Latest on ICC, press freedom and Canada-Israel cooperation on public security

THE GOOD NEWS

In our 15 June 2020 blog, we highlighted one of the latest targets of the Trump global wrecking ball, the International Criminal Court (ICC). We wrote in part:

White House Executive Order even targets the families of ICC officials

The Trump administration has launched an economic and legal offensive* on the International Criminal Court in response to the court’s decision to open an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan carried out by all sides, including the US.

According to an 11 June article in the UK Guardian, the US says it will not just sanction ICC officials involved in the investigation of alleged war crimes by the US and its allies, but will also impose visa restrictions on the families of those officials. Additionally, the administration declared that it was launching a “counter-investigation into the ICC, for alleged corruption”.

Bearing in mind there are about 45 Canadians working for the ICC, including its current President, a dual national of Canada and Nigeria, we closed that blog with the following urgent request to the Government of Canada:

We call on Foreign Minister Champagne to forthrightly defend the International Criminal Court, its independence and its personnel.

Our action echoed that of the World Federalist Movement-Canada (WFM-C), which had issued a statement on 11 June to the same effect. This was followed by a 24 June Hill Times commentary from the pen of WFM-C Executive Director Fergus Watt entitled: U.S. attacks on ICC require a Canadian response. (Accessible without a subscription here). In the words of Fergus Watt:

The ICC is a Canadian diplomatic success story. Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s mandate letter from the prime minister includes instructions to “reinforce international institutions like the International Criminal Court, the World Trade Organization” (another Trump target), and others, including by providing additional resources to promote and uphold international law.

A Global Affairs Canada statement in March 2019 affirmed Canada’s longstanding support for the ICC and stated unequivocally that, “Personnel of the International Criminal Court should not be targeted for the important work that they do.”

It is time for Canada to stand up for the ICC once more.

Canada joins in global rally behind the ICC

In its written response to the U.S. action, the International Criminal Court stated in part:

These attacks constitute an escalation and an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court’s judicial proceedings. They are announced with the declared aim of influencing the actions of ICC officials in the context of the Court’s independent and objective investigations and impartial judicial proceedings.

An attack on the ICC also represents an attack against the interests of victims of atrocity crimes, for many of whom the Court represents the last hope for justice.

Well, we are extremely pleased to report that Canada has now joined with 67 of the 123 states parties to the Rome Statute (the Treaty which established the ICC) in a joint statement of strong support for the Court, reading in part:

As States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), we reconfirm our unwavering support for the Court as an independent and impartial judicial institution.

Other important expressions of support include a joint statement from the ten ICC States Parties members of the UN Security Council and a press statement by the President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute.

 ON THE OTHER HAND …

Attacks on the free press both far and near

The June 2020 conviction and jail sentence of celebrated Philippine journalist Maria Ressa for alleged “cyberlibel” is a stark reminder of the growing dangers to journalists, not only from authoritarian governments but, increasingly, from erstwhile democratic bastions.

The violence, hate and mockery aimed at the media in the United States reflect how freedom of the press is being eroded. Donald Trump’s anti-media strategy is also finding imitators in other Western democratic states.

So begins a 1 June 2020 article in the German publication dw.com, which then goes on to describe a disturbing pattern by American President Trump and Brazil’s Bolsonaro to incite social division and violence by spreading fake news and employing rhetoric that is hostile to the media:

This dangerous development can be seen not only in these two major countries on the American continent, but also in European states, including Malta, Montenegro, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic and Italy.

For those who might be surprised to see the UK on this list, the article notes:

In its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) … said that British authorities regularly restricted press freedom, often citing national security as a justification. In 2018, the European Court of Human Rights described the mass surveillance of journalists in the country as a violation of the right to freedom of opinion and the press.

For the full article see: US attack on press freedom gains supporters (Astrid Prange, dw.com).  And for an even more disturbing picture of draconian press restrictions in the name of national security, look no further than another Five Eyes intelligence partner — Australia. Journalist Joshua McDonald writes:

Since the 9/11 attacks, Australia has adopted more than 75 national security laws, more than any other mature liberal democracy in the world. Most of these laws can be divided into those that block access to information, those that criminalize dealing with and publishing certain information, and those that enable authorities to track and monitor journalists.

See: Australia drops in press freedom index (Joshua Mcdonald, the diplomat.com, 22 April 2020)

Erosion of journalistic standards also a growing threat to democracy

 Given the extraordinarily important role that a free and independent media plays in holding governments, industry and indeed every sort of power to account in a democratic society, a steady erosion in journalistic standards within the mainstream media is a matter for grave concern.

