After four years of delays, numerous court challenges, and a prorogation of Parliament, the Military Police Complaints Commission has finally released its report on the Afghan detainee issue.
The Ottawa Citizen nicely summarized the twists and turns of the case (Chris Cobb, “Military watchdog’s report on Afghan detainees to be released Wednesday,” Ottawa Citizen, 26 June 2012):
The government… fought to withhold thousands of pages of documents from the commission and the committee of MPs, and only partly relented when threatened with a contempt of Parliament ruling.
The number of documents eventually released is allegedly a fraction of those the government still holds.
According to federal government figures, Canadian Armed Forces transferred 283 of 439 captives to Afghan authorities from 2001 to 2008.
Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association filed the official complaint that led to the commission hearings and Wednesday’s report.
Specifically, they allege that on at least 18 occasions, eight military police transferred Afghan prisoners to Afghan authorities knowing there was likelihood they would be tortured.
Allegations about the detainees first surfaced in 2007 and over the next two years became an increasingly hot political issue for the government.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper eventually defused the issue when, in December 2009, he prorogued Parliament, he said, to consult Canadians about the economy.
Opposition calls for a full public inquiry failed, leaving the commission as the only official body that will ever likely probe the issue. [Emphasis added]
Disappointingly, the report only answered a narrow question about the military police and not the entire program (“Concerning a complaint by Amnesty International Canada and British Columbia Civil Liberties Association in June 2008,” Military Police Complaints Commission, 27 June 2012):
[The Commission's] mandate does not extend to making findings and recommendations concerning the Government of Canada and Canadian Forces’ (CF) policy on detainee transfers. The Commission is limited to determining whether it was reasonable for the CFPM and the other military police subjects of this complaint not to have investigated the legality of detainee transfer orders made by the Task Force Commanders. It is for others to examine the overall appropriateness of Canada’s detainee transfer policies, and the results achieved.
The Commission finds allegations made by AIC and BCCLA against the eight subject officers in the June 12, 2008 complaint to be unsubstantiated. [Emphasis added]
Basically, the report concludes that the Military Police followed orders from much higher up and that it was not their job to ask whether what they were doing was illegal.
Both the timing of the report’s release and its recommendations have been strongly criticized by human rights groups (Murray Brewster, “Defence watchdog clears military police following Afghan detainee controversy,” Canadian Press, 27 June 2012):
“There is no justice here for the many prisoners who were transferred from Canadian custody into the hands of torturers,” Paul Champ said in an email.
He said the commission’s mandate was flawed and the issue will be left to fade away.
“The commission did make it clear that there was significant evidence about the risk of torture to the detainees,” said Champ.
“While the commission did make recommendations about the military police chain of command, the most important lessons to be learned aren’t found in this report. The commission suggests that ‘others’ will be left to consider whether the right decisions were made, but there are no other processes available for that.”
Given the way the Harper government “obstructed and delayed” the commission’s investigation, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada said he isn’t uncertain whether the public will ever get the full story of what went on in Afghanistan.
“The government has made it clear that they do not invite or welcome scrutiny of that nature when it comes to detainee transfers,” Alex Neve said in a statement.
“There is much that remains unexamined,” notably whether it was appropriate for Canada to transfer prisoners at all.
The government has yet to comment on the recommendations, most of which deal with giving military cops better access to information.
The commission released its findings just days after Parliament recessed for the summer, giving MPs no opportunity to scrutinize the report until fall.
Steven Chase & Graeme Smith, “Harper government stonewalled detainee investigation, military watchdog concludes,” Globe and Mail, 27 June 2012
Photo credit: DND