Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Afghan torture coverup is going well

It's funny the things that stick with you.
What I remember when Canada's treatment of Afghan prisoners comes up is not Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin's 2007 report on allegations of electrocution and beatings, or the entire households detained because someone got the address wrong. What I remember is this simple request for desert camel boots made by Stockwell Day's newly arrived leader of the Correctional Service Canada inspections team in February 2007 :
"They afford the appropriate ankle support when getting in and out of the LAV/Coyote/Nyala vehicles. Additionally the colour is more appropriate in the summer heat. On a Health and Safety level we will be walking through blood and fecal matter when either on patrol or in the prison and should not be wearing our personal footwear as it will track into our personal quarters."
As Skdadl said at the time :
"I think we call this the banality of evil. I have to walk through blood and fecal material, so I need better boots. This is the road to Nuremberg, folks. And this is being done in our name. Everyone happy to sit here quietly and be a "Good Canadian"? "
Richard Colvin wasn't. As political director at the Canadian-run provincial reconstruction base in 2006 when troops began handing over prisoners to Afghanistan's notorious intelligence agency, the National Security Directorate, he is one of the only government witnesses who wants to testify at the Military Police Complaints Commission inquiry into whether military police officers had a duty to investigate the transfer of detainees when there were allegations of torture in Afghan prisons.
A week ago federal lawyers invoked a national security clause in Canada's Anti-terrorism Act that effectively prevents him from doing so.
They argue that on the one hand Colvin's testimony is not relevant, and on the other that his testimony would breach "national security considerations".
As we have seen previously with Arar, Abdelrazik, Almalki, Suaad Mohammud, Charkaoui, and Harkat, this is a government that flagrantly makes use of "national security considerations" to cover its own complicity in wrongdoing.
Last Wednesday National Defence said some witnesses might be able to give some information, as long as the commission proves the testimony is relevant. This is impossible for the commission to do as Michel Gauthier, the retired lieutenant-general who was in charge of the country's overseas command until last spring, as well as three former ground commanders in Kandahar and members of Corrections Canada have all refused their subpoenas to meet with commission investigators.
A week ago Canada's former top military police officer, retired navy captain Steve Moore, advised he had documents that he wanted to turn over to the inquiry, however Mr. Moore and his lawyer had to sign a pledge preventing them from passing the documents to the inquiry.
The documents first have to be reviewed to remove sensitive information– such as logs showing that Canadian military police opened investigations into whether detainees risked torture – but won't be declassified in time for the hearings.
As if this wasn't sufficient obstruction, the chair of the inquiry, Peter Tinsley, has been let go on Dec 11, before his investigation can be completed and despite his request to be allowed to continue. Then on Monday public proceedings were postponed :
"after federal lawyers bombarded the agency with a series of motions demanding further delay and questioning, among other things, the jurisdiction of the commission".
MacKay told the House of Commons on Monday that "a search for a new chair is underway".
Isn't this exactly what was done at Guantanamo? If the government didn't like the way a military investigation into the detainment of an individual prisoner was going, they just fired the presiding judge or lawyer and appointed another.
Last word goes to Richard Colvin's lawyer on the use of Canada's Anti-terrorism Act to muzzle her client :

"The legislation was addressed at combatting terrorism-related activities. It was not intended to be used tactically to intimidate witnesses from giving evidence in administrative proceedings carried out by government-created bodies," the letter said.

"The interests of justice are not served when an ordinary witness such as Mr. Colvin is threatened by the Department of Justice with severe penalty for abiding by the terms of a subpoena served on him.".

Update : Good short history of a year's worth of sidelining the investigation : Dr. Dawg.

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