Tuesday, March 20, 2007

o'Connor should be given the boot

O'Connor under fire despite apology
NDP, Bloc say defence minister must go for blunders on monitoring of detainees

March 20, 2007 TheTorontoStar

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has formally apologized for wrongly claiming Canada was monitoring the treatment of Afghan detainees through the International Committee of the Red Cross.

O'Connor admitted to Parliament yesterday the non-governmental organization "is under no obligation to share information with Canada on the treatment of detainees" and only shares any information – damning or not – with the government of Afghanistan.

"I fully and without reservation apologize to the House for providing inaccurate information to members," said O'Connor. "The answers I gave were provided in good faith."

But O'Connor's assertion that he "inadvertently" misled the Commons in repeated statements over the past few months drew derision and calls for his resignation from critics.

"He's either woefully ill-informed or he's misleading the House," said Dawn Black, the New Democrats' defence critic.

"If he was in the army, he'd be court-martialled," added Bloc Québécois House leader Michel Gauthier.

They said the Geneva convention on the treatment of detainees, which outlines the role of the Red Cross or Red Crescent in visiting detainees, is part of basic military training in the laws of war and O'Connor, a former brigadier-general, must have been aware of it.

The New Democratic Party and the Bloc called for O'Connor's immediate resignation, saying he has failed to negotiate better protection for detainees than was contained in an agreement Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of defence staff, signed with the Afghan government in 2005.

Unlike NATO allies such as Denmark, Britain and the Netherlands, Canada has no way of monitoring the prisoners its troops capture and hand over to Afghan forces, said Black (New Westminster-Coquitlam).

"It leaves our own men and women in the Canadian Forces in some jeopardy," she said.

"For instance, four detainees they can't find now. What does that mean? Are they back fighting, perhaps against Canadians? Are they planting (bombs) right now against Canadian men and women? Have they been killed? Have they been tortured? I mean we simply don't know and that's not good enough. It's enough reason for the minister to resign."

After reading a prepared statement in the Commons in the morning, O'Connor appeared rattled during an onslaught of questions from opposition critics yesterday afternoon. He searched for words and was prompted by seatmates in his responses. He deferred to three other senior ministers to answer questions on his behalf.

When O'Connor did answer, he said over and over again that Canada has now asked the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission to monitor any "mistreatment" of detainees, and vowed he would not interfere with any of four ongoing investigations into allegations of mistreatment of detainees.

University of Ottawa lawyer Amir Attaran, who first raised questions about the treatment of detainees handed over by Canadian soldiers, said both O'Connor and Hillier should resign – O'Connor for misleading the House and Hillier for having signed the detainee agreement without monitoring ability.

The Liberals did not call for O'Connor to resign, saying that for now they want more than "small and dull answers" from the defence minister.


JimBobby said...

Whooee! He shouldn't never o' got the job in the first place an' yer right, he should get the axe. There's all sortsa untendered contracts an' sweetheart stuff goin' on an' O'Connor's dealin' with the selfsame companies he was lobbyin' for just before he started runnin' the army. All the while, O'Connor's in charge o' sendin' young Canajuns t' die fer a buncha opium-growin' warlords an' their friends in Washington.


Alison said...

"The Liberals did not call for O'Connor to resign

No, I rather imagine they didn't.
It was Liberal Defence Minister Bill Graham who approved and vigorously defended Hillier's agreement in Kabul in 2005 on the handling of detainees in the first place.

Stealing your link here, Auda, as it's better than the one I have.