Saturday, November 21, 2009

Richard Colvin's Testimony Reveals Canada Involved in Renditions to CIA Torture Dungeons in Afghanistan

After some articles are put to bed at FilterBlogs they get a 'Posthumous Longtail Aperitif'; links to related articles published after my original post:

Posthumous Longtail Aperitif for April 6, 2010: From CBC News, "Tories alerted to Afghan secret police legal 'risk' ", by Gil Shochat.

In this exclusive story the CBC revels leaked documents from the highest levels of the Canadian Government which show that in hearings before Parliament in November 2009 - even as the governing Conservative members were mercilessly assailing Richard Colvin's professionalism and competence - the government knew all along the testimony he was giving was completely accurate.


"The question I'm left asking is - based on the extraordinary volume of transfers - did our slow and secretive transfer protocols allow foreign players in theatre to use us to end-run their domestic laws. Were we/are we we part of an extraordinary rendition highway of Afghans in-country for the Americans we were working along side of in Kandahar?"

Richard Colvin is a career Canadian diplomat who excelled at the tough postings he accepted, In 2006 he was a streaking his way up the promotion ladder at Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) - a bright light on his way to the top. Richard Colvin followed the rule of law to the tee in his job as a diplomat, up to and including his appearance before the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan hearings on Wednesday November 18, 2009.

The Harper Government is surprising veterans of the diplomatic corps in the way their pillorying him now. Michael Semple, a research fellow at Harvard University's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy (Michael Ignatieff resigned as Director of the center to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party) was the former deputy head of the European Union's mission in Afghanistan. Semple said in an interview on CBC Radio's "As it Happens" that he's "puzzled" by the treatment Colvin's facing now, Richard Colvin is "a public servant taking risks in the service of his country, doing the right thing, taking a stand against torture, inside the system - not leaking to the press.. ...should be lauded in Canada." (link to podcast)

Image courtesy of Richard Colvin is on the right with the briefcase ;-)

First, Richard Colvin's resume at DFAIT in his words,

"..I joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 1994. I’ve had five overseas assignments in Sri Lanka, Russia, the Palestinian territories, Afghanistan and now in Washington, D.C. Afghanistan was therefore my second Islamic posting and third insurgency.

I spent 17 months in Afghanistan, first as a senior DFAIT representative of the provincial reconstruction team, or PRT, in Kandahar and then for over a year at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul as the head of a political section and chargĂ© d’affaires—that is, the acting ambassador.

In these capacities, I was responsible for a large number of issues, including getting additional Afghan police and soldiers to Kandahar to relieve Canadian Forces, development issues, counter-narcotics, coordination with our NATO allies, the UN and the Afghan government and security and intelligence files. Detainees was only one of about 15 major issues that I worked on. My primary focus was on improving the effectiveness of our efforts so that we had a better chance of achieving our goals.

I volunteered to go to Afghanistan. Canada’s objectives are noble: to help bring peace, prosperity and hope to Afghans after 30 years of war and the repressions of the Taliban. I’d like to start with two general comments. First, Afghanistan was an extraordinarily difficult environment. Canada had not fought a war since the Korean War 50 years earlier and had not fought a counter-insurgency since the Boer War, 100 years ago."

Richard Colvin is now First Secretary, Embassy of Canada to the United States of America in Washington DC.

He begins his testimony on the transfer of detainees to the Afghan National Directorate of Security (DNS) by comparing Canada's procedures with that of other nations in theatre,

"First, we took and transferred far more detainees. As of May 2007, Canada had transferred to the Afghan authorities six times as many detainees as the British, who were conducting military operations just as aggressive as ours and had twice as many troops in theatre, and we had transferred 20 times as many detainees as the Dutch."

Then he describes how our system of transfer made oversight impossible,

"Second, we did not monitor our own detainees after their transfer.

"..our detainee system relied upon two human rights groups to monitor the wellbeing of detainees after transfer: the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, or AIHRC, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"..unlike the Dutch and British, Canada was extremely slow to inform the Red Cross when we had transferred a detainee to the Afghans. The Canadian Forces leadership created a very peculiar six-step process. Canadian military police in Kandahar had to inform the Canadian Forces command element at Kandahar airfield, who in turn informed Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, or CEFCOM, in Ottawa. CEFCOM would eventually inform the Canadian Embassy in Geneva, who then informed Red Cross headquarters in Geneva, which was finally able to notify the Red Cross mission in Kandahar. This process took days, weeks or, in some cases, up to two months."

So, for up to 2 months some detainee were off the radar of human rights groups. Furthermore record keeping by Canadian Forces and the Afghan Intelligence Service (DNS) were so bad it was impossible to find these people once information finally got back to the Kabul offices of the Red Cross or AIHRC.

Richard Colvin testifies,

"A fourth difference between us and the British and Dutch was unusually poor record-keeping. This had serious consequences. When the Red Cross was finally informed that we had transferred a detainee, not only had a lot of time passed, but the information that Canadian Forces had taken was so limited that the Red Cross was often even unable to locate our detainees."

So, in summation, detainees we transfered to the DNS disappeared for up to two months and then in most cases - due to bad record keeping - forever. The knowledge that the DNS was regularly torturing people under it's command demanded action from Mr. Colvins point of view - it was his job, what he was tasked by his superiors to do - to uphold Canadian law, make sure prisoners transfered by Canadian troops were not being tortured. Thus he did everything he could to find these people, but he got no-where in this; he says,

"And on April 24th and 25th, 2007, as the detainee issue was becoming a political crisis in Ottawa, the embassy sent two reports that offered Ottawa a solution. To protect our detainees from being tortured, we should adopt the British and Dutch approach, that is, take responsibility for our own detainees, monitor them ourselves and establish a robust, aggressive and well-resourced monitoring mechanism that would guard our detainees from further risk of abuse.

Senior officials in DFAIT and the Canadian Forces did not welcome our reports or advice. At first, we were mostly ignored. However, by April 2007, we were receiving written messages from the senior Canadian government coordinator for Afghanistan to the effect that we should be quiet and do what we were told and there was a phone message from the DFAIT assistant deputy minister suggesting that in future we should not put things on paper but, instead, use the telephone.

Starting in May 2007, a new ambassador arrived. Immediately thereafter the paper trail on detainees was reduced. Written reporting from the field was restricted to a very limited circle of officials, which shrank further over time, and reports on detainees began sometimes to be censored with crucial information removed.

By summer 2007, internal censorship had spread to new areas. For example, we could no longer write that the security situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating even though everyone knew that it was. In terms of established DFAIT practice, all of these steps were extremely irregular."

The fact that we transfered 20 times as many prisoners to the DNS than the British suggests to me that this is the tip of a much larger story. The degree of protestation by the Harper Government speaks to a much larger covert operation than Richchard Colvin was allowed to see.

The question I'm left asking is did our slow and secretive transfer process allow other players in theatre to use our system to end-run their own laws; are we part of an extraordinary rendition of Afghans in-country for the Americans or the British?

The DNS and their affiliate torture dungeons are run by and for U.S. intelligence through 'Black Operations' (covert military operations funded by Congress and privy only to the heads of Congressional Committees on a need to know basis), revealed in part through the publicly announced torture policies announced by Bush, Chaney and Rumsfeld in a haze of post 9/11 official lawlessness in 2002. On the ground that infrastructure of torture was run by Asa de la Khalif.

I'll let the testimony speak on this:

Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh, (MP for Vancouver South): "I have just one more question. Did you ever have a chance to visit Asa de la Khalif and did you know anything about what he was involved in?"

Mr. Richard Colvin: "Yes, yes I had lots of information on Mr. Khalif."


Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh: "Can you tell us?"

Mr. Richard Colvin: "I believe so. In this forum I’m protected from libel.

He was known to us very early on. Majunosix is an unusually bad actor on human rights issues. He was known to have had a dungeon in Gaznee, his previous province where he used to detain people for the money and some of them disappeared. He was known to be running a narcotics operation. He had a criminal gang. He had people killed who got in his way and then in Kandahar we found out that he had indeed set up a similar dungeon under his guest house. He acknowledged this when asked. He had sort of justifications for it, but he was known to personally torture people in that dungeon.

So on a range of issues, governance, security, human rights he was a serious problem and there were efforts made to have him replaced, but some of those efforts were not successful."

This guy is using torture techniques - according to the transcript and - like those out-lined by former Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the 'Torture Memos'. He was trained by U.S. intelligence officers - in camps now dismantled and reconstituted elsewhere - in U.S. style 'state of the art' torture, specifically; load music, stress positions, sleep deprivation and temperature extremes. (Other methods were employed by Asa de la Khalif according to the testimony, those listed above constitute a protocol which points to a connection with U.S. intelligence.)

Further although I have no proof of a connection between these men, is the case of Jonathan K Idema (Image from Wikipedia) a former U.S. soldier (re: CIA) and two others, Edward Caraballo and Brent Bennett who insisted under questioning by Afghan security forces, that they had contacts with the U.S. Defense Department, were caught running a torture dungeon in Kabul in 2004. Edward Caraballo said he was a 'journalist' who was filming the torture for a 'documentary about intelligence gathering'. Translation from Company speak ---> He was making a how-to film for black operations to educate psychopaths how to do it. The idea being to bring horror and a sense of chaos to the war zone; an 'Al Quida of Iraq' for Afghanistan - to perpetrate a myth about our enemies in the global war on terror (which doesn't exist).

Once this operations became public, operatives are left to take all the blame - so the investigation doesn't go further up the chain of command. (Except when there is a personal grudge that can be satisfied in the process; like what happened around the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. U.S. Army Brigadier General, Janis Karpinski was sacrificed to the public investigation - as a black operations unit was operating in her bailly wick without her knowledge - as of coarse they always do.)

At one point, I came across a web-site where a black ops soldier was threatening to reveal secret info and take down his higher ups - not a great patriot, even from his point of view. It never seems fair when You get hung out to dry for the greater cause I guess. (I can't find the site now, but I'm sure it was being blogged by Jonathan Idema's wife - based on the content and the timing - it was during the trial in Kabul.)

The infrastructure for torture is in-country; the only remaining problem is how to legally get prisoners you want tortured into these jails - while at the same time covering your rear, staying with-in the rule of law. For the commander in theatre this is career-ending-territory, that person must have no knowledge, that can become public, of specific instances where detainees were transfered to torture.

The Canadian system, while probably not designed for the purpose of thwarting the rule of law, looks like the perfect metric for these abuses. I won't impugn former General Rick Hillier's motives in this, I think this revolves around Stephen Harpers 'total information management' neurosis inside the Prime Ministers Office. (I guess thats a paradox of Total Information Awareness.) ;-)

Richard Colvin is being hung out to dry for the greater cause today by the Canadian Government. That that greater cause is worth fighting and dieing for is becoming more and more dubious. Afghanistan is now up to 38 years of continuous war with no end in sight. We have to take the long view here. When ISAF withdraws from this horror show it will quickly become worse still. Yet this is no reason for delay - the sooner we bring our troops out of this already lost war the better able we will be able to assist later, after the coming civil war - re-dux.

Notes and Links:

Senior Diplomat Richard Colvin's testimony before the House of Commons Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan on Wednesday November 18, 2009. His submission is the first 20 minutes of this 2 hour mwv file. (Update September 3, 2010: The audio is now missing but transcripts are available in a nice layout here.) The remainder of the podcast is enlightened rounds of questions from the committee - and an array of personal attacks by the conservatives designed to destroy Mr. Colvin's credibility. Mr. Colvin is an articulate speaker, and defends himself well, You should go listen.

Parker Donham's "Contrarian" website is doing great work on the story, documenting every word and providing all the links. The Contrarian website has also published a transcript of the meeting which has been of great value in putting together this story.

Government of Canada Information Portal: Meeting No. 15 AFGH - Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, Wednesday, Nov 18, 2009 aspx podcast (opens with wmv player or media player classic or GOM player).

In a related story, Craig Murray, the current Rector of the University of Dundee, Scotland and former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan exposes a CIA torture facility outside Tashkent, Uzbekistan (Uzbekistan borders Afghanistan and according to Murray the torture set-up there regularly ships detainees back and forth to the operation in Afghanistan). From the Real News Network's Youtube Channel (part 1, a 10 minute Video).

"Michael Semple is a leading expert on the Taliban, the Pashtun tribes and Afghan politics. He has worked in Afghanistan since 1989, most recently as Deputy to the EU Special Representative for Afghanistan, and has inter-acted with leading figures in the succession of Afghan regimes, and the different armed movements which have campaigned against them. He is recognized internationally as a key proponent of political approaches to dealing with the conflict in Afghanistan, including “talking to the Taliban”. His experience as development worker, political officer and conflict negotiator give him an unparalleled network into most elements of Afghan and Pakistani society. Michael’s understanding of Afghan political history and current Afghan political strategies, combined with an international community insiders perspective and access to politicians on all sides of the debate give him a unique ability to advise on the development of a realistic political strategy for a more stable and prosperous Afghan future."

As it Happens Podcast URL with Michael Semple interview: []