Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Getting To The Bottom Of The Afghan Prisoners Debacle

In May of 2007, The Toronto Star ran a story about how Afghan soldiers -- who had been captured by Canadians -- were being abused in prison. Michael Byers and William Schabas write:

As one detainee told reporter Rosie DiManno, “They whipped me with rubber hoses. Another time, they used a chain to hang me from the ceiling, my head toward the floor.” The same detainee said Canadian officials visited the prison operated by the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS), but were never allowed to speak with prisoners.

As the late James Travers wrote, also in this newspaper, the story was part of a “long march into twilight” for Canada. The country that “gave the world Lester Pearson’s peacekeeping and Brian Mulroney’s stand against apartheid” now had to struggle “with Stephen Harper’s apparent blindness to compelling evidence of Afghanistan prisoner abuse.”

Three months later, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission estimated that “one in three prisoners handed over by Canadians are beaten or even tortured.” In March 2007, the U.S. State Department reported that: “Complaints of serious human rights violations committed by representatives of national security institutions, including arbitrary arrest, unconfirmed reports of torture, and illegal detention were numerous.”

Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin was posted in Afghanistan during this period. He wrote 17 separate reports that warned explicitly of torture and were distributed widely within the Departments of Foreign Affairs and National Defence. As Colvin explained when called to testify before a Parliamentary committee, “for a year and a half after they (senior Canadian officials) knew about the very high risk of torture, they continued to order military police in the field to hand our detainees to the NDS.”

The torture of prisoners of war is a war crime:

The Convention Against Torture stipulates that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court specifies that even in “an armed conflict not of an international character,” such as existed in Afghanistan from 2002 onwards, the “cruel treatment and torture” of detainees constitutes a war crime.

The prohibition extends to anyone who knowingly facilitates torture, including by “providing the means for its commission.” For this reason, any soldier who transferred a detainee to a known risk of torture could be guilty of a war crime. Any superior who ordered the transfer of a detainee to a known risk of torture could also be guilty of a war crime. This responsibility extends all the way up the chain of command, including government ministers.

Nevertheless, the Harper government did its level best to sweep all the evidence under the rug -- where it remains to this day. Justin Trudeau seems bent on cleaning out the putrid stable that Stephen Harper left behind. But, so far, he has refused to touch the Afghan detainee issue.

It's time for Trudeau to show us what he's made of. 

Image: the


Danneau said...

So many steaming piles! A whole mandate, possibly two, cold be spent applying remedies to the Harper Legacy, and that implies that the current administration has the fortitude and good will to undertake such an enterprise. Seems unlikely, or rather that our Sunny Ways is more likely to pile on in a most Orwellian way where Real Change really means Business As Usual.

Dana said...

I don't get the sense that Trudeau has either the moral integrity or the courage to address this effectively or thoroughly.

I would very much like to be proven wrong.

Owen Gray said...

I hope he does the right thing, Dana. It really is the kind of issue that will define him for generations to come.

Owen Gray said...

The suspicion remains that the face has changed, but not the agenda, Danneau.

Toby said...

Blogger Owen Gray said... , "The suspicion remains that the face has changed, but not the agenda, Danneau."

So, Owen, who do you think is setting the agenda?

Owen Gray said...

The big money still calls the shots, Toby.

Anonymous said...

Back when Iggy was the Liberal leader, the Libs conspired with the Cons to derail the production of documents to Parliament. You'll recall that it was the Libs who sent our soldiers into Afghanistan in the first place. My guess is that there's enough in those documents to incriminate the leaders of both those parties in war crimes. I'd be shocked if they ever saw the light of day.

Owen Gray said...

Frankly, I suspect that might be the case, Anon. As I said, it's time for Justin to show us what he's made of.

thwap said...

Nothing will be done. Canadians like to say they're proud of their country but they don't seem too concerned with why that is or how to keep things that way. The question of whether their country is linked to human rights abuses is too esoteric, too far removed from their daily concerns.

The politicians know this. They don't care. Or they pretend not to care. Because they're all dirty. And deluded.

It seems like the era when human rights mattered was an aberration. Now it's lazy, amoral business-as-usual.

Owen Gray said...

That may be the case, thwap. But I hope it isn't.

Dana said...

And here we are. "No need." Just in case we need to do it too.

Owen Gray said...

Deeply disappointing, Dana. Sheer hypocrisy.