Saturday, February 13, 2021

Despite Biden's Pledge, Saudi-Bound, Canadian-Made War Machines Being Loaded in Baltimore on Valentine's Day

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Peace Activists Protest Loading of Military Hardware on Saudi Arabian Ship at Port of Baltimore

CONTACT: Max Obuszewski 443-761-5899 [c] or mobuszewski2001 at Comcast dot net

                                Richard Ochs 443- 846-6638 or rjochs at Comcast dot net                                 

                                Janice Sevre-Duszynska 859- 684-4247or rhythmsofthedance1 at Gmail dot com

 

WHO: Baltimore Peace Action [BPA] is part of Maryland Peace Action. Peace Action works for smarter approaches to global problems. If we want to address problems like war, the nuclear threat, poverty, climate change, and terrorism – the U.S. needs to work together, cooperatively, with other nations. Peace Action is the nation’s largest grassroots peace network with chapters and affiliates in states across the country. Through a close relationship with progressive members of Congress, the national organization plays a key role in devising strategies to move forward peace legislation.

 

WHAT:   Baltimore Peace Action has been concerned for years about U.S. involvement with Saudi Arabia and other countries in their attack on the people of Yemen.  In fact, US weapons contractors sell weapons to Saudi Arabia which have been used in war crimes on the civilian population of Yemen.  Today, the United Nations has declared Yemen a humanitarian disaster. BPA has engaged in numerous protests against the Port of Baltimore for loading weapons on Saudi ships.   

 

  On February 2, President Biden declared his commitment to “end the war in Yemen,” during his first major foreign policy address. He called the war a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe,” and announced a halt to all “relevant arms sales” to Saudi Arabia. 

 

   Baltimore Peace Action has been informed that Light Armored Vehicles manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems in London, Ontario are to be loaded on the Bahri Jazan, a Saudi Arabian ship, by dockworkers at the Port of Baltimore.  The Saudi ship is expected to arrive at the Port on February 13. Encouraged by the president’s words, BPA will hold a protest urging dockworkers not to load these weapons on the Bahri Jazan. 

  

WHEN: Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2021 from 2 to 3 PM

WHERE: 
outside the Dundalk Marine Terminal, Port of Baltimore, 2700 Broening Highway  


WHY: While President Biden’s words can be seen as a huge victory for all peace advocates who have fought for nearly 6 years to end this brutal and unjust war, there are still concerns and questions. Will the president end all arms sales to Saudi Arabia?  Will the president work to achieve a peace agreement?  Will the U.S. provide reparations for the role played by the United States for the death and destruction caused? Regardless, the Baltimore Peace Action will continue to protest any arm shipments to Saudi Arabia and link up with groups around the world calling for a peace settlement in Yemen. It must be noted that workers in Canada, France, Italy and Spain have been involved in work actions against the Saudi ships. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/.

 

Baltimore Peace Action, 431 Notre Dame Lane, Apt. 206, Baltimore, MD 21212

Press Release – For immediate release – February 13, 2021   

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Inaugural Delusions and the 30-Year War Against Iraq

 

By Matthew Behrens

            The day Joe Biden was inaugurated as U.S. President, the Iraqi people were on my mind.

A few weeks earlier, Donald Trump had drawn significant condemnation for granting a pardon to four American Blackwater mercenary contractors who had infamously murdered 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007. Blackwater was a notorious organization led by Erik Prince, brother of former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

But the day Trump left office, the airwaves were full of triumphalist “new day dawning” interviews featuring the blood-stained architects of and cheerleaders for the past three decades of relentless Canadian, American, and NATO warfare against the Iraqi people, the same individuals who had set the stage for the Nisour Square massacre. Among those lauded on Inauguration Day were former President George W. Bush and General Colin Powell, whose vicious lies led to the escalation of that war: an illegal 2003 invasion and occupation during which Bush passed Order 17 to immunize from prosecution any private soldiers caught up in such bloodshed.

Also receiving copious applause that day was Bill Clinton, who under the guise of enforcing Iraqi “no fly zones” oversaw the bulk of what was until then the longest U.S. bombing campaign since the war against the people of Vietnam. His administration also enforced the brutal sanctions against the Iraqi people that a United Nations humanitarian coordinator deemed genocidal, killing upwards of 1.5 million people. Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright (a hero to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland), asked whether the killing of so many civilians was justified, famously responded: “we think the price is worth it.”

