Friday, April 18, 2008

DTK: Prisoner Abuse Scandal

If you’ve been reading the news at all, you’ve seen that our federal government has been trying very hard to avoid an investigation to what the media is calling a “prisoner abuse scandal”.

The Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) has begun a public hearing in to the matter of the transfer of people detained by the Canadian military who were handed over to the government of Afghanistan and tortured.

This began as a “Public Interest Investigation” but had to be upgraded to a “Public hearing” because of the following:

“The principal difficulty which has given rise to this decision has been the Government's refusal to provide the Commission with full access to relevant documents and information under the control of such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).”

Then the federal government sued the MPCC to try to stop the hearings.

To understand why the government has gone so far as to sue we have to realize that this not simply a case of filing charges against a few military police. This is actually about a violation of the Geneva Conventions. A “violation of the Geneva Conventions” has, of course, a more familiar name: War Crime.

The Geneva Conventions, lengthy though they are, are not that complicated in principle. If you capture someone, anyone at all, you must treat them humanely. The Third Convention covers combatants who are captured. These people are called “Prisoners of War”. The Fourth Convention covers civilians who are captured. These may be support staff, people who happened to be in the wrong place, etc.

International Law explicitly tells us that there is no gap between the Third and Fourth Conventions. Everyone who is captured is covered by one or the other (or a medical worker covered by the First Convention). Anyone captured by a Canadian soldier, anywhere is the world, must be treated according to these Conventions. Anything else is criminal.

In case you think I’m “attacking the troops”, think again. The Third Convention, Article 12, tells us that “Prisoners of war are in the hands of the enemy Power, but not of the individuals or military units who have captured them.”. That means that the government, not the soldiers, are ultimately responsible.

Article 12 goes on to tell us that “Prisoners of war may only be transferred by the Detaining Power to a Power which is a party to the Convention and after the Detaining Power has satisfied itself of the willingness and ability of such transferee Power to apply the Convention.” Afghanistan’s new government never signed the Convention. Its old government did in 1949, but that can hardly apply considering that the country has since reinvented itself with a new Constitution since then.

That’s it. You could actually rest your case right there. The Canadian government told our soldiers to hand prisoners over to a nation that had not signed the Geneva Conventions. So of course they don’t want an investigation. It’s because they’re obviously guilty.

But wait, there’s more. Not only were we handing over these detainees to a non-signatory nation, that non-signatory nation had a government controlled Human Rights organization (the ironically named the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC)) that actually pointed out that prisoner abuse was happening.

Indeed. So even if we pretend the 1949 signature on the Third Convention applies to the present government of Afghanistan, our government had to know that this new Afghanistan government did not have the “willingness and ability … to apply the Convention.”

Prisoner abuse was happening and we continued to tell our soldiers to hand over prisoners.

If I’d been in charge of that, I too would be screaming my head off to distract people from the investigation.

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