The report issued by John Manley recommends, as described in Part I, extending Canada's participation in the war in Afghanistan. But it comes down hard on the government's mishandling of the information and propaganda side of the war effort.
As criticism of the war has mounted, including from its supporters, the government has reacted by closing down access to information. Panel member Derek Burney, a highly placed official of the governing Conservative Party, said, "I'm not opposed to a more controlled message." But he and the commission are concerned that a total clampdown on information does more harm than good.
By far the most serious political damage to the war effort has been non-stop revelations of the use of torture by Canada and NATO as a weapon of war. A damning editorial by the Globe and Mail on January 30 listed no less than seven occasions in 2006 and 2007 when the Conservative government lied about or misrepresented the Canadian military's collusion with torture agencies of the Afghan government, police and armed forces.
The government's latest subterfuge was an announcement on January 23 that as of November 2007, the Canadian military is no longer turning over prisoners to Afghan authorities. The announcement baffled observers who wondered why it was not announced when it supposedly came into effect. The government answered by saying that it was not told of the change by the military. But this story had to change because military leaders reacted angrily to the implication that they are operating outside of the control and direction of the government.
The announcement begged a series of questions. If it was true, what is the military now doing with those it detains? Releasing them? Has it created its own detention facilities in Afghanistan? Is it turning prisoners over to the U.S.?
If the latter is the case, then torture has come full circle because the U.S. openly admits to the practice. Its torture centers in Afghanistan are notorious. Canada is already deeply implicated in the torture center operated in Guantanamo, Cuba because of its firm refusal to seek the release of a Canadian citizen, Omar Khadr, who was imprisoned there five years ago at the age of 15.
A reminder of the horrifying conditions inside Afghanistan's prisons was reported in the Globe and Mail on January 24. A secret memo by an official of Corrections Canada to the department of foreign affairs was leaked to the media last November. The officials were due to inspect a prison as part of the then-latest promise by Canada to monitor prison conditions in the country. They asked for special boots to wear because they learned that a walkabout inside the prisons would involve walking through prisoners' blood and fecal matter.
In December, army officials were arguing publicly that any relaxation of the torture policy would gravely compromise the safety and security of the Canadian mission. Speaking to a committee of the Canadian Parliament on December 14, Brigadier-General Andre Deschamps, army chief of staff to Canada's mission in Afghanistan, declared, "The insurgents could attack us with impunity knowing that if they fail to win an engagement they would simply have to surrenderâe¦"
But controversy over the torture policy will not go away. On February 1, the Globe and Mail reported that the governor of Kandahar province, Asadullah Khalid, has personally engaged in torture practices, that the Canadian government knew of this since at least the spring of 2007, and has kept the information hidden. In an article the following day, the newspaper reported that the head of Canada's armed forces, Rick Hillier, praised Khalid as a good friend and ally of Canada and that it was up to the government of Afghanistan to investigate the allegations.
Court challenge to torture
The January 23 announcement of a supposed change in torture policy stems from the government's growing concern about a legal challenge in the Federal Court of Canada brought by the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and Amnesty International that would oblige the military to treat prisoners according to the post-World War II Geneva conventions. Like the U.S., Canada says its presence in Afghanistan is not bound by the conventions.
The government is trying to negotiate an end to legal challenge. The sticking point is the insistence by Amnesty and the BCCLA that any change to detention policy must be publicly announced seven days in advance.
Manley recommends against vote
The report recommends strongly against any vote in the Canadian parliament on the future of the war. The Liberals say they want a withdrawal from the combat mission in Kandahar by 2009. But the review panel wants the Liberals and the governing Conservatives to reach an agreement to continue selling the war by "leveraging" more commitment from Canada's imperialist allies in Europe.
Manley says the best outcome in Afghanistan that can be hoped for is a shattered country where imperialist interests are nonetheless preserved. "We're not going to have a VE day here with parades in the streets," he cautioned journalists on January 23.
Growing numbers of Canadians are questioning the war's aims and rationale. More and more can be won to what is the only principled and humanitarian end to the carnage: a withdrawal of foreign occupation forces and the recognition of the right of the Afghan people to freely determine their political future.
Of course, Manley was never even asked to consider the option of pulling out troops immediately. Instead, his report was designed to bolster support for Canadian involvement in the occupation. It the days and weeks ahead, it will continue to be used by those who are pushing for an indefinite extension of this costly and illegitimate war.
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