Deaf Dumb and Blind: What is Canada doing in Afghanistan ?

Amir Attan, a lawyer involved with human rights and development issues expressed his frustration on being denied his requests for information on Afghanistan detainees. His initial request opened the floodgates of inquiry into Canada’s policy regarding Afghanistan detainees.

At the time the story broke, Canada did not have an official clue of what was happening to detainees handed over to the Afghan security forces. Defense Minister Gordon O’Conner could not decide if Canada did or did not have the ability to montior the status of prisioners after hand over. As it turns out, allegations of torture were true.

Adding to the concern, 30 Afghan prisoners told the Globe and Mail earlier this month that they were beaten, whipped, frozen and starved once they were transferred from Canadian military custody to Afghan security forces.

Three more detainees taken to Afghan prisons alleged they were physically abused by Canadian soldiers. They were reported to have swollen eyes, cuts on their eyebrows, gashes to their forehead and slashes on their cheeks.

There seems to have been some bitterness towards Amir Attan for bringing this story to light. The thrust of the criticism is that by brining up these allegations, allegations , we are embarrassing the troops and not providing enough support.
Since when does examining the truth become embarrassing ? We are living in a democracy or that is the convenient lie that we tell ourselves. It is my business to know what the politicians and military are doing and saying on my behalf.

It was with disappointment that I read the latest antics of Rick Hillier.

The office of General Rick Hillier, Canada’s top soldier, has halted the release of any documents relating to detainees captured in Afghanistan under the federal Access to Information Act, claiming that disclosure of any such information could endanger Canadian troops.
In recent letters responding to requests filed on behalf of The Globe and Mail, Ms. Jansen has “exempted in its entirety” the disclosure of detainee transfer logs, medical records, witness statements and other processing forms. The department said the information could not be disclosed for national security reasons.

Even disclosure of the number of detainees captured by Canadian soldiers is now considered off limits, after the intervention of Gen. Hillier. In an e-mail dated March 23, 2007, Lieutenant-Colonel Dana Clarke of the Strategic Joint Staff told Ms. Jansen that Gen. Hillier “considers safeguarding the numbers of detainees” captured by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan as “an operational security issue.”
Asked if there was any evidence that soldiers’ safety had been compromised because of earlier disclosure of detainee information, DND spokesman Marc Raider responded that “the information cannot be provided for operational security reasons.”

How would releasing detainee names, or numbers and treatment be used against the troops ? The information could certainly be used as a condemnation of the goverment and military commanders if the practice of war crimes is continuing.
The argument that such information may pose a danger to Canadian troops or even if such an occurrence has happened is obscured in the language of rhetoric. No reasoning is given for preventing the information from being released or how this information could possible be harmful for our troops. One merely has to accept word from on high that are best interests are being severed – “just trust us.”
However, the US military and adiminsitration, has no problem with releasing information.

Fellow committee member Liberal MP Denis Coderre challenged O’Connor’s rationale, noting that the Pentagon has lists of the people and names of those held in Guantanamo and are not concerned by having that information out there.
The security and safety of the troops should be paramount. That is the reason why the Canadian military commanders let soldiers ride in unprotected vehicles outside secure areas.
OTTAWA–Senior military commanders are reviewing tactics – and facing questions – after three soldiers delivering supplies in a light, unprotected vehicle on the front-line in Afghanistan were killed by a roadside bomb.
The Edmonton-based troops were driving the six-wheeled, all-terrain Gator between two checkpoints “several hundred metres” apart yesterday when the blast occurred, said Brig.-Gen Tim Grant, the commander of Canadian forces in Kandahar.
Perhaps security and safety of the troops really isn’t that high on the agenda. So using this an an excuse to curtail any real news of what is happening in Afghanistan is shameful and a real impediment to making informed choices in our supposed democracy. That is the life blood of a healthy democracy – information that is truthful.

Without being given enough information, I can not seem to trust anything that is being said. But, it is up to the government and not the military to explain the mission in Afghanistan and what real progress is being made.

Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie’s remarks were surprising, but accurate. Although the line between
quiet acceptance of duty and vocal support of policy has been blurred in recent years, it is not the
military’s responsibility to explain the political rationale for a mission. The government bears the primary
and the ultimate responsibility for deciding what commitment to take on (as well as its size and scope),
with the military providing information on its capabilities and operations.

But the public needs more than verbose government statements and military ”can-do” optimism if it is to understand exactly what the Canadian Forces (CF) do. That is where the media comes in. It is the
media’s responsibility to bring information from the government and the military together with eye-witness accounts, research, interviews, learned observations, and critical analysis to fill in the gaps so that the public is given the information it needs to understand what the military forces are doing.

It is the job of the media to ferret out the lies of government, because governments may not have our best interests at hand. But what stories are we really getting from media, especially embedded media:

The information that the press in being given thought is slanted. Embedded reports, while getting a great coverage of the military, will only have access to the news the military wants to present.

An angry Thorne concludes that the officers’ actions “gave the impression that the military was willing to
cooperate as long as things went smoothly but, as soon as things went wrong or contrary to the military –
never mind the public – interest, then the co-operation would be withdrawn.”36

One incident in particular sparked a new rule governing the media’s access to the soldiers: the 4 March
2006 axe attack on Captain Trevor Greene. After the attack, the reporters pushed to speak to someone in
the unit and were allowed to do so through a satellite phone link. They spoke with the platoon
commander, Captain Kevin Schamuhn. The shocked soldier’s detailed description of the event contained
details the public affairs officers felt should not be revealed, such as a description of Captain Greene after
the attack, the number of shots fired, and the names of the soldiers who killed the attacker. The reporters
were asked to remove those details from their stories.45 The incident underlined the difference in
perceptions between the military and the media. Reporters saw the story as an incredible demonstration
of how, in the wake of a terrifying attack, the soldiers’ training had kicked in, but according to one reporter,
the military seemed more concerned about the Canadian public’s perception that their soldiers were
killing people.

This is the crux of the situation. It is not real news that the Canadian military and the Canadian government wants the people to have, it is the perceptions of what that news will generate that these organizations wish to control. This is the nature of propaganda.Disinformation is being presented, skewed or simply ignored in favour of present an illusion of a war that is not so bloody.

Unfortunately,we can not really judge what is happening in Afghanistan, because we are not getting the full story. Within the last year the mounting Canadian and Afghani casualties create an interesting question . This question is not being fully explored or explained. A look into Iraqi may give a clearer picture of what is really happening.

Iraqi civilian causalities have been mounting. This is difficult to determine because the US. military does not have scrupulous records on non-military deaths.

WASHINGTON — U.S. soldiers have killed or wounded 429 Iraqi civilians at checkpoints or near patrols and convoys during the past year, according to military statistics compiled in Iraq and obtained by McClatchy Newspapers .
The numbers cover what the military calls escalation-of-force incidents, in which American troops fire at civilians who’ve come too close or have approached checkpoints too quickly. In the months since U.S. commanders have dispatched more troops to the field— ostensibly to secure Iraqi communities— the number of Iraqis killed and injured in such incidents has spiked, the statistics show.

The statistics don’t include instances of American soldiers killing civilians during raids, arrests or in the midst of battle with armed groups, and it remains unclear how the U.S. military tracks such information. Often rotating units use their own systems, and there have been several incidents of soldiers not reporting the deaths of civilians, most notably the November 2005 shooting of 24 civilians in the northern Iraqi town of Haditha.

A Government Accountability Office report in May found that the military has disbursed nearly $31 million in condolence payments to families in Iraq and Afghanistan for deaths, injuries or property damage. The maximum payment is $2,500 per person or injury, indicating that the payouts covered at least 12,400 incidents.

These incidents are not mere accidents but reflect a general lack of accountability for American troops and a complete disregard of anything but American lives. Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian have written an excellent article on the common place occurrence of Iraqi civilian deaths and the complete lack of accountability by the U.S. military.

