Canada is now a nation at war, and as far as the country’s prime minister is concerned, it’s not a serious issue.
We know this because a few weeks back Stephen Harper was campaigning on a promise to put all serious issues before Parliament, and he has no plans to do that with the war in Afghanistan.
During a news conference Wednesday, Harper expressed distress that “some Liberals,” having made the decision to send our troops to war, now want to hold a vote on the matter while the battle rages.
The PM scolded, “You do not send men and women into harm’s way on a dangerous mission with the support of our party and other Canadians, and then decide when they’re over there that you’re not sure you should have sent them.”
He has a point about the Liberals’ timing, of course, but the crack about the support of some Canadians fell pretty flat, considering that we all know an even smaller minority of Canadians support the war than voted Conservative.
Harper and Gen. Rick Hillier are saying, during tightly controlled press conferences and speaking engagements, that Kandahar is a “critical mission” and “important for global security”.
How so? Where are the studies to prove that Canada’s involvement in this war will affect global security in any way?
Where is the evidence that our own security won’t be threatened, rather than enhanced, by this action?
The Liberals didn’t want to have this debate when they were in power, and the Conservatives don’t want to have it now.
It’s always easier to make patriotic pronouncements to the media than it is to face questions in the House of Commons.
Harper told last week’s press conference, “We will also fulfill the responsibility we have, and all Canadians have, to support the men and women that we have put in a dangerous mission.”
This is the kind of talk Britons and Americans have been hearing from their respective governments for four years now — as well as for decades during past conflicts.
We have sent our troops to war, and therefore we must support them, the implication being that to question the war is to withhold support for the army.
Richard Nixon once famously declared that public opposition to the Vietnam War was the biggest single factor working against US forces.
Today, Harper goes one farther and suggests that even to debate Canadian involvement in Afghanistan — or presumably anywhere else he decides to go to war — is to undermine the troops.
If acts of war could stabilize Afghanistan, it would surely be the most stable country on the planet by now.
The US has been directly or indirectly making war there at least since the CIA under Jimmy Carter began recruiting, training and arming the mujahadeen to fight the Soviet occupation.
Four years ago, the US invaded, destroying what little infrastructure Afghanistan had left, and killing thousands of civilians.
At the time, we were told the war would capture Osama bin Laden, destroy Al Qaeda, and free Afghan women from the tyranny of the burqa.
Four years later, Bin Laden’s still on the loose, and there are scant signs of improvement for women.
According to the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan and Amnesty International, the lives of women in most of Afghanistan are as bad or worse today than under the Taliban.
Women suffer from rape, forced marriage, and harsh sharia laws.
Police, where there are any, are often more of a danger than a protector.
A woman can be stoned to death for adultery, and a nine-year-old girl can be sold to an old man as a third ‘wife’.
Since much the same situation prevails in Pakistan, with whom we are allied at present, it seems unlikely that the liberation of Afghan women is a major priority of the military campaign.
Beyond all these issues, lies the greater question for Canadians. There is now no doubt that the United States is guilty of crimes against humanity in dealing with prisoners captured in Afghanistan.
Many have been sent to Guantanamo Bay, where they’ve been held for years without charge, and without the rights granted to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.
US interrogation methods include stress positioning, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, beating, near drowning, and harassment with attack dogs.
If those dogs were treated as the prisoners are, their handlers would be liable for prosecution on charges of cruelty.
Now the New York Times reports the existence of an even worse dungeon inside Afghanistan, at the Bagram Airbase.
Prisoners in Bagram live “by the dozens in wire cages.” No one is allowed in except members of the International Red Cross, who follow a policy of not reporting what goes on in such places, lest they be denied access to prisoners who need their medical attention.
Knowing as we do that a government that has legalized torture is holding these prisoners, what inference are we to draw from the secrecy at Bagram?
Canadian forces in Afghanistan have always been tainted by the unanswered question, what do we do with our prisoners?
Do we capture men and hand them over to be tortured at Bagram?
Now that we’ve taken over the American mission in Kandahar, the question becomes even more critical.
If Canada wants to support its troops there are plenty of ways of going about it: — good armour, safe vehicles, proper medical care, decent funerals, pensions for widows.
Placing them in the position where they might become accessories to war crimes should never be an option.