Saturday, December 14, 2013

Iran Quits Talks Over Latest US Sanctions

Says Sanctions Violate the Spirit of the P5+1 Deal

by Jason Ditz, December 13, 2013

Last month’s key P5+1 deal with Iran was the crowning achievement of years of diplomacy, and the Obama Administration has made much of trying to protect the deal, warning Congress against passing any new sanctions because that would violate the terms of the agreement.

But it is the administration itself that has put the deal in serious jeopardy, having imposed a series of new sanctions against Iran’s trading partners yesterday. Iran’s negotiating team is now leaving the Vienna talks and returning to Tehran, leaving open the question of whether or not the talks will resume.

Iran’s chief negotiator, Deputy FM Abbas Araqchi, explained the decision to quit the current talks was made because the US move violated “the spirit” of the P5+1 deal, which included an explicit pledge to impose no new sanctions against Iran for six months. The Iranian government is now said to be evaluating the situation and whether they can continue the talks at all.

The Obama Administration had argued the new sanctions “technically” didn’t violate the deal because they didn’t hit Iran directly, but rather a bunch of Iran’s trading partners for doing business with Iran. The administration also says the timing of the move was “coincidental.”

Yet it’s hard to see how it could be, and after repeatedly warning Congress against moves that could threaten the talks they appear to have gone out of their way to test the limits of the agreement.

EU officials say they believe the talks will resume at some point, but the damage may be done either way, and even if Iran does agree to return to the talks it will likely be with a much more skeptical eye toward the exact terms of any deal, since the US has shown itself more than willing bend their interpretation.

Marooned at Guantanamo: Aging inmates face medical issues

For 162 detainees of American detention complex, long-term imprisonment requires increasing attention to health care

by Jason Leopold

December 13, 2013

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — The inmates of the detention center here were once considered the "worst of the worst" in the "war on terror." U.S. officials locked away hundreds of men picked up all over the world in a belief that they were all hardened enemies of America, ruthlessly committed to their cause.

But now, more than a decade later, many of the remaining detainees — the vast majority of whom have never been charged, and scores of whom have been cleared for release — are ailing as they get older behind bars. Their physical and mental health after years of captivity, often marked by hunger strikes, now requires frequent medical attention.

This week, an ophthalmologist was flown from the U.S. to the naval base to perform cataract surgery on two prisoners who have been held without trial for more than a decade. Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Greg, the officer in charge of the 15-bed detainee hospital, told Al Jazeera that visits to the prison by outside physicians have become routine over the past few months.

"As people age, there’s medical problems," said Greg, a nurse who was deployed to Guantanamo two months ago. "For example, we just brought in a gastroenterologist to see our patients. We also just had a dermatologist here."

There were no prisoners at the hospital when Al Jazeera toured the site. Greg said he does not see the most high-value prisoners — including Abu Zubaydahand Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks — who are held in a top-secret camp at an undisclosed location on the base.

Greg said he is not authorized to disclose the identities of the prisoners undergoing surgery, because of privacy concerns. But he said he and the staff of the Joint Medical Group at the base have been treating prisoners who are battling problems ranging from obesity and diabetes to depression.

In fact, at least one prisoner has become so concerned with his diabetic condition that he requested the book "Diabetes for Dummies" from the detainee library, according to a library technician, Milton (who, like numerous other contractors who support the prison operations, would not disclose his surname for security reasons). 

How to close Guantanamo, where 162 prisoners are currently being held, is not the only crisis the Obama administration and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been forced to address. Earlier this year, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., raised concerns that the failure to provide older prisoners with better medical care could open the U.S. government up to "all kinds of implications in terms of human rights violations that we would have with our own laws as well as international laws."

"As the law stands now, and we have an inmate who has a heart attack, doesn't die, but needs more complicated care, where's he going to get it in Guantanamo?" Smith said during a hearing centered on a budgetary request to upgrade prison camp facilities. "He's not."

The hospital and the neighboring structure, the Behavioral Health Unit, better known as the psych ward, are located inside Camp Delta, where hundreds of prisoners were once detained. Those facilities, with their rusty exteriors, are showing signs of age.

Greg said that while some upgrades are currently underway at the hospital that may address Smith’s fears, the issue is still of major concern to him.

"We can’t staff for every specialty here," he said, adding that some prisoners "need more medical care, and we’re trying to give it to them here. They’re getting older. We do the best we can."

Surgeries for ailments such as cataracts are performed at the naval hospital on base because the detainee hospital is not equipped to handle them and there is no surgeon on staff. 

But there is one thing the hospital is well equipped to handle: the force-feeding of hunger strikers. Greg has conducted dozens of such sessions. Standing in a room outfitted with a restraint chair and force-feeding kit, he described the procedure in clinical language and used the term "self-fast" when speaking about prisoners who refuse food as a form of protest.

"If a detainee is losing weight because of a self-fast, we want to make sure they are getting nourishment by putting a tube down the throat and nose so we can do an e-feeding," he said, holding the tube and a bottle of liquid food.

"Before we do (a force-feeding), we’re going to offer them a meal tray. And if they still refuse the meal tray, we’ll offer them a nutrition shake. And if they refuse the nutrition shake, then a medical provider will select a type of feeding we can give them.

"A nurse will put the tube down their nose, and we will use olive oil or some type of lubricant. It seems that the detainees prefer the olive oil. We want to make sure we keep them as healthy as possible."

Neither Greg nor the senior medical officer at the hospital, a physician who would not provide his name for security reasons, is concerned about the criticism the procedure has received from medical ethicists and human rights groups.

"Lots of groups have opinions about how they feel about what’s going on," the senior medical officer said. "That’s very reasonable. Everyone has an opinion, and I respect that. Still, we need to get the mission done, and our mission of trying to ensure the detainees under our care are getting healthy is our primary goal."

Both Greg and the senior medical officer refused to disclose the number of prisoners currently on hunger strike, in keeping with a newly implemented media blackout policy on the details. The senior medical officer disputed claims that the hunger strike has escalated. Last week, British prisoner Shaker Aamer told his attorney Clive Stafford Smith that the hunger strike is "back on" and involved 29 protesters — of whom 19 were subjected to force-feeding.

"I’ve seen a steady decrease in the number," said the senior medical officer, who added that the force-feeding process was largely problem-free. "There have been a couple of detainees who are approved for enteral feeding who do resist the initial … being brought into the restraint chair. After that, generally speaking, they are sitting compliant and receiving their enteral feeding. There have been times when there has been some acting out, but usually it is relatively passive."

