Friday, October 9, 2009

Debate on Canadian Involvement in Afghan Prisons Stalled?

The Canadian parliament continues to debate an ongoing investigation by the Military Police Complaints Commission into the handling of transfers of Afghan detainees from Canadian military custody to Afghan prisons, where the detainees are allegedly subject to torture and mistreatment. According to the Commission's website, the these hearings "focus on allegations that certain members of the military police failed to investigate senior officers in the chain of command who had responsibility for directing the transfer of detainees to the Afghan authorities, allegedly in the face of the risk of torture."

On September 29th, Murray Brewster reported in the Canadian Press that the Canadian government has told the Commission "that subpoenaed witnesses will be allowed to appear at the inquiry, but they will be instructed to say nothing when hearings begin next month" in the interests of national security. Read Brewster's piece here.

On October 4, Macleans magazine reported that Peter Tinsley, chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, will not have his tenure as chair continued after it expires on December 11th. According to Macleans, this termination date "is well before any resolution to the often-delayed public interest hearings into allegations that Canadian military police knew - or should have known - that some of their Taliban prisoners handed over to local authorities faced possible abuse in Afghan jails". Read the whole Macleans article here.

According to the latest on the Commission's website, hearings regarding Afghan detainees were delayed by Department of Justice motions brought forward on October 5th, and the hearings were to resume on Wednesday, October 7. There is no more recent information posted on the Commission website at this time. In an article posted today by the Toronto Star, "Prime Minister Stephen Harper insists his officials intend to "co-operate at every stage" with MPCC Chair Peter Tinsley."

From a Mad Padre point of view, this story raises important ethical issues about the handling of detainees, and certainly Canada wants to avoid any repetition of a disgrace such as the 2003 revelations of torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Grahib prison. The difference, however, is that Abu Grahib was a US military facility, and the abuse there was conducted by US personnel. In Afghanistan, Canadian military personnel are working as part of ISAF to support a government that is, at least nominally, democratically elected and legitimate. If our military has no confidence in the Afghan government's ability to oversee its prisons, the only alternative is to keep detainees in ISAF custody, and the whole point of our mission is to help the Afghan government, army and police to stand on its own. What is not being covered adequately during this process, in my opinion, is the work of Canadian police and military advisors and mentors to the Afghan army, police, and judiciary. I know personally several of these mentors. It would be a great shame if their work is being lost in this debate.

No comments:

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


Blog Archive