Friday, December 29, 2006

The Execution of Saddam

The execution of Saddam Hussein, now expected tonight, should not occur until each and every charge against him has been heard and decided in a legitimate court of law.

With the U.S. handover of Saddam reportedly imminent, and Iraqi officials publicly differing on execution timing, the Associated Press reports that the U.S. Courts are now being asked to intervene:

Lawyers for Saddam Hussein on Friday made a last-minute appeal to an American court to avert execution in Iraq, asking a judge to block his transfer from U.S. custody to the hands of Iraqi officials.

Hussein's lawyers filed documents Friday afternoon asking for an emergency restraining order aimed at stopping the U.S. government from relinquishing custody of the condemned former Iraqi leader to Iraqi officials, a spokeswoman for a federal court in Washington D.C. said.

... The appeals court did not indicate when it would rule on the issue

I have always found the death penalty barbaric in all circumstances, including this one.

I will admit, however, that while I remain opposed to this execution, the implementation of the death penalty against an actual barbarian such as Saddam troubles me quite a bit less than is often the case.

What does acutely trouble me , however, is the obvious rush to the gallows.

Leaving aside all the irregularities regarding his trial, and the obvious issues surrounding hanging as a mode of execution, Saddam has to date been tried for but one set of his many atrocities, the 1982 killing of 143 Shiite civilians in the Iraqi village of Dujail.

These murders, however brutal, did not represent his most evil and premeditated crimes against Iraq and humanity.

In fact, even now, a second trial is ongoing with respect to charges that chemical weapons were used against Kurds during the "Anfal" campaigns in the 1980's. See this April 2006 report from Jurist Legal News and Research regarding the remaining charges:

The Iraqi High Criminal Court announced Tuesday that new genocide and crimes against humanity charges have been filed against Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] and six others in his former regime's crackdown against the Kurds during the 1980s.

The new charges were filed with a different judge than the one handling his current trial for the 1982 massacre of 148 Shiite villagers in Dujail.

According to Iraqi law, the second trial against Saddam may begin in as soon as 45 days. The charges stem from Saddam's role in Operation Anfal that culminated in a gas attack against Kurds in the village of Halabja, which killed 5,000 civilians including women and children. The current Operation Anfal charges, however, do not cover the Halabja attack.

Court spokesman Raid Juhi has said that there will be a separate trial on that attack. Reuters has more.

The Saddam Hussein Trial Blog has background on whether Operation Anfal constitutes genocide. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani also said Tuesday that he expects Saddam to be tried in all the cases against him before the court reaches a final verdict. (emphasis added).

Authorities have said there could be up to a dozen proceedings against the former dictator and each case could result in a death sentence if the court finds him guilty.

In this context, I would like to address the too-often overlooked history of Saddam's brutality against the Jews of Iraq.
The Iraqi Jewish community, numbered at around 150,000 in 1948, was almost entirely driven out of the country by increasing persecution from the 1940s onwards. Today, fewer than 100 Jews remain.
Carole Basri, adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and author of a case study of the ethnic cleansing of Iraqi Jews, indicates that while the vast majority of Jews had fled Iraq by the mid-1960's, the persecution continued:
There was a rather gruesome public hanging in 1969,for example.

... Nine Jews were hung in the public square. Actually, Saddam Hussein was behind that hanging. In 1968 there was a coup by the Baathists, with al-Bakr, who is the uncle of Saddam Hussein, installed as president.

He tells Saddam to put together a security force that was similar to the Gestapo and to start the torture chambers. As the first group of victims he picks the Jews; they were the most defenseless. At this point, the Jews were not allowed to have telephones in their homes or offices, and they were not permitted to travel more than three-quarters of a mile from their home - there were 3,500 Jewish people left at that point, and this was after the 1967 Six Day War.

Yet in a community under that kind of repression they were charged with being American spies. So under this situation Saddam brought to trial nine Jews, who are hung in the public square. Now what this does for Saddam is it gives him a way to test out how much repression he can allow in the country and whether anyone will speak out.

He also hung a few other people, who were not Jewish. But there was an outcry after this incident, as well as after some hangings in August 1969 of Jews in Basra. After that, the Arab world said "We're looking barbaric to the world, we can't do this anymore." So then Saddam had his agents pull people who were Jewish off the streets and they were never seen again.
Among the missing and murdered were Daoud Zubaida, the late grandfather of my significant other, and many others whose legacies will forever live on in the hearts and memories of their families, now dispersed worldwide.
Executing Saddam before he has answered for all his crimes is a moral, legal and political outrage.

