Thursday, December 10, 2009

About that report...

There is a vital Opposition motion before Parliament right now, in which the Liberal Party has demanded the release of all documents requested by the Afghanistan Committee "in their original and uncensored form".

One of those documents was read aloud by Gen. Natynczyk during his press conference yesterday. This single report, made by an anonymous section commander with no political axe to grind, has not only forced Natynczyk to completely reverse his (and therefore the government's) position that the person in question was not, in fact in Canadian custody and therefore didn't count - it actually vindicated Richard Colvin's testimony on several other points.

This passage struck me in particular:

"There were three individuals in a white van and they got a very weird feel from one of them. I had the interpreter along and he verified that an individual was in all probability enemy Taliban, due to his accent and his false story about being from Kandahar City."

Now, a soldier's life will quite often depend on acting on a "weird feel", and it may well be that the man in question was, in fact, Taliban - although even now that has not been made clear. But still, I would tend to think that if a "weird feeling" and an interpreter's assessment of someone's accent was all these guys were going on when they picked up some of these detainees, it would not be unreasonable to assume that they would come up with a fair number of false-positives.

This is actually something that Colvin has claimed:

In fact, Amrullah Saleh, chief of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, told Canadians most prisoners were later released – meaning they weren't likely high-value captures, according to the memo.

Mr. Saleh told Canadians that rank-and-file soldiers weren't very good at identifying the bad guys when rounding up suspects. “He suggested that, in general, conventional forces are not necessarily the best instrument for identifying high-value combatants … most of those detained by Canadian forces, he guessed, would subsequently have been released,” Mr. Colvin wrote in a memo.

There's nothing wrong with going on a gut feeling in a place like Afghanistan, of course. Better safe than sorry. And yet the government and the military generals are fighting even this obvious point, insisting that every single person picked up and handed over "posed a real threat to Afghans, and more than that, in some cases, had Canadian blood on their hands".

Clearly, if our soldiers are picking up people based on a "weird feel", it should be impossible for the military or the government to state with any assurance that they are all guilty. And yet they continue to do so.

The report also puts lie to the notion that this was an isolated incident:

"We then photographed the individual prior to handing him over to ensure that if the Afghan national police did assault him as it happened in the past, that we would have a visual record of his condition."

I had an interesting conversation with a Conservative friend a few nights ago. He's had a lifelong (if somewhat peripheral) involvement with the Canadian military, so of course he has opinions on all of this.

He doesn't see what the big deal is. Prisoners have always been abused and tortured and executed throughout the history of war, particularly by regimes as corrupt and uncivilized as that of Afghanistan. That's just the way it is, and civilians should get over their Pollyanna belief that these 'rules of war' actually apply in the real world.

(for the record, I don't think he's ever been in an actual battle)

This of course led to a philosophical argument on the nature and efficacy of war as a means of conflict resolution. But thinking back on it, I'm starting to believe that it's this sort of attitude that is really informing the intransigent position of the Conservative Government and people like General Hillier. They won't say it out loud, but you can hear it behind every sneering dismissal.

Apparently, human rights are for wimps.

1 comment:

  1. Still valid today:

    "<span>All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side."</span>
    <span>- George Orwell</span>