Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Nobody told us"

A few points on the Colvin letter submitted to the Afghan Commons committee today...

There's one party that's dealing in facts here and it's Colvin. Of course that's obvious, but it's glaring in the face of Conservative obstruction and unwillingness to put up on a similar basis. This is why the public has bought into his credibility and not the government's. Funny what happens when you display integrity, have no motivation to lie, keep your head down and do your work. The public respects that and the government doesn't get that.

The government is apparently ramping up its effort to hide behind the troops. It's nonsense and outrageous, particularly given Colvin's points that largely deal with the chain of command, upwards beyond him, to Ottawa. Laurie Hawn was particularly indelicate with his resort to the troop shield today. Retired General Gauthier is, interestingly, echoing that government line as well, but with some finger pointing of his own, to the government and DFAIT. Everybody's digging in to their entrenched positions, it appears. The government's p.r. response is totally non-responsive to the facts Colvin raises. It's nothing new, they say, it points the finger at the troops. That's it.

Here are some of the inconvenient facts that Colvin is putting out there, notifications up the chain of command, on risk of torture that the government has played dumb about throughout the course of dealing with these allegations. Under the heading "Nobody told us," Colvin itemizes numerous communications in 2006 that did in fact tell them:
In 2006 alone, the PRT and embassy sent the following formal reports on detainees to Ottawa:
May 26, 2006: A PRT report (KANDH‐0029, ‘Detainees: ICRC concerns over notification by Canadian forces’) warned of serious problems with notification to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). As a result of lengthy delays, and inadequate information, detainees in some cases were getting lost and therefore could not be monitored.
June 2, 2006: A PRT report (KANDH‐0032, ‘Kandahar prison and Afghan detainees’) addressed two subjects: The physical condition of Sarpoza prison in Kandahar, and the larger question of detainee treatment. The report flagged that the “main concern in Kandahar is not the prison itself but overall treatment of detainees, including those transferred to Afghan custody by Canadian forces.” It included verbatim comments that spelled out the nature of the concerns. We were sufficiently concerned that the whole‐of‐ government leadership of the PRT ‐‐ from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), the Canadian Forces and the RCMP ‐‐ not only reported the warnings to Ottawa but also promptly took steps in the field to try to address them.
September 19, 2006: An embassy report (KBGR‐0118, ‘Afghanistan: ISAF detainee concerns’) noted ISAF disquiet about the Canadian Forces’ refusal to provide ISAF with information about Canadian detainees ‐‐ for example, whether detainees had even been taken. ISAF noted that they had obligations to report on detainee numbers in Brussels. The report also noted that a highly credible source warned that Canada’s legal obligations to detainees did not cease just because we had transferred them to the Afghan government; Canada needed to monitor our detainees ourselves.
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• September 28, 2006: An embassy report (KBGR‐0121, ‘Afghanistan: ISAF detainee concerns – update’) conveyed even blunter complaints from ISAF about Canada’s detainee practices. ISAF also urged Canada to inform ICRC more speedily about detainee transfers.
December 4, 2006: An embassy report (KBGR‐0160, ‘Afghanistan: Detainee issues’) noted allies’ concern that detainees may “vanish from sight” after being transferred to Afghan custody, as well as the risk that they “are tortured.”
• End of December 2006: The embassy’s annual human­rights report on Afghanistan –‐ the major human‐rights product of 2006 –‐ noted that “torture” is rife in Afghan jails, as are “extrajudicial executions and disappearances.” The report used the word “torture” repeatedly.
It's clear, the government's line that they only learned of torture allegations and the need to fix inadequate the detainee regime in 2007 is exposed as an outright fiction. As it's been said before, they can spin all they like, but these facts are out there and perhaps others, internationally, are paying attention.

That's just the first point in Colvin's letter.

Update (7:00 p.m.): As Scott pointed out earlier, this is one of the most important lines of the letter:
From February 2006 (when the Canadian battle group first deployed) to May 3, 2007 (when Canada signed a new Memorandum of Understanding on detainees that gave us the right to monitor), our detainees continued to be transferred to the NDS, despite a substantial risk of abuse or torture.
Update (7:25 p.m.): Steve picks apart the government's management of the messaging, the "sanitizing" of reports coming out of Afghanistan.

A big point Steve makes, as has been made elsewhere too, that a fraud may have been perpetrated on Parliament, the Manley panel massaged through these efforts to stifle news of what was going on with detainees. An extension achieved by suppression of information.