Reading about President Obama’s war-mongering campaign with regards to his proposed military strikes against the Syrian government, I was shocked to see his administration make the disturbing claim that POTUS (President of the United States) reserves the right to push the button with or without a formal declaration of War by Congress.

I’m shocked, because we are not dealing with some fake cowboy dumbass that somehow fell off the turnip truck and landed in the Oval Office. Rather, Obama is, according to the biography of his own life, as well as independent accounts, a former constitutional law prof at the University of Chicago or lecturer, to be more precise (having worked as a lecturer myself, I can tell you there is a world of difference between the two in the academic world). At any rate, one would hope that as a graduate of Harvard law, he would be familiar with the US Constitution’s article 1, section 8 which clearly states that “Congress shall have the power…to declare war.”

So either Obama was the world’s worst constitutional lawyer, or he has conveniently ignored the fundamentals of US law since becoming the most powerful man in the world. I for one, am betting on the second being the case.

It’s not the first time the constitutional lawyer in him has been suppressed for the sake of politics. In fact, Obama has made a maddening habit of doing just that, when it suits his administration’s agenda, whether on the issue of fighting terrorism, violating the privacy of US citizens and foreigners, or harassing journalists.

When it comes to fighting terror, through the use of state sanctioned killing of innocents through the CIA’s devastating drone program, Obama really takes the cake. He’s actually upped the ante from the Bush years by approving a massive surge in drone attacks, mostly in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But also in Yemen, where the president made a dubious defense of the summary execution by means of hell fire missile, without trial, or any form of due process, of an American teenager who had the misfortune of being the son of known Al-Qaeda terrorist, Anwar al-Awlaki.

Consider that the Department of Justice, on the orders of the president, secretly subpoenaed the e-mails and personal phone records of Fox journalist James Rosen for his alleged involvement in leaking classified information to the public. The White House completely disregarded article 1 of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press in its blatant attempts to intimidate the press with absurd charges of criminal conspiracy against members of the fourth estate.

All part and parcel of the new imperial presidency that long ago begun undermining the separation of powers intended to prevent the concentration of too much powers in the hands of one person or institution, but continues its alarming growth under President Obama who used to try and reassure the public by pointing to his background as an expert on the US Constitution.

Conservatives and Liberals joined in the House last Wednesday despite NDP opposition, to pass the Combating Terrorism Act. Passing this legislation, otherwise known as bill S-7, provoked questions about its timing and whether or not the enactment is warranted. But before examining whether we need this legislation, Ottawa should consider addressing the process by which Canadians become “radicalized” in the first place.

To address terror, one must examine the abyss of human disparity. Canadians either find this uncomfortable exercise instinctively reprehensible,  dismiss it or cannot find time for it. Therein lies the problem.

This thought vacuum is then filled with three-dimensional caricatures by media and politicians. The Eagle Has Fallen and Homeland are ubiquitously propagated examples of society’s self-perpetuating blood lust death wish personified through the unexplained villain: a seemingly innate mindless killer that in reality is grayer than Hollywood and Ottawa would have us think.

Terrorists are no crazier than gangbangers and soldiers. A degree of insanity is always involved when taking lives. Research found that violent crimes are commonly committed by rational agents. Often, it’s socio-economic situations that put them into impossible positions and push them over the deep end.

For example, Department of Justice and Indian Affairs figures show that one-half of Manitoba aboriginals are incarcerated. They cite substance abuse, physical, emotional, psychological abuse and poverty as reoccurring variables. Aboriginal violent crimes tend to occur about 33.1 per 1,000 (3.67 times the national rate).

In other words, often victims become culprits. Unlike psychotic sociopaths, Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser, the Montreal-Toronto Al-Qaeda plotters, can be stopped before they radicalize. What little knowledge we have of these terror suspects does not fit the pieces of society’s simplistic understanding of terrorists. These men were relatively “normal” citizens before they radicalized. Their connection to Iran, Al Qaeda and Canada is dubious as ‘Chechnya’s war with the US.’

We can learn from Mohamed Merah, the Toulouse French-Algerian terrorist, whose death sheds light into the darkness of his life. Merah was a typical poor, hard-working first generation French-Algerian. He loved football and was patriotic about France.

Despite the French system’s mistreatment of thousands of Algerians living in the Paris ghettos, Merah still wanted to serve his country in the French army but was rejected. Merah then flew to Afghanistan and returned radicalized.

The lesson is that Western societies likely turn “normal” individuals into terrorists when western promises of material reward for hard work and effort are denied to undesirable social groups. Society first institutionally fails them, then turns on them. Terrorists are, therefore, not born but rather bred.

