Canada in Afghanistan

The first item in this sequence was published in the letters column of the Guelph Mercury (19 November 2008), and re-published in eVeritas, the online journal of the Royal Military College of Canada Club.


This sequence of letters began with one I sent to the Guelph Mercury on November 17, 2008, which that newspaper published two days later. Re-published in eVeritas, the online journal of the Royal Military College of Canada Club (see, the letter attracted some commentary there. It also received a much fuller response in the form of public correspondence from Peter Ludorf, one of my RMC classmates (we studied and trained there from 1966 to 1970). I reproduce here my original letter, the responses to it in eVeritas, and my exchanges with Peter Ludorf, and finally, some comments on the last of the responses published in eVeritas

My comments include a reference to the College's motto: “Truth, Duty, Valour.” Peter Ludorf and I signed our letters with our college numbers, as did the RMC graduates who sent responses to eVeritas. (These numbers began with the first class that entered the college in 1876: my great-grand-uncle Harold was number 17 in that Old Eighteen; my father Thomas, whose class entered in 1932, had the number 2330.) The footnote I have added to my second letter to Peter Ludorf corrects an error of fact.


1. We mustn't participate in 'criminal follies'

Guelph Mercury, 19 November 2008

Thanks to Rob O'Flanagan for his thoughtful and eloquent column (“Too many things make me sick of war,” November 15, 2008).

I've been thinking about war myself lately, in part because November 10 is the anniversary of my father's death—and in his last days nearly twenty years ago, my father's thoughts often went back to his service in World War II, and to the deaths of his three closest friends at Dieppe and in the Normandy campaign.

My father was in uniform for ten years—six during the war, and before that four years at the Royal Military College of Canada. His only brother served in the Royal Navy as an MTB captain in the English Channel and the Mediterranean; a decade after the war, still suffering from what we'd now call post-traumatic stress disorder, he committed suicide. A much-loved honorary uncle on my mother's side also served in the Royal Navy from shortly before the outbreak of World War II until its end.

My two grandfathers each spent more than ten years of their lives in uniform. One served in the British army before World War I, and in the Canadian Corps during that war. The other, who was an important presence in my childhood, narrowly escaped the fate of his best friends, all of whom died in the Gallipoli campaign or on the Western front; he re-enlisted in World War II and directed the Royal Army Medical Corps hospital system on the Burma front.

My two older brothers and I also graduated from RMC; two of us were reserve entry officer cadets, and therefore free on graduation to pursue careers in government and academe; my eldest brother's time in the Canadian army included service with the UN peacekeeping force on the Gaza strip.

What does this enumeration of the men closest to me by blood and affection add up to? Among other things, it means that eight men in my generation and the two preceding ones—none of whom thought of the military as a career—spent a total of more than sixty years in uniform during the early and middle years of the last century.

Some of that service—I'm thinking of the First World War—was no doubt deluded. But none of it involved the flagrant illegality of the present war in Afghanistan, or the very particular horrors of a war that pits civilian insurgents against a foreign army of occupation.

The American invasion of Afghanistan was a direct violation of international law; the ensuing occupation is likewise illegal. The deaths of a hundred young Canadians in such a cause, and the grievous injuries suffered by many hundreds more, should horrify us all. These losses, together with the still more appalling losses being inflicted upon Afghan civilians by the occupying forces, are the legacy of the Bush regime's now wholly discredited policies.

Canadians must refuse any further participation in these criminal follies.

Michael Keefer
Professor, School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph


2. Responses in eVeritas

3584 Archie Beare (November 25, 2008):  It is regrettable that some, perhaps few, feel as Michael Keefer and the Guelph Mercury writer he quotes. The UN sanctioned, NATO endorsed operations in Afghanistan are a long way short of being “illegal” and to state that it is, is an insult to all of our troops who have [served] and will serve in Afghanistan. [….] To besmirch those outstanding Canadians is an injustice that should result in an apology by Keefer.

