Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Globe, confused...

Having published Robert Marleau's wonderful essay on the Freedom of Information,


the Globe gets itself all in a twist about the action in the Federal Court brought by the BC Civil Liberties Association and Amnesty International regarding the transfer of prisoners from Canadian troops' to Afghan custody. The issue seems to turn on the application of the Canadian Charter.


Who needs the Charter? Such transfer is prohibited by the Third Geneva Convention, particularly Articles 10 and 12. What's not to get?

Mr. Marleau comes through.

Time for the government to dispel the information fog
Globe and Mail Update
January 29, 2008 at 6:56 PM EST
It is often said that "No news is good news." It is beginning to seem as if the government has added to that adage, "Good news is no news."
A recent editorial in The Globe and Mail spoke of "the fog that has settled over the [Afghan] detainees": It was referring to the revelation that Canada had stopped turning over prisoners to the Afghan government in November, but had not disclosed this to Parliament or the public.
Since becoming Information Commissioner a year ago, it is my experience that it is not only the situation with detainees in Afghanistan that has become obscured. Indeed, a fog over information, even when the news is positive, has crept, little by little, over the government's activities.
As Information Commissioner, my job is to receive and investigate complaints by people who have requested access to information that is under the control of government institutions and are not satisfied with the response they have received. My staff of investigators is kept more than busy responding to these: Our caseload of complaints has doubled in the past year. But providing information in this way, under the Access to Information Act, is not the only, or necessarily the best, way for the government to communicate with its citizens.
Before the Access to Information Act came into force in 1983, people made informal requests for information and the government, under its own initiative, released information in a variety of ways, such as reading rooms, press releases and press conferences. The Act recognizes the value of these alternative methods of obtaining information when it states in subsection 2(2): "This Act is intended to complement and not replace existing procedures for access to government information and is not intended to limit in any way access to the type of government information that is normally available to the general public." Today, in this 25th anniversary year of the Act, it is beginning to seem as if the Act is the only way to gain access to government-controlled information. This is not how it should be.
And this is not just my opinion. In the report this month of the Independent Panel On Canada's Future Role In Afghanistan, also known as the Manley report, one of the recommendations is that "the Government should provide the public with franker and more frequent reporting on events in Afghanistan, offering more assessments of Canada's role and giving greater emphasis to the diplomatic and reconstruction efforts, as well as those of the military." That is a unanimous recommendation from a distinguished panel that includes former high-ranking government officials.
If the current government were to adopt the same views, and heads of institutions were to order more proactive disclosure, they just might inspire greater trust and confidence in Canadians and encourage them to hold a more positive opinion of their institutions. It is only a matter of leadership and political will.
While it may be explicable, if not laudable, for any government to want to withhold bad news, it is difficult to understand why even good news is not being released. Surely the fact that Canada decided not to turn over any more detainees to the local authorities in Afghanistan, thereby removing the risk of them being tortured, was good news. If even good news is not disseminated, you cannot blame Canadians for wondering how much bad news might be lurking in government records, waiting to be uncovered. It is true that the government should not reveal any information that could bring harm to those who serve in Afghanistan. But if the government's position is that everything to do with detainees, and much of what pertains to Afghanistan, is a security matter and is secret by definition, then the Access to Information Act recognizes the importance of protecting certain information and contains exemptions that can be used. The role of my office is to ensure that those exemptions are being applied appropriately.
Given that the security of our country is well protected by these exemptions, it is my view that government institutions, such as the Department of National Defence, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, to name the most prominent of those that hold the most sensitive and secret information, must be exemplary in the free and voluntary release of other information. They must proactively make available all the information they can that is not sensitive or secret within the terms of the Act's exemptions. Releasing information only when someone sees fit to make a formal access to information request should not be the norm, but the exception.
In the normal course of events at the Department of National Defence, a summary of the types of information that have been released in response to access requests is made available in reading rooms and on its website. The whole of that information, as well as other information that might be of interest to the public, should also be released in this manner as a matter of course. The previous government ordered this to be done for certain types of records, such as travel and hospitality expenses, contracts awarded, reclassification of positions, and grant and contribution awards. This is a good start, but much more remains of interest to Canadians that is hidden from easy view, when disclosure should be the norm.
Transparency has become the buzzword of the moment in government. It is time to make it a priority and a reality. The Manley report is such an opportunity. It would be a shame to relegate it to the fog of obscurity.
Robert Marleau is the Information Commissioner of Canada.

The original request, December 2006...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Strategic Taliban Intelligence

Right. So I'm a Taliban commander in Afghanistan. I've just had an engagement with the Canadian Armed Forces, and I'm missing a few guys. So, I don't really know what happened to them, but I'm a little worried that the information they have might compromise my future operations.

My first thought is to read the online edition of the Globe and Mail.

