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Our soldiers are dying in Afghanistan for this?

I’ve been afflicted with a severe neckache/headache problem the past couple of days which doesn’t allow me to be at my computer for more then a few minutes at a time, and thus I’m not about to leave any long-winded posts (like I normally do), but when I see stories like this that show that the Governor of Kandahar province might be personally involved in torture (and the added outrage that the Harper government tried to cover it up), and when I see another story this week where a young Afghan journalist gets sentenced to death for supposedly blaspheming Islam, when all he was doing was challenging Muslim fundamentalists who […]

The Canadian military is still obviously ticked at Harper.

I don’t think its been even 24 hrs before “sources” – no doubt in the military – leaked this to the Globe and Mail:

The Canadian Forces are holding insurgent detainees at their Kandahar Air Force base rather than turning them over to Afghan authorities, are taking fewer prisoners and are quickly releasing some of them. The information, provided to The Globe and Mail by sources, answers questions about Canada’s new policy for handling detainees that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other ministers repeatedly refused to provide Monday, citing the need for combat operational secrecy.

I guess the military either doesn’t think that this thing needs to be kept a secret, or else there are still quite a few angry military folks over Sandra Buckler’s comments that no one from the Armed Forces informed the government of the change in detainee policy of not handing them over to the Afghanistan authorities. The best part of this whole schmozzle: Harper is quoted in the House yesterday as saying he will “never” say how many prisoners are kept or where they are kept. Well, a day later, we now know where they are. It’ll be interesting to see if these same sources are angry enough to say how many prisoners we’ve got as well.

[email protected]:23am: Cam from Peterborough Politics (and indirectly Jack Layton) make a great point in the comments section:

Jack Layton pointed that out best yesterday…when he read that press release from the United States Government, which announced how many they had detained in Afghanistan that day, where they were captured and where they were being held. If the Bush Administration feels that it’s alright for his citizens to know these things, then what possible reason would the Harper Administration think that they could keep these kinds of things from Canadians?

The Bush administration, which hasn’t exactly been known during its reign of being forthright and open with information, is releasing more information about this then the Harper Conservative government is? That’s not a very high standard to meet, and even the Conservative government is failing to meet it. As another of my commentators, Mark from Section 15 says in comments as well:

Harper’s claim of need for secrecy is nothing but an excuse to avoid discussing the underlying issues. Big suprise there.

No, it isn’t a big surprise. I believe the military folks have seen they are being used as pawns in this political game, and have decided enough is enough.

Some holes in the “we didn’t know transfers had stopped” defence? (Update: PMO retracts “military didn’t tell us” claim)

Ok, so the Conservative government is now claiming they weren’t aware of the Canadian Armed Forces having stopped the transfer of detainees to the Afghanistan authorities (even though most of us agree that it was a GOOD thing this happened, the Harper government seems embarrassed by it – maybe because of all those “You’re all Taliban lovers” attacks it hurled at the opposition parties when it was asked to halt the transfers after the allegations of prisoner abuse first came up).

Courtesy of the sharp eyes of Jimbobby, however, we find this story in the Ottawa Citizen about the testimony at the Federal Court involving the Amnesty/BCCLA lawsuit:

We didnt know! Honest! Its the military’s fault! (or its to the military’s credit).

The Conservative government’s latest claim about the detainees issue is a whopper; they are claiming both privately and publicly that they had no idea that the transfer of detainees had ceased in November, and it was the Canadian Armed Forces and their commanders that made that decision.

There are 2 scenarios that are possibilities here; neither very good. The first scenario is that the Conservative government is telling 1 big fib to the Canadian people about this. With the control-freak style that Harper and his PMO uses to run things, you can’t help but be sceptical about this claim of being unaware of this major detail. The other scenario is that if this is true, then it was the Canadian military who got scared that they were violating the Geneva Conventions and did all this behind the government’s back, which means the military didn’t buy all the bluster coming out of Ottawa at the time that everything was fine and dandy and no one needed to worry.

To be honest, I’m almost inclined to believe the Conservatives that it wasn’t the government who ordered the transfers to stop, because as myself and others have said, we’ve been puzzled why they would keep this action secret all this time, when it would have garnered them some grudging respect from their political opponents for doing the right thing, and probably defused the issue back in November. With these denials of any knowledge of this, they’re appearing to run from the issue and slough it off onto the military, and by this action, they appear to think the halting of transfers is a BAD thing, and they appear to be trying to disavow any knowledge of this (do they think their hard-core supporters will call them wimps for trying to stay within the terms of the Geneva Convention?)

One of the talking points of some of our Blogging Tory colleagues has been to say that the government should be deserving credit for ending these transfers, rather then being slagged for keeping it a secret. That point is highly debatable, but I would say even that point is completely destroyed if the government had nothing to do with it. Rather, it’s the Canadian military who should be lauded for doing the right thing. As for the Conservative Government, Impolitical has it right when she says they have shown “an absolute abdication of responsibility of their civilian oversight of the military on a fundamental issue. And conduct demonstrating utter contempt for the Canadian public’s right to know that the issue was being handled properly.”

We’re going to be seeing fireworks in the House of Commons in QP on Monday, you can be sure.

You might want to go over to Galloping Beaver and read Dave’s article about why he thinks Sandra Buckler and the Harperites are full of it by trying to shuffle responsibility of this onto the military. As a former military guy, he would know the relationship between the civilian government and the military it purports to be in charge of. I recommend reading his column.

