Friday, January 25, 2008

The tactical disadvantage of democracy

All this latest brouhaha regarding the cessation of prisoner transfers and who knew what when, is confusing at best to the average Canadian. The opposition parties are painting this as a terrible 'stain on our democracy'.

However, I would suggest that what we are fighting for in Afghanistan - the establishment of safely and democracy for the Afghan people - is the very thing which puts our soldiers in harm's way with our obsession to need to know everything that is going on, no matter how much that information might compromise the lives of our brave men and women who are fighting there.


I think ultimately what Canadians want is to be reassured that the mission is under control. How far the government should be apprised of every military decision, and by extension how much Parliament and the public should know, is something I couldn't even begin to ascertain. But I do think we need to temper our thirst for details with concern for the safety of our troops.

It's a fine line, but until the Taliban starts broadcasting all its secrets, I'll defer to those with more military experience than myself.


47 comments:

Greg said...

Do you buy the PMO's line that it's all the army's fault for not telling them?

Jeff Davidson said...

1. if the government is unaware of the actions of the military, big problem. how can we expect to establish the rule of law in afghan if we don't observe our own?

2. if the government was aware of transfers leading to torture and covered it up, even bigger problem.

either way, there's a problem.

Anonymous said...

Well greg, as someone with a family member on the front lines in Afghanistan the very last thing I want is for the army or anyone else to be broadcasting strategy and all mission details to Canadians just because the opposition are insisting that not doing so is a scar on democracy. I could for all purposes suggest that the opposition is a scar on Canada....and I'd be right, they're an embarassment to our troops and thanks to the new Dion/May tagteam, not at all representative of the feelings of this family with a soldier in harm's way.

Anonymous said...

it's only a problem in the minds of the opposition because, once again jeff it's all they have.

Anonymous said...

A Canadian soldier dies as a result of an Improvised Explosive Device and all the oppostion parties can do is rant on about Taliban prisoners.
Our Armed Forces deserve better.
Who speaks for them in Parliment?
Why aren't the opposition parties and all of the media talking heads demanding to know what the mission was that this soldier lost his life over?
Why was he, and his two companions who were injured, travelling in a 'light' armoured vehicle?
Was there no better way to get where they were going?
What happened to those heavily armoured vehicles that were supposed to clear the way of IED's for the lighter protected vehicles?
If this was a more secure area then how did the IED get planted? Why can't our soldiers travel in relative safety (at least from IED's) in helicopters??
Why does the Taliban have a private body in BC asking questions on their behalf? Is this same group going to take the government to court to ask why our Canadian soldiers are dying?
I'm not accusing anyone of being unpatriotic and I'm sure that the Taliban are happy to have someone in BC in their corner but we do seem to have our priorities a little mixed up here. Dion, Duceppe and Layton have all jumped on this new bandwagon but not one has asked any questions about the Canadian soldier. Everyone expresses sorrow that another of "our brave men and women" has died but nobody asks why.
Why isn't anyone asking about our soldiers?
As for whether or not the PMO knew about the new policy, I don't give a flying f**k!
NeilD

Lee said...

Good post, Joanne.
The question that comes to mind is:
are we any farther ahead now that we know?
Did it matter all that much that we didnt know for a couple of months?
This whole thing disgusts me.
One gets the impression that our armed forces are a bunch of rabid thugs who need to be kept on a leash.
They are fighting a war!
Why dont we just tell them to get on with it, and let us know when its done.

Raphael Alexander said...

I have two separate trains of thought on this issue, which I have extolled at length on my blog. I was surprised at how under the radar this flew on the Blogging Tories, since it's an incredibly serious matter and allegation. It's good to see someone else pick up the slack in that regard.

Moving on, my first issue is in the fact that the government did end up doing the right thing. This whole moral relativist nonsense which had been floating around that "it's okay to torture terrorists" clearly doesn't fly with the government. If it had, I don't think I could support that government.