As I watched the coverage, I felt I was being gaslit. Yes, Trump was a neofascist nightmare, but how could there by such uncritical and unquestioning applause for late-in-the-day statements of discomfort about Trump’s behaviour from the likes of former War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and ex-Vice President and torture enthusiast Dick Cheney? On a day of relief for many given that the twitterer-in-chief was gone, few risked stepping into the unsavoury role of party pooper to suggest that while one ranting racist had lost some of his power, systemic racism was still here. This was clearly evidenced by the celebration of those responsible for the ongoing torture and murder of the long-suffering people of Iraq, a conveniently forgotten backdrop whose losses at our hands could not in any way spoil this magnificent day of American democratic triumphalism.

 

A Grim Anniversary

Biden’s inaugural fell 30 years and four days after the start of “Operation Desert Storm,” when the equivalent of four Hiroshima bombs had already been dropped on Baghdad by Canadian and other bombers.

Like their American counterparts, Canadian media and politicians did not mark this anniversary. Perhaps it would have brought up some uncomfortable connections, as the Prime Minister who enthusiastically embraced the 1991 war, Brian Mulroney, spent the last four years supporting the American bully’s call for increased Canadian war spending and spent time as a Mar-a-Lago guest.

Mulroney, ever the fatuous opportunist, changed some of his public colours on November 6, though, when it appeared Biden would win. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Mulroney praised Trump, but noted in comments that came months before the seditious acts of January 6, 2021: “If anybody did in Canada what [Trump] has just done and has the temerity to run for public office, I want to tell you the guys with the white coats would come after you and they would have a powerful case against you.”

Mulroney’s – and by extension, the Canadian media’s – complete lack of self-awareness were on full display with that self-serving, “Canadians are different” declaration. Indeed, a “powerful case” could be made out against Mulroney and Clark for their contribution to serious crimes against humanity during Iraq War 1.0.

 

Seeds of Slaughter

Few remember that hot August day in 1990 when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. He seemed to have cleared the invasion with the American government that had been arming his regime throughout the 1980s – Donald Rumsfeld famously shook hands with Hussein while deliveries of chemical weapons made their way to Baghdad – but failed to recognize the bait and switch that was about to take place. Almost immediately, the Pentagon, Bush and Mulroney administrations – who were secretly bemoaning the fall of the Berlin Wall because it meant that calls for a peace dividend and significant cuts to war budgets were gathering steam – declared their Iraqi ally a new Hitler and began sending troops overseas.

While Colin Powell had at that time decried the fact that the U.S. “no longer has the luxury” of having an enemy to prepare for, he and others now saw that this new development meant gold for weapons profiteers. Ratcheting up war fever was assisted by the blood-stained Hill & Knowlton PR group (which created the myth of Kuwaiti babies being ripped from incubators). Hill & Knowlton's Canadian arm was then run by David MacNaughton (Justin Trudeau's first ambassador to the U.S.).

While Brian Mulroney was quick to utter self-righteous pieties about illegal occupations of sovereign territories, the Conservative government of the day did the exact same thing that summer by sending in 2,600 Canadian troops to occupy sovereign Mohawk land during the Oka crisis. Their armoured vehicles, helicopters, aerial surveillance equipment, miles of barbed wire, and countless other means of firepower served to enforce against the people of Kanesatake  the same kind of sanctions the Iraqi people were about to face, cutting off power and trying to deny the entry of food, water, medicines, and clothing to the Indigenous land protectors behind the wire. The military bolstered an additional 4,000 paramilitary SQ members, numbers that dwarfed the initial commitment of 900 Canadian troops sent to take on Hussein.

In a "post-Cold War" world, Canada's military and its war industries also welcomed a new enemy, and while Indigenous resistance has always provided a major raision d'etre for Canadian Forces and related state security agencies (witness the massive, barely reported Gustafsen Lake crisis of 1995), having an overseas target proved invaluable. Indigenous lands were the first testing ground for weapons systems used against the Iraqi people, from fighter bombers who dropped 1,000-pound "dummy" bombs over the Innu territory of Nitassinan to cruise missiles tested on Cree Territory. The very first time that cruise missiles were used – their inertial guidance systems had been built with a hugely controversial contract at Toronto’s Litton Systems during the 1980s –  was during the 1991 war against Iraq.

Meanwhile, Canadian universities helped with some of the more horrific forms of firepower. For example, fuel air explosives, known as a "poor man's atom bomb," invert gravity and are designed to suck people out of air raid shelters; they were researched at McGill University, which continues to be a major war research contributor. Canada's chemical weapons testing field at Suffield, Alberta, had been used by a Belgian company to experiment with long-range artillery shells that were sold to the Iraqis during the 1980s.

