Sunday, November 29, 2009

Paper Chase

Based on available evidence, I offer an alternative version of the Afghan prisoner debacle. The public relations/advertising/propaganda gurus (like Joseph Goebbels) might call it a “narrative”.

1. The Canadian government (Liberal or Conservative) gave little if any thought to the legal implications of prisoners being taken in Afghanistan by Canadian troops.
2. When the shooting war heated up in 2006, and prisoners were inevitably taken, somebody balked at handing them over to Americans.
3. In April, 2006, Richard Colvin arrived in Kandahar and questions were asked in Parliament by Dawn Black of the NDP.
4. The “Campaign Against Terrorism Detainee Transfer Log”, kept meticulously from January 2002 until April 2006, ceased to exist.

The following is from page 47 of the transcript of a Federal Court of Canada hearing in Vancouver, April 20, 2009 (T-680-08, decision [2009 FC 1000]).

MS. TULLY: I thought I'd start with the documents that I provided to Mr. Kitson. I've been able to go through my notes of what I received from the Department of National Defence, and I can advise that the statistics go until March or April 2006. So you're correct, they do not cover the period of time in question.
And the further information that I do have, and the reason that I think there was some confusion last time, is they were produced as a result of one of the Amnesty decisions and I don't have the citation but it was a decision involving Amnesty International. And the individuals from the Department of National Defence, who attended before you on March 5th, thought the statistics were on the Amnesty International website. We've tried to locate them there. We can't, but they are on the website that I've given to the Registrar."

The website is that of Amir Attaran.

5. No records were kept of prisoner detentions or transfers for a period of months, after April, 2006.

I find this difficult to believe, but when I received a response to my original Access to Information Act request from the DND on September 17, 2007, it consisted of 73 redacted pages of what appeared to be battlefield reports, and I concluded I was getting the run-around, particularly after being shown the Campaign Against Terrorism Detainee Transfer Log. But maybe it's true. Maybe these are the only records that exist.

6. The Canadian Military Police expressed their view that the conditions to which prisoners were transferred in Kandahar did not meet the standard of the Third Geneva Convention.

From the Globe and Mail,19 Feb, 2009
article by Paul Koring
Prisoner transfers halted as early as spring 2007
"Voicing their doubts"

"At least some Canadian military police officers in Afghanistan were worried about what would happen to prisoners they handed over to Afghan authorities, according to transcripts of the Military Police complaints Commission's interview with Captain Jason Tarzwell, deputy commander of the Canadian military police deployed to Kandahar in the first months of Canada's move to the Taliban heartland.

"Capt Tarzwell: 'I didn't think with the Kandahar facility, detention facility that it was appropriate for us, Canada, to be directly involved in transferring folks to a prison that held political prisoners, adulterers and homosexuals and that I really didn't think it was Canada's responsibility to pick the spot where we were going to put them, because then we would have ownership of that problem.

'It was certainly laid out in the Geneva Convention 3[*] why we don't put people in prison.

'And then the folks in that particular prison, again, it wasn't something I felt Canada or Canadians should be involved in...

'Now, I made that determination, again, because that facility wasn't appropriate. I'm not sure why anyone else didn't look at it in the intervening time that I was gone, and say, hey that's not appropriate, but as the platoon commander there and the commander on the ground and responsible for that facility it clearly didn't meet the Geneva Convention.

'So I'm thinking either Major Fraser wasn't in tune with the Geneva Convention, or he never looked at it, or he didn't really put much thought into what was happening there...'

*Link to ICRC website added