The Waterloo March 19th, 2008 9/11 Event: A Response

On March 19, 2008, I participated in a well-attended event devoted to 9/11 evidence, organized by the University of Waterloo's student Debating Society. The principal speakers were Kee Dewdney, Professor Emeritus of mathematics and computer science at Waterloo, who outlined his refutation of official narratives about cellphone calls from the hijacked airliners; and Professor Graeme MacQueen, co-founder of McMaster University's Institute of Peace Studies, who presented his and mechanical engineer Tony Szamboti's refutation of the official analysis of the destruction of World Trade Center 1. Richard B. Lee, University Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, introduced the speakers; I was moderator for the question period. During the break before question period, I was confronted in a highly insulting manner by an audience member whom I later discovered to be Professor Jeffrey Shallit of Waterloo's Department of Mathematics.

Several days later, Professor Shallit sent the following message to the participants in the event:

Dear Colleagues:

I attend[ed] the “debate-that-was-not-a-debate” about 9/11 on Wednesday, March 19, at the University of Waterloo. I have written a series of critical blog posts about the event, which you can find at my blog recursed.blogspot.com. I hope you will agree that I have been harsh in my criticism, but fair. If you feel that I have misrepresented what you said in any way, please let me know so that I can issue the appropriate correction. Of course, you are also welcome to comment directly on my blog. Or, if you prefer, feel free to send me e-mail and mention that you would like me to publish your response.

Regards, (Prof.) Jeffrey Shallit

I responded on March 25, 2008:

Dear Professor Shallit,

I am enclosing a response to you as an attachment to this message. You are welcome to post my text on your blog, provided you reproduce it in its entirety. I believe you owe me an apology for your grotesquely insulting behaviour to me on the evening of March 19th. Your language to me on that occasion had nothing to do with criticism, whether harsh or fair. Nor do repeated insinuations of Holocaust denial amount to an argument. Plato's Eleatic Stranger describes refutation as a blessing, “the chiefest and greatest of purifications” (Sophist 230d-e). I am perfectly willing to accept the blessing of refutation from those who think themselves wise or learned enough to bestow it—and I am no less willing to bestow the same benefit, perhaps more thoroughly, in return. However, I am not willing to accept abusive smears from you or anyone else.

Yours sincerely, Michael Keefer

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

Professor Shallit promptly changed his mind about publishing my response on his blog. We did meet for lunch, and civil conversation, some months later. But since his blog posts about the 9/11 event and about what he calls “denialism” remain online, it seems appropriate to publish this response.

 

 

Professor Jeffrey Shallit,
University of Waterloo,
25 March 2008.

 

Dear Jeffrey Shallit,

I am responding to your invitation to engage in discussion with you. I am doing so in part because of some passing remarks about me in your Recursivity blog. After doing me the small favour of giving readers of your blog links to two of my articles touching on 9/11 evidence, you have commented there on my very minor role in the 9/11 event organized by the University of Waterloo Debating Society on March 19th—and on your own role as well—in a manner that calls for some correction.

1. Civility and slander

Your behaviour to me prior to the question period on March 19th, in what you are pleased in your blog to describe as an argument, surpassed in coarse and slanderous insinuation, and perhaps also in sheer noise, anything that I have experienced in nearly four decades of life as an academic. I did not imagine, when you addressed me with such evident rage, interrupting me repeatedly in a voice that rose almost to a shout, and insinuating to my face that I was a Holocaust denier, that the ludicrously insolent person in front of me could himself be an academic—much less a senior professor in the university to which I had come as an invited guest.

I have since learned, with some surprise, that you are a distinguished mathematician. I have learned as well that you have done work as a public intellectual—in debates over evolutionary biology, in refutations of the inanities of creationist pseudo-science, and in criticism of the toxic antisemitism and neo-fascism of the supposed historian David Irving—that I both respect and heartily approve of.

There is all the more reason to let you know how grotesque an insult your insinuation of Holocaust denial is. I have, as it happens, traveled quite widely in Poland. During those travels, I have walked on what I regard as sacred ground. I have stood within the first of the Nazi gas-chambers in the death camp at Majdanek, and in the vacant spaces that are all that remain of synagogues in Lublin and elsewhere. I have meditated in the Old Synagogue in Kazimierz, next to Crakow. I have stood outside the cinema—once also a synagogue—in Kazimierz Dolny, and in the midst of the hillside monument of shattered gravestones, a kilometer outside that town, which is its only memorial to the 50 percent of its population who were murdered in the Shoah.

In mentioning these facts, I am not laying claim to any kind of spurious virtue-by-association-with-suffering. But I should like you to recognize—perhaps with some tincture of shame—the profound indecency of your insult, directed as it was to someone you had never met, and of whose work I suspect you knew nothing.

2. Logic

I note that in your blog you agree with an anonymous poster who suggests an analogy between “9/11 deniers and creationists.” You see “very strong parallels” between these two kinds of idiocy, but add that “the parallels are even stronger between 9/11 denialism and Holocaust denialism, and that’ll be the subject of a future post.”

Let us hope not. The logic involved in such a smear would disgrace a freshman. How would it go? “X and Y, who believe that highly placed people in the US government were responsible for the atrocities of 9/11, are also antisemites and Holocaust deniers. David Ray Griffin, John McMurtry and Michel Chossudovsky also believe that highly placed people in the US government were responsible for the atrocities of 9/11. Therefore, they too, and all other 9/11 sceptics as well, are antisemites and Holocaust deniers.” Golly! With logic like that, I could prove that Socrates had four legs and barked like a dog.

3. Civility again

I’d like to say something about a lesser issue of civility, and, in conclusion, about some matters of scholarship.

I wonder, first, what business it is of yours as a faculty member to contest so obstreperously the manner in which a student organization chooses to set up events that it holds on campus. Is there something in the constitution of the Debating Society that requires it to structure every event it sponsors as a contest of eristic rhetoric between two opposing sides? I don’t know, and I don’t think it’s any business of yours or mine to tell the members of the Society how to organize themselves. Academic freedom, as I understand it, is not merely a possession of tenured faculty, but a necessary condition for the proper functioning of a university, and hence something that students can also lay claim to, both inside the classroom and beyond it. That means, I believe, that people with the power and authority of faculty members should not be meddling in the affairs of student organizations.

Nor should faculty members take for granted the right to be among what, on March 19th, time constraints ensured could only be a very limited number of questioners at the end of the event. As moderator, I had in any case no inkling that you were a faculty member rather than, as I assumed, merely a very unpleasant member of the general public.

Yet despite your prior behaviour, had you been the first to raise your hand during the brief period of questions from the floor that I moderated, I would have recognized you as the first to ask a question. It so happens that half a dozen people, out of an audience of several hundred, were ahead of you. Nonetheless, when one of the speakers, your former colleague Professor Kee Dewdney, graciously intervened to ask that you be heard, I acquiesced—even though it meant that others lost their chance to speak.

4. Scholarship

Finally, some matters of scholarship. I find it amusing that a mathematician who has devoted some proportion of his recent energies to debates—very interesting debates, from what I’ve read—in evolutionary biology should so strenuously object to other scholars straying from the fields of their primary expertise. I tried to tell you on March 19th—but failed, due to loud and hectoring repetitions of your question about engineering expertise—that Professor Graeme MacQueen’s current work is not just interdisciplinary but collaborative: the study from which he read is being co-authored (as I believe he said in introducing it) with the mechanical engineer Tony Szamboti. I also tried, but failed, to let you know that large numbers of engineers and architects have gone on record as challenging the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission Report.

Should you be interested, you can find more than three hundred of them listed at http://patriotsquestion911.com.

I am surprised that you believe David Dunbar’s and Brad Reagan’s Debunking 9/11 Myths (2006) to be an adequate rejoinder to the writings of 9/11 sceptics. When you recommended it to the audience during the question period on March 19th, I was tempted for a moment to respond by holding up a copy of David Ray Griffin’s Debunking 9/11 Debunking (2007) which I had with me. But of course getting you, or the rest of the audience, up to date in your scholarship was not my role: it would have required me to mention, as well, Ryan Mackey’s monograph-length response to Griffin in the Journal of Debunking 911 Conspiracy Theories, 1.4, together with articles in the Journal of 9/11 Studies, responses to Mackey that have appeared elsewhere, and perhaps also the materials published at WTC Demolition Analysis (http://www.sharpprintinginc.com/911/). Hardly a moderator’s job, you might agree.

But I am led to wonder whether there is an adequate correspondence between the strength of your opinions on 9/11—in particular, the strength of your opinions about 9/11 sceptics—and the extent and thoroughness of your reading and research on the subject. I am drawn to this question by your apparent conviction that what you absurdly call “9/11 denialism” (wouldn’t “denialists” have to be people who claim that most or all of 9/11 never happened?) is a quasi-religious cult whose adherents share a common body of dogma. One doesn’t actually have to read very far to discover sharp differences of opinion among 9/11 researchers, as well as a willingness—at least among those whom I respect—to modify hypotheses in the face of new evidence and convincing counter-analysis.

I am myself more than happy to point out those errors that I am aware of in the two articles of mine that you linked to. The CounterPunch polemic, first published in November 2006, mentions a video in whose title Jeff King is incorrectly described as an MIT professor, and cites two people I would not now care to mention: Judy Wood, a professor of mechanical engineering whose 9/11 work I now regard as wholly groundless, and Eric Hufschmidt, who, as I was unaware at the time, is indeed the antisemite you imagine all 9/11 sceptics to be.1

The other essay, dating from August 2006, says things about philosopher of science Professor Jim Fetzer that I would not now repeat: my opinion that he had a “polite but formidable command of the facts” and also of “appropriate protocols of interpretation” has been at least partially refuted by Fetzer himself through his flirtation with no-plane and directed-energy-weapon hypotheses.2 Whether this weakens my argument about the bias and disinformation of the CBC program I criticized in that essay is for others to judge.

On some aspects of the 9/11 evidence, such as the Pentagon attack and the crash of Flight 93, I don’t feel that I have sufficient grounds for any firm opinion, beyond the obvious one that the US government has either withheld or lied about much of the material evidence. I don’t mind saying that I have found nothing on your Recursivity blog that would induce me to alter my views on these or other aspects of the 9/11 evidence.

Should you wish to publish this response on your blog, you are welcome to do so, provided that you reproduce it in its entirety. I will myself be circulating it to the organizers and the other participants in the March 19th event.

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

 

 

NOTES

1  The reference is to my essay “Into the Ring with CounterPunch on 9/11: How Alexander Cockburn, Otherwise So Bright, Blanks Out on 9/11 Evidence,” first published on November 4, 2006, and available at http://journalof911studies.com/letters/e/ProfKeeferRepliesToCockburnCounterpunch.pdf, and also (with corrections to two footnotes, at my website).

2  See “Anatomy of a Hatchet Job: CBC Radio's 'The Current' and Scholars for 9/11 Truth,” Centre for Research on Globalization (29 August 2006), http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=KEE20060829&articleid=30.   

