Friday, December 04, 2009

While the political football of the "torture scandal" is being tossed back and forth amongst Canada's political parties there at least some who preserve an ethical compass in the debate. While the government of (Sneaky) Stevie Harper continues to stonewall and add further legal hurdles to an open inquiry into how Canadian troops knowingly handed over detainees to the Afghan government for torture the opposition parties concentrate on the "who knew what when" aspect. Every once in a while (more often in the right wing press ) the mask is dropped and the Conservatives pull the 'Oh Canada' card ie "what the hell do you care about what happens to enemies you traitorous, yellow bellied, blah, blah, blah sons of bitches". I love it when this happens because it at least makes the problem under discussion clear. In truth the opposition, perhaps from political reasons of decorum, hasn't raised the obvious. When you turn detainees over to the present quisling government of Afghanistan what do you expect other than either torture or a speedy release due to the proper bribes being paid. The last time I looked the government of Afghanistan was indeed the government of Afghanistan. I hope that I am not mistaken and that they have not all become Sufi mystics who have given away all their worldly goods and vowed benevolence to all when I was not paying attention. To put it at its bluntest...what the fuck do you expect, other than torture for those who cannot pay the bribes from this crew ? Perhaps the majority of sheep who follow the dictums of their rulers in the Conservative Party may believe the lies, but I am sure that the more intelligent bureaucracy of the Conservative Party have no such illusions.

Those who do indeed preserve an independent moral compass (something that the average conservative is in sorry need of) include Amnesty International Canada. Here is their statement of opposition to the way that Canada is complicit in torture in Afghanistan and their appeal to join your voice to theirs in protesting this state of affairs.
These have been a couple of intensely busy weeks. Amnesty International has been raising concerns about Canada’s approach to handling prisoners apprehended on the battlefield in Afghanistan for over seven years. Now it has become one of the dominant issues in the country. I'd like to share with you some reflections about the disturbing information and heated political debate regarding very real concerns that over the past several years an unknown number of prisoners, picked up by Canadian troops, and then transferred to Afghan officials, have almost certainly been subject to brutal torture in Afghan jails.

I am very proud of the role that Amnesty International has played in pressing for action on this issue. Working against torture has long been a priority for Amnesty International, right around the world. In that work we seek to expose the torturers, but we also expose instances where other officials and even other governments may be complicit in torture, including by handing over likely victims.

Torture is abhorrent. Complicity in torture is shameful. Both are against the law. That is what is at stake for Canadians as we confront these latest revelations.

Why should Canadians care what happens to detainees once they're in the Afghan prison system? See Questions & Answers

Amnesty International, alongside the BC Civil Liberties Association, first raised questions about Canada’s prisoner policy in Afghanistan in 2002. ( Under a Liberal government- Molly )

At that time Canadian troops were handing prisoners over to US forces in Afghanistan. We called for those transfers to be halted because some of the prisoners were being sent on to Guantánamo Bay and others were at real risk of torture in US detention facilities in Afghanistan. Combined with US refusal to recognize the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to those prisoners meant, we insisted, that Canada was violating our own international obligations when we handed prisoners over. We urged Canada to consider developing its own capacity to hold prisoners.

Eventually the government agreed with us, and halted transfers to US forces in late 2005. But they traded one human rights problem for another. Since that time, prisoners have instead been delivered to Afghan authorities, even though torture and ill-treatment in Afghan jails is a longstanding and widespread reality in the country. We again called for Canada to take a different approach. We urged instead that the government develop a cooperative approach to overseeing the detention of these prisoners, doing so in collaboration with Afghan officials and with other NATO allies. Unfortunately the government did not take up the suggestion. Transfers continued.
Why a Public Inquiry?
After years of public campaigning and raising concerns directly with successive Canadian governments, Amnesty International eventually turned to the courts and tribunals for a remedy. Here’s a look at the path we took to get there

In early 2007 we launched an application in Federal Court seeking an order halting the transfers. We also lodged a complaint with the Military Police Complaints Commission asking that body to look into it, as military police did play a role in the transfers. We were faced with considerable government resistance and obstruction on both fronts and both proceedings became difficult and bogged down. Despite some promising initial rulings, in the end the Federal Court case could not go ahead when the courts ruled that the Charter of Rights (the entire legal basis of our case) did not apply to the actions of Canadian soldiers outside Canada. That, clearly, is a very worrying legal precedent with implications beyond this case.

Amnesty is calling for a full, public Commission of Inquiry regarding the handling of Afghani detainees.

Following Richard Colvin’s explosive testimony two weeks ago, a parade of witnesses has come before the parliamentary committee now looking into this, including retired Generals and our current Ambassador to China.

There has also been a false debate about proving torture. The government has insisted that no incident of a transferred prisoner being tortured has been proven.

One is left with the impression that the only proof the government would accept is to be present while the torture occurs and witness it firsthand. The proof of torture in Afghan prisons and that transferred prisoners have been tortured is overwhelming and it is very disturbing.

Richard Colvin, who the government tasked with looking into this for 1 ½ years, certainly reached that conclusion. But having assigned him the task, the government preferred to disregard his message. He is not alone. Canadian journalists have, through tenacious investigative reporting, uncovered numerous cases of transferred prisoners who provide detailed and credible accounts of torture. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (funded and supported by Canada, to our credit) has expressed concern. Other Canadian government monitors have documented cases. And there is good reason to believe that the Red Cross has also raised concerns with the Canadian government.

Instead of denying these concerns and impugning the messengers, it is time to take action.
Torture is an egregious human rights violation. By its very nature it destroys the sense of human dignity that is at the heart of the very concept of human rights. Canada clearly stands against torture. It is imperative, therefore, that we be firm and resolute in our refusal to in any way cooperate with or assist torturers. But we have not witnessed that firm, resolute stand over the past several years. Certainly not in the last two weeks. Clearly this has upset large numbers of Canadians who do not believe that this reflects their Canada.

Amnesty International and the BCCLA have jointly called for a public inquiry into this matter. Many others have as well, including all three opposition parties and leading media editorials across the country. We will now press hard for that inquiry to be convened. It is only through a public inquiry that we will gain a full understanding of what has unfolded over the past several years. A public inquiry would also offer recommendations for a different approach, one that would fully conform with our international human rights obligations. If you would like to add your voice to that demand, just click here:
Sign appeal
Please go to THIS LINK to send the following letter to the Prime Minister of Canada.
Dear Prime Minister Harper:
Canada has pledged to be part of the effort to restore and uphold human rights in Afghanistan. Yet Canadian forces continue to transfer detainees to Afghan custody despite the risk of torture and ill-treatment.

I am shocked that the Canadian government has chosen to dismiss the reports of human rights organizations and even some of its own trusted officials. I am further disappointed by the obstruction of efforts – whether through the courts, tribunals or even the parliamentary system – to clarify the handling of prisoners in Afghanistan.

Accountability and transparency are essential to the promotion of human rights both at home and abroad. It’s time for Canada to live up to the same responsibilities we demand of others.
I urge you to convene, without delay, a full, public Commission of Inquiry into all aspects of the laws, policy and practice that has governed Canada’s approach to handling prisoners in Afghanistan.

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