THE HARPER GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN OPEN AND HONEST ABOUT THE WAR
Unfortunately, ministers and senior officials in the Harper government have continued to mislead the Canadian public - either through the suppression of information on the spurious grounds of “national security”, or through outright lies. When The Toronto Globe and Mail requested information regarding human rights abuses in Afghanistan (under a freedom of information request), the document released by the government was heavily censured. The blacked out sections referred to the high rate of extra-judicial executions, torture and illegal detentions of battlefield prisoners. Later, General Rick Hillier justified this censorship by declaring that any information on the treatment of detainees captured by Canadian troops would be suppressed because it was “an operational security issue”. The government wants to keep us in the dark in order to hide the war crimes that have been committed in the name of all Canadians in Afghanistan.
Denial and deceit: The Harper government and torture in Afghanistan
When allegations that battlefield detainees were facing torture in Afghan prisons first erupted, Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed them as Taliban lies and terrorist propaganda.
But the Canadian government had been warned by one of its most senior diplomats in Kandahar a full year before, in May 2006, of "serious, imminent and alarming" evidence of prisoner abuse.
Colvin’s allegations emerged because he was called to testify before the Military Police Complaints Commission, a body—established after the Somalia Inquiry—which has been investigating detainee transfers at the request of Amnesty International and the BC Civil Liberties Association. The Harper government sought to block Colvin’s testimony before the MPCC, citing national security. The obstruction prompted the three Canadian opposition parties to call Colvin to testify before a Parliamentary committee.Stephen Harper Gambles on Prorogue Shutting Down Parliament Again
The same cannot be said of this second prorogue action.
Critics immediately lashed out at the government for what they claim are Harper’s actual rationales for such a move; to delay all Commons committees, including the ongoing investigation into allegations of detainee abuse in Afghanistan, and to pad the Canadian Senate with the appointment of 5 Conservative nominees, which effectively destroys the Liberal control of the body.
It also provides the ruling Conservatives more control as to when and if to call the next election, by making votes on the budget and the throne speech issues of confidence in Parliament.
Ralph Goodale, the Liberal House Leader said Harper’s decision was “beyond arrogant” and that his justifications for it are “a joke; it’s almost despotic.”
In an interview with the CBC from Phoenix, Arizona, Goodale said, “Three times in three years and twice within one year, the prime minister takes this extraordinary step to muzzle Parliament. This time it’s a cover-up of what the Conservatives knew, and when they knew it, about torture in Afghanistan. So their solution is not to answer the questions but, rather, to padlock Parliament and shut down democracy.”
From Vancouver, NDP House Leader Libby Davies told CBC news she was “appalled” by Harper’s decision, accusing him of “running from” the growing pressure by opposition parties into the Afghan detainee inquiry. “By proroguing Parliament, he is unilaterally making a decision to stop any kind of disclosure from happening,” said Davies.
The allegations by Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin regarding the treatment of prisoners by the Afghan government following their handover by Canadian armed forces, and his assertion that the Prime Minister and his government were aware of these practices, has clearly rattled Harper and his Conservative minority to the core.
The Canadian Afghan detainee issue concerns questions about actions of the executive branch of the Government of Canada during the War in Afghanistan in regards to Canada transferring Afghan detainees to the Afghan National Army (ANA) or the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS). This issue has at least two distinct subcategories:
The first issue concerns whether or not the executive branch of the Government of Canada knew about alleged abusive treatment of Afghan detainees by those Afghan forces. Particularly at issue are questions of when the government of Canada had this alleged knowledge. The question of "when" is important because it pertains to their responsibility to act on knowledge of mistreatment of detainees. That responsibility is outlined in the Third Geneva Convention, which Canada is a party to. Article 12 states that "the Detaining Power [(in this case Canada)] is responsible for the treatment given [to prisoners of war]".
The second issue arose in March 2010, when allegations surfaced that the government did more than turn a blind eye to abuse of Afghan detainees, but that Canada went even further in intentionally handing over prisoners to torturers. The allegations were sparked by University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran, who claimed that full versions of government documents proved these claims. If the allegations are true, Canada could be considered guilty of a war crime, according to critics.
Subsequently, the Canadian House of Commons has been the scene of a showdown, as opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) have tried to force the government into releasing said documents in full, unredacted form. The controversy over the documents was fueled further when Parliament was prorogued at the end of 2009. The government maintained that they had a duty to protect Canadian troops and citizens as the documents contained sensitive information, while opposition MPs have argued they have the parliamentary privilege to see them. At the request of the Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons, the opposition parties and the government worked together to organize a system to determine what documents were sensitive or not, so that they could be released to MPs. The Canadian public, which generally holds the view that there was knowledge of detainee abuse by military or government officials, now awaits for a clearer picture of the issue as these documents are released.
The prime Minister’s initial reaction to this demand, made late last year, was to shut down Parliament for two months, but now that Parliament is back in session, the issue is back on the table. The fallback position was to appoint retired judge Frank Iacobucci to review the documents and advise the government on their release. The opposition parties have, rightly, rejected this as a delaying device and a diversion from the real issue of Parliamentary supremacy. Instead, they have sought a Speaker’s ruling that Members’ privileges have been breached by the government’s refusal to comply with the resolution of the majority of the House. If the Speaker upholds the House, we could see a vote to hold the executive in contempt of Parliament – something unprecedented in parliamentary history. The government, on the other hand, could interpret this as a vote of non-confidence, and precipitate an election.
The constitutional issue has taken on a life of its own, but it is well to remember the original cause for this grand confrontation. We should ask ourselves why has the government gone to such extremes – even precipitating a constitutional crisis – to avoid investigation of the torture issue, if they do not have something they are desperately determined to cover up? If suspicions are really unfounded, why not call a public inquiry like the Arar or Air India inquiries?
One hint that something darker may be involved has emerged recently: evidence that the Special Forces unit, JTF2, and CSIS, were involved in interrogation of prisoners before their transfer to the Afghans. This raises the uncomfortable possibility that transfers might have been a kind of instant rendition to place them in the hands of those who were expected to use methods that Canadians could not employ, but might profit from.