 

Canada Eager for War

From the moment Kuwait was invaded in 1990, Canada was eager for war, taking every conceivable step to prevent a negotiated solution while lobbying UN Security Council members to authorize force. Then external affairs minister Joe Clark said Parliament need not be recalled if the perceived need to go to war was imminent. And while the narrative of sanctions as a tool to force Hussein out of Kuwait was trumpeted by the U.S.-led coalition, the Toronto Star reported that "when Canada was committed to no more than enforcing a trade embargo against Iraq, Ottawa was calmly setting aside funds for a full-blown war." Some $500 million in federal cuts to social programs were initiated to help pay for the war, and the government resurrected legislation allowing it to control wartime production, with General Motors in London (the predecessor to General Dynamics Land Systems, currently pumping out $15 billion in weapons exports for the Saudi wars of repression at home and against the people of Yemen) announcing it could switch from civilian work to military production of armoured personnel carriers at a moment's notice.

Clark also distinguished himself by naming as "counterproductive" any pledges that Allied forces would not use nuclear weapons against Iraq. On October 26, 1990, he declared Canada would go to war whether the UN authorized it or not. In November, the government ordered 800 body bags (with a weak-kneed NDP only questioning the high number of the bags). With the outbreak of war, General John de Chastelain cheerily declared, "We are now at war and the distinction between whether our roles are offensive or defensive is immaterial.”

Canadian bombers began their runs over Iraq on January 20, 1991, with General Gerard Theriault reminding Toronto Star readers "the destructive ability of one CF-18 [is] as great as an attack by hundreds of bombers during World War II." After the equivalent of one and a half Hiroshima bombs was dropped on Baghdad the first night of the war, the NDP's John Brewin stood and declared: “The first feeling is one of concern for the safety of the pilots and sympathy for them. We admire the courage they will need in a very difficult assignment.” Keeping in mind the Iraqis had little anti-aircraft capacity and half the country's population was under the age of 15, Brewin's remarks were hardly a voice of principled opposition. (Despite the deadly capacity of the CF-18, Canada is currently considering investing scores of billions of dollars in a “new generation” of bombers.)

Meanwhile, Joe Clark proclaimed, “Some wars can be a point of principle; this is one of those wars.” He insisted that the Geneva Convention protocols to which Canada was a signatory (concerning "excessive loss of civilian life") were not being violated. Clark then fumbled his way through another statement, the like of which he was quite famous for, when he declared: “If there is one priority, one lesson, which the world must learn from this war, is that an unrestricted arms trade in the region is no longer acceptable and constitutes a threat to all members of the United Nations.” Fine words, perhaps, but not matched by the actions of a government that would very shortly change the Criminal Code at the behest of arms manufacturers Diemaco (now known as Colt Canada, located in Kitchener) and London’s General Motors to allow for the import and possession of automatic weapons (crucial to the signing of the first Saudi armoured brigade vehicles contract in 1991). Indeed, over the past three decades, Canadian weapons exports have grown to the point where, in 2020, Canada was the second largest exporter of weapons to the region.

 

Anti-Arab Racism

One of the “strongest” NDP stands during the slaughter of the Iraqi people urged people across the land to send Valentine's messages to the troops. Meanwhile, Ontario NDP Premier Bob Rae, despite closing hospital beds due to budget cuts, opened up several spaces for troop casualties, while his government discussed security measures to deal with “terrorist” threats. Needless to say, anti-Arab sentiment and violence ran high (as documented in Zuhair Kashmeri's book, The Gulf Within: Canadian Arabs, Racism, & The Gulf War). When the Toronto Sun produced unsubstantiated scare headlines like “Iraqi Agents Here”, falsely claiming a dozen saboteurs were lurking in the city, the results were predictable: among many such incidents of violence and vandalism, an Arabic teenager at Father Henry Carr High School was beaten by 10 white students as passersby stopped to watch.

Even at the municipal level, NDP partisans like Jack Layton joined in the celebration of slaughter, with the late federal NDP leader (then a Toronto City Councillor) refusing the requests of peace groups not to appear on the reviewing stand for the returning troops’ Bay Street victory parade.  

The horrific war crimes committed against the Iraqis continued directly for a good three months, followed by a 12-year-long daily grind of aerial warfare termed enforcement of no-fly zones, and the genocidal sanctions enforced by the Canadian navy, which spent over $1 billion ensuring that medicines, school supplies, and essentials to get water purification and electricity running would never make it to the people of Iraq. Then came the 2003 escalation of the war: a bloody invasion and occupation with major Canadian participation that continues in various forms to this day, with hundreds of Canadian troops still occupying the country under the rationale of providing training for military and police forces that are regularly implicated in enforced disappearances, torture, and murder of protesters, among many other crimes.

