The Military Police Complaints Commission’s report made public last week – the latest chapter in the Afghan detainees controversy – makes an important point, one that ought to have been obvious: Canadian military police officers on foreign missions should be enabled by their superior officers to understand what is going on around them, to help them navigate the pitfalls of human-rights violations, international law and, in a word, a foreign country’s complex politics.
Frustratingly, the underlying issues – the most compelling questions – of whether Afghan detainees were handed over to be tortured by some of their fellow Afghans, and whether Canadians were negligent in letting that happen, remain mysterious. In other words, it is still unknown whether Canadians were involved in war crimes.
The MPCC is what it is: a commission to deal with complaints against military police. The eight officers against whom two civil-liberties organizations made complaints have all been cleared.
The report concluded, however, that the Canadian commanders in Afghanistan, as well as another authority called the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal, who is an adviser to the Chief of the Defence Staff on policing matters, had not given adequate guidance to the military police. They had not sufficiently communicated to the officers the principles and polices they needed to know in order to do their job well.
All this was clouded by the MPCC’s own difficulties in obtaining documents from the federal government. The commissioners complain that the government behaved like a difficult opposing lawyer in civil litigation, using the discovery process as “a litigation tool.” A large portion of their report is given to a discussion of the conflict over documents.
The MPCC was created as a result of the Canada Forces’ troubles in Somalia in the 1990s, in the hope of avoiding future problems, or at least remedying them. It is unfortunate that, as yet, the Canadian public is very little the wiser about the disturbing matter of the Afghan detainees controversy, even after the efforts of the Military Police Complaints Commission.