Friday, July 11, 2008


Tried posting this earlier but blogger was being weird. Make of it what you will.

I've been playing with this post for a couple of days now trying to get the wording just right. After reading Alison this morning, I think I've put my finger on it. If you're an official, uniformed or otherwise, with responsibility over and for the lives of Canadians or anyone else in whose name you claim to act, there standards of behaviour that you ought to live up to.

Brian Cloughley writes:

In France on June 29 a soldier taking part in a demonstration mistakenly fired live rounds instead of blanks. He wounded 17 people who were watching the display. The Chief of Staff of the French Army, General Bruno Cruche, submitted his resignation to President Sarkozy, who accepted it next day. There had been speedy analysis of a horrific incident ; immediate acceptance of responsibility ; then a self-imposed and principled end to a distinguished career by an officer who has set an example in honor and decency for generations of French soldiers. And for any others who care to take note.
Col. Cloughley then contrasts this to the behaviour of US brass around Abu Ghraib and other issues.

Abu Ghraib outrage was despicable and that it was indubitably carried out by the US army. But did any generals resign over this appalling affair? Nary a one, of course.

A few people were court-martialled. But most charges were reduced, dismissed, or dealt with by "non-judicial punishment" - you've got to laugh about that particular weasel-wording in spite of all the horror. Then a female one-star officer was reduced in rank. Apart from that : nothing - except that the officer appointed to investigate the sickening mayhem, Major General Taguba, ended his career when he recorded the truth. What a poisoned chalice he was handed : allow a cover-up and advance to three stars ; or permit the truth to be told and be destroyed for what his peculiar superiors would call "disloyalty". And this sort of thing has continued. Countless atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan have been denied, ignored or covered up. The conduct of US troops has only too often been horrendous to the point that the phrase "war crimes" is inadequate. The lies told by US army officers of the highest rank concerning the accidental killing of Pat Tillman by his own comrades in Afghanistan are a blot on the army's reputation. But not one of these reptiles resigned.

I remember thinking "those gutless bloody wonders" when two US F16 pilots ignored their own rules of engagement and killed 4 Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan in 2002. Instead of an immediate and voluntary admission of responsibility, the pilots involved attempted to litigate themselves out of any sort of punishment or responsibility. But we sadly sort of expect that from our southern neighbour.

In Winnipeg and E. St. Paul, we have members of the local constabulary tripping over themselves to parse and parry criminal misconduct by members of their own force. Growing up in a small southern Ontario city, members of the local police staged a crime, got caught, and ended up with nothing more than administrative punishment. My father, a former cop, was utterly disgusted.

The RCMP kills an unarmed man in Vancouver airport and nothing happens to the officers involved, and no brass resign because they were shamed by their failure to control their own officers. Instead we get proto-fascists and sometimes the cops themselves yakking on about how the cops are only doing their job, following procedure, and risk their lives every day. As if that excuses a murder. There is also a lie concealed in this statement that I'll address later on.

Then, a few months ago, I'm talking to a senior ranking member of a uniformed service who spent his career behind a desk - making near 6 figures a year - explain to me in all seriousness that that really wasn't enough. Why? Because, and I paraphrase, the uniform meant he was a cut above the rest of society and well, the good citizens of Canada owed him for it. And that wasn't the first time I've heard similar: "why aren't you wearing red on Friday?" I felt like I was talking to an Enron executive giving himself an 8 digit bonus and wanted to puke. If you read some of the rightwing bloggers, you see the same shit.

Society entrusts its public officials with a tremendous amount power. We rightly recognise their sacrifice or perseverance when they are called upon to defend or promote our or others' lives and livelihoods. But this is not a carte blanche recognition. Respect is not asked for, it is earned. Exemplary behaviour by members of any organisation, especially when it involves self-sacrifice or taking a principled stand, produces a respect and its own rewards. Peers and observers acknowledge excellence.

However, the past is not credit against the future. When the police, military, government, or civil service disgrace themselves, they must be accountable for it. When they rest of the laurels of their forebears and demand credit, or let the rhetoric glorifying their profession go to their heads, they no longer warrant respect. When they opt to lie instead of resign or speak out, one wonders where loyalties lie or what kind of moral character these institutions are developing in their members.