While Canadian academics, media and politicians continue to propagate  the myth that Prime Minister Jean Chretien bravely stood up to Bush and refused to take part in the invasion, the historical record is clear that Canada played a significant role. Indeed, as CBC reported  a decade ago, the very same day Chretien informed the House of Commons that Canada would allegedly not  be involved in the invasion, Canadian  officials met with their U.S. counterparts in Ottawa to promise that Canadian naval and air forces could "discreetly" be deployed to assist the U.S.-led slaughter. In a briefing note for the State Department, a U.S. official noted: “While for domestic political reasons… the [Government of Canada] has decided not to join in a U.S. coalition of the willing,… they are also prepared to be as helpful as possible in the military margins.”

When Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015 with the promise to end what had to that moment been a fairly extended Canadian bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, initiated under the Harper regime, he failed to act promptly, and hundreds of additional “sorties” were flown before that part of the military campaign was officially brought to an end. Six years ago this month, Team Trudeau worked diligently to cover up the CF-18 slaughter of some 30 Iraqi civilians, an air strike that only came to light eight months later when The Globe and Mail reported on documents released not by Ottawa but by the Pentagon. They indicated that “[t]he Canadian military made it clear to the United States shortly after the alleged incident that it felt no obligation under the Geneva Conventions to probe what happened, the Pentagon records show. 'It should be noted that Canadian Joint Operations Command [legal advisers] opinion is that, under the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) there are no obligations for the Canadian Armed Forces to conduct an investigation.’”

 

Preserving Memory

As I turned off my TV on inauguration night, sickened by the triumphalism and invocation of allegedly better times to come when America could “once again count on allies” to wage wars, I thought about the 408 women and children who were incinerated when two U.S. 2,000-pound laser-guided “smart” bombs were deliberately dropped on top of them in February, 1991, their shadows permanently etched into the concrete like images from Hiroshima.  It became a war memorial where Umm Greyda, who lost 8 of her children in that bombing, moved in and acted as a caretaker.

I often think about what it must be like to live and shiver with fear under the bombs. While many in Canada have experience of that terror as refugees from countries where Canadian-made weapons are frequently “delivered,” most of us are far too removed to think about, much less imagine, what it looks, feels, and smells like. That distancing, which also decreases the possibility for empathy and solidarity with a people who have been demonized before we murder them, has long been a priority for those who wage “modern warfare,” and prevents us from recognizing – and acting upon the fact – that our tax dollars are used every day in the slaughter of people in countries like Yemen.

The 1991 attack on Iraq was specifically designed to prevent such connection with and empathy for the victims of our violence. Military briefings of the time portrayed a “clean” war that looked as harmless as a high-tech Nintendo game. Generals cracked jokes while showing footage of bombs hitting targets that looked no different than animated gaming figures at a video arcade.

During such bleak times, it is critical to look to those who keep memory alive, like Umm Greyda. They remind us of our responsibility to the vulnerable and targeted, as well as the power we have to change individual lives or, at the very least, provide some hope in troubled times. They also remind us that no matter how many years separate war criminals from the crimes they have committed, we must never forget – and always seek to hold accountable – those who signed the paperwork, ordered the torture, approved the bombings, and concluded that “the price was worth it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Send Holiday Cards for Harkat’s Freedom: Stop Deportation to Torture


Please send a season’s greeting card or letter to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to stop the persecution of Ottawa refugee Mohamed Harkat, still fighting to end his deportation to torture and win his long-deserved permanent residence (samples below. No postage needed!). December holidays are rooted in freeing the captives, bringing good news to the poor and brokenhearted, and liberation of the oppressed. You can send the greetings postage-free, and it will have far more impact in the age of electronic communication. Sample messages are below.

 

Thank you!

 

Matthew Behrens

Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture

 

THE ISSUE

Starting December 10, 2002, Mohamed (Moe) Harkat was illegally held for 43 months in maximum security detention without charge on secret allegations he was not allowed to properly contest. He was held under legislation unanimously found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2007.

 

He was “released” in 2006 on the strictest bail conditions in Canadian history, and while they have lessened, they are still incredibly intrusive and humiliating 14 years later.  The original “evidence” against Mr. Harkat was destroyed by CSIS, and the allegations against him are based on two secret informants – one failed a lie detector test and the other had an affair with his CSIS handler – who were never cross-examined in court. 

 

If this had been a regular criminal trial, the term “wrongful conviction” would fit perfectly. This is all grossly unfair. Moe is a United Nations Convention refugee who has lived in Canada for 25 years. If deported, he faces the risk of imprisonment, torture, and possibly death in Algeria. Courts in the UK and Ireland have barred their governments from deporting people to Algeria who face a substantial risk of torture. Canada must do the same in Moe’s case.

