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Canadian Army Blocks Access To Information About Afghan Detainees

Well the Canadian armed forces have finally cottoned on to a trick the American Army has been utilizing since the beginning of their invasion of Iraq. The best way to make sure that everybody believes what you tell them is to suppress any evidence that contradicts your version of events.

Last spring there was a great stink raised about what was happening to Afghani people detained by Canadian soldiers. It turned out that our soldiers were being asked to turn over all detainees to the Afghan security forces even though they knew full well that the majority of those turned over would not be treated according to conventions regarding the treatment of combatants captured during a war time situation.

Detainees were being denied access to basic human necessities, forced to defecate in their cells, and tortured. At first the Canadian government said that the Red Cross was monitoring the conditions of individuals who Canada handed over. When that turned out to be false, and the agreement signed by General Rick Hiller, head of the Canadian Armed Forces, with the Afghan security forces made no allowances for monitoring the treatment of individuals turned over by Canada, the government promised changes.

You see not only was that behaviour a violation of the spirit of The Geneva Convention, it also was in direct violation of Canadian law. Any person detained by Canada or its representatives, in this case the army, can not be turned over to a foreign power if there is reason to suspect they will be subject to cruel and unusual punishment as defined by Canada's laws.

The fact that a Canadian newspaper reporter was able to reveal the conditions the detainees were being kept in through the simple expedient of getting a list of their names and then going to interview them was not lost on the Department Of National Defence (DND). So just as the government promised changes have been instituted that affects the army's dealings with detainees. They just might not be the changes people expected.

To give the government their due it's true they never said what the changes would be, but I'm sure most people figured it would be something along the lines of improved monitoring of conditions to ensure compliance with the laws of Canada. Instead the office of General Hillier has announced that all further requests for information about detainees captured by Canadian soldiers would be denied.

It doesn't matter if you phone them, ask real nice, or apply through the Access to Information Act they're not even going to tell you how many, if any, were captured. Why? Well because according to them revealing to the public how many Afghanistan prisoners Canadian soldiers have captured could endanger the lives of those same Canadian soldiers. (The fact that they are in Afghanistan endangers their lives too but that doesn't seem as much a cause for concern)

The Strategic Joint Staff, a new group set up to advise General Hillier, after reviewing all the information made public leading up to last spring's revelation has told the DND's Director of Access to Information, Julie Jansen, just what she can and can't release anymore for reasons of (All Together Now) National Security.

Information that is considered to be damaging to the Canadian Armed Forces ability to carry out its duties in battle includes detainee transfer logs, medical records, witness statements, and other processing forms. Gen. Hillier himself interceded to ensure that Canadians don't find out how many individuals are captured, such was his concern for the welfare of the troops.

When asked point blank if there was any proof that this information had compromised the security of Canadian Soldiers, DND spokesperson Marc Raider said that information couldn't be provided for reasons of operational security. Orwell couldn't have written it any better.

Interestingly enough all the information that has become so potentially threatening to soldiers in the field is the same information DND had no problem releasing in 2005/06 which led to the revelations of abuse of detainees by Afghan and Canadian forces (allegations that three detainees were abused by Canadian soldiers are currently being investigated). Professor Amir Attaran of the University Of Ottawa had been the one to make the requests for information and who had revealed the discrepancies between reality and what the Canadian government was telling people.

He contests the only way this information could harm Canadian soldiers is if there was evidence of wrongdoing on their parts. In particular if documents proved that senior military officers in Canada's military had played any active role in the proceedings, or even aided and abetted wrongdoing, it could be a matter of war crimes.

The professor also stated that it would be very hard for the military to justify in court blocking the release of information they had no problems with making public less then a year ago in some cases. A court of law might think that the defence offered by Lieutenant Colonel Dana Clarke of the Strategic Joint Staff, attributing the release of information at that time to the fact that the Forces had not been in a combat situation since the Access to Information Act came into play, a little suspect.

Ignorance of the law is no defence when you're caught breaking it, and considering that the Access to Information Act has been around for twenty-four years claiming ignorance of how it would affect your behaviour is a pretty flimsy excuse. In fact for a department where secrecy can be of such paramount importance not being familiar with those aspects of an Act that directly impacts on you amounts to gross incompetence.

Although that is troublesome, what should be of more concern is the reaction of the Military, and therefore this government to the whole situation. They were confronted with a set of circumstances that the people of Canada were unhappy about. Instead of taking steps to prevent the problem from occurring again in the future, they've decided it's better if nobody knows if there is a problem or not.

No one can accuse the Conservative Party of Canada of being slow learners, as they've shown themselves quick to emulate their idols in power to the South time after time. It was only a matter of time before they learned the tricks of the Pentagon when it comes to fighting that most hated of enemies during wartime, the press. What they don't know can't hurt you.

It's one thing in a time of war to not publicize troop movements and locations, that's only common sense and will hopefully give soldiers a better chance of survival. But to prevent the dissemination of information only because it reflects badly on your behaviour or to hide illegal activity is not just morally wrong it's also illegal.

In a democracy nobody is above the law, especially the military. Any suspicion of incorrect behaviour needs to be dealt with quickly and openly. Behaviour like this from the Department of National Defence dishonours the memory of the men and women who have died in this or any war by putting their actions under a cloud of suspicion.

That is the worst injustice of all.

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