4155 George Kinloch (November 26, 2008):  International law is reasonably clear on what constitutes an illegal war, and it is difficult to find a reading of the law which would make the invasion legal, no matter which organization of nations might sanction it. It is because Keefer values the lives of our soldiers that he finds the squandering of their lives an insult. There is no hint, in his letter, of denigration of the lives of our soldiers, quite the opposite. He owes no apology. But an apology is owed to the tens of thousands who, like so many members of Keefer's family, lost their lives in fighting for a world in which we had the rule of law. World War II, after all, touted itself as being the “War that would Really End All Wars.” [….]

4270 Sean Henry (November 26, 2008):  Mr. Keefer displays the ignorance and misplaced sentiments of many of his fellow Canadians. They are not to blame in their own right. From the beginning the government has not made it clear that Canada's national interests are at stake in the war on terrorism being waged in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The mission is to defeat the Taliban and other Islamic radicals to prevent the re-establishment of a haven and training ground for terrorists. To achieve this end it is also necessary to rebuild Afghanistan into a functioning state. In this respect those Canadians who have died in Afghanistan have been defending Canada and their fellow citizens in equal measure to their forefathers in previous wars. [….] Finally, the military operations in Afghanistan were approved by the UN and NATO and the allied forces are there at the invitation of the Afghan government. It is not an illegal war and the troops are not occupiers. These definitions are spread as disinformation by misguided members of pacifist organizations.

4135 George W. Hosang (November 29, 2008):  Rob O'Flanagan, in his Guelph Mercury Nov. 15, 2008 article certainly reflects the opinion of many who despise war and who wish it would go away, even just disappear instantaneously from the human consciousness. He seems to display, however, a total ignorance of history. For example, if the British and all those who came to their aid had not mounted an effective opposition to Hitler and Nazi Germany, we probably all would be speaking German today because he was getting pretty close to having intercontinental military capabilities. [….]


3. Letters from an RMC Classmate

Reply to Mike Keefer's Anti-Afghanistan Article (Circulated to the RMC Class of 1970, 25 November 2008)


Despite having known each other almost 50 years, from public and high school in Toronto to RMC, I don't think we know each other at all. Your comments on our Canadian Forces' participation in the NATO ISAF mission in Afghanistan not only shocked and depressed me, it also showed me how wrong you are. You were always the artsy left of centre guy that we aspiring Generals at the College could goad into a good argument, but this article of yours is really beyond the pale. Let me remind you that the UN sanctioned the US attacks on the Taliban post 9-11. In Oct 2001, the UN authorized creation of a NATO force, the International Stability Assistance Force (ISAF) which, incidentally, has a large number of non-NATO nations who volunteered to join. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this is not Bush's war. It is the international community responding to the continued attacks on the west and on the more progressive Muslim states by the radical Taliban Islamists killing thousands and wanting to kill ALL “infidels,” the inhumane treatment of Afghani women and the well publicized goal of forced fundamental Islamisation of the ENTIRE WORLD.

What is it about the Taliban that we should be allowing to continue? Is it the burning of Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Teams-built schools? Is it the poisoning of our Canadian drilled wells? Is it the keeping of all girls from any schooling? Is it the forced burkas, forced marriages, forced rapes, forced childbirth? Is it the explosives training to attack western countries? Is it the throwing of acid into the faces of schoolgirls? Would you have us simply pull out of our commitment and write off the deaths and injuries of our people as being in a lost and misguided cause?

Mike, it is a horrible and nasty business in Afghanistan. It must, however, be done lest we surrender to radical Islam. The statement “better to fight them there than to fight them on our main streets” might be seen by you as being trite but it is seen by many of us as being the truth. The Taliban and Al Qaeda must be pacified or eradicated. Simple as that. The ISAF mission is not illegal. It is there at the invitation of the democratically elected Afghan government. It is sanctioned by the UN. Simple as that. Afghani military and police forces are being trained to carry on this fight themselves. Your calling this crusade a “criminal folly” is not only an insult to those who have fallen but also to those who continue the fight.