The second issue is one of trust. Why does the government not trust the people, or indeed the other members of the government, with the events of the mission? When the opposition accused the government of being human rights abusers and sadistic torturers, why did our conservative leaders continue to deny there was any problem? Wouldn't it have been more politically expedient to tell Dion to shut his yapper because we'd already halted the transfer of detainees on November 5?

The next question then, is what has happened to said captured Taliban detainees since November 5. As well, there is the question of whether Canada is able to work with the government of Afghanistan if it's been revealed that Canada secretly halted working with them. That might show a lack of confidence in Afghan sovereignty.

There's many questions to this story, but two essential relevant points. The conservatives did the right thing, but they did it without telling anyone. That last part should at least worry those who, in fact, do savour democracy.

Anonymous said...

raphael you're a genius!!!

"tell Dion to shut his yapper" is the best solution I've heard thus far to keeping Canada democratic and supporting our troops without adding more risk to an already risky job.

My family member knew what he was getting into when he joined the forces and knows well what he's getting into now.

The opposition are changing the channel because they didn't get their way with the Manley report.

liberal supporter said...

Wouldn't it have been more politically expedient to tell Dion to shut his yapper because we'd already halted the transfer of detainees on November 5?
It would have been difficult to tell him that last spring when the story first broke.

The government should have been told about the November decision. Not telling them is hardly a case of the military being "out of control" though. They do have discretion as to if and when they transfer prisoners. Simply stopping transfers temporarily is not a decision requiring a referendum.

Not telling the government (assuming they were not told) is more likely a sign of a lack of faith by those in the field in the political leadership. Recall Hillier getting smacked for not staying on message back in October. Then in November an inspection by an officer yields evidence leading to a decision to stop transfers. I can see why they might not want to trumpet the fact, in case they again run afoul of the government message control department.

That is not particularly a slap on the CPC by the way. Governments are always the bane of the military's life.

maryT said...

Maybe it is time to bring back that saying from WW11-loose lips sink ships, or in the case of Afghan, loose lips cause IEDs.

Greg said...

Well greg, as someone with a family member on the front lines in Afghanistan the very last thing I want is for the army or anyone else to be broadcasting strategy..

Anonymous. Let's accept your premise that it is problematic for the army to broadcast widely whether or not they are handing over prisoners to the Afghan authorities. Even if that was true, do you think it is a problem for the military to tell the government that it is no longer handing over prisoners, because that is what the government is claiming. To me it is a problem because it means the civilian control of the army is tenuous at best and in a democracy, that is troubling. Or, if the government is lying, it means it is hanging the blame on the army.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

A Canadian soldier dies as a result of an Improvised Explosive Device and all the oppostion parties can do is rant on about Taliban prisoners.
Our Armed Forces deserve better.
Who speaks for them in Parliment?


Well said. I was thinking the same thing. We need better equipment for our troops.

All the opposition can do is focus on the poor Taliban detainees.

Raphael Alexander said...

Simply stopping transfers temporarily is not a decision requiring a referendum.

Actually, it is. Taking prisoners, and maintaining them, needs to be made public knowledge to governments involved, especially those of U.N. sanctioned and approved missions. It has been the Canadian MO since the great wars.

Article 3 of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 states:

Noncombatants, combatants who have laid down their arms, and combatants who are hors de combat (out of the fight) due to wounds, detention, or any other cause shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, including prohibition of outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.

We all agree upon that premise, I presume? Ok, moving on.

Article 69 of the Convention is quite explicit:

("Immediately upon prisoners of war falling into its power, the Detaining Power shall inform them and the Powers on which they depend, through the Protecting power, of the measures taken to carry out the provisions of the present Section. They shall likewise inform the parties concerned of any subsequent modifications of such measures."

To me, that suggests the detaining power [Canada] has a responsibility to acknowledge detainment of prisoners to all powers involved, including the governing power of Canada which upholds the leadership of the military operations in Kandahar.

liberal supporter said...