Notes for a 'Professor Profile,' February 2008

In February 2008, I received an email from a University of Guelph student who said that she and a colleague who worked with her on the weekly student newspaper, The Ontarion, were planning a new column, “Professor Profiles,” and would like to interview me for the upcoming issue. I was off work for a couple of days for medical reasons, and wrote a quick response. In the event, the proposed column was never launched: The Ontarion's editorial board may very sensibly have decided that such a feature would be unbearably dull. 

 

Dear G. (and C.),

Sorry for not responding earlier: I was in hospital for minor surgery yesterday. Nothing dramatic, though it means I have a fat bandage on one foot and will have to stump around for a couple of weeks more in the walking cast I've had to wear since before Christmas.

The new column sounds like a fine idea. Will Tuesday morning be early enough for a meeting? It would have to be early (say, from 9:00 to 9:30 a.m., because I have a graduate seminar that runs from 10:00 to 1:00). I could also be free from 2:00 to 2:30, if that would be preferable. We could meet in my office, or, in you like, get an earlier start over the telephone. I'll be working at home tomorrow, and this wretched foot will be keeping me indoors all day [...].

Let me tell you a bit about myself ahead of time.

Facts: six-feet-six-inches tall former not-very-good rugby player; degrees from the Royal Military College of Canada (B.A.), University of Toronto (M.A.), University of Sussex (D.Phil.); teaching experience at universities in France, England, and Germany as well as Canada.

I've had an upside-down career. Academics often do increasing amounts of administrative work as they get on in years (and supposedly wisdom). I did heaps of it when I was young and foolish: Chair of the English Department and head of the Senate (at a very small university); Chair of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's Research Grants Adjudication Committee in Literature; President of the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE); and substantial involvement a decade ago in this university's Strategic Planning Commission. I'm now trying to focus on teaching and research. (Perhaps late in the day? I turn 60 this September.)

Some information on my research. I'm a Renaissance scholar by training: lots of articles and conference papers on 16th-century writers like Marlowe, Shakespeare and Nashe; and two new editions, in 2007 and 2008, of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus—both with lovely glossy covers and enough footnotes in them to make a scholar's tiny heart beat faster.

Also articles on Renaissance philosophy, on Descartes, and on the contemporary philosopher Jacques Derrida. That last name takes us into the uneasy borderlands between philosophy and literary theory—and perhaps into the battles over theory which raged during the 1990s, when literary theory and English profs were being represented in the media as (I kid you not) threats to the survival of Western Culture. As president from 1992 to 1994 of ACCUTE, a national association of people supposedly devoted to the destruction of Western Culture, I got drawn into those debates—hence my book Lunar Perspectives: Field Notes from the Culture Wars (1996), in which I found myself trying to explain and defend contemporary literary studies and, more largely, the social function and value of humanities research and critical thinking in universities and “the public sphere.”

I feel strongly that scholars who have devoted years of study to research on cultural history and cultural processes, and who have thought hard about issues of ethics, justice, and human rights, have a responsibility to apply our capacities as researchers and critical thinkers, in the public sphere, to the crises of our own time and place.

In my case this has meant taking a public stand against crimes of state committed by our own government, and by those of friendly powers. Not just any old public stand, I would insist, but one that is supported by strenuous research and a scrupulous sifting of evidence.

And why against our own government and its allies? Doesn't that seem vaguely perverse? Noam Chomsky has remarked that as citizens we bear some responsibility for what our government does, and can aspire to change its behaviour for the better: there's no moral courage involved in ignoring our own country's crimes and misdeeds, and those of friendly states, and joining a chorus of critics denouncing 'enemy' states for crimes we cannot hope to control.

Stealing elections, to take one example, is a crime of state. I've argued in a series of articles that the Bush Republicans stole the 2004 presidential election—which means, since they weren't elected properly in 2000 either, that for the last seven years the United States has been governed by a regime that has no democratic legitimacy. (Does that seem “off the wall”? It is confirmed by a very large body of evidence.) Other abuses have followed from the primal abuse of disrespecting people's right to vote and have their votes fairly counted: among them the systematic gutting of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, the cancelling of habeas corpus, the institutionalizing of torture....

Wars of aggression are criminal in a larger sense. Unprovoked aggression, as the Nuremberg Tribunal ruled after World War II, is the primal crime from which all the others follow. At least 1.2 million Iraqis have died since 2003 as a result of the invasion and occupation of their country by the US and Britain. The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was likewise a war of aggression. (There is conclusive evidence that it was planned before 9/11, that the Taliban regime offered to hand over Bin Laden for trial in Pakistan, and that, as the FBI has itself acknowledged, the US has no evidence linking Bin Laden to the appalling crimes of 9/11.)

The occupation of Afghanistan, in which Canada is participating, is thus also a violation of international law—and Canada's treatment of prisoners is, in particular, a flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions. Canada has also, rather more seriously, been involved in crimes against democracy and human rights in Haiti. (I'm completing a long article on that subject at the moment.) I won't say more about my political writings: many of them are archived, if you're interested, at the website of the Centre for Research on Globalization (http://www.globalresearch.ca), where you can get to them via the Author Index.

What about my teaching, then? Right-wing polemicists like the creepy David Horowitz, or his feeble epigones in this country who run the Western Standard magazine, assume that any professor whose political views challenge those of the complacent 'mainstream' must be a frantic indoctrinator, bullying students into echoing his or her opinions. (That's the explicit assumption of the Western Standard, which did me the honour a little more than a year ago of including me in a list of the twelve “nuttiest”—by which they clearly meant “most deserving to be unemployed”—professors in Canada.) But perhaps this tells us more about their own ethics than anyone else's.

At the start of every one of my courses, I preach a little sermon. I tell students that “academic freedom” isn't just something that tenured faculty possess: it's an essential condition of intellectual life in a community of scholars. That means students possess it too: they have the right to dissent firmly from their professors' opinions, mine included, and to have their work judged by its intrinsic merits—its handling of the evidence, its argumentative coherence, and its rhetorical polish—and not its similarity or dissimilarity to my views. I tell my students I'm not running a cloning factory: our job is to read texts that are much more interesting than I am, so I don't want them wasting time by “reading the professor” and trying to please me by parroting my opinions. (How boring that would be for all concerned.)

I add that there's a major issue of intellectual history at stake here as well: professors who want to clone themselves have failed to understand the historical process at work in their own disciplines. Literary scholars of my own generation differed in important ways from our teachers: we came to understand, as most of our teachers didn't, the importance of feminism and gender studies, and the value of new methodologies carrying names like “poststructuralism,” “discourse theory,” or “cultural materialism.” How stupid it would be not to recognize that our own students will inevitably differ from us, developing in the same manner new methodologies and new orientations to their research. Their development of new insights will of course be linked to their recognition of the zones of our partial blindness.

So what's involved here is not just the crucial principle of students' academic freedom, but also an understanding of the historicity of critical thinking, including our own.

What this means, I hope, is that the classroom becomes a genuinely open space, within which my students and I can give voice to conflicting interpretations and opinions in an atmosphere of honest mutual respect. For I aspire, equally importantly, to making the seminar room or lecture hall a place where we can take the risk of saying things that we're afraid might perhaps seem foolish. (That's what truly original ideas often feel like the first time around.)

I take this risk myself in class—with comments that sometimes, I'm told, end up on Facebook in a page that is devoted, apparently with affection as well as some tincture of satire, to “The Man Who Knows Everything About Everything Always.” (There is a long and worthy tradition of this kind of student commentary: students of Benjamin Jowett, the Plato scholar and Master of Balliol College, Oxford, teased him more than a century ago in a doggerel couplet: “I'm Jowett, Master of this college; / Anything I don't know ain't knowledge.”)

Self-mockery can be instructive, as readers of such classics as Nicolas Cusanus's De docta ignorantia (Of Learned Ignorance) or Desiderius Erasmus's Praise of Folly will learn. But in my classrooms we don't mock one another, and an insistence on politeness and respect opens up the possibility of real debate.

I don't hide my opinions from my classes. I take seriously the injunction of the philosopher Hannah Arendt that teachers need to take responsibility for the world into which we are introducing our students. That means resisting the paradox enunciated by psychologist Robert Jay Lifton in his despairing suggestion that there is an inverse correlation between the importance of any given subject-matter for human survival on this planet and the likelihood of it figuring in the curricula of our universities.

End of sermon. End of this message too, which has gone on far too long. But now I can just sit silently and smile like the Cheshire Cat when you interview me.

Best wishes, 
Michael Keefer          

The Toronto 18: A Second Update

First published in Global Outlook 13 (Annual 2009): 62-64.

 

One of the Toronto 18—a youth who was just seventeen when he was arrested in June 2006, and therefore cannot be publicly named—was found guilty of terrorism by Ontario Superior Court Justice John Sproat in a Brampton courthouse on September 25, 2008. This judgment raises questions of the most urgent kind about the impact of Canada's post-9/11 anti-terrorism legislation on civil and human rights in this country.

University of Toronto law professor Kent Roach predicted in 2003 that the Anti-terrorism Act (Bill C-36), which was introduced in Parliament in October 2001 and proclaimed on Christmas Eve of that year, was bound to result in a discriminatory application of security powers. He noted that the federal government, despite its 'hollow' claims that the Anti-terrorism Act promoted human rights, “resisted calls to commit itself in the act to non-discrimination in the administration of the many new powers given to police and prosecutors.”1

Professor Roach correctly identified this act as unnecessary, since “the failure of September 11 was one of law enforcement, not of the criminal law,” and Canada's existing Criminal Code was entirely capable of dealing with terrorist attacks like those of 9/11.2 He memorably described the act as a panicked politicization of the Criminal Code, an “expansion of the criminal law” that was not principled, but rather “political, symbolic, and somewhat cynical.”3 It should be understood, Roach suggested, within a larger process of recent ad hoc and reactive additions to criminal law, in the course of which “The law of first-degree murder has been expanded through piecemeal changes driven by politics, media attention, advocacy by interest groups representing victims and the police, and a desire to denounce horrible acts of violence”—even at the expense of more basic concerns for “coherence within the code or respect for fundamental principles of criminal law.” This process of expansion turns law towards narrative, so that its judgments serve “to memorialize terrible crimes.”4

One of the more striking deficiencies of The 9/11 Commission Report is its habit of repeatedly allowing forensic analysis (or a pretence of it) to be overwhelmed by breathlessly memorializing narrative. As a result, the Report reads like a sensationalist novel—sharing with examples of that genre like Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code the related properties of being feebly researched, over-written, and palpably implausible.5 But if impulses toward narrative and memorializing can help to reduce forensic discourse to obfuscation, is there reason to fear a similarly negative impact on the discourses of criminal law?

