Up until a little over a month ago the Canadian Minister of Defence, Gordon O’Connor, was assuring Canadians that prisoners of war that Canada handed over to the Afghanistan government were having their treatment monitored by the Red Cross. Unlike any of the other countries serving as part of the occupying force in Afghanistan Canada has no arrangement in place allowing them to monitor the well being of the detainees they turn over, so we have to rely on third party reports.
It turns out he was wrong about that one as neither the Red Cross or the Red Crescent societies were monitoring the conditions of any of the Prisoners Of War being held by the Afghan government. When Mr. O’Connor came clean about that in the Canadian Parliament last month, he said not to worry though because the Afghan Human Rights people would let the military know if anybody was being mistreated.
You see according to the Geneva Convention no nation is allowed to turn over a prisoner to another nation if it suspects it will be tortured. If it finds out the prisoner is being tortured it must intervene on his or her behalf to prevent the torture from continuing or demand that the prisoner be returned to their custody.
Of course in order to do this a government must have the means in place to be informed of the well being of anybody who they had handed over to an allied power. For reasons best known to themselves, Defence Minister O’Connor and Chief of Staff General Rick Hiller couldn’t be bothered insuring that we had anyway of living up to our responsibilities under the convention.
The only reason I can think for not having that language in a prisoner transfer agreement is that they don’t have it the one they’ve established with the United States, even though those detainees end up in Guantanamo Bay where they are tortured. Of course the United States circumvents that problem by claiming none of the people they are fighting in Afghanistan are eligible for status as Prisoners of War.
Because the war is over anybody taking up arms against the occupying forces are terrorists and not soldiers. This despite the fact that while the Taliban may not be fighting a conventional war they have primarily gone after military targets and terrorist type attacks on civilians have been few and far between. (Please don’t get me wrong, I’ve no sympathy whatsoever for the Taliban, but that doesn’t mean we treat them any worse than we would want our people to be treated.)
That means when Canada transfers prisoners to the United States we are able to ignore the fact that they will probably be tortured or at least kept in conditions contrary to the Geneva Convention. In fact the Americans haven’t even felt the need to release the names of those being held let alone allow third party monitoring.
In the agreement signed with Afghanistan both parties agreed to comply with the Convention to ensure that all detainees’ were well treated. But the Afghanistan security forces obviously have a far different opinion than the rest of the world as to what constitutes cruel and unusual.
You see it turns out that at least thirty people who the Canadian army have turned over to the Afghanistan security forces have been tortured while in custody. In a series of face to face interviews with thirty detainees Globe and Mail reporter Graeme Smith heard stories of beatings, electric shock, whippings, starvation, choking and freezing during interrogation.
Of course with these revelations the opposition parties want Defence Minister O’Connor’s head on a platter. After over a year of assurances from him that there was nothing to worry about concerning the treatment of detainees after they left Canadian hands it’s proven that he and all others involved in the agreement were either lying from ignorance or with deliberate intent to mislead the people of Canada.
Either way they are guilty of allowing the circumstances for these people being tortured to develop. If the Canadian government’s representatives had only made a small effort to ascertain the condition of their former detainees they could have intervened as was their responsibility as set forth by the Geneva Convention. If a reporter for a newspaper was able to get access to these people how difficult would it have been for the military to keep tabs on them?
The ironic thing is that each and every one of the detainees interviewed had nothing but positive things to say about their treatment at the hands of the Canadian armed forces. They were treated with kindness and respect even though they might have been trying to kill their captors hours earlier and the detention facility was comfortable. One man did say he was certain that the soldiers knew he was being mistreated because some who visited him told him that he should give his Afghan interrogators real information or they would continue to hurt him.
It makes one wonder how is it Canadian soldiers were able to get into see their former prisoner so easily, and know what was going on in terms of torture, but somehow their superiors didn’t. Is the chain of command that useless soldiers don’t feel comfortable informing their superiors about events like this, or did they report the matter and nothing was done?
There are far too many unanswered questions and loose ends for the Minister of Defence Gordon O’Connor and Chief of Staff General Rick Heller to simply say we didn’t know what was going on. There is no justification for them to have allowed this situation to develop and to not do anything about it until they were forced to. Whatever moral high ground they may have thought they had from trying to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban is fast eroding out from under them.