Mon 21 Jan 2008
OTTAWA – Maxime Bernier, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, lashed out over the weekend at a controversial document identifying the United States and Israel as countries it suspects of practising torture, calling it "wrong" and demanding it be rewritten.
"I regret the embarrassment caused by the public disclosure of the manual used in the department’s torture awareness training," said Mr. Bernier in a statement.
"It contains a list that wrongly includes some of our closest allies. I have directed that the manual be reviewed and rewritten," Mr. Bernier said.
"The manual is neither a policy document nor a statement of policy. As such, it does not convey the government’s views or positions."
The Foreign Affairs document, which surfaced last week, was meant to instruct Canadian diplomats on how to recognize torture cases abroad. It defined such U.S. interrogation techniques as sleep deprivation and isolation as torture.
Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae was not surprised to hear that the document was being revised.
"It’s incomprehensible to me that a document would establish an equivalency between the United States and Iran on the subject of the treatment of prisoners," Mr. Rae said.
"It’s too hard to understand how it [the document] could have gotten this far," Mr. Rae said. "There’s a real issue now around the competency of the Conservative government on foreign affairs issues."
Amnesty International had obtained the document as part of legal disclosure in its lawsuit that challenges the federal government’s policy of transferring detainees captured by the Canadian Forces to Afghanistan’s custody.
"We’re obviously very disappointed when it comes to a serious issue like torture," said Alex Neve, the executive director of Amnesty International Canada, on Saturday. "The overriding concern of the government should not be sparing our close allies embarrassment.
"I think we take a hit in doing this," Mr. Neve said. "I think many, when they first heard about the manual and saw that it did include countries like the United States and Israel, commended Canada for being accurate and objective."
The document also listed Guantanamo Bay, the controversial U. S. detention centre for suspected terrorists in Cuba, as a place where torture is likely practised.
Supporters of the only Canadian imprisoned there, Omar Khadr, said last week the document was proof he is being subjected to abuse and that the federal government should break its silence and petition the United States to transfer him to Canada.