Professor Roach thinks so. He claims that “The new narrative and memorial style in the criminal law helps explain why the Anti-terrorism Act requires the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a terrorist activity was committed 'in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective, or cause.'”6 This concern with the broad motive, as opposed to the specific intention to harm, goes against a long-standing principle of common-law tradition: as the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed in a 1997 decision, “it does not matter to society, in its efforts to secure social peace and order, what an accused's motive was, but only what the accused intended to do.”7

As Roach warned in 2003, the Anti-terrorism Act's emphasis on motive “undercuts the notion of a liberal criminal law that inquires only into the mind of the accused, as opposed to his or her heart. The requirement for proof of political or religious motive will make the politics and religion of suspects a fundamental issue in terrorism trials. [....] Terrorism trials in Canada will be political and religious trials.”8

While on the one hand the Anti-terrorism Act instructs police, prosecutors and judges to focus on this broad category of political or religious motive, on the other hand it systematically undercuts the traditional common-law concentration on criminal intent. This tendency is evident in the act's newly defined offences relating to the financing of terrorism: as law professor Kevin Davis suggests, these could be used to convict a restaurant owner “for serving customers who he knows are in the habit of making contributions to terrorist groups.”9

However, it is in its definition of offences of facilitating terrorism that the Anti-terrorism Act most distinctly subverts traditional Canadian legal standards. The act provides for up to ten years' imprisonment for any person who “knowingly participates in or contributes to, directly or indirectly, any activity of a terrorist group for the purpose of enhancing the ability of the terrorist group to facilitate or carry out a terrorist activity.”10 Participating in or contributing to terrorist activities can be a matter of giving or receiving 'training'—or, more loosely, any kind of association with a group labelled as terrorist. As Roach observes, the act directs Canadian courts “to consider whether a person 'frequently associated with any of the persons who constitute the terrorist group' or uses words or symbols associated with the terrorist group.” As though this drift into guilt-by-association were not loose enough, the act then specifies that it is not necessary that “any particular terrorist activity was foreseen or planned at the time it was facilitated.”11

As Professor Roach's comment makes clear, the act at this point enters the terrain of Franz Kafka:

It seems impossible to knowingly facilitate a terrorist activity when you do not know that “any particular terrorist activity was foreseen or planned at the time it was facilitated.” [....] The accused would still, however, be convicted and punished for knowing facilitation of a terrorist activity when, in fact, the person did not know about the terrorist activity.12

* * * *

The September 25th judgment of Ontario Superior Court Justice John Sproat participates fully in the Kafkaesque absurdity of the Anti-terrorism Act that it was his duty to apply.

Judge Sproat fund Mubin Shaikh “to be a truthful and generally reliable witness” whose credibility was not seriously shaken by the defence; not surprisingly, given this degree of gullibility, Sproat also concluded that evidence the Toronto 18 existed as a terrorist group was “overwhelming.”

As the Canadian Press reported,

Sproat rejected defence arguments that two camps organized by the alleged ringleaders were simply a religious retreat or recreational in nature. Sproat noted participants, including the accused, marched, played paintball games, shot a 9-mm handgun, and heard lectures on waging war on the West during a camp north of Toronto in December 2005. “It is inconceivable to me that by the end of the camp there was any doubt about its purpose,” the judge said. Sproat was adamant the young man [...] was aware of the group's murderous intentions and did his part to help by shoplifting walkie-talkies and camping supplies. “He had a full appreciation of the nature of the terrorist group.”13

But the evidence heard by the court would lead most rational people to a very different conclusion. As the New York Times reported, the camps “that the police described as terrorist training sessions” were characterized by prosecution witnesses “as recreational or religious retreats,” and Mubin Shaikh testified that he choreographed scenes in the videotapes he made of these two camps.14 The 9-mm pistol of course belonged to Shaikh, who acknowledged that he bought ammunition and fired the gun in front of participants in one of the camps,15 and the shoplifting was done at Shaikh's instigation.16

Shaikh himself was adamant that the accused ought to be acquitted: in July 2008 he insisted to reporters that the youth had no inkling of any nefarious purposes: “'I knew the purpose of the camp. I can tell you the accused was not told,' said Mr. Shaikh. [....] He said the youth believed the camp was for religious purposes.”17 Following Judge Sproat's judgment, Shaikh continued to insist to journalists, “as he did during his testimony, [that] the youth did not know what the group was up to. 'I don't believe he's a terrorist. I don't believe he should have been put through what he was put through, but that's our system.' Shaikh said.”18

We have, then, a truly bizarre legal judgment, in which the magnifying lens of police entrapment and 'war-on-terror' paranoia swells a shoplifter—whose petty crimes were instigated by a highly paid CSIS-RCMP informant—into a terrorist. The principal crown witness is accepted as “truthful and generally reliable” when his testimony supports the conclusion that a dangerous terrorist group actually existed—but that assessment appears effortlessly to coexist with the judge's bland acceptance of crown prosecutor John Neader's charge that when Mubin Shaikh's testimony exculpated the accused he was “fabricating evidence.”19 The logic of this is perhaps easier to accept once we have come to understand, thanks to the Anti-terrorism Act, that it is possible to “knowingly facilitate” a terrorist activity about which one knows nothing.

* * * *

Common-law tradition demands two things to secure a criminal conviction: a guilty deed (or actus reus), and evidence that the act was done knowingly, with criminal intention or a guilty mind (mens rea). The Anti-terrorism Act's dismissal of the mens rea requirement is a wholesale betrayal of democratic jurisprudence.

But as “national security expert” Wesley Wark of the Munk Centre for International Studies has said of the decision in this case, “so far, so good.”20 In other words, the purpose of the law is to secure convictions, at whatever cost to the principles of justice.

In Franz Kafka's haunting parable “Before the Law,” a man who has spent his life vainly seeking admission at the gate of the Law perceives, as his senses fail, a radiance streaming from the entrance that is about to be shut in his face by a brutal and tyrannical door-keeper.21 (What is the source of this radiance: the clear light of Justice? Or does it come rather from fires being lit in a new form of witch-hunt—one no less cowardly and irrational than the original?)

Integrating this parable into his novel The Trial, Kafka made it part of a dialogue between his innocent but doomed protagonist “K.” and the prison chaplain, who tells him that the authority of the parable's door-keeper must be accepted—not necessarily as true, but as necessary: for “to doubt his integrity is to doubt the Law itself.”

“A melancholy conclusion,” K. responds. “It turns lying into a universal principle.”22

 

 

NOTES

1  Kent Roach, September 11: Consequences for Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), p. 17.

2  See Roach, p. 23: “Had the September 11 terrorists planned their crimes in Canada and had the law enforcement officials been aware of their activities, the existing law would have allowed them to be charged and convicted of serious crimes” before the would-be perpetrators had actually carried out a single violent act.

3  Ibid., p. 24.

4  Ibid., p. 25.

5  For thorough assessments of the Report's substantive deficiencies, see David Ray Griffin, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2005); and Griffin, 9/11 Contradictions: An Open Letter to Congress and the Press (Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2008).

6  Roach, September 11: Consequences for Canada, p. 25, quoting Criminal Code, s. 83.01 (1)(b)(i)(A).

7  Ibid., p. 26, quoting United States v. Dynar, [1997] 2 SCR 462 at para. 81, 115 CCC (3d) 481. In the same note, Roach quotes the opinion of K. Kittichaisaree that “A motive is generally irrelevant in criminal law, except at the sentencing stage” (International Criminal Law [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001], p. 92; see Roach, pp. 212-13).

8  Ibid., p. 27.

9  Kevin Davis. “Cutting Off the Flow of Funds to Terrorists,” in R. Daniels, P. Maclem, and K. Roach, eds., The Security of Freedom (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), pp. 301, 303; quoted in Roach, September 11, p. 39. For evidence that Islamic financial, charity and banking systems have been both routinely misunderstood and unfairly targeted by western intelligence agencies, see economist R. T. Naylor's brilliant study Satanic Purses: Money, Myth, and Misinformation in the War on Terror (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2006), pp. 137 ff.

10  Criminal Code, s. 83.18, quoted by Roach, September 11, p. 42.

11  Roach, pp. 43, 44.

12  Ibid., p. 44.

13  “Evidence of terror group 'overwhelming,' judge rules in finding youth guilty,” Canadian Press (25 September 2008), http://canadianpress.google.com/article/AleqM5gWT-16g3nlt6sz3xdOyPDcfpqCMg.

14  Ian Austen, “Man Guilty in Canada Terror Plot,” New York Times (25 September 2008), http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/26/world/americas/26canada.html.

15  “Evidence of terror group 'overwhelming'.”

16  See Joseph Brean, “'We weren't there picking daisies',” National Post (11 June 2008), http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=580018. Brean quotes Shaikh as testifying that “when he discussed 'acquiring' camping gear with the group, it meant 'to quote unquote take unlawfully items in support of camping. Unlawfully. Not through legal purchases.'”

17  Shannon Kari, “Star witness says Toronto 18 youth should go free,” National Post (3 July 2008), http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/story.html?id=630123.

18  “Evidence of terror group 'overwhelming'.”

19  Melissa Leong, “Key witness's story changed, Crown charges,” National Post (25 June 2008), http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=610976.

20  “Evidence of terror group 'overwhelming'.”

21  Franz Kafka, “Before the Law,” in The Penal Colony: Stories and Short Pieces, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir (1948; rpt. New York: Schocken Books, 1970), pp. 148-50.

22  Kafka, The Trial, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir (1935; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), p. 243.   

Further Reflections on the 'Toronto 18' Case: 'Terror Law' and the 'Crimen Exceptum'

First published in Global Outlook 13 (Annual 2009): 60-62.

 

The conclusions I arrived at in my article “The Toronto 18 Frame-Up: Fraud and Fear-Mongering in the 'War on Terror',” written in May 2008, have if anything been reinforced by subsequent events. I described a prosecution case that rests upon the entrapment activities of two moles instructed and lavishly paid by the the RCMP: one of them, by his own account a serious drug addict, received some $377,000, while the other, a spendthrift with what a close associate described as a habit of embellishing the truth, was paid $4.1 million. Their job, in return, was to create the appearance of a gang of terrorists with some paramilitary training, and the further appearance that this gang was trying to lay its hands on quantities of fertilizer to make ammonium nitrate-fuel oil (ANFO) bombs.

In July 2008 the first mole, Mubin Shaikh, decided he had sold himself short and requested a further $2.4 million from the RCMP—in return for promises of “no more media interviews, no more drug use, and no book or movie deals.”1 In the mean time, in June 2008, it emerged that the RCMP used a third mole as well—one Qari Kifayatullah, who claimed expertise with ANFO explosives. Thomas Walkom writes that the RCMP has shown no interest in interviewing or arresting this man—for the very good reason, one might suppose, that he was acting under RCMP supervision. It is not yet known how much his services may have cost, or what his relationship was to another man, “identified in court only as Talib,” who also contributed to the frame-up. As Walkom notes, Talib “explained, in a conversation recorded by police, how his team of cocaine addicts used stolen identities to defraud banks in small cities like Kitchener.” He seems, like Kifayatullah, to have enjoyed immunity from arrest: “There is no record [...] of the RCMP moving to shut down Talib's ongoing and apparently lucrative bank fraud schemes.”2

I also described in my article what I called the narrative framing of the case. The motif of ANFO bombs—a project that police agents furthered and almost certainly originated as well3—identified the accused as 'home-grown terrorists' in the manner of Timothy McVeigh; while the motif of beheading—set into motion by a police synopsis of accusations, and given added currency by the police mole Mubin Shaikh—linked the accused with the barbaric 'terrorist international' of arch-beheader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This narrative framing gave shape to a nightmare sense of mortal danger—posed by men and boys who are at once 'home-grown' and at the same time terrifyingly 'other', since their deepest loyalty is supposedly to a barbaric radicalism that seeks to transplant the violence of faraway countries into our own civic space.

