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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Canada's Child Soldier Problem - By Andy Worthington,

How humiliating.

The story begins with the shameful case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who was kidnapped by US agents as he changed planes in New York in 2002, and rendered to Syria, where he was tortured for a year on behalf of the American authorities before being released.

Mr. Arar--who was awarded millions of dollars in compensation by the Canadian government in January 2007, but has yet to receive even an apology from the US administration--had been wrongly fingered by Canadian intelligence, and his case his one of many chilling examples of the damage caused by failed intelligence in the American's program of "extraordinary rendition."

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 Guant√°namo Bay, where, to drive the point home, the manual noted specific "US interrogation techniques," including "forced nudity, isolation, and sleep deprivation."

Oops.

The manual was never supposed to have been publicly released, of course, but the Canadian government inadvertently released it to lawyers for Amnesty International as evidence in a court case relating to the alleged abuse of Afghan detainees, after they were handed over by Canadian soldiers to the local Afghan authorities. After realizing their mistake, government officials desperately tried to get the manual back, stating, as CTV put it bluntly, that they "wanted to black out sensitive parts that may anger allies."

It's too late for that, of course. While US ambassador David Wilkins declared, "We find it to be offensive for us to be on the same list with countries like Iran and China," adding, "Quite frankly it's absurd," lawyers and human rights activists have seized upon the documents to insist, for the second time in only a few months, that the Canadian government is guilty of double standards in its refusal to act on behalf of Omar Khadr, a Canadian Guant√°namo detainee who was just 15 years old when he was captured in Afghanistan in July 2002.

And they're right to do so. The first set of double standards was highlighted in September, when, during a visit to Canada to publicize Mr. Khadr's plight, his US military lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, contrasted the Canadian government's "leadership in international efforts to recognize child soldiers as victims in need of special protection and rehabilitation" with its "virtual silence" in the case of his client. Just two weeks ago, David Crane, the former US prosecutor for Sierra Leone's war crimes trials, who is now a professor at Syracuse University, revived this argument, telling Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star that he failed to understand how Canada and the United States "could be sympathetic to the plight of Africa's child soldiers, who are forced to commit atrocious crimes," but not to Khadr, whose circumstances were the same. "I'm just not sure why the Canadian government, which was tremendously important in my work in West Africa--they were incredibly supportive--is not making a bigger deal of this," he said.

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