May 14, 2011 – The newly empowered New Democrats says there is no excuse to further delay the release of a huge batch of documents about Afghan detainees.
NDP MP Jack Harris, the party’s defence critic, said that with the election now finished and the documents ready to go, the thousands of pages of information about prison visits, interrogations and diplomatic overtures should be immediately turned over to the public.
The opposition parties suspect that somewhere in the cache of papers lies proof that the government knew or should have known that battlefield prisoners taken by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan would be abused in local prisons. That could implicate Canada in war crimes by violating international humanitarial laws.
A panel of judges tasked with reviewing and vetting the documents signalled during the five-week election that the first tranche of information was ready for release. But they said in a letter to party leaders that they would not do so until Parliament is reconvened because a committee made up of Conservative, Liberal and Bloc Quebeois members was disbanded with the election call.
The earliest that the committee could reconvene is the end of the month when Parliament comes back.
Harris called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to “show good faith” and immediately order the documents to be made public.
Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for the Prime Minister, said that the agreement signed between the three parties states that the process of releasing documents can resume when Parliament reconvenes.
“Given the changes to the composition of the House, discussions surrounding the process are best held after the House resumes sitting,” Soudas said in an email.
He noted that the Conservatives still support the release of the information even though its new majority status in the House of Commons means it could effectively block opposition measures designed to embarrass, shame or implicate Harper’s government in any wrongdoing.
Harris wouldn’t say whether his party, which leapfrogged the Liberals and Bloc to become the official opposition, will now try to obtain a seat on the detainee document committee. That way, it could have a more direct hand in vetting and pushing for information to be made public.
Harris said that his party still wants a public inquiry looking at whether suspected fighters captured by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan were knowingly handed over to abuse at the hands of their Afghan jailors.
Allan Woods – Ottawa
This article appeared first at – http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/990894–ndp-calls-for-immediate-release-afghan-detainee-documents