Fair enough RA, but I would think they are informing all powers involved about having taken prisoners. The question would be how much of a delay in transfer is allowed.

They must hold prisoners in their own custody for some period of time before transferring them. There would likely be a place where they are taken and then transferred from there. Not transferring would create a bottleneck wherever they are being held awaiting transfer, presumably such a facility would not hold many prisoners.

How many prisoners are involved? A small number could be held by us pending resolution of the torture allegation. However, numbers captured could constitute tactical information.

Still, the government should have been told if they were not. If they were, they can easily wiggle out by claiming they were waiting for further investigation.

All the opposition can do is focus on the poor Taliban detainees.
Yes, we should just kill them as soon as we get them away from where we capture them, then there's no problem, is there? It's not like they are just people, possibly caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, who might not actually be Taliban, right? After all, Afghanistan must have banned all guns, so anyone caught with a weapon must be a Taliban, right?

In case you're wondering, the whole idea of "concern over the treatment of poor Taliban prisoners" is the message it sends to the rank and file on the other side.

If you were a soldier, which would you rather face? Taliban who believe they will be skinned and dismembered if captured, or Taliban who believe they will be locked up and released after the war not much the worse for wear? The first group would rather die fighting, will do anything to avoid capture, even if it may end up killing them and they will try to take you and as many of your troop as they can. The second group may well give up and surrender.

Ardvark said...

Some Colonel makes a proactive operational decision about prisoner transfers, perhaps because he is tired of lefty politicians at home saying the CF may be complicit in war crimes, and the Liberals get mad not because this is what they wanted, but because they didn't know the second the decision was made.

I know the Liberals want to micro manage the lives of average Canadians at home because they think they know better than you or I at how to run our lives, but doing so for our deployed combat troops is not only stupid it is above arrogance, and is very dangerous.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

The first group would rather die fighting, will do anything to avoid capture, even if it may end up killing them and they will try to take you and as many of your troop as they can. The second group may well give up and surrender.

You are talking about a group of people who have no qualms about blowing up women and children with the use of suicide bombers.

I don't think I'd give them that much credit for logical thinking and the regard for human life.

Raphael Alexander said...

Some Colonel makes a proactive operational decision about prisoner transfers, perhaps because he is tired of lefty politicians at home saying the CF may be complicit in war crimes, and the Liberals get mad not because this is what they wanted, but because they didn't know the second the decision was made.

Ardvark, no. Not some "lefty" politicians. If some "colonel", as you put it, did do such a thing, not telling the government of Canada, it is a clear breach of protocol and quite possibly of international law.

This is more important than we are giving it credit for. Something small like this can compromise the importance of the mission, and downplaying it will only lead to a drop in support for it in the polls.

fh said...

LS 11:31 AM

Where on this Blog was it recommended
that Canadian Soldiers kill detainees?

Rob C said...

Maybe a weekly or even daily report directly to the taliban asking for their input and if our procedures are OK with them would calm all the armchair generals that don't know shit about what it is like to be on the pointy end of things.

liberal supporter said...

I don't think I'd give them that much credit for logical thinking and the regard for human life.
They seem to have the usual concern for their own lives, or at least how horrific their own deaths would be. They have a hard enough time recruiting suicide bombers who die quickly in a bomb blast. And the IEDs are not even suicide bombs. Why don't they just stay and die with their bombs? They don't seem to be able to recruit anyone who wants to be tortured.
If they know they will be simply locked up, they are more likely to surrender.

Lee said...

Raphael, i dont share your feeling that this issue is so important.
Lets examine a possible scenario:
Suppose the Government of the day issued instructions to the Military that allegations of prisoner abuse must be investigated, and if proof was found, then prisoner transfers were to cease immediately.
So the Military did as it was ordered to do.
Do we really need to have confirmation that the military follows orders?
What on earth is the point of oversight by civilians who have no knowledge of things military?
I have heard nobody give credit to the military for DOING THE RIGHT THING!!!

liberal supporter said...