I doubt I have convinced you to change your mind but I simply could not allow your anti-Bush and anti-Canadian Forces rant to go unchallenged. I am asking our Class Secretary to send your comments as well as this reply to our entire class. They can decide whether your comments reflect honour on your family's honourable military tradition.

8542 Peter Ludorf, Former Class of 70 Class Secretary


A First Reply (26 November 2008)

Dear Pete,

Thanks for your note about my letter that appeared in the Guelph Mercury (and was re-published in eVeritas). Do by all means circulate your comments to our classmates.

I'll have a response for you shortly, in which I'll hope to show you and anyone else who's interested that much of what you take to be fact is no more than propaganda and misinformation; that what you believe to be simple is really quite complex; and that a military occupation you understand as legal is actually in flagrant violation of international law.

For the moment, two quick points.

The first word of the RMC motto directs us, I believe, to a shared commitment to Truth: let's see whether that helps to move us beyond overheated rhetoric about being “anti-Bush and anti-Canadian Forces,” and toward a lucid consideration of what's at stake here.

Secondly, you conclude your message with a reference to honour. I do not think there is anything honourable about sending young Canadian men and women off to war on false pretences. 

The real insult to their courage, their sacrifices, and their suffering comes from the politicians and propagandists who have lied to them.



8430 Michael Keefer, D.Phil.,

Professor, School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph


And a Riposte (26 November 2008)


If I were corresponding with Taliban Jack Layton (as he is widely called by our troops) or Elizabeth May, I could understand and simply dismiss the left wing nut element, but with a classmate who invokes Truth, Duty, Valour, I am compelled to continue the debate. I assume you are one who insists that 9/11 was a US (read, George Bush) inside job. You must be shattered by the fact that Obama intends to increase the US contingent in Afghanistan [by] anywhere from 7,000 to 70,000 troops. This left wing politician is likely also lying to everyone and is covering up the illegal invasion and repression of the poor misunderstood Taliban who are, after all, simply defending their country (which it is not) from the infidel invader (which we are not). Mike, what are you smokin'? You did not reply to my points about the inhumane treatment of women and the fact that Al Qaeda continues to use Afghanistan as a training ground for renewed attacks on those not exactly like them, attacks just like New York, London, Bali, Amman, Islamabad and Madrid, or do you consider these attacks to be lies and propaganda as well?

I maintain that our Forces are doing an honourable job in fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They are responding to the very real attacks and inhumane treatment of others. That would be Truth. They are doing what our government demands of them. That covers Duty. They are truly fighting for our freedom since a withdrawal like you advocate would see increased radical Islamicization throughout the civilized world. That would be the Valour. Mike, God bless our democracy and our ability to think as each one wants. It is our Forces in concert with our allies that allow that to happen.



4. Canada's Afghan 'Crusade' and its Deceptions: Letter to an RMC Classmate

Chris Ford, Class of 70 Class Secretary December 13, 2008

Dear Chris,

Here’s the full reply to Peter Ludorf that I promised. I’d be grateful if you could kindly circulate it to our classmates.

For the sake of anyone who’s only now taking notice of our conversation, here’s the back-story. On November 19th, the Guelph Mercury published a letter I had sent them remembering the military service of members of my family, and condemning Canada’s involvement in the occupation of Afghanistan. My letter was noticed by Bill Oliver, editor of the RMC Club’s online newsletter, who republished it in eVeritas on November 24th. Peter Ludorf read it there, was “shocked and depressed” by it, and wrote to me in rather harsh terms. He wrote as well as to Chris, asking him to circulate my Guelph Mercury letter and his reply to the Class of 70. I replied briefly to Peter’s first message, promising a fuller response later. I’m still very much tied up with end-of-the-academic-term work, but don’t want to keep him waiting any longer.

Best wishes, 
Michael Keefer


Dear Peter,

Please forgive my delay in responding in detail to your messages: the end of the teaching semester is a busy time of year for academics.

