According to a very authoritative source, many of the Afghans we detained had no connection to the insurgency whatsoever. From an intelligence point of view, they had little or no value. Frankly, the NDS (Afghan intelligence service) did not want them.Pressed for time tonight but just wanted to put Colvin's statement out there. Lots of ramifications in what he said, how the Conservatives are reacting, etc., that will be unfolding in coming days.
Some of these Afghans may have been foot soldiers or day fighters. But many were just local people - farmers, truck drivers, tailors, peasants; random human beings in the wrong place at the wrong time; young men in their fields and villages who were completely innocent but were nevertheless rounded up. In other words, we detained, and handed over for severe torture, a lot of innocent people.
A second reason Canadians should care is that seizing people and rendering them for torture is a very serious violation of international and Canadian law. Complicity in torture is a war crime. It is illegal and prosecutable.
Third, Canada has always been a powerful advocate of international law and human rights. That is a keystone of who we are as Canadians, and what we have always stood for as a people and nation. If we disregard our core principles and values, we also lose our moral authority abroad. If we are complicit in the torture of Afghans in Kandahar, how can we credibly promote human rights in Tehran or Beijing?
Fourth, our actions were counter to our own stated policies. In April 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said publicly that "Canadian military officials don't send individuals off to be tortured." That was indeed our official policy. But behind the military's wall of secrecy, that, unfortunately, is exactly what we were doing.
And finally, even if all the Afghans we detained had been Taliban, it would still have been wrong to have them tortured. The Canadian military is proud and professional organization, thoroughly trained in the rules of war and the correct treatment of prisoners.
I like two dynamics surrounding this issue. There's a level of seriousness that attaches itself to this issue that is not a good dynamic for the Conservative partisan approach. Hoping that this will become apparent in coming days. And secondly, the opposition parties are heavily motivated by that very seriousness of the issue, there's an intent to pursue the issue with vigour that seems to jump out at you. This bodes well to me for our political discourse, in terms of rising to the occasion on an issue that merits attention.