Obama’s job interview

Two quick responses to last night’s debate between McCain and Obama. I’ll use a couple of live-blogging quotes from Andrew Sullivan to introduce my points.

What strikes me about Obama is his forcefulness. He doesn’t sound academic or pointy-headed. He seems decisive and executive.

That observation is key. If voters share Sullivan’s perception on that point, I think you’ll see an Obama bump in the polls.

Most voters would really, really like to vote for the Democratic candidate in this election. The Republican record these past eight years has been abysmal. The country is in a mess, and the economic crisis has underscored that reality in a very big way.

Voters want to vote Democrat, but one big question mark has persistently hung over Obama’s head:  Is this guy up to the job? That’s a gateway question for voters. It matters far more than any policy differences between the two candidates.

Therefore, the debate was primarily a job interview for Obama. If undecided voters perceived him as “forceful … decisive and executive,” I expect the polls will break in his direction.

Second point:

It strikes me as a mistake for McCain to end the debate on his commitment to staying in Iraq indefinitely. Obama’s emphasis on the broader global conflict and our broader responsibilities will reach more people.

Again, Sullivan underscores a key issue.

McCain wore the Iraq war all night. In part, Obama pinned it on him; in part, McCain volunteered to wear it. McCain wanted to talk about the surge, which I can understand. He also wanted to depict a timeline for withdrawal as a defeat; one which would have catastrophic consequences for American security.

That was a serious tactical mistake.

There were various points at which one candidate or the other “scored”, like a boxer landing a jab. That doesn’t matter nearly as much as the dominant impression the debate leaves in people’s minds. And the impression McCain left was, I view foreign policy through the lens of the war in Iraq.

Seven years later, 9/11 just makes me angry

Like most people, I vividly remember “where I was” on September 11, 2001. The day’s events plunged me into a near depression that lasted a week or so. I had to consciously force myself to turn away from the horror for the sake of my mental health.

I had flipped on the TV early in the morning, after the first plane had struck the north tower of the World Trade Center. All the TV stations were covering it. But at that point, everyone assumed it was merely a tragic accident.

Next came the images of the second plane, which struck the south tower. The screams of onlookers, watching in horror from the streets below. That perfect, gut-wrenching video of the plane turning on an angle before it sliced into the tower like a hot knife through butter.

There came the profound realization that this was no accident, but a deliberate act of terrorism, on an unimaginable scale.

A little later, I was standing in line at a bank. (I had “important” business to do:  something about a student loan.) A TV was turned on in the corner, with the sound down. Standing in line, I saw the third stunning visual of the day:  the shocking, devastating collapse of the south tower.

A bank employee called for me at just that moment, but I didn’t register it at first. My mind was spinning wildly, trying to make sense of this abomination. I can only imagine what my face looked like. The first lucid thought to pass through my mind was, “The USA will soon be at war with someone.”

Terrorism on such a large scale must surely have a state sponsor:  someone who could be held accountable for it.



Seven years later, 9/11 just makes me angry. The collapse of the twin towers (plus the attack on the Pentagon, plus the crash of United Airlines Flight 93) are no longer isolated events in my memory. They are inextricably linked with the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, torture, extraordinary rendition, Maher Arar, the bald-faced lies of the Bush Administration (yellowcake uranium; "America does not torture" ), disregard for the Geneva Conventions and the American Constitution, the suspension of habeus corpus, the no-fly list, widespread surveillance of U.S. citizens.

To use a trite metaphor, these things are two sides of the same coin. On one side, the inexcusable evil of Osama bin Laden and the puppet men who surrendered their will to him. On the other side, the disproportionate reaction of President Bush and the neoconservatives who egged him on. I cannot pull these things apart, intellectually or emotionally.

They ought not to be pulled apart.

9/11 was tragic. And yes, it was evil. But the American response to 9/11 made things much worse, and on a global scale.