 

On October 26, 2017, Prime Minister Trudeau clearly stated: “Nobody ever deserves to be tortured. And when a Canadian government is either complicit in that or was not active enough in preventing it, there needs to be responsibility taken.”

 

The threat to deport Moe violates Canadian law and the UN Convention Against Torture (which outlaws deportation to torture under any circumstances, without exception).

 

Under the law, Public Safety Minister has the power to allow Mr. Harkat to stay in Canada. We are urging him to use this power today to allow Mohamed Harkat to remain in Canada and live his life, safe from fear and torture, with his wife and community.

 

SENDING A HOLIDAY CARD

Please send a holiday greeting with which you are comfortable, and add in a personal message. Some sample messages are below.

 

1. Mail your card/letter postage free to

Bill Blair, MP

House of Commons

Ottawa, Ontario. K1A 0A6

 

2. Please send a quick note to tasc@web.ca so we can keep track of how many cards are being sent.

 

3. To double the impact of your physical card/letter, please take a very quick moment to send an automated email to Minister Blair and your MP, to mark the 18th anniversary of Moe's unjust arrest on International Human Rights Day, and call for the end to his deportation to torture. It’s easy. Simply click and sign here:

 https://iclmg.ca/stop-harkat-deportation/

 

 

Sample messages (feel free to edit or compose your own message of holiday hope)

 

a. “In this time celebrating peace and good will to all, please show some good will to Mohamed Harkat this holiday season by ending his deportation to torture proceedings and granting him permanent residence.”

 

b. “In this season, many celebrate an event described in Isaiah as the birth of someone whose life would be about the mission "to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners.” You can act in that same loving spirit by ending the deportation to torture proceedings against Mohamed Harkat and granting him permanent residence.”

 

c. “Hanukkah marks the ongoing struggle for liberation in the face of oppression. In the case of Hanukkah the oppression was attached to both religion and nationality. In the case of Mohamed Harkat, his identity as a Muslim refugee made him a racial profiling target and continues to be used to persecute him. During the Festival of Lights, many celebrate the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim, the freeing of captives. It is long past time to free Moe Harkat from the shackles of unending surveillance and the threat of deportation to torture. Grant him permanent residence now.” 

 

++++++++++++++++

 

“There weren't any trumpets, the night was quiet and dark as pitch, no heavenly choir sang. It was a moment of crisis, of abandonment, of loss, of total dependence for this little family. They knew too much of what the families of the world know yet, in fact. This was a refugee family. They were homeless. In a highly communal society their survival depended on the hospitality and support of strangers. That's the real story. Where has it been for so long?” – Sister Joan Chittister

Pray as if everything depends on God, but act as if everything depends on you….Morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” ― Rabbi Abraham Heschel   

 

 

Sponsored by Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Canada Has a War Crimes Problem

 

A graveyard at Wescam built by Homes not Bombs to remember the victims of the company's drone warfare equipment.

Canada Has a War Crimes Problem

By Matthew Behrens

            Two new reports on Canadian weapons exports reveal that Canadian-based corporate entities (and, by extension, government agencies that support and encourage their exports) are complicit in the commission of war crimes in Yemen, Turkey, Libya, Syria, and Iraq. These findings build on previously raised concerns that the Canadian military was complicit in war crimes during the occupation of Afghanistan (including when current war minister Harjit Sajjan operated there as a soldier).

Earlier this month, the United Nations criticized Canada, among other nations, for continuing to export weapons to all parties that fuel the commission of war crimes in Yemen.

“Yemen has been ravaged in ways that should shock the conscience of humanity,” said Melissa Parke, a member of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen that produced the report, Yemen: A Pandemic of Impunity in a Tortured Land. “Yemen has now experienced some six years of unremitting armed conflict, with no end in sight for the suffering of the millions of people caught in its grip.”

Kamel Jendoubi, who chaired the UN group, added: “After years of documenting the terrible toll of this war, no one can say ‘we did not know what was happening in Yemen’.”

 

Trudeau Fuels Saudi Weapons Experts

Yet despite the detailed, years-long public record documenting such crimes, the Trudeau regime has never taken any meaningful steps to end its government’s complicity. Indeed, during the April pandemic lockdown, the Trudeau government lifted its temporary suspension of weapons exports to the Saudi regime spearheading the war against Yemen, one imposed after Saudi agents murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Istanbul-based Saudi consulate. Meanwhile, Saudi-bound killer armoured vehicles are still rolling off the London, Ontario assembly line of General Dynamic Land Systems as part of a $15 billion contract that met the federal government’s definition of an “essential” workplace during the height of Covid-19’s first wave.

