Warnings then and now - Macleans.ca

Warnings then and now


Canadian Press delves deeper into what Canada did, or didn’t, do about Asadullah Khalid, a notorious Afghan governor. The former chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission reiterates his concerns about government secrecy. The Foreign Affairs Minister concedes that tracking detainees remains a “challenge.”

“The May, 2007, arrangement states that the government of Canada will be notified prior to the release of a Canadian-transferred detainee by Afghan authorities. However, notification has been a challenge,” Mr. Cannon conceded in a written and little-noticed answer delivered to Parliament’s order paper last week, weeks after ministers had first faced and deflected questions on the subject at committee hearings.

… military sources have admitted that at least some detainees have been captured multiple times. The impact on morale of capturing Taliban fighters, transferring them to Afghan custody and then facing them again in combat is severe, according to Canada’s top diplomat in Kabul. The “release of detainees is having a profound and demoralizing affect on our soldiers,” Ambassador William Crosbie wrote in a Sept. 19 memo.


Warnings then and now

  1. The impact on morale of capturing Taliban fighters, transferring them to Afghan custody and then facing them again in combat is severe

    Let me get this straight. On the one hand, the Government has been willing to spend God Knows How Much infrastructure money on building hockey rinks, yet they were too cheap to build a prison or POW camp in Afghanistan with the result that our brave soldiers faced the same enemy fighters TWICE??!?!

    Via proxy, we've managed to both embarrass ourselves as a nation in terms of humanity to prisoners AND treat Taliban prisoners so lightly that they get captured twice? All because we trusted an Afghan government that can't decide whether to be gratuitously cruel or gratuitously incompetent?

    This really passes belief. I mean, Lord, just when you think you've seen it all.

    • Now, now, be fair, multiple is not just twice.

    • Harper would begin each episode with an hilarious, Canada-baiting monologue (we all know he's good at those). Then he would sing and sashay to a toe-tapping number of his own composition. Next, he would interview a detainee–quizzing him jauntily on which team he's picking for the Eastern Conference and whether he's more of a Stones or a Beatles man… just guy stuff like that. Then, Harper would hand the prisoner over to the ANA after fitting him with a tiny hidden camera, allowing the folks at home to watch the wretch either get his fingernails slowly removed by way of a rusty pair of pliers or find freedom by way of a few hundred greenbacks placed into the right hands.

      Ratings won't be a problem. Surely the 35% of Canadians who say they're prepared to vote for Harper will happily tune in weekly to a show that reflects what their paladin looks like when stripped of the gentrifying livery he has borrowed from a Parliamentary tradition he fundamentally despises.

      • Yes, those poor farmers by day Taliban by night folks got it tough.

        Door #1 should also include being whacked across the nose with a shoe.

    • Looks like getting captured by Canucks is a bit of a Marat/Sade game show over there: go through Door #1, and get released by bribe-friendly prison guards; take Door #2, and wind up strapped into a chair with electrodes taped onto your testicles.

      Perhaps we could mate this fiasco with Stephen Harper's newfound taste for vulgar exhibitionism by convincing the CBC to produce a reality show hosted by our lovely and talented prime minister. They could call it "I'm a Celebrity Detainee! Get Me Out of Here!".

      • I think you missed Door #3 Sir Francis, there is nothing to suggest that some of the bribe-friendly prison guards might not have minded having a go at you before accepting your cash, likely exasperating the problem that Jack points out in that not only would these people be back on the battlefield, but probably back with a little extra vengeance.

        • "likely exasperating the problem that Jack points out"

          I think you meant exacerbating, but in the perverse way that english works, it can also make sense your way, twisted just right.

          • you are correct B_rad, I will blame it on how exasperated I am with this.

    • But of course only Canadian soldiers faced such a situation.
      The detainees captured by other NATO nations were never abused in Afghan prisons, nor released to return to fight another day…(sarc off)

      • Who are you, Marshal Ney?

        • Yes, but in spirit only, because I died in 1893!
          Point is, other than the Americans, what other NATO country built a jail in Afghanistan? none
          And Canadian detainees would not get treated any differently than other NATO detainees.

          So save your beyond belief reaction for something that is really beyond belief,
          like the 2005 Martin government decision to handover Cdn detainees to the ANP instead of the Americans.

          • "the ANP instead of the Americans":

            We couldn't keep the detainees. We had to choose between transferring them to suspected torturers, or to proven torturers. I don't think choosing the former was a bad idea. It was the followup that was lacking.

          • If transferring to the Americans was such a great option Wilson, please explain to us why Harper et al did not choose to do so when they refined the transfer process in 2007 or subsequently. And, please make specific reference to the ongoing problems of detainee monitoring as per Cannon's confession above.

    • They weren't detained, because they were released. They weren't tortured, because they weren't detained. And now the troops also have something to do.

    • It really is interesting that the same innocent taxi drivers and farmers that Colvin described found themselves captured time and time again by the CF, though, isn`t it?

