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No way to support troops
« on: June 28, 2012, 08:09:08 PM »
No way to support troops

The Ottawa CitizenJune 27, 2012

A report from the Military Police Complaints Commission found Wednesday that Canadian troops took steps to prevent mistreatment of detainees in Afghanistan. But it criticized the government for its adversarial and obstructionist response to the issue.
Photograph by: Ethan Baron

This Conservative government has shown exactly the same disregard for the military and the public interest as the Liberal government did during the Somalia Inquiry in the mid-1990s. It has, for no apparent good reason, developed a bad habit of acting like a cornered pit bull.

The Military Police Complaints Commission has finished its four-year investigation of a complaint it received from two human-rights groups. The question it had to answer was quite narrow: should eight members of the military police, between May 3, 2007 and June 12, 2008, have investigated Canadian commanders in Afghanistan for transferring detainees to a known risk of torture?

The commission’s answer is an unambiguous “no.” Although there is some evidence that suggests detainees were being tortured, even after the May 2007 policy that provided for monitoring, the military police didn’t have access to all the relevant information at the time. The information they did have led them to the reasonable belief that Canada had taken steps to prevent mistreatment of detainees. The commission recommended improvements to the command structure and information-sharing for Canadian military police.

But the most worrying part of the commission’s report is the chapter it devotes to government obstruction of its work. This is the same commission looking into the suicide of Stuart Langridge, a veteran of the Afghan war. Defence Minister Peter MacKay is withholding documents to the commission in that inquiry, arguing they are protected by his solicitor-client privilege.

When it comes to the difficult, important question of how Canada has handled detainee transfers, this government has all along gone on the defensive — even though that often put it in the weird position of defending a situation its predecessor Liberal government created. When diplomat Richard Colvin raised concerns about the possibility of torture, the Conservatives demonized him. In December 2009, when the House of Commons demanded that its committee be allowed to see the relevant documents, the government refused and Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament.

While that political showdown was building, the Military Police Complaints Commission was trying to get documents and meeting with the same obstacles.

“Many excuses were given for this approximately 21 month dry spell in document production and none were very convincing from the Commission’s perspective,” explains its new report. It argues that the government’s determination to control what the commission investigated has serious implications for the independence of the commission.

The government’s adversarial approach “led to unnecessary costs and significant delays to the Commission and the other parties,” the report concludes. The government tried to prevent witnesses such as Colvin from testifying in public. It used security as an excuse for secrecy, so that Section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act became “a litigation tool throughout these proceedings, whose purpose became at least as much to delay the work of the Commission as it was to protect truly sensitive information.”

The Commission laments that “It seems that some of the key lessons from the Somalia Inquiry have not been learned.”

The possibility that Canada handed detainees over to an ally to be tortured is not a political trick dreamed up by the Opposition. It’s a serious concern that must inform the protocols in future Canadian military missions. If this government truly supports the troops, it should do its utmost to give the military what it needs to carry out its obligations in accordance with the law and Canadian values. That includes proper independent oversight.

Ottawa Citizen