Tuesday, September 14, 2010

JTF2 probe

A big report from CBC last night, "Special forces actions in Afghanistan probed":
Canada's Defence Department quietly began a major inquiry into the Afghanistan operations of the military's elite special forces unit two years ago, CBC News has learned.

The investigation began in 2008 after a member of the highly secretive task force, known as Joint Task Force 2 or JTF2, raised serious allegations against another member of the force and the force in general, the military has confirmed.

The allegations centred on events that took place between 2005 and 2008, said navy Capt. David Scanlon, but he would provide no details about them.

The investigation, called Sand Trap I, ended after a few months with no charges laid, but the probe sparked a larger investigation into broader allegations. That investigation, called Sand Trap II, is still underway.

CBC News has learned the handling of detainees may have triggered the initial investigation, although the current probe is much wider than that.
At the time the note was written, Natynczyk wrote that 60 witnesses had testified before the board, and another 40 still needed to give testimony. He expected testimony to be complete by December 2009, with a report submitted by April 2010.

Scanlon said the board of inquiry is focusing on the broader administrative and non-criminal aspects of the allegations at the heart of Sand Trap II.

He said investigators are receiving full co-operation from the special forces unit, and any charges that might arise would be be made public.
During the three year period at the centre of the Sand Trap investigations, 2005 to 2008, the JTF2 unit was attached to an American special forces command based in Kandahar. JTF2 took its tactical direction from the Americans.
I'm going to raise a point here that has nothing to do with the integrity of the forces involved. Just to get that out of the way. It's about how the government has handled the fact of this investigation.

This is a substantial inquiry into our Special Forces in Afghanistan. 100 witnesses, going on two years! Yet we learn of it through media pursuit and access to information channels, not through our government. MacKay was briefed on it by General Natynczyk. Should civilian leadership have disclosed its existence to the Canadian public? Not the classified details, but its very existence. Or should we just be expected to trust that secret military inquiries will be conducted and not disclosed to the public? For comparison's sake, note this additional information from Canadian Press last night:
American special forces have been hauled on the carpet for some of their actions, most notably a botched raid last February in Khataba, a village outside Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. The highly-trained soldiers were accused of killing five people, including two pregnant women, and then trying to cover up the mistake.

Unlike Canada, the U.S. investigation into the allegations was made public.
Unlike Canada. One would think that if we're engaged in conflict overseas, the public would have a right to know how we're conducting it. Otherwise, how can a public, in a democracy, make informed decisions about the conflict? That's the main point that jumped out at me, sort of a threshold democratic issue.

Might this JTF2 inquiry also have something to do with the way Conservatives have handled pressure to hold a public inquiry on the detainee file?

I'm sure there will be lots of further discussion on this to come. Seems like a pretty substantial disclosure as Parliament gets set to return within the week.