War Crimes & Scandals Aplenty

by Barry Weisleder

At the risk of being found in contempt of Parliament, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative minority government still refuses to release documents pertaining to the torture of detainees handed over by Canadian forces to Afghan authorities. If House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken backs the parliamentary order, the Justice Department may take the issue to the Supreme Court, which will buy the Tories some time.

But time doesn’t appear to be on their side. Despite assiduous, side-door efforts to re-open the debate and extend the 2011 date for removal of troops from the war of occupation, a series of scandals have conspired against Harper and company.

First, there are persistently surfacing torture allegations. Ahmadshah Malgari, 37, an Ottawa resident who volunteered to work for Canadian military intelligence in Afghanistan, made three claims before a Commons committee in mid-April:

1) In August 2007 a Canadian soldier illegally shot an unarmed Afghan in the head and, to cover this crime, troops panicked and arrested innocent people. (Chief of defense staff General Walter Natynczyk denied this.)

2) Military intelligence officers deliberately handed over “uncooperative” prisoners to Afghanistan’s notorious National Directorate of Security, knowing they were likely to be tortured.

3) Canadian troops arrested far too many Afghans with no links to the insurgency. Malgarai interviewed such people, including a 90-year-old man who could barely walk. There has been no official denial of the latter two allegations.

Then there was the revelation that, among NATO allies, the Canadian army led the pack with 163 prisoner transfers, followed by Britain with 93, the Netherlands 10, and Denmark one. The U.S. has its own system for dealing with captives.

To deflect mild Western criticism of Afghan puppet-government corruption and brutality, Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened to join the Taliban. His outburst cast a deeper pall over the imperialists’ promise to bring democracy and civilization to the region as they ready for the anticipated summer offensive of national resistance fighters.

Ironically, the scandal over alleged influence peddling by ex-Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, and the dubious behaviour of his wife, ex-Tory Cabinet member Helena Guergis, might have seemed like a welcome distraction from the unpopular war in Asia and from the persisting woes of the so-called Great Recession. Except that it isn’t. It highlights the government’s toxic secrecy, duplicity, and arrogance, and it makes extension of the war a more problematic sell-job.

Not to be lost in the fog of scandal-wracked Ottawa are maneuvers to keep Canadian police and other security personnel in Afghanistan, backing the corrupt regime of drug lords, past the 2011 troop pull-out time—or to transfer troops to Congo or Haiti or elsewhere to secure corporate resource extraction interests. Vigilance by activists, alongside demands for full disclosure by Ottawa, are key at this turning point.

If only the antiwar movement would get back into the streets to seal the deal for peace now.