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Academic hired to argue detainees' rights case Add to ...

The Canadian government has hired a controversial international academic to argue that Canada's military has no obligation to accord Afghan detainees Canadian-style legal rights.

Christopher Greenwood, a professor of international law at the London School of Economics, submitted an opinion in mid-August to the Federal Court, which is hearing an application by Amnesty International to halt all prisoner transfers by Canadian soldiers to Afghan authorities.

Prof. Greenwood was the author of a 2002 legal opinion commissioned by the British government entitled The Legality of Using Force Against Iraq. He concluded that an invasion was justified on the grounds of a 1990 UN Security Council resolution, and also on the grounds of self defence if Britain could show the threat of an imminent Iraqi attack.

His opinion was reported to be at odds with that of lawyers in Britain's Foreign Office and many other international law experts. It was revealed in 2005 that the Blair government paid Prof. Greenwood £46,000 (about $100,000 Canadian) for legal advice on Iraq.

Prof. Greenwood's 34-page opinion for Canada's Federal Court, dated Aug. 14, says it was prepared at the request of General Rick Hillier, chief of the defence staff.

The Defence Department said late yesterday that Prof. Greenwood was paid $50,000.

"Professor Greenwood, who is a renowned international law expert, was engaged by the Government of Canada, and has prepared a comprehensive report that reflects his interpretation of the relevant international law and his opinion and views about the applicants' legal assertions," Marc Raider, a National Defence spokesperson, said by e-mail.

New Democrat MP Dawn Black, the party's defence critic, said yesterday that in spite of all the international legal expertise available within Canada's Foreign Affairs Department or the broader Canadian legal community, the government clearly went shopping for what she called "a discredited, right-wing expert."

"Professor Greenwood set himself up just to be a prop for Tony Blair to justify going into Iraq. Now the Conservatives, or the CDS, are trying to use Greenwood to justify their disastrous detainee policy."

In his brief, Prof. Greenwood said that Amnesty's application to force the Canadian military to provide secure facilities and legal representation for suspected militants its soldiers detain in Afghanistan is "based upon a number of serious misconceptions regarding international law."

Because Canada is in Afghanistan under a United Nations mandate, Prof. Greenwood argues, Canada's international treaty obligations don't apply.

Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty Canada, declined to comment on Prof. Greenwood himself, but took great exception to his opinion.

"He's argued that in a multitude of ways, Canada is not bound by its international human rights obligations while it's in Afghanistan - all of which, in our view, are very debilitating arguments for a country like Canada, which seeks to strengthen international human rights standards and wants governments to be more responsible and more accountable."

Prof. Greenwood wrote that any given Afghan detainee "is not within the separate jurisdiction of Canada, and Canada's obligations under the international human rights treaties ... would not be applicable." Moreover, Prof. Greenwood said Canada has no legal right to build a detention centre in Afghanistan to safeguard detainees from brutal local prison conditions.

"Under general international law, it is unlawful for one state to exercise governmental authority on the territory of another state."

The Harper government was under intense scrutiny all winter as reports surfaced that local authorities abused Afghan detainees after Canadian soldiers handed them over.

After initially denying any knowledge of torture, the government conceded it knew of allegations in six cases.

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