Since coming to power in 2015, the Trudeau government eagerly embraced the Harper-initiated weapons deal, with former Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion infamously signing the final contract in defiance of domestic and international law prohibitions, as well as giving a lie to the so-called feminist government’s own proclamations about respecting the rights of women and international “rule of law.”

Dion conceded he could not have mustered the intestinal fortitude to engage in such a criminal action without the assistance of then Minister of Trade Chrystia Freeland. He added however that he was afraid of what the Saudis would say if Canada did the right thing by refusing to participate in war crimes. “If you cancelled a contract of this magnitude, it will resonate everywhere …. And Saudi Arabia will have to react. Don't think they will praise Canada,” Dion said, as if criticism from one of the world’s worst human rights violators justified continued support for those violations.

In a similar statement that revealed Dion’s intense need to undertake self-awareness training, he told the Globe and Mail, “I think it's fair to say we are more concerned about human rights than the Harper government. That's what I think as a Liberal. That is for you to assess [whether] it's the case.”

 

Twisted Justifications for Criminality

Long after Dion left the Global Affairs bunker in Ottawa, the justifications for ongoing weapons exports to Saudi Arabia continue from a branch of the federal government that suffers from a major conflict of interest: on the one hand, it acts as a global pimp for the Canadian weapons industry, while on the other, it is empowered to determine whether or not its ravenous appetite for arms sales violates its treaty commitments. This past spring, in an echo of the Yoo memos that twisted the global anti-torture legal regime into a justification for Bush administration torture, Global Affairs’ report on Saudi weapons exports concluded that “there is no substantial risk that current Canadian exports of military goods and technology to KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] would be used by KSA to commit or facilitate serious violations of [International Humanitarian Law], including ‘internal repression.’” The report further found that there was no evidence to suggest Canada’s war exports would “undermine peace and security, either nationally or locally.” In fact, the report finds that Canada’s $15 billion in military exports to Saudi Arabia “contribute to regional peace and security.”

Global Affairs, in a bizarre and racist statement, clearly wants its readers to understand that Canada is on some high moral plateau because Saudi Arabia “has not committed to the same standards with respect to exports or the use of certain weapons.” Yet in another example of the self-awareness deficit that appears to dominate Global Affairs thinking, the report declares that Saudi Arabia is not a member of the Arms Trade Treaty (which Canada is violating with its arms exports to Saudi Arabia), the Mine Ban Treaty (which Canada violates by continuing to sell weapons to and participate in wars led by the US, which earlier this year committed to new production and deployment of land mines) and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (horrific weapons which Saudi Arabia has used against residential areas, and the U.S refuses to ban). Despite these acknowledgements, Canada sees no problem trusting that the Saudis will not use Canadian-made weapons – whose singular purpose is to undermine peace and security – to actually undermine peace and security.

It’s not just on the battlefield where Canadian-made weapons make their mark. Canada’s weapons are equally useful in suppressing any form of dissent in Saudi Arabia. Remarkably, the bureaucrats at Global Affairs concluded in their evaluation of military support to the dictatorship of Saudi Arabia that, “it cannot be assumed that any use of military equipment to control protests is an illegitimate use, rather than a legitimate public security operation.” (Given that Canada regularly uses military equipment and resources to suppress Indigenous land defenders here at home, such a conclusion is not surprising, though it might shock U.S. generals who earlier this year said they were opposed to Donald Trump using the military to repress the American people.)

In a section that would be right at home in George Orwell’s 1984, the Global Affairs analysis also finds that Saudi Arabia is “a valued Canadian security partner” in the so-called war on terror, praising the terrorist Saudi regime because it is a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum that Canada currently co-chairs with Morocco.

 

Wescam’s Drone Tech Implicated

 Those on the receiving end of Canadian-exported weapons are not likely nodding in agreement that their lives have enjoyed greater peace and security. Indeed, a new report from Project Ploughshares on the commission of war crimes involving Canadian-made sensors and targeting equipment produced by Burlington, Ontario’s Wescam concludes that “Canada's export of Wescam sensors to Turkey poses a substantial risk of facilitating human suffering, including violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Canadian officials are obligated by international and Canadian law to mitigate the risks of such transfers, including through the denial of export permits, when such risks are apparent from the outset—which appears to be the case with Wescam exports to Turkey.”