LS 11:31 AM

Where on this Blog was it recommended
that Canadian Soldiers kill detainees?

It was recommended by me. Where did you learn to read, fh?

The operator of this blog was sneering that the Opposition is only concerned about "poor Taliban detainees". The opposite of being concerned for poor Taliban detainees would be no concern at all. If there is no concern at all, just kill them.

Had you managed to read the paragraph after that one where I suggested killing them, as a logical extension of not being concerned about "poor Taliban detainees", you would have then seen my statement that the treatment of prisoners can affect the forces who you took those prisoners from.

Joanne got that point, though she disagreed with it. Why didn't you get it?

liberal supporter said...

Maybe a weekly or even daily report directly to the taliban asking for their input and if our procedures are OK with them would calm all the armchair generals that don't know shit about what it is like to be on the pointy end of things.
Funny how some people are allowed to swear, while others are not.

I doubt "rob c" knows much about the pointy end of things if he can't come up with anything better than this.

Kingston said...

As you all know, I wear Cadpat for a living and there is a un-written rule in the Forces that is quite clear. If you going to make a decision or have committed some act or you have made a decision with large ramifications you better tell the Chain of Command (COC) as soon as possible (ASAP), there is nothing that will piss off a commander more then being surprised by an event when it reaches his desk of a large magnitude be it good or bad. If someone did and I say did fail to mention this to the Min of Def then they royally screwed up and they will wear it. I would lose my mind if I for example received a MP report from a fight one of my soldiers had on the weekend at the mess and he had not told me about it before hand as a small example.

Ardvark said...

Rapheal, the detaining power is the Canadian Military, not the Canadian Government, and I am sure the military did all the necessary paper work for the Red Cross/Crescent.

By the way, how many prisoners have been captured by the Canadians since November?

Raphael Alexander said...

Do we really need to have confirmation that the military follows orders?
What on earth is the point of oversight by civilians who have no knowledge of things military?


Lee, I understand that, but the government is claiming it didn't know. So if it's revealed it did know, now it's been caught lying. That sucks for things like, oh I don't know, elections!

If the government really didn't know whether the military ceased transfers at the request of the government, then it's still troublesome, because the government denied such a thing was happening during the controversy in November and December. And then there's the worrying fact that the Geneva Conventions are quite explicit about the military communicating the capture and detainment of prisoners to the Detaining Power. Which is us.

Raphael Alexander said...

Rapheal, the detaining power is the Canadian Military, not the Canadian Government, and I am sure the military did all the necessary paper work for the Red Cross/Crescent.

You're "sure"? Why is it that nobody knew about this until the government revealed it recently? As I said, the Conventions are quite explicit about this, and there is little wiggle room to say this was merely a military operational matter, particularly since it goes against 60 years of military operational protocol.

By the way, how many prisoners have been captured by the Canadians since November?

I don't know. But I'd like to.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Funny how some people are allowed to swear, while others are not.

Somebody swore??? Damn!!

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Had you managed to read the paragraph after that one where I suggested killing them, as a logical extension of not being concerned about "poor Taliban detainees", you would have then seen my statement that the treatment of prisoners can affect the forces who you took those prisoners from.

Joanne got that point, though she disagreed with it.


I didn't 'get it' at all. The premise was so convoluted I chose to ignore it and simply address the notion that the Taliban might act according to the concern for human life.

Anonymous said...

Boy do I smell a nasty cover-up and it seems loose lips sink ships alright - I think Sandra Buckler is in big doo doo now.

Shouldn't Mr. Photo-Op MacKay being checking these things out - or perhaps Bumbling Bernier?

Try as you might folks - it smells to high heaven.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

I think Sandra Buckler is in big doo doo now.

They really need to improve their messaging and communications.

Raphael Alexander said...

