Why All the Secrecy?

Kandahar’s central slammer got slammed while Canada slept.

Recently, two Canadian soldiers have been killed: Col. Geoff Parker of the Royal Canadian Regiment in Kabul and Trooper Larry Rudd of the Royal Canadian Dragoons in Panjwaii, the former by a suicide bomber and the latter by a road mine. An indeterminate number of Canadians have been wounded in those attacks and the subsequent assault on Kandahar airfield, including Tim Horton’s, but the number of wounded is a state secret, apparently because any numbers would supposedly aid the Taliban in figuring out the effectiveness of its operations.

At the same time, Canada’s House of Commons Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan is trying to pry information about prisoners taken by Canadian troops in Afghanistan out of the government, such information being withheld under sections 38.01 and 38.02 of the Canada Evidence Act, both sections being odious and arguably unconstitutional, on the grounds that the information, if made public, might, in the words of the legendary Alain Préfontaine of the Department of Justice – a guy who presumably is able to sleep at night without nightmares of resignation, like Johns Sims did, or disciplinary action for complicity in the obstruction of justice – “be injurious to either national defense, international relations, or national security.”

Transcript excerpts from the April 13, 2010, hearings on detainees at the Military Police Complaints Commission follow:

Diplomat Richard Colvin: “If we had access to the un-redacted version then there would be some crucial information, additional information which we obviously don’t have because of the redactions.”

Justice Department lawyer Alain Préfontaine: “I have had access to the un-redacted document. I don’t see there anything that is missing or crucial or important.”

Colvin: “Well I am afraid you are acknowledging that you are new to this issue because if you were someone who was involved in this file, involved in Afghanistan, involved in this issue, what has been redacted is extremely important and it is critical to understanding that there is nothing particularly subtle about this message. I don’t agree that it’s a subtle signal.”

[…]

Préfontaine: “The commission will decide whether it was too subtle for the reader to pick up your meaning.”

Colvin: “I think the commissioner is only given the redacted version so he may have some difficulty fully assessing the subtlety or lack thereof of this report.”

Préfontaine: “I realize it’s difficult for the commission to have to contend without ability of independent verification of what you say, or for that matter, what I say.”

Colvin: “I am fully prepared for the commissioner to see the un-redacted version and to form his own opinion.”

Préfontaine: “So would I. But it’s not my call to make, Mr. Colvin.”

Military Police Complaints Commission Chairmain Glenn Stannard: “Did you say the information contained in the un-redacted [version] really isn’t critical – or did I misread that?”

Préfontaine: “No, you didn’t, Mr. Stannard.”

Stannard: “Just a real silly question then: any reason why we don’t have it? ”

Préfontaine: “Because disclosure would be injurious to either national defense, international relations, or national security.”

Stannard: “Even though it’s not critical information?”

Préfontaine: “Well, it might be that the information has nothing to do with what Mr. Colvin makes it out to be.”

[…]

Colvin: “Obviously, critical information has been removed by the censor. And I’m not allowed to speak to what’s behind the blacked-out portions. So I am not sure what good it is to read simply read the little bits which the censor decided is available to the Canadian public.”

Préfontaine: “Because at the end of the day, Mr. Colvin, this commission is going to be asked to pass judgment on the actions of some on the basis of this material. That’s why.”

Colvin: “I can give you my assessment of the significance of this section if you like.”

Préfontaine: “No. I just am looking at what information you relayed to the reader, who will eventually end up being the commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan, who is tasked to make the decision of whether to transfer or not.”

Colvin: “But your redactions … have made my content somewhat incoherent because big chunks of it have been sliced out. So I am not sure what good it does to read all these little bits.”

Préfontaine: “I have heard your opinion, Mr. Colvin.”

On June 13, 2008, under the noses of ISAF, and despite restrictions on information about Canadian prisoners in Afghanistan, about 1,000 prisoners were broken out of the Sarpoza Prison, Kandahar’s central slammer, in a highly professional hit that featured chartered buses for the escaping prisoners.

“A man claiming to be one of the escapees called AFP from an unknown location to say the rebels had made it to safe havens.

“‘They [Taliban attackers] came in and freed us,’ the man who identified himself as Abdullah told AFP over the phone, adding there were buses waiting outside.

“‘A number of us who would not fit in the buses escaped through pomegranate gardens. We all are in safe places now,’ Abdullah said.”

Whatever one concludes about this episode, whether it was sorry or farcical or both, the Taliban (or the guys we’re fighting) doesn’t need information from Canadian news media to figure out its operations. Restriction of information based on the “national security” canard is obviously, palpably, a prevarication. The Taliban doesn’t need the Globe and Mail to tell it where NATO convoys are going in Kabul, or where Canadian foot patrols are probably going to be in Panjwaii.

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Author: Neil Kitson

Neil Kitson is a dermatologist and garment manufacturer in Vancouver.