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Of hearts and minds and detainees
Description: Did the the prisoner abuse allegations hurt our troops in the eyes of Afghanis?
Date: 03 May 2007
Author: Kady O'Malley
Source: Maclean's
Last weekend, hundreds of Afghanis blocked a major highway outside the provincial capital in Nangahar, chanting "Death to Karzai" and "Death to the U.S." They were responding to a U.S.-led raid on a suspected suicide-bomb cell that resulted in the deaths of as many as six civilians, including a teenage girl the U.S. military admitted was "caught in the crossfire."

Earlier this year, on the same highway, a United States convoy opened fire on Afghani civilians following a failed suicide bomb attack - killing twelve in an incident that the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has since condemned as a violation of international humanitarian law.

When measured against incidents like these, it seems unlikely that the recent furor over detainee transfers could put Canadian troops at risk of being targeted by similar protests. But depending on whom you listen to, they may be at least a small part of a broader failure to win the battle for hearts and minds.

According to University of British Columbia law professor Michael Byers, who made headlines with his suggestion that Canadian officials could be guilty of war crimes for handing over prisoners to authorities who will torture them, Canada's "sloppy, unprofessional" response to the allegations could further erode the already tense relationship between NATO coalition forces and the Afghan people.

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