Members of the medical staff provided identical responses to several specific questions, appearing somewhat rehearsed. Indeed, they said the medical conditions and quality of health care they have been providing to the prisoners are identical to what their patients receive in the U.S. All interviewees said that, with the exception of force-feeding, the prisoners have complete autonomy over their medical care.

"Prior to getting here I had no idea what to expect," the senior medical officer said. "Getting down here and seeing what’s going on and how the medical care is delivered … it was eye-opening to see it’s pretty much the same as you would see anywhere. Obviously there are some logistical differences, such as the detainees requiring guard staff for movements."

A psychiatrist, who also declined to be identified for security reasons, agreed. She said she has been treating prisoners who are suffering from depression and anxiety.

"I’ve seen here the same ailments I would see in a standard clinical practice," she said. "It’s relatively similar, with the exception of the setting."

Filipino Muslims Rebuild Church

OnIslam & Newspapers

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Zamboanga Muslim residents announced they had come to Santa Catalina to rebuild the Christ the King chapel.

CAIRO – To the surprise of Christian residents in Zamboanga city in Santa Catalina district, their Muslim neighbors have been championing efforts to rebuild a catholic church, carrying carpenters tools, sawing lumber and driving in nails to rebuild the chapel.

“We thought they were just looking for damaged mosques to rebuild,” Jimmy Villaflores, Santa Catalina barangay (village) head, told Inquirer Mindanao on Saturday, December 14.

“We have not heard of any Muslim helping build a chapel before,” Villaflores said.

Last month, Zamboanga Muslim residents, who returned home from abroad recently, announced they had come to Santa Catalina to rebuild the Christ the King chapel.

The chapel, build on the early 1980’s, was destroyed in fire in a recent standoff between the government and members of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) last September.

When the fighting ended, only the chapel’s back wall and altar were left.

But before the Christians could say anything to the Muslims, they went to work, sawing lumber, driving in nails and doing other things to rebuild the chapel.

“We are very happy about it. Santa Catalina residents are deeply touched by their efforts,” Villaflores said.

“We really appreciate how our Muslim brothers and sisters are helping us.”

He said that the help extended by Zamboanga’s Muslim residents has hastened the rebuilding of the chapel.

“Barely a month since the work began our chapel is about 90 percent completed already,” he said.

Father Michael Ufana of the Saint Joseph parish said he was overwhelmed by what the Muslims had shown, saying their efforts have strengthened interfaith connections in the city.

“The way other Muslims painstakingly reached somehow eased this,” he said.

Stronger Ties

The church rebuilding efforts were the result of cooperation between retired police Chief Superintendent Sukarno Ikbala and several other Muslim professionals who formed a group they called “Esperanza” (Hope).

“Esperanza stands for Environmental, Socio-Psychological, Economic, and Religious Advancement of Neo-Zamboangaenos’ Aspirations,” he said.

Ikbala said he was listening to a live-streaming radio broadcast in the United States one day when he heard a fellow retiree, Senior Supt. Julmunier Jubail, rallying Muslims to help in the rebuilding and relief efforts in the city.

Ikbala said he immediately came home, met with Jubail, retired Senior Supt. Bensali Jabarani and coordinated their efforts to rebuild the church.

After that meeting, they raised P120,000 from the Asia Foundation and from fellow Muslim Abdurahman Nuno.

“We are also using our own resources. We give whatever we have in our pockets, and in due time we can complete the roofing of the chapel,” Ikbala proudly announced.

“I did not want the general Christian community to look down on us as bad people because we were all victims,” he said.

“We do hope that in our own small ways of reaching out, something beautiful will come out.”

Muslims make up nearly 8 percent of the total populace in largely Catholic Philippines.

The mineral-rich southern region of Mindanao, Islam's birthplace in the Philippines, is home to 5 million Muslims.

Muslim scholars from around the world ratify fatwa against terrorism

Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind concludes World Peace Conference attended by prominent Ulemas and Muslim Scholars

Saturday December 14, 2013 

Deoband ConferenceDeoband: Leading Indian Muslim organization Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind concluded the two day World Peace Conference at Deoband Saturday. Organized by the Sheikhul-Hind Educational Charitable Trust, the two day Conference is India's first initiative to establish a positive dialogue about world peace. 

Day 2 of the conference was presided by Mufti Abdul Rahman of Bangladesh and saw the presence of Mufti Mohammad Rizwee (Sri Lanka), Maulana Fazlur Rahman - AmirJamiat Ulama-e-Islam (Pakistan) and Mufti Noor Mohammad (Burma) as guests of honour.

The conference concluded on deliberating a strong stance against terrorism across the world. 
International scholars unanimously gave their support to a fatwa against terrorism in conclusion to the World Peace Conference. 

The fatwa declares Islam's vision to end terrorism with a message of global peace, and is a significant step towards promoting Islam's belief that terrorism should be eradicated.

"In 2008, 6000 Ulemas and Muftis had come together to sign the fatwa against terrorism issued by Darul Uloom Deoband. After receiving international consensus for disassociating the image of terror from the peaceful identity of Islam, over 200 Ulemas from the UK, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, The Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have added their support to the fatwa", prominent Muslim scholar and politician Mahmood A Madani, General Secretary, Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind said while addressing the conference.

"The conference therefore marks an international declaration to establish and maintain peace and harmony", he said.

The decisions made after extensive deliberation at the two day event will be announced at Aman Ka Paigaam: Message of Peace, at Ramlila Maidan (New Delhi) on 15 December 2013.

The event will be attended by 1,00,000 Muslims from all walks of life and will see them take a pledge of peace. 

The World Peace Conference seeks to highlight the role and duties of the Ulama, in the larger context of establishing national peace and harmonious relations with the community, with an Islamic perspective to address issues like communal conflict between religions and various Muslim theological groups, and social evils like sexual exploitation, alcoholism, and drugs.

Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind is among India's leading Islamic organizations in India. Founded in 1919 by leading Muslim scholars, the organisation's network spans across India. Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind works to promote a nationalistic philosophy, secularism and Muslim welfare.

Omar Khadr says he pleaded guilty to war crimes because of his ‘hopeless’ situation in Guantanamo Bay

Colin Perkel, Canadian Press | 13/12/13 

TORONTO — Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr has explained for the first time why he pleaded guilty to five war crimes, saying it was because he had been left with a “hopeless” choice.