If this "process" is partially about healing and putting the past behind in troubled Iraq, this imminent execution is about to deprive most of his victims of the opportunity to voice the truth regarding the man responsible for the death, degradation and suffering of so many.

While I understand that trials of Saddam are expected to continue, even after his death in his absence, I doubt that many will be listening.

The rush to bury Saddam before his entire legacy of brutality is exposed will do little to bring about reconciliation and healing.
It will simply silence him - and his remaining, unheard victims, forever.

That is an offense to the memory and suffering of far too many.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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Friday, December 15, 2006

Toronto Family Court Judge: Move Christmas Tree from Courthouse Lobby

Has the "War on Christmas" come north?

This AFP report seems to imply as much:

A Canadian judge has ordered the removal of a Christmas tree from a Toronto courthouse lobby, saying it might offend non-Christians.

In a letter to staff on Wednesday, Justice Marion Cohen said the decorated tree made non-Christians feel "they are not part of this institution" and was an inappropriate symbol to greet visitors.

But the judge's order prompted an angry reaction on Thursday.

"There's no reason why a Christmas tree can't be put wherever people want it to be. It's by no means an offense, I believe, to any religion," an attorney told broadcaster CTV.

Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty called the decision "unfortunate."

"We enjoy the wonderful privilege of building a pluralistic, multicultural society," he told the Toronto Star. But no one should be "asked to abandon their traditions

... Still, the artificial tree was moved to an administrative corridor in the courthouse.

More than 70 percent of Canadians identified themselves as Christian, including almost 13 million Roman Catholics, in the last census in 2001. Muslims account for about two percent of the population. Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs each represent about one percent.

CTV news had a similar take:

A Toronto judge has ordered a Christmas tree out of a downtown provincial courthouse lobby, saying it's not an appropriate symbol to non-Christians.

The move by Justice Marion Cohen has upset staff, some of whom call the decision stupid and insulting.

Cohen says she understands the small tree has stood in the lobby at 311 Jarvis St. for years during the Christmas season, but in a letter to employees says non-Christians are "confronted" with the artificial decoration, which makes them feel "they are not part of this institution.''

The judge, who oversees administration at the courthouse, said it's inappropriate that a Christian symbol is the first thing visitors see when they enter the building.

A number of Christmas trees are on full display inside other public institutions, including at the Ontario legislature, Toronto City Hall and at Nathan Phillips Square. There are also trees inside the Old City Hall courts.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty on Thursday slammed the judge's order. "I think that's unfortunate,'' McGuinty said. "I think it represents a misunderstanding of what we are working so hard to build here in Ontario."

I wasn't expecting this issue to emerge in Toronto.

In fact, until reading the Premier's comments, I wasn't even aware we had a recent tradition of Christmas trees in courthouse lobbies. Silly me... now I know.

I can already hear the Bill O'Reilly gang jumping all over this as Friday's "outrage of the day."

I am left wondering a bit about how and why this tree became an issue at all. It seems a rather contrived "controversy."

We are all better served when these polarizing cultural flashpoints are avoided.

On balance, however, if any decision had to be made at all, I think Madame Justice Cohen is probably right about this.

The public attending at this particular courthouse is comprised of as diverse an ethnic mosaic as will be found anywhere in this City. Justice Cohen's intervention was a small gesture, cognizant of the many sensibilities of those "stakeholders" we hear so much about, these days.

It hardly constitutes headline news, folks .

The tree was not incinerated by judicial edict, for goodness sake! It was simply relocated to a less central location.

That said, I still can't help the fleeting thought that anything that might inspire a bit of added, seasonal goodwill at Family Law courthouses like "311" can't be that bad an idea...

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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Monday, December 11, 2006

The Impeachment Drumbeat Quietly Begins


January 1, 2007

I started writing this entry in mid-December, around the time James Baker's Iraqi Study Group Report was released.

I never got around to finishing it, but with the official changeover of the U.S. Congress tomorrow, I thought this would be a good time to post it.


It's beginning...

Firedoglake identifies the problem presented by the status quo, in this quote from the New York Times:

Andrew H. Card Jr., the president’s chief of staff until last spring, said that whatever Mr. Bush did in Iraq would probably fall short of many of the commission’s recommendations, and that he was likely to continue making decisions that he believed were right even if unpopular. Referring to Mr. Bush’s secret intelligence briefings, Mr. Card said, “The president by definition knows more than any of those people who are serving on these panels.”

Vanity Fair's James Wolcott nicely frames the question:

So how long is Bush going to be allowed to persist in his folly, to stubbornly reiterate his determination to see the mission through as if he were Captain Ahab on the heaving deck? Too many American lives hang in the balance to indulge his delusions any further, or those of his knavish footmen.

