Hillier and the Afghan Prison Transfer Controversy

My apologies, I wanted to address this issue sooner but my computer was on the fritz.  I also wanted to give this a longer treatment but decided to wait for Obama’s speech regarding his Afghan strategy.

Last week’s testimony by Richard Colvin’s alleging that Canadian Forces in Afghanistan continued to transfer detainees into Afghan custody despite repeated warnings that they would be subjected to torture has been met with a flurry of criticism in recent days.

Chief among Colvin’s critics is former Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier who referred to allegations that Canadian Forces acted inappropriately as “bullshit”, suggesting Colvin’s allegations to a Taliban propaganda campaign, while at the same time suggesting that any Afghans tortured while in captivity had what was coming to them:  “We detained under violent actions people trying to kill our sons and daughters.”

Let’s assume that Colvin’s statements were far too sweeping and that there is no evidence to support his claim that torture was a widespread practice within Afghan prisons (true or not his statement that “the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured” was easy for detractors to pounce on).  Hillier still fails to address the dozens of first-hand reports of abuse of prisoners at the hands of Afghan guards and the fact that the Canadian government received a tacit warning from its Dutch and British allies  when they revamped their monitoring programs in 2006 to keep a closer eye on the well-being of their detainees.  If prisoner abuse was not systematic it was far from rare, hence Ottawa’s decision to more closely monitor Afghans captured by Canadian Forces beginning in 2007.  So Hillier is wrong on his this account.
Hillier’s second claim, that Canadians only detained violent insurgents associated with the Taliban, deserves more serious consideration something that will be dealt with in the days ahead.

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