In a new court filing obtained by The Canadian Press, Khadr says he knew the Americans could have held him indefinitely — even in the highly unlikely case he would have been acquitted.

“I was left with a hopeless choice,” Khadr, 27, says in the affidavit sworn Friday.

“If I wanted the chance to eventually return to my home of Canada, I would have to be found guilty of crimes as determined by the U.S. government, which could then lead to me serving my sentence in Canada.”

The affidavit, filed in Federal Court, comes as part of Khadr’s $20-million lawsuit against the federal government for violation of his rights.

Without the plea agreement he signed in October 2010, Khadr says he would have faced the possibility of life-long detention and “continued abuse and torture” at Guantanamo Bay.

The entire agreement, including the agreed stipulation of facts, was put together by the American government, he says.

The Toronto-born Khadr also makes it clear that — in contrast to the agreed facts in the plea deal — he has never believed Jews or Americans should be killed or deserve to die, and says he never willingly joined an al-Qaida terrorist cell.

“Any participation in al-Qaida-related activities was at the demand of the adults around me,” his affidavit says — the first time Khadr has addressed such issues publicly.

He also says the American case against him was based in part on evidence supplied by Canadian intelligence officials, who interviewed him at the U.S. naval base after his transfer there from Afghanistan.

Documents also filed show Canadian intelligence officials, who were pursuing a case against Khadr’s father and a possible terrorism case against him, knew the Americans would only grant access to the teen if they would share information with the U.S.

“U.S. State Department would permit Canadian authorities an opportunity to interview Omar Khadr should it be established that such interviews would further any investigation within their jurisdiction,” according to one RCMP memo from September 2002.

Khadr’s lawyers are trying to get those links included as part of the civil lawsuit against Ottawa, which has denied any wrongdoing.

The Americans detained Khadr as a terribly wounded 15-year-old following a four-hour firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002 in which a U.S. special forces soldier was killed.

Khadr says he has no memories of that battle or of the grenade that killed Sgt. Christopher Speer.

He also insists he had no plans to kill any soldiers, nor did he attack any of the U.S. forces who entered the compound after the battle was over.

Those denials, however, would have left him unable to enter the plea deal before a widely maligned military commission, which sentenced him to a further eight years behind bars.

Khadr was transferred to Canada in September 2012 to serve out the rest of his sentence, and is currently housed in an Edmonton maximum security facility.

The federal government has repeatedly denounced Khadr as an unrepentant terrorist.

Khadr is also appealing his underlying conviction in the U.S. on the basis that the offences to which he pleaded guilty — including murder in violation of the rule of law — have no validity in either international or American domestic law.

His affidavit also states that he never signed away his rights to appeal that conviction.

Khadr says his detention conditions deteriorated after he pleaded guilty, and he was interrogated for up to nine hours a day for nine or 10 days at a stretch.

The Canadian Press

Canadian spy agency set up covert sites worldwide at NSA’s request

By Dylan Lubao and Keith Jones 
14 December 2013

A leaked top-secret US National Security Agency (NSA) memo has provided evidence, straight from the horse’s mouth, of the extent to which the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) functions as an intimate partner, even arm, of the NSA.

Leaked by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the memo states that CSEC “has opened covert sites at the request of the NSA” to conduct spying operations “targeting approximately 20 high-priority countries.”

Precisely which countries remains secret. This is because the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)—which partnered with Glenn Greenwald, a journalist who has worked closely with Snowden, to publish a report on the memo—chose to keep portions of it secret, on the grounds that they contained “hyper-sensitive operational” content and it did not want to damage national security.

In suppressing this information, Canada’s public broadcaster is helping the Conservative government and ruling elite perpetuate the lie that CSEC exists to protect ordinary Canadians from al-Qaeda terrorists and similar “foreign threats.”

The NSA memo confirms numerous statements made by those close to Canadian and American intelligence circles that CSEC and the NSA are closely integrated. During a CBC radio show interview in early November, Greenwald remarked that there would be “many more significant documents about Canadian surveillance and (its) partnership with the NSA that will be reported.”

What has already been released about CSEC’s clandestine operations would suggest that the word “partnership” is grossly inadequate. In the NSA’s vast global spying apparatus, CSEC figures as an enthusiastic subcontractor, carrying out surveillance operations in regions that would otherwise be inaccessible or “unavailable” to the NSA. It also assists in it in some of its most sensitive operations, such as spying on the London 2009 G-20 meeting and the succeeding 2010 G-20 summit in Toronto.

Former NSA executive Thomas Drake described CSEC’s unique position as follows: “Just think of certain foreign agreements or relationships that Canada actually enjoys that the United States doesn’t, and under the cover of those relationships, guess what you can conduct?”

Plainly speaking, CSEC takes advantage of Canada’s illusory “benign” image to spy where the NSA and their other allies in the Five Eyes signals intelligence partnership cannot or find their operations greatly restricted. This partnership includes the signals intelligence agencies of Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. CSEC has been the NSA’s invaluable “little brother” in this arrangement since the end of the Second World War.

Though much smaller than the NSA, CSEC is hailed as a “highly valued second party partner,” by virtue of its “resources for advanced collection, processing and analysis” of phone and internet communications. In exchange for services rendered, CSEC is given wide access to the NSA’s own spying capabilities, including its newest data-mining and decryption technology. The NSA also contributes funding for joint projects.

Cementing this union are the regular “exchange of liaison officers and integrees, joint projects, shared activities, and a strong desire for closer collaboration in the area of cyber defense.”

Thanks to Edward Snowden, CSAC’s intimate partner, the NSA, has been exposed as a conspiracy of the US state against the people of the world, illegally spying on all forms of electronic communications worldwide, including subjecting the American people to mass surveillance in flagrant violation of the US constitution.

This raises an obvious but pivotal question: how deep does CSEC’s illegality run?

There are abundant reasons to conclude that CSEC is doing everything that the NSA does, albeit with a smaller global footprint.

To point to only a few:

CSEC—as documented above—is a partner in the NSA’s criminal activities, has access to many of its most intrusive programs, and continues to work assiduously to expand its cooperation and integration with the NSA.

Since at least 2004—and utterly unbeknownst to all but a tiny number of senior government officials—CSEC has been mining the metadata of Canadians’ electronic communications, including telephone calls, text-messages, e-mails and Internet usage.