In Particles Of Impeachment, Poputonian adds:

So what are we waiting for? George W. Bush had better strap on his Codpiece, and Dick Cheney had better grab his cholestrol-infested ass. I think the rank and file are coming after them.

At Huffington Post, Steve Young's If Lying About War's Reality is Impeachable, Start the Proceedings lays some groundwork.

Lie once, you're a liar.

If this administration has been deceiving the American public over what has been taking place in the war, can we believe them when they say they do not torture? Can we believe them about anything?

Impeachable? Sending the country into a war based on lies still must be investigated to nail down any culpability. Keeping this country in a deadly war based on lies?

Friend of the family, Jim Baker, just confirmed it: this President is guilty.

The impeachment drumbeat. Quietly, but surely, it has begun.

I suspect its volume will only increase in 2007.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Stéphane Dion: "Under my leadership, Canada will not fail the world"

Stéphane Dion has been elected the 11th leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

He outdistanced Michael Ignatieff at this weekend's federal leadership convention in Montreal, with a fourth and final ballot win. Dion drew 2,521 votes (54 %), ahead of Ignatieff's 2,084 votes (45%).

Considered a "dark horse" candidate by some, Dion rose to victory from a fourth place finish on Friday's first ballot. The first ballot had been won by Ignatieff, widely regarded as the early frontrunner.

Dion, a 55 year old native of Quebec City, was first elected to Parliament in 1996. He previously served in the Cabinets of Prime Ministers Jean Crétien and Paul Martin.

He is perhaps best known to Canadians for his previous role as Unity Minister, in which he initiated the 2000 Clarity Act, establishing firm federal protocols for dealing with Quebec sovereignists' aspitations within a Constituitional framework.

His leadership campaign adopted a "three-pillar approach," focusing on social justice, economic prosperity, and environmental sustainability.

In his speech to the Leadership Convention on Friday, Dion had rallied the party for an imminent election, and directly challenged the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

Eleven years ago, Jean Chrétien invited me to join his government to help keep Canada united, to bring clarity about the unity of our country. I stood up for Canada. And I delivered for my Prime Minister, my party and my country.

Two years ago, Paul Martin invited me to stand up for Canada’s environment – the most important challenge of our generation and the next. And I delivered for my Prime Minister, my party and my country.

Today, I humbly stand to serve you once again.

...Today we face a very right-wing Government, much more like the current US Republican Party than the old Tories, the former Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

Canada has a Prime Minister who thinks that the United States is not only our ally, but also our model.

A Prime Minister who would have immersed us in the Iraq nightmare.

A Prime Minister who, last Spring, blackmailed Parliament with the threat of an election, in order to impose on Canada, blindly, two more years in Afghanistan with no clear mandate.

A Prime Minister who is mirroring the style of his hero to the point that President Bush should be getting royalties from Mr. Harper’s speeches.

A Prime Minister who imposes ideological cuts to women, aboriginal people, official language communities, literacy, arts and culture.

...A Prime Minister who – make no mistake -- is undermining the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sending a chilling signal for what he intends to do if he gets a majority government.

... A Prime Minister who tore up our Climate Change Plan, Project Green, which would have allowed us to honour our international Kyoto Commitments. Instead, he’s put forward an inept Clean Air Act, which is nothing more than an excuse not to act, a smokescreen.

A Prime Minister who is virtually pulling us out of Kyoto.

Remember that a year ago, here in the Montreal Convention Center, in the name of Canada, I presided over a United Nations conference which brought the world together, 182 nations, for a joint action plan against the greatest ecological threat facing humanity: climate change.

And this year, at the same Conference in Nairobi, this Conservative government has shamefully failed the world and tarnished Canada’s international reputation.

What a disgraceful way to govern.

I helped bring the world together to fight Climate Change. Since then, Stephen Harper has wedged the world apart.

Well, my fellow liberals, the world needs Canada. Under my leadership, Canada will not fail the world.

For more background, extensive biographies of Dion are here, here and here.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Saudi Executioner

Meet Abdallah Bin Sa'id Al-Bishi, the Saudi Executioner.

Full video is here of a shocking, almost numbingly matter-of-fact interview, conducted by Lebanese television network LBC-TV in November, 2006.

No further commentary could do justice to this repugnance. The banality of evil, to borrow from Hannah Arendt, lives on.

For more on Saudi "justice," including reference to Al-Bishi, see Amnesty International's Saudi Arabia report.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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