Friday, November 20, 2009

Elizabeth May Comments on Afghan Torture Allegations

I really like Elizabeth May, which is why I wish the left would unite. She needs to be in cabinet and we need her as our environmental minister. It's that simple.

Ms May offered her comments on the Afghan abuse story that is unfolding in Ottawa now, and I thought I'd share it.

Rarely does the news of the government’s failures and abuses have such impact as to make one feel physically ill. But the looming possibility that Canadian soldiers routinely arrested civilians in Afghanistan, on no evidence whatsoever, and turned them over to be tortured, made one ill.

That we, as a nation, may have been responsible for many (hundreds?) of innocent people to be snatched from their families and cast into those hell-holes of prisons to be tortured is devastating. These are war crimes we are talking about, but it is also people whose lives we were supposed to be protecting.

I remember the constant denials that Government members knew anything. The explanations of former Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor that when Canadian forces turned over Afghan prisoners we could rely on the International Red Cross to monitor their condition.

Mr. O’Connor gave this answer for a full year, even though there was no truth to it. None at all.

Even though Mr. O’Connor was briefed by the head of the International Red Cross in September, 2006, he stuck to this fairy tale that we relied on the Red Cross for any information about inhumane treatment of prisoners once they left our custody.

His apology once the fiction was exposed was lame and evasive. In Question Period on March 21, 2007, the Prime Minister attacked the former Liberal Opposition Leader St├ęphane Dion when he demanded O’Connor’s resignation. Stephen Harper deflected the question, saying “I can understand the passion that the Leader of the Opposition and members of his party feel for Taliban prisoners. I just wish occasionally they would show the same passion for Canadian soldiers.”

Now the evidence of a brave and well-respected diplomat, Richard Colvin, who claims that the torture was routine, that it was known and that his efforts to document and report such treatment were blocked at every turn. He testified that the government would not even take phone calls from the Red Cross.

His evidence demands that a responsible government dig to get the facts. Instead, the Harper government has gone on a media offensive, attacking Mr. Colvin as someone duped by the Taliban. Peter MacKay went on the attack.

Colvin was painted as someone with a crazy theory, or as Don Martin noted a “Taliban stooge,” noting that “Defence Minister Peter MacKay went much further on Thursday, blasting the ‘holes’ in his testimony and wondering why Mr. Colvin never raised such concerns with him directly.”

But as Macleans reporter John Geddes pointed out, these accusations were swirling for some time: “In a letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations way back on Nov. 27, 2006, here’s what Human Rights Watch had to say about the situation Canadian troops, and others, were embroiled in:

NATO forces have stated that they have detained only a few detainees, even in the heavy combat zones of southern Afghanistan. Dutch forces operating in Oruzgan announced their first five detainees two weeks ago, while British and Canadian forces operating in Helmand and Kandahar, respectively, have publicly acknowledged fewer than 100 detainees. Given the ferocity of the fighting in these areas, the absence of more detainees raises two alarming alternatives: either that NATO forces are not taking detainees, or, more likely, that NATO forces are circumventing their bilateral agreements by immediately turning over detainees to Afghan authorities and thus abrogating their responsibility to monitor the detainees’ treatment.

We have received credible reports about mistreatment of detainees transferred by NATO to Afghan authorities. It is our understanding that the Afghan Ministry of Defense does not have in place a legal framework for holding detainees. We understand that the Afghan government has not yet ratified a law on military tribunals drafted with the assistance of US authorities.

For now, we understand that in practice most NATO detainees are transferred to the National Directorate of Security (NDS), an opaque, unaccountable and abusive institution still governed by classified laws promulgated during Afghanistan’s communist era. The NDS operates detention centers that fail to meet international standards for the treatment of detainees.”

Other NATO nations took greater care to follow up on detainees. Canada didn’t. The implications of Colvin’s testimony shake us to our moral foundations as a country.

Now we have a government not only bent on ignoring and sabotaging global climate negotiations, we have a government intent on ignoring, and even defending torture. I have seen this movie before. It used to star George W. Bush.

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