A different kind of narrative framing is now at work in the timing of the prosecutions: these cases are moving into court in conjunction with the trial in Ottawa of Momin Khawaja, arrested four years ago on charged of having supplied bomb detonator know-how to a UK terrorist cell. Five people have been convicted in Britain as members of the cell Khawaja is accused of having assisted, and our government may be hoping for synergy between Khawaja's case and the Toronto 18 trials: a conviction in the former might be expected to make the Crown's arguments in the latter more persuasive.

However, another 'War on Terror' case involving a Canadian citizen has also simultaneously been moving toward trial. The alleged child-soldier Omar Khadr, who has been illegally detained in the US prison at Guantánamo since 2002, when he was fifteen, and repeatedly tortured, will be on trial for his life this autumn before an illegally constituted Military Commission. This case has become a major scandal both in Canada and internationally: our Supreme Court has ruled that CSIS agents and Foreign Affairs officials who participated in interrogating Khadr at Guantánamo in 2003 were acting in a manner “contrary to Canada's binding international obligations,”4 and the Harper government's refusal to intervene on Khadr's behalf and repatriate him is a much more serious violation of Canadian law and of Canadian treaty obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture (Article 12) and the Geneva Conventions (III, Article 130, and IV, Article 146).5

On August 8, 2008, Khadr's lawyers launched a lawsuit in the Federal Court of Canada against Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson, CSIS Director Jim Judd and RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, asking a judge to order the government to live up to its legal and treaty obligations and repatriate Khadr. Harper's response was breathtaking in its moral obtuseness:

“This predictable,” said Kory Teneycke, the Prime Minister's director of communications. “It's an attempt by Mr. Khadr's lawyers to avoid a trial on the charges of murder in violation of the laws of the war, attempted murder in violation of the laws of the war, conspiracy providing material support for terrorism and spying.”6

Setting aside the ignorance of Teneycke's repeated reference to “the laws of the war” rather than “the laws of war” (it could possibly be a sub-editor at the National Post rather than the PM's flack who thinks that each war has its own laws, and doesn't know that there's just one set of international conventions that applies to all wars), this banal repetition of the Gitmo charge sheet is an affront to civilized values. Canada's Prime Minister is telling us, quite directly, that he regards a Military Commission kangaroo-court as legitimate, that he holds Canada's binding obligations under international law in contempt, and that, above and beyond the laws governing appropriate treatment of children accused of crimes, he fails to see how sheerly idiotic it is to accuse a fifteen-year-old of “providing material support for terrorism and spying.”

The contextual framing of the trials of those among the Toronto 18 whose charges have not been stayed may therefore, if anything, help the Canadian public to recognize the fragility of the government's evidence—and the fact that sleep-deprivation torture is no less disgraceful in Toronto than in Guantánamo. A wider contextualizing still may help us to understand more fully what is at stake, in terms of the principles of democratic jurisprudence, in these and similar 'terror trials'. 

* * * *

We can learn something about the current threat to democratic jurisprudence by reflecting on a uniquely western European and early American experience—the witch-craze that between the end of the fifteenth century and the late seventeenth century intermittently convulsed whole regions of Germany and France, with lesser outbreaks in Scotland, England, and England's American colonies. Its relevance resides in the fact that the 'War on Terror' reproduces with uncanny exactitude not just the key structures of the western European witch-hunts, but also their political function.

The witch-hunts were animated by a conviction that society was under attack by a demonic conspiracy: Satan was said to have assembled a vast network of people who had sworn allegiance to him at secret assemblies, and who were wreaking havoc under his direction, causing crop failures and other 'natural' disasters, outbreaks of disease, and the deaths of children and cattle. Alarmingly, the alleged participants in this conspiracy were often normal, even upstanding members of the community: a large majority of those who were arrested, tortured, and judicially murdered during the witch-hunts were powerless and vulnerable women, but the victims also included municipal councillors, merchants, and landowners.

Although the discourses of the witch-hunts incorporated elements of popular culture, there is overwhelming evidence that the witch-stereotype was constructed by lawyers and theologians. And whether by accident or design, the witch-hunts helped to stifle dissent among the labouring classes, which had increasingly taken the form of quasi-messianic insurrections (among them the German Peasants' Revolt of 1525). The anthropologist Marvin Harris, who noted this connection more than thirty years ago, wrote that the “witch mania [...] shifted responsibility for the crisis of late Medieval society from both Church and state to imaginary demons in human form [...]. The clergy and nobility emerged as the great protectors of mankind against an enemy who was omnipresent but difficult to detect.”7

Harris observed that in contrast to movements of protest, which gave the poor, if only briefly, a sense of solidarity, dignity, and common purpose, the witch mania “dispersed and fragmented all the latent energies of protest. It demobilized the poor and the dispossessed, [...] made everyone fearful, heightened everyone's insecurity, made everyone feel helpless and dependent on the governing classes[...].”8 It amounted to a sixteenth-century form of 'false-flag' deception.

Early modern legal systems influenced by Roman law incorporated torture as a standard means of acquiring evidence in criminal cases. But the witch-craze led to a greatly expanded reliance upon torture, together with a general relaxation of standards of evidence. Membership in the secret society of witches was defined by jurists as a crimen exceptum, a crime so far removed from normal wickedness as to require a corresponding extremism in the investigative and judicial responses to the threat.9 Because Satan, the central co-conspirator, was unavailable for questioning, and because the evidence of guilt by association with him was, by definition, spectral in nature, torture became the principal source of evidence. The result was a cascading proliferation of accusations. And since rules of evidence were relaxed, few of the accused escaped conviction.

The analogies with the post-9/11 'War on Terror' are obvious enough. Once again, by accident or design, a powerful movement of dissent—in this case, the international mobilization against neoliberal globalization that produced mass demonstrations in Seattle, Québec, Genoa and elsewhere between the late 1990s and 2001—has been stifled.10 And once again, the sense of agency and solidarity that fed organized opposition to an exploitative elite has been deflected and dispersed by a demonizing fantasy—a “myth of universal terrorism”11—about a terrifying otherness whose instruments hate us for what is good in us and seek to destroy our central institutions.

That fantasy has legitimized rampant Islamophobia, as well as a powerful deployment of the state's agencies of repression. It has also led to a fearful acceptance of claims that these forces of repression are our only defence against 'terror'. The demonizing fantasy has legitimized, in the United States, an effective abandonment of the rights of citizens once protected by the Constitution and Bill of Rights,12 and in Canada and elsewhere it has resulted in the passing of 'Terror Laws' that relax normal rules of evidence and permit claims of 'national security' to trump the long-established rights of defendants to know the evidence against them and cross-examine accusers in open court.

Do we need to be reminded that one central motive of post-Enlightenment democratic jurisprudence has been to prevent arbitrary infringements of what we now recognize as essential human rights? The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, for example, is a barrier against torture: it protects citizens from being coerced into self-incrimination—by means including what US police, borrowing a term from the witch-hunt torturers, call the “third degree.”13 In the Khawaja case, the judge's decision to admit hearsay evidence14 has thrown open the door to evidence that could be derived from torture in other countries, or otherwise tainted.

* * * *

At one key point, the analogies I have been pursuing break down. There never was any such thing in early modern Europe as a conspiracy of witches; Satan, its organizer, exists only in human imaginings; and the 'crimes' for which many thousands of people died never happened. In contrast, the terrorist atrocities of 9/11, and of the bombings in Bali, Madrid, and London, were very real indeed.

But although the crimes of 9/11 are horrifyingly real, and although Islamist extremists with an appetite for unconstrained violence do exist, we know the official narratives about 9/11 to be systematically false. The evidence we have is unequivocal: the attacks can only have been organized by groups within the state apparatus. Given the consequences for the democratic rule of law, it is all the more important to establish, through further patient and scrupulous research, a public understanding of the actual sequence of events that will be as wide and deep as possible.

Under the regency of George W. Bush, the American state appears to have adopted a theory of governance, most definitively propounded by the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, according to which the defining characteristic of sovereign power is ts self-exemption from the laws it applies to its subjects.15 Schmitt's doctrine of a “sovereign exemption” stands in direct opposition to democracy; it also symmetrically complements the witch-hunt doctrine of the crimen exceptum. The state declares certain crimes so appalling that anyone accused of them is denied the normal protections of the law—while on the other hand, the people who punish such crimes are exempted from obedience to the laws they administer and enforce.

Canadians need to ensure that in this country no-one is denied the full protection—under democratic jurisprudence—of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That means repealing the 'Terror Laws' passed by a panicked Parliament in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.16 At the same time we should ensure that the RCMP and CSIS do not quietly grant themselves a “sovereign exemption” from any inquiry into the means by which they fabricated the demonizing fantasies of the Toronto 18 case.

 

 

NOTES

1  Michael Friscolanti, “'Toronto 18' informant Mubin Shaikh ups his price,” Maclean's Magazine (23 July 2008), http://www.macleans.ca/canada/national/article.jsp?content=20080723_115512_115512&page=1.

2  Thomas Walkom, “Two more odd characters join cast of terror trial,” Toronto Star (21 June 2008), http://www.thestar.com/printArticle/447094.

3  See Walkom, “Two more odd characters”: “According to informer Mubin Shaikh, Kifayatullah was the man who advised an alleged terrorist ringleader about the virtue of truck bombs. Indeed, Shaikh said that it was from Kifayatullah that he first heard mention of ammonium nitrate, or fertilizer.”

4  Supreme Court of Canada, Canada (Justice) v. Khadr (28 May 2008); quoted by Lawyers Against the War, “Release and repatriation of Omar Khadr, Canadian citizen imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay” (Letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Attorney General Robert Nicholson, Minister of Foreign Affairs David Emerson, Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay, 30 July 2008), available at www.lawyersagainstthewar.org.

5  For details, see Lawyers Against the War, “Release and repatriation of Omar Khadr.”

6  David Akin, Khadr sues Harper over repatriation,” National Post (9 August 2008): A5.

7  Marvin Harris, Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches: The Riddles of Culture (New York: Random House, 1974), pp. 237-38. Ken Couesbouc briefly noted the relevance of this book to the 'War on Terror' in “The New Witchcraft: Marvin Harris on the Roots of the War on Terror,” CounterPunch (11 October 2006), http://www.counterpunch.org/kouesbouc10112006.html. For another approach to these issues, see Robert Rapley, Witch Hunts: From Salem to Guantánamo Bay (Montréal and Kingston: Queen's-McGill University Press, 2007).