In 2005, as CSEC and the NSA were massively expanding their capacity to spy on telecommunications, the then director of CSEC publicly declared the agency needed to learn to “own the internet”—i.e. to subject it to blanket surveillance.

The government has systematically lied about CSEC’s activities and is determined to keep them veiled in a shroud of secrecy so thick that the public is denied knowledge even of the topics of the secret ministerial directives under which the spy agency operates.

The mantra of CSEC officials and Conservative government spokesman is that CSEC’s activities are not directed at Canadians. Yet this is contradicted by the very legislative mandate under which CSEC functions. One of CSEC’s three core mandates is “to provide technical and operational assistance to federal law enforcement agencies”—most importantly the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in their drive to counter “domestic subversion.” In anticipation of growing social unrest, these agencies have in recent years widened their definition of “terrorism” to include civil disobedience, blockades and other forms of peaceful protest.

The government has responded to the exposure of CSEC’s metadata mining of Canadians electronic communications by stonewalling. Publicly it refuses to concede that CSEC is engaged in such spying. But the secret government directives authorizing CSEC to do so reportedly make a spurious legal distinction between the metadata and the “contents” of a communication, so as to arrogate for state the power to see whom Canadians are communicating with, when and for how long.

From such metadata, the state can rapidly develop profiles of individuals and dissident groups, identifying their place of work, sources of news and information, friends, associates and habits.

If Stephen Harper and his Conservatives have been able to so brazenly lie and stonewall about the activities of CSEC, it is because the opposition parties, including the trade union-based New Democratic Party (NDP) are no more eager than the government to expose CSEC as tool of Canadian imperialism and pivotal part of the national-security apparatus charged with preventing any challenge to Canadian capitalism, above all from the working class.

In the half-year since the exposure of CSEC’s metadata mining, the opposition parties have raised no more than a handful of questions in Parliament on the matter and otherwise completely ignored it. The same goes for CSEC’s partnership with the NSA. Needless to say, the NDP, Liberals, and for that matter the Greens and Bloc Quebecois, have not alerted Canadians to the significance of the Snowden revelations and of CSEC’s intimate role in the NSA’s global spy network, let alone drawn the crucial political inferences concerning CSEC’s complicity in illegality and indifference and hostility to Canadians’ democratic rights.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Saving Islam from suicide bombs

Saudi Arabia's leading Muslim cleric came out forcefully against suicide bombings. The Middle East, now roiling with such attacks, needs more Islamic scholars speaking out.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / December 12, 2013

One of Islam’s leading religious figures, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, spoke out against suicide bombings Thursday. It was not the first time that Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al al-Sheikh has done so. But his words were particularly strong and very general.

The possible reason? Suicide bombings – by Muslims against Muslims – are roiling the Middle East.

The Saudi cleric said these suicide killings of civilians are “great crimes” against Islamic teachings. But he distinguished between the bombings and the bombers, saying the latter were “robbed of their minds” and used as tools “to destroy themselves and societies.”

Many more prominent Muslim leaders like Mr. Abdulaziz need to assert, frequently and forcefully, that Islam is a religion of peace – especially now. From Pakistan to Libya, various political events, such as the Iran nuclear deal and the sputtering Arab Spring, as well as shifts in the Syrian and Afghanistan wars, help account for a sharp uptick in suicide bombings.

On Dec. 5, for example, suicide bombers, many from Saudi Arabia, killed 56 people in Yemen. Iraq has seen more than 8,000 people killed this year, mainly by bombings. Suicide bombings are becoming more frequent in Syria as jihadists join the fight against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

One particular attack on Nov. 19 shook the region. Two suicide bombers killed 18 people near Iran’s Embassy in Lebanon. The Al Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the bombing.

The attack was seen as not only the spread of the Syrian conflict outside Syria but as a possible escalation of the contest for power between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi leaders fear an interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program may eventually give the Shiite clerics in Tehran more freedom to exert influence in the region. And the Iranian-backed regime in Damascus appears stronger in that country’s civil war.

Many things need to happen to curb the number of terrorists who abuse the name of Islam in murdering civilians. The Middle East needs more freedom, rights, and economic development. Force must be used to hit terrorist cells. Western troops must minimize their role in the region.

But the most effective tool lies with respected Muslim scholars who preach against suicide bombings.

Sheikh Maher Hammoud, a Sunni cleric in Lebanon, told Al-Akhbar news last month that Islamic clergy who justify suicide attacks “are pretenders who take bits and pieces of religious texts and issue fatwas that are suitable to them.” Other Muslim clerics, such as many in Yemen, are trying to reach young men who dream of being heroic martyrs for Islam. In Pakistan, prominent leaders of differing Muslim sects met Dec. 8 to promote interfaith harmony and tolerance. “The Holy Quran teaches the lesson of adopting the path of peace,” Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain told the group.

More Islamic leaders need to speak out.

Remembering The Religious Right's Attacks On Nelson Mandela

BY Brian Tashman on Thursday, 12/5/2013

The news today of Nelson Mandela’s passing is also time to reflect on the complicated relationship between Mandela and his anti-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) with the US, which did not always support the anti-apartheid struggle. In fact, American conservatives lobbied the federal government in the 1980s to withhold support from the anti-apartheid movement.

President Reagan added the ANC to the US terrorism watch list, a designation not removed until 2008, and unsuccessfully vetoed sanctions against the apartheid regime. Many Republican lawmakers did break with the Reagan administration’s stance, but “all 21 [Senate] votes to sustain the veto were cast by Republicans.”

Mandela faced criticism from Republican leaders including Dick Cheney, who described Mandela’s ANC as a “terrorist organization,” and Jesse Helms, who “turned his back during Mandela’s visit to the U.S. Capitol.” Even in 1998, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly lumped Mandela together with notorious dictators.

The late Jerry Falwell urged [PDF] his supporters to write their congressmen and senators to tell them to oppose sanctions against the apartheid regime. “The liberal media has for too long suppressed the other side of the story in South Africa,” he said. “It is very important that we stay close enough to South Africa so that it does not fall prey to the clutches of Communism.”

“South Africa is torn by civil unrest, instigated primarily by Communist-sponsored people who are capitalizing on the many legitimate grievances created by apartheid, unemployment and policy confrontations,” Falwell continued.
Finally, we should, if possible, invest in South Africa, because this inevitably improves the standard of living for nonwhites there.