My second thought is to ask around to see if anyone knows who has been taken prisoner by the Aghan National Army or the Afghan National Police.

My third thought is to see who knows if anyone has been taken prisoner. I know that a Taliban commander from Helmand bought his way of prison in Kabul for $US15,000, or really that some other guy showed up with $15,000 and bought him out. It is absolutely crucial that I have no idea what the Canadians are up to. In fact, I don't speak English. In fact, they don't speak Pashtun. Luckily, the Afghan government doesn't speak English.

Loose talk costs lives.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sandra Buckler: Miss Communication

The Geneva Conventions, to which Canada has subscribed, are not ambiguous. Whatever Sandra Buckler might say about Canadian government "policy" is irrelevant in the light of Articles 10 and 12 of the Third Geneva conventions which are binding. I quote from Aricle 12:

"Prisoners of war are in the hands of the enemy Power, but not of the individuals or military units who have captured them. Irrespective of the individual responsibilities that may exist, the Detaining Power is responsible for the treatment given them. Prisoners of war may only be transferred by the Detaining Power to a Power which is a party to the Convention [and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is not] and after the Detaining Power has satisfied itself of the willingness and ability of such transferee Power to apply the Convention. When prisoners of war are transferred under such circumstances, responsibility for the application of the Convention rests on the Power accepting them while they are in its custody. Nevertheless, if that Power fails to carry out the provisions of the Convention in any important respect, the Power by whom the prisoners of war were transferred shall, upon being notified by the Protecting Power, take effective measures to correct the situation or shall request the return of the prisoners of war. Such requests must be complied with."

The High Contracting Power is the Government of Canada, not the Canadian Armed Forces. Nevertheless, as was shown at Nuremburg, military officers who contravene the conventions are themselves liable to prosecution for War Crimes. Thus, the November 5, 2007 halt to Canadian transfers of prisoners to Afghanistan "authorities" may have much less to do with "operational" judgement, than with members of the Canadian Armed Forces refusing to collude in War Crimes.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

National Post

I'm pleased that they published it. I'm unpleased that they took the guts out of it, about the Germans.

The reality of the Convervative government policy in Afghanistan is that it is unrealistic. The Afghanistan Compact cost nobody anything, is not binding, and major goals have aready been missed. As for the reality of NATO's commitment, here's the Washington Post on Germany:"When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Bush at his Texas ranch in November, U.S. and German officials said, she told him that while Bonn would step up its contribution in quiet northern Afghanistan, any change in Germany's noncombat role would spell political disaster for her conservative government."It's not an excuse; it's simply reality -- coalition reality and domestic reality," a German official said."

The reality is also that the Germans aren't willing to get killed for Afghanistan, but they're willing to sell us $1.2 billion of tanks for us to use getting shot. Maybe if they just gave us the tanks it would make a little more sense.The reality is that there isn't any plan for Afghanistan that makes any sense, has real commitments, and has a real budget. Why should Canadian kids get killed because, in fact, the government is not realistic or honest about what's going on in NATO?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Taliban commander buys his way of of prison


Actually, some other guy arrived with the money. But at the very least, it tells us that the Taliban (whoever they are and if indeed that's who we're taking prisoner, and in fact how would we know who we're taking prisoner?) -- the Taliban can find out who and where prisoners are.

Update from the Commish

The lovely Vivian tells me my file is now with the "Acting Director of Investigations", otherwise "senior management" in the Office of the Information Commissioner. So it's moving, but days, weeks, months go by.

Meanwhile the Globe reports:

The extent to which top Canadian Forces brass looked to restrict public information about operations in Afghanistan is made clear in a June 20 e-mail to National Defence's director of Access to Information, Julie Jansen, sent by Brigadier-General Peter Atkinson.
“Any ATI request for information related to DETAINEES, or Battle Damage Assessments (any report, SOP, SIR, sitrep related to IEDs, Vehicle Damage, casualties, protection, armour enhancements) is to be severed in its entirety less the address group at the top of the correspondence,” Brig.-Gen. Atkinson wrote.
“The rationale for doing so, is that this information if allowed to go into the public domain can be used by our enemies ie the Taliban, to further target and make assessments on their effectiveness against our own troops … it is based on these issues that the information identified above cannot be released as it puts our troops at greater risk.”

Right. Meanwhile, the BBC reports that a Taliban commander was bought out of prison in Kabul by some guy who showed up with $US15,000, and this commander and is now back in Helmand giving interviews. Does Atkinson really think the Taliban (or whoever we're taking prisoner) won't be able to find out exactly who was taken prisoner and where they're being held? and how....exactly..... would any of that knowledge help in attacking Canadian troops?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Great Game Foretold

While waiting to hear from the Information Commissioner, I was browsing in a dumpster behind the British Consulate on Melville Street and found the following.