8  Harris, p. 239.

9  See Wolfgang Behringer, Witchcraft Persecutions in Bavaria: Popular Magic, Religious Zealotry and Reasons of State in Early Modern Europe, trans. J. C. Grayson and David Lederer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 215, 230-32, 312.

10  In late September 2001 the editor of The New Republic declared that if a planned protest against the IMF and World Bank took place in Washington DC, the anti-globalization movement would, “in the eyes of the nation, have joined the terrorists in a united front”; and US trade representative Robert Zoellick identified 'intellectual connections' between al Qaeda and anti-globalization demonstrators (Peter Beinart, “Sidelines,” The New Republic [24 September 2001]; quoted from Corey Robin, Fear: The History of a Political Idea [Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004], pp. 188-89.) Corey Robin adds that “Antiglobalization activists and intellectuals quickly felt the power of such rhetoric: many, including the AFL-CIO, stayed away from the [Washington] protest, and the movement has since fallen into abeyance” (Fear, p. 188).

11  The term is from Emmanuel Todd, Après l'empire: Essai sur la décomposition du système américain (2002; 2nd ed. Paris: Gallimard, 2004), ch. 1: “Le mythe du terrorisme universel.”

12  See Naomi Wolf, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot (White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007); and Sherwood Ross, “Is America Fascist?” Scoop Independent News (10 August 2008), http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0808/S00119.htm.

13  See Margreta de Grazia, “Sanctioning Voice: Quotation Marks, the Abolition of Torture, and the Fifth Amendment,” in Martha Woodmansee and Peter Jaszi, eds., The Construction of Authorship (Durham: Duke University Press, 1994), pp. 281-302.

14  Ian MacLeod, “Judge allows hearsay evidence in Khawaja trial,” National Post (24 July 2008).

15  For an account of Schmitt's theory, see Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), pp. 15-29.

16  See Kent Roach, September 11: Consequences for Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003).   

The Toronto 18 Frame-Up: Fraud and Fear-Mongering in the “War on Terror”

My essay on “The Toronto 18 Frame-Up” was written in May 2008, but not published until more than a year later in Global Outlook 13 (Annual 2009): 52-59. It was followed by two shorter updates, “Further Reflections on the 'Toronto 18' Case: 'Terror Law' and the 'Crimen Exceptum',” and “The Toronto 18: A Second Update,” which were written in July 2008 and October 2008 respectively, and published with it in Global Outlook 13.

 

On June 2, 2006 the arrests of seventeen Muslim men and youths in Toronto on terrorism charges made headlines around the world (as did that of an eighteenth suspect, a fortnight later). The accusations against them were indeed spectacular: according to the Toronto police, this terrorist cell had been planning bombing attacks against the Houses of Parliament, the CN Tower, the headquarters of CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) and the CBC—and also, most sensationally, they had allegedly intended, after storming the Parliament buildings, to behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

And yet any careful reader of the news stories which followed these arrests could not help but be struck by a number of anomalies. The case was represented as a major triumph of police and intelligence work, and the dangers involved were underlined by massive paramilitary theatrics at the arraignment hearings in the Toronto suburb of Brampton, including grim-faced snipers on rooftops, and helicopters thumping overhead.

But how were we to interpret these theatrics? Did Canadian intelligence agencies really anticipate that squads of heavily armed terrorists might descend on the Brampton courthouse in a desperate Robin-Hood style attempt to free their captured comrades? Or would it be cynical to think that the state was trying to panic the Canadian media and the public at large with this graphic demonstration of how terrified we should all be—if not of the handcuffed prisoners, then certainly of hypothetical shadowy accomplices who remained at liberty? The logic is clear: if the brave and clever men who dress like ninjas, carry big big automatic weapons and work in intelligence are worried, then the rest of us ought to be gob-smacked with fear.

This message appears to have got through quite widely—not least to an American versifier on the Buzzflash website who proposed ironically that his compatriots should stop worrying about building a fence along their southern border to stop Mexican immigration, given what seemed more urgent problems to the north:

Putting up a Mexican fence
May not be the best defense. 
Let's build one near Toronto
And get it finished pronto.1

No-one, presumably, had told him about the existence of Lake Ontario.

Snipers and helicopters notwithstanding, there turned out to be a bizarre disjunction between the material resources the arrested group (if it was a group) possessed, and what the Toronto police and RCMP claimed were their goals. For the arsenal of weaponry revealed by the arresting officers was distinctly unimpressive. In addition to five pairs of boots, it consisted of “six flashlights, one walkie-talkie, one voltmeter, eight D-cell batteries, a cell phone, a circuit board, a computer hard drive, one barbecue grill, a set of barbecue tongs, a wooden door with 21 bullet marks and a 9 mm hand gun.”2

Oh yes—and centrally displayed, a bag of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, as evidence that the group had intended to emulate Timothy McVeigh's purported feat of destroying the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City with an ammonium nitrate fuel oil (ANFO) truck bomb.3 Not that any of the accused had actually been in possession of that or any other bag of ammonium nitrate fertilizer—much less fuel oil, or an appropriately configured truck in which to mix the two, or a detonating device—in the absence of which ammonium nitrate makes plants grow, but won't blow anything up, not even the headquarters of CSIS. Yet one or possibly more of the accused had apparently been lured by a police agent into making a purchase order of a large quantity of ammonium nitrate, and had accepted delivery of some quantity of a harmless substitute chemical, at which point the police swooped.

Most media outlets found nothing worthy of comment either in the extreme sketchiness of the accused terrorists' equipment or in the evident fact that the government's case against them rested on entrapment. Not merely had the idea of obtaining ammonium nitrate apparently been suggested to one or more members of the group by a police mole (who conveniently was also an agricultural engineer by profession, and thus able to place an order for a significant quantity of the substance), but the only weapon the group was accused of possessing, a 9 mm pistol, turns out to have been the property of another police mole—who seems also to have been responsible for organizing camping and paint-balling excursions into the Ontario countryside that he subsequently represented as having been terrorist training camps.

The knowledge of military tactics or even of simple camping that he imparted would seem to have been of dubious value: much of the group's time during their major winter 'training camp' in December 2005 appears to have been spent huddling in a local Tim Horton's donut shop trying to stay warm.

Of parallel significance is the information, based on surveillance of the group, that police released to the media: it indicates that one or more of them didn't know who the current Canadian prime minister is, much less where to find him. There seems to be no sign, moreover, that any of the accused had thought about how much damage an ANFO truck bomb might be able to inflict upon the massive reinforced concrete footings of the CN Tower. (The short answer is: none whatsoever.)

But however unimpressive much of the evidence made public by state authorities might appear to be, its narrative framing was very effective indeed.

The motif of decapitation was headlined in many accounts of the arrests.4 Although one might think that the manner in which this motif was deployed ought to have prompted a pause for critical reflection, the general media response was wholly uncritical.

The thought of decapitation by Islamist terrorists evokes the most lurid misdeed of the arch-terrorist Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi—who for several years (until, that is, the narrative of his extinction became more useful to American authorities than stories of how he ran the Iraqi resistance more of less single-handed on behalf of al Qaeda) was represented by the Pentagon's fabulists as a demonic Scarlet Pimpernel: that “demmed elusive” one-legged Jordanian was here, there, and everywhere,5 demonstrating a truly devilish capacity to carry out near-simultaneous operations in far-distant places, and committing crimes that there is good reason to suspect may in fact have been perpetrated by American special forces.6

In the spring of 2004, a fortnight after revelations about the torture and murder of Iraqi prisoners by their American interrogators at Abu Graib were headlined throughout the American and world media, Zarqawi very conveniently videotaped himself beheading an American captive, Nicholas Berg. It would be an understatement to call this videotape problematic. Berg, who had been arrested by American forces, was acknowledged as having been in their custody shortly before his death; in the videotape he is wearing American orange prison overalls, while a plastic chair in the background closely resembles chairs that appear in Abu Graib torture photographs. Cries of anguish were dubbed onto the tape, but Berg was clearly already dead when he was beheaded.7 Zarqawi, his executioner, whom the CIA described as having an artificial leg, is vigorously bipedal, and speaks Arabic without his known Jordanian accent. In brief, the video appears to be a black operations product, and Berg a victim of the same people who ordered the Abu Graib atrocities.

The reason for the Zarqawi video's manufacture seems obvious. It abruptly reversed the valences of news stories about torture and executions, making an American the hapless victim, and a brutal Islamist terrorist the perpetrator. And it allowed media pundits to argue that, whatever the lapses of a few 'bad apples' on their side, their adversaries were wholly barbaric. Meanwhile, damning evidence of the direct responsibility of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and other senior officials for systematic torture and murder in the American gulag could be flushed down the memory hole.

In the case of the Toronto 18, the beheading motif strengthened associations with al Qaeda and international terrorism by linking the accused with Zarqawi—even though, behind the headlines, it appeared that beheading Stephen Harper was not a crime any of them had actually proposed to carry out, but rather something an imaginative police officer had speculated in a synopsis of accusations one of them would be likely to want to do.8 In the event, “no criminal charges to this effect were ever actually laid”9—though Mubin Shaikh, one of the two police moles, helped keep the beheading motif in circulations when he told PBS Frontline that the plans of the accused included “[s]torming Parliament, kidnapping, like holding hostage the MPs, beheading them one by one, unless Canadian troops are pulled out of Afghanistan and Muslim prisoners are released from prisons in Canada.”10

The outlines of an interpretive framework—or what I would prefer to call, with full awareness of the ambiguity, a framing narrative—were thus in place. Like Timothy McVeigh, whose method of attacks they are accused of wanting to imitate, the Toronto 18 are constructed for us as 'home-grown terrorists'; but the association with Zarqawi's most sensational supposed crime makes them at the same time barbarous outsiders, with spiritual loyalties to the largely mythical Islamist terrorist international11 for which his name is a metonymy. The links to both key aspects of this framework, we can observe, are provided by the police: the first through entrapment, and the second through mere supposition.

Only some time after the arrests did the elaborateness of the entrapment scheme become apparent. Early reports made much of an alleged 'training camp' session the group conducted in Washago, Ontario in December 2005—the principal organizer of which turned out to have been Mubin Shaikh, who was paid $77,000 by the RCMP for his services in setting the group up for arrest, and who, when he went public on July 13th to speak of his role to the media, declared that he was owed a further $300,000.12 As an army cadet from the age of 13 to 19 with the Canadian Armed Forces, Shaikh had received some weapons training and would have learned the rudiments of infantry tactics. Although a publication ban on evidence in this case prevents us from knowing in any detail what kinds of paramilitary expertise the group is accused of having possessed, he was presumably its principal source.