Now is not the time to turn our backs on South Africa. The world has witnessed the Soviets capture nation after nation. They have been particularly aggressive in Africa. South Africa must not be the next victim!

David John Marley notes in Pat Robertson: An American Life that Robertson criticized the ANC because it was “led by communists and was hostile to Israel” and “far too radical an element to ever work with,” while “his campaign literature made similar claims for the need to support the white government.”

The televangelist regularly spoke ill of Mandela’s group and his Christian Broadcasting Network ran segments critical of sanctions against the apartheid government as Congress debated sanctions.
In 1986 The 700 Club did a series of reports on South Africa and the white government’s struggle against the African National Congress. While many socially liberal religious leaders decried the apartheid regime, Robertson openly supported it because he felt that it was a bastion against communism. For Robertson, everything else was secondary to defeating what he saw as the enemies of God. Robertson sent a copy of The 700 Club program to Freedom Council’s Dick Thompson to have it forwarded to Pat Buchanan, who in turn promised to show it to the president. Reagan’s attitude toward South Africa was one of his most controversial foreign policy stands, and Robertson was one of Reagan’s few allies on the policy.

Sam Kleiner mentions that now-Sen. Jeff Flake, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff were also active in lobbying against the anti-apartheid movement:
Jack Abramoff, now a disgraced former lobbyist convicted of fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion, got much of his start from his work with South Africa. Abramoff visited the country following his term as National Chair of the College Republicans in 1983 and met with pro-apartheid student groups linked to the South Africa’s Bureau of Security Services. In 1986, he opened the International Freedom Foundation. Ostensibly a think tank, it was later revealed as a front group for the South African Army as part of “Operation Babushka” meant to undermine Nelson Mandela’s international approval. The group had over “30 young ideologues in offices on G Street in Washington, Johannesburg, London and Brussels” working on propaganda in support of the South African government.

Like Abramoff, GOP tax guru Grover Norquist became enamored with the conflict in South Africa and went there to extend his support. Norquist ran College Republicans from 1981 to 1983 and went to South Africa in 1985 for a “Youth for Freedom Conference” sponsored by South African businesses. While other college students, such as Barack Obama, had been active in anti-apartheid work, this conference was seeking to bring American and South African conservatives together to end that movement. In his speech there, Norquist said, “The left has no other issue [but apartheid] on campus. Economic issues are losers for them. There are no sexy Soviet colonies anymore.” A few months after the conference, Norquist went to Angola to work with Jonas Savimbi, the rebel leader that Abramoff valorized in his film. Norquist became a ghost-writer for Savimbi’s essay in Policy Review. When he returned to Washington, he was greeted in conservative circles as a “freedom fighter,” and he proudly placed an “I’d rather be killing commies” bumper sticker on his brief case.

A few years later and much further along in the anti-apartheid movement, a young Jeff Flake (now a senator from Arizona) became active in lobbying for South African mining interests in the late 1980s and early ’90s, after returning from his Mormon mission to South Africa. As a graduate student at Brigham Young University, he testified against an anti-apartheid resolution in the Utah State Senate and then became a lobbyist in Washington for Smoak, Shipley and Henry, a lobbying firm specializing in representing the South African mining industry. Flake went on to personally represent the Rossing Uranium plant in Namibia, which had been a major target of anti-apartheid activists for its discriminatory and unsafe practices.

Decades later, these Republican leaders would prefer not to have their adventures in South Africa mentioned. While Abramoff went down in a corruption scandal, Norquist went on to remake himself into a libertarian anti-tax activist, and Flake moved back to Arizona. The anti-communism that motivated the Republican allegiance to South Africa fizzled with the end of the Cold War, but the history of the Republican entanglement with South Africa remains one of the party’s darker episodes.

President Obama can proudly talk about how his first political act was in response to apartheid. While a few Republicans stood against apartheid, much of the Republican Party has nothing to offer about its position at the time but silence. I wouldn’t expect any reflections on apartheid from Abramoff, Flake or Norquist anytime soon.

US drone strike in Yemen kills 15

By Peter Symonds 
13 December 2013

At least 15 people were killed yesterday in central Yemen, when missiles fired from an unmanned US drone slammed into a wedding convoy. Yemeni security officials said the attack took place near the city of Radda, the capital of Bayda province, leaving behind charred bodies and burnt out vehicles.

No names and few details have been released. The CIA and US military, which are responsible for the criminal program of targeted assassinations in Yemen, Pakistan and other countries, have made no statement.

Yemeni security officials have provided conflicting accounts of the attack. “An air strike missed its target and hit a wedding car convoy,” one official told Reuters. “Ten people were killed immediately and another five who were injured died after being admitted to the hospital.” Another five people were injured. No attempt was made to explain what the real target was, or why “a mistake” was made.

Another official sought to justify the strike, telling the Associated Press that militants from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were suspected to have been travelling with the wedding convoy. No evidence was provided. Radda is regarded as an AQAP stronghold.

The latest civilian deaths underscore the indiscriminate and illegal character of the US drone strikes that are being used to terrorise the local population and demonstrate American military might throughout the region.

Yesterday’s attack came days after a US drone strike on Monday that killed three people driving on a road in al-Qatan, in Hadramout province. “The vehicle and its occupants were completely burned,” a Yemeni official told Reuters.

The two drone strikes appear to be in retaliation for an Al Qaeda attack on December 5 on the government defence ministry building in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. The attackers set off a large car bomb outside the building then entered the complex, shooting people on sight. The attack in broad daylight left 56 dead and 167 injured. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility, saying it was in response to US drone strikes.

Having propped up the regime of Yemeni strongman President Ali Abdullah Saleh for decades, the Obama regime helped to engineer the installation of President Mansour Al-Hadi to try to quell mass anti-Saleh protests. As well as drone strikes, the US backs the Yemeni government through the provision of financial aid, military equipment and training.

Washington regards Yemen as vital to its strategic interests in the Middle East. The country occupies a strategically vital position on the southern border of Saudi Arabia. It is next to the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, the main shipping lane connecting the oil fields of the Persian Gulf with the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, and access to Europe.

According to a Human Rights Watch report published in October, the US Joint Operations Command, a semi-covert arm of the military and CIA, has carried out at least 81 killing operations in Yemen over the past decade. One was carried out in 2002 and the remainder have taken place since 2009—that is, under the Obama administration. At least, 473 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the attacks.

The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigators made two trips to Yemen to examine six strikes—one in 2009 and the rest from 2012-13—which killed 82 people, at least 57 of them civilians. Four were carried out by drones, one involved cruise missiles, and the last one either drones or warplanes.

The report concluded: “Two of these attacks were in clear violation of international humanitarian law—the laws of war—because they struck only civilians or used indiscriminate weapons. The other four may have violated laws of war because the individual attacked was not a lawful military target or the attack caused disproportionate civilian harm, determinations that require further investigation.”

In the worst attack, on December 17, 2009, the US military fired up to five Tomahawk cruise missiles armed with cluster bombs at the small village of al-Majalah in the south of the country. Yemeni officials described the target as an Al Qaeda training camp in which 34 “terrorists” had been killed. A subsequent investigation found that 14 suspected militants had been killed, along with at least 41 civilians living in a Bedouin camp, including 9 women and 21 children. Cluster munitions subsequently killed another 4 civilians and injured 13 others.

Amnesty International also released a report in October documenting the killing of unarmed civilians in covert drone strikes in North Waziristan in Pakistan. “This secrecy has enabled the USA to act with impunity and block victims from receiving justice or compensation,” the report stated. “As far as Amnesty is aware, no US official has ever been held to account for unlawful killings by drones in Pakistan.”

The Obama administration dismissed the two reports out of hand. White House spokesman Jay Carney “strongly disagreed” that the US had acted illegally, adding: “The administration has repeatedly emphasised the extraordinary care that we take to make sure counter-terrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable law.”

Yesterday’s murderous drone strike on a civilian wedding convoy once again exposes the lies of the White House. The Obama administration has arrogated to itself the “right” to act completely outside American and international law as judge, jury and executioner for anyone deemed to be a threat to US imperialist interests.

Israel inches closer to 'tipping point' of South Africa-style boycott campaign

Analogies with apartheid regime in the wake of Mandela’s death could accelerate efforts to ostracize Israel - especially if John Kerry’s peace process collapses.

By Chemi Shalev

Haaretz | Dec. 11, 2013

This has happened in recent days: The Dutch water company Vitens severed its ties with Israeli counterpart Mekorot; Canada’s largest Protestant church decided to boycott three Israeli companies; the Romanian government refused to send any more construction workers; and American Studies Association academics are voting on a measure to sever links with Israeli universities.

Coming so shortly after the Israeli government effectively succumbed to a boycott of settlements in order to be eligible for the EU’s Horizon 2020 scientific cooperation agreement, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement is picking up speed. And the writing on the wall, if anyone missed it, only got clearer and sharper in the wake of the death of Nelson Mandela.

There were valid arguments to be made both for and against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s participation in Tuesday’s memorial ceremony for Mandela, but there is no denying that the prime minister’s inept on-again, off-again, too-expensive, leave-me-alone public handling of this sensitive issue attracted unwanted publicity and compounded an already precarious situation.

The embarrassing flap singled out Israel as “odd man out," fueled media scrutiny of Israel’s past collaboration with the apartheid regime and provided valuable ammunition to those who would equate the two. More ominously, from an Israeli point of view, the analogy between today’s Israel and yesterday’s South Africa could also stoke a belief that the former can be brought to its knees in much the same way as the latter was in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

When the United Nations passed its first non-binding resolution calling for a boycott of South Africa in 1962, it was staunchly opposed by a bloc of Western countries, led by Britain and the United States. But the grassroots campaign that had started with academic boycotts in the late 1950s gradually moved on to sports and entertainment and went on from there to institutional boycotts and divestment. Along the way, the anti-apartheid movement swept up larger and larger swaths of Western public opinion, eventually forcing even the most reluctant of governments, including Israel and the U.S., to join the international sanctions regime.

In a 1998 article entitled “International Norms, Dynamics and Political Change," political scientists Martha Finnemore, now of George Washington University, and Kathryn Sikking of the University of Minnesota laid out the foundations of the “life cycle” by which certain norms develop to shape the behavior of states and then of the international community as a whole. The first step, they claim, is “norm emergence," when a new norm is championed by NGO’s and “norm entrepreneurs." The second stage is a “norms cascade," when states fall into line to embrace the new norm. And a prerequisite for evolution from the first to the second stages is a “tipping point” that occurs when a critical mass of events and opinions converge to create the norms cascade.

In the case of South Africa, the first “tipping point” probably came in the Soweto riots of 1976, which sparked the protest and disinvestment campaigns that ultimately swept American universities, pension funds and multinational corporations. The second “tipping point” came after the black South African rebellion against the racist 1983 constitution and the imposition of a permanent State of Emergency in 1984-1985, which brought the rest of the world into line.

“Tipping points," of course, are hard to predict, and efforts to do so have been the focal point of widespread, multidisciplinary research in recent years. “You know the edge is out there, but it’s dark and foggy. We’re really great at knowing where thresholds are after we fall off the cliff, but that’s not very helpful,” as lake ecologist and “tipping point” researcher Stephen Carpenter told USA today in 2009.

Israel could very well be approaching such a threshold. Among the many developments that could be creating the required critical mass one can cite the passage of time since the Twin Towers attacks in September 2001, which placed Israel in the same camp as the U.S. and the West in the War on Terror; Israel’s isolation in the campaign against Iran’s nuclear programs; the disappearance of repelling archenemies such as Osama bin Laden, Muammar Gadhafi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and, to a lesser degree, Yasser Arafat; the relative security and lack of terror inside Israel coupled with its own persistent settlement drive; and the negative publicity generated by revelations of racism in Israeli society, the image of its rulers as increasingly rigid and right wing and the government’s own confrontations with illegal African immigrants and Israeli Bedouin, widely perceived as being tinged with bias and prejudice.

In recent days, American statesmen seem to be more alarmed about the looming danger of delegitimization than Israelis are. In remarks to both the Saban Forum and the American Joint Distribution Committee this week, Secretary of State John Kerry described delegitimization as “an existential danger." Vice President Joe Biden, speaking to the same JDC forum, went one step further: “The wholesale effort to delegitimize Israel is the most concentrated that I have seen in the 40 years I have served. It is the most serious threat in my view to Israel’s long-term security and viability.”

One must always take into account the possibility of unforeseen developments that will turn things completely around. Barring that, the only thing that may be keeping Israel from crossing the threshold and “going over the cliff” in the international arena is Kerry’s much-maligned peace process, which is holding public opinion and foreign governments at bay and preventing a “tipping point” that would dramatically escalate the anti-Israeli boycott campaign.

Which only strengthens Jeffrey Goldberg’s argument in a Bloomberg article on Wednesday that Kerry is “Israel’s best friend." It also highlights, once again, how narrow-minded, shortsighted and dangerously delusional Kerry’s critics, peace process opponents and settlement champions really are (though you can rest assured that if and when the peace process collapses and Israel is plunged into South African isolation, they will be pointing their fingers in every direction but themselves.)

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mandela has been sanitised by hypocrites and apologists

The ANC liberation hero has been reinvented as a Kumbaya figure in order to whitewash those who stood behind apartheid

Seumas Milne

The Guardian, Wednesday 11 December 2013 

Nelson Mandela is greeted by Fidel Castro on a visit to Cuba in 1991. Photograph: Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images

We have now had a week of unrelenting beatification of Nelson Mandela by exactly the kind of people who stood behind his jailers under apartheid. Mandela was without question a towering historical figure and an outstanding hero of South Africa's liberation struggle. So it would be tempting to imagine they had been won over by the scale of his achievement, courage and endurance.

For some, that may be true. For many others, in the western world in particular, it reeks of the rankest hypocrisy. It is after all Mandela's global moral authority, and the manifest depravity of the system he and the African National Congress brought to an end, that now makes the hostility of an earlier time impossible to defend.

So history has had to be comprehensively rewritten, Mandela and the ANC appropriated and sanitised, and inconvenient facts minimised or ignored. The whitewashed narrative has been such a success that the former ANC leader has been reinvented and embraced as an all-purpose Kumbaya figure by politicians across the spectrum and ageing celebrities alike.

But it's a fiction that turns the world on its head and obscures the reality of global power then and now. In this fantasy, the racist apartheid tyranny was a weird aberration that came from nowhere, unconnected to the colonial system it grew out of or the world powers that kept it in place for decades.

In real life, it wasn't just Margaret Thatcher who branded Mandela a terrorist and resisted sanctions, or David Cameron who went on pro-apartheid lobby junkets. Almost the entire western establishment effectively backed the South African regime until the bitter end. Ronald Reagan described it as "essential to the free world". The CIA gave South African security the tipoff that led to Mandela's arrest and imprisonment for 27 years. Harold Wilson's government was still selling arms to the racist regime in the 1960s, and Mandela wasn't removed from the US terrorism watch list until 2008.

Airbrushed out of the Mandela media story has been the man who launched a three-decade-long armed struggle after non-violent avenues had been closed; who declared in his 1964 speech from the dock that the only social system he was tied to was socialism; who was reported by the ANC-allied South African Communist party this week to have been a member of its central committee at the time of his arrest; and whose main international supporters for 30 years were the Soviet Union and Cuba.

It has barely been mentioned in the past few days, but Mandela supported the ANC's armed campaign of sabotage, bombings and attacks on police and military targets throughout his time in prison. Veterans of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the ANC's armed wing, emphasise that the military campaign was always subordinate to the political struggle and that civilians were never targeted (though there were civilian casualties).

But as Ronnie Kasrils, MK's former intelligence chief, told me on Wednesday, Mandela continued to back it after his release in 1990 when Kasrils was running arms into South Africa to defend ANC supporters against violent attacks. And there's no doubt that under today's US and British law, he and other ANC leaders would have been jailed as terrorists for supporting such a campaign.

One of the lessons of Mandela and the ANC's real history is that the cold war wasn't just about capitalism and communism – or freedom and dictatorship, as is now often claimed – but also about colonialism and national liberation, in which the west was unmistakably on the wrong side.

South Africa wasn't an anomaly. The brutal truth is that the US and its allies backed dictatorships from Argentina and Greece to Saudi Arabia, while Soviet support allowed peoples from Vietnam to Angola to win national independence. Cuban military action against South African and US-backed forces at Cuito Cuanavale in Angola in 1988 gave a vital impetus to the fall of the racist regime in Pretoria.

That's one reason why Mandela was a progressive nationalist, and Raul Castro, the Cuban president, spoke at Tuesday's celebration of Mandela's life in Soweto, not David Cameron. And why the man Barack Obama called the "last great liberator of the 20th century" was outspoken in his opposition to US and British wars of intervention and occupation, from Kosovo to Iraq – damning the US as a "threat to world peace", guilty of "unspeakable atrocities".

Such statements have barely figured in media tributes to Mandela this week, of course. The enthusiasm with which Mandela has been embraced in the western world is not only about the racial reconciliation he led, which was a remarkable achievement, but the extent of the ANC's accommodation with corporate South Africa and global finance, which has held back development and deepened inequality.

There have been important social advances since the democratic transformation of the early 1990s, from water and power supply to housing and education. And in the global climate of the early 90s, it's perhaps not surprising that the ANC bent to the neoliberal flood tide, putting its Freedom Charter calls for public ownership and redistribution of land on the back burner. But the price has been to entrench racial economic division, unemployment and corruption, while failing to attract the expected direct foreign investment.

The baleful grip of neoliberal capitalism, and the growing pressure to break with it, is a challenge that goes far beyond South Africa, of course. But along with the struggle for social justice and national liberation, the right to resist tyranny and occupation, and profound opposition to racism and imperial power, that is part of the real legacy of Nelson Mandela.

Twitter: @seumasmilne

Bangladesh leader’s execution is a political murder

NEW YORK, NY (December 12, 2013) – The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) strongly condemns the execution today of Abdul Quader Mollah, the Assistant Secretary General of Bangladesh’s Jamat-e-Islami party by Shaikh Hasina’s government.

ICNA President Naeem Baig said “this is a political murder and a dark day for justice”. Death sentences of political prisoners being handed down through unjust judicial process may plunge Bangladesh into violence, political tyranny, and social anarchy.

World leaders, including US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had personally appealed to the Bangladesh Prime Minister to halt the execution. United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and several international bodies have condemned the way these courts were established and trials conducted.

The judgment is a result of a trial where the defense teams faced severe obstructions including abduction of their witnesses, disallowing defense evidence or witnesses, and circumventing legal procedures like changing of the law to allow the prosecution to pursue the death penalty after a verdict of life sentence had been reached. These courts are not recognized by any international human rights or legal body as being fair and adhering to international standards.

Allah (swt) reminds us in the Quran (2:154) “And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, “They are dead.” Rather, they are alive, but you perceive [it] not.”

