Friday, November 14, 2008

Ottawa tries to limit inquiry

From the Globe and Mail:

Ottawa moves to block detainee-transfer hearings

Nov 13 - More than 20 months after it first promised full co-operation, the Harper government has moved to block public hearings into whether it ordered Canadian soldiers to transfer prisoners to Afghan security forces knowing the detainees would likely be tortured...

Ministers and senior military officers initially promised co-operation with the MPCC [Military Police Complaints Commission] investigation into allegations that transferred prisoners were being tortured. But the government has now twice launched court actions seeking to derail public hearings...

[A]fter the MPCC announced that public hearings would begin next month, the government was faced with the possibility that senior military officers might be called to testify about the origins of government policy ordering soldiers to turn all prisoners over to Afghan security forces.

Turning prisoners over to known torturers or to those who would abuse them is a war crime, under the Geneva Conventions.

Justice Department lawyers filed an application Oct. 30, seeking a Federal Court order “prohibiting the chairperson [of the MPCC] and the commission from investigating” the allegations.

The MPCC “is in fact attempting to review policy decisions made by governmental officials in relation to the transfer of Afghan detainees by the Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities,” which, the government asserts, “falls outside of the confines of the mandate” of the MPCC, the government's filing says.

Yet the MPCC was created in the wake of the Somalia scandal in part because the government of the day shut down a public inquiry just as it was delving into the role of the senior government officials and military officers. The MPCC was established to investigate systemic failings as well as individual transgressions of military police...

While there were several instances of ordinary Canadian soldiers and junior officers refusing to turn over prisoners to Afghan police or army units because they feared the detainees would be killed or tortured, senior officers and ministers long maintained that adequate safeguards were in place.

“The problem lies at the higher levels of the Canadian forces and the Canadian government,” Paul Champ, the Ottawa lawyer representing Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the original complainants to the MPCC, said yesterday.

Then, a year ago, during a follow-up inspection, a transferred detainee showed Canadian officials the location of the electrical cables his Afghan guards used to torture him. All transfers were immediately stopped, but the government kept that fact secret for months. The prisoner transfers were resumed and Ottawa said it had new assurances from the Afghanistan government...

Throughout, the government has refused to say how many prisoners it has turned over, or whether it can account for all of them. (link)

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