In October 2006, details were revealed of the role played by a second mole, an agricultural engineer, in what CBC News called “a sophisticated sting operation.” His function was to provide “evidence to the authorities that the conspirators had material that they thought could be used to make bombs,” and unnamed sources informed CBC News that his degree in agricultural engineering “could have given the alleged conspirators access to much larger quantities of ammonium nitrate than they could have purchased at ordinary retail outlets.”13

In February 2007, it emerged that the RCMP had paid this second mole fully $4.1 million for his services. The Mounties helpfully provided Maclean's Magazine with a set of 'secret' memos in order to make clear what their thinking had been. These memos showed, according to Maclean's, that by mid-April 2006 “authorities had grown increasingly desperate, convinced that the group was on the brink of building a bomb.” If the RCMP truly believed this, then their ensuing behaviour is so bizarre as to defy explanation. One might suppose that if they had information from Mubin Shaikh that the group he had 'infiltrated' (to give as polite as possible a spin to his activities) was nearly capable of making bombing attacks, had formulated a plan “of renting three 14-foot U-Haul vans packed with explosives, parking them at strategic locations, and remotely triggering the explosives,” and had actually got so far as setting a date for the attack,14 then the Mounties might reasonably think about making some arrests.

Instead of doing so, the RCMP made contact on April 29, 2006 with a CSIS informant—a Canadian-born man from “a prominent Egyptian family” who had received most of his secondary and university education in Cairo, returning to Canada in 2000 “with degrees in agriculture and business.” This high-minded citizen initially requested $15 million as compensation for infiltrating the alleged terrorist group and offering them his expertise, but was bargained down to $4.1 million; by mid-May, the RCMP had given him “the legal authority to 'knowingly facilitate a terrorist activity' in the name of cracking the case.” His job, according to the Maclean's report, “was to provide suspects with credit cards and help them purchase large quantities of what they believed to be ammonium nitrate, the same chemical used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.”15 In other words, his job was to make possible a purchase that the supposed terrorists would not otherwise have had the resources for—and might indeed not even have contemplated without his intervention.

Let's see what the evidence—at least what we've been allowed to know of it—adds up to. One of the accused is alleged by Mubin Shaikh to have experimented with a home-made detonator;16 the same man is also said to have had contacts with Islamist radicals from the US. Apart from this alleged detonator, the only item more dangerous than barbecue tongs that the group possessed or had access to was Mubin Shaikh's own 9 mm pistol.

And what of the purported group's alleged bomb-making expertise? One might well suspect that the RCMP was if anything concerned by their lack of any such expertise, and did not themselves believe Shaikh's story that the group was “on the brink” of being able to carry out terrorist bombing attacks. Why else would the Mounties spend $4.1 million to hire an agricultural engineer, already tested as a CSIS informant, who could tell some witless member or members of the group how to make an ANFO truck bomb, enable a purchase of ammonium nitrate through his professional accreditation, give them credit cards so they could actually put a purchase order through—and also, it turns out, provide them with warehouse space for storage of the substance, in a building conveniently located a hundred yards from the RCMP's Newmarket headquarters?17

At its senior levels, the RCMP is both a scandalously corrupt and a scandalously politicized organization. Evidence of corruption can be found in the recent disgraceful rip-off by senior officers of the RCMP's own pension fund.18 The force's politicization was made apparent in its unprecedented intervention in the 2006 federal election campaign: midway through the campaign, the RCMP launched a corruption investigation into the office of Liberal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale, hitherto a highly respected politician.19 Goodale and his staff were exonerated in February 2007, but in the mean time the empty investigation had fueled opposition parties' accusations of government corruption and tipped the election into the hands of Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

One may then suspect that the RCMP's 'desperation' in mid-April 2006 had less to do with apprehension of an actual terrorist threat than it did with senior officers' awareness that while Mubin Shaikh was shepherding his group toward arrest, the evidence he had been able to produce amounted to little more than gossip and idle chatter of the kind that had first attracted CSIS agents to the internet chat-room postings of Fahim Ahmad and Zakaria Amara, who became labeled as leaders of the terror plot.20 The Canadian Supreme Court was scheduled to hear a case “involving how evidence was heard in anti-terrorism cases” in the second week of June 2006: is it altogether a coincidence that the high-priced and urgent labours of the second mole made it possible for the RCMP to make a mass terrorism arrest a week before this hearing?21 

* * * *

Perhaps we should a closer look at these two police moles. What, first, could have induced the parents of Toronto area youths—who in some cases were only fifteen at the time of their arrest—to permit them to take part in camping and paint-balling events organized by Mubin Shaikh?

By the time Shaikh took up employment as an RCMP mole, he had become a figure of some prominence in Toronto's Muslim community. He was active in 2005 in campaigning for legitimation by the Ontario government of sharia family adjudication courts—to the point that some members of the Muslim community urged him to desist. More important, one might guess, was his work at the Masjid El Noor mosque as a “conflict resolution specialist,” and his service under Liberal MP Alan Tonks as Multiculturalism Chair of the York South-Weston Federal Liberal Association. The riding association's website notes his training in “Alternate Dispute Resolution through the Faculty of Law, University of Windsor,” his interest in comparative religious studies, and his response to “the conflicts that rage in our world”—which was to dedicate himself “to inter-faith harmony and mutual respect for human rights as the only way forward towards peace and stability in our society.” The website also mentions his involvement throughout his teen years in the Canadian Army Cadets, where he rose to be Warrant Officer, Drill Sergeant Major, and Staff Instructor,22 and would thus have had substantial experience in supervising activities of a quasi-military nature for younger teenage boys.

This seems, in short, the kind of young man that parents would have no qualms about their teenage sons associating with—though the first two sentences of the web-page's description of him might, in retrospect, prompt rueful reflection: “Traveller, philosopher, theologian, Mubin Shaikh is not your ordinary Torontonian. At first look, one might think they've encountered an extremist but on second take, you realize you've been had!”23

Shaikh appears to have encouraged his young associates to make precisely this mistake—and for reasons that may have been less pure than the respect for Islamic law and love for his country that he represented to the media as his motives. The Liberal Party website neglects to mention that his past history includes a significant involvement with hard drugs, though as Shaikh acknowledged to Maclean's Magazine in September 2007, he has in the very recent past been a serious cocaine addict. By his own account, as transmitted by the Maclean's journalist, Shaikh was in his younger days “a partier, a pot-smoking tough guy who liked to drop LSD,” but he “quit cold turkey and rededicated himself to Islam” after high school. In 2006, however, “the burden of being Canada's most famous mole became too much to bear. And when it did, he turned not to God, but to hard drugs”:

“I spent some money on it, money that I shouldn't have spent,” he admits. “The stress of my involvement was so great. Nobody has been through the situation that I have been through, and because of its impact and importance and significance—that is one hell of a weight to realize is on your head. It got so bad for me, it just broke me. It just broke me.”24

Shaikh claimed that as a result of the stress he faced after publicly revealing himself as a mole in the Toronto 18 arrests, “I got back into my old friends, and I started doing s--t again.”25

Several aspects of this story, as passed on by Maclean's, raise interesting questions. First, quitting drug use 'cold turkey' after high school is suggestive, not of marijuana and LSD use, but of addiction to an opiate like cocaine or heroin. In drug argot, 'doing shit' normally refers to these latter drugs, so when Shaikh explains his cocaine addiction as resulting from renewed contact with 'old friends' who facilitated his “doing shit again,” he appears to be confessing to a return to an earlier cocaine addiction.26

One might well doubt the reliability of Shaikh's indications of time. He told the Maclean's journalist, presumably in early September 2007, that he hadn't touched cocaine “for a few months.” But Shaikh also told Maclean's that

he bought “a couple thousand dollars” worth of cocaine over a six-month span, and before long, a few casual snorts had ballooned into a full-blown habit. “There were a couple of times when I got real scared because my heart rate started blasting up and I had to call an ambulance,” he says. “I started realizing: 'Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?'”

He finally phoned his RCMP handlers and told them the truth. They checked him into rehab.27

Because addicts are notoriously unreliable about details relating to their illness, the defendants' lawyers will no doubt want to know when Mubin Shaikh had to call ambulances, and when he was checked into rehab. Was he telling the Maclean's journalist that his cocaine use lasted just six months? (In that case there's a minor contradiction between saying he used cocaine from mid-July 2006 until mid-February 2007, and saying in early September 2007 that he'd been clean “for a few months”: nearly seven months is more than “a few.”) Or was he saying that he became a serious addict only in February 2007 and used cocaine in about June of that year? In either case, can his claim that renewed addiction was caused only by the stresses of July 2006 be credited?

Shaikh is insistent that his history of drug use in no way invalidates his reliability as a witness: “They are going to say: 'You did drugs.' Okay, fine, I did drugs after the investigation. How does that affect at all what happened during the investigation? Zero.”28 During his late teens, however, Shaikh appears to have been heavily involved at the same time with drugs and with his army cadet service: it might be an exaggeration to say that the two were intrinsically linked for him, but they were certainly concurrent interests. It seems possible that his return to army-cadet-type activities in the course of his work as a mole may have been as responsible as any stresses resulting from that work for prompting his renewed addiction to cocaine.

Shaikh's drug addiction raises two further questions. First, although by his own account he himself initiated contacts with the police, it invites speculation as to whether his prior and possibly continuing involvement with drugs made him vulnerable to police manipulation. And secondly, as Edward Sapiano, one of the defence attorneys, has stated, “It provides extreme motivation for him to fabricate. A cocaine addict, what does he need? Cocaine. What does he need for cocaine? Money. What's this guy getting from the police? Money. Based on what? The quality and size of his information.”29

Even the most hostile of interpreters might be willing to acknowledge that Mubin Shaikh's behaviour has been marked by some flickers of integrity: he has, for example, maintained that two of the adult suspects, Jahmaal James and Stephen Chand, ought to be set free.30 (Small recompense, one might say, for the long months of imprisonment, much of it in psychologically damaging solitary confinement, that they and the other suspects have endured, not to mention their financial losses and loss of reputation.)

