By Michael Cumming
Published November 27, 2009
In the 'whatever is begun in anger ends in shame' department, Canada risks descending into pariah status with the latest revelations of complicity in torture in Afghanistan.
For all those who had trepidation about the moral implications of Canadian participation in the Afghan war became more nervous with recent headlines in the news:
All detainees were tortured, all warnings were ignored.
Wow. This testimony was given by Canadian diplomat and whistle-blower Richard Colvin, to a parliamentary committee in Ottawa. Colvin had served in a diplomatic capacity in Afghanistan for 17 months. This is the first time a government official has made such far-ranging allegations of complicity in torture by the Canadian Forces and the Canadian government.
There has been suspicion for some time that some Afghani detainees may have been tortured after they were transferred from Canadian to Afghan Army custody. Colvin's testimony suggests that the transfer of detainees - to probable or certain torture - was a widespread Canadian practice. If true, it would greatly discredit Canada's conduct in Afghanistan and reduce its legitimacy as an occupying force.
The Canadians Forces apparently detain larger numbers of people in their military operations than do their allies. A large proportion of these detainees may be innocent of any crime.
Clearly, complicity in torture is a war crime. Armies of occupation such as Canada's must follow rules as defined in part by the Geneva Conventions. If Canadian Forces were complicit in the torture of detainees, were aware of their involvement and still allowed the torture to occur, they are guilty of war crimes.
The Conservative government has experienced little political cost from previous torture allegations - or indeed from the entire Afghanistan war - from either the Canadian public or the opposition parties. The issue, oddly, gets little traction in Canadian politics. Previously, the Conservative government has managed to sweep all allegations of complicity in torture under the rug. It is unclear whether, with these new allegations by Colvin, they will be able to continue to do this.
What these allegations mean for Canada is that they reflect poorly on the political leadership of Canada, on the Canadian Armed Forces and on Canada as a whole. They conflict completely with the commonly-provided narratives about the roles Canadians play in Afghanistan.
Canadian politicians see these allegations as a domestic political issue and have failed to acknowledge their international implications - such as severe risks to Canada's reputation.
This head-long rush to possible pariah status is an odd, self-defeating behavior on Canada's part. It has similarities to the Canadian government's recent policy on greenhouse gas emissions, which many view as obstructionist, disingenuous and fundamentally lacking in leadership.
One of the main reasons that the Canadian government has given about why Canada invaded Afghanistan in the first place was to raise the human rights conditions for its residents. At first this did not appear to be difficult to achieve, given that the previous Taliban regime had an abysmal human rights record and was itself a pariah regime within the international community.
It now appears that the Karzai government in Afghanistan is breath-takingly corrupt and has little interest in improving the human rights conditions of Afghans.
The NATO occupying forces in combination with the Karzai government may have achieved what would seem to be impossible - to create a regime worse for the average Afghan than was the previous Taliban regime.
This piece was originally published on Michael's blog.
By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 12:05:18
"The NATO occupying forces in combination with the Karzai government may have achieved what would seem to be impossible - to create a regime worse for the average Afghan than was the previous Taliban regime."
What a load of hyperbolic crap. Do you have any understanding at all of the Afghanistan situation?
No one's going to claim that the Karzai regime is anything like a model of integrity or good governance, but to suggest that it is worse than the brutal, repressive thugocracy it replaced is just downright moronic.
Further, to characterize the taliban as having an "abysmal human rights record" is gross understatement. China has an abysmal human rights record. The taliban had no conception of human rights at all.
By madmatt (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 12:38:21
I must say I have conflicting views on this situation. I do not support the use of torture or other "coercive" means of "extracting information". It does not serve the course of justice at all. Having said that, Afghanistan is a sovereign nation and has the right to run it's own justice system. We have no right to detain suspects/prisoners in our own facilities on their soil or to remove said persons to a facility outside Afghanistan, as another nation we all know seems to think it can. NATO needs more oversight of the prisoner situation and have more training resources available to the Afghan police and justice system. We can not compare a country like Afghanistan to a western style democracy( although we know we have enough issues here to point fingers at them). As long as we remain in THEIR country we have to play by THEIR rules.
By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 14:18:07
We are part of the Industrial Military Complex. If people think we are there to save the women and children, need to give their heads a shake.
As a global citizen, I find this whole war an abomination of human rights period. We will never solve any problems by bombing, shooting, torturing.
War should be criminalized period.
By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 15:23:46
The only problem with the idea of "criminalizing" war (and it's pretty much a fatal problem) is that one would have to employ war-like measures to enforce the criminal sanctions against the war mongerer. The imposition of sanctions, etc. have been shown to be ineffective means of restraining aggression, promoting human rights ,etc., etc.
