It’s a fresh spring day in Toronto, and Mohammad Mahjoub is experiencing something for the first time in over a year: the simple pleasure of small talk.
Since March 2010, Mahjoub, a security certificate detainee, was forbidden to speak to anyone he encountered in the few hours he was allowed outside. That one condition has now been lifted, but it’s a small comfort against the daily deprivation he continues to endure, under the harshest house arrest conditions in Canadian history.
And the kicker? He hasn’t been charged with a crime.
In 1995, Mahjoub fled political persecution in Egypt, where he had been tortured and imprisoned without trial. He was granted refugee status by Canada in 1996, and settled in Toronto, where he married Mona el Fouli and later had two sons, Ibrahim and Yusuf.
In June 2000, Mahjoub was arrested on a security certificate, a controversial measure of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that was used to indefinitely detain five Muslim men, without charges or trial, on secret evidence. They became known as the Secret Trial Five.
A 2007 Supreme Court ruling abolished the process, calling it unconstitutional. Eight months later, the Conservatives created Bill C-3, re-introducing security certificates with few substantial changes. Bill C-3 also failed to address what many view as a fundamental issue with the process: that matters of national security have no place being legislated in immigration policy, but should instead be dealt with under the Criminal Code. But the bill passed, and no time flat, secret trials were back in business.
For over a decade, Mahjoub has attempted to contest the certificate, fearing torture or worse if he is deported to Egypt. Throughout the process, he has denounced the conditions of his detention, resorting to a 76-day hunger strike in 2005 and losing 110 pounds before he was hospitalized. In 2006, he and three other members of the Secret Trial Five were transferred to a specially constructed, multi-million dollar facility in Kingston dubbed “Guantanamo North.” Mahjoub went on another hunger strike, this time lasting for 93 days before the Federal Court ordered him released in Feb. 2007.
But the conditions of his release were so severe that he described his home as a prison, and his family as reluctant guards. “His family were forced to act as his sureties,” says his lawyer, Yavar Hameed. “When they reported information to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), that information was not taken at face value. The CBSA would try to find ways to find them in violation… It was a very adversarial process with Canada Border Services, making it impossible for anyone to lead a normal life.”
In March 2009, Mahjoub asked to be returned to Guantanamo North, rather than continuing to subject his family to the constant surveillance and pressure from the CBSA and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). In early 2010, following yet another hunger strike, he was again released on house arrest. This time, he opted to protect his family from his conditions by moving into a small basement apartment on St. Clair West in Toronto.
“There is no liberty by any means under these severe conditions,” Mahjoub said in a recent recording. “It has massive mental, physical and psychological impact on me and my family… I don’t know what to do after 11 years.”
One of his infrequent visitors is Murray Lumley, who first became aware of Mahjoub’s case through a small group called Toronto Action for Social Change. He attended rallies at CSIS headquarters and wrote letters to his MP and government ministers, and eventually became one of Mahjoub’s court-approved “supervisors.” Lumley helps accompany him when he needs something outside of his authorized area, such as a lawyer visit or a new fax machine. “I would like people to know what an honourable man Mohammad is,” he says.
Despite a recent detention review that relaxed his conditions slightly, Mahjoub is still held under surveillance that is completely unprecedented in the judicial system in Canada. He wears a GPS tracking bracelet at all times. A camera outside his door monitors his every move, and he is only permitted to leave the house for four hours a day, and only within a few blocks of his apartment. CSIS monitors every phone call — in fact, they were caught listening to protected solicitor-client phone calls between Mahjoub and his lawyer, contrary to a court order.
He has limited contact with his wife and young sons, which Lumley says has been very difficult. “It is quite amazing to me that they have been so resilient in the face of such abuse — that seems to go on and on… While they do complain of the length of time taken from their lives, they still live with some hope that this may one day end.”
If it all sounds a bit Orwellian… it is, says Hameed, who specializes in immigration and refugee law work as well as national security cases. He has been representing Mahjoub since last August, and is deeply familiar with the security certificate process, having assisted Adil Charkaoui’s legal team with their Supreme Court appeals. Charkaoui won his case against a security certificate in 2009.
A series of public hearings to determine the “reasonableness” of the certificate against Mahjoub are expected to continue until mid-July, when the in camera part of the process begins. Hameed’s job is complicated by the fact that he is only given access to a small portion of the evidence against his client for reasons of “national security.” “There’s an understanding of what the basic allegation is, but what we don’t know… is the source of the information,” he explains. “It’s kind of like a puzzle trying to put it together.”
He knows, for instance that Mahjoub is accused of being a high-ranking member of the Vanguards of Conquest, a militant Islamic group that seeks to overthrow the Egyptian government. What’s missing is the source of the “intelligence” that led to the accusation. Much of the secret evidence being used against security certificate detainees is believed to have been obtained using torture by foreign agencies. Last summer, in a significant court victory, the Federal Court ruled that part of the evidence against Mahjoub was probably obtained using torture, and could not be accepted.