But the second mole appears to be, more simply, a scoundrel. This informant, whose identity is known to Maclean's Magazine and the Globe and Mail (but not published, since he is in a witness protection program), worked for Air Canada as a flight attendant for two years following his return to this country in 2000. He then launched a catering business, which failed. According to the Globe and Mail, “Records show his parents filed bankruptcy papers in 2003, declaring $4,000 in assets and $26,000 in liabilities. The son, who looked to have run up his parents' bills, tried to sweet-talk creditors into letting the family pay back something less than 100 cents on every dollar. The application was denied.”31

He then sought to launch an import-export business, but his partner in the plan “pulled out, citing his young partner's tendency to embellish. 'For example, if you'd ask him how things were going [financially], he'd say they were great, but you could see a few days later that he was short of money,' the former business partner said.”32 The informant did manage to start up two other businesses, one aimed at “help[ing] new immigrants adjust to life in Canada,” and the other a travel agency, which the RCMP, perhaps seeking to justify the very substantial payment it made to him for “loss of business,” described as “'expanding' and showing 'signs of future success.'”33

One may be permitted to doubt this assessment, given the accounts by the mole's own friends of his impracticality and extravagance. “He taught me so much,” one of them enthused. “He would go ahead with an idea that wouldn't work just to show you that it wouldn't work.”34 And his fondness for lavish expenditures may have worked to the detriment of his travel agency's cash flow. According to the Globe and Mail, “a couple of days after Christmas in 2005 ... the informant was trying to describe to a friend one of his favourite restaurants in the world. Realizing he couldn't do it justice with words, he decided—on the spot—to take his friend there.” On the next day, he and his friend flew to South America, ate at the special restaurant “twice in one day,” and had what the friend described as “an amazing time.”35

Maclean's Magazine offers a parallel anecdote of the informant's love of “the good life”: “Hotel suites. Tennis games. Fine dining. He and his friend once flew to Poland—for the day—just to eat duck. 'You don't understand how much he loves food,' says the friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 'If you tell him there is good food in Fiji, he'll go.”36 Perhaps not surprisingly, “By the time the RCMP came asking for help, the man was more than “188,000 in debt, including a whopping $20,000 worth of unpaid credit card bills.”37

The government's case rests, then, upon the efforts and testimony of two men, one of them a drug addict whose attempts to cure himself by recourse to religious fundamentalism has not been conspicuously successful, and the other a wastrel with what his own business associates identified as a tendency to embellish. Without the work of Mubin Shaikh, it's arguable that nothing that could plausibly be identified as a “Toronto 18” group would have existed; and it seems clear that only the entrepreneurial intervention of the second mole made it possible to claim that members of the group were seriously planning acts of terrorism.

* * * *

Most journalists who covered the Toronto 18 story in its early phases found nothing out of the ordinary in the fact that after their arrests the men and youths were subjected to sleep-deprivation torture—confined in brightly illuminated isolation cells and woken every half-hour by authorities obviously desperate for evidence.38 Nor were they able to remember that three years previously another large group of Toronto Muslims had been arrested on suspicion of plotting similarly lurid acts of terrorism, which had turned out to be no more than products of the active imaginations of RCMP and CSIS officers, Toronto police detectives, and Immigration Canada officials. In that case, an investigation called Project Thread (and re-named “Project Threadbare” by skeptics) led to twenty-four men being arrested as members of an al Qaeda sleeper cell with plans to destroy the CN Tower, blow up the Pickering nuclear power plant, and set off a radioactive dirty bomb. The allegations were eventually dropped, and no charges were laid. And yet the men were held in maximum security detention for months, no statements of exoneration were issued, and seventeen of them were deported, in a manner marked by flagrant illegalities, to countries where the mere suspicion of terrorist affiliations could have very dangerous consequences.39

The prosecution case against the Toronto 18 appears to be collapsing in a parallel manner. In September 2007, having already stayed charges against three of the four juveniles charged in the case, the Crown abruptly halted the preliminary hearing midway through Mubin Shaikh's testimony (before he could be cross-examined), and announced that the case would proceed directly to trial. As Thomas Walkom wrote, defence lawyers were furious:

The whole reason for a preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is enough evidence to warrant trial and, more important, to give the defence a chance to hear the Crown's case. Defence lawyers say they made concessions in return for the right to cross-examine witnesses like Shaikh. Now they won't have a chance to test his widely publicized allegations until the trial.40

In another equally remarkable development in mid-April 2008, the Crown stayed charges against four of the adult suspects, thus acknowledging that it had no case against them (while still making them sign peace bonds with rigorous curfew and bail conditions). One of the four, Qayyum Abdul Jamal, who was forty-three at the time of the arrests, had been represented in court documents as the ringleader of the terrorist group. The proceedings against him turn out to be what he thought they were at the moment of his arrest—“a terrible mistake.”41

It appears we're now dealing with the Toronto 11—or rather, if we remember Mubin Shaikh's insistence that another two of the accused, Jahmaal James and Steven Chand, are innocent, with what will soon be the Toronto 9. Eight men and a boy, then, were planning to blow up and storm all those buildings, and behead all those politicians.

Andrew Mitrovica has commented in the Toronto Star that “The case is imploding.” He writes with due scorn of academic “security experts,” one of whom had told CBC Radio “that the police had necessarily cast their net wide and had likely ensnared a few blameless individuals along the way”:

That the police and spies have retreated into silence while these so-called experts do their bidding publicly is not particularly surprising. But their silence and the evaporating charges are instructive for a number of important reasons.

It says much about the sorry state of Canada's security intelligence infrastructure and the sometimes incestuous relationship between that powerful and largely anonymous apparatus and some compliant members of the media who regurgitated the state-cleansed allegations and effectively branded these men terrorists.

It also speaks to the need for Ottawa to finally dispense with the tired rhetoric that these security agencies are doing a fine job, and acknowledge the fact that our intelligence service, CSIS, and the RCMP have a long and disagreeable record of falsely accusing citizens of being terrorists.42

There is good reason then to suspect that the charges against the Toronto 18 are wholly fraudulent—that even if one or two of them are 'terrorists', they may belong to that category in much the same sense as do the Pakistani-American father and son in Lodi, California who, after being set up by a lavishly paid agent provocateur, were talked by FBI interrogators into confessing that they had attended an al Qaeda camp in Pakistan (or perhaps Afghanistan or Kashmir) which they located variously on a mountaintop and in an underground chamber where a thousand jihadis from around the world practised pole-vaulting.43

Or perhaps one or two of them might be compared to the dreaded “Miami Seven,” members of an oddly un-secretive “Sons of David” cult who are accused of having conspired with al Qaeda to conduct terror attacks “even bigger than September 11” against targets like Chicago's Sears Tower: the men, who had no visible means of carrying out such attacks, actually committed nothing worse than the thought-crime of swearing allegiance to al Qaeda—an oath that was administered by their FBI agent provocateur.44

One begins to notice how regularly these much-hyped terror threats dissolve into mist and confusion. The vaunted “UK poison cell” whose members planned to murder thousands of Londoners with ricin turned out not to be a terrorist conspiracy at all.45 The “red mercury plot” ended with another embarrassing but largely unpublicized acquittal: the 'terrorists', as John Lettice writes, “had been accused of an imaginary plot to produce an imaginary radioactive 'dirty' bomb using an imaginary substance.”46 The deployment of two hundred and fifty London policemen to shut down an equally imaginary chemical bomb factory in Forest Gate resulted only in the near-murder of a man who, though otherwise innocent, was indeed both Muslim and bearded.47 No less asinine was the huge international stir in August 2006 over a purported “liquid bomb plot”: most of the alleged plane bombers possessed no passports and only one had an airline ticket, and the bombs that someone in Pakistan had been tortured into saying they planned to make in aircraft toilets are a technical absurdity.48

Even in cases where large-scale terrorist atrocities have been perpetrated, there are serious doubts about the official accounts of what occurred. Take 9/11, Lockerbie, Madrid, Bali, London: in each case the official story of who perpetrated the crime is demonstrably a propaganda construct, and in each case there are lines of evidence which point to the conclusion that these were acts of state terrorism.

* * * *

The spectre of Islamist terrorism so successfully invoked by governments and the corporate media in the English-speaking world is perhaps especially alarming because of the spatio-temporal dislocations it implies. People who typically feel no distinct connection with, or responsibility for, conflicts in faraway places—even those stirred up or initiated by their own governments—find the more or less tranquil continuity of their lives threatened by the possibility that their familiar civic landscapes could be suddenly transformed into scenes of ruin and carnage. This experiential dislocation, involving a fear that safely distant horrors might unpredictably translate themselves into one's own most intimate space, is compounded by the thought that the appalling transposition would be carried out by people who are our fellow-citizens—but also, in secret, deadly enemies.

What the venomously dehistoricized ideology of the “war on terror” suggests is that religious and ethnic otherness must be, in the special case of Muslims, an ineradicable stain: immigrants of this kind, even if they have appeared, while retaining marks of otherness in their cultural or religious practices, to have attained complete social integration in the host country, are fatally susceptible to reversions into the radical otherness of their distant ancestral homelands—which are understood as places marked, in George W. Bush's memorable inanity, by a perverse inclination to “hate us for our freedoms.”

In the immediate wake of the arrests of June 2, 2006, Stephen Harper echoed this Bushian fatuity, declaring that “As at other times in our history, we are a target, because of who we are and how we live, our society, our diversity and our values—values such as freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”49

The reality is of course quite different. The fraudulent and spurious 'war on terror', which is actually a war of terror, has led, as R. T. Naylor wrote in a book published in 2006, “to a set of legal atrocities in which the main evidence against the accused consists of media gossip, claims by 'national security experts' with ethnopolitical axes to grind, and fables spun by informants bribed or coerced into testifying.”50 Naylor might have been predicting the Toronto 18 case.

James Clark responds directly to Harper's empty rhetoric in an acerbic comment on the staying of charges in mid-April 2008:

How ironic that the values our political leaders claim they are protecting in supporting the prosecution of these men are the very same rights that have been sacrificed in the process. The men who have just been released—and effectively found innocent—have lost nearly two years of their lives and will likely suffer for years to come as they struggle to fully clear their names.

But that doesn't seem to matter to the Crown, whose supporters justify these tactics by evoking images of 9/11. The threat to Canadian society is not a bunch of Muslim boys playing paintball; it's an ideologically driven government willing to curtail our civil liberties.51

Perhaps it's time to turn a critical eye on the fear-mongers who have tried to separate us from such foundational principles of democratic jurisprudence as the presumption of innocence, the right of the accused to be fully informed of the charges and the evidence being used to support those charges, the right to cross-examine the accusers in open court, and finally, the obligation of the state to make known evidence in its possession that exonerates the accused.

And while we're at it, shall we also stop subsidizing Mubin Shaikh's drug dealers and the gluttonous fantasies of his fellow mole? I can think of better uses for my tax dollars.

It seems more and more obvious, as the prosecution's case unravels, that the “Toronto 18” case has been a propaganda operation concocted to shore up the fraudulent post-9/11 psyop of the 'war on terror'. The imminent collapse of the case will provide Canadians with an opportunity for reining in the political elites of all the major parties who have consented to Canadian participation in that fraud, both in Afghanistan and at home.

 

 

NOTES

1  Tony Peyser, “17 Canadian Terror Suspects Arrested,” Buzzflash.com (5 June 2006), http://www.buzzflash.com/peyser/0606/pey06156.html.

2  Marjaleena Repo, “Canada: A Galloping Police State?” Centre for Research on Globalization (19 June 2006), http://www.globalresearch.ca/index/php?context=viewArticle&code=REP20060619&articleid=2668.

3  The terrorist atrocity for which McVeigh was convicted and executed killed 169 people, 19 of them children. In May 1995, retired Brigadier General Benton K. Partin, a USAF explosives expert, distributed to members of Congress a report, “Bomb Damage Analysis of Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building,” in which he concluded that McVeigh's truck bomb could have inflicted only superficial damage on the building, whose partial collapse was caused rather by “explosives carefully placed at four critical junctures on supporting columns within the building.” There is other evidence that the attack involved state operatives and state foreknowledge: see David Hoffmann, The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror (Venice, California: Feral House, 1998). Hoffmann reprints Partin's report at pp. 461-74; the text is also widely available on the internet.

