Thursday, March 22, 2007

O'Connor's "Bumps along the road and little glitches"

Just a couple of guys who were both the victims of bad intelligence.
On the heels of Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor's apology for misleading the House with assurances that the Red Cross would report any mistreatment of Afghan prisoners to Canadian authorities, the Globe and Mail reports today that O'Connor was the victim of bad intelligence from his policy advisors."
The group, led by assistant deputy minister for policy Vincent Rigby, first advised Mr. O'Connor last May that "if pressed" in the Commons with questions about detainee follow-up, he should respond by saying: "If the ICRC advised us of some problems with transferred detainees, we would discuss the issue with the government of Afghanistan."
This has certainly been Mr Rigby's own preferred response when pressed :
"With respect to the International Committee of the Red Cross, again, they have an international mandate to follow up in this regard with detainees who are transferred to Afghan authorities. Our relationship with the ICRC has been excellent. They have all the information we've provided to them, and certainly they've had access and have been following up with detainees we've transferred to Afghan authorities."


"We're very comfortable with the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross, with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and with our access to prisons as required. We've had absolutely no information passed to us directly by the ICRC or the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission or Afghan authorities themselves as to mistreatment of detainees passed on to Afghan authorities by Canadian Forces."
There's lots more quotes like this from Rigby but you get the gist : he never actually states that we're depending on the ICRC to report back to us about the prisoners we hand over; he just mentions them in the same sentence every time it comes up.
The previous May, O'Connor was deferring all such questions regarding prisoners to Rigby.
"NDP Ms Dawn Black: I've had a lot of interest and questions about the detainee transfer agreement with Afghanistan. Has NATO concluded a detainee transfer agreement with Afghanistan, and when will that agreement be made public? I would assume that it will be, if indeed there is an agreement with NATO, and that it would govern Canadian transfers once NATO assumes control through ISAF in the south.
Hon. Gordon O'Connor: I don't know that, ma'am. I'm going to have to ask Mr. Rigby.
Is there such a thing as a NATO agreement for detainees?
Mr. Vincent Rigby (Acting Assistant Deputy Minister (Policy), Department of National Defence): We're certainly working on that right now, Ms. Black, in a NATO context. Certainly Canada is very involved in Brussels in helping draft that document, but it's not finished yet. I'm not aware of exactly how.... One of the issues is how it will relate to the Canadian detainee arrangement and the other detainee arrangements that NATO allies have right now, so it's still a work in progress; we still have a little ways to go.
NDP MP Ms Dawn Black: Essentially, are Canadian soldiers instructed to give minimal protections because this is not an international conflict, or do we give the full prisoner-of-war protections, such as preventing prisoners from being humiliated or being put as public curiosities and photographed?
Hon. Gordon O'Connor: My understanding is the latter--that we maintain the highest standards.
I'll ask Mr. Rigby to confirm that."
Yeah, ok, that's enough of that. You get the idea. O'Connor doesn't appear to know anything about prisoners and repeatedly cues Rigby up to "imply".
And it was all going just swimmingly until O'Connor stood in Parliament - without Rigby - and made that one small causative embellishment on Rigby's usual series of passive-voice obfuscations :
"The Red Cross or the Red Crescent is responsible to supervise their treatment once the prisoners are in the hands of the Afghan authorities. If there is something wrong with their treatment, the Red Cross or Red Crescent would inform us and we would take action."
and another time :
"The process is that if Canadian soldiers capture insurgents or terrorists they hand them over to the Afghan authorities and then the International Red Cross or Red Crescent supervise the detainees. If there is any problem, the Red Cross or Red Crescent would inform us and then we would become involved."
At which point the ICRC was forced to say that no, they wouldn't, because it was not in their mandate to report back to third parties.
The US State Dept, Louise Arbor at the UN, Amir Attaran, Michael Byers, and the Afghan International Human Rights Committee have all described torture of detainees in Afghanistan as "routine".
But O'Connor's getting his advice from a guy who once described Canada's decision to stay out of Iraq and the US Ballistic Missile Defense Program as "bumps along the road and little glitches".
That was Vincent Rigby in his powerpoint presentation to the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
You can watch it here.
UPDATE : Well now look - you guys have pissed Dave off with your Bushwhackery.
That link to Rigby's Dec 2006 appearance before the National Defence Standing Committee keeps going down so here it is in a cached pdf
And I forgot to thank Audacious Ontology for the G&M link.