Today is the last session of the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan before Parliament closes shop for the year. It promises to be an explosive day of testimony, as key government figures will be appearing, including the embattled Minister of National Defense, Peter MacKay.
MacKay’s repeated assertions that there have been no substantiated cases of transferred detainees being tortured or abused were challenged earlier today by Chief of the Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk. Natynczyk had backed up MacKay’s denials in his appearance before the committee but changed his story in a dramatic press conference this morning. The BCCLA’s thoughts on Natynczyk’s reversal are available here.
The video stream of the proceedings will be available on ParlVU when the committee meets at 12:30 Pacific time, 3:30 Eastern. We’ll also be live blogging our thoughts on the proceedings here, and posting a full summary later this evening.
- 2:22 – Meeting adjourned before an answer can be given.
- 2:20 – Claude Bachand – I would like to be able to get answers about responsibility to know. What do you have to say about ministerial responsibility to know. Where is the ministerial responsibility?
- 2:19 – MacKay – We’re concerned with detainees that we had taken in the field and then turned over. Hundreds of allegations are of great concern, but our focus and responsibility is on the prisoners that we’ve turned over.
- 2:19 – Lalond – Were you or were you not aware of IAHRC’s report detailing torture in Afghan prisons?
- 2:17 – MacKay – Cites Colleen Swords testimony – DFAIT became aware of ICRC being concerned about notification of transfers and over capacity. We took action. By Feb 2007 we had experts on the ground to increase capabilities and capacities of Afghan prisons.
- 2:15 – O’Connor – We inherited a bad transfer agreement. We upgraded the agreement.
- 2:13 – Francine Lalond, questions for O’Connor – Ministers have a responsibility to know things, not just to receive but to be informed. Were you aware of report prepared by IAHRC dealing with 398 prisoners that were tortured, 57 of them who were from Kandahar? Do you have responsibility to know about these things?
- 2:10 – MacKay – Outrageous allegations that we would knowingly collude in sending anyone to torture. Completely without basis or proof that MacKay has personally withheld documents or evidence. MPCC chair made a choice to suspend hearings.
- 2:09 – Dosanjh – International law – you don’t need actual knowledge of torture or specific allegations, just circumstantial evidence and overall risks. You had this but continued transfers. MPCC is sufficient? No, it has been obstructed. Frustrated committee by not providing disclosure. “You allowed our prisoners to be sent to torture, despite substantial knowledge of the risk of torture.”
- 2:07 – MacKay – Ministers get information from deputies, etc. Information flows up through government departments to a minister for a decision. This is synthesized from many sources, seen through sources of diplomats and military. Some information we’ve heard came from emails sent in. Ministers’ inboxes receive thousands of emails brought forward for decision.
- 2:06 – Dosanjh interrupts, speaker turns off mic.
- 2:04 – MacKay – Discusses improvements in the new agreement. We didn’t deny general concerns, but when there were specific concerns, they were investigated.
- 2:04 – Ujjal Dosanjh, question for MacKay – Asks for MacKay to step down.
- 2:02 – Questions beginning.
- 1:59 – “If I were asked to pick between a Corrections Canada Officer and an al-Qaeda tactic, I would pick Corrections Canada ten times out of ten” re: prisoners complaining of abuse.
- 1:56 – “Can we shoulder responsibility for everything that happens in Afghan prisons? Of course not.”
- 1:53 – Wonders why people are “fixated on the wellbeing of individuals who are suspected of being our enemies in this conflict” and to remember our own troops’ sacrifices… many detainees “had Canadian blood on their hands”
- 1:48 – Hon. Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs making opening statements
- 1:47 – (Ed.- Is it really called the “Taliban prisoner transfer regime” or is that just a MacKayism?)
- 1:45 – MPCC currently investigating detainee transfers. Federal Court has limited their jurisdiction, so it should resume soon.
- 1:44 – Re: Colvin comments – Says at least seven witnesses say there is insufficient evidence to back up claims that were made. Not personal, and have never said “Taliban dupe”.
- 1:43 – Careful review of information disclosed, vetted by all departments involved. Well-established procedure, free from political interference. Has been reviewed by Federal Court.
- 1:43 – Must also protect relationships with partners in Afghanistan.
- 1:42 – Have been concerns with disclosure, but gov has critical obligation to insure that lives of Canadians are not put at additional risk by the potential release of information that may be of an operational security nature.
- 1:41 – Hon. Minister of National Defence Peter Mackay resuming opening statement.
- 1:40 – Meeting called back to order.
- 1:30 – Hearing still suspended. Will they extend the hearings past 3:30 or will time for questions be cut in half?
- 12:56 – Hearing suspended for vote in House of Commons
- 12:54 – Must rely on Afghans to meet their commitments, but must be sure that we are not transferring into a substantial risk of abuse, and that’s what we did.
- 12:53 – Took allegations of abuse seriously and acted appropriately. Worked to make sure Afghan authorities were aware of Canada’s expectations. Reminds committee that Afghanistan is a sovereign nation.
- 12:52 – Made new agreement because of concerns over prisoners’ conditions. Designed to enhance ability to meet obligations, both by Canada and Afghanistan.
- 12:51 – Received information from a wide variety of sources. Considered information and used it to see how the arrangement could be improved. This led to May 2007 Supplementary Arrangement.
- 12:51 – Received assurances from Afghan government that prisoners would be treated humanely.
- 12:49 – Canada’s practices grounded in international law – laws of armed conflict, Geneva Convention.
- 12:46 – It’s a difficult and dangerous mission. (Ed.- Yes, but what does that have to do with Canada’s obligations to prevent torture?)
- 12:46 – Says Canada has never been complicit in torture or willfully blind to abuse, no one ever turned a blind eye
- 12:45 – Hon. Peter Gordon MacKay, Minister of National Defence making opening statements
- 12:44 – No abuse by Canadians, no condoning of abuse by Afghanis.
- 12:42 – During visits never heard allegations of torture, never read reports from Colvin.
- 12:40 – Says accusations of a coverup are “irresponsible”.
- 12:39 – NATO recommended handing over prisoners within 96 hours of capture, “during my time as Minister I do not recall ever being advised of any abuse or torture of prisoners by Canadian Forces or any abuse or torture of prisoners they handed over”
- 12:38 – O’Connor describing tactics used by Taliban – IEDs, etc.
- 12:37 – Hon. Gordon O’Connor, Minister of State and Chief Government Whip making opening statements
- 12:14 – Waiting for the hearings to begin. Check back in 15 minutes.