      Now I'll sit back and watch my reputation score plummet…)

    • I have a small bit of sympathy with the government's plight. At the time, with Cheney in office, there was a huge fear of the Neo-Conservative agenda, part of which included permanent military bases being built in the middle east, not to mention the extra manpower that would have been required to administer the place. There was probably a fear that building a prison and shipping over the additional manpower required would have raised holy hell over here once the media caught on to how they could spin the story to generate interest.

      This doesn't excuse our government on any level, but it does become possible to see why they would have chosen the easy road over the high road.

      Unfortunately, I find myself increasingly blaming the media for the troubles we're in. Not because of any MSM left or right bias. I think that's poppycock. But rather out of a bias toward spinning any story in the most eye-catching (ergo controversial and inflammatory) light. So long as the media is funded according to their number of viewers as opposed to how legitimate the story they're doing is, this won't change.

      • You're right – there's an interesting story about why Canada and our allies decided to transfer detainees to Afghan prisons, even knowing how those prisons were run. The rationale probably also helps explain Canada's hesitation in taking too active a role in deposing regional governors. That would help Canadians understand what we're trying to do in Afghanistan and what the challenges are. But, instead, Aaron prefers posting snippets about the 2010 end date for our Kandahar deployment…

  2. "But an uncensored version of the report was shown for the first time to The Canadian Press on a confidential basis"

    Where on earth are these leaked reports and docs coming from? Does Colvi have friends [ i hoped, for his sake, he did have before this took off] Are things going to start turning up in the post in brown envelopes now? I wonder! I always found it hard to believe that a man of Colvin's caibre and experience could have simply walked into this with his eyes wide shut.

    • '…according to diplomatic memos that have never been made public by the Canadian government'

      All of this leaking sure doesn't help the Opps case 'you can trust us with secret documents'.
      Not that the opps have anything to do with this particular leak, but Kinsella presenting CTV with secret detainee docs on Friday, hasn't helped.

  3. 'But Colvin's 2007 memo, which he did not submit to his superiors…'

    Huh, was this a "note to self'?

    If Colvin thought it was not important enough to submit to his superiors, why are we discussing it ?
    He should put it in his memoirs, and call it good. Because after all of this leaking, what government will trust him enough to hire him as a diplomat?

    • Read a couple more lines. You'll note they point out the memo was heavily censored by the gov't.

      I can only think that he didn't submit it to his direct superiors, but instead submitted it directly to the gov't. Otherwise, the story doesn't make much sense. Who would have censored it if it wasn't submitted?

      • As I recall, his boss persuaded him not to send it in. I will have to go back and look at his testimony again.

  4. I believe Allied soldiers from several countries have termed this the catch-and-release program. The Americans have noted the same phenomenon with former Gitmo guests.

    Since the beginning, I have been annoyed that we sent soldiers over to fight a war with absolutely no intention of disturbing Canadians with that very notion. Handing detainees over quickly has administrative advantages (you're not tied up investigating them) and huuuge disadvantages (you have no control over what happens to your most dangerous enemy combatants, many of whom you will meet again; you're bogged down sniffing out that they are well-treated in a system you know is in the dark ages, because you are also busy trying to bring them out of the dark ages…)

  5. It's unfortunate that we don't have any prisons in Canada. If we did the prisoners our soldiers captured could have been held in them and this whole mess would have been avoided.

    • Not feasible politically. Any government that did that would find itself facing accusations of shipping terrorists into Canada. Hell, that's why Gitmo was based in Cuba and not the US.

      • Actually, Gitmo is in Cuba so they would be out of reach of the U.S. judicial system.

        • I'd argue both as opposed to either/or.

      • No, I disagree. Transferring terrorists to Canada so that we can be sure of what they're doing, who they are in contact with, that they stay detained and out of our soldiers' hair, etc. is a good idea to me. And, a person who is a terrorist doesn't come equipped with Autobot powers, such that he can push a button and his arm becomes dynamite or whatever. He needs access to things, he needs like-minded friends with access to things, he can't be put in a secure facility in the middle of, say, Northern Saskatchewan (sorry N.Sask. just an example) and be a realistic threat.

        • We could house them in Gitmo cages in N. Sask and the whole problem would disappear, debunking AGW at the same time. Although our prison system has been tending to the "Oops" version of the catch-and-release system lately.

          I'd have to recommend Harper's home riding of Red Deer. Besides the cosmic irony, either they'll fit right in with their think-like-me-or-die attitude, or we'll be treated to a tag-team matchup of Taliban-vs-Wildrose.

      • Any government that did that would find itself facing accusations of shipping terrorists into Canada.

        That can easily be countered by pointing out that Nazis were shipped to Canada during WWII.

        • Yes, but the nazis were white.

  6. Yes, but you think.
    Most Canadians are too busy.

    • Well, you've got a point there.

