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To serve and protect 

Editorial by Bruce Wark

Maclean’s magazine once called him “Canada’s sexiest cerebral man,” because of “his made-for-TV-looks and effortless eloquence.” But when Michael Ignatieff flew in from Harvard last week for his Liberal nomination meeting in Toronto, he faced a chorus of boos. According to CBC Radio, Myroslava Oleksiuk, the secretary of the local riding association, angrily denounced the national Liberal Party for preventing other candidates from running against Ignatieff for the nomination. “Essentially we are a democratic party and a democratic party says you win your nomination,” Oleksiuk declared before about 100 people walked out in protest. Liberal Senator David Smith defended Ignatieff’s coronation, saying party executives occasionally have to protect “high-quality” candidates because sometimes nomination battles “get so rough that they can intimidate and scare them off.”

Ignatieff himself made it clear he’s not going to be scared off. “Every candidate who gets a little prominence gets subjected to scrutiny,” he told CBC’s As It Happens. “I’m willing to have people prod me and poke me and rub my ears to see whether I’m really the horse they want to buy.” Ignatieff dismisses accusations from local Liberals that he denigrated Ukrainians in his 1994 book Blood and Belonging. He insists that the book is actually sympathetic to Ukrainian aspirations. But the Liberal star candidate may have more trouble explaining why, as a prominent US intellectual and human rights professor, he supported the illegal invasion of Iraq. Before the invasion, Ignatieff wrote pieces for the New York Times, arguing that “America’s Empire” had a duty to free Iraqis from an evil tyrant who could supply weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. After the invasion, Ignatieff wrote that even though Saddam Hussein turned out not to have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, he might still have acquired them and given them to terrorists. And besides, he argued, thanks to the invasion, Iraqis were now free, even if their country was plagued by chaos, violence and murder.

Rereading Ignatieff’s pieces now, I find them scary. The “cerebral” Harvard prof (and now, Liberal candidate) seems cut off from reality. Not for him, the graphic journalism of Robert Fisk, who reported in August from the “heat, stench and mourning” of the Baghdad morgue where corpses were stacked on top of each other. “July was the bloodiest month in Baghdad’s modern history—in all, 1,100 bodies were brought to the city’s mortuary; executed for the most part, eviscerated, stabbed, bludgeoned, tortured to death.” The authoritative website, Iraq Body Count, reports that about 30,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the aftermath of the invasion, with an average of 34 people dying every day. So far, more than 42,000 ordinary Iraqis have been injured.

Ignatieff’s folly over Iraq is compounded by his support for illegal measures to fight terrorism. “Sticking too firmly to the rule of law simply allows terrorists too much leeway to exploit our freedoms,” Ignatieff wrote last year. “To defeat evil, we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war.” He writes that “coercive interrogations” could include “forms of sleep deprivation that do not result in lasting harm to mental or physical health, together with disinformation and disorientation (like keeping prisoners in hoods) that would produce stress.”

Ignatieff’s intellectual justifications for pre-emptive war, assassination and torture may provide comfort for an increasingly unpopular George Bush. But I wonder what Paul Martin has to say? Is the party once led by Lester Pearson, a peacemaker and ardent advocate of international law, really ready to embrace the lawlessness and warmongering of Canada’s “sexiest” political show horse?

Liquid papers:

1. In our excitement about plans for Grand Parade, we incorrectly reported that City Hall had chosen a design proposal for the space, when in fact they’ve just chosen a consultant with a proposed work plan. Our apologies for jumping the gun.

2. In last week’s story about Christmas Daddies (“Who’s your daddy?”) we incorrectly reported that only 87 percent of last year’s pledges were collected; 100 percent of donations were honoured.

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