Sunday, March 11, 2007

O'Connor peddles backwards

O'Connor in Kandahar to discuss detainees
Canadian Press March 11, 2007

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan --
Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said Sunday he will meet with leaders of an Afghan human rights group to ensure the organization is capable of monitoring the treatment of Taliban detainees handed over by Canadian troops to the Afghan government.

"I want to look the man in the eyes and I want to be confirmed that they are going to do what they say they are going to do," O'Connor said shortly after stepping off of a C-130 Hercules transport in Kandahar.

"I want assurances from him that he will monitor and he will inform us of any abuses."

O'Connor has been under fire over Canada's policy regarding the handover of detainees.

On March 4, he said the International Committee of the Red Cross monitored their treatment, but the ICRC said that isn't the case.

Last month, Canada signed a deal with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to do such monitoring.

Defence Department officials have said that the agreement builds on a December 2005 technical arrangement signed between Afghanistan's defence minister and Canadian Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier.

That initial deal, which has been criticized by human rights groups, obliges Canadian troops to turn over captured militants to local authorities but does not allow Canada any say in their treatment once handed over.

The agreement signed by Hillier recognized the Afghan human rights commission but did not set out a specific role for the agency.

Under the new deal signed last month, Canada must notify the ICRC as well as the Afghan human rights commission when it transfers a prisoner to Afghan custody.

O'Connor said that during his surprise visit he wants to go over the terms of the agreement to ensure it works.

"In addition to talking with the human rights organization here, I am also going to go through the entire process here on the ground. The staff are going to explain to me the entire process -- how it happens."

Canada's Military Police Complaints Commission is investing allegations that on 18 occasions troops handed over prisoners knowing they would be abused.

Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association lodged the complaint that prompted the investigation.

There are also at least three investigations going on into the alleged beating of three captured Taliban who were picked up near the village Dukah, 50 kilometres west of Kandahar, on April 7, 2006.

According to prisoner-transfer logs obtained and released to the media by an Ottawa law professor, the prisoners suffered lacerations and contusions.

Prof. Amir Attaran said the injuries appear to have been inflicted while the men were in Canadian custody -- an allegation the military denies but is nonetheless investigating.