Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Afghan detainee agreement: Falsities in the press

The Conference of Defence Associations lays out the case (copied from an e-mail so please excuse any format problems) (note also the "Global Incident Map"):
In “Who’s watching the generals?”, published in the Toronto Star last Thursday (see link below), James Travers suggests that the Arrangement for the Transfer of Detainees Between the Canadian Forces and the Ministry of Defence of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (see link below for the text of the Agreement) was drafted and finalized without any “significant” involvement from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Additionally, in “Hillier pushed flawed detainee plan”, published in today’s Globe and Mail (see link below), Paul Koring et al, cite sources who claim that Foreign Affairs was “shunted aside” and “was not consulted” during the development of the Arrangement for the Transfer of Detainees.

These are erroneous statements. CDA has learned from a very reliable source within the Department of Foreign Affairs that it is not true that the Department of Foreign Affairs was “pushed to the sidelines” when the detainee arrangement was struck, nor that the Department was not “consulted”. Nor is it true that “The bureaucrats at Foreign Affairs resisted getting stuck with this issue”. We have been assured that the negotiation of the agreement on the transfer of detainees was the subject of intensive collaboration between DFAIT and DND over many months, with all the expected responsibility centres in both departments involved. These included at DFAIT the International Security Bureau, the Asia Bureau and the Legal Bureau; and at DND, Director-General International Security Policy and the Judge Advocate General. In addition, the most senior officials in both departments (including then Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Bill Graham) were aware of and signed off on the agreement, as did senior staff at PCO.

Further, during his appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development last Wednesday, General Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff, stated that he had signed the Agreement on behalf of the federal government, just as the Afghan Minister of Defence signed the Agreement on behalf of the Afghan government.

Reproduced below are excerpts from briefing notes addressing the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan. The information cited within these notes is based on official materials prepared for ministers and other senior officials. The briefing notes highlight the importance of the Third Geneva Convention (see link below), a document which both Canada and Afghanistan have signed and ratified (Afghanistan in 1956 and Canada in 1965), and thus are both required to implement.

The briefing notes also highlight the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross in monitoring the treatment of detainees under the terms of the Third Geneva Convention. It is unfortunate that the work done by the ICRC has been forgotten in this debate. A link to the latest ICRC report on its work in Afghanistan is included below. It is worth noting that between January and March 2007 alone, the ICRC has “visited 34 places of detention holding a total of 6,955 detainees. They followed up individually 810 persons arrested in relation with the conflict or the security situation, of whom 232 were visited for the first time and registered”. Additionally, the ICRC has “provided assistance to 66 released detainees to travel home”.

The Conference of Defence Associations brings this information to your attention because we believe that it is tragic that the mission in Afghanistan is being obfuscated by false debate. This is a vital issue for our nation. The Canadian public and our men and women serving in Afghanistan deserve informed debate, not interdepartmental or parliamentary finger-pointing.

Alain Pellerin

Executive Director

As a postscript, we are please to pass along an interesting resource now available on the Internet. LCol Howard Coombs has kindly provided us with a link (see below) to the Global Incident Map [emphasis added] which automatically updates every 420 seconds. Each incident can be accessed to provide a description and satellite imagery of the location where it took place.


James Travers. “Who’s watching the generals?”, The Toronto Star, April 26, 2007. Available online at:

Arrangement for the Transfer of Detainees Between the Canadian Forces and the Ministry of Defence of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Available online at:

Paul Koring, Brian Laghi, and Campbell Clark. “Hillier pushed flawed detainee plan”. The Globe and Mail, May 2, 2007. Available online at:

Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949. Available online at:

International Committee of the Red Cross. “Afghanistan: ICRC activities January to March 2007”. Available online at:

Global Incident “A Global Display of Terrorism and Other Suspicious Events”. Available online at:


§ The treatment of prisoners of war is the subject of the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (the Third Geneva convention). The convention defines prisoners of war as members of the armed forces, militias or volunteer corps of a party to a conflict (a) under command (b) wearing distinctive insignia (c) openly carrying arms and (d) conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

§ Given this definition, there is reason to question whether the Geneva Convention applies to “unlawful combatants” such al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters. Nonetheless, Canadian policy is to treat all detainees in accordance with the standards for humane treatment set out in the Convention – and to seek assurances that detainees transferred to others continue to receive such treatment.

§ In December 2005, the Canadian Forces concluded an agreement with the Afghan Ministry of Defence which provides assurances on the treatment of detainees transferred by the CF. The agreement was concluded in recognition of the principle that the Afghan authorities should have the primary responsibility for handling detainees captured on their sovereign territory. Afghanistan is a party to the Geneva Convention and is bound by its provisions.

§ Canada has also sought and received assurances from Afghanistan that:

-- Persons transferred will not be subject to the death penalty,

-- Both parties will notify the ICRC upon transferring a detainee,

-- The ICRC has the right to visit detainees at any time during their custody,

-- The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission will also have access to detainees.

§ A Netherlands/Afghanistan MOU provides for Dutch officials to visit and monitor the treatment of detainees who have been transferred. The value-added of such an MOU is limited since (a) it is not legally binding on Afghanistan and (b) nothing would prohibit Afghan authorities from allowing officials from any country to visit detainees on a case-by-case basis.

§ More useful has been the deployment to the UN Assistance Mission (UNAMA) of Correctional Service of Canada (CSC ) officials who have been providing advice to the Afghan government since 2002 on detention policy and practice, staff training, gender issues, offender programs, and prison reconstruction. In 2006, CSC deployed two additional correctional experts to Kandahar to assist in training Afghan front-line staff and prison administration personnel.

§ Complaints of mistreatment of prisoners in Canadian custody are lodged with the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) and are investigated by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS).


Blogger Mark said...

Thanks for carrying the torch, boys. Was gonna try and tackle this whole thing but I figured you'd have better, more reliable sources and really put a beating on the G&M and Star.

Good on ya. Keep up the good fight.

10:09 a.m., May 03, 2007  

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