Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bloody, Unbowed, Exasperated


To: General Walter Natynczyk
Chief of the Defence Staff
Department of National Defence
Major-General George R. Pearkes Building
101 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
K1A 0K2

From: Neil Kitson
Incensed Citizen
Vancouver, British Columbia

Date: December 13, 2009

Re: Afghanistan FAQ

Dear Walt,

Things seem to be heating up at your end of Ottawa.

Some time ago, three years or more, I wrote to your esteemed predecessor, Rick Hillier, who as it turns out was, like you, a Deputy Commander at Fort Hood, scene of the recent senseless shooting, with regard to questions about Canadian involvement in Afghanistan. I didn’t hear back from Rick, but the questions are still being asked. Me, I’ve “moved on”, as people say when anxious to avoid liability, because I think the questions have been answered, sort of.

I note that on November 11, 2009, Remembrance Day, you were on television saying you were planning to have all Canadian troops out of Afghanistan by 2011, because that was the language of the Parliamentary Resolution of 2008. Interesting. I’m particularly interested that you seem completely clear that your authority is derived from the language of the resolution. I’m not a lawyer, Walt, but I’ve had some experience with the law, and it strikes me you’ve had legal advice. When people start talking about the language of the law, you know they’ve been talking to lawyers. That will be important at the International Criminal Court in The Hague when the responsibility for the Afghan debacle is painfully reviewed, particularly the part about prisoners of war.

I notice also that the ranking Canadian medical officer in Kandahar, Rob Briggs, has been getting some legal advice of his own.

“Briggs said that when medical staff in Kandahar Airfield sought legal advice, they were told that under the Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war should receive the same treatment as Canadian soldiers.
‘We have had a legal opinion that states yes, indeed, we should be offering — on a voluntary basis — detainees H1N1 [vaccinations] because it's being seen as a preventive measure," said Briggs.’”

Add to that Rick’s recent book saying that the Prime Minister’s Office knew all about the prisoner handovers, and you start to get the picture of people covering their own asses.

It’s not a pretty picture, just like the pictures of the Canadian Airborne Regiment torturing people in Somalia weren’t pretty, and resulted in the entire Regiment being disbanded in disgrace. There has been a lot of talk about Rick restoring pride in the military, and peculiar articles in the Globe and Mail about how Canadians are embracing a new “muscular” military, together with an article in the Georgia Straight about how Canadians were falling over themselves to play gung-ho war games, which suggests somebody is trying to paint a picture of the old guts and glory days of the Canadian military, if in fact such days ever existed.

I’m suggesting they never did. First of all, if we go back to the Boer War, Canadians were involved in “farm burning” in South Africa, events now clearly described as war crimes. They (the troops) didn’t like it. Second, the undoubted heroism of the Canadian troops in World War 1 produced an extremely ambiguous result, some might say disastrous, that resulted in World War 2. Third, the undoubted heroism of Canadian troops in World War 2 produced a violent end to the mistakes of World War 1, but as Farley Mowat points out, the guys in the comfy cushions at headquarters seemed oblivious of the price paid by guys in the firing line, and then there’s Dieppe.

What is the Afghanistan “Mission” and how will we know when it’s over?

Somehow Walt, I’m back to my original questions. Nobody knows what the “Mission” is, or was. The legal basis is NATO Charter Article 5, the “collective right to self-defence” corresponding to the UN Charter Chapter VII, Article 51, but as I said to Rick, it’s a bit of a stretch to argue that NATO was attacked by Afghanistan. This was the first time Article 5 was invoked, Walt, and it’s certainly looking like the last. The good news is that as a legal experiment in renovating a “failed state” to bring it up to code, without giving it much thought beforehand, or even asking permission of the current occupants, it has failed: totally, absolutely, and without qualification. But that’s OK, experiments often don’t work out the first time. The important thing is to call a spade a spade, and admit it didn’t work. Then we can get on with doing something constructive, like getting the hell out.

Then, there is the matter of common sense, military common sense. If we accept the argument that NATO is trying ― in line with the “Afghanistan Compact”, whatever that is, although its blackly funny Orwellian subtitle is “Building On Success” ― to establish a civil society in Afghanistan, the provision of security would take at least 500,000 soldiers, and if they are NATO soldiers who don’t speak the language and aren’t Muslim, probably a million soldiers. These soldiers are not available, and even if they were, what would happen in Pakistan as a result? What would happen in Afghanistan for that matter? These are obvious questions nobody seems to want to ask, so I’m asking you.

Is Afghanistan’s central government legitimate?

I think the answer is in on this one, Walt. No. It was looking questionable three years ago, and there seems to be no doubt in anybody’s mind now, at least, no doubt in the English speaking world, which is of course not south Asia. It’s not clear what the United Nations really thinks, but it is a most divided institution.

Nevertheless, I believe there is hope for the future, and despite the madness of the past 8 years, that Canadian soldiers have not died for nothing, any more than the kids in the First World War died for nothing, although people might disagree with that proposition. I have reasons.

1. War is getting more difficult. Each time there’s a war; people try to figure out how not to have one. After World War 1 there was the League of Nations, but that didn’t quite work out, although it was pretty good as a first attempt. After World War 2, there was the United Nations, which seems to be hanging in there, and the Geneva Conventions of 1949, to set out in more detail what are war crimes. After Rwanda, there was the International Criminal Court and the Statute of Rome. I’m not saying it’s perfect. For example, Henry Kissinger should be one of the defendants in the Cambodia war crimes trial. And the USA has not signed up for the International Criminal Court for obvious reasons.

2. The internet makes controlling information difficult, although people try, but the truth comes out.

3. Most of the Canadian soldiers I’ve read about want to do good. I don’t think people will sign up for the Canadian military if they get the idea they’re being lied to and put in harm’s way for no good reason, or have to take the weight of international law on their own shoulders in opposition to war criminals in their own chain of command.

I like your idea of getting everybody out Walt, but I wish it could happen sooner. On the other hand, the Canadian accounting for this land war in Asia looks set to go on for many years, and may involve you and, with any luck, your Calgary Stampede buddy, David Petraeus, at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.