Friday, March 2, 2007

cnd / afghan prisoners missing; O'Connor: adequate agreement, (so much for human rights)!

Three key prisoners in Afghan abuse probe missing
Mar. 2 2007 News Staff

In the latest development in a probe into allegations of abuse by Canadian soldiers, three key prisoners in the investigation have disappeared while in Afghan custody.

The development, first reported by The Globe and Mail on Friday, represents a serious breach in the prisoner handover agreement between Canadian and Afghan forces and could hinder the investigation into charges that Canadian soldiers physically abused prisoners before handing them over.

The development may also fuel criticism of the prisoner handover agreement and cast doubt on government assurances that all prisoners are properly treated.

Robert Bell, the senior operations manager with the National Investigation Service, told The Globe that investigators are working on the case, but have so far been unable to locate the missing men.

The three prisoners were handed over to Afghan National Police on April 8, 2006, and investigators have been trying to locate them for nearly a month, The Globe reports.

Their disappearance could be due to countless factors, from poor record-keeping to torture or even execution -- a fate that human rights groups say is commonplace in Afghanistan.

The agreement, signed in 2005 by Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier, stipulates that detainees won't face execution after Canadian troops hand them over. It also requires that "accurate written records accounting for all detainees" be kept by both Canada and Afghanistan.

But Canada has no power to follow up and ensure those provisions are followed once the prisoners have been handed over. Other forces, such as the Dutch, British and Danish, have such stipulations written into their handover agreements.

"We need that sort of provision in our agreement to ensure that detainees are not transferred to be tortured or killed," NDP defence critic Dawn Black told The Globe.

But Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has said the agreement is adequate because it sets out that the International Committee of the Red Cross is responsible for the treatment and tracking of the prisoners.

However, the newspaper reports that the agreement doesn't actually require the Red Cross to report to Canada if prisoners aren't being treated properly.

Isabelle Bouchard, a spokesperson for O'Connor, told The Globe in an email that the NIS is currently searching for witnesses wanted in the investigation, including the three missing detainees, "and these things take time."

The NIS is performing a criminal investigation into the abuse allegations against Canadian troops, while Hillier has ordered a board of inquiry to examine detainee handling and treatment.

Two "public interest" probes have also been launched by the Military Police Complaints Commission. One looks at the allegations of abuse against the three missing men, the other looks at whether the handover agreement violates international law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The position of Canada and the U.S. is that prisoners captured in Afghanistan don't fall under the Geneva Convention because they do not fight for a recognized state or wear a uniform. But O'Connor has said that although they don't have official prisoner of war status, they are still entitled to humane treatment.

Amnesty International has launched a court challenge of that position, said Michael Lynk, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Western Ontario.

"The argument, which I think is sound, is that our Charter of Rights follows Canadian troops wherever they may be in the world, and our turning over of Afghan detainees to the Afghan authorities without any kind of appeal process built in for their protection, and turning over to an authority that is likely to torture...that these violate rulings from the Supreme Court of Canada with respect to torture and other countries," Lynk told CTV Newsnet.

The lawsuit, Lynk said, will attempt to determine Canada's obligations towards Afghan detainees under its Geneva Convention responsibilities.

Canada signed on to the Geneva Convention in 1949.