            As with the Saudi killer vehicles contract, the news that Wescam is involved in producing technology used in repression and war crimes is nothing new. Indeed, in the early 2000s, Homes not Bombs documented how Wescam (at that time owned by L-3 Communications)  “supplies human rights violators (Colombia, Egypt, Algeria, China, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, U.S., and U.K), provides components used by the Hellfire-missile-armed US Air Force Predator, Cobra Attack Helicopter, & Vigilante chopper's Low Cost Precision Kill scheme;  L-3 Wescam ‘border control’ products prevent refugees from finding safety; L-3 Wescam outfits police forces to repress demonstrations and ‘public disturbances’; Wescam parent L-3 Communications Canada is ranked #1 war manufacturer (Canadian Defence Review, 2006);  and Wescam Parent company L-3 Communications supplies ‘interrogation’ teams allegedly implicated in torture in Iraq.”

Situated on a sideroad next to an elementary school in Burlington, the Wescam factory was the focus of years of protests by groups including Homes not Bombs, where dozens were arrested for seeking meetings with company officials to discuss their role in the war crimes of the day. These included the opening salvo of Bush administration use of armed drones to conduct extrajudicial assassinations in 2002, as well as ongoing complicity in the crimes committed by occupation forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and other countries targeted by U.S. and allied forces.

            But Wescam’s complicity in crimes is not limited to some long-ago war on terror campaign. It is, as with any war manufacturer, an ongoing concern.  As Ploughshares notes, the Turkish military supplied by the Burlington company “has committed serious breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) and other violations, particularly when con­ducting airstrikes,” while Turkey has also exported its purchased Wescam technology to armed groups in Libya, “a blatant breach of the nearly decade-old UN arms embargo.” These exports also violate the Canadian government’s own Arms Trade Treaty obligations.

            Ploughshares research also revealed that Wescam maintains an authorized service centre for the Turkish weapons company Baykar. Turkey is the third-biggest recipient of Canadian weapons exports (valued at over $152 million). While Ottawa temporarily suspended weapons sales to Turkey in October 2019 after that country’s latest invasion of Syria, Canada announced an extension of the embargo in spring 2020. Turkish strongman Recep Erdogan was furious, and confronted Trudeau about it. Erdogan was especially peeved, since at that time Trudeau had lifted a pause on weapons exports to war crimes being produced by the Saudi regime in Yemen. According to one Turkish official, Trudeau “said they would take some steps to alleviate Turkish concerns regarding the exports; that they would review everything case by case.”

            Middle East Eye reports, “Turkey was giving utmost importance to the import of the optics and surveillance systems from the Canadian firm Wescam for its military drones.” The Turkish regime also relies on Montreal’s Pratt & Whitney for warplane engines.

 

Exemptions for War Crimes

            It did not take long for Global Affairs Canada to grant an exemption for Wescam to continue those weapons exports a month later. Turkey was apparently worried that its capacity to wage drone warfare would be limited given battlefield losses in Syria and Libya. That resumption of weapons sales came just as the group Genocide Watch openly questioned why Turkey was not before the International Criminal Court for war crimes committed during its multiple incursions into Syria. They noted that “In areas under Turkey’s control, civilians have been subjected to horrific crimes against humanity committed by Turkish forces and Turkish supported militias. Kurdish towns have been bombed and destroyed, some with white phosphorus, a war crime. Hundreds of civilians have been summarily executed. Kurdish and Yazidi women have been kidnapped and subjected to sexual slavery. Secret prisons hold hundreds of Kurds who are routinely tortured.”

            During those incursions, schools and hospitals were bombed, as were civilian convoys fleeing the violence, and over 180,000 Kurds were forcibly displaced in an act that even U.S. officials named as an act of ethnic cleansing. Similar genocidal attacks against Kurds have been launched by Turkey in northern Iraq, with Ploughshares pointing out, “In 2018, Turkey began the practice of targeted killings in Iraq, becoming only the second country in the region, after Israel, to undertake extraterritorial targeted killings.” When one senior Kurdish leader was assassinated by a Turkish drone in Iraq, footage of the attack was proudly shared on Wescam’s own website, though it was erased after the Canadian window dressing embargo in spring 2020. Wescam’s MX-GCS EO/IR imaging system has also reportedly been integrated into the Belgian-made John Cockerill turret of the Turkish FNSS Kaplan armoured fighting vehicle.

            Meanwhile in Libya, where battling forces have all committed war crimes, Turkey is exporting its own drone technology with Wescam targeting systems, in violation of a decade-old UN arms embargo. Ploughshares shared pictures of downed drones that had been built with  Wescam targeting cameras.

