Interesting article on the political context that may have led to the current scandal RE prisoner transfers by Canadian troops to our Afghan allies. I copied this same article onto Elements existing thread on the main forum.
DiManno: Disdain for U.S. led to Afghan torture fiasco
November 23, 2009
Perhaps convenient amnesia has set in. But few of those clawing at their faces today in angst and shame over who-knew-what-when-generated hysteria with regard to mistreatment of Afghan detainees have paused to recall how this mess originated.
It's because Canada picked Afghans over Americans as front-line allies.
This was not done out of respect for Afghan sovereignty their right to assume custody of prisoners captured on their own soil. Damn well known from the start was the lay of the land in a war-ravaged country and medieval society: jails of unimaginable wretchedness, guards desensitized to violence and cruelty who'd never heard of the Geneva Conventions and would double over in laughter if informed of its contents, no justice system to speak of, and the overwhelming power exerted by the feared National Directorate of Security whose torturer-in-chief, while denying any physical abuse of detainees, once told the Star that "interrogation is not negotiation, it's not chatting over coffee."
It was a disastrous decision and, despite probing repeatedly at it over several years, I've never been able to ascertain, indisputably, who was to blame as primary architect of the policy, nor why it was thus constructed.
Was it a military decision influenced by domestic politics? Or was it a political decision fronted by top-tier military commanders who are, after all, a particular brand of civil servants? Until Gen. Rick Hillier came along, the breed had historically done government's bidding and kept their mouths shut. Hillier opened his and roared his "scumbags," as descriptor for Taliban militants, endlessly quoted by the forces of moral equivalency and military-loathing holdovers from the peacekeeping generation. Because, apparently, in the Canadian matrix of military and diplomacy, enemy combatants blowing up your soldiers with roadside bombs or murdering their fellow Afghans teachers, nurses, aid workers and the like shouldn't be, you know, called bad names.
There was a 2005 prisoner agreement, negotiated by Hillier. "At the time, we felt that was the right thing to do,'' he told the Star three years ago, when the previously unpublicized document hit the headlines following media reports of appalling abuse inflicted on detainees transferred to Afghan custody. No provision had been put in place to independently monitor their treatment afterwards.
The issue of torture-by-proxy went viral and a new agreement was written to replace the old and, for a period of months, no transfers were allowed until someone decided the inserted safeguards were sufficient to protect prisoners' human rights, as determined by this country. But that episode began the federal government's shuck-and-dodge strategy of constantly underplaying the seriousness of the allegations and what had been a monumental lapse of judgment in the first place.
The original agreement was crafted against the miserable backdrop of Abu Ghraib, a scandal of shocking proportions that had exploded in the U.S. media a year previous. Given the toxic view of American forces no matter that the horrific mistreatment of Iraqi detainees was, at least in terms of supporting evidence, limited to specific rogue units in one notorious facility it was clearly decided, by who knows whom, Canada could not put detainees in such soiled hands, despite the U.S. being this country's closest nation-friend.
Someone bought into the dubious premise that the entire American military was not to be trusted and that Afghan wardens, Afghan guards, Afghan officials, were preferable partners in the disposition of detainees, although the only remotely up-to-Western-par prison facility was at the American base in Bagram.
Canada did not have the resources to build its own detention facility in Kandahar. And, even if such a building could have been constructed, there was no way to staff it with our own rights-conscious people. If such a prison had ever been erected, it would still have been placed in Afghan hands for management because that has been, throughout, the Canadian/ISAF mantra Afghan-led everything.
That was the original sin, as has become ever more evident, because Afghanistan is nowhere near ready, all these years on from the 2001 invasion and ouster of the Taliban regime, to administer itself. Corruption has worsened, security is at an all-time low and most Afghans don't give a fig about how militants are treated or mistreated.
This is the one note that rings untrue in the whistle-blowing memos distributed by diplomat Richard Colvin a contention that the insurgency would gain impetus because Afghans were outraged by the torture of the detainees. While it certainly has been used as a recruiting tool by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, few Afghans beyond the families of those incarcerated often without legitimate cause, since so many were subsequently released have much pity for Taliban rank-and-file. They are too busy simply trying to survive poverty and chronic violence.
So let's be clear: This isn't about Afghans, it's about us what we deem the standards of conduct should be, even in a lawless, chaotic hellhole like Afghanistan.
Colvin has done nothing to deserve the character assassination unleashed last week by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's pitbulls. He appears to have tried to fulfill diplomatic responsibility with integrity. But he is colossally naive if truly believing the mission's merits were contaminated by the detainee sidebar.
Canadian troops should certainly not be made to wear a "T" for torturer-enablers on their forehead because they followed the instructions as issued. It was the politicians in Ottawa who dropped them in that unsavory position. And, frankly, it was a vocally anti-American attitude, a crescendo of Canadian moral superiority, which sent those politicians and their mandarins scurrying for a palatable option in the detention of prisoners.
Those who now toss around words like "shame" and "national disgrace" should examine their own complicity in Canada pursuing such a peril-fraught alternative to detention by those damned Yankees.
Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.