Sunday, November 25, 2007

The fit hits the shan: torture issue resurfaces

As part of the legal case brought by Amnesty International and the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian federal government has been forced to release some 1000 pages of documents - censored documents to be precise. The documents relate to prison conditions in Afghanistan. Here is a blow by blow of the action:

Government's rouse
In an article titled
'Credible' case of torture found in Afghanistan, the Toronto Star relays the government's attempt to soften the blow of the release of the documents relating to prisoner torture in Afghanistan. By admitting to a few cases of torture and crediting the military's agreement with the Afghans, they tried to take the sting off revelations to come. (My guess is the media won't be too hard on the Conservatives anyway.)

[The revelations came] just before the foreign affairs department released about 1,000 pages of files late last night that suggests widespread abuse of prisoners – including those captured by Canadian soldiers – continues to occur in Afghanistan.

"The allegation has come to light because we have a good agreement with the Afghan government," Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said in the Commons.
In 32 interviews with former Canadian detainees transferred to Afghan custody, at least seven reports of torture (or "ill treatment") surfaced:
[A]n individual detained by Canadian soldiers and later interviewed by Corrections Canada officials in prison reported having his toes burned, and being kicked and beaten while blindfolded. Another reported receiving electrical shocks, having hands and feet bound and being made to stand for 10 straight days. ...

[A] Canadian army medic examined a detainee in a local police station who was still wearing the plastic handcuffs used by Canadian soldiers. The detainee had a 4-cm cut on his face, a bloody nose and had suffered blunt force trauma injuries to the back of his neck and head.
What did they know and when did they know it?
The Globe and Mail, Nov 16 (link)
The Harper government knew prison conditions were appalling long before The Globe and Mail published a series of stories last April detailing the abuse and torture of prisoners turned over by Canadian soldiers to Afghanistan's notorious secret police, documents released this week show.

The heavily censored documents also show that at the same time as senior ministers were denying evidence of abuse, officials on the ground in Afghanistan were collecting first-hand accounts from prisoners of mistreatment. ...

[In requisition requests, one Correction Canada employee] asked for better boots in February, 2007, months before the published reports, because she was "walking through blood and fecal matter" on the floor of cells as they toured Afghan prisons.

... Another report noted that the warden of the main prison in Kandahar, where many prisoners handed over by Canadians soldiers were held, had been fired after charges that he raped juvenile detainees. Cosmetics and hashish were found in his office. He was exonerated because an Afghan military judge said it was "impossible for a drunken man in his 50s to commit an act of rape," reported a Canadian official in a cable to Ottawa.

Other reports detail conditions far outside internationally acceptable norms. At one Kandahar secret police prison, all inmates are shackled in leg irons around the clock. Some have been kept that way for more than a year.

[Gordon O'Connor lies:] ... On April 23 [i.e. following the revelations of G&M's Graeme Smith] Canadian diplomats in Kabul reported back to Ottawa after an urgently arranged meeting with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that "the commission is unable to monitor the condition of detainees as per their agreement with the Canadians, Dutch and others" because the NDS refused to allow them into the prisons.

The next day, then-defence minister Gordon O'Connor told the House of Commons during Question Period that "the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has assured us that it will report any abuse of prisoners. It is able to monitor all the prisoners."

Canadian Forces flatly refuse to say how many prisoners they have taken and either released or handed over to Afghan authorities. However, blacked-out numbers in the documents indicate the number is in triple digits and Canadian sources in Afghanistan say more than 200.

Yet in more than six months of follow-up monitoring, Canadian officials have been able to arrange only 32 interviews. Several of those were multiple meetings with the same detainees, David Mulroney, the government's point man on the Afghan file, has said.

That suggests that more than 100, perhaps more than 150 detainees have gone missing.

In the 32 interviews, at least seven detainees claimed they were abused or ill-treated. The government no longer seems to use the word "torture" in connection with prisoners in Afghanistan.

Among the many partially blacked-out references in the documents released in Ottawa is a cryptic mention from early April, warning "there are also indications that Canadians may have been present during questioning of detainees by NDS."
Canadian prof's op-ed
Amir Attaran, semi-famous for suing the Canadian government, has an Op-Ed in the Guardian (UK). It is well worth reading in full (and short, too). Excerpts:
[According to NATO's rules of operation] Under the Nato's plan, coalition forces in Afghanistan arrest both combatants and non-belligerents. There is no list of approved offences, and soldiers can arrest any person for any reason they think necessary (ie the detainees are not all Taliban prisoners). Once in custody, detainees are fingerprinted and interrogated, but never provided a lawyer. Within 96 hours, the detainee and the interrogation files are transferred to the Afghan secret police.

...But it could also be that Nato knows about the torture, and finds it convenient to accept the intelligence it yields - in which case the detainee transfers are actually renditions, and Afghanistan's torturers are performing an outsourced service.

...[L]egal scholars have advised the international criminal court that Canada's top military officers, having authorised the transfers and so having aided and abetted the torturers, could now be prosecuted for war crimes. The Harper government is dolorously navigating a thicket of lawsuits and investigations (interestingly, with the help of Professor Christopher Greenwood, who is known to Britons as the very well-remunerated barrister who soothed the Blair government with a memo that going to war in Iraq was legal).

...Nato should do as Amnesty recommends, and establish constant, 24/7 coalition oversight in an Afghan prison where detainees are held. Such a prison would be run cooperatively with the Afghans, and could serve as a training college where safe detention and interrogation are taught.
No NATO prisons
The Toronto Star reports on NATO's reaction to Amnesty's call:
'General rules out NATO-run prisons' Cites Canada's General Henault rejects Amnesty International's call for NATO -run prisons:
Henault rejected accusations there is "systematic" torture in Afghan jails, or at the hands of its secret police, and said he is not aware of any individual cases of abuse.

"But it would probably be inappropriate for me to say that there is nothing like that that ever happens in Afghanistan."
Not only "inappropriate" but willfully ignorant, as this AFP report notes:
Speaking to more than 100 senior police officials in Kabul, Karzai said people were still being tortured despite improvements in his US-backed government's prison system.
Canada Violates Geneva Conventions, say opposition MPs
Globe and Mail, Nov 17(link):
Opposition MPs have called on the government to order the Canadian Forces to halt the transfer of detainees to the Afghan government, alleging that Canada has violated the Geneva Conventions by permitting prisoner abuse to continue.
Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre: "Canada must stop the transfer of detainees or it will continue to violate the Geneva Conventions.”
Laurie Hawn, parliamentary secretary for defence, said it was ridiculous to allege that Canada was violating the Geneva Conventions and said that, in any case, the primary responsibility was with the Afghan government.

“We are abiding by all measures,” he said, referring to the arrangement on treatment of detainees between Canada and Afghanistan agreed to last May.

“We are not abusing anybody's rights,”...

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