Events did not have to spiral out of control as they did. Cooler heads could have made wiser decisions (e.g. to keep the focus on Afghanistan, the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden — a single theatre of war). The cost of that misguided, disproportionate response has been enormous:  in “blood and treasure”, and in making the world a more anxiety-ridden place than it needed to be.

Such a tragic, senseless waste. And it goes on and on, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Pakistan. Meanwhile, some “hawks” (including John McCain … though McCain assures us that he hates war) are rattling their sabres in the direction of Iran and Russia, and ratcheting up the rhetoric against China while they’re at it.

Those were my thoughts yesterday, on the seventh anniversary of 9/11.

Make it stop, please. It didn’t have to turn out this way, and it doesn’t have to continue.

RNC protestFreedom on the march, last week, outside the Republican National Convention. Read a reporter’s eyewitness account via Andrew Sullivan.

More Khadr… *sigh*

The issue that never goes away popped up again in the news today, with yet another frightful report from the Globe and Mail:

Interrogators at Guantanamo Bay – including those assigned to Canadian Omar Khadr – were encouraged to destroy handwritten notes from interview sessions to protect them from future legal action, according to newly released documents.


The revelation is another in a long line of documents, findings and events that have cast the Guantanamo Bay legal proceedings in a less than flattering light. That interrogators were instructed to destroy their handwritten notes is of particular importance to Mr. Khadr, because much of the case against him is believed to rely on what he said during some of those interrogation sessions.

“The government’s case against Omar is based almost entirely on statements interrogators extracted from him in the course of interrogations at Bagram [Afghanistan] and Guantanamo Bay,” LCdr. Kuebler said in an e-mail Sunday. “If handwritten notes were destroyed in accordance with the [Standard Operating Procedure manual], the government intentionally deprived Omar’s lawyers of key evidence with which to challenge the reliability of his statements.”

The news came shortly after the demand for the release of interview documentation.

This isn’t a hard one to guess at, really. If the case depends highly on the papers, and they had a veritable case, the papers would still exist. It’s obvious that they were afraid some revalation from the interviews would grant freedom to the prisoner, else they wouldn’t have destroyed them. It is, perhaps, a general fear of any instances arising, since Khadr’s papers were not the only ones destroyed. But that just magnifies the issue, instead of making the Khadr case one to ignore.

As I said last time: The longer our governments allow this to continue, the more foolish they look. They should just let him go and get it over with. I’m still uncertain as to what they’re fearing if they let the kid go, or at least put him into some sort of rehabilitation program. Political backlash? Can it really be as bad as this? Renewed aggression? Keep him under surveillance for a while, if you must, but surely that’s not really that high a risk unless there are more terrorists backing him even this many years later.

More likely, it’s simply a fear of phallic deflation on a national scale.

Two images from Afghanistan

woman in burqa; girls on swings

From a series of twelve news images published here.

I will leave the interpretation of the images up to the viewer. But I thought they were provocative, in juxtaposition like this.

The Hopeful Khadr

An appalling introduction to an otherwise uplifting article:

Intelligence documents accidentally released to journalists by U.S. officials [emphasis added] at a military hearing have cast further doubt on U.S. allegations against Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, the youngest prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. An unusual mix-up by U.S. officials resulted in the distribution of top-secret documents to courtroom reporters attending Omar Khadr’s hearing in February 2008.

New revelations outlined in intelligence documents have led lawyers for the Canadian citizen to call for all charges against Khadr to be dropped. U.S. officials have charged Khadr with murder, claiming that Khadr – 15 years old at the time – threw a hand-grenade that killed a U.S. soldier during a firefight occurring in the context of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2002.

Documents accidentally released include an interview with a U.S. intelligence agent who was at the scene of the battle, revealing that Khadr was shot twice – in the back – by the U.S. soldiers, a striking new detail in the case. An anonymous U.S. agent whose interview appears in the document additionally outlines that Khadr wasn’t witnessed throwing the grenade and that – contrary to previous claims by U.S. military officials – Khadr was not the only person alive at the time U.S. forces stormed the building in Afghanistan.

