Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The torture of Afghan detainees and the Harper non-response

In response to Graeme Smith's piece in yesterdays Globe and Mail about 30 interviews with Afghan detainees in which horrifying stories of torture were revealed to Canadians, two university professors, Michael Byers of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at UBC, and Amir Attaran of the University of Ottawa, have said that Canada must terminate the agreement with Afghanistan on prisoner exchanges now.

The door is open for Canadian troops to be prosecuted as war criminals if enemy prisoners have indeed been tortured in Afghan jails, said Michael Byers and Amir Attaran.

They say the only solution is for Harper’s government to scrap the current agreement with the Afghan government and for Canada to build its own prisoner detention facility overseas where captured fighters can be treated humanely.

“There is no room for ambiguity. We are talking about one of the most fundamental rules of international law: the prohibition on torture and the prohibition on complicity in torture,” said Byers.

Where “there is a serious risk of torture, we cannot transfer to the Afghan authorities. That’s it. They have shown, if this report is correct, that they cannot be trusted to uphold fundamental rules.”

A couple of items need responding to.

My favourite neanderthal, Stockwell Day, had this to say.

Now we've captured them – and yes, these people we've captured want nothing more to do then to kill you [Afghanis] and your children – and we are asking you to treat them humanely. That is a radical thought for a lot of people in that part of the world. But folks, it is working.

The detainees may or may not have that mindset. We don't even know that they all are Taliban. A fair judicial process will hopefully determine that. And yes, of course they should be treated humanely. Even those who are guilty are expected to, let alone those who haven't been charged. One, it is against international law to conduct torture. Two, it is wrong. Three, it is well known that torture doesn't work. Four, any connection to torture stains our international reputation even more than it already has been, and will serve to further increase hostility toward us in Afghanistan.

To those who say that there already is an Afghan monitoring group, I give you this article in the Globe in which we find that

The watchdog agency Canada is relying on to prevent abuse of detainees in Afghan custody says it can't do the job properly because it has been barred from access to the notorious detention cells of the intelligence service.

Despite assurances that any abuse would be reported, repeated in the House of Commons by Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor yesterday, the regional head of investigations for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission conceded in a recent interview that his staff are being prevented from visiting detainees in the National Directorate of Security's detention cells in Kandahar.

"We have an agreement with the Canadians, but we can't monitor these people," said Amir Mohammed Ansari, chief investigator for AIHRC in Kandahar. "Legally, we have permission to visit prisoners inside the NDS prison. But they don't allow it."

This is a story to follow, folks. How the Harper government responds to this issue will speak volumes of its attitude toward torture and toward human rights in general.