An organization which regularly draws attention to significant shortcomings in mainstream media (MSM) coverage is Media Lens, through its regular media “alerts”. Its latest concern is journalistic bias in the coverage of so-called conspiracy theories in general and in relation to the Israeli training of US police (and, in Canada’s case, potentially Canadian Border and Canadian Correctional Services) in particular. See: Conspiracy Theories Malign And Benign – Face Masks And Israeli Training of US Police (David Edwards, ed.).

The article begins with an examination of “code words” that imply extremely negative judgments that are neither made explicit nor justified:

[Thus]… in journalistic usage, the term ‘conspiracy theory’ does not signify a theory that happens to involve a conspiracy; it means ‘Evil’. Pavlov’s bell is being rung and the words deranged, dangerous and unworthy of discussion are intended to pop, as if by magic, into the heads of readers and viewers.

The most spectacular example of mainstream media labeling the truth a conspiracy theory remains, of course, the brave and honest reporting by four journalists from the then Knight Ridder newspaper chain that the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice allegations of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were a made-up pretext for invading that country. In the words of film critic Roger Ebert, in a review of Shock and Awe, the film about these intrepid “outsiders” who got it right:

If the Iraq War was, in the words of one former general, “the greatest strategic blunder in American history,” it might also be characterized as the most disgraceful episode in the history of American journalism…. the Times and the Post—and most similar news outlets—rolled over for malevolent fraudsters like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and helped lead the U.S. into a devastating war based on patently specious evidence of Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of the mass destruction.

The real truth, of course, is that some conspiracy theories are, in fact, deranged and dangerous and others are not, while still other assertions are neither conspiracies, nor theories, but provable facts.

Antisemitic conspiracy theories

A particularly prevalent MSM use of the label “conspiracy theory” to implicitly discredit certain assertions such that no further examination is warranted can be found in relation to critiques of Israeli policy or tactics. Take the recent example of the sacking of UK shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey for an approving tweet of an interview in which the actor Maxine Peake had said:

The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s office explained why he had asked Long-Bailey to step down.

The article Rebecca shared earlier today contained an antisemitic conspiracy theory…. Antisemitism takes many different forms and it is important that we all are vigilant against it.

But as Media Lens author David Edwards points out, the assertion about police tactics and the role of Israeli training is manifestly not a conspiracy theory. The claim that the Israeli state helps train US police is factual, not theoretical, with Amnesty International reporting in 2016 that thousands of American law enforcement officials have received training from Israelis. Furthermore, there is no reason to conclude that Peake’s comment was antisemitic, or anti-Israel in motivation, rather than a statement of her belief about lessons learned by US police from Israeli forces.

But this did not stop leading Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland from commenting that Peake displayed:

a cast of mind that sees the worst events in the world and determinedly puts Israel at the centre of them, even in defiance of the facts or basic common sense.

What of the specific accusation of Israeli training in the use of the chokehold? In the words of the Palestine Solidarity campaign:

There is no clear evidence that Israel has trained US police officers in the technique of “neck kneeling” as a tool of restraint.

[However]… learning from forces who implement a totalising matrix of control and domination, through a belligerent military occupation, makes racialised communities in the United States less safe by facilitating the transfer of knowledge on how to repress and control oppressed communities.

In Edwards’ view, even if Peake’s observation was factually wrong on the specific technique of ‘neck kneeling’, she nevertheless performed an important public service by drawing attention to issues that are never discussed. As Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International USA’s researcher for arms control, security and human rights commented:

With a long record of human rights violations, Israeli security forces are an incredibly problematic training partner.

But the approach of a leading, progressive newspaper like the Guardian was not, in this case, to use this tweet (and the assertion on which it was based) to discuss the widespread western use of Israeli police trainers with virtually no public discussion of the merits of this policy. The BBC followed suit, also failing to report the fact that American police were trained by Israelis, let alone in large numbers.

David Edwards concludes:

It is a bitter irony that the UK anti-semitism witch-hunt – ostensibly a campaign against discrimination and oppression – is in large part about protecting Israel’s apartheid discrimination and oppression. The hope is that by trashing the reputations of UK politicians, journalists and commentators seeking to break the silence, the British public can be denied even the option to ‘choose not to see’.

A key part of that strategy will continue to involve hanging Pavlovian trigger terms like ‘conspiracy theory’ and ‘anti-semite’ around the necks of anyone daring to criticise Israel.

Whither Canada?

The relevance of this discussion to Canada is clear, given the agreements we have entered into with Israel (without public discussion or debate) for close cooperation in public security, including in policing, correctional services and border services.

As jurisdictions across the country are grappling with calls to fundamentally reform our police services, we call on the Government of Canada to urgently review public security cooperation agreements with Israel in that light.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 

* The YouTube video link provided in the ICC blog segment — of US Secretary of State Pompeo’s announcement of actions against the ICC — may be preceded by an ad from The Epoch Times pushing fake conspiracy theories about the origin of the coronavirus. Ignore!

 

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