I don’t know how much of an issue the Omar Khadr case is in American media. From a Canadian perspective, it’s one of the many downplayed issues that could come to haunt our current government’s legacy if the majority of the population were ever to wake up and smell the (certainly not fair-trade) coffee.

When I saw this article on Rabble, I was both overjoyed and disgusted. The disgust hit first, resulting in small part because of the fact that it took an “accident” for the US government to finally come clean about the  situation, and in large part because this means that Khadr has quite possibly been sentenced to a half-dozen years in the horror-filled Guantanamo detention facilities for nothing. Not only is it now an issue of morality — whether it is just to detain a minor for throwing a hand-grenade — but an issue of facts. If Khadr has been through this without even having thrown the grenade that killed a US soldier, then what can we trust from our governments?

It’s not mentioned in the article whether or not the Canadian government knew about the information held by the Americans. But their lack of zeal in attempting to free Khadr thus far points to complacency or conspiracy — neither of which look good on Stephen Harper’s Conservatives (or  the Liberals, who were in power for the first portion of Khadr’s imprisonment).

The uplifting information contained in the article is that the new information may force the Canadian government into action. At least there’s hope for the young man! Hopefully Harper really didn’t have the information, and steps up to the plate to bring this whole issue home. I don’t know if I believe it’ll happen… but crossing one’s fingers never hurt!

Iraqi techniques migrate to Afghanistan

Master Corporal Colin Bason and Captain Matthew Johnathan Dawe were both killed yesterday in Afghanistan.

Six Canadian soldiers and their interpreter died yesterday as the Taliban continued to launch bold attacks inside zones considered mostly pacified, shifting their tactics toward the kind of bombings that have proved devastating in Iraq.

About a dozen military vehicles, Canadian and Afghan, were driving west along a gravel road after finishing a search of a village about 20 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city, when a powerful bomb detonated at 11 a.m. local time.

The explosion engulfed an RG-31 Nyala troop carrier, a vehicle manufactured in South Africa and specifically designed with a boat-like hull to withstand mine blasts. It’s the Canadians’ strongest vehicle against roadside bombs, but the insurgents have recently been wiring up bigger caches of ordnance and more sophisticated-shaped charges into their so-called improvised explosive devices, breaking through even the best armour.

For the full story see today’s Globe and Mail. The Globe also maintains a page where all of the 57 Canadians killed since February 2006 are honoured.

Canada’s Afghan mission to end in 2009?

Lawrence Martin thinks he detects a shift in the position of the Government of Canada. From the print edition of yesterday’s Globe and Mail:

At a press conference Friday, Stephen Harper declared he would seek an all-party consensus before extending the combat mission in Afghanistan. Make no mistake: These were code words for the end of our war mission. [Because the opposition parties will never agree to extend the mission.] He was essentially saying that in a year and a half, other North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners can take their turn at the combat role. Canada will refocus on its humanitarian role.

It’s one of the smarter things the Prime Minister has done in a while — and it will win him public favour. According to polls, two-thirds of Canadians want the combat role to end in February, 2009. But Mr. Harper and Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor had been stubbornly suggesting that the fighting could go on for years. …

On the matter of war, the Canadian people have demonstrated good judgment. In signalling to Jean Chrétien’s government that they did not wish to join the invasion of Iraq, they made the right call. Mr. Harper and his Conservative flock were leaning the other way. In Afghanistan, a similar scenario looked to be taking shape. The public, the Liberals and the other opposition parties wanted to adhere to the 2009 deadline. Not so the Harperites. …

Canadians aren’t quitters. They don’t want an immediate withdrawal. But they feel that by 2009, they will have done their part.

Will any of our NATO partners step forward to do their part? I doubt it. We’ve made overtures before, without finding any takers.

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