“Based on the evidence we see publicly, there is a flimsy case against Mr. Mahjoub. It’s supported by innuendo; it’s weak,” Hameed says. Some of the “sources” in the case include Internet articles from foreign news services. “We’re not actually talking about things that have been investigated… The kind of information that passes for evidence in the public case is what we call hearsay.”
Hameed is also skeptical of any claims that Mahjoub poses a potential future threat to Canadian security. “The argument is that [Mahjoub’s] liberty, the fact of his liberty, would act as sort of a beacon of radicalization for persons who would be interested in supporting terrorist or Islamic extremist views,” Hameed scoffs. “We were quite shocked to learn that that’s what the case is against him, going forward. The absurdity of this process… That is so offensive to the character of what it means to live in a free and democratic society.”
You can sign a petition calling for an end to security certificates at www.justiceforharkat.com.
Sara Falconer is a Toronto-based freelance journalist.
Seymour Hersh’s new piece in the New Yorker has generated a fair amount of buzz, so much so that Iran hawks have quickly leaped into action to try to discredit it. Virtually none of the criticism of Hersh’s piece has actually addressed the substance of his article, however, and since the article is subscription-only, it’s possible that not many people have actually gotten a chance to read it. It may therefore be worthwhile simply to spell out what Hersh’s piece actually says.
By far the most significant revelation in the piece concerns the recently-completed 2011 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). NIEs represent the consensus judgments of the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, and as such their findings frequently have major political ramifications. The 2007 NIE was particularly important (and contested), for it concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and found no evidence that the program had resumed.
Predictably, the 2007 NIE elicited howls of outrage from hawks who have been pushing military action against Tehran, and in the years since they have constantly attempted to discredit it. It’s worth making clear, however, just what the NIE did and didn’t say. It found no evidence of an active Iranian nuclear weapons program — that is, a nuclear program with elements that had no conceivable civilian uses (e.g., nuclear warhead design). The NIE never claimed that Iran had halted its nuclear program entirely, only that none of the nuclear program’s projects were unambiguously military in scope. Thus, to point to the fact that Iran continues to enrich uranium as evidence that the 2007 NIE has been discredited, as the Iran hawks have frequently tried to do, simply misses the point; the NIE did not suggest that Iran had stopped enriching uranium.
Nor did the NIE claim that it’s inconceivable that the Iranian regime ultimately seeks a nuclear weapon. It’s quite plausible that the regime does (not least, to deter U.S. or Israeli military action). What the NIE claimed was that there was no hard evidence or smoking gun proving that this was the case. Thus the relevant question is not whether we believe in our heart of hearts that Iran is seeking nukes, but whether there is any incontrovertible evidence that it is. This question is particularly salient in the wake of the Iraq war intelligence fiasco. In the runup to war, most people (including many war opponents) suspected that Saddam Hussein had WMD programs of some kind, but the U.S. would have been better served to put less weight on such suspicions and more weight on the actual evidential record.
So what does the Hersh piece actually say? The biggest revelation is that despite four years of intense political pressure from Iran hawks pushing the intelligence community to renounce the 2007 NIE, the just-released 2011 NIE continues to find no clear evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. According to Hersh, analysts at the military’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in particular have pushed back against this political pressure; in fact, the DIA analysts suggest that Iran’s nuclear weapons program was primarily directed at Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, not Israel, and was abandoned following the fall of Saddam.
Typically, a declassified version of the NIE is released for public consumption. This has not been done with the 2011 NIE, however, for reasons that are unclear. It’s possible that the Obama administration fears a political backlash along the lines of the 2007 version, or that it is worried that publicizing the new NIE would undercut its relatively hard-line stance on Iran. Regardless, the fact that a declassified version of the NIE has not been released means that Hersh’s piece is the first time the public is hearing about it.
In light of this, it is obvious that most of the criticism of Hersh’s piece completely ignores its central contention. The issue, once again, is not whether we should believe in our heart of hearts that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon. The issue is whether the U.S. intelligence community has found any incontrovertible evidence that this is the case. If Hersh’s account of the 2011 NIE is correct, the intelligence community has not, and this is a fact that surely deserves to be mentioned in discussions of the Iranian nuclear issue.
Miko Peled is a peace activist who dares to say in public what others still choose to deny. Born in Jerusalem in 1961 into a well known Zionist family, his grandfather, Dr. Avraham Katsnelson was a Zionist leader and signer of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. His Father, Matti Peled, was a young officer in the war of 1948 and a general in the war of 1967 when Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Sinai.
Miko’s unlikely opinions reflect his father’s legacy. General Peled was a war hero turned peacemaker.
