Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Canada and Torture

Americans were disturbed to hear that Canada declared them to be a country where torture could be expected for those unfortunate enough to fall into their barbaric country's hands. As explained by Andy Worthington:

"In an attempt to prime diplomats about how to spot the signs of torture when they visit Canadians in foreign jails, the Canadian government's Foreign Affairs Department instigated a "torture awareness workshop," which also informed the diplomats of where they could expect to find what CTV in Canada described as "countries and places with greater risks of torture."

The list, in a training manual issued by the Foreign Affairs Department, included traditional offenders – Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Iran, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and Syria – but also included some torturers that are not generally mentioned in polite Western company: Israel and the United States. Specific mention was made of Guantánamo Bay, where, to drive the point home, the manual noted specific "U.S. interrogation techniques," including "forced nudity, isolation, and sleep deprivation."

The resulting embarrassment to the current Conservative Canadian government can't hide the fact that this situation does have a factual basis. Canadians only have to reflect on the case of Maher Arar to know what could happen to someone who falls into the wrong hands. Mr. Arar, if one does not know, was a Canadian citizen subjected to American "special rendition" and torture after being detained at JFK and sent to Syria. More details can be seen here.

The Toronto Star sums up the popular sentiment in Canada in the following:

"Jan 22, 2008 04:30 AM

U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins found it "offensive." Israeli Ambassador Alan Baker was "shocked." And Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier quickly pushed the panic button when he found Canada's diplomats are being trained to keep an eye open to torture not only by pariah states like Iran and Syria, but also by close allies.

That vigilance won Canada credit from Amnesty International, which praised us for being alert to rights abuses.

But the howls of outrage from Washington and Jerusalem at finding themselves on the foreign affairs watchlist next to "axis of evil" Iran sent Bernier lunging for the delete key faster than you can say "welcome to Gitmo." It was all a big, regrettable mistake, he said.

In future, Canada's "Torture Awareness Workshop Reference Materials" will be carefully purged of references to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, and of any other mention of the U.S. or Israel that might give offence. On balance, that's probably just as well. The checklist was not a brilliant idea. Only nine countries were named. Far more dabble in torture. Diplomats shouldn't need a list to be watchful.

But Bernier's scramble to say sorry for "the embarrassment caused" raises the question of who really deserves that fulsome apology.

The U.S., which only recently outlawed waterboarding? Israel, which reserves the right to use "moderate physical pressure" during interrogations? Prime Minister Stephen Harper's risk-averse government, for being caught with its pinstripes down? Or Canadians, who were mortified by this bungling and abject backflip?"

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