In my brief reply to your first message, I noted that the first word of the RMC motto directs us to a shared commitment to Truth—which I suggested might help to move us beyond overheated rhetoric and toward a lucid consideration of what’s at stake. Let’s see then if we can sort out truth from propaganda, disinformation and outright falsehood in the case of the occupation of Afghanistan.

You believe that what you call our Afghan “crusade” (a term the people of that country, whatever their politics, are unlikely to appreciate) is legal, necessary, and defensive in purpose; and you think my comments dishonour “[my] family’s honourable military tradition,” and are “an insult to those [Canadians] who have fallen” and “to those who continue the fight.”

I believe you are wrong on all the major issues of fact out of which these judgments arise. And as I said in my previous brief response, “I do not think there is anything honourable about sending young Canadian men and women off to war on false pretences. The real insult to their courage, their sacrifices, and their suffering comes from the politicians and propagandists who have lied to them.”

Let’s consider first why the United States overthrew the Taliban regime in the fall of 2001. The purported reason is that the Taliban were harbouring Osama bin Laden, who organized the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The Taliban were indeed harbouring Bin Laden, who had effectively declared war upon the United States. We can agree that the Taliban regime was loathsome, and that Bin Laden is (or was) a terrorist. But did Bin Laden’s minions carry out the atrocities of 9/11?

As you guessed in your second missive, I’m among those who believe 9/11 was an “inside job.” But before you jeer or scoff about “conspiracy theorists,” I’d suggest you take a look at the website Patriots Question 9/11, where you’ll discover that scepticism about the official story of 9/11 has been publicly voiced by a significant number of senior US military officers, military research scientists and intelligence officers, as well as distinguished academics in many disciplines, and more than six hundred architects and engineers.

Check out the people listed there, and see if you think they’re all fools. They include Raymond McGovern, former Chairman of National Intelligence Estimates, CIA; Lt. Col. Shelton Lankford, USMC, a former fighter pilot with over 300 combat missions; David L. Griscom, PhD, a distinguished research physicist with decades of service at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington; Paul Craig Roberts, PhD, former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury, Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal, and William E. Simon Chair of Political Economy at Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies; Capt. Russ Wittenberg, a pilot with over 30,000 hours flying time, including over 100 combat missions and 35 years as a commercial pilot; and Lt. Col. Robert Bowman, PhD, another former fighter pilot with over 100 missions, and Director of Advanced Space Programs Development under Presidents Ford and Carter. (I had the honour of sharing a platform with Bowman at an event in Toronto this past July. Should you be interested, a video of our lectures is available on the internet; a documentary film of a discussion we had together on the same day, The Fighter Pilot & the Professor: A Conversation About 9/11 [Snowshoe Films, August 2008], is available on DVD.)

You might also want to check out some of the books the people listed on the Patriots Question 9/11 website refer to in their statements and writings. They include:

Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, The War on Freedom: How and Why America was Attacked, September 11, 2001 (Tree of Life Publications, 2002). 
----, Behind the War on Terror (New Society Publishers, 2003). 
----, The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation, and the Anatomy of Terrorism (Olive Branch Press, 2005). 
Michel Chossudovsky, America’s “War on Terrorism” (Global Research, 2005). 
David Ray Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor (Olive Branch Press, 2004). 
----, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (Olive Branch Press, 2005). 
----, Debunking 9/11 Debunking (Olive Branch Press, 2007). 
----, 9/11 Contradictions: An Open Letter to Congress and the Press (Olive Branch Press, 2008). 
----, The New Pearl Harbor Revisited: 9/11, the Cover Up, and the Exposé (Olive Branch Press, 2008). 
R. T. Naylor, Satanic Purses: Money, Myth, and Misinformation in the War on Terror (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006). 
Michael C. Ruppert, Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil (New Society Publishers, 2004). 
Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11 (University of California Press, 2007). 
Paul Zarembka, ed., The Hidden History of 9/11 (Seven Stories Press, 2008). 
Barrie Zwicker, Towers of Deception: The Media Cover-Up of 9/11 (New Society Publishers, 2006).