This is basically what happened with world war II. The treaty of Versailles had essentially made it criminal for Germany to wage war or allow itself to be capable of waging war (I know it was much more complicated than that, and use of the term "criminal" is not at all accurate, but this characterization will suffice). Of course, when Germany violated the terms of the treaty the allied powers knew that the only way they could effectively enforce them would be through acts of war, so they were reluctant to act, the very purpose of the treaty having been to maintain peace in Europe. Of course war erupted anyway, so go figure ...
The point of my story being: criminalizing war sounds nice in principle but is unworkable in practice.
As for the whole military industrial complex thing, the Afghan war was not initiated just to line the pockets of defense contractors. There was a clear and undeniable political imperative on the Bush administration to do something, and do something violent, as a response to the 9/11 attacks. The Afghan war was the immediate result. That is pretty obvious.
By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 15:34:10
"As long as we remain in THEIR country we have to play by THEIR rules."
But it's their country only in name. Realistically, the Karzai regime is a house of cards being shielded from the wind through US and allied military, political and economic assistance. There may be a facade of independence, but the sovereignty of Afghanistan is severely compromised.
"Having said that, Afghanistan is a sovereign nation and has the right to run it's own justice system. We have no right to detain suspects/prisoners in our own facilities on their soil or to remove said persons to a facility outside Afghanistan, as another nation we all know seems to think it can."
The rights under discussion here are extremely fuzzy in nature. Sure, if Aghanistan were a truly functional sovereign nation state then the clearest norms of international law would apply (and even those norms and their concomitant rights are not in reality as clear and unambiguous as people like to imagine) to the matter at hand and we could say with a good degree of confidence that the Afghans have the "right" to treat prisoners as they wish, etc. and that we don't have the "right" to detain prisoners on our own terms, etc. But for reasons explained above that just isn't the case. How do the norms and conventions which constitute international law apply to the case of a client/puppet regime? They don't really, particularly where the patron states allegedly violating those norms and conventions are the de facto arbiters of what is and is not legal under international law. The rights associated with international law (and sovereignty is at the core of those rights), just like human rights, are what the most powerful nations say they are at any given point in time.
By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 17:36:13
Tammany: I have done a lot of researching and reading and well I just do not agree with your view. I find the whole idea of war deplorable and in war there are no human rights, period.
I would ask you, do you think that the children now being born in Iraq with severe deformities because of the types of weapons that are used is right or just? Do you think anybody ever thought about their human rights?
Have you read the book the Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins?
I am sorry but they will not stop, those that build their weapons of destruction until there is nothing left. Is this the world you want for your children, grandchildren? I don't.
Human rights are only words. We must change how we think and do things.
I was watching CPAC yesterday and let me say that I was not impressed by the political posturing and blame that was going on. I found the whole session shameful for many reasons. I do hope that Canadians, who ever they are can see through this and advocate for real change.
By Mahesh P. Butani -- http://metrohamilton (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2009 at 01:27:36
Tammany, here we go again!
>>> What a load of hyperbolic crap. Do you have any understanding at all of the Afghanistan situation?
– Comment Score: 0 (4 votes)
>>> As for the whole military industrial complex thing, the Afghan war was not initiated just to line the pockets of defense contractors... That is pretty obvious. – Comment Score: 0 (2 votes)
I was going to let this pass - but feel compelled to comment here, after seeing the voting score in response to your remarks and your flippant attempt at political commentary.
Having read your diatribe on the Royal Connaught issue earlier, and its fallout, I believe this is now becoming more like a Tammany "Situation" – something that I don't claim to understand fully, as yet. :-)
You seem to thrive on dragging down any and all kinds of issues put forth by writers on RTH with your vitriolic zeal – and upon which you then stand shedding light with your contrarian insights.
Your understanding of Afghanistan is ironically circumscribed by our own choice of the worn out and tattered cliché: "SITUATION". A lame appendage tagged on to rationalize the tragic condition of a culture and land which has been systematically battered and decimated by an arrogant value system.
Hiding behind a corny screen identity, you feel empowered to shoot arrows at shadows - very much like those who create smoke in foreign lands to screen their agenda.
The Afghanistan "Situation" as you put it, is less about wars and the human-rights legalese designed to obfuscate it's very meaning, or about lives taken and given to the noble cause of taming barbaric cultures – as much as it is about transnational businesses on steroids which have little time for trivialities like truth or conscience.
My concerns are not your attempt at political commentary here. You will on your own someday realize the virtues of shedding your mask to reveal your identity - and thereby find a truer and more tempered voice that factors in a broader understanding of events and intentions.
