Thursday, April 26, 2007

War Crimes Allegations Against Hillier & O'Connor

Via CTV:

Chief of Staff Gen. Rick Hillier and Defence Minsiter [sic] Gordon O'Connor have both been named in a 14-page letter to the International Criminal Court by Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia and William Schabas, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway.

The professors claim "possible war crimes" have been committed by Hillier and O'Connor, resulting from the prisoner transfer agreement between Canada and Afghanistan, and have asked the ICC to investigate.

More via the Globe and Mail:

The chief of Canadian defence has dismissed calls that he and Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor be investigated for “possible war crimes” in light of revelations Afghan prisoners handed to the local authorities are being abused.

General Rick Hillier dismissed the letter, sent to the International Criminal Court, during an appearance on CTV's Canada AM on Thursday.

“First of all, much attention has been paid to what is a very, very small part of our mission,” Gen. Hillier said. “I concentrate on setting our young men and women up for success . . . on reducing the risk to them.

“So I just let the theatrics, if you will, of these kinds of things go on around me. I've got a job to do. I'm going to do that job.”

"Theatrics"...."a very, very small part of our mission".

Since when is protecting the rights of detainees, which is required under the Geneva Conventions, something to be minimized? Once again, Hillier's absolute arrogance is on display for all to see.

In March, Hillier said he had "no regrets" about the 2005 detainee agreement he signed with the Afghan government - an agreement we now know was so fundamentally flawed and inferior to those signed by other countries that it offered no protections to the detainees handed over to Afghan officials.

In fact, this story in the Globe and Mail earlier this week shows exactly why the continual trail of lies told by our so-called defence minister Gordon O'Connor is so damaging to all involved:

The Harper government knew from its own officials that prisoners held by Afghan security forces faced the possibility of torture, abuse and extrajudicial killing, The Globe and Mail has learned.

But the government has eradicated every single reference to torture and abuse in prison from a heavily blacked-out version of a report prepared by Canadian diplomats in Kabul and released under an access to information request.

Initially, the government denied the existence of the report, responding in writing that "no such report on human-rights performance in other countries exists." After complaints to the Access to Information Commissioner, it released a heavily edited version this week.

Among the sentences blacked out by the Foreign Affairs Department in the report's summary is "Extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial are all too common," according to full passages of the report obtained independently by The Globe.

The Foreign Affairs report, titled Afghanistan-2006; Good Governance, Democratic Development and Human Rights, was marked "CEO" for Canadian Eyes Only. It seems to remove any last vestige of doubt that the senior officials and ministers knew that torture and abuse were rife in Afghan jails.

On Wednesday, O'Connor insisted that Canada now has a new agreement with the Afghanistan government that would allow members of the RCMP and Corrections Canada to monitor detainee treatment in Afghanistan. During question period on Thursday however, Stephen Harper said "no formal agreement" has been signed yet.

First that was the ICRC's job. Then the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission was supposed to oversee their treatment. Now, it's the RCMP. Who's next?

Murky, shady, shifty and completely incompetent.

A very defensive Harper also tried his damn best during question period to accuse the opposition parties of disrespecting the troops by bringing up allegations of detainee abuse - a handy Bushco tactic. Don't like questions? Just attack the questioner's patriotism and insist they're attacking the troops. Don't like allegations? Claim they're false (repeatedly) even before they're investigated (and there are 4 investigations currently underway). Stockwell Day even had the nerve to repeat the Rumsfeld talking point that detainees are taught to lie about abuse. If that's what this tory government believes, why are they even investigating?

This should not be a partisan matter. If Canada's military is involved in possible war crimes, if detainees handed over by our soldiers are being abused, tortured or executed, if the Geneva Conventions have been violated, this government owes all Canadians a serious dose of humility - not defensiveness - and a promise to act on this country's behalf to resolve this situation as soon as possible while leaving no stone unturned in order to get to the truth. These tories seem to forget that they work for us and that their jobs require them to work for all of us and that means they need to get past playing politics - now - before more people suffer and die.

There are peoples' lives on the line here.

Both Hillier and O'Connor must be held to account. If this government won't do its job, perhaps a war crimes investigation at The Hague will, but we have to ask ourselves if that's what we've been reduced to - a country that refuses to take responsibility for its actions during a time of war.

Related: Irish Centre for Human Rights
Michael Byers, UBC (bio/contact info)

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