'War' mentality erodes rights, report says

Western countries cannot treat terrorism suspects as though they exist outside rule of law, judges find


February 25, 2009

Canada is among the countries that have succumbed to a war-on-terror mentality that has infected too many states, a roving panel of judges has found.

Calling upon the world to dispense with any "war" mentality, the judges say it's high time that terrorism suspects and intelligence agents cease to be treated as though they exist outside the rule of law.

"It's time for change," they write in Assessing Damage, Urging Action. The 200-page report, released earlier this month, advocates rolling back many emergency powers that have been invoked globally since 9/11.

"Human rights are not, and can never be a luxury to be cast aside in times of difficulty" concludes the expert panel, which was commissioned by the International Commission of Jurists.

The ICJ's wider membership includes Mr. Justice Ian Binnie of the Supreme Court of Canada. The "eminent" panel the ICJ appointed, led by a former South African chief justice, spent three years roaming the world to study terrorism.

"I'm not aware of anything that is comparable to this document," said Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor and counterterrorism expert, who testified at the ICJ's Canadian hearings. He anticipates the report will be highly influential, adding it is already being reviewed within Ottawa and by the U.S. Obama administration.

Canadian investigations helped shape the findings, with the Maher Arar affair and other controversies highlighted as examples of how polices can go astray.

From 2005 to 2008, the ICJ's panel spoke to officials, experts and victims of terrorist attacks. The trips to Bogota, Belfast, Cairo, Colombo, London, Ottawa, Washington, and places in between, appear to have left the panel somewhat horrified at how history and human-rights conventions can be forgotten in times of crisis.

"Intelligence agencies around the world have acquired new powers and resources, but legal and political accountability have not kept pace," the judges write.

The panel criticizes draconian regimes in Asia and the Middle East, but reserves some of its strongest admonitions for Western nations. "States that previously lauded the importance of the rule of law and human rights protections [...] are now at the forefront of undermining those protections," the report concludes.

The United States is faulted for highly controversial post-9/11 programs that are now being rolled back. The panel points to policies like "extraordinary rendition" and the often "sanitized and euphemistic labels" affixed to them.

The problems with such practises don't stop at the United States: Certain European countries that publicly deplore U.S. counterterrorism practises are privately said to be eager "markets" and "consumers" for the information that results.

As for Canada, the story of Maher Arar is said to be "a model of how transnational intelligence should not be happening."

The exonerated engineer was flagged by Canadian agencies before being sent from the United States to Syria, where he was tortured as an alleged al-Qaeda suspect.

Moroccan Montrealer Adil Charkaoui testified directly to the panel about his jailing and continuing monitoring in Canada. Several aspects of the "security certificate" policy he is controlled under were found to be lacking by the judges.

Canadian officials were lauded, however, for having the rare capacity to publicly probe their intelligence practices and past mistakes. Too few countries do this, the judges say.

The report will not be warmly welcomed in all quarters. In Canada and beyond, state agents complain they are increasingly shackled in the fight against terrorism. Some conservative judges argue that there are no absolutes in terms of human rights - that is, individual rights fluctuate with the threats faced by society.

The ICJ-appointed panel insists that the problem of terrorism, while very serious, is rarely as new or exceptional as it is often presented to be.

Insisting certain rights are immutable, they argue that heavy-handed responses to terrorism are counterproductive. "A military response to terrorism may seem to offer a short-term solution ," the panel writes, "but often creates long-term problems."



Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre

Notice that the Globe and Mail did not allow comments to be posted about this story?

This story has an open invitation to the reader to conclude that Canada engages in a war like attitude that results on a chronic and flagrant abuse of the rule of law, that is,  across Canada, legal rights are routinely  removed  by judges who have a pathological tendency to flagrantly abuse their judicial discretion, in fact its dubious weather or not, their decisions can be even called a "flagrant abuse", often its an outright criminal offence of

"obstruction of justice" by a judge.

Two well known Ottawa Superior Court Judges who make such corrupt decisions are

Justice Allan Sheffield


Justice Denis Power