The Anders Breiviks of the world, thankfully, are few. The Simon Frasier Human Security Brief found global fatalities monthly from terrorism has declined by 40%. Despite last month’s VIA Rail terror scare, it also found al-Qaeda activity on the decline.

Tougher terrorist laws and Big Brother surveillance only helps to radicalize a small percentage of minorities. Legislation taking away due process and rule of law help us achieve state terror. If the terrorists’ objectives are to rob Canadians of their rights and freedoms, then the terrorists have succeeded thanks to Liberals and Conservatives.

Requiring five years renewal, S-7 was Ottawa’s initial response to 911 under Chrétien. Under the bill, authorities can hold individuals without charge for up to three days on suspicion of terrorist involvement and subject them to certain probationary conditions for up to a year and imprisonment up to 12 months. Additionally, someone suspected of possessing knowledge of terrorist acts can be forced to answer questions with threat of imprisonment for up to 12 months. S-7’s objective is to gather information rather than prosecute criminal offences.

Prospective terrorists prepared to sacrifice their lives who believe the “Criminal Code is not holy book,” would not be deterred by three days detainment without attorney representation. Instead, S-7 terrorizes Canadians with non-Harper thoughts.

S-7 was designed to react, not address terror. Canada’s best defense to terror should be to prevent terror before it hatches.

Terrorists are psychologically screws loose  from society’s foundation. Less destructive tools are available in the toolkit to wind them back in.

Should the $3.1 billion anti-terror funding the Harper government lost ever be found, they would do best to invest in de-radicalization initiatives. Hammer solutions do not work every time.

Mohammed Khawaja is back! The first person ever convicted under Canada’s controversial Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) back in 2008, is appealing his sentence at the Supreme Court.

The plot involves Ottawa-based Khawaja, who had been providing material support to a terrorist cell based in Britain in the form of providing an explosive device (dubbed, rather whimsically, the ‘Hi-fi digimonster!’) and instructions on its use.

Khawaja’s lawyers will be attempting to overturn the decision of the appeals court which applied the ATA. Whereas, after his first trial, the judge found him to be exempt, accepting his defense (not entirely convincing, in my opinion) that he had no clue as to how the bomb would be used, and had assumed that the plot was meant for the war in Afghanistan (a sub-clause in ATA doesn’t consider terrorism to apply in cases of ‘armed conflict’). Either way, Khawaga is not walking away from this a free man.

Aside from the technical arguments about the exemption clause, the justices will also be hearing a more interesting exchange of views on the constitutionality of the definition of “terrorism activity” under the act, which the judge who first heard the case, and Khawaja’s lawyers, maintain is too broad and discriminatory towards religious groups, in particular the Muslim community. The crux of the case, basically boils down to whether the so called “motive clause” of the ATA, which states that terrorist acts are anything done for “political, religious or ideological” reasons (section 83.01(1)(b)(i)(A)), is precise enough.

With the ATA, the Canadian government set out to resolve one of the great legal predicaments of our age: defining what a terrorist is in legal terms. But did it succeed? Judge Rutherford, the man who heard the case first, found the provision violates freedom of expression and religion due to the vagueness of the definition which, he maintained, could lead to dangerous assumptions about people being terrorists based solely on their religious or political beliefs, some of which might be construed as being similar to those espoused by actual terrorist groups.

In the post-9/11 era of tighter security, the balance between protecting civil liberties and protecting the public from terrorist threats has always been a precarious one. As with almost any law, much depends on the interpretation and application of the measures by the powers that be. The fact that Khawaja remains the only person convicted for terrorism under the Act would suggest that, thus far, the ATA has been used rather judiciously in prosecuting terror. In fact, Harper falsely claimed that renewing the more controversial sections a few month ago (see my analysis of it here), such as the one that allows the detention of terror suspects for 72 hours or more without charge, was necessary because they had been used by police in previous terrorism cases.

In principle, this definition of terrorist activity may not necessarily be a recipe for abuse of power or a threat to our most cherished basic freedoms. However, in the hands of this unscrupulous federal government, these powers will almost certainly result in the undermining of human rights in Canada, sooner or later.

If anyone tells you that Stephen Harper’s gang of neo-cons subscribe to some sort of libertarianism, you can spit in their eye for me (to quote the great Barney Gumble)!

The libertarian school, though I strongly disagree with it, basically calls for less government (if not abolishing it entirely!) intervention in our lives. Yet the basic premise of the Federal Anti-Terrorism Act including the sunset clauses (legal jargon for elements of a law that automatically expire on a certain date) that is currently being championed by the Conservatives, represents a major threat the civil liberties in this country and should be opposed by freedom loving Canucks everywhere.