The night before his execution, Mollah had said, as conveyed by his family, “I am absolutely innocent. I am being murdered as I am involved with the Islamic movement.” He further added “My every single (drop of) blood will mobilize the Islamic movement and will bring the doom of the autocrats. I am not worried for myself. I am worried about the fate of this nation and the Islamic movement.”

Take Action:

Ask the President and the Secretary of State to demand the Bangladeshi government to immediately halt these trials and executions.

The Whitehouse: (202) 456-1111
The State Department: (202) 647-4000

The Islamic Circle of North America is a leading American Muslim organization dedicated to the betterment of society through the application of Islamic values. Since 1968, ICNA has worked to build relations between communities by devoting itself to education, outreach, social services and relief efforts.


Islamic Circle of North America
Office: (718) 658-1199

Canadians can't take human rights for granted

By: Nadia Kidwai

Posted: 12/7/2013 

What does Canada stand for?

When I moved to this country nine years ago from the U.K., Canada seemed to be a kind of utopia. Multiculturalism had not yet become a controversial word. That multiculturalism was enshrined in legislation showed Canada was running victory laps around the U.K., where racist right-wing groups such as the British National Party and the English Defence League were surging in popularity, flying high on anti-Muslim rhetoric.

At least Muslims were safe from that in Canada, I thought.

How things have changed.

A decade later, the political and social climate of Canada has shifted dramatically. First, Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared "Islamicism" was the greatest security threat to Canadians, then the decision to ban the face veil at citizenship ceremonies. Now, it is Quebec's proposed Bill 60 or Charter of Values preventing public-sector workers or those seeking public services from wearing religiously mandated clothing.

In Manitoba, we are fortunate to live in a province that for the most part celebrates diversity and dialogue. The idea Bill 60 could be enacted in Canada seemed impossible. So when talk of banning religious clothing in Quebec began, I didn't take it seriously.

I was living in a bubble.

Something changed. It was the sudden realization fellow Canadians in Quebec are having their rights and freedoms attacked and toyed with by their government. Rights and freedoms, such as wearing the hijab, which I take for granted.

My complacency was part of the problem.

On Tuesday, International Human Rights Day, organizations across Canada are declaring it the Day Affirming Human Rights and Religious Diversity of All Canadians. In Winnipeg, we will show solidarity through a gathering at the legislature at 5 p.m.

Why should we care? This is happening in Quebec after all, and in all probability, even if the National Assembly passes the bill, it won't hold up in the courts. Isn't all this fuss over nothing?

The problem is not only if the bill is enacted, the real problem is the hatred this bill has created. Anti-Muslim attacks in Quebec have risen rapidly since the bill was tabled. Even if it does not pass, it has already created a climate of fear. Damage like that is hard to undo.

Why should the rest of Canada speak up? Because Quebecers need to know Canada is behind them; we are not silent as their rights and freedoms are threatened. The narrative and discourse over religious freedoms and symbols need to be changed. Freedom of conscience has no bearing on state neutrality nor does it facilitate inequality between men and women. Defeating Bill 60 is about preserving the freedom to make choices as our consciences dictate and about valuing the robust strength in diversity.

You don't have to wear a hijab, turban or kippah to believe in protecting those rights.

In every generation, in every region, there is a watershed moment when citizens are called to stand up for the rights of their fellow citizens. We learn about it in high school, we study it in university and right now we're reading about it in the newspapers. Because it's happening. Right now. In Canada. In 2013.

Don't be complacent. Educate yourself on Bill 60 and what it means for Canadians in Quebec. As of now, you are part of that watershed moment.

Welsh Winnipegger Nadia Kidwai is the program manager for the Canadian Muslim Leadership Institute.

MPs' Staff Asked To Sign Lifetime Confidentiality Agreements

By Kady O'Malley, CBC News Posted: Dec 11, 2013

A proposed lifetime gag order for employees of members of Parliament that would restrict their ability to share information — and stifle the kind of whistleblowing that led to some of the revelations in the Senate scandal — is triggering alarm among Parliament Hill staff, according to a union representing some of the workers.

Hill journalists were sent a grainy photo of the new agreement last week from "Nanker Phelge," a pseudonymous email account that appears to have been set up by a Hill staffer unhappy over the change in policy.

"At a time when some parliamentarians are moving to create a more open and transparent Parliament, the [House of Commons'] Board of Internal Economy is putting measures in place to ensure parliamentary staff can't be whistleblowers on their employers," the email said.

The email also pointedly notes restrictions on sharing information about the inner workings of the parliamentary precinct.The author highlights several provisions, including the lifetime application of the contract and the fact that any breach can result in immediate termination without pay or notice, as well as a new requirement to disclose all outside work, including volunteer gigs.

"Employees may not disclose any information about their employer which is politically sensitive," the writer says.

"If a MP staff member wanted to write a book about their time working in Parliament they couldn't ... but their MP could. Talk about a double standard," the email says.
Speaker's office confirms new policy

The House of Commons Speaker's office confirmed this week that the new form is in circulation.

"In the past, conflict of interest and confidentiality was dealt with in each separate [MP's] office on an ad hoc basis," spokesperson Heather Bradley told CBC News.

In March, as part of a broader modernization effort, the all-party Board of Internal Economy agreed to implement a number of changes to employment contracts and policies, Bradley said.

One of those changes was to make it mandatory for all MPs' offices — as well as House officers, party leaders and caucus research groups — to switch to the standardized conflict of interest and confidentiality agreement, and file signed copies of those agreements with the House pay and benefits office "as evidence that the board's decision is being respected," she said.
'Deeply worrisome'

Anthony Salloum, head of the union that represents most NDP staffers on the Hill, said he's gotten a "significant" number of emails from union members expressing concern over the wording of the new contract.

"Clearly, vague language like that found in Article 8 [which states that the contract survives the termination of employment, and even establishes automatic penalties in the event of a breach] is deeply worrisome."

According to Salloum, although the new requirement came into effect in March, for most NDP staffers, it didn't kick in until they got a raise under their collective agreement earlier this fall.

"Many of my colleagues were asked to sign this form in order to receive their raises," he told CBC News.

The union has asked for a legal opinion on the new document, which Salloum said he intends to share with NDP caucus chair Peter Julian.

"It's important for us to be informed on whether we have any grounds to formally object to it," Salloum said.

In the meantime, it seems, Hill staffers hoping to collect year-end raises or holiday bonuses will have to sign on the dotted line.