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The detainee buck stops where?

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The Afghanistan detainee transfer agreement of May 2007 has been cited by the government as providing for adequate monitoring and inspections of prisoners transferred by Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities. In testimony before the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, the Hon. Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, cited these inspections as evidence that Canada was doing its best to monitor the treatment of detainees handed over to Afghan authorities, stating that the Canadian system in place since May 2007 is a “model to follow”:

The supplemental arrangement that our government put in place has allowed the implementation of an oversight and follow-up mechanism that ensures protection of the rights of prisoners transferred by Canada and it is considered a model to follow.

This arrangement states that Canadian representatives will have unrestricted access to those prisoners, as my colleague, the Minister of National Defence, Mr. MacKay, mentioned.

This has enabled us to conduct nearly 200 visits, since the implementation of our new agreement, to verify that prisoners who had been transferred were treated in accordance with our values and principles and international law.

Image: Globe and Mail

At this same session, the Hon. Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence, claimed that Canadian Forces in Afghanistan rely on Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) reports when determining whether or not detainees transferred to Afghan authorities face a risk of torture:

While the commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan holds the final decision on transfers, his decision is informed by a comprehensive understanding of the circumstances, including information based on the monitoring and the diplomatic analysis of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Neither the Canadian Forces nor the commander make decisions in the abstract.

It turns out that Canadian Forces (CF) were not making decisions in the abstract, but in a vacuum. Documents obtained by the Globe and Mail have revealed that detainee transfers were suspended in November 2007 in significant part because Canadian Forces had insufficient information to allay their concerns, in light of ongoing allegations of detainee abuse by Afghan officials.  According to the Globe and Mail‘s account, senior CF command had limited access to reports of any kind — belying the claims made by Cannon and MacKay before the parliamentary committee.

The documents paint a picture of a command struggling to deal with decisions on detainee transfers in an uncertain environment and without the information necessary. Colonel Christian Juneau, Acting Commander of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, wrote a letter copied to General Rick Hillier, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, and other Canadian officials recommending the suspension of transfers of detainees to Afghan officials in November 2007. Col. Juneau wrote that he had inadequate information to justify continuing transfers.

Col. Christian Juneau in KandaharCol. Christian Juneau (center) in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in February 2008. Image: CEFCOM

Later that month, Brigadier General Guy LaRoche, then Commander of the Joint Task Force in Afghanistan, put a moratorium on further transfers to Afghan authorities. The Globe and Mail describes the letter halting transfers:

Brig.-Gen. Laroche in his letter lamented “the fact that meaningful investigation reports into previous abuse allegations have yet to be received.” He said this meant there could be a “larger systemic problem” concerning detainees. “This puts this headquarters and indeed the Canadian Forces, in a difficult position.”

The general told his Ottawa masters that it was “essential that an effective, robust and timely mechanism be put in place to deal with new allegations” and explained he was not only halting handovers but putting a moratorium on further transfers until a better reporting system was put into place.

“This can only be accomplished through a meaningful detention facility presence and pro-active … reporting that includes concrete recommendations.”

These reports raise serious concerns about the detainee tracking and monitoring process, even after the new transfer agreement was implemented in May 2007. The new agreement was meant to generate the information needed to make proper decisions on detainee transfers, but the information was not being given to those who needed it most.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, in parliamentary committee today, a diplomat with Foreign Affairs claimed that Canadian Forces were doing nothing to help get the information that Col. Juneau needed. Cory Anderson, a senior DFAIT official, stated that one of the most difficult parts of DFAIT’s role was working with Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS), the notorious Afghan intelligence agency. DFAIT needed help building a relationship with the NDS, but CF would not step in:

The Canadian Forces enjoy an intimate and comprehensive relationship with the National Directorate of Security on a daily basis related to all aspects of military operations and intelligence gathering, but refuse to wade into the one facet of that relationship where adherence to our international obligations is most at risk.

Mr. Anderson criticized the NDS for its “endemic and systemic duplicity … that exists to this day, and renders it virtually impossible to have an open and transparent relationship with their officials on the ground in Kandahar.”

To summarize: CF can’t be responsible for detainee transfers without better reports from DFAIT. DFAIT can’t be responsible for providing accurate reports without more help from CF. These problems still haven’t been resolved, nearly three years after the May 2007 transfer agreement was signed.

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