Rough Waters for Canada’s War in Afghanistan

Torture and abuse

In late 2005, at the outset of its offensive in Kandahar, Canada announced that, like its U.S. ally, it does not consider itself bound to the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of prisoners of war.

In April of this year, revelations of torture and abuse of Afghans detained by Canadian soldiers appeared once again in news reports across Canada. But this time the reports did not go away — they ignited several months of public debate on the issue. Canadian policy is to turn detained Afghans over to “Afghan authorities” when torture is required to extract information.

The government’s first claimed that it had arranged with the International Red Cross to guarantee the proper treatment of prisoners. “Not true”, said the Red Cross in an extraordinary statement denying the Canadian claim.

Then the government said it had received new guarantees from “Afghan authorities” for proper treatment in the future. That, too, was a lie. News reports quickly showed that few facilities and resources exist to verify such guarantees. Abuse of prisoners continues.

Finally the government and military authorities resorted to the tried and true method of occupation forces in a foreign land — they cut off the supply of information. Journalists no longer have access to the reports of prisoner treatment that the government and military receive.

Canadian soldiers themselves are targets of abuse by their own military. For example, the family of killed soldier Mathew Dinning went public in order to shame military authorities into paying the full cost of their son’s funeral. Other reports have detailed inadequate medical services for injured and returned soldiers, and enormous stresses on spouses and children of soldiers sent to the war theatre.

(Mistreatment of Canadian soldiers by the Canadian government is nothing new: 1,700 former military personnel or families have launched a class action lawsuit because they were deliberately sprayed with Agent Orange during chemical weapons testing on Canadian military bases during the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. The military refuses to accept responsibility for its actions.) read more

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