Monday, March 19, 2007

Not good enough!

Canadian Minister of National Defence, Gordon O'Connor apologized to the House of Commons today for his statements regarding Afghan detainees capture by Canadian Forces and turned over to the Afghan government.

He had stated that the International Committee of the Red Cross monitored the treatment of those prisoners and would report any abuse or ill-treatment directly to the Canadian government. That statement conflicted with the mandate of the ICRC which, over the course of almost 140 years of existence, and particularly since 1949, has maintained a completely neutral approach to prisoner treatment and which maintains a dialog with the detaining country.

O'Connor's apology has to be taken at face value and we should accept his word that he did not intentionally mislead the House nor the Canadian people.
Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor apologized on Monday to the House of Commons for getting his facts wrong on who monitors detainees in Afghanistan.

He acknowledged that he provided “inaccurate” information when he told the House a few weeks ago that the Red Cross monitors detainees and reports back to Canada.


During his apology Monday, O’Connor said he made the mistake honestly.

“I regret any confusion that may have resulted from these statements. The answers I gave were provided in good faith. I take full responsibility and do so without hesitation,” O’Connor said.

Really?! And then... (Emphasis mine)

“Mr. Speaker I would like to be clear: the International Committee of the Red Cross is under no obligation to share information with Canada on the treatment of detainees transferred by Canada to Afghan authorities. The International Committee of the Red Cross provides this information to the country that has the detainees in its custody, in this case, Afghanistan.”
Let me be clear. They won't share information with Canada.

The ICRC is in a precarious position when dealing with belligerents. The only way they can be effective is to strictly observe the methods they have been employing for decades, and that is to persuade the detaining power to ensure the proper treatment of prisoners by way of mutual cooperation. This is from the ICRC's own policy paper: (Emphasis original)

First, what they do NOT seek to achieve: the liberation of prisoners (other than particular individual cases, on strict medical or other humanitarian grounds). The standard ICRC procedures, which are made clear with the detaining authorities prior to the visits, include registration of the prisoners; an overview of all facilities used by, or intended for, them; a private talk with any or all of them, to discuss any problems they might have over their treatment or conditions; the provision of standard forms for writing a brief message to their families (which after approval by the detaining authorities will be delivered by the ICRC, insofar as this is possible). If the prisoners agree, their problems are taken up with the authorities immediately, with the aim of trying to solve them. The reports written by the ICRC after each visit are given to the detaining authorities and are not intended for publication - the point being that detention problems are best solved through constructive dialogue based on mutual confidence, rather than in the glare of publicity which inevitably carries the risk of politicizing the issues. This is why the ICRC will not comment publicly on such issues as possible problems concerning the transportation of prisoners or their conditions of detention.
That piece of information has been in existence for a considerable length of time. In fact, that information was a part of the Canadian Forces "Officer Professional Development Program" in the 1980s, a mandatory series of examinations based on self-study, one of the topics being "Military Law" with a strong emphasis on the Rules of Armed Conflict, Treatment of Prisoners of War and the involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

O'Connor would have been required to complete the OPD program while still serving in the army. Which means he should have been aware of the ICRC limitations on reporting the treatment of detainees.

Beyond that, however, is the fact that O'Connor has a relatively large staff which should be researching this material. How is it that he can step into the House of Commons and utter statements which are so far from accurate that they demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the details of prisoner and detainee monitoring?

With full knowledge of the principle of "shit rolls downhill", I'm fairly confident that someone in DND, very near the minister's office wore the can for this, but that's not the point.

It took two minutes for me to look up and republish the information above from the ICRC's website. Two minutes. And I don't work for Mr. O'Connor.

Accepting that O'Connor did not intentionally mislead us, that leaves only one other conclusion. O'Connor did not do, or did not demand that his staff carry out, due diligence in answering a question of policy regarding the detention and treatment of prisoners handed over to the Afghan government.

O'Connor is incompetent.

His next act should be to go to his office, take out a pen and paper and write his resignation from cabinet. He is not fit to hold responsible office.

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