Miko grew up in Jerusalem, a multi-ethnic city, but had to leave Israel before he made his first Palestinian friend, the result of his participation in a dialogue group in California. He was 39.
On September 4, 1997 the beloved Smadar, 13, the daughter of Miko’s sister Nurit and her husband Rami Elhanan was killed in a suicide attack.
Peled insists that Israel/Palestine is one state—the separation wall notwithstanding, massive investment in infrastructure, towns and highways that bisect and connect settlements on the West Bank, have destroyed the possibility for a viable Palestinian state. The result, Peled says is that Israelis and Palestinians are governed by the same government but live under different sets of laws.
At the heart of Peled’s conclusion lies the realization that Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace as equals in their shared homeland.
A private Israeli guard opened live fire on protesters marching on an illegal quarry near the West Bank village of Shuqba.
The march was organized by the Ni’lin and Budrus popular committees and commenced at noon. Dozens of Palestinian and Israeli activists marched toward the illegal quarry to stop the further confiscation of Palestinian lands from the nearby villages of Ni’lin, Qibya, Shuqba and Shebteen.
As demonstrators were marching towards the quarry, an Israeli security guard opened fire. Villagers had not even arrived to the designated spot of protest, the quarry, before live ammunition was shot. The injured protester from Budrus was evacuated to the hospital for necessary treatment.
After some time, 3 three Israeli military jeeps arrived and began firing tear gas canisters at the protest. Many suffered from gas inhalation and a few olive trees caught on a fire.
The quarry, owned by an Israeli commander, rests on lands confiscated from Palestinian villages. The demonstrators hope to deter further confiscation, since the quarry continues to be expanded illegally.
The state security apparatus which came into being during the Bush administration is now supported just as strongly, if not more so, under president Barack Obama. There has been no let up, no change in course for a system which becomes stronger with each passing day and which faces almost no political opposition.
The Obama justice department recently asserted that it can withhold classified information from a federal judge. Federal judges have security clearances and are permitted to see classified information in cases brought before them. The Obama justice department says that only the executive branch has the power to determine what information courts ought to have. The government attorney asserted, “There is no right for the plaintiff to give the court classified information at all.” The federal judge was so stunned that she described herself as “literally speechless” over the government claim that she ought to be kept in the dark.
The case in question is a remnant of the worst abuses brought about by the Bush administration, involving the kidnapping and rendition of Muslim cleric Abu Omar in Milan, Italy in 2003. A former CIA operative with State Department cover is now suing the federal government because it did not protect her right to diplomatic immunity. That operative was found guilty in absentia in an Italian court and faces arrest should she ever travel to Europe again. Now the Obama administration is once again protecting the Bush abuses which its supporters thought would now be long gone.
This is not the only instance of the current justice department moving forward with Bush administration prosecutions. Thomas Drake is a former employee of the National Security Administration now charged with violating the Espionage Act. He faces 35 years in prison, having been accused of giving documents to a reporter. Candidate Obama said he would protect the rights of whistle blowers, but now as president he tries to send them to jail. The Obama administration has brought five Espionage Act prosecutions to court, more than all other past administrations combined.
Not content to defend Bush era abuses, and send whistle blowers to jail, Obama and Congress have extended the Patriot Act, without changes, yet again. Two Democratic members of the intelligence committee, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, were not only among those who voted no, but they also exposed how the act is being interpreted in a new and dangerous way by the administration. The Obama justice department has decided to interpret the act in a way which it will not reveal to the public. In other words, the government has a secret way of determining what is and isn’t legal but will not share that secret with congress or with the people. Orwell and Kafka would find new sources of inspiration with this president.
When George W. Bush was president, I and many others often used the word fascism to describe the growth of government powers and the diminution of our rights. Now that those very same assertions of executive power are being made by Barack Obama, should we not continue to raise the same concerns?
The sad fact is that the surveillance state has strong bi-partisan support and it is likely to only expand. … Full article
Former Minister of Detainees, Hamas political official, Wasfi Qabha, stated that there are no real indications of reconciliation in the West Bank as the Palestinian security forces are still interrogating Hamas members and supporters.
Qabha told the Haas-affiliated Palestinian Information Center that “the situation has not changed in the West Bank’”, adding that political prisoners are still in prison, and more persons are being interrogated and questioned by the security forces.
The Hamas leader further stated that despite repeated promises by the Palestinian security forces to release political prisoners, the P.A is still holding captive more than 35 prisoners.
He added that he hopes all political prisoners will be released without any delays and obstructions.
“More than a month have passed since the unity agreement was signed”, Qabha said, “But most of the prisoners are still behind bars”.
Qabha also stated that such violations are against reconciliation, and that the Fateh movement of President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank must act to protect unity and national interests.