The Board of Inquiry report (IV)

Earlier this week, I posted the thoughts of Sebastien Jodoin of Amnesty International in response to the recent Board of Inquiry report. I then wrote to the offices of General Walter Natynczyk and Defence Minister Peter MacKay and offered to post any response to Mr. Jodoin’s comments. Today, a letter arrived from Rear-Admiral Davidson.

Here is that letter in its entirety.

Dear Mr. Wherry:

Thank you very much for the opportunity to respond to Sebastian Jodoin’s letter of 10 May 2010.  The Chief of the Defence Staff and the entire leadership of the Canadian Forces place great import in quickly, transparently and honestly reporting on the conduct and actions of your Armed Forces – especially when there might be a requirement for additional clarity with respect to detainees. There are a number of assertions and conclusions in Mr. Jodoin’s piece that require clarification.

First, it is important to note that the mandate of the Board of Inquiry was to clarify issues surrounding a specific incident on 14 June 2006 and not to undertake a broad examination of Canada’s detainee management system.  The Military Police Complaints Commission is conducting public hearings into the role of military police with respect to detainees and the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan is similarly conducting hearings into how we managed detainees over the past four years in Kandahar Province.  As such, Mr. Jodin’s desire for a broader examination of the issues by Rear-Admiral Maddison’s BOI are misplaced.

Secondly, the BOI described in great detail the operational context in which the Canadian Forces were operating during the Spring and Summer of 2006. The Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan had just transitioned from Kabul to the much more volatile Kandahar region in late 2005. The combat operations tempo and associated stresses that quickly came to characterize operations were extraordinarily high and unprecedented in modern Canadian military experience. As well, the Canadian Expeditionary Forces Command was concurrently being stood up and was striving to establish its operational headquarters capability. In addition to this, a detainee policy, or Theatre Standing Order on Detainee Handling had been promulgated as the first battle group was arriving in Kandahar, but had not been proven through actual combat operations.

It is also important to explain why the BOI made no recommendations.  The BOI reviewed the current Theatre Standing Order on detainees and determined that the amendments and improvements incorporated substantive differences compared to the TSO that was in place in 2006. The appropriate changes have already been implemented in subsequent rotations. The Canadian Forces is extremely adept at introspection and aggressively applies the lessons learned in operations and combat to improve how we manage everything from naval deployments to battlefield tactics to detainee management.

Mr. Jodoin is correct that the lack of some documents is concerning from a historical records standpoint.  The Canadian Forces is actively searching for these records. This did not fundamentally flaw the investigation as all information critical for the Board to make the required findings was heard. The Board interviewed 30 witnesses, reviewed about 500 documents and is absolutely confident that they had all of the information required to make their findings.

The Board made a number of findings which bear repeating.  First, soldiers acted appropriately by taking positive control of the individual. This was a decision not covered in the TSO as there was no provision for the transfer of an Afghan detainee from Afghan to CF custody, but for humanitarian reasons, it was the right thing to do and reflected good judgement by the Canadian soldiers involved. Second, the Canadian Forces moved quickly and appropriately to address the differences in interpretations in detainee language to the point where we now have an effective and clear detainee management policy.  Finally, the Board determined that none of the witnesses ever personally witnessed abuse of detainees while in Afghan custody.  Afghanistan is a different society, one that is only just now emerging from decades of violence and brutal conflict.  What was abundantly clear to the Board was that the Canadian Forces made a concerted effort throughout this period to encourage and mentor Afghan National Security Forces on the importance of professionalism and of the application of the law in the conduct of their operations. It is important to acknowledge that treating detainees humanely and properly was an overriding priority at every level of the chain of command, then as it is now.

Afghanistan is a sovereign nation and is responsible for managing its own institutions. We are there to support their government and help build the institutions necessary to establish a functioning and enduring state.

I thank you again for the opportunity to respond,

R.A. Davidson
Director of Staff – Strategic Joint Staff