Paul Koring / Globe and Mail & James McNulty / The Province – 2007-04-25 23:18:19
Prisoners in Afghanistan:
What Ottawa Doesn’t Want You to Know
Paul Koring / Globe and Mail
(April 25, 2007) — The Harper government knew from its own officials that prisoners held by Afghan security forces faced the possibility of torture, abuse and extrajudicial killing, The Globe and Mail has learned.
But the government has eradicated every single reference to torture and abuse in prison from a heavily blacked-out version of a report prepared by Canadian diplomats in Kabul and released under an access to information request.
Initially, the government denied the existence of the report, responding in writing that “no such report on human-rights performance in other countries exists.” After complaints to the Access to Information Commissioner, it released a heavily edited version this week.
Among the sentences blacked out by the Foreign Affairs Department in the report’s summary is “Extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial are all too common,” according to full passages of the report obtained independently by The Globe.
The Foreign Affairs report, titled Afghanistan-2006; Good Governance, Democratic Development and Human Rights, was marked “CEO” for Canadian Eyes Only. It seems to remove any last vestige of doubt that the senior officials and ministers knew that torture and abuse were rife in Afghan jails.
The report leaves untouched many paragraphs such as those beginning “one positive development” or “there are some bright spots.”
But heavy dark blocks obliterate sentences such as “the overall human rights situation in Afghanistan deteriorated in 2006.”
It’s not clear why such internationally agreed and obvious observations are blacked out of the Canadian report. No national-security issues seem involved, nor are there personal privacy issues, reasons often cited for excising information.
A comparison of the full text — parts of which were obtained by The Globe and Mail — with the edited version shows a consistent pattern of excising negative findings or observations from the report with positive ones left in.
There was no explanation for blacking out observations such as “military, intelligence and police forces have been accused of involvement in arbitrary arrest, kidnapping extortion, torture and extrajudicial killing.”
Although the findings aren’t surprising — they echo other, and widely publicized, reports by Louise Arbour, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, the U.S. State Department, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and various international human-rights groups — the report by Canada’s own diplomats seems to undermine the government’s claims that it was unaware of the fate likely faced by detainees handed over by Canadian troops to Afghan security forces.
The report raises a red flag for any government bound by the Geneva Conventions and responsible for safeguarding transferred detainees from torture and abuse.
It makes repeated dark references to the reputation and performance of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, or intelligence police. Most prisoners captured by Canadian troops are now turned over to the widely feared NDS, which is considered tougher but perhaps less corrupt that the Afghan National Police. “Allegations of torture and arbitrary detention by NDS officials have also been reported,” the full text of the report says.
Another portion that is blacked out reads “widespread allegations of corruption and human-rights violations exist with respect to the Afghanistan National Police (ANP) and Ministry of Interior (MOI).”
Little of this is new, none of it is surprising. In March, when the U.S. State Department issued its annual report, it made clear that Afghan prisons, where Canada consigns detainees captured by its troops, were rife with torture, abuse and corruption. The report echoed equally grim assessments issued earlier by the United Nations and Afghanistan’s own independent Human Rights Commission.
“Security and factional forces committed extrajudicial killings and torture,” the U.S. report said. The most recent report by Ms. Arbour found: “The NSD, responsible for both civil and military intelligence, operates in relative secrecy without adequate judicial oversight and there have been reports of prolonged detention without trial, extortion, torture, and systematic due process violations.”
The Globe first asked Foreign Affairs on March 7 if Canadian diplomats compiled and wrote similar reports on Afghan human-rights conditions. “No” was the answer.
On March 22, in response to an Access to Information Act request, Jeff Esau, a journalist and researcher working for The Globe, received the following response to his request for the report:
“Please be advised that Canada does not produce an annual human rights report analogous to the reports produced by, for example, the United States or the United Kingdom. Therefore no such report on human rights performance in other countries exists,” wrote Jocelyne Sabourin, Director of the Access to Information division at Foreign Affairs.
An earlier access request, filed Jan. 29 by Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor, asked specifically for the human-rights report on Afghanistan and noted that Foreign Affairs had, in the past, made such reports available to non-governmental organizations. It also noted that the report on Syria had been referenced in the report on the Maher Arar case.
It was only after the 30-day deadline for a response had long passed and Mr. Attaran complained to Information Commissioner Dan Dupuis, that the edited version was delivered this week, eradicating all reporting of torture and abuse beneath the censor’s black pen.
CONFIDENTIAL – CEO
AFGHANISTAN 2006 – GOOD GOVERNANCE, DEMOCRATIC DEVELOPMENT AND HUMAN RIGHTS
The redacted text: “Despite some positive developments, the overall human rights situation in Afghanistan deteriorated in 2006 … Extra judicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial are all too common. Freedom of expression still faces serious obstacles, there are serious deficiencies in adherence to the rule of law and due process by police and judicial officials. Impunity remains a problem in the aftermath of three decades of war and much needed reforms of the judiciary systems remain to be implemented.”
• Correspondent’s powerful audio slideshow:
Tories March into Afghan Torture Trap
Canada Could be Complicit
James McNulty / The Province
(April 25, 2007) — Stephen Harper’s failure to address the legal and moral evil of Canada sending Afghanistan war suspects to torture in Kandahar prisons marks a black day for this nation.
The use of torture was confirmed this week by a senior colonel in Afghanistan’s intelligence police, and earlier by the head of that country’s tiny “independent” human-rights commission, whose handful of staffers can’t even access some prisons.
The Canadian transfer of prisoners to mistreatment is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and could well make Canada complicit in war crimes, according to Michael Byers, a top human-rights professor at the University of British Columbia.
Corrupt Afghanistan governance can’t be trusted; Byers and opposition parties are demanding the Harper government immediately stop prisoner transfers. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Amnesty International Canada have also filed suit in Federal Court seeking a halt to transfers.
In the face of mounting trouble, Harper and Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor insisted yesterday that all is well, Canadian troops constantly talk to their Afghanistan counterparts, and transfers will not be stopped.
The ill-informed O’Connor, who recently apologized to the Commons after misleading it for months with false stories about the Red Cross aiding Canada in prisoner monitoring, should be fired by Harper.
But rather than face dreadful facts, Harper slimes the Liberals as being pro-Taliban, while O’Connor and ex-Reformers such as B.C.’s Stockwell Day and Jay Hill attack opponents’ patriotism and issue a stream of phoney “upbeat” assessments portraying Afghanistan as a success story.
Tory jingoism and rally-round-the-troops rhetoric on Afghanistan is a mirror image of George W. Bush’s empty flag-waving for America’s disastrous invasion of Iraq.
The situation in Afghanistan is, without question, not as desperate as that in Iraq. Yet a good number of reports from outside Harper’s promotional circle offer compelling evidence that the NATO mission in Afghanistan remains deeply flawed.
In a recent report perceptively titled “Losing Friends and Making Enemies,” the respected Senlis Council argues that “misguided” NATO policies of bombing civilians, botching poppy-eradication in the narco-state and a feeble pace of reconstruction have “turned Afghanistan into a recruitment camp for the Taliban.”
Tom Koenigs, the UN’s top official in Afghanistan, told an American audience last month that “the victory over Afghans’ hearts and minds . . . hasn’t been seen” after NATO “completely underestimated” the challenge of governance in the corrupt south.
And a recent Canadian Senate report concluded that unless NATO combat laggards such as France and Germany step up to the plate, “Canada should be prepared to consider withdrawing its troops as soon as our current commitment [to 2009] ends.”
Harper and O’Connor, meantime, are buying tanks to escalate Canada’s involvement, reality and the Geneva Conventions be damned.