Stephen Harper Clings to Bush's Tattered Coattails

Stephen Harper's stance on Omar Khadr is not surprising.

Given a choice between standing up for a Canadian citizen and standing by the United States or Israel, the Prime Minister chooses the latter.

His government has maligned Louise Arbour, the distinguished jurist. Her crime? As head of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, she criticized the U.S. (for Guantanamo Bay) and Israel (for civilian casualties during its 2006 invasion of Lebanon).

In that war, Canadian Forces Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener was killed by an Israeli bomb, along with three others at a UN monitoring mission. Harper wouldn't criticize Israel or help Hess-von Kruedener's wife, Cynthia.

Harper is similarly refusing to budge on the Khadr case, despite disturbing new revelations that the youth was subjected to the torture of sleep deprivation, a tactic since prohibited by the U.S. military.

In fact, our Prime Minister has let it be known that he prefers Gitmo's discredited military trials to the Canadian justice system:

"Mr. Khadr is accused of very serious things. There is a legal process in the United States ... Frankly, we do not have a real alternative to that process to get to the truth about those accusations."

Even Khadr's American military lawyer, Lt.-Cmdr. William Kuebler, found that "preposterous."

Harper, he said, should "stand up as the Prime Minister of Canada and protect the rights of a Canadian citizen, and stop taking his orders from the Bush administration and stop being the last leader of a Western country to support a failed process in Guantanamo Bay."

A similar sentiment was expressed on the same day by New Democrat Alexa McDonough: "We have a Prime Minister who alone in the world still considers George Bush his political hero."

I had asked her about the sustainability of Harper's position boycotting Hamas and Hezbollah, when Israel itself is dealing with both, and also Syria:

* Using Egypt as a mediator, Israel worked out a ceasefire that has more or less held in the Gaza Strip since June 19. Israel is also negotiating the swap of a soldier captured by Hamas two years ago for the release of jailed Palestinians.
* Using the United Nations as mediator, Israel is close to a deal with Hezbollah for the return of two soldiers whose capture triggered the war in Lebanon. Israel is also ready to talk with Lebanon about a tiny piece of Israeli-occupied land, known as Shabaa Farms.
* Using Turkey as a mediator, Israel has held two rounds of talks with Syria about a peace treaty.

If Israel is talking to all the relevant parties, why can't Canada?

McDonough: "Whether it's the Israeli-Palestinian dispute or Iran, we can't seem to get our government to understand that a policy of belligerence doesn't do anything to advance peace."

On the Iran nuclear issue, Harper sides with the hard-line American-Israeli approach, which is inching toward a military confrontation.

Israel sent 100 warplanes 1,400 kilometres on what was said to be a trial run for attacking Iran's nuclear facilities. Iran fired off missiles said to be capable of reaching Israel. It also threatened to hit neighbours hosting American bases (that would be Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, etc.) Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. would protect its allies.

So it goes - and so goes the price of oil skyward.

Taking out Iranian nuclear facilities won't be as easy as the 1981 Israeli attack on Osirak, the Iraqi reactor. Iranian facilities are dispersed and deep underground. The Iranian capacity to muck up the Strait of Hormuz, from whence flows oil, should not be underestimated, nor its readiness to use its proxies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and elsewhere.

This is a time for Canada to diffuse tensions, not add to them by aping the disastrous policies of Bush.

Haroon Siddiqui writes Thursday and Sunday.

(c) Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2008

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