Thursday, December 10, 2009

Please Read

I first posted this excerpt from this recent post. But I think it got lost in the shuffle of the reporting on General Natynczyk's about face on whether we'd actually detained and transferred that one suspect over to his Afghan abusers. The thing is, this account of CF actions in the field [dating from 2008!] ought to raise some questions about the degree of care to which the harper government made sure that our prisoners' human rights were respected.

The one guaranteed way you could make a hard-bitten Canadian duty officer blanch was to tell him that an Afghan had been taken into Canadian custody, as opposed to Afghan custody, with all the extra work THAT entailed.

In practice, the situation was avoided whenever humanly possible. Instead in late 2008 and early 2009, most detainee responsibilities were invariably handed off by Canadians to the closest thing to an Afghan authority figure that they could find nearby: police, Afghan army, a passing civilian district leader... -- who was encouraged to take over that responsibility right at the point and time of capture. Any remedy to avoid the appearance of taking them into our national custody for even a minute was pursued. Only working "jointly" with Afghans in this way would have allowed the pro-Government forces as a whole to collect detainees when they had to without triggering those national reporting and followup requirements. (It had other potential advantages from an Afghan
capacity-building and national sovereignty point of view, too, obviously.)*

Intelligence value or circumstances of capture could not serve as a consideration in which countrytook possession; there was no time, really. If Canadians took people into our custody long enough to figure out who they were authoritatively on our own, well, we'd have just made them Canadian detainees by default, regardless of how that inquiry then turned out.

Your comments?


no_blah_blah_blah said...

As the higher-ups were being warned about torture, I wonder how much of this was disseminated to everyone else in the military. It's clear that at least some soldiers knew, and there was at least one reported instance where Canadian soldiers stepped in to interrupt an interrogation that was getting out of hand.

It would be downright callous to subject detainees (many of them innocent) to torture just to avoid paperwork. The (rarely-seen, nowadays) optimistic side of me wants to believe that the possibility of torture just wasn't believed to be a plausible scenario for the paper pushers due to Harper and company wanting to cover it up. The cynical side of me says that not enough people on the ground gave a damn.

It sucks, but I think that like with most people, soldiers treat what they are doing as any other job (just a very high-risk one). They do what their bosses want, and that's the end of that. I'm also certain that most believe (or want to believe) that they are helping Afghans thanks to feel-good PR, so there are not many who would think about looking more closely and blowing whistles.

The boss (i.e. the Canadian government) is supposed to provide direction. The success and failure of any endeavour falls on those in charge. The Afghan mission has been a failure, ending up with Canada now being on the International Criminal Court's radar.

It may be the opposite of military doctrine (which seems to consist primarily of "follow orders"), but the only way to change this is to encourage and protect inquiring minds and whistleblowers at all levels.

Parliament Shill said...

In a sense this is no better than directly handing them over. It may exculpate us of formal legal responsibility, but if the rationale was that we shouldn't hand over our detainees to the Afghan authorities because they would likely be tortured, then finding a path to do it indirectly rather than directly just means that we (a) acknowledge what we're doing is wrong, and (b) are finding ways to do it anyways.

thwap said...

You folks are right.

1. The government(s) that put the CF into the position of having no options but to turn over prisoners to a barbaric prison system is/are to blame.

"I was just following orders" isn't an excuse, but this was about simply what to do with prisoners, some not "suspects" but definitely hostile. It wasn't being ordered to actively, positively abuse people, but to transfer prisoners.

I can't see ordinary soldiers being able to take a stand that would have any other impact but to make their lives miserable.

2. This was a weaselly way to try to get out of culpability for war crimes, but it couldn't work because "should have known" is the standard for which Japanese officers were hanged at the Tokyo War Crimes Trials.

Alison said...

Wasn't missed, Thwap - I think we're all just waiting for credible inside info to surface.
Where did I read that duty officers were under huge pressure to achieve handover in under 19 hours? (I hope I have that right)
Why 19 hours I wonder? Is there something legally pertinent about 20 hours?

Alison said...

Dave answers my question.