FURTHER [email protected] 11:20am: Even if the Cons. didn’t originally know about the Canadian Armed Forces decision to halt transfers in November, it certainly had found out between then and a couple of days ago, when it delivered its submission to the Federal Court that transfers had halted in November.  If so, they still sat on the information and only released it in trying to get Amnesty and the BCCLA to drop their court case. Does that show they wanted to keep the decision by the Armed Forces hidden so they could try to continue to bash the Opposition as “Taliban lovers”, or that they were embarrassed by this change in plan, which was apparently behind their backs, as they claim? More questions then answers at this point. Bottom line is the Conservatives look deceitful either way.

On red herrings and straw-men.

At first glance, you might wonder why Stockwell Day would issue such a feeble attempt in trying to draw Canadian outrage by equating the tasering death of a Polish immigrant to the issues of drunk driving. On the surface, it does seem pretty idiotic of Day – after all, this issue wasn’t one like the detainee question where the government is directly implicated and being directly attacked. This was mostly directed against the RCMP’s use of these tasers, and Harper and his office – normally so hypersensitive to any issue in which public opinion would turn against the Cons, and then trying to neutralize that particular issue as a problem […]

On keeping focus

I don’t mind if the Liberals and Dion ask that this independent arbitrator look into all possibilities of what went on with Mulroney and Schreiber, and to see what exactly went on in the Privy Council Office (I’m skeptical myself that in this regime, with its top-down control style of Harper’s, that officials in the PCO would withhold something as potentially damaging as these letters from him), but I think Liberals need to not yield to the temptation of trying to present this as the Conservatives equivalent to the Gomery Commission.

Let the inquiry do it’s investigations and make its report, and if something juicy or incriminating comes up, then […]

What they said.

Some of our blogging acquaintances on the right-wing and even some like Peter MacKay and others in the Cons. government can’t understand all the fuss over a few Taliban prisoners getting tortured – after all they’re the bad guys right?

For a rebuttal to that, a couple of my Progressive Blogger associates have done quite well in issuing responses. First Impolitical sums it up distinctly why this attitude is wrong:

Where, when and how detainees are captured have nothing to do with whether they are being tortured once handed over and in Afghan prisons…It doesn’t matter who the prisoners are, Taliban, Al Qaeda, pillaging Huns. They all need to be […]

Appalling.

You know, even when some of us political people of the progressive persuasion accused the Harper Conservative government of worshiping George W Bush as their “American Idol” and mentor, I don’t think even we thought they’d follow Bush’s method of a total disregard of human rights and cover-ups of said actions, justifying it under “national security” and “fighting terrorists”. But folks, as documents released this week as ordered by a federal court have shown, we were sadly mistaken; Harper and the Cons are employing the George W Bush lite method towards human rights, which means its pretty dismal:

The Harper government knew prison conditions were appalling long before The Globe […]

Where there’s smoke….

…there’s fire. First, the smoke part:

Canadian officials have uncovered a “credible” case of torture involving a Taliban fighter whom Canadian forces had turned over to Afghan authorities. The admission that Canadian detainees are being mistreated in Afghan prisons by local authorities is the first of its kind from the Conservative government.

Remember, this is the same government that has claimed all such claims of mistreatment and torture of prisoners handed over to Afghan authorities as being “Taliban propaganda”. Apparently not.

Now, the fire part:

It came just before the foreign affairs department released about 1,000 pages of files late last night that suggests widespread abuse of prisoners – including those captured by Canadian soldiers – continues to occur in Afghanistan.

These documents wouldn’t have seen the light of day but for a Federal Court order to the government to release them so Amnesty International and the BC Civil Liberties Union could examine them. Those 2 organizations have a lawsuit ongoing to force the government to stop the transfer of the detainees to Afghan authorities. These documents – which the 2 organizations had been unsuccessful in obtaining before the courts stepped in (the government claimed they couldn’t be released on that now-familiar excuse of national security) will aid the organization’s court cases significantly.

It is a disgrace that we are going from a country that has been a leading advocate of human rights to now following the George W Bush method:

The revelations contained in the documents released yesterday show Canada is still “handing detainees over to known torturers,” said Amir Attaran, the University of Ottawa law professor whose searches through military documents first uncovered the allegations of torture of Canadian-held detainees in Afghanistan. “Canada is following the American lead; this is the same as the American program of rendering detainees,” he said yesterday in a telephone interview.

(H/T Impolitical on that last quote)

I and a couple of other bloggers said yesterday that this story was probably bigger news then the Mulroney/Schreiber stuff, and it was unfortunate it was going to get buried under that. I’m starting to think however, that it may not get as buried as I first thought, and that’s a good thing. This government must be held accountable for being complicit in torture by turning over prisoners and putting them in a situation where torture is very likely to occur, which as we saw yesterday, is a violation and flaunting of international law.

That “other” issue Canadians aren’t going to like either.

It’s almost unfortunate this Mulroney stuff has to be happening at this particular moment, because the Afghan detainees issue is probably more important in the scheme of things, and it has popped back up in the news as well, with a sweeping condemnation of Canada by Amnesty International in being complicit of torture in Afghanistan:

Last May, under the threat of a federal court injunction, the Canadian government negotiated an improved arrangement. But the new arrangement has failed to work. According to Amnesty International, transferred detainees remain “at substantial risk of torture and other ill-treatment.” The human rights organization also criticizes Canada for downplaying the number of transfers that occur. […]

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