Saturday, April 28, 2007

What did the Liberals know about detainee abuse?

La Presse (in French) is reporting that the former Liberal government knew about the mistreatment of Afghan detainees via annual reports between 2003-2005. The 2004 report, according to La Presse, includes allegations of torture by the Afghan police (who were supposed to be trained by war profiteers DynCorp, but weren't) and they were also accused of abusing women and children.

General Rick Hillier signed an agreement with the Afghan government in December, 2005 while the Liberals were still in power so, obviously, there was concern at the time about the handovers - most specifically that the detainess were being turned over to the American forces who did not have a good track record (to say the least).

«De 2002 à 2005, nous avons transféré nos détenus aux Américains. Mais cela est devenu intenable sur le plan politique à cause des histoires de Guantánamo et d'Abou Ghraib. Ces événements et la certitude que les choses allaient mieux dans le système carcéral afghan nous ont convaincus de signer une entente sur le transfert des détenus avec les Afghans», a expliqué cette source libérale.

The Liberal source explains that placing the detainees in the custody of the Americans became untenable after reports of abuse at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. Therefore, the decision was made to deal directly with the Afghan authorities. As we all know now, the Hillier agreement was woefully inadequate since it offered no oversight of the fate of those detainees.

La Presse is also critical of the Harper government's mishandling of this grave situation and outlines the many contradictions it offered this past week in parliament to try to explain its incompetence. No matter what the Liberals did or did not do about these reports - and they share full responsibility if they didn't pay attention to them - it's now up to this so-called "new" government to fix the situation.

On Saturday, NATO's secretary general announced that his organization will now conduct an investigation as well.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the government in Afghanistan will investigate allegations that Afghan prisoners suspected of fighting for the Taliban have been abused, the head of NATO said on Saturday.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, speaking at a security forum in Brussels, praised the decision to investigate allegations that prisoners are being abused after troops hand them over to Afghan authorities.

De Hoop Scheffer said NATO forces are in Afghanistan to "defend universal values," including proper treatment of detainees.

During a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Oslo on Friday, de Hoop Scheffer stressed that the allegations are not facts and he saw no reason to suspend the transfer of detainees "on the basis of the allegations we have seen."

That's not exactly encouraging considering what the Globe and Mail uncovered:

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Afghans detained by Canadian soldiers and sent to Kandahar's notorious jails say they were beaten, whipped, starved, frozen, choked and subjected to electric shocks during interrogation.

In 30 face-to-face interviews with men recently captured in Kandahar province, a Globe and Mail investigation has uncovered a litany of gruesome stories and a clear pattern of abuse by the Afghan authorities who work closely with Canadian troops, despite Canada's assurances that the rights of detainees are protected.

Canadian forces regularly hold detainees for a few days of questioning at Kandahar Air Field, then give them to the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's feared intelligence police. Over and over, detainees described how Canadians tied their hands with plastic straps, marking the start of nightmarish journeys through shadowy jails and blood-spattered interrogation rooms.

If this was happening to Canadians, the outrage from the ruling Conservatives would be deafening. Instead, they're doing everything they can to take political cover while people are allegedly being tortured. We have a public safety minister (whose portfolio doesn't even cover this area) stating as a fact that these are "false allegations" despite all of the current investigations that have just been launched. We have a defence minister who wouldn't even answer questions at all during question period by the end of last week because he'd made such a damn mess of things. We have a very defensive prime minister whose main concern should be the plight of these people but who's focused on his image instead. We have a completely incompetent bunch of politicians who don't seem to care about anybody but themselves.

As I've written before, this is not a partisan issue. This is a human rights issue and if our country's reputation means anything (not that it isn't already severely suffering because of the way we treat our first nations people - but that's another shameful story), this government ought to be doing everything it possibly can as quickly as possible to ensure the safety of these detainees. Why is that so difficult for these politicians to understand? They need to put their egos aside and get on with it.

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