember that America began as an empire, formally and officially. It wasnÂ’t our empire, of course; it was BritainÂ’s. And the story of how Britain lost its first empire may be more instructive for Americans today than how Britain found itself without its second.
Marshall argues that the root of Britain's control over its American colonies lay in the colonies consent to be ruled.  The British Empire's mistake was that "it confused the power it had on paper—its claims to sovereignty and dominion—with the nature of the control it exercised..."  Marshall points out that America may be making the same mistake right now, in insisting that the world recognize its imperium.

Of course I agree.  I've frequently remarked that the key to the Roman Empire's power lay in acquiescenceence of those who were ruled rather than the relentless application of imperial might.  

It strikes me, however, that this concept might be easier for Canadians to understand than Americans.  After all, Canada obtained confederation through negotiation rather than revolution.  And even now, she maintains an allegiance to the British monarchy as a member of the commonwealth.  Personally, as an ardent republican (in the British sense!), it galls me to have Elizabeth's face on every coin, but I suspect that one of the reasons her presence evokes so little popular resentment is the deep seated understanding that she is there by our  consent.  Should Canada choose, she would disappear.  The commonwealth exists because it suits the member countries to maintain it, not because England would go to war if any were to secede.

The United States, on the other hand, has built its own national identity upon the mythology of revolution and conquest.  Movies are made about the Alamo (painfully bad movies if the trailers are anything to go by), not the purchase of Alaska.  Presidential candidates are expected to display military experience rather than skill at peaceful conflict resolution (Jimmy Carter is an excellent example).  

Marshall argues that America probably cannot continue to act with such bluster and so little acknowledgement of the realities of power.  I tend to agree.  But I wonder if one of the self-perpetuating mechanisms of empire (true for Rome and true for Britain) consists of the willingness of so many provinces to do the Empire's dirty work.  To patch together a working solution after the Empire has done its work.  The US was able to go into Afghanistan, to wage a war and declare a victory, and then essentially abandon the country.  Now it is up to countries like Canada to send soldiers in an effort to maintain some semblance of control.  Now everyone hopes that the UN will go in to manage Iraq.  It may be that one of the benefits of Empire is having a host of others to fix your mistakes.  Or at least die trying.

Friday, January 23

Righting Wrongs 

Sorry for being silent for so long.

I've been roused out of my winter stupor by the ongoing story of Maher Arar.  His case has revealed so much of what is problematic in "post 9-11" Canada (and her relation to our neighbor to the South) that I cannot stay quiet.  

As you probably know, the Canadian who was deported by the US while he was in transit on his return home is now attempting to sue the US government for their actions.   "Arar alleges he was deliberately sent to Syria so torture could be used to extract any information he might have." It seems a reasonable claim, although (pessimist that I am) I will be surprised if he is able to obtain justice from John Ashcroft, Tom Ridge, or any of the other officials named in his suit.  He may, however, obtain some justice back here in Canada.  Even if he never obtains personal redress for his suffering, his case may help prevent similar abuses from occurring to other Canadians.

When Arar's situation initially surfaced, it seemed that the US had simply trampled roughshod over the rights of a Canadian.  Now, however the situation grows murkier.  The US media recently revealed  that "while Canadian diplomats were demanding answers from the U.S., it turns out that it was the Royal Canadian mounted police who had been passing U.S. intelligence the information about ArarÂ’s alleged terrorist associations."  Moreover Canadian investigations indicate that the Prime Minister was left in the dark.  Chretien was not told that the RCMP was investigating Arar, or that they had passed on information to the US government.

And now the press is all abuzz with the recent search and seizure the RCMP performed upon Juliet O'Neil, a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen.  She had written on the Arar case and in one article had "cited 'a security source' and a leaked document offering minute details of what Arar allegedly told Syrian military intelligence officials during his incarceration." The RCMP wanted to know the source of that leak, and evoked the Security of Information Act to obtain awarrantt.  Yet given what we now know, it seems most likely that the source of that leak was within the RCMP itself.  In other words, the RCMP is using its new post 9-11 powers to keep Canadians in the dark about its own operations.  As James Travers pointed out in the Star today,
For more than three years the RCMP has been sliding down a slippery slope toward the swamp it finds itself in today. That slide began when Jean Chrétien's administration, determined to reassure a traumatized Washington that Canada is secure, overruled experience, common sense and the royal commission to put the RCMP back in the spy business. That decision recrossed a line Ottawa drew more than 20 years ago when it recognized the fundamental difference between police and intelligence work. What it learned then and forgot in 2001 is that the RCMP has a disturbing history of human rights abuse and political deception. In its watershed report on barn burning, burglary and theft, the McDonald Commission found the RCMP's elected masters were kept in the dark as it broke laws and rules in the name of national security. In a conclusion that now sounds like a forecast, the commission stated: "The common thread which we have detected through these incidents is that of a willingness on the part of the RCMP to deceive those outside the force who have some sort of constitutional authority of jurisdiction over them and their activities."
"Very clearly, we are not a police state and we have no intention of being a police state," says Prime Minister Martin.  Does this mean he will listen to the call for an inquiry into Arar's case?  A variety of people have come to see the need for one, from the Liberal MP of Ottawa City Centre, to Catholic Bishops, to the stalwart John Ibbitson.  Does this mean that the legalizationn that was passed to appease the US after 9-11 will be reexamined, that its potential for abuse will be reassessed?  Might we actually learn from the past?

I am not by temperament an optimist.  But the media does tend to take an interest in their own.  Now that it is a reporter, and not some Syrian-born civilian, who has come under fire perhaps, just perhaps, we might see some change.  Here's hoping.