In the barrage of words concerning Canadian involvement
in Afghanistan, Lloyd
Axworthy has a creditable track record. As president of the University
of Winnipeg, Canada's foreign affairs minister from 1996-2000, and architect
of the Ottawa Convention banning land mines, Axworthy's voice has been consistent,
humane, and enlightened.
Where does that get us?
Lloyd has written a piece
for the Globe and Mail, with which I am entirely in agreement, describing
the "Spreading Northern Security Plague," a virulent disease with
the following symptoms: "security trumps human rights, international covenants
can be disregarded, commissions of inquiry can be secretive and dismissive
of rule and procedure, and vital information on crucial issues such as the
transfer of Afghan detainees is deliberately withheld."
Canada's government has a terrible track record. As noted bluntly by Justice
Dennis O'Connor is his final
report [.pdf], the inept collaboration of Canadian agencies with their
American counterparts in supplying information that was either untrue or misleading
led to Maher Arar being transported to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured.
On or about the time of his return, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police misled
the government about its own responsibilities in the matter, and even then,
unknown leaks from government sources tried to smear Mr. Arar's reputation,
again without foundation, without acknowledgment, and without accountability.
Of course, the citizens of Canada were ultimately responsible in apologizing
to Mr. Arar for his ordeal and paying him compensation. We're talking about
Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association
have been at the forefront
in taking on this plague, and yet as Lloyd observes,
"It is surprising that Canada's narrow preoccupation with security
and secrecy has been allowed to go on with impunity. Public indignation and
parliamentary attention have been in short supply. There has not been the kind
of legal challenge to these transgressions that has recently marked efforts
in the U.S., even though our Charter gives us a solid basis for judicial action."
Beeblebrox, I'm just this guy, you know? And yet, acting merely as a concerned
citizen, I have the privilege of being able to ask my own government, through
the Access to Information
Act, for information with regard to the treatment of prisoners of war taken
by Canadian troops in Afghanistan, my motivation being in part to honor my
family members who did the Right Thing in World War I and World War II, and
partly because of the whole Nuremberg Trials business and the lessons that
were supposed to have been learned for evermore. Robert Fisk quotes American
human rights advocate Eva Stern in The
Great War for Civilization:
"If ordinary Germans living under total oppression can be held responsible
for the crimes committed by the Nazis – because they did not speak out – how
much more responsible are we who live in a country where we have the
freedom to speak out?"
Exactly. My own quite modest inquiry has gone on for a ridiculous 16 months,
as described on a blog
started to document the amazingly obtuse governmental response to any request
for information about Afghan prisoners.
Having asked for such information, my concern being that Canadian troops were
in breach of the Third Geneva Convention, I got the runaround; in particular,
of whiteout preceded by a letter that said nothing, the whole thing requiring
nine months, multiple inquiries, and a subsequent appeal to the information
commissioner of Canada that went on for a further six months, after which I
received a letter telling me nothing.
So I'm taking
it to court. My point is that any citizen can do the same. But very few
have, apparently, at least on the Afghan issue, and I can understand why: it
takes time and energy and you're up against a bunch of people who have no scruples
about using tax dollars to frustrate any citizen who wants some basic reassurance
their country is obeying the law, particularly international humanitarian law.
You know, this really sucks.
Lloyd, I'm going in. Cover me.