Friday, February 01, 2008

Is the Harper Government Providing Cover for a Torturer?

The Globe & Mail lays out the case:

The Harper government knew, but tried to keep secret since last spring, allegations that the governor of Kandahar was personally involved in torture and abuse of detainees.

The allegations against Governor Asadullah Khalid, appointed directly by President Hamid Karzai and a key political partner to Canada's nation-building efforts in southern Afghanistan, were regarded as sufficiently credible that senior officials in Ottawa were immediately informed and Canadian diplomats secretly reported them to the International Red Cross and Afghanistan's main human-rights group.

Government documents detailing the accusations were heavily censored by the government which, claiming national security, blacked out the references to “the governor.” But multiple sources, both inside and outside the government, confirm that the words “the governor” have been censored as have whole passages referring to secret cells allegedly run by Mr. Khalid outside the official prison system.

Last spring was the time that Harper et al were very busy trying to convince Canadians that any torture allegations coming out of Afghanistan were just Taliban propaganda. Today, even after the government finally had to admit that there might be credible cases of detainees being tortured, the Cons' pit bull on the issue - Peter van Loan - called the allegations against Khalid and the obvious cover up "histrionics and hyperbole." We didn't believe them the last time they used such a weak, ad hominem defence and there's certainly no reason to believe them this time either since documents confirm that there were concerns raised about Khalid and his secret prisons.

Rumours have long linked Mr. Khalid to secret prisons. That he had close ties with U.S. intelligence agents and special forces had been known since Canadian troops arrived in southern Afghanistan in early 2006. But Ottawa didn't confront an accusation of the governor's direct involvement in the interrogation and torture of prisoners until it sent diplomats to inspect the main secret police prison in Kandahar on April 25, 2007.

“Another prisoner beckoned to us,” begins the crucial passages describing the first inspection of the secret National Directorate of Security police prison in Kandahar city.

The detainee, like others in the secret police jail, was in leg irons, according to the documents. He told the Canadians his name and described how he initially had been imprisoned for nearly a year, most of the time shackled alone in a room in one of the governor's private prisons. “He went on to state he had been interrogated by foreigners and the governor,” said the report by Gavin Buchan, a Canadian diplomat and Linda Garwood-Filbert, the head of the Canadian Corrections team in Afghanistan.

“He alleged that the governor beat him and gave him electric shocks,” Ms. Garwood-Filbert wrote in her inspection report. Eventually the prisoner was moved to the NDS prison where he gave his account to Canadian officials.

Within days, senior Canadian diplomats had passed on the reports to both the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

It also looks like government lawyers attempted to obstruct justice by not fully releasing the information concerning Khalid:

One meeting was with the International Committee of the Red Cross; the other with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. When the briefing note was finally made public late last year as part of the government's delivery of documents in the Federal Court case brought by Amnesty International Canada and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, it also had the words “the governor” blacked out, multiple sources have confirmed.

Despite sharing the allegations with the Afghan government and outside agencies, Ottawa kept them from a Canadian Federal Court judge hearing a case brought by Canadian rights groups. It claimed the national security exemption.

Why would Khalid be protected by claiming the release of his possible involvement in torture would be a "national security" risk? That's a handy Bush-like excuse for not revealing the truth about torture allegations. It's the same reason Maher Arar's case against Rumsfeld and the US government has had to go through appeals.

The G&M notes that we, the lowly peasants, have no way of knowing if the accusations against Khalid were investigated and it's important to keep in mind that he is a darling of the Bush administration and now, apparently, of the Harper government as well.

In other news on the torture front:

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The Afghan human rights agency charged with investigating the condition of arrested insurgents says it wants to reopen talks with Canada about turning detainees back over to Afghan authorities.

A spokesman for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Agency says they weren't told by Canadian officials that they'd stopped transferring detainees to Afghan authorities in November.

Farid Hamidi says the agency learned of the policy change from the media last week and only after that were they informed that the Canadians have arrested between 18 to 20 people since that time.

He says the assumption is that they are being held at the Kandahar Airfield, but he doesn't know that for sure because his agency isn't being kept in the loop.

Yet another secret.

This entire detainee debacle is a classic display of the incompetence of this government and its ferocious need for secrecy. What possible excuse could it have for not telling Afghanistan's Human Rights Agency that it had supposedly suspended transfers? I'm sure they'll shout "operational security" about this major whopper too.

Meanwhile, Rick Hillier is saying that if Canadian troops remain in Kandahar past February 2009, they will have to be in a combat role.

Oh....and...wait for it... :

Hillier also refused to comment on the number of detainees currently being held by Canadian Forces at their military base in Kandahar, citing the need for operational security.

Either I'm psychic or this government is way too predictable.


German troops to stay in Afghan north (despite Gates' "strongly worded letter")

Senators Challenge White House Approach on Afghanistan

Taliban shifts tactics in Afghanistan

Australian troops 'still needed in Afghanistan in 15 years'

Rice heads for London as Afghan crisis looms

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