Misfire on O’Connor

Lately, in the House of Commons, Defense Minister Gordon O’Connor has found himself facing attack from the opposition benches for something he assumed was true regarding reporting of the treatment of Afghan detainees by the Afghan government.

Minister O’Connor erroneously stated that the Canadian government would be updated as to the status of detainees by an overseeing body (the International Committee of the Red Cross) after transfer to the Afghani government.

The Minister has publicly corrected the record:

OTTAWA – I would like to respond to the article in the Globe & Mail of March 8 entitled “Red Cross contradicts Ottawa on detainees”

At the outset, I would like to clarify one point. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has indeed carried out several visits to detainees in temporary Canadian custody in Kandahar. This is consistent with Canada’s commitment to cooperate with the ICRC in fulfilling its mandated responsibilities under international humanitarian law to monitor conditions of detention.

On December 18, 2005, the previous Liberal government signed an arrangement with the Government of Afghanistan regarding the transfer of detainees from the Canadian Forces to the Afghan authorities. As per this arrangement, we continue to transfer all persons detained by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan to Afghan authorities, and to notify the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The article makes reference to comments that I made in the House of Commons last May. It was my understanding that the ICRC could share information concerning detainee treatment with Canada. I have recently learned that they would in fact provide this information to the detaining nation, in this case Afghanistan. …

It appears that the Minister received some bad information.

The Liberals have seized upon the mistake in a press release issued on their website:

…Earlier this month Mr. O’Connor was forced to admit his assertions that the International Committee of the Red Cross would notify Canada of any mistreatment of prisoners in Afghan custody were false. The Red Cross is not required to notify Canada concerning the treatment of detainees transferred to Afghan prisons, and unlike Britain and the Netherlands, Canada has not retained the right to verify that transferred detainees receive proper treatment. …

The Liberals are piling on O’Connor for his mistaken impression. The Liberals, if they had been in power would not have made the same mistake, would they? Perhaps they would have ignored the assertions of departmental officials and bureaucrats regarding the ICRC and Afghan detainees.

Consider a National Defence Joint Doctrine Manual on the topic of how to handle detainees in international operations. On page 133, in a section titled “The Transfer of Prisoners of War”, section 2c states:

Even after PW (prisoner of war) captured by Canada have been transferred to the custody of another nation, there is still a residual responsibility placed on Canada regarding their treatment. If the Government of Canada is notified by the Protecting Power, usually the ICRC, that the Detaining Power to whom the PW have been transferred is not complying with the provisions of the GCs (Geneva Conventions), Canada has a duty to correct the problem, or to take the PW back into Canadian custody.

It appears that the Minister may have received bad advice from the department officials and one should conclude that the error is not reflective of the competence of Minister O’Connor.

How long has this incorrect, official government document been floating through the system?

Since August 1st, 2004. This is long before O’Connor took over as Minister of Defense. In fact, a Liberal Defense Minister (Bill Graham) was operating under an erroneous policy since the time this document was drafted (perhaps earlier).

It would seem that the fault on this issue lies with department bureaucrats rather than our Conservative and Liberal Defense Ministers.

UPDATE: In case you may be wondering, the Joint Doctrine Manual cited above is, to this date, the CF authority on PW and detainee handling. Of course, it is now known to contain false information which may lead current and future Defense Ministers down the wrong path.

Another day, another scandal

hpinvent.jpgThere are reports today (here, here and here) that another scandal has come out for Paul Martin’s Liberal Party. It appears that Hewlett Packard has overcharged the Department of National Defence $160 million for hardware services not provided. CTV reports that “HP denied any wrongdoing, saying that the problems were located within DND. A civilian employee of the department was fired last year over the controversy.”

Defence Minister David Pratt asserts that Canadians will get every tax dollar back from HP.

I don’t know of any connections between the executives at HP and the Liberal Party so I assume that this is merely incompetence of the Ministry of Finance, instead of corruption by government officials.

Fellow Conservative Jay Hill is correct to say that the military can not afford to waste such money and that Prime Minister Paul Martin should have known about the problems when he was finance minister.

“The prime minister keeps talking about transparency so instead of waiting for the scandal of the day to be made public, will he come clean today and tell us: How many other departments were swindled while he was the finance minister? … As finance minister, the Prime Minister was on duty when at least $160-million dollars went missing from the Department of National Defence in phony invoicing by Hewlett-Packard or its subcontractors … A money manager who doesn’t notice that amount of cash disappearing gets fired.” — Jay Hill, Conservative MP

Deborah Gray also weighed in on this latest scandal:

“Yet it is only when they learn that they get caught, that the media is about to expose these things, that they even bother to acknowledge this latest theft … We have no idea whether this DND computer scandal is the end or if it’s just the beginning. I think we have uncovered only the tip of the iceberg.” — Deborah Gray, Conservative MP

Here’s an interesting excerpt from a Globe and Mail article (August 20th, 2002)

Last month, U.S. President George W. Bush sought to restore confidence in Wall Street and in his country’s corporate culture by introducing tough new measures designed to clean up Corporate America and punish white-collar offenders. To date, no such legislation has been passed in Canada.

After the speech, Mr. Chr├ętien told reporters that the federal ministers of justice and finance are looking into the issue of white-collar crime.

“As I said in my speech, there is no indication of a serious problem,” Mr. Chr├ętien said. However, he added that provincial and federal governments are “working on that because you never know … it’s not done publicly when they do that kind of crime.”

Thomas d’Aquino (president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives) said the council, which represents the CEOs of more than 100 of Canada’s largest corporations, is “urging government not to overreact.”

Paul Tsaparis, president of HP Canada, one of the country’s largest technology companies, issued a similar warning, saying: “You cannot legislate trust.”

I believe that it is essential for the Liberal government to immediately perform forensic audits of each department to figure out how many of our tax dollars have inappropriately gone to line the pockets of their friends and of other CEOs. There should be more transparency in government and contracts non-essential to national security should be made available for public review. Was the finance minister (Paul Martin) paying any attention to the books?