Nov 29, 2009
Canada has long been admired around the globe as a nation of high ethics, human rights and respect for law.
But Canada's sterling reputation is being seriously degraded by the spreading scandal over involvement in torture in the increasingly sordid Afghan conflict.
All Canadians should thank the courageous diplomat, Richard Colvin, who did the right and honourable thing by exposing the government's very dirty Afghan secret.
Emulating the Bush administration, senior government officials and military officers in Ottawa closed ranks, stoutly denying any Afghan scumbags were tortured.
They are either amazingly ignorant or deceiving the nation.
To understand the roots of this ugly business, we must go back to the 1980s.
The Soviet intelligence service, KGB, created the Afghan Communist secret police agency, known as KhAD. Its mission was to liquidate or terrorize all suspected or real anti-Communists and opponents of Soviet occupation. Most prisoners arrested by KhAD were subjected to frightful, sadistic torture, particularly at Kabul's dreaded Pul-e-Charkhi Prison.
Prisoners were buried alive by bulldozers. Others were electrocuted, beaten to death, castrated and blinded.
Some 27,000-30,000 political prisoners were killed at Pul-e-Charkhi by KhAD.
Torture centres also existed in all other major cities.
The Soviets (who withdrew in 1989) and Afghan Communists killed more than one million Afghans.
By 1995, the anti-Communist Pashtun religious movement, the Taliban, backed by Pakistan and the Gulf Arabs, had driven the Communists from most of Afghanistan. The Afghan Communists retreated to the far north, and became part of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks, many of whom collaborated with the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, dominated the Alliance.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, using Russian-armed Northern Alliance soldiers to overthrow the Taliban, and install Hamid Karzai as figurehead president. Real power in Kabul was held by the Northern Alliance.
Two of its strongest figures were pro-Soviet Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum, and Tajik general Mohammed Fahim -- KhAD's former chief. Both have close links to Russian intelligence.
After 30 years of civil war, the minority Tajiks and Uzbeks had become blood enemies of the Pashtuns, Afghanistan's majority. Most Taliban are Pashtun.
Fahim and the Tajik-Uzbek-Communist Northern Alliance took over the revived secret police, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and the prison system. In short order, the KhAD's old torturers were back in business.
Pashtun prisoners captured by Canadian forces were routinely handed to the NDS-KhAD. There were many reports of brutal torture and executions.
Today, Fahim is officially Karzai's No. 2. But as commander of the Tajik-Uzbek militia and secret police, Fahim is the Afghan regime's most powerful figure and strongman.
Every child in Afghanistan knows this. But somehow, Canada's see-no-evil/hear-no-evil generals and civilian officials claim they were sweetly unaware Afghan prisons were being run as torture centres by the revitalized Communists.
Amnesty International and the Red Cross warned Ottawa that prisoners Canada was handing to the Afghan government faced torture -- and worse. The U.S. State Department repeatedly warned of widespread torture in Afghan prisons, including "pulling out fingernails, burnings ... beatings ... sexual humiliations, sodomy" and rape of children. So did the UN.
Canada should have run its own prisoner camps under the proper rules of war.
Yet Canada kept handing prisoners to the Afghan NDS.
Ottawa's disgraceful fig leaf: A memo from Afghan officials promising not to torture captives.
Now we see military men and high government officials trying to bluff away what seem to be some serious misdeeds. A disgusting spectacle that deeply shames and sullies this good nation.
As Shakespeare wrote:
"Who steals my purse steals trash ... But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed."
© 2023 Eric Margolis
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