4  See, for example, “Canada man 'planned to behead PM',” BBC News (7 June 2006), http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/5054198.stm.

5  The hero of Baroness Orczy's romance The Scarlet Pimpernel, set in the period of revolutionary terror following the French Revolution, is an apparently effete and foppish English aristocrat whose boldness and mastery of disguise enables him to rescue many of his French counterparts from the guillotine; my reference here is to a silly little rhyme he recites mocking the vain efforts of the French authorities to capture him.

6  For an illuminating analysis of the Zarqawi phenomenon, see Michel Chossudovsky, America's 'War on Terrorism' (Pincourt, Québec: Global Research, 2005), pp. 171-97; and his articles “Who is behind 'Al Qaeda in Iraq'? Pentagon acknowledges fabricating a 'Zarqawi Legend',” Centre for Research on Globalization (18 April 2006), http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&codeCHO20060418&articleid=2275; and “Who was Abu Musab al Zarqawi?” Centre for Research on Globalization (8 June 2006), http://www.globalresearch.ca./index.php?context=viewArticle&code=CHO20060608&articleid=2604.

7  Accounts of this disgusting snuff video agree that there was no spray of blood when the unfortunate Berg was decapitated. (Viewers of Kurosawa's classic film Ran may remember the beheading near the end of that film, which is marked by a spray of blood upon the wall—thus shockingly imitating the natural effect of blood pressure in a living body. Those who have seen the wretched recent Hollywood extravaganza 300 may remember, as a counter-example, the beheading by a Persian horseman of one of the leather-jock-strap-clad Spartans—whose headless corpse, in what one might read as a perverse homage to the Zarqawi video, emits not a drop of blood before toppling.)

8  See John Chuckman, “Terror in Toronto or Tempest in a Teapot: Canada's Chatroom Jihadis,” CounterPunch (10-11 June 2006), http://www.counterpunch.org/chuckman06102006.html; and Bruce Campion-Smith and Michelle Shepard, “Plan to 'behead' PM” Brampton court hears of plot to storm Parliament Hill and take politicians hostage,” Toronto Star (7 June 2006), available at http://www.yayacanada.com/toronto_torstar_chand_military.html. (The Yayacanada.com website lists parallels to the Toronto 18 entrapment: see “The Toronto 'Terrorist' Arrests: A rundown of related news reports,” http://www.yayacanada.com/toronto_terrorist_arrests_03-06-06.html.)

9  Omar el Akkad and Colin Freeze, “Online leaks get around publication ban: Case against 17 terrorism suspects becomes inadvertently public,” Globe and Mail (2 June 2007): A17.

10  “Canada: The Cell Next Door,” reported by Linden McIntyre, PBS Frontline (July 2006), http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/about/episodes/602_transcript.html. There appears to have been some confusion in news reports as to which parliament was to be stormed. According to Jackie Bannion, “The Radical Informant,” PBS Frontline (July 2006), http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/canada602/shaikh.html, Shaikh indicated that “the group talked about storming the provincial parliament in Toronto, holding MPs [or rather, MPPs, members of the provincial parliament] hostage, then beheading them one by one.” Provincial MPPs, of course, have no say in matters of foreign policy like Canada's involvement in the occupation of Afghanistan.

11  The distinguished Canadian economist R. T. Naylor writes in Satanic Purses: Money, Myth, and Misinformation in the War on Terror (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2006), p. 8, that “the al-Qa'idah legend must be one of the most useful political fantasies in history—since it has so little concrete substance, it can be (and has been) transmogrified and transplanted more or less at will to support agendas (many of them ugly) in virtually any and all corners of the world.”

12  See Michelle Shepard, “Informer wanted to protect Canada,” Toronto Star (14 July 2006), http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&call_pageid=971358637177&c=Article&cid=1152827412841; and Sonya Fateh, Greg McArthur, and Scott Roberts, “The Making of a Terror Mole,” Globe and Mail (14 July 2006), A1; available online at “The Infamous Mubin Shaikh Revealed as Mole in Terrorism Plot,” SAFspace (14 July 2006), http://www.safiyyah.ca/wordpress/?p=275.

13  “2nd mole played key role in bomb plot probe,” CBC News (13 October 2006), http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2006/10/13/second-person.html.

14  Michael Friscolanti, “The four-million dollar rat: A star Muslim informant who helped bring down the Toronto Eighteen,” Maclean's Magazine (7 February 2007), http://www.macleans.ca/article.jsp?content=20070212_140696_140696&source=srch.

15  Friscolanti, “The four-million dollar rat.”

16  See Jackie Bannion, “The Radical Informant.”

17  See David Weingarten, Unfair Dealing; this video about the Toronto 18 is available at http://youtube.com/user/UnfairDealing.

18  See Kady O'Malley and Chris Selby, “RCMP scandal deepens: Officers allege highest levels of force involved in coverup of pension fraud,” Maclean's Magazine (29 March 2007), http://www.macleans.ca/canada/national/article.jsp?content=20070329_091523_3204; and David Hutton, “PCMP Pension Scandal: How to Stop the Rot,” The Hill Times (30 April 2007), available online at Fair: Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform, http://fairwhistleblower.ca/news/articles/2007-04-30_rcmp_pension_scandal_how_to_stop_the_rot.html.

19  See Jack Aubry, “RCMP had 'negative' impact on Liberal campaign,” National Post (31 March 2008), http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=412828; Richard Brennan, “Greens seek probe into RCMP action,” Toronto Star (11 April 2008), http://www.thestar.com/News/Canada/article/413524; and Guy Charron, “Canada: Report whitewashes federal police's intervention,” World Socialist Web Site (22 May 2008), http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/may2008/rcmpm22.sthml.

20  See Omar el Akkad and Greg McArthur, “A grand existence among Muslims on-line: Behind the Toronto terror case,” Globe and Mail (19 August 2006), A4-A5.

21  “Canada Muslims condemn alleged bomb plot,” CNN.com (5 June 2006), http://edition.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/americas/06/04/canada.terror/. This article quotes defence attorney Rocco Galati, who after noting the timing of the arrests is quoted as suggesting that “these men are being rounded up as part of a political move to affect the [Supreme Court] judges.”

22  See “Multiculturalism Chair,” York South-Weston Federal Liberal Riding Association (2008), http://yorksouth-westonraon.ca/liberal/federal/multicultural.html. The information on this web page has remained substantially unchanged since the spring of 2006.

23  Ibid.

24  Michael Friscolanti, “The Informant, Mubin Shaikh: The Mounties' man in the the Toronto terror bust admits a cocaine habit,” Maclean's Magazine (10 September 2007), http://www.macleans.ca/canada/features/article.jsp?content=20070910_109132_109132.

25  Ibid.

26  According to Jackie Bannion, “The Radical Informant,” Shaikh told CBC reporter Linden McIntyre “that he took all kinds of drugs” in high school.

27  Ibid.

28  Ibid.

29  Quoted by Michael Friscolanti, “The Informant, Mubin Shaikh.”

30  Ibid.

31  Omar el Akkad and Colin Freeze, “Police had second mole in terror plot: Informant expected to be key witness,” Globe and Mail (14 October 2006), A1, A4; quoted from p. A4.

32  Ibid.

33  Michael Friscolanti, “The four-million dollar rat.”

34  Ibid.

35  Omar el Akkad and Colin Freeze, “Police had a second mole,” A4.

36  Friscolanti, “The four-million dollar rat.”

37  Ibid.

38  Repo, “Canada: A Galloping Police State?”

39  See “Project Threadbare: One Year Anniversary of Predawn Raid,” Upping the Anti (6 August 2004), http://auto_sol.tao.ca/node/794; and also the Threadbare website at http://www.projectthreadbare.tyo.ca.

40  Thomas Walkom, “Terror trial proceedings troubling,” Toronto Star (25 September 2007), http://www.thestar.cpm/printArticle/260191.

41  “Former bomb plot suspect thought arrest was a terrible mistake,” CBC News (16 April 2008), http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2008/04/16/jamal-invu.html.

42  Andrew Mitrovica, “Homegrown intelligence gap,” Toronto Star (17 April 2008), http://www.thestar.com/article/415289.

43  Alexander Cockburn, “The War on Terror on the Lodi Front,” CounterPunch (1 May 2006), http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn05012006.html. See also Veena Dubai and Sunaina Maira, “'Witch-hunt' in Lodi, California,” Not In Our Name (23 June 2005), http://www.notinourname.net/detentions/lodi-23jun05.htm.

44  One of the men also took a photograph of the Miami FBI headquarters—using a camera supplied to him by the FBI agent. See Bill van Auken, “Miami 'terror' arrests—a government provocation,” World Socialist Web Site (24 June 2006), http://www.wsws.org/articles/2006/jun2006/miam-j24.shtml; and Tony Karon, “The Miami Seven: How Serious Was the Threat,” Time (23 June 2006), http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1207412,00.html.

45  See George Smith, Ph.D., “UK Terror Trial Finds no Terror,” National Security Notes: Global Security.org (11 April 2005), http//www.globalsecurity.org/nsn-050411.htm.

46  John Lettice, “Amazing terror weapons: the imaginary suitcase nuke,” The Register (31 July 2006), http://www.theregister.com/2006/07/31/red_mercury_trial.

47  John Lettice, “Homebrew chemical terror bombs, hype or horror?” The Register (4 June 2006), http://www.theregister.com/2006/06/04/chemical_bioterror_analysis/; and “Drowning in data—complexity's threat to terror investigations,” The Register (6 July 2006), http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/07.06/_90_days_terror_law_analysis/.

48  Thomas C. Greene, “Mass murder in the skies: Was the plot feasible?” The Register (17 August 2006), http://www.theregister.com/2006/08/17/flying_toilet_terror_labs/; Craig Murray, “The UK Terror Plot: What's Really Going On?” CounterPunch (17 August 2006), http://www.counterpunch.org/murray08172006.html; James Petras, “The Liquid Bomb Hoax: The Larger Implications,” Centre for Research on Globalization (25 August 2006), http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=PET20060825&articleid=3069.

49  “Canada Muslims condemn alleged bomb plot,” CNN.com (5 June 2006), http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/americas/06/04/canada.terror/.

50  Naylor, Satanic Purses, p. 11.

51  James Clark, “Canadians should be very afraid,” Letter to Toronto Star (17 April 2008), http://www.thestar.com/printArticle/415280.     

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 www.everitas.rmcclub.ca/?p=2900), 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)

Mike

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.

Sincerely,

Michael

8430 Michael Keefer, D.Phil.,

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

 

And a Riposte (26 November 2008)

Mike

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.

Peter

 

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 http://coat.ncf.ca.)

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,” Uruknet.info [29 August 2006], http://www.uruknet.info/?p=26240.)

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), http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20070424.wdetaineereport0425/BNStory/Afghanistan/home.) “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,” Antiwar.com (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.

 

 

NOTE

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.