My concerns here are the logic behind the votes on RTH, as I am afraid that it is this kind of voter logic - on serious issues, that will define our city's future in the coming election. The very same voter logic that the transnationals confidently count on in their many adventures to tame savage cultures!
By frank (registered) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 10:14:23
Mahesh, so according to you this statement has merit then?
"The NATO occupying forces in combination with the Karzai government may have achieved what would seem to be impossible - to create a regime worse for the average Afghan than was the previous Taliban regime."
I would encourage you to take a visit or perhaps talk to some Afghan refugees - I think that you'll find it is in fact hyperbolic and a load of poo. It seems that it's relatively easy for you to promote theories and the exact same sort of crap others do...just on the opposite side of the argument - at least in this case (generally you're comments are quite decent although it seems you enjoy using your thesaurus).
This article and the issue we're discussing IS in fact the alleged torture of Canadian detainees. That's it, that's all. Allegations made by a diplomat, I might add. Allegations that are difficult to prove it seems.
You attack the logic of those who are voting on comments but I would suggest that they support the evidence as we can see so far. One side says you did, the other says we didn't. Both have high powered diplomats and "evidence" to support their argument creating a stalemate of sorts. Just because people didn't rush out to judgement and call for heads to roll doesnt necessarily mean they condone torture, they may in fact be waiting for more evidence to surface before making a decision as to whether the Canadian military should be held responsible for something that may have been out of their hands.
I also think you're drawing a very very very very tenuous line between the war in Afghanistan and upcoming municipal elections. Raising transit fares is nothing like sending troops to foreign countries. Municipal politicians have no say in other levels of parliament except to ask for more money.
Hey look...a post without fancy words!
By frank (registered) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 10:31:19
I'd be much more supportive if this was an article about the Caledonia debacle. Now THAT is something that would be far more of an issue in local government.
By frank (registered) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 11:01:49
As a postscript to my earlier comment, I am quite offended by the implication that the title of this article puts out. In my opinion it implies that the Canadian military was directly responsible for any torture whether or not it did happen and that is simply not the case.
The Red Cross (the Red Cross has DIRECT access to detainees) has stated that any allegations they have heard would be taken up with the relevant nation's authority responsible for international human rights (not Mr. Colvin). IMO, Colvin isn't so much as whistleblower as an issue-maker. The real issue in my opinion is whether or not the detainees were tortured but rather the amount of time it took for the new policy of tracking prisoners to be implemented.
By nobrainer (registered) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 11:09:31
With all due respect, the real issue is whether prisoners were tortured and whether we knew it was going on.
Everything else is just bookkeeping.
By frank (registered) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 11:54:57
Perhaps...although it's impossible to find out if there was knowledge and no action without doing the bookkeeping...
By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 12:08:35
Mahesh, many thanks for the incoherent ad hominem assault.
I fail to understand the point(s) you're trying to make. This is likely due to the fact that, as per usual, your long winded, gramatically tortured musings appear to be utterly devoid of either merit or substance.
Why is my "attempt" at political commentary "flippant"?
What do you mean when you refer to a "Tammany situation"?
You also write that "You seem to thrive on dragging down any and all kinds of issues put forth by writers on RTH with your vitriolic zeal – and upon which you then stand shedding light with your contrarian insights."
This does not seem fair to me. Please explain what you mean here. I was not seeking to "drag down" anything or anybody. I simply happened to disagree with a statement made by the author of the above article and so I responded to it. Isn't that the whole point of the comments feature on RTH?
You refer to my use of the word "situation" as cliched but your ironic references to the "taming of savage cultures", etc. are about as hackneyed an example of sanctimonious post-colonialist bullshit as one could imagine.
In sum, I would simply note that you fail to meaningfully engage with any of the points I actually made. Instead, you attack me on purely semantic grounds for my choice of the (admittedly euphemistic) word "situation". You also appear to take issue with the fact that I post anonymously.
Aside from that, I don't get it.
By nobrainer (registered) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 12:10:49
"it's impossible to find out if there was knowledge and no action without doing the bookkeeping" True but the bookkeeping serves the truth and not the other way around.
By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 12:13:39
It seems you've misconstrued my argument. I wasn't advocating in favour of war. That would just be ridiculous. I was simply pointing out that your proposal to "criminalize" war appeared to me to be naive and unworkable.
By frank (registered) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 12:41:36
Nobrainer...I'm not sure what your point is...
By frank (registered) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 12:44:10
As far as whether or not torture was going on and if we knew about it...that's only part of the issue... The real issue is more like if we knew there was a possibility of torture occurring why did it take so long to address the issue. The government already knew about the possibility of torture before Mr. Colvin allegedly "blew the whistle".
