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Hooding prisoners a possible breach of Geneva Convention: experts
Description: Canadian troops who hooded and handcuffed prisoners in Afghanistan last year did potentially violate the Geneva Convention, say international law specialist, Michael Byers and human rights specialist, Alex Neve.
Date: 14 February 2005
Author: David Pugliese
Source: The Ottawa Citizen, A3
Canadian troops who hooded and handcuffed prisoners in Afghanistan last
year
did potentially violate the Geneva Convention, say human rights and
international law specialists.

International law expert Michael Byers and Amnesty International Canada
chief Alex Neve say it is a mistake for Canada's top soldier to dismiss
concerns raised by a military police officer last year about the way
prisoners were treated during a raid in Afghanistan.

Mr. Byers, a University of British Columbia international law professor,
also suggested photographing of the captives and putting those images on
the
Defence Department's website is a violation of the Geneva Convention.

Concerns were raised last January by Maj. J.M. Wilson, commandant of the
Canadian Forces Service Prison and Detention Barracks in Edmonton, who
saw
images of the troops with Afghan detainees. Sandbag covers had been put
over
the heads of the prisoners and they had been restrained using plastic
ties
known as flex-cuffs.

"I thought we had long outgrown this method of handling prisoners and,
arguably, such treatment is contrary to the Geneva Convention," the
commandant wrote in an e-mail to National Defence headquarters.

"Moreover, the flex-cuffs cut off blood circulation, must be checked
regularly, and should normally only be used when other more appropriate
restraints are unavailable."

The response at headquarters to the commandant's concerns, however, was
that
since the Afghanistan operation was a peacekeeping mission, the
detainees
"are not subject to the Geneva Convention."

On Sunday, Gen. Rick Hillier, Chief of Defence Staff, said Maj. Wilson's
concerns were unfounded. "If there's any country whose soldiers -- men
and
women -- treat detainees in the appropriate manner, I guarantee you it's
ours," Gen. Hillier said on CTV's Question Period.

"When we put something over someone's head or blindfold them, it's for
the
protection of other folks to ensure that, in this case, that the
individual
does not see the Afghan police, or security personnel, who were involved
in
his detention and therefore perhaps prevent him from taking out some
harm on
them later on in life."

The use of sandbag covers over a captive's face appears to have become a
more common tactic among some western militaries.

Canadian troops in the Second World War did not generally restrain
German
prisoners or place hoods or blindfolds over their faces.

Amnesty International's Mr. Neve said: "Certainly there are concerns
that
hooding, for instance, may very well constitute cruel and inhumane
treatment."

There are many factors to look at, including how long the person was
kept
hooded, the nature of hooding and the reasons for it, he added.

"What we need from Hillier is a commitment to look into these reports,
ensure there is an independent investigation, and then make a
determination
as whether the concerns are groundless," said Mr. Neve.

Defence officials did not respond to the comments by Mr. Neve and Mr.
Byers.

Mr. Neve said he was particularly troubled that anyone in the military
would
suggest the Geneva Convention did not apply in a peacekeeping mission.

"To think that anyone is giving them advice that something as
fundamental as
the Geneva Convention doesn't apply is very worrying," he added.

Mr. Byers, author of three books on international law and human rights,
said
the use of restraints and hoods appears to be unnecessary in this case
since
Canadian troops had overwhelming control of the situation, involving a
small
number of prisoners.

"We have the luxury of doing the job properly. In that instance, to be
pushing the envelope with sandbag covers over their heads and using the
flex-cuffs when we don't need to do so is certainly contrary to the
spirit
of (the Geneva Convention)."


Mr. Byers also questioned the Canadian Forces' practice of putting the
photographs of the detainees on its Internet site.

"Certainly the U.S. argued that the distribution of photographs of some
of
its own troops captured in Iraq was a violation of that provision," said
Mr.
Byers.


"What's good for the goose has to be good for the gander here."
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