The burden of proof


As noted, the government’s present stance, as articulated by Defence Minister Peter MacKay, is as follows: “There has never been a single proven allegation of abuse involving a prisoner transferred by the Canadian Forces. Not one.”

Here, again, it is perhaps worth reviewing the report that seemingly brought a halt to transfers in November 2007. Page one of the report indicates it was filed by a Canadian official after a visit to a “detention facility in Kandahar City to interview Canadian-transferred detainees.” At page three, it is disclosed that a detainee made an “allegation of abuse.” He described the abuse, then pointed to a chair, underneath which, he said, were the implements used to abuse him. There, the Canadian officials found “a large piece of braided electrical wire as well as a rubber hose.” The detainee then showed Canadian officials a four-inch bruise on his back. The Canadian official reports that the mark “could possibly be the result of a blow.” The detainee asked that the allegation be kept confidential and the Canadian official cautions that the matter should be handled “strategically,” while raising the possibility of “retaliation.”

If this does not establish an incident of torture, or demonstrate a reasonable threat of torture, what, for the sake of argument, would? Would a Canadian official have to personally follow a Canadian-transferred detainee into prison and then personally witness the torture of that detainee? Is a legal verdict required? Would an Afghan or Canadian court have to find an Afghan official guilty of torturing a Canadian-transferred detainee?


The burden of proof

  1. Looks like they'll have to ramp up the Defend Conservatives Condition again.

    Let's see, where were we?

    DefCon6: Claim it's a non-story… CHECK!
    DefCon5: If that doesn't work, blame the media for overhyping the story… CHECK!
    DefCon4: If that doesn't work, blame the Liberals… CHECK! AND DOUBLE CHECK!
    DefCon3: If that doesn't work, blame a bureaucrat or a premier… CHECK! AND TRIPLE CHECK!!

    Which leaves us with…

    DefCon2: If that doesn't work at getting rid of the story, fire someone or blame a staffer… pending???

    And the way things are going, can DefCon1: Start talking about Adscam and NEP and broken GST promises be that far behind????

    • As the coalition crisis illustrated, DefCon1 is "Break Up Canada."

  2. How about we dress up MacKay like an insurgent soldier, and transfer him to the Afghan prison system? Deep undercover fact finding kinda stuff.

    Let him spend a good six to thirty months there, and then we'll reveal his true identity and bring him home. He should have plenty of first hand evidence at that point (though possibly fewer fingernails and testicles than he started with).

    You're welcome, Mr. Prime Minister.

    • You want Peter MacKay to be tortured in an Afghan prison?

      I'll be very surprised if Macleans allows your comment to remain.

      Or better yet, I hope they don't delete your comment. So that you can be judged by it.

      • Two things: First, your government says there's no torture happening. Why don't you believe them?

        Second, I can't tell if either you're so dense that you missed the possibility that I was making a (darkly) satirical point, or if you're simply a partisan stooge. Not that it makes much difference, I suppose.

      • It was meant to show how offensive the current Conservative argument is ("nobody saw it directly, so it didn't happen").

        You get all mad when you read Swift's 'Modest Proposal,' with that bastard talking about eating babies?

  3. Does anyone seriously doubt that there were incidents of torture on some of these detainees at some stage after they were handed over by Canadian troops? Does anyone also seriously doubt that the government can in no way explicitly lay out the full extent of its own suspicions on the subject?

    There is no need for evidence and it will serve no purpose. The only issue at hand is what senior government officials can be shown to have known or suspected and when. If anyone thought that people were being tortured and did not act on that thought, then they are accountable in some way, small or large, for a sin of omission.

    • There is no need for evidence and it will serve no purpose.

      Good to know.

      • Well, does it change anything if we don't turn up some hard evidence of actual torture? There is no doubt it happened based on our current knowledge of affairs.

        Questions are: do we care that much, given the circumstances? will it change our view of Harper and Mackay if they can be shown to have suspected this all along and turned a blind eye?

  4. Personally, I'd love to see MacKay wave his hand slightly, and say "These aren't the droids you're looking for. Move along."

  5. The acuser is again probably Taliban, his torturers conveniently left the torture devices in the room?!? and the prisoner had a 4-inch bruise. This is hardly convincing "evidence". Is it a credible allegation? Possibly. But why would our armed forces act on such dubious intelligence?

    • The Geneva Convention doesn't say "don't torture your prisoners, unless you're convinced they're bad people". It says (and I'm paraphrasing) "don't torture your prisoners."

      Interrogations aren't cake walks. But a moral judgement on torture that stands as international law (as well as, I might add, Canadian law) ought to be respected.

      Suppose the insurgent had claimed to have been waterboarded, or had experienced some other form of torture that don't leave apparent physical markings; do we throw out the claim just because of the source?

  6. In short, yes. These are the Canadian Forces fighting a war in a foreign land against a soulless enemy, they are not RCMP officers in our cities dealing with street thugs. If the CF are going to start actively protecting Taliban from their own government, they'd better have a 100% air-tight case that the Afghan government is doing something they shouldn't. Until then, the status quo will do.

  7. The standard ought to be "reasonable suspicion" or at least "likelihood", not "proof beyond all reasonable doubt".

    If it seemed likely that the allegations of torture (and by "torture" I mean actual bone-breakage or electrical shock treatment) were true, MacKay should have ordered the transfers stopped.

  8. The entire premise of the current Harper approach to this issue is that Canadians don't care what Afghans are doing to other Afghans.
    That view is seen frequently on these boards.
    Harper continues to do well in the polls.
    Perhaps they are correct, we (or 40% of voters) don't give a damn. To me, that sucks but if 40% of voters say OK, then we will be stuck in this moral abyss for a while. … the snow is here, let's go skiing

    (Oops – If we do not care what Afghans do to other Afghans, can anyone please explain WHY we are in Afghanistan?)

  9. One gets the impression that some members of the media will never be satisfied until they finally convict a Canadian official of a war crime.

    • See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, eh Yen? At least, not of your Conservative heroes.

      I get the feeling with this bunch that even if someone came forward saying they'd witnessed torture first-hand, the Conservatives be attacking that person's credibility as well, or asking where the video tape is.. or a corroborating witness. They're trying very hard to move the goalposts as to what they will accept as evidence of torture.

      • You have evidence that a Conservative official tortured someone?

        • John Baird. Most Question Periods.

  10. Hey, Taliban-lovers: Lacrosse is our national sport.
    Get your priorities right.

    • You think it's easy to make priorities??

  11. Thank you Mr. Wherry. You are being invaluable in laying out the facts on torture.

    The question has to be: if prisoner testimony and physical evidence aren't sufficient proof that torture was occurring and that it's at least something we should look into, then what is? Canadian observers weren't able to view the interrogations themselves.

  12. Thank you Mr. Wherry. You are being invaluable in laying out the facts on torture.

    The question has to be: if prisoner testimony and physical evidence aren't sufficient proof that torture was occurring and that it's at least something we should look into, then what is? Canadian observers weren't able to view the interrogations themselves.

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