While some veterans said civilian shootings were routinely investigated by the military, many more said such inquiries were rare. “I mean, you physically could not do an investigation every time a civilian was wounded or killed because it just happens a lot and you’d spend all your time doing that,”
Fighting in densely populated urban areas has led to the indiscriminate use of force and the deaths at the hands of occupation troops of thousands of innocents.
Many of these veterans returned home deeply disturbed by the disparity between the reality of the war and the way it is portrayed by the US government and American media.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis—military officials estimate more than 60,000—have been arrested and detained since the beginning of the occupation, leaving their families to navigate a complex, chaotic prison system in order to find them. Veterans we interviewed said the majority of detainees they encountered were either innocent or guilty of only minor infractions.
“I felt like there was this enormous reduction in my compassion for people,” said Sergeant Flanders. “The only thing that wound up mattering is myself and the guys that I was with. And everybody else be damned.”

So why should I compare Iraq and Afghanistan. Certainly the politics are different. But, the same dreadful policies are is effect, while America reamains the major player in the region. Initially there seemed to be some progress in Afghanistan after the collapse of the Taleban. But, the violence grows, especially in Southern Afghanistan, where the Taleban strength seems the greatest.

There has been an upsurge in Afghani civilian deaths.

By one estimate, that suggests civilian casualties are running at twice the rate of last year. Human Rights Watch has estimated that NATO and U.S. military operations killed 230 civilians in 2006.
We continually have to look at rules of engagement. He added that Taliban use civilian adults as well as children as human shields. Let’s never forget when we’re talking about civilian victims, we’re in a completely different moral category.
While analysts acknowledge that the Taliban have increasingly used civilians as human shields, that’s not the only reason why such incidents have increased, they say. Even as the foreign troops have successfully defeated groups of Taliban in battle, the number of battlefields is growing as the conflict intensifies and spreads. Some observers say the foreign soldiers have resorted to air power when they lacked sufficient troops on the ground.
The Taliban inflict far worse civilian casualties with their attacks Human Rights Watch counted at least 669 people killed by insurgents last year but Afghans are increasingly expressing anger against the foreign troops, who are presumed to be more capable of aiming their attacks accurately.

Many of the civilian deaths have been from air raids. There is nothing selective about air raids. While civilian deaths from air-strikes might not be intended they are most certainly a foreseeable consequence of using air power and have no more greater moral “standing” than the indiscriminate use of car bombs.

From time to time, however, another version of what happened when air strikes were called in on the rural areas of Afghanistan, or on heavily populated neighborhoods in Iraq’s cities and towns, filtered out. In this story, noncombatants died, often in sizeable numbers. In the last few weeks “incidents” like this have been reported with enough regularity in Afghanistan to become a modest story in their own right.

American (and NATO) officials regularly make the point that the enemy’s barbarism — and from car-bombs to a six year-old boy sent to attack Afghan soldiers wearing a suicide vest, their acts have indeed been barbarous — is always intentional; the killing of noncombatants by American planes is always an “inadvertent” incident, an “accident,” and so, of course, the regrettable “collateral damage” of modern warfare.

Recently, however, in Afghanistan, such isolated incidents from U.S. or NATO (often still U.S.) air attacks have been occurring in startling numbers. They have, in fact, become so commonplace that, in the news, they begin to blur into what looks, more and more, like a single, ongoing airborne slaughter of civilians. Protest over the killings of noncombatants from the air, itself a modest story, is on the rise. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, dubbed “the mayor of Kabul,” has bitterly and repeatedly complained about NATO and U.S. bombing policies. ACBAR, an umbrella organization for Afghan and international relief and human rights organizations, has received attention for claiming that marginally more civilians have died this year at the hands of the Western powers than the Taliban; and, most recently, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has made a “‘strong’ appeal to military commanders in Afghanistan to avoid civilian casualties.”

In Afghanistan this year, Taliban suicide attacks alone have increased by 230%, while Iraq-style roadside IEDs are also a growing threat. In eastern Afghanistan, where the U.S. leads NATO operations, “militant attacks” rose 250% compared to May 2006, according to the U.S. military. NATO and American troop levels, now somewhere in the range of 46,000-50,000 — approximately 20,000 of whom are from European countries and Canada — remain woefully inadequate for securing the country (if such a thing were even possible) and NATO casualties are on the rise.
As the Europeans are well aware, air power — given the civilian casualties that invariably follow in its wake — is intensely counterproductive in a guerrilla war. “Every civilian dead means five new Taliban,” was the way a British officer just returned from Helmand Province put it recently.