By nobrainer (registered) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 13:28:06
The government knew, but the public did not. As Chomsky says, Don't speak truth to power - they already know. Speak truth to the powerless.
By frank (registered) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 14:35:38
You didn't know that Afghan detainees were possibly tortured???? Serious? That's naivete at it's worst!
By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted December 01, 2009 at 01:34:50
Tammany: We must start looking at criminalizing war. No one said it was going to be easy and it is not something we may see in our lifetime.
Better to start the process then to do nothing. We teach our children not to hit, to be respectful of others, yet we train people to kill, drop bombs, build the most destructive weapons, for what!
All it takes is one small step, are you willing to take that step?
By frank (registered) | Posted December 01, 2009 at 13:40:08
Grassroots...I think you must live an ideal world. A more accurate version of your statement would be "Most people teach their children not to hit, to be respectful of others". That difference is why every country has to have a military. If you read any history books from Ancient Egypt onwards you will find that the country with the weakest army is not the one that lasts.
IMO, a military should be built strong enough to defend its own country from those children who haven't been taught to play nice. Criminalizing war is like banning guns...knee jerk.
By frank (registered) | Posted December 01, 2009 at 15:05:08
Remove the words "knee jerk" and replace with something that would work in an ideal world but can't in a real world where the bad guys are actually bad guys...
By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted December 01, 2009 at 16:13:32
Frank: Well maybe you call it knee jerk, that is ok, you are entitled to your view of things.
So, who actually are the bad guys, in your mind?
By frank (registered) | Posted December 02, 2009 at 08:34:46
Bad guys? Well depends on the scale. As far as the gun banning? Bad guys would be criminals...those who already get their armament from means other than legal. On the larger scale...I would say nations like North Korea or Iran would be bad guys....I would perhaps include the US as well since it tends to go around muscling in wherever it wants.
Knee jerk would be in terms of banning guns. It just stops those who attain their guns legally from owning guns. It doesn't stop cross border gun running or the black market trade and let's face it, those are the people who we want to stop the most.
By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted December 02, 2009 at 09:31:15
Frank: Thanks for giving your input.
By Mahesh P. Butani -- http://metrohamilton (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2009 at 02:27:43
Michael starts his article with: "…whatever is begun in anger ends in shame."
I am sure you will agree that this is a relevant starting point to many things in life.
I saw your angry dismissive comments here and on earlier discussions on RTH as a pattern - which in my opinion failed to enhance those discussions. Hence - my reference to “Situation” in connection to your screen name.
Why Flippant? Because – although you are entitled to your views, in my opinion, your comments lacked proper respect or seriousness; your observations lacked depth that these topic deserve.
The whole point of the comment feature on most Blogs including RTH is to - expand discussions by advancing proof, and not to disagree by being consistently disagreeable.
The complexities of events and the intrigue engulfing Afghanistan have been addressed with respect in various forums. Some as below remind us that we may never get to know the whole story:
[ //projects.nytimes.com/held-by-the-taliban/#intro ]
[ //www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/2009/09/afghan_contracting.html ]
[ //www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/afghanistan/drugs-market.htm ]
[ //foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Tora_Bora_Report.pdf ]
My intent was not to work you into a frenzy over this topic. There are many more critical issues facing Hamilton.
Ad hominem happens, often! But I do hope from above that you recognize - that it does take much more to be a political commentator or a blogger - than merely exercising ones right to comment or vote on political topics by agreeing, disagreeing or being disagreeable.
Had I personally attacked you to undermine your arguments, I would be guilty of committing Ad hominem. However, I did make myself very clear by stating that your political commentary was not my concern. Although your delivery was an issue - more importantly, it was the voting logic on RTH that was of greater concern to me.
Would you agree that by reacting the way you did to my comments - you now stand guilty of committing an “Ad hominem tu quoque”?
I think that a Blog such as RTH is a powerful tool for critical community engagement in times when our traditional media is trying to rediscover its centre – Hence my observations of your delivery and my concern with the voter logic here.
So would you mind if I suggest that we read the book below * - and revisit this topic with some fresh insights on the concerns I have raised?
* “Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers as the Fifth Estate” ~ By Stephen D. Cooper, Marshall University
“This book "is scrupulously detailed" and its "comprehensive analysis of bloggers' capacity to compete on agenda-creation as well as to critique and affect the mainstream media's agenda-setting, framing, spinning and accuracy on major national and international issues is simply superb... and exquisitely researched work..." —Richard E. Vatz
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