The omnibus bill that was passed by the Grits hastily in ’01 under Chretien, brought about a variety of profound changes to the Canadian Criminal code (among other federal statutes):

• It allows suspected terrorists to be detained without charge for up to three days.

• It makes it easier for the police to use electronic surveillance.

• It allows for preventive arrests.

• It allows judges to compel witnesses to give evidence during an investigation.

• It allows for the designation of a group as a terrorist organization.

As you can see, this is some extremely important shit! Even if we accept how great the supposed threat of terrorism might be, these provisions infringe on some of the most ancient and sacrosanct principles of our legal system.

Perhaps you have heard of the legal doctrine of habeas corpus (literally show us the body, in Latin)? This concept has its roots in the British common law dating back to the 12th century, according to some scholars and has subsequently been enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights & Freedoms (section 10, 11[a]).

Allowing the state to detain anyone for a period of 72 hours or longer without charge is arguably a blatant disregard for both the fundamental rights espoused by the Charter well entrenched and norms of international human rights law. However, with a Conservative majority in Ottawa, we can expect the proposed amendments to pass with virtually no serious debate in Parliament.

Compelling a witness to testify against their wishes is potentially another assault on Canadian legal values, as well as being an affront to common sense, especially if it leads to witnesses giving false evidence in court. Although Canadian law has always allowed for the subpoenaing of witnesses to testify against their will, this would be an unprecedented use of that power in the context of police investigations which do not subscribe to the same high judicial standards and restrictions regarding the treatment of a witness’ testimony at trial.

Finally, perhaps the best reason not support these dramatic changes to the law, is that both terrorist plots thwarted with the help of the Act, the Toronto 18 and Mohammed Mormin Khawaja, were managed without recourse to any of these contentious clauses, suggesting that our law enforcement and criminal justice officials are quite capable of carrying out the difficult task of fighting terrorism effectively under the legal status quo.

Here’s hoping that the resulting inevitable court challenges to the amended Anti-Terrorism Act strike down these excessive provisions on the grounds that they contravene the Charter, or else our country will be headed down a slippery slope towards some kind of police state.

Last week, to the amazement of the entire planet, Barack Obama took to the airwaves to announce the death of Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man. Within minutes of Obama’s announcement, Americans took to the streets to celebrate, with chants of “USA, USA, USA” starting up in New York and Washington, much like al-Qaeda chanted “death to America” nearly ten years prior in Afghanistan.

Nearly nine months in the making, Barack Obama finally decided to act on intelligence that bin Laden was held up in a fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Navy Seals were sent in on a secret mission even unknown by the Pakistani Government to kill the al-Qaeda leader. What followed in the days after the event was nothing short of ridiculous, reminiscent of the stories about Jessica Lynch & Pat Tillman. At first, Osama was shot while he was shooting at the Navy Seals using his wife as a human shield;  the next day, we learned there was no human shield; the day after, we learned bin Laden was not even armed. I’m not bothered by the fact the bin Laden is dead; it was a long time coming. I don’t think anyone in the West is upset to see him go, though I am troubled, however, by the way that he died. It would have been far more beneficial for the reputation of the United States to have captured him alive.

The Palace of Justice, where the Nuremberg trials were held. Photograph: Eddie Worth/AP

Rewind about sixty years when the earth was faced with the worst evil the world has ever seen. When it came to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, they were not hunted down and executed, but rather put on trial first – so that the whole world could see the evil they’ve caused, and the consequences of their actions. In short, Nazis were put on trial to face justice in a court of law; the type of justice that Americans were once proud of, even when those criminals were responsible for the deaths of millions. Instead of a trial for bin Laden, he got a quick double tap to the forehead, followed by a quick burial at sea. Justice was swift, but will soon be forgotten, unlike the way the Americans once again broke international laws in order to conduct a safe and clean assassination. The US Attorney General justified the raid “as an action of national self-defence” against “a lawful military target.” I fail to see, however, how the killing of an unarmed man, regardless of who he is, can be classified as self-defence. If he was a lawful “military” target as the Attorney General suggests, then it is unlawful to kill him before attempting to capture him.

It is also illegal under international law to carry out a military operation on foreign soil without first notifying its government. The Pakistani government was notified only after all US troops had left the site. It would have been a clear violation of the UN charter and Pakistan’s sovereignty were it not for the fact that Pakistan had not objected.

I thought for a moment that when King George II retired from office and Obama got elected, things might go back to the way they once were – when justice didn’t mean an automatic bullet to the head. Instead, Obama went the way of his predecessors by looking for that quick solution to a larger problem. I think the operation’s main objective was managed poorly, and it won’t hide the shame of a country that has yet to find its way.

Rest in Hell Osama.

The Osama Compound In Abbottabad, Pakistan