In these books, and at websites like those of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth and Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice, a large body of evidence and of critical analysis is available. This evidence and analysis shows, I think conclusively, that if people associated with Bin Laden were in any way connected with the events of 9/11, it was as patsies.

The key elements of the events of that day were organized by the people who financed Mohammed Atta’s group (notably General Mahmoud Ahmad, head of Pakistan’s ISI, who was in Washington on 9/11 for meetings with senior US intelligence officials); by the people who effectively disabled the US air defences by means of multiple exercises scheduled for 9/11 (including air defence exercises that shifted fighter aircraft from the northeast US to Iceland and Alberta, and hijacking exercises which cluttered the screens of military air traffic controllers); and by the people who planted demolition charges in World Trade Center buildings 1, 2, and 7 (despite the obfuscatory efforts of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the evidence of demolition is irrefutable).

Whoever they may have been, these people were quite certainly not Al Qaeda operatives.

Add to this the fact that despite Colin Powell’s promise of a White Paper demonstrating Bin Laden’s guilt, the US never produced evidence of that guilt. The famous “confession video” that surfaced in November 2001 after the invasion of Afghanistan may be evidence of Bin Laden’s malice, but it contains nothing that was not already public knowledge. Perhaps that’s why, in 2006, the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ page on Bin Laden contained no mention of 9/11: a journalist who noticed this peculiar fact was told by the FBI’s Director of Investigative Publicity that this was because the agency had no hard evidence linking him to the attacks.

So what’s left of the rationale for the invasion of Afghanistan? You claim in your second message that Al Qaeda “continues to use Afghanistan as a training ground for renewed attacks on those not exactly like them,” and mention as examples the terror attacks in London, Bali, Amman, Islamabad, Madrid and Mumbai.

But the notion of a significant connection between Afghanistan and any of these atrocities is without foundation. And since you ask—yes, there are indeed problematic features to some of these attacks. Survivors of the London underground bombings reported that the explosions blew up the floors of the carriages from below (which contradicts the official story of suicide bombers with backpacks). Senior Indonesian politicians have claimed publicly that state intelligence agencies were responsible for the Bali bombing. Photographic evidence suggests that the bomb in the Amman hotel was planted in the ceiling rather than carried into the building and detonated at floor level. And the diary of one of the Madrid bombers contained the private phone number of one of Spain’s most senior anti-terrorism officials. I draw no conclusions, but don’t you think it might make sense to call for serious inquiries into such matters?

There’s another rather more convincing explanation for the US invasion of Afghanistan. It has to do with energy geopolitics. When the Taliban came to power, there were serious negotiations for a Unocal pipeline from the Caspian Basin oil and gas fields across Afghanistan and into Pakistan and thence to the Indian Ocean. After the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa and retaliatory Tomahawk strikes into Afghanistan, these talks stagnated and finally collapsed. There’s good evidence that in the summer of 2001 US diplomats threatened the Taliban that continued obstruction of the pipeline plan would result in heavy-duty bombing, and their overthrow, by October 2001 at the latest (see Chossudovsky, p. 66).

The events of 9/11 very conveniently brought US and world opinion into support for the already planned attack on Afghanistan.

Of course, the notion that energy geopolitics had anything to do with the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has been scoffed at by American and Canadian government officials. But in June 2008 the distinguished petroleum economist John Foster (whose four-decade career has included stints with British Petroleum, the World Bank, Petro-Canada, and the Inter-American Development Bank) published a monograph entitled A Pipeline Through a Troubled Land: Afghanistan, Canada, and the New Great Energy Game (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, June 19, 2008)—and suddenly it was being generally acknowledged that a $7.6-billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline was indeed going to be constructed, at American insistence, in 2010—and further, that Canadian forces in Afghanistan would be assigned responsibility for protecting the pipeline, which is to pass through the Kandahar region in which most of the Canadian army’s casualties have been suffered. (Should you care to check this out, you’ll find articles by Shawn McCarthy, “Pipeline opens new front in Afghan war,” and “Would help protect pipeline, Canada says,” in The Globe and Mail [19 and 20 June, 2008].)