When a Canadian general consistently downplays indicators that support what every single fucking report or account from a war Canadian troops are involved in suggest, he is not acting with any sort loyalty to the people who pay his salary. He is being intellectually dishonest (I expect someone of that rank and experience to know exactly what they are doing and so ignorance is not a defence) and protecting the interests of reprehensible people invested in a what amounts to a private little war. Hell, the entire exercise seems to be about protecting the war, as it is, like it some sort of bloody pet project for politicians and their fellating hangarounds.

Another US airstrike kills Afghan civilians; default response by the US military is to lie through their fucking teeth. Given the protect the war ethos that has seems to mark some of our senior military and political types, would our brass tell the same lies if it emerged that Canadian ordered airstrikes routinely killed Afghan civilians? Or would the Canadian public just not be told in order to protect the great live fire exercise in South Asia from public scrutiny. If Canadians are not told what soldiers acting in our name have done for better or worse, then it is entirely within our democratic prerogative to question the conduct of institutions acting in our name. We cannot be asked to support the war without knowledge of what the troops are doing.

What does it make us that we ally with war criminals? By our own standard we should try ourselves.

Police who opt to Tazer(tm) instead of deploying a cup of tea do not get to claim any sort of credit for bravery. Police today are more heavily protected and armed than at any time in history. The risk of actual harm to an officer is very low, whereas I suspect the risk of harm to a person receiving the attention of police is now arguably much greater than ever before. For example, in this film there is footage of a Saskatoon policeman with weapon at the ready, behind a cruiser door, talking to a single unarmed but intoxicated Aboriginal man. Firearm at the ready. This same film contains footage of one Cst Hartwig (sp?) waxing on about how not racist and noble the police are because everyone is blue. This brave (extreme sarcasm alert) young officer was later fired after it was found that he lied about participating in the same starlight tours that killed several Aboriginal men.

A few weeks ago a well known Winnipeg musician and youth counsellor was pulled over and arrested at gun point on suspicion driving a stolen vehicle. He is Black and the vehicle was his own. The immediate police response when confronted with accusations of racial profiling was to suggest that they ran the plate and entered a digit wrong - no racial profiling here, move along. Of course the odds of hitting the wrong digit into CPIC and ending up with a white Chrysler 300 are pretty low. Lies.

But that doesn't stop the mythology from perpetuating itself. Sometimes our deference to authority is tantamount to a gross lie. We stand there and wonder why Serbs or Croats will protect war criminals [I got out of town in 2001 when 1000s of fit young males in black bomber jackets showed up in Split to protest the arrest of some local monster for war crimes] within their populations, but we'll bristle at any suggestion that our services might somehow commit deviant acts or behave immorally.

There is an insular mentality that goes "you public don't get us, so fuck off."

Oh, we get you alright.

So, why does a French general resign when one of his soldiers errs? Why does the Dutch government resign when details disgraceful behaviour by its armed forces emerge. Why do our people so often hide behind walls of blue, green or pinstripe?

Canada earned a progressive reputation for fairplay and exceptional behaviour over the past sixty years. We set a standard for independent thought and action, seeking peace, discarding ethnocentric policies, and protecting the welfare of the less fortunate. Today we align ourselves with torturers and liars. The institutions and leaders that the precedent suggests represent the best of us, sit there. Nobody of consequence resigns, no one takes any sort of public principled stand. No politician, cop or civil servant that I am aware of quits in disgust when Canadians are sent off to be savaged in foreign dungeons.

There's a whole demographic of fuckwits out there who'll scream some variation of ____-hater at this post. But I say blind loyalty without honest interrogation is cowardice. Uncomfortable facts are still facts. If you're civil servant allowing a Canadian to be carted off for torture by an ally, you're a moral coward. If you're a cop who chooses to electrocute or shoot instead of getting his feathers ruffled, you're a weak excuse for a human being. If you're an officer electing to protect his post-retirement lobbying prospects or next promotion over the interests of Canadians, you're a sociopath. If you find yourself lying to the people who you serve, to protect people who don't deserve it, and you don't immediately vomit and resign, you're a mercenary. You don't get to claim the same honour that your betters earned. If we as a nation cannot uphold the principles we claim to represent, when we allow the worst of us to define us, then we aren't much better.

The standard is there to be met. That we do not find many leaders of that calibre at the top means something is broken.

Maybe I'm just too idealistic in my expectations or something.

No comments: