The outcry over detainee abuse claims helps the enemy cause
SEAN M. MALONEY
It was December 2005. An improvised explosive device had just destroyed a Canadian G Wagon and two of our soldiers were lying in the wreckage, their legs horribly mutilated. The insurgents who detonated the IED were captured by the same patrol that had been attacked. I was in the tactical operations centre with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar, listening to the play-by-play on the radios. The PRT leadership had a real dilemma on its hands. The crew of the U.S. helicopter sent to the attack site refused to take the detainees. American policy was to take only enemy captured by American forces onto American aircraft. Ottawa, at the same time, told the PRT not to turn the detainees over to the Americans because there were skittish people sensitized to the 2004 Abu Ghraib disclosures in Iraq. In time, the decision was made to hand them over to the Afghan police. It is their country, after all.
In those hours, I saw more energy expended by Ottawa and the PRT over the welfare of those detainees than over the welfare of our wounded soldiers. It wasn’t that the personnel in Ottawa and the PRT didn’t care about
WE DON'T LIVE IN A WORLD MADE OF NERF TOYS NEITHER DO OUR ENEMIES. THIS DOESN'T LOOK LIKE SOMALIA TO ME. our men; on the contrary, hevedverivmn
our men; on the contrary, they cared very much. But they were constrained by the possibility—yes, the possibility—of something like the Somalia inquiry happening again. This forced them to take extraordinary measures and expend valuable time to protect themselves and their men from people looking for, indeed hoping for, the next Shidane Arone, time that could be better spent on fighting the enemy and reconstructing the country.
Now we have the case of Amir Attaran, his access to information request, and the media storm that has followed. When I hear allegations of detainee abuse thrown about with reckless abandon by people who don’t have the facts and have not provided any context, and I think back to that violent day, I have to ask the question: why should our soldiers in the field be held to a standard higher than we hold police to in Canada?
Does anybody get upset when the police manhandle outlaw bikers? When correctional
officers get robust with recalcitrant inmates? The answer is they don’t, and in the case of insurgents in Afghanistan, they shouldn’t. This is a war. Life and death are on the line. It is only this legalistic mindset we seem to have imported from the United States through American popular culture (CSI, Law & Order and so on) that leads some Canadians to believe that insurgents should somehow be treated as criminals under arrest, and scientific evidence collected for use in court later. Well, our enemies wear bomb vests and have a tendency to blow them up when coalition forces are nearby. Taliban spotters conduct
reconnaissance against our soldiers to facilitate those attacks. They want to kill and mutilate our soldiers, diplomats and aid workers. They want us to be overcautious so that they have a better chance to succeed. They want people in Canada to apply pressure and limit how operations are conducted. Anything that adds what Karl von Clausewitz calls “friction” to our operations benefits the enemy. We are seeing an unwitting example of this.
What happens on a cordon-and-search operation? A target has been identified, usually through an intelligence source of some kind. In this case, it appears to have been an IED factory. Surveillance has been conducted.
A plan is made to raid the facility. That plan will have been approved by commanders, with all the risk factors examined, including a section detailing what to do with insurgents or suspects. The soldiers involved in the operation have probably rehearsed their actions. They will be keyed up: the potential for death and mutilation is very real, after all. The shock generated by a dynamic entry by armed and armoured troops into the facility is violent and intended to be, to freeze the insurgents so they cannot detonate a bomb or fire a weapon. If they even look like they are prepared to resist, or call in reinforce-
tion so that lethal force must be used. In this case, the insurgents were lucky to get away with a few bruises. It sounds as though our soldiers exhibited restraint, given what the target was. According to the police report, “Because the individual became very aggressive and refused to comply, appropriate physical use of force was necessary to bring him to the ground...
ments or mortar and rocket fire, force will be used. There is no margin for error. There is no room for second-guessing. Life and death are a cellphone-button push away. The objective is to dominate the facility and prevent the insurgents from escalating the situa-
The detainee continued to display extreme agitation as well as belligerent and totally uncooperative behaviour... the detainee used his legs to leverage himself off the back of a vehicle in an effort to generate resistance against the Military Police escorting him.” So far nobody has asked the questions: why did the detainees continue to resist? Why were they non-compliant?
We have to ask the larger question: are a few bruises worth closing down an IED factory that has helped kill and mutilate our soldiers and the Afghan civilians we are trying to protect? Do a few cuts and bruises really constitute “abuse” comparable to the torture of Shidane Arone? Some people in Canada think spanking a child is abuse, so I’m not surprised if they are horrified by violent military operations. To me, “abuse” is what went on during the Soviet period or the Taliban regime: the systematic beatings, the systematic torture, the systematic extrajudicial murders. Or the abuse of reason by elements of the Canadian media seeking to magnify this situation into another Somalia for their own benefit, at the expense of our operations in Afghanistan.
There already are mechanisms to deal with potential detainee abuse. I saw them in action last summer in Afghanistan. An Afghan auxiliary policeman was behaving poorly toward detainees when Canadian soldiers intervened and stopped it. The incident was reported and the matter dealt with through the Afghan chain of command. When these latest allegations are presented to the public, why is that incident not used as context? Why the immediate comparison to Somalia without having even talked to the personnel who were involved in the detainment?
The issue of detainees in a war against the al-Qaeda movement and its proxies is an emotional topic. Sensationalistic depictions of “secret” CIA prisons, Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, security certificates. We don’t live in a world made of Nerf toys and neither do our enemies. Unthinking Canadian critics should stop pretending that they do. So far, this doesn’t look like Somalia or Abu Ghraib to me. I wish the Taliban had an access to information program. I’d like to put in some requests. M
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