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Afghan detainee scandal could strain Canada-U.S. military ties

An Ottawa law professor claims to have discovered unredacted documents pointing towards Canadian military wrongdoing. While digging deeper into the…

By Evan Duggan , in Neighbourhood Watch: Canada, the U.S. and security relations , on March 15, 2010 Tags: , , , ,

An Ottawa law professor claims to have discovered unredacted documents pointing towards Canadian military wrongdoing.

While digging deeper into the Afghan detainee controversy, Amir Attaran says that he found government documents that revealed that Canadian officials had requested that their former prisoners be tortured by their Afghan handlers.

If what Attaran is claiming turns out to be true, Canada could be found to have committed war crimes.

Securing North America?

Beyond the immediate legal and political repercussions for the Canadian government, there could be lasting consequences for future military cooperation between the U.S. and Canada.

Already reeling from high Canadian military losses, and billions of dollars of war expenses, this scandal could contribute to Canadians’ fatigue with extended combat missions.

Tough questions

The Afghan detainee controversy exploded into the national conversation last November. Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin testified to a parliamentary committee that Ottawa ignored his warnings that Afghan detainees were being subjected to torture after being handed over by Canadian military officials throughout 2006 and 2007.

On March 3, the Speech from the Throne marked the return of Canada’s previously prorogued government back to Parliament, and also brought with it a renewed debate over Canada’s involvement in the handling of Afghan detainees.

The Harper government has continued to deny wrongdoing, and has said that providing unredacted documents pertaining to the handling of Afghan prisoners would compromise Canadian national security interests.

On Friday, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson asked retired Judge Frank Iacobucci to review military documents that may provide answers to what really happened with Canadian prisoners.

Needless to say, now that the House is back in session, this controversy will be returned to the forefront of the national debate.

Where do we go from here?

In terms of Canada-U.S. security relations, the war in Afghanistan remains one of the most significant collaborations and priorities for the two nations.

Since 2002, as a response to the September 11 attacks in New York, Canada has maintained a robust combat mission in Afghanistan with nearly 3,000 soldiers on the ground.

One of Canada’s main responsibilities has been to occupy and secure the Kandahar Province in southeast Afghanistan.

Canada has suffered disproportionate losses numbering 140 military fatalities. Combine those losses with the escalating cost of the mission and economic troubles at home, Canadians will welcome the end to this deployment.

Moving forward diplomatically, the Canadian government may find it more difficult to gain the support of  Canadians for future combat missions in concert with the United States.