The current controversy over who knew what when about prisoner abuse in Afghanistan seems to be boiling down to who you trust most to tell us the truth.
On the one hand we have Canadian diplomat and intelligence officer Richard Colvin and a journalist or two who were in Afghanistan telling us that senior Canadian officials knew that Afghans captured by Canadian troops have been tortured by Afghan authorities.
On the other hand we have our Minister of Defense, Peter MacKay, and our former top soldier, retired general Rick Hillier, denying allegations they or other senior government or military officials were aware prisoners transferred by Canadians to Afghan authorities were tortured.
So who are we to believe? The unvarnished truth is probably somewhere in between both these extremes.
I have no doubt that Canadian officials and military leaders knew something about Afghanistan’s rough justice. They certainly did back in the 2006 timeframe when this file heated up for some weeks. And they probably had concerns even after they had responded back then by putting certain safeguards in place. But certainly having concerns and having proof are two very different things.
I do not believe for a minute that our military are guilty of war crimes as is being suggested by many in the mainstream media and by members of the opposition. Oh, they try to condemn the government while excusing the military from responsibility. But how could that be when it is the military who capture the prisoners in the first place and “following orders” is not a defense against charges of war crimes?
War, even just ones, are terribly brutal affairs. We all know that, yet some of us think there is a way to fight a clean war with zero innocent victims. We send our young women and men to horrible places like Afghanistan where horrible things occur every day, even in pacified regions. We ask them to kill as many enemy as they can so the can win the war. But we insist they do so in a “humane” fashion. What crap!
If Afghans have been torturing their prisoners, including ones we captured for them, then so be it. It is their problem, not ours. We can try to set up reasonable safeguards, which we have done, but the rest is up the the Afghan government. We do not operate the prisons, nor should we. And who knew what when about suspected practices is immaterial.
Throwing around charges of war crimes is not helpful. It undermines our support for our troops. The war and its consequences is not their problem. They are doing their best under trying circumstances and we need to be more understanding of how incredibly difficult it is to wage war in that part of the world.
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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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