By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being asked to reconsider his government’s decision not to hold an inquiry into the treatment of Afghan detainees even as the International Criminal Court prepares to conduct its own investigation.
The Liberals rejected in June an e-petition calling for a judicial inquiry into detainee treatment.
But Craig Scott, a law professor and former NDP MP who initiated the petition, asked Trudeau last month to reconsider his government’s decision.
In addition, in June, human rights activists, diplomats, current and former parliamentarians, including former prime minister Joe Clark, wrote an open letter to Trudeau calling for a full investigation into the Canadian military’s transfer of prisoners to Afghan officials during the war.
“There’s been no response from the prime minister at all to any of these requests,” Scott said. “It’s clear his government wants to do everything it can do to bury this issue.”
But Canada’s activities involving detainees could be put in the spotlight if the International Criminal Court proceeds with an investigation into how U.S. troops, Afghan soldiers and the Taliban acted on the battlefield.
Foreign Policy magazine, a U.S. based publication, reported Tuesday that the International Criminal Court is preparing to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Afghanistan.
Scott said the criminal court inquiry, if it goes ahead, could ask for evidence gathered from Canadian sources and well as examine what Canadian officials knew about any incidents of abuse or torture.
Trudeau’s office did not provide comment.
But the issue of the treatment of Afghan detainees has been dogging the Canadian military since 2009.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, a former Canadian Forces officer and Afghan war veteran, rejected calls for the government to hold the judicial inquiry into the overall treatment of detainees. He said Canadian military personnel conducted themselves properly at all times.
Sajjan’s refusal to allow for an investigation is in stark contrast to the Liberal’s position when they were in opposition. They accused the Conservative government of covering up detainee abuse and demanded a public inquiry.
Critics say Sajjan’s work in Afghanistan with the Canadian Forces, which included setting the stage for the killing or capture of some 1,500 Afghan insurgents, was enough to disqualify him from making the decision not to conduct a public inquiry into alleged abuses.
Sajjan could have been a potential witness for any such investigation, said Scott. He noted that Sajjan also had dealings with Afghan officials, some of whom were later accused of torturing people.
Sajjan, however, has said that in his three tours of Afghanistan he was never involved in any situations involving detainees.
A military police watchdog group is currently conducting its own investigation into a specific case involving allegations Canadian military personnel abused Afghan prisoners in their cells in Kandahar in 2010 and 2011.
The Military Police Complaints Commission has already interviewed a number of individuals aware of the cell raids by military police and confirmed several detainees were so scared they defecated and urinated on the spot during one such foray into the cells.
Some Canadian military police officers also recently raised concerns that many Afghans taken prisoner by Canadian troops were innocent farmers or workers and not members of the Taliban or al Qaeda.