Let’s talk about honour, then. How honourable is it to tell young Canadian soldiers that they’re putting life, limb and sanity at risk defending us all from attacks by terrifying Afghanistan-based terrorists—when the story of an Afghan connection to the crimes of 9/11 is a fraud, and when what we actually want them to do is to protect a pipeline?

Is it honourable to tell our soldiers, as a fall-back position, that they’re protecting the rights of Afghan women, who were being oppressed and tormented by misogynist theocrats? Yes, Taliban fanatics have done the vile things you mentioned, from denial of schooling to murderous violence against women. But misogynist theocratic fanatics in the puppet government the US put into power have done and continue to do many of the same things. (Have you forgotten Sima Samar, the Minister of Women’s Affairs, who was driven from office by death threats from fundamentalists, among them the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who charged her with blasphemy, a capital crime?)

And what about the opium trade, which the Taliban had very nearly eliminated, but which came roaring back once the war-lords and drug-lords of the Northern Alliance were in power?

And democracy? It’s a cruel mockery of the word to claim that the puppet government of Hamid Karzai and his associates has anything to do with democracy. In the Wolesi Jirga (Parliamentary) elections of 2005, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) identified debilitating technical problems, and observed widespread intimidation, vote rigging, electoral fraud, and miscounting of ballots. (If you care to find out about these things, one starting place would be Press for Conversion, Issue 59 [September 2006], which reprints a large number of articles from the mainstream and alternative press on the subject of “The New Face of Terror in Afghanistan: How so-called 'Democracy' Empowered our Allies, the Fundamentalists, Warlords, and Drug Barons.” The website is

Is it honourable to litter someone else’s country with depleted uranium? Isn’t that what happens when our troops, or those of other NATO detachments, are attacked by Taliban insurgents, and call in US air support? Setting aside the criminality of exposing civilian populations to this horrible and permanent toxicity, do we have no concern about its effects on our young soldiers? (Do you want details? Check out Michael Clarke, “Doing the Wrong Thing in Afghanistan: Depleted Uranium: The Definitive Moral Paradox,” [29 August 2006],

Is it honourable, finally, to have our troops handing over prisoners they’ve taken to Afghan authorities which our government knew and knows has been subjecting them to torture and to summary execution? That is, unambiguously, a war crime. (Our government very certainly did know: see Paul Koring, “What Ottawa doesn’t want you to know: Government was told detainees faced ‘extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial’,” The Globe and Mail (25 April 2007), “If this report is accurate,” University of British Columbia law professor Michael Byers declared, “Canadians have engaged in war crimes, not only individually but also as a matter of policy.”

Even if there weren’t incriminating evidence that senior figures in the Canadian government had been informed of what was being done to these prisoners by the puppet government’s police, it would still be a violation of the Geneva Conventions to hand prisoners over. We’re an “Occupying Power,” together with other NATO countries, and prisoners taken by our soldiers are therefore subject to the Geneva Conventions. As Neil Kitson—an activist who has worked hard to save the honour of our country—has written:

Articles 10 and 12 of the Third Geneva Convention make abundantly clear that prisoners taken must be cared for by the “Detaining Power,” and if transferred to a “Transferring Power,” such transferring power must be a signatory to the Geneva Conventions. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has not signed any Geneva Conventions. Furthermore, Article 10 of the Third Geneva Convention makes clear that signing agreements with local authorities when the country is ‘occupied’ is illegal. Therefore, Canada’s agreements with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan regarding prisoners are invalidated by the Geneva Convention they claim to uphold.

(Kitson, “The War of Fog: Canadian Prisoners in Afghanistan,” (7 February 2008)1

Here’s a final judgment for you, from Francis A. Boyle, a respected authority on international law:

The Bush Jr. administration’s war against Afghanistan cannot be justified on either the facts, a paucity of which has been offered, or the law, either domestic or international. Rather it is an illegal armed aggression that has created a humanitarian catastrophe for the twenty-two million people of Afghanistan and is promoting terrible regional instability.

(Boyle, Destroying World Order: U.S. Imperialism in the Middle East Before and After September 11 [Clarity Press, 2004], pp. 119-20)

That’s what I was saying—very briefly—in the Guelph Mercury letter which caused you such distress. Perhaps this longer response will only shock and distress you further. But who ever said that the truth isn’t sometimes unwelcome, and painful?

I’d like to insist that this isn’t a matter, as you seem to think, of being politically left-wing or right-wing. I very much doubt that any of the distinguished Americans whom I mentioned above as being among those listed on the Patriots Question 9/11 website would classify himself as a leftist, or even (with the possible exception of David Griscom) a liberal. Robert Bowman, the only one of that group that I’ve met, is a staunch conservative. But these are people who’ve made a thoughtful and unflinching assessment of the evidence, and have then had the courage to stand up in public and say aloud what they believe to be the truth.

That is behaviour that I respect, and honour, and admire. I hope that with time, and study of the evidence, you may come to share my opinion of it.

Best wishes,

8430 Michael Keefer
Professor, School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph


5. Coda: A belated eVeritas comment on “We mustn't participate in 'criminal follies'” (and my response)

16142 J.J. Smith (July 7, 2010):  As a lawyer and law academic I appreciate Professor Keefer's well reasoned opinion piece. But his conclusion that the 2001 invasion and continuing occupation under the aegis of a NATO mission [are illegal] is, regrettably, incorrect. Chapter 7 of the UN Charter applies here to make the use of Security Council sanctioned force entirely legal. And, for greater effect, NATO is the invitee of a democratically elected government, whatever its present frailties may be. The use of force in generally proportionate ways and the presence of foreign armed force in Afghanistan is, to the contrary, entirely legal and manifestly correct under the new world order put in place in 1945. Better, perhaps, to address continuing illegal occupations that threaten the arrangement of sovereign nation-states, including the cases of Palestine and Western Sahara, to name two in which CF personnel have served under UN mandates.


This comment deserves a response (not least because I addressed the question of legality only very briefly in my correspondence with Peter Ludorf).

The UN Charter permits the use of armed force by one country against another (1) in self-defense, or (2) with the authorization of the Security Council.

(1) The US invasion of Afghanistan was not an act of self-defense. By the US government's account, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were carried out by a non-state organization, Al Qaeda, and no claim was made either that any of the nineteen men identified as suicide-hijackers were Afghans or agents of the Taliban regime (fifteen of them in fact were Saudis), or that the US faced any imminent threat of attack by Afghanistan. The Taliban was indeed sheltering Osama bin Laden, but offered to send him to a third country for trial, asking only for what would amount to prima facie evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks—evidence that the US refused to provide. (It would have been appropriate in this regard to have recourse to the Montreal Sabotage Convention, of which Afghanistan and the US were both signatories.)

(2) The US was not authorized by the Security Council to use military force against Afghanistan. George W. Bush wanted such a resolution, but Security Council resolutions 1368 and 1373 did not authorize military action. The fact that NATO accepted the US's invocation of article 5 of the NATO treaty (thus activating the organization's collective security provisions) gives no cover of legitimacy. Chapter VII of the UN Charter thus does not apply; the US attack was illegal.

It is a mistake to claim that NATO entered Afghanistan at the invitation of an elected government: NATO forces were there before any post-Taliban government was elected (and under article 10 of the Third Geneva Convention, any ex post facto invitation by the puppet government of a country under occupation is vacuous).