Joanne, Neo's already accused me of being a Liberal for asking questions, lol... Careful what you say, or you'll soon be branded a commie.

Kingston said...

As suspected.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Neo's already accused me of being a Liberal for asking questions,

I love ya both so I'm not gonna take sides. ;)

Kingston said...

Actually further to my last, why the heck did they not get out in front of this issue, They could of easily on the 7th of Nov announced, We have now received confirmation of a suspected case of abuse, and in accordance with our agreement with the Afgan govt and keeping in mind our own Canadian values we have suspended the transfer of detainees to the Afgan Authorities pending the completion of a joint investigation. Problem freaking solved.

fh said...

I for one am glad to see where the Liberal support stands on the matter of detainees

Thank God for a sane Prime Minister

liberal supporter said...

I hate to give helpful advice, it will be taken the way I treat your claims that "we were actually only worried that Bob Rae would become Liberal leader".

But a simple mea culpa would probably give this government a lot of goodwill. We are now doing the right thing on detainees, and apparently have been for a couple of months. A snafu in communications at the political level would not gain legs for long.


Now that I have seen the update to the post, I see that appears to be happening.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Dion says he knew about the decision two weeks ago!

Raphael Alexander said...

Yes, Joanne, I just read that too. If so, then Dion shares culpability in this government obfuscation of the truth. This may well be an entire governmental failure to be forthright with the Canadian public. Any higher ground Mr.Dion may have had is lost by his refusal to disclose this information to the public immediately.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Raphael, do you really think he should have said anything about this? What about this quote from MacKay:

"If he wants to be irresponsible and talk about the briefing he received, that's a decision for him."

liberal supporter said...

The Globe article says:

"Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said Friday it is obvious the Prime Minister's Office was aware of the policy change because he and deputy leader Michael Ignatieff had been personally briefed on it in mid-January by Canadian officials during their visit to Afghanistan.

Mr. Dion said he was prohibited from making it public under a security undertaking the Liberals had agreed to before their visit."

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Duffy's talking about this right now.

Raphael Alexander said...

Well, I guess we'll have to wait to see what Peter MacKay has to say about the reasons for the gag order.

maryT said...

Does anyone know how many prisoners our troops have captured since we first got to Afghan. Does anyone know why they were captured, and if they were planting IED, bombs or whatever and the plot was stopped. Does anyone know if our soldiers lives were saved by capturing a prisoner.
Why are the liberals and ndp more concerned with prisoners than with our soldiers or the afghan people.
How many afghan lives have been saved by our capturing those prisoners.
Dion out there saying PMSH lied, and it is a disgrace, will not get him many votes. How about the lies of Pablo and the cbc.
Notice Iggy has not said he was told anything re prisoners. Until some unnamed official comes fwd and shows proof he informed Dion, I don't believe him.
And, did that person have permission to give secrets away to Dion.

Lee said...

All very good questions, Mary T.
Im kind of surprised at the uproar over this issue.
The Government has said that they do not condone mistreatment or torture of prisoners.
The military did THE RIGHT THING when evidence was uncovered of mistreatment.
Does anyone give credit to the military?
I havent heard it.
Instead, we are playing a stupid game of GOTCHA
I do not want our military telling the Canadian public of their operational details, and by extension the whole world including our enemies.
When Ms. Buckler said she mispoke, i thought she meant that she was not supposed to comment on military operational details.
If Mr. Dion was sworn to secrecy, im sure everyone else was too.

Kingston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Möbius said...

I hate to give helpful advice, it will be taken the way I treat your claims that "we were actually only worried that Bob Rae would become Liberal leader".

But a simple mea culpa would probably give this government a lot of goodwill. We are now doing


I thought Bob Rae would have been as much as a gift as Dion. And I like Dion in a lot of ways, compared to Rae.

The New Government needs to adjust it's natural distrust for media. It's gone way overboard. Yes, the Libs will take advantage of honesty to attack, but on balance, the CPC will benefit.