      Let's face it, if my opinion was the only one that mattered, all our problems would disappear! Sometimes, living in a democracy is difficult. I guess I understand Harper a bit better now.

  7. In this debate over detainees we are forgetting that the Dutch and Brits appeared to get it right…or did they? I'd like to see what problems they have had. And i'd like to see a reasonable explanation as to why our detainee rate was so much higher than theirs.
    The really puzzling aspect of this remains for me why, if we were doing the best that could be expected in difficult circumstances [govt's line] then why all the excessive secrecy , over use of redactions, the muzzling of enquiries and witness intimidation? This was supposed to be a success story after all, right? Is it just Harper being Harper? In other words being a dick is even more important than being right, or is there really something to hide? Wonder what the public will eventually decide on? Neither are all that flattering when you think about it.

  8. "I didn't receive any information about that," Fraser told the committee. Maj.-Gen. David Fraser was brigadier-general when he was the country's ground commander in Kandahar in 2006

    What was going on in our military in2005 through 2007? While Colvin's memos do seem to keep revisiting policy discussions that had already been concluded, it's pretty striking how little information was reaching the military commanders about Geneva Convention issues.

    • Likely because they were dealing with fighting a war that they had never fought before. Things like logistics (food, bullets, equipment) casualty management, equipment issues (going from iltis jeeps to lepord tanks), battle management took a far larger priority than prisoner tracking. There was an agreement (20/20 views it as very flawed, but it took that problem out of our military hands) so the leadership decided to focus on more pressing matters. You armchair commentators may think that info flows in the military like it does in the movies. It don't so don't be surprised that things that you think are important is a little farther down the priority list.

      • But even battle management was way down this guy's list – this is the same commander who was surprised to find that deploying to Kandahar meant active combat operations. What was going on in our military? Most of this information should have been readily available, and of great interest, to the military.

        From a Geddes' post: “We went there with the idea that we would conduct operations designed to establish security and assist in the development of Afghan capacity to govern,” Fraser told the House committee on Afghanistan. “However, we ended up in an armed conflict in 2006 of a prolonged intensity unseen by Canadian Forces since Korea.”…Operation Mountain Thrust, the major offensive operation launched under American leadership in June 2006, and in which Canadian Forces fought alongside U.S., British and Afghan troops, had been planned by U.S. strategists for many months….the fact that Canadian politicians, like O'Connor, and military leaders, like Fraser, did not foresee difficult combat operations is hard to square with the fact that Operation Mountain Thrust was being planned many months before the bulk of Canadian troops arrived to join the Americans in Kandahar.

      • Likely because they were dealing with fighting a war…[D]on't be surprised that things that you think are important is[sic] a little farther down the priority list.

        Gee. I wonder how the Canadian Army found the time to handle custody of thousands of German and Italian POWs whilst fighting the most sophisticated and ruthless war machine in the history of mankind?

        • Oh I don't know, because there was an integrated and sophisticated allied policy that delt with the capture, id, and movement of prisioners from the front to the rear. That there was an identifiable enemy with front and rear areas. That Canada, when it came to the management of the overall war was very much a bit player. That there was 4 years of planning prior to major combat operations in Western Europe. That there was a million Canadians in uniform and therefore had the luxury of people dedicated to the prisioner situation and nothing else.

          • We coped with our own POWs because we had the will and the discipline to do so and because we were our own army, not a subordinate contingent of U.S./NATO colonial sepoys taking marching orders from Brussels and Washington D.C.

          • That Canada…was very much a bit player…[We had] a million Canadians in uniform.

            So, an army of over a million was a "bit player". Heh.

            Actually, no, Our General Staff had significant control over the nature and scope of Canadian operations in Western Europe. Read the relevant histories. Canadian Forces were organised into a self-contained Army Corps under direct Canadian command. In fact, our generals made themselves so intrusive that Field Marshal Montgomery begged Mackenzie King to fire a few of them (Crerar and McNaughton being the most belligerent).

          • When it came to the strategy of the war, when and where major offensive operations were to take place, yes we were on the outside looking in. Also we had a million in uniform! Navy, Air Force and Army.

            We coped with our own POWs ….
            Do you actually think that there was a different POW policy between Britain, US, Canada and all the other members of the Western Alliance?

  9. …[B]ecause there was an integrated and sophisticated allied policy that delt[sic] with … prisioners[sic]…That there was 4 years of planning prior to major combat operations in Western Europe.

    Yeah, whereas we've had no time at all to develop effective POW policy/infrastructure: the Afghan invasion had only two years of planning, and we've been occupying the place for only six. Blinks of an eye, really.

    • Yes and I leave that at the feet of the Liberal Government of Chretian and Martin. They sent us into A-stan and the s-storm that enveloped the defence minister of the time when the picture of the JTF troopers with the prisioners came out proved that the PMO and the mandarins at the Defence department didn't have a clue of what to do with prisoners.