The Afghanistan Public Interest Hearings at the Military Police Complaints Commission continue this week before a month-long break while the Commission waits for the government to make the required document disclosures. BCCLA Counsel Carmen Cheung is in Ottawa again this week for the hearings.
On Tuesday, May 11, the MPCC will hear from Brigadier-General Guy Laroche, Commander of the Task Force in Afghanistan from November 2007 to May 2008. BGen Laroche was Commander in Afghanistan when detainee transfers were suspended in November 2007.
On November 25, 2007, he wrote to LGen Gauthier, Commander CEFCOM, about the suspension of transfers. He complained that his command was not being provided with adequate information on post-transfer monitoring visits, and that the findings of investigations into previous allegations of abuse were not being sent to him. Transfers were suspended in part because of credible allegations of torture in a November 5, 2007 report from Nicolas Gosselin, but largely because the Commander did not have enough information to satisfy the legal test for transfers.
Ed Jager, policy advisor with DFAIT, is scheduled to appear on Wednesday, May 12. Mr. Jager was not originally scheduled to appear before the MPCC, but he was called to appear after controversial testimony by Ahmadshah “Pacha” Malgarai before parliamentary committee in April. Pacha was a language and cultural advisor to the former Task Force Commander. He made two shocking claims regarding Mr. Jager.
Pacha suggested that during a detainee transfer, an NDS officer put his pistol on a table and told Mr. Jager to kill the detainee rather than transfer him. In an unrelated incident, the same NDS officer made thinly veiled threats to torture a detainee who was about to be transferred. He told Mr. Jager that when the detainee “gets to my room, he will speak.”
After these two witnesses, the MPCC will break until June 14, when BGen Laroche’s second in command, Colonel Christian Juneau, is scheduled to appear. Col Juneau was Acting Commander when transfers were suspended, and sent a letter to LGen Gauthier and other senior officials outlining his concerns about the lack of information flowing from CEFCOM and information regarding the credible allegations of torture contained in Mr. Gosselin’s November 5 report. Among the recipients of that letter were Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier and Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
The month-long break at the MPCC comes just as a new poll indicates that Canadians are upset about the Afghan detainee issue. From the National Post:
Almost eight in 10 surveyed said that, assuming transferred detainees were tortured by the Afghan authorities, the actions are “wrong, and once known should have stopped.”
More than half — 52% — said they believe Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew what was going on, and the same percentage said they believe individual soldiers knew it was happening, according to the poll.
However, a much larger majority — 75% — said they believe senior Canadian military officials would have known that transferred prisoners were being tortured. Sixty-five per cent said they believe the minister of defence had to have known, and 66% said they believe the Defence or Foreign Affairs Department were in the know.
It’s interesting to note that Canadians aren’t placing the blame for transfers to torture on the heads of the soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan. The poll found that 93% of Canadians “are proud of the men and women serving in the armed forces, the highest rating ever recorded by the polling firm”. Instead, Canadians place the blame firmly on the government and the commanders:
Canadians see the story as a “chain-of-command issue” where responsibility rests at the top, and not with individual soldiers, said Mr. Wright, senior vice-president of Ipsos Reid.
A majority said that if it is determined that officials knew as far back as 2007 that torture was taking place and didn’t do anything to stop it, or denied it was happening at all, then top bosses should be ousted from their jobs.
Those same top bosses are the ones taking their time to make sure that documents are “good and ready” before the MPCC can see them.