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Time for an independent probe on the Afghanistan detainee transfer issue.

The testimony brought forth by diplomat Richard Colvin was indeed “explosive” on detainee transfers yesterday:

A senior diplomat delivered a series of explosive allegations to a rapt House of Commons committee Wednesday, telling MPs that Afghan prisoners transferred by Canadians to local authorities in Kandahar were likely all tortured – while high-level officials in Ottawa looked the other way…Colvin, the second-ranked Canadian diplomat in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, said he tried repeatedly to raise concerns with senior military and government officials, to no avail. Using a calm, controlled diplomatic cadence, he challenged three years of assurances by the Conservative government that no evidence existed of abuse of prisoners captured by Canada.

He said Canadians took far more prisoners than their NATO allies in Afghanistan, many of them innocent people swept up in the chaos of war, and he charged that the policy had taught Kandaharis to fear the foreign troops and had set back the Canadian effort in the region. “According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured,” said Colvin, the former political director of the provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar city. “For interrogators in Kandahar, it was standard operating procedure.” He also said that when the Red Cross wanted to look into the treatment of detainees turned over by the Canadian troops, the Canadian Forces wouldn’t take their calls.

These are serious allegations – if it was to be proven that Canadian officials – be they political or military – knew or even strongly suspected that detainees turned over to the Afghan Secret Service would be tortured, and did nothing about it, that is a violation of international law and persons can be charged with war crimes.

Needless to say, the Conservatives who were on this Committee were and are desperately trying to undermine Colvin’s credibility, using what Macleans journalist Paul Wells calls “the bucket defence…a standard argument made by torture apologists”.

However, one of the government’s own advisers on security issues is saying this explosive testimony needs to be investigated:

One of Canada’s leading security experts says explosive allegations from diplomat Richard Colvin on torture in Afghanistan are so troubling the government should now allow an impartial body to investigate his charges.. Wesley Wark, a visiting professor at University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs, who also serves on the federal government’s Advisory Council on National Security…Despite being skeptical about important details in Colvin’s story, Wark said the Conservative government should either allow the federal Military Police Complaints Commission to proceed with its inquiry into the controversy, or let some other body take on the task…

“My view is that while the Colvin testimony cannot automatically be assumed to represent the whole truth, it is troubling enough that either the MPCC needs to be allowed to continue its work, or the government needs to provide an alternative vehicle to allow for an impartial investigation of the issue of Canadian policy and practice towards Afghan detainees outside the arena of partisan politics,” Wark told Maclean’s.

If this professor is on an advisory committee of this government, that probably means he leans “right-wing” Conservative in his views on security. Thus, if he’s calling for an impartial investigation to be held – notwithstanding his “doubts”- this should be and is a significant opinion on this matter. The opposition parties should be pressing for a full inquiry of this matter (and it appears the NDP will probably be doing so this morning in a few minutes – check Kady O’Malley’s live blogging of an NDP press conference this AM).

By the way, if you want to read why Canadians should care about these actions that may have taken place, read Colvin’s opening statement to the Committee over at Impolitical’s. If these allegations are true, it is a shame and blight on Canada and its government and military leaders.

UPDATE: Another scathing article on this over at David Eaves blog:

Only slightly less distressing than learning (again) that the Canadian military was allegedly handing civilians over to local authorities who then tortured them is how the Conservatives – once so proud of the public service whistle blower legislation they helped pass – now seem intent on ignoring the issue and taring the whistle-blower.

UPDATE 2: Aaron Wherry shows the timeline on this: Colvin isn’t the first person to document this behaviour:

In spring 2007, the Globe’s Graeme Smith conducted 30 interviews with detainees and documented various allegations of abuse after they were transferred from Canadian to Afghan authorities. Paul Koring subsequently reported that the Harper government was warned of mistreatment. Months later, Smith reported that Canada had lost track of at least 50 detainees due to poor record-keeping. In November of that year, Canada temporarily halted transfers.

