Protests called for September 24 against Iraq, Afghanistan occupations
By Roger Annis
The commander of Canada’s armed forces, Gen. R.J. Hillier, is speaking out boldly in support of the U.S.-led imperialist war effort in the Middle East and Asia. He is spending the summer months on a lecture circuit as the point man of the Canadian government’s new, more aggressive imperial foreign policy. Part of that role is to prepare the country for more deaths of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.
Two thousand Canadian soldiers are on their way to Kandahar in Afghanistan. There they will join the front lines of an expanding war led by the U.S. against those standing in the way of the foreign occupation of that country. At a press conference on July 13 to announce the Kandahar mission, Hillier told reporters of his views of the July 7 bombings in London and the Canadian role in Afghanistan.
He described the perpetrators of the London bombings as “detestable murderers and scumbags,” and likened them to those opposing imperialist occupation in Afghanistan. “They detest our freedoms, they detest our society, they detest our liberties,” he said. “We are going to Afghanistan to actually take down [sic] the folks that are trying to blow up men and women.”
“We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people.”
Hillier describes the targets of the Canadian military as a “ball of snakes,” made up of terrorists, drug dealers and other “rogue” elements. His message is that it’s time to toss away the myth of Canada as a “peacekeeper” in the world and pursue a far more aggressive foreign policy centered on military conflict with the country’s perceived adversaries.
The commander believes that Canadian military policy must do more to facilitate and promote investment opportunities for Canadian capitalists. In a speech on July 22, Hillier likened Canada’s military interventions to recent trips by Canadian political and business leaders to promote Canadian investments in “emerging markets.”
Two decades of slaughter
Another military spokesperson, Maj.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, bluntly posed the price the Canadian people will pay for this military adventure in a speech to the prestigious Couchiching Conference August 7, reported in the Toronto Star.
Referring to Canada’s occupation, he affirmed that “Afghanistan is a 20-year venture.” The human cost will be heavy, he warned, but “there are things worth dying for. There are things worth killing for.” Nor will Canada’s civilian population be spared: “Every time you kill an angry young man overseas, you’re creating 15 more who will come after you,” he conceded. “You have to be prepared for the consequences.”
Needless to say, neither of the generals referred to any evidence that the Canadian people had asked for this crusade or approved it: the federal government has conscripted us all for its war, and that is that.
Former Canadian general and head of United Nations forces in Yugoslavia, Lewis Mackenzie, wrote in the Globe and Mail on August 1, “…our military’s role is to kill as efficiently as possible once the political order has been given rather than participate in ‘peacekeeping’ missions that rarely meet the criteria for success.”
Generals follow government lead
The generals are speaking on behalf of a government that is carrying out a dramatic shift in foreign policy. Their comments have received enthusiastic support from the mouthpieces of corporate Canada. “Canadians are going to war,” enthused a July 16 editorial in the Globe and Mail. “Like it or not, we are all in this together…Bravo to [Hillier] for saying it.”
Prime Minister Paul Martin and Anne McLellan, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, have boosted the war course with dire warnings that Canada will become a target of bombings similar to those in London.
The groundwork for the new course was laid out by the government earlier this year. In May, it released a policy statement entitled “Canada’s International Policy” that argued why Canada must become a more aggressive imperial power in the world, and how it will achieve that. Then in late June, the financial side of the policy was approved when the government passed its much-delayed budget, with New Democratic Party (NDP) support. It contains a massive boost in military spending, adding $12.8 billion over the next five years. (Planned military spending for 2005 is $13.4 billion.)
Powers to spy, detain, torture
Prior to the new international policy statement, the government had already enacted “anti-terrorist” laws that give the police and courts vast powers to spy on, arrest, and indefinitely detain those whom it targets. New powers also take away rights and protections of people living in Canada who are not citizens.
Police threats or intimidation against people of Muslim faith or Middle Eastern origin have become commonplace in Canada since 2001. Some have been deported, and there are currently five men who have sat in jail for several years, or longer, with no charges laid.
Government and police pressure on Muslims has stepped up since the July 7 bombings in London. Like the Blair government in Britain, Canadian government spokespeople and newspaper editorials are arguing that people of Islamic faith who do not aggressively condemn Muslims labeled “terrorists” are themselves complicit in acts of violence.
(No such pressure is applied on people of other faiths who do not condemn the violence and murders of Palestinians by the Israel government, the torture and illegal detentions of people in U.S. jails in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, or the killings and lawlessness in Haiti under the Canada-backed occupation.)
The public inquiry into the case of Maher Arar has shed light on how the government applies these new powers. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was kidnapped in New York City in 2002 by U.S. officials and then flown to Syria, his country of birth, where he was detained and tortured for nearly a year. As the inquiry revealed, his name was given to U.S. authorities by Canada’s national police, the RCMP, as a possible “terrorism” suspect.
The Canadian government and its embassy officials in Syria did nothing to protest or reverse Arar’s kidnapping, and only moved to request his return to Canada after a growing public campaign led by his wife shamed them into action. At the inquiry, embassy and police officials played dumb about the Syrian government’s well-known track record as one that practices torture.