Ours is, of course, a callous and dishonest way of thinking about war from the air (undoubtedly because it is the form of barbarism, unlike the car bomb or the beheading, that benefits us). It is time to be more honest. It is time for reporters to take the words “incident,” “mistake,” “accident,” “inadvertent,” “errant,” and “collateral damage” out of their reportorial vocabularies when it comes to air power. At the level of policy, civilian deaths from the air should be seen as “advertent.” They are not mistakes or they wouldn’t happen so repeatedly. They are the very givens of this kind of warfare.

I suspect that this is why the Taleban are gaining a foothold once again – the indiscriminate use of air or ground force to buttress and occupation with too few soldiers and with no clear mission. Civilian deaths are not just accidents or at least not accidents when they occur in such numbers. What else is happening in Afghanistan ? Are the same techniques – random checkpoints, pointless, terrorizing raids being used in Afghanistan ? Are the Canadian military also involved in such stupidity? I call it stupidity, because in all the years of the occupation not one single thing has been accomplished; in fact the situation has gotten worse.

I do not know the truth of what is going on in Afghanistan. The media is not given all the information in an effort to control public opinion about the War back home under the guise of “protecting the troops.” The slide towards fascism gets worse. A recent public opinion report by The Strategic Counsel to Foreign Affairs states:

The report warns that the Afghan mission could be “a lightning rod” for the government. And because of “continuously negative” media reports on casualties and lack of results, the legitimacy of Canada’s involvement could be questioned. “Suspicion and cynicism are taking hold in the absence of hard facts and positive stories about progress,”
“There is a growing belief that the government is trying to avoid talking about the issue to play down the grim reality that the mission is failing.”

The firm said the “communications landscape” is dominated by mounting casualties, and a feeling that “things are getting worse.” Many Canadians believe that the soldiers are part of a U.S.-led mission, and some even think Canada invaded Afghanistan.

The report states that the biggest communications challenge is to change the perception that the mission is a departure from Canada’s tradition of peacekeeping. In fact, the authors claim the Afghan mission simply adapts peacekeeping to “the changing nature of global conflict.”

It also says the government should find spokespersons, including prominent Afghan women, the Afghan ambassador to Canada and “key Canadian journalists” committed to in-depth stories, naming The Globe and Mail’s Stephanie Nolen and Radio-Canada’s Céline Galipeau as examples.

So instead of an honest discussion of what is happening in Afghanistan, the casualties and dubious rebuilding effort , I am being fed a finely crafted mesh of lies, truths and half truths to try and persuade me. Persuade me with the complete truth.

Criticism is taboo in a strangely American styled system where any comment on what is happening in Afghanistan is taken to be a direct attack on the serving troops and a severe blow to morale. However, the troops are never served by blind flag waving. These people are putting their lives at risk daily. They should be given a mission that is achievable and that actually helps the Afghani people. I have no doubt that there have been some real success with rebuilding, especially in Norther Afghanistan. But, the increased support for the Taleban is an indicator that something is drastically wrong with our effort.

Simply accepting the reassurances of what the government and military commanders tell me is to abrogate my responsibility. In a democracy, I am supposedly participating in and have some accountability for the actions that my government partakes in. If I can not question these actions, I am no longer living in a democracy. But, my government has blinded me – in preventing adequate access to information apart from propaganda, I am no longer capable of making informed choices. The fundamental principle of informing the electorate is missing. The greatest threat to democracy is not terrorism but the wisdom of our leaders who would rather save face with lies rather than face reality. If the actions of the Canadian government and the Military commanders can not stand public scrutiny, what are the men and women in the Canadian military putting their lives at risk for ?


3 responses to “Deaf Dumb and Blind: What is Canada doing in Afghanistan ?

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