            Turkey also employs Wescam drone technology in ongoing domestic repression and murder by drone against Kurdish people, including reports that in December, 2019, that Turkish drones “participated in airstrikes against Kurdish organizations in at least 11 provinces in southeast Turkey.” The Intercept noted last year as well that Turkish drones (which, notably, rely on Wescam technology) are a “near constant presence in the skies in the country’s southeast. Nearly every day, a Turkish drone, usually a TB2, either fires on a target or provides the location of a target that is subsequently bombed by an F-16 or attack helicopter.” Hundreds of people have been killed in these strikes.

            In 2019, Amnesty International reported that Turkish operations demonstrate “an utterly callous disregard for civilian lives, launching unlawful deadly attacks in residential areas that have killed and injured civil­ians.” Ploughshares concludes that “there is a clear and demonstrable substantial risk that the further export of Wescam sensors to Turkey could cause harm to civilians and facilitate breaches of IHL [International Humanitarian Law].”

 

What is Our Responsibility?

            What do we do with the knowledge that taxpayer-supported corporations, with the cooperation of Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian Commercial Corporation, are involved in the commission and perpetuation of war crimes and crimes against humanity? After all, as The Nuremberg Principles established at the end of the Second World War, citizens are responsible for acts committed in their name. One set of post-WW2 war crimes trials concerned executives and board members of German armament maker Krupp, which armed the Nazis while using over 100,000 slave labourers.

            Most were convicted and sentenced to modest prison terms, while Alfried Krupp, who was ordered to sell all of his possessions, was unrepentant, crying out in words that may well have been uttered by Stéphane Dion or Chrystia Freeland: “The economy needed a steady or growing development. Because of the rivalries between the many political parties in Germany and the general disorder there was no opportunity for prosperity. ... We thought that Hitler would give us such a healthy environment. Indeed he did do that. ... We Krupps never cared much about [political] ideas. We only wanted a system that worked well and allowed us to work unhindered. Politics is not our business.”

            On International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2002, I was privileged to be among the very first people ever arrested for resisting drone warfare. We had gathered at Wescam’s Burlington factory to conduct a citizen’s weapons inspection as the drums of war with Iraq were heating up. While UN inspectors were at that moment enjoying unfettered (and often unannounced) access to a host of suspected Iraqi weapons production sites (none were found, to the surprise of no one), we were barely 20 feet onto the property before we were met by police who hauled us away and charged us with trespassing.

            When we went to trial the following April (after the horrors of the Bush onslaught of “Shock and Awe”), we attempted to introduce evidence about the crimes Wescam contributed to up to that moment in history. We also sought to testify about the increasing dangers posed by drone warfare and the other technologies of surveillance, border control, and domestic repression that padded the company’s bottom line. These were all reasons why we had gone to Wescam. But neither the judge nor the Crown were interested.

            “These people [military manufacturer Wescam] run a business,” declared Burlington Crown Attorney Tom Davies in response. “I don't know what it is and I don't care what it is." 

When we argued that the court needed to hear about the context of our actions, Justice of the Peace Barry Quinn, in a very political statement, declared: "Politics are not being carried on in this court. This court is not going to be involved in whether there is a war in Iraq. This court will hear about the here and now only."

            Needless to say, the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq by U.S., UK, and Canadian forces was well established by that time, and was very much part of the “here and now.”

            Although we went back to Wescam on many occasions (as well as other military manufacturers, war shows, and government bodies enabling these crimes), each time we experienced the same attitude of the Crown prosecutor, who just did not want to know that the heart of his community hosts a manufacturing facility whose products are regularly employed to murder people halfway around the world.

            The same excuses used by the Nazi manufacturers – that they needed to do this blood-stained work for the economy – echo with sickening consistency when uttered by Canadian politicians of all stripes and union representatives who ignore the posters on their walls about international solidarity with the workers on the receiving end of Canadian-made war machinery.

            Just as the pandemic has exposed once more the structural inequality that besets this land, these new reports add one more piece to the argument that Canada’s war economy needs to be dismantled and transformed into peaceful uses. Indeed, as conservatives bemoan the Trudeau government’s relatively modest investments in pandemic supports, few are willing to discuss the annual $31.7 billion outlay for war, the planned $19 billion in fighter bombers, and the $110 billion purchase of new and wholly unnecessary warships. None of this huge investment in killing has defended anyone against threats from climate change and covid-19 or economic inequality. If anything, the massive Canadian commitment to war has contributed to the hollowing out of social safety nets by robbing from the public coffers untold billions that could have ended up in affordable housing, women’s shelters and child care spaces.

This is all publicly available information. We cannot say that “we did not know.” But there is still time to say that, in knowing, we acted, we did something, we refused to be silent.