The inquiry has also revealed that while the Canadian government pretends on the world stage to oppose the use of torture, in fact it joined with the United States in a now frequent practice of “offshoring” torture by delivering detainees into the hands of authorities that can be counted on to use such methods and report the results. Canadian police have interrogated at least one detainee in the U.S.-run concentration camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Afghanistan under occupation
Although several thousand Canadian soldiers and political staff will soon be occupying Afghanistan, there is virtually no newspaper reporting in Canada on conditions there. The few articles that appear are puff pieces by “embedded” reporters in U.S. or Canadian army patrols. This is no coincidence. Four years after the occupation began, following a short but bloody war, the country remains mired in a social and humanitarian disaster.
Millions remain dependent on aid. According to the World Food Program, at least 6.5 million people out of a population of 21 million are dependent on food aid, and famine is a recurring risk in the most remote parts of the country. Only 25 per cent of the country’s population has access to safe drinking water and sanitation. (At least eight people died of cholera, a water-borne disease, in Kabul in June. Yet, Kabul is the one claimed success story of the occupying powers.)
Of the $13 billion promised to Afghanistan in aid by countries around the world, only $3.1 has been set aside for reconstruction or social programs. The rest is earmarked for police and military spending. Two million refugees still live in camps in neighboring countries, while hundreds of thousands are living homeless or in makeshift accommodation within the country.
Only 40 per cent of children are vaccinated against disease. One fifth of children die before the age of five. Life expectancy is 44 years of age. There is one doctor in Afghanistan per 6,000 people.
Violence and lawlessness by occupying forces and their onetime allies in the former Taliban is rampant. As a result, many aid agencies have withdrawn from the country. Doctors Without Borders, which has worked in Afghanistan since 1980, withdrew in 2004. It strongly criticized the U.S.-led occupation coalition for using humanitarian aid as a tool in its political and military aims, thus making aid workers targets for anti-occupation fighters.
As in Haiti, the occupation forces in Afghanistan are allied with many of the most right-wing elements in the society. Socially progressive movements were largely destroyed during the years of U.S. support to the rightist forces that came to form the Taliban government.
There are some 18,000 U.S. occupation troops in Afghanistan, and another 5,000 from other imperialist countries. The latter are serving under the command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Canadian soldiers will soon be the largest military contingent in the NATO command.
Until now, the Canadian soldiers have served in the relatively safe confines of Kabul and the surrounding area. In plunking themselves down in Kandahar, they are taking their fight to an area of the country where opposition to occupation is deeper. Part of Hillier’s speaking circuit is aimed at preparing the country for this. He is polishing up his answers to the difficult questions that will be asked when Canadian soldiers start to die.
The goal of the imperialist troop presence is to “pacify” Afghanistan by “killing people” who oppose the foreign military occupation. In so doing, the occupiers gain valuable military experience for use elsewhere, and they gain Afghan soil as a staging ground for intervention elsewhere in the region.
The countries that participate in the military effort in Afghanistan and elsewhere in Asia and the Middle East are those most likely to benefit from the exploitation of oil and human resources if “stabilization” is achieved. That is the message coming out of Washington, and Ottawa is acting accordingly, to advance its own interests.
Another sign of Canada’s commitment to this course is the deal it is negotiating with the regime in the United Arab Emirates to allow it to establish a permanent military base, right on the shores of the Persian Gulf.
Layton backs government, Hillier
While Hillier’s war course has drawn criticism from many Canadians, the leader of the New Democratic Party, the party to which many trade unions are affiliated, has cheered him on. “A bit of strong language in the circumstances; I don’t find that to be wrong,” said Jack Layton on July 14.
The NDP opposed the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, arguing that if should have been waged under the auspices of the United Nations. It took the same stand at the time of the Iraq war. But it supports the Canadian participation in the Afghanistan occupation. Its spokespeople usually evade the question of the ongoing U.S./British occupation of Iraq. When party leaders discuss Iraq, they advocate that the occupation be run by the UN.
Thankfully, many are not following the NDP’s lead. In Vancouver, Mobilization Against War and Occupation held two protest rallies in July against Hillier’s bellicose statements. The rallies were held at the doors of the Armed Forces Recruiting Center in Vancouver, and more are planned in August.
The Canadian Peace Alliance, a broad coalition based in Toronto, has issued an appeal to join international protests on September 24 against the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The appeal states, “The Canadian Peace Alliance is calling on its member groups, individuals and supporters to mobilize for a pan-Canadian day of action against the wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and in support of U.S. military war resisters on Saturday, September 24th, 2005.”
The statement goes on, “In Canada, the federal government is moving in exactly the opposite direction. They have doubled the military budget and increased support for the U.S.-led ‘war on terror’ by increasing troop levels in Afghanistan. As General Hillier’s recent belligerent comments indicate, Canada provides increasingly open support for a broader campaign, led by the United States government, to assert control over the Middle East region. Also, Canadian corporations continue to profit from the war while people of Muslim and Arab backgrounds, such as the ‘Secret Trial Five,’ face ongoing harassment, intimidation and racial profiling.”
The statement ends with the call, “End the wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, Let the war resisters stay. All out September 24th!” Many antiwar groups across Canada are taking up this appeal.