Friday, March 13, 2009

Breaking: United States Department of Justice promises to obey international law

Here is part of a DoJ announcement taken from Talking Points Memo:
In a filing today with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice submitted a new standard for the government's authority to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The definition does not rely on the President's authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress's specific authorization. It draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase "enemy combatant."

The Department also submitted a declaration by Attorney General Eric Holder stating that, under executive orders issued by President Obama, the government is undertaking an interagency review of detention policy for individuals captured in armed conflicts or counterterrorism operations as well as a review of the status of each detainee held at Guantanamo. The outcome of those reviews may lead to further refinements of the government's position as it develops a comprehensive policy.

"As we work towards developing a new policy to govern detainees, it is essential that we operate in a manner that strengthens our national security, is consistent with our values, and is governed by law," said Attorney General Holder. "The change we've made today meets each of those standards and will make our nation stronger."

Now let's see the follow-through. Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper may not care about the treatment of Omar Khadr, but I do.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Cuneiform, politics, and international law

From the Tehran Times:

About 700 Iranologists and Iranian cultural heritage lovers have recently signed a petition asking President Barack Obama to prevent confiscation of Iran’s 300 Achaemenid clay tablets loaned to the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.

The petition has been organized by the European Iranologist Society (Societas Iranologica Europaea, SIE) in its website

The petition reads the artifacts “being cultural property, should not be considered as a common property, whose financial value can be exploited for the purpose of legal compensation.”

“The antiquities belong to the cultural heritage of Iran on behalf of human kind and should therefore remain in public hands.

“We therefore, well aware of the separation of powers, nevertheless apply to you in order that this unconscionable decision with irreversible consequences should be avoided.

“A country such as the United States should not be complicit in the sale of the world’s cultural heritage.”


In spring 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Blanche Manning ruled that a group of people injured by a 1997 bombing in Israel could seize the 300 clay tablets loaned to the University of Chicago and the university cannot protect Iran’s ownership rights to the artifacts.


The tablets were discovered by the University of Chicago archaeologists in 1933 while they were excavating in Persepolis, the site of a major Oriental Institute excavation.

The artifacts bear cuneiform script explaining administrative details of the Achaemenid Empire from about 500 BC. They are among a group of tens of thousands of tablets and tablet fragments that were loaned to the university’s Oriental Institute in 1937 for study. [My emphasis, SM] A group of 179 complete tablets was returned in 1948, and another group of more than 37,000 tablet fragments was returned in 1951.

Image: One of the tablets, showing Old Persian written in cuneiform.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Canada's Supreme Court tells the government, support Omar Khadr's right to a fair trial

In a 9-0 ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Government of Canada must allow Omar Khadr's lawyers to see evidence collected at Guantánamo Bay by Canadian interrogators. The Court unanimously pointed out that the "judicial" procedure in place at Guantánamo at the time of the interrogations was illegal by Canadian and international law, and that the United States Supreme Court had also ruled that procedure as illegal. The ruling said that Khadr deserved to have access to the information gathered by Canada, and that the government had no excuse to deny him material relevant to his defense.

Details (the Globe and Mail's report) and a link to the Supreme Court's judgment can be found here.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rule of law and human rights -- only when convenient?

On my way home last night I heard on CBC Radio One that Senator Romeo Dallaire, famous in Canada as the commander of the failed UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda and ever since a strong proponent of human rights and international enforcement, bravely criticized the Canadian government for not insisting that Omar Khadar, captured in Afghanistan in 2001, be treated as the child soldier he is by international agreement. Khader, the son of an undoubted Al Qaeda supporter, was 15 years old when he was captured by American forces. Since then, he has been tortured and interrogated at Guantánamo Bay and is still held there. Although he is a Canadian citizen, and nothing has been proved against him in a court of law, and he falls into the child soldier category, a category recognized by Canada in its operations in Afghanistan, neither this government nor its predecessor has lifted a finger to obtain lawful treatment for Omar Khader. Once again, human rights we as Canadians supposedly stand for -- and claim to be fighting for in Afghanistan -- are tossed out the window when they are inconvenient, or may prove offensive to some powerful interest.

I've known this for a while and have been quite angry about Canada's unwillingness to stand up for decent treatment for all Canadians. What really offended me this time was the fact that the Liberal party leadership in parliament seems reluctant to stand up for Dallaire, a widely-admired man who knows from personal experience how the young and powerless are kicked around in places like Rwanda and Afghanistan. (Indeed, if they are only kicked around in such places...) . Dallaire said:

"The minute you start playing with human rights, with conventions, with civil liberties, in order to say that you're doing it to protect yourself and you are going against those rights and conventions, you are no better than the guy who doesn't believe in them at all.''
This comparison between Canadian delinquency and terrorist practice offended the Tory MP Jason Kenney. I'm not surprised; but I am disappointed that the Liberal leader in the House of Commons, Stéphane Dion, allowed the Tories to make Dallaire the issue. According to CTV, Dion said, "he disagreed with Dallaire's choice of words, and hinted the senator could be disciplined."

The Vanity Press has the appropriate response to Dion's remarks. He should have spoken harder truths: Canada is disgraced by this unprincipled behavior. And it doesn't matter who did it first (the Liberals did), it should stop now. Just because someone has a "dangerous sounding" Islamic name doesn't mean the rule of law does not apply in his or her case. And what is outside the rule of law? Lawlessness.

Image: the world's most dangerous Canadian teenager, before he was imprisoned and tortured.

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