The question of the legality of the ongoing occupation is more complicated. It could be claimed that an otherwise illegal occupation was legitimized by the actions of the UN Secretary-General and Security Council. On December 5, 2001 the UN produced the Bonn Agreement, which provided for the establishment of an Interim Authority on December 22, to be replaced within six months by a Transitional Authority established by an Emergency Loya Jirga convened by former king Mohammed Zaher, and, following elections held within a further eighteen months, a Constitutional Loya Jirga charged with adopting a new constitution for Afghanistan. On December 20, 2001, Security Council resolution 1383 ratified the Bonn Agreement, authorizing the establishment for six months of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF); and on October 13, 2003, Security Council resolution 1510 authorized ISAF to operate beyond the immediate region of Kabul, calling on ISAF “to continue to work in close consultation with the Afghan Transitional Authority and its successors and the Special Representative of the Secretary General as well as with the Operation Enduring Freedom.” The language of this resolution seems designed to offer retrospective legitimation to the invasion as well as to the occupation of Afghanistan.

These resolutions are evidence not that the occupation is legal, but that the Security Council acted corruptly, betraying the principles of international law in the lawless interests of the global superpower in a largely monopolar world.

Other instances of the same corruption include the Security Council's failure to condemn the illegal invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and of Iraq in 2003; its failure to condemn the no less illegal overthrow of Haitian democracy by the US, Canada, and France in 2004; and its resolutions ratifying, after the fact, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the occupation of Haiti. The notion that actions which are in themselves criminal can be whitewashed in this manner violates elementary and fundamental principles of law.

Some relevant analyses by specialists in international law:

Francis Boyle, Destroying World Order: U.S. Imperialism in the Middle East Before and After September 11th (Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press, 2004). 
Marjorie Cohn, Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law (Sausalito, CA: Podipoint Press, 2007). 
Alex Conte, Security in the 21st Century: The United Nations, Afghanistan, and Iraq (Aldershot, Hants.: Ashgate, 2005). 
Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage, and Crimes Against Humanity (London: Pluto Press, 2004). 
Myra Williamson, Terrorism, War, and International Law: The Legality of the Use of Force Against Afghanistan in 2001 (Aldershot, Hants.: Ashgate, 2009).

I agree with J.J. Smith's suggestion that we should attend to other “continuing illegal occupations” in the Western Sahara and Palestine—though we should so not instead of, but in addition to attending to the illegal occupation of Afghanistan.

A UN mission (MINURSO) has since 1991 maintained a buffer zone between the two-thirds of the Western Sahara occupied by Morocco and the remaining part administered by Frente POLISARIO, but no Canadians are currently serving in MINURSO, and it may be doubted that Canada has much leverage in the UN's rather pallid attempts to nudge Morocco towards accepting a plebiscite.

The situation with regard to Palestine is quite different. Canada has been deeply complicit in the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, providing both diplomatic and financial support to the occupation, and Canada was the first country in 2006 to join in Israel's blockade of Gaza. A shift in Canada's position—toward demanding an end to the blockade, a withdrawal of Israel's settlements in the West Bank, the removal of Israel's apartheid wall, and an end to the occupation, would be of major importance.




1  Kitson's statement here needs some correction. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan regards itself as a successor state to the Afghan government which in 1956 became a party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. (It can be added that in late 2009, nearly two years after Kitson wrote, and a year after I wrote this letter, Afghanistan acceded to the 1977 Additional Protocols I and II, which protect victims of international conflicts and civil wars.) It remains the case, however, that Article 12 of the Third Geneva Convention is categorical: “Prisoners of war may only be transferred […] to a Power which is a party to the Convention and after the Detaining Power has satisfied itself of the willingness and ability of such transferee Power to apply the Convention.” It is clear from the statements both of senior Canadian diplomats and of Amnesty International, the UN Commission on Human Rights, the US State Department, and other sources, that the Canadian government, far from having “satisfied itself” that the Afghan regime would treat prisoners properly, knew that the regime made a regular practice of torturing prisoners. For details, see my article “Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canadian War Crimes in Afghanistan,” published by the Centre for Research on Globalization (24 April 2011). Kitson's remark about Article 10 of the Third Geneva Convention is valid: Afghanistan is a country under military occupation, and agreements signed by the occupying powers with the government they set up following their overthrow of the preceding regime have no more legitimacy than agreements signed in the early 1940s between Germany and the Norwegian government of Vidkun Quisling.