UPDATE 3 @ 12:36 pm: Bob Fife of CTV makes a good point (?? – miracles never cease):

“If [Colvin] had no credibility, why was he promoted from Afghanistan to a senior intelligence position in the Canadian embassy in Washington? That is a very senior job that that man is holding so there is no credibility on trying to discredit him.” (Bob Fife, CTV Power Play, November 18, 2009)

UPDATE 4 @ 1:47 pm: More material from Aaron Wherry of Macleans:

Here is an April report from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, a commission Canada funds and is partnered with in the monitoring of detainees. On page 31, it concludes in part:

Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment are common in the majority of law enforcement institutions and at least 98.5% of interviewed victims have been tortured. Institutions where torture has occurred include police (security, justice, traffic), prosecution office, national security, detention center, custody, prison, and national army.

UPDATE 5 @ 2:38 pm: Bob Rae on behalf of the Liberals supports the NDP calls for a public inquiry


6 comments to Time for an independent probe on the Afghanistan detainee transfer issue.

  • henrylow

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  • JOAN

    I agree with Dana – I don’t have a friend or family member that could care less and so I can’t tell them just how livid I am with this Government and their bashing of Richard Colvin – Peter MacKay is disgusting – has an amazing ego saying Colvin should have approached him when he was in Kandahar and now saying he won’t lose his job for coming forward. Many of us political junkies remember his lies in 2003 – so does David Orchard. The Tory thugs along with Hillier are in fear and well they should be – quite a few prominent people who were in Afghanistan in the same time frame have come forward to back Colvin, including Peter Kent’s brother Arthur Kent. I hope you will continue to promote this story and also a full public inquiry – they would have to swear to tell the truth, a completely new concept – not so in a committee meeting. I see this bunch doing anything to squash this story and we need the media to keep it going. All three opposition parties are asking for an inquiry – that is a majority. This could be the bullet that stops any dreams of a majority for Harper and his lying cronies.

  • Dana

    Maybe there will be an inquiry and maybe there won’t but in either case there won’t be any political ramifications for the Harperites.

    Good old Joe and Jane Frontporch, good stolid Canadians that they are, won’t much care.

    It’s amazing that Canadians went from being proud of being a tolerant, small-l liberal society whose international aspirations included the deft wielding of soft power and peacekeeping to being a society obsessed with military operations and proud of carrying a big stick (or as big as it’s possible for a small, relatively insignificant country to carry).

    Makes me think that maybe Canadians are willing to be proud of whatever the government of the day tells them to be proud of.

    Dark thoughts about the placid, bourgeois, compliant Canada of the 1950’s reemerging for the 21st century.

    • @Dana, We’ll see.. I recall though that the Conservatives took a public opinion hit for this in 2007 when this first reared its ugly head.. and with these new allegations that are indeed explosive, I can see it doing the same thing, particularly when you have folks like Norman Spector and other media types that aren’t exactly Con-hostile calling for an inquiry. That will have resonance amongst the public if the Cons. refuse to hold one.

  • roger

    Everybody who follows international media and human rights reporting knows that torture was systematic since 2001 in Afghanistan, and that it was taking place by Afghan AND US forces inside Afghanistan, even at Kandahar Airfield.

    Read Ahmed Rashid’s latest book, Descent Into Chaos for a harrowing description of torture under US/NATO occupation.

    As a result, there is no doubt that most military leaders knew about torture taking place.

    There is no credibility to their claims of innocence.

    Human Rights Watch, the US State Department, the Red Cross, and international media all reported on systematic torture.

    With Colvin’s testimony, we now have evidence that military and cabinet officials — and their lackeys in bureaucracy — were in all likelihood covering up evidence to ‘protect’ their imperial occupation from public scrutiny.

    Public inquiry and possible war crime charges need to be investigated.

  • […] enough.  I agree with Scott Tribe that we need an independent tribunal to gain an understanding of how much our local politicians knew about Afghani […]

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