Friday, November 16, 2007

One of the most damning indictments of the Harper government to date

It's their record on the Afghan detainee file and it's all being exposed as a result of a lawsuit that is forcing them to release documents. Without that lawsuit, we'd be seeing none of the information that is reported in the Globe today. Transparency and accountability were lies told to us by Conservatives trying to get elected.

It's a must read for all Canadians giving a vivid picture of the lies from the Harper government as they have tried to portray their efforts in getting the monitoring rights in the new agreement with the Afghan government as a positive development at every turn.
The Harper government knew prison conditions were appalling long before The Globe and Mail published a series of stories last April detailing the abuse and torture of prisoners turned over by Canadian soldiers to Afghanistan's notorious secret police, documents released this week show.

The heavily censored documents also show that at the same time as senior ministers were denying evidence of abuse, officials on the ground in Afghanistan were collecting first-hand accounts from prisoners of mistreatment.

Although large sections of the more than 1,000 pages of documents and messages between Ottawa, Kabul and Kandahar remain blacked out, two disturbing pictures emerge from the pile.

First, that despite working hard to create the impression of careful follow-up in monitoring of detainees, efforts have been hampered by a chaotic and unreliable Afghan system in which scores, perhaps hundreds, of detainees have vanished.

Second, in the months prior to public allegations of abuse and torture, there was compelling evidence of terrible conditions in Afghan prisons. In addition to routine reports by diplomats citing widespread torture and abuse, Canadian officials were also delivering first-hand accounts showing how grim the prisons were.

In one, Linda Garwood-Filbert, the newly arrived leader of a Correctional Service Canada inspections team, asked for better boots in February, 2007, months before the published reports, because she was "walking through blood and fecal matter" on the floor of cells as they toured Afghan prisons.

No explanation of why the floors were covered in blood is given.
(emphasis added)
Because they're bloody torturing, that's why...but let's read on about conditions inside the prisons:
Another report noted that the warden of the main prison in Kandahar, where many prisoners handed over by Canadians soldiers were held, had been fired after charges that he raped juvenile detainees. Cosmetics and hashish were found in his office. He was exonerated because an Afghan military judge said it was "impossible for a drunken man in his 50s to commit an act of rape," reported a Canadian official in a cable to Ottawa.

Other reports detail conditions far outside internationally acceptable norms. At one Kandahar secret police prison, all inmates are shackled in leg irons around the clock. Some have been kept that way for more than a year.

Meanwhile, in the months since May, after the government hastily arranged follow-up inspections in the wake of news reports, a different, but equally disturbing picture, emerges.

It is of scores of disappeared detainees, of strong evidence of torture and abuse continuing despite the inspections and of a frantic effort, in the first few days after the stories appeared last April, to paint a far rosier picture than documented in secret diplomatic cables.

On the first Canadian visit to a secret police prison, officials reported that they were stunned that two prisoners braved almost certain retribution to complain of abuse. "To our surprise, even through NDS officers accompanied us throughout the visit, two prisoners came forward with complaints of mistreatment," says an April 25 cable marked "secret."
The article proceeds to rip to shreds the government's "damage control" efforts, i.e., p.r. efforts, by juxtaposing various Minister's claims of progress in monitoring and tracking of detainees with the now released reports of what was actually happening on the ground at the time of such statements. Gordon O'Connor and Peter MacKay in particular look quite bad in this regard.

We have to stop transferring detainees to the Afghans who are clearly not abiding by international standards and exercise care and control over detainees ourselves. Or we consider interjecting ourselves, as a condition of our staying there, into the prison system in Kandahar. How feasible that would be, I really don't know. Security and conditions may be so bad that it's an impossible suggestion. Which would just underscore the desperate nature of our presence there in the first place. But if NATO had a presence in these facilities, it could ensure that the torture does not occur.

Something has to be done because the status quo is unacceptable. The monitoring arrangement is clearly not working. It's window dressing, that's all. Our government is cowardly turning a blind eye to the problem and sweeping it under the rug and has done nothing to change the situation. The Afghans want us to stay? Clearly not badly enough...