In the 'whatever is begun in anger ends in shame' department, Canada risks descending into pariah status with the latest revelations of complicity in torture in Afghanistan.
For all those who had trepidation about the moral implications of Canadian participation in the Afghan war became more nervous with recent headlines in the news:
All detainees were tortured, all warnings were ignored.
Wow. This testimony was given by Canadian diplomat and whistle-blower Richard Colvin, to a parliamentary committee in Ottawa. Colvin had served in a diplomatic capacity in Afghanistan for 17 months. This is the first time a government official has made such far-ranging allegations of complicity in torture by the Canadian Forces and the Canadian government.
There has been suspicion for some time that some Afghani detainees may have been tortured after they were transferred from Canadian to Afghan Army custody. Colvin's testimony suggests that the transfer of detainees - to probable or certain torture - was a widespread Canadian practice. If true, it would greatly discredit Canada's conduct in Afghanistan and reduce its legitimacy as an occupying force.
The Canadians Forces apparently detain larger numbers of people in their military operations than do their allies. A large proportion of these detainees may be innocent of any crime.
Clearly, complicity in torture is a war crime. Armies of occupation such as Canada's must follow rules as defined in part by the Geneva Conventions. If Canadian Forces were complicit in the torture of detainees, were aware of their involvement and still allowed the torture to occur, they are guilty of war crimes.
The Conservative government has experienced little political cost from previous torture allegations - or indeed from the entire Afghanistan war - from either the Canadian public or the opposition parties. The issue, oddly, gets little traction in Canadian politics. Previously, the Conservative government has managed to sweep all allegations of complicity in torture under the rug. It is unclear whether, with these new allegations by Colvin, they will be able to continue to do this.
What these allegations mean for Canada is that they reflect poorly on the political leadership of Canada, on the Canadian Armed Forces and on Canada as a whole. They conflict completely with the commonly-provided narratives about the roles Canadians play in Afghanistan.
Canadian politicians see these allegations as a domestic political issue and have failed to acknowledge their international implications - such as severe risks to Canada's reputation.
This head-long rush to possible pariah status is an odd, self-defeating behavior on Canada's part. It has similarities to the Canadian government's recent policy on greenhouse gas emissions, which many view as obstructionist, disingenuous and fundamentally lacking in leadership.
One of the main reasons that the Canadian government has given about why Canada invaded Afghanistan in the first place was to raise the human rights conditions for its residents. At first this did not appear to be difficult to achieve, given that the previous Taliban regime had an abysmal human rights record and was itself a pariah regime within the international community.
It now appears that the Karzai government in Afghanistan is breath-takingly corrupt and has little interest in improving the human rights conditions of Afghans.
The NATO occupying forces in combination with the Karzai government may have achieved what would seem to be impossible - to create a regime worse for the average Afghan than was the previous Taliban regime.
This piece was originally published on Michael's blog.
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