Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Prisoner or: How I Planned To Kill Tony Blair

The film had a "limited release" in the US in March after debuting at the SWSX Festival in Austin. I would like to see this in a theater and not on DVD!

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Two Iraqi prisons "crammed"

The New York Times reports today that two Iraqi detention centers designed together to hold just over 100 people are now holding nearly a thousand.
In one of the detention centers, in the town of Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, 705 people were packed into an area built for 75, according to Maan Zeki Khadum, an official with the monitoring group. The other center, on Muthana Air Base, held 272 people in a space designed to hold about 50, he said, and included two women and four boys who were being held in violation of regulations that require juveniles to be separated from adults and males from females.

In an interview, Mr. Khadum said a majority of the detainees at the two detention centers had been picked up while the security plan, which began in mid-February, was being put into effect.

He said the detention system had been suffering from a problem of “fast detention and very slow release, especially for those who are not guilty.” His group includes 17 lawyers and is working under a government committee run by the Shiite politician Ahmad Chalabi.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Drugging the lipless: truth serum

Ex-commander of Abu Ghraib Janis Karpinski alleged recently in a public appearance that she suspected the US of using sodium pentathol, or the "truth serum" on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This could explain the seemingly exaggerated and meglomaniac confessions he made recently. He was known as breaking all endurance records in the face of various types of torture applied to him.

British spy novelist Frederick Forsyth made even more sweeping allegations in a recent entertaining interview with Der Spiegel. He claimed that the use of truth serum is widespread in the "black sites" in Afghanistan, and that the US can turn prisoner's minds into "tapioca pudding." His new novel The Afghan paints his dark vision of CIA activities in Afghanistan.

The US has refused to confirm or deny the use of sodium pentathol or any other drugs on American "enemy combatant" José Padilla, who has now been declared by a number of psychiatrists not mentally fit to stand trial after his years in secret captivity.

Even though the efficacy of sodium pentathol, which is a barbiturate-type anaesthetic, was in question as early as the 1970s, it seems the CIA persisted in experimentation with it ever since.

The Bush administration seems to be attempting to keep the legal avenues open for the use of truth serums and other forms of torture at the President's discretion. In regards to an anti-torture section of a military spending bill in late 2005, in the President's signing statement, he made it clear he reserved the final word on torture and drugging of prisoners.

Who will come forward and be the "truth serum" whistleblower, à la Joe Darby of Abu Ghraib?

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Monday, March 19, 2007

The prison slop (spoils) of war

Prison food is more important than it sounds. After all, the riots in Abu Ghraib which MPs allege led to the most heinous prisoner abuse were spurred by rotten, infested food served up by contractor American Service Center (ASC), based in Qatar.

One Australian catering firm that succeeded ASC, called Morris Corporation, is back. In 2004, the firm lost a $100 million contract for food provision in US prisons in Iraq in 2004 due to a shady decision and what appears to be corruption by Pentagon darling Halliburton. Cheney's favorite corporation was subcontracting the meal service to Morris and a Kuwaiti partner, who apparently did not appreciate being asked for 3-4% kickbacks as penalties for lateness. (Halliburton was also stealing from the meal-allocated funds.)

Morris later won $20 million in damages from Halliburton after an acrimonious legal battle.

This week, Morris won the $65 million contract to supply meals to the 5,000 prisoners in Camp Cropper.

None of the food will come from Iraq, neither will local Iraqi staff be allowed to prepare the food. The company's chief executive was reached by The Age in Romania, where he was recruiting "third country nationals" to work in Iraq.
Morris Corp chief executive Robert McVicker, who is in Romania on a recruitment drive, said last night the company was "bidding aggressively" for work in Iraq, tendering for contracts totalling more than $200 million.

Mr McVicker said its previous catering deal, in which it was subcontracted by Halliburton, became "messy" because of the company's reliance on a joint venture partner. Its latest contract was with the US military.

As part of the deal, Morris Corp is expected to build accommodation for its workforce of Australians, Americans and other third country nationals, numbering about 250, within Camp Cropper. Its workers would be confined to the compound. "Staff won't leave the facility at all," Mr McVicker said. "That's the nature of working in war zones. You can't wander down to the corner shop and buy an ice-cream …

"Some people who come and work in these places love it. Others arrive, hear a mortar in the distance and want to get straight back onto the plane and go home. That's where the selection process has to be pretty careful."

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

In it together: Anglos dodging responsibility, spending (and earning) a fortune

In the UK, the acquittal of two British officers in the killing of Baha Mousa in Basra in 2003 led many to question the use of military trials. The proceedings against a number of officers involved in the death of Mousa all led to acquittals, an apparently cost the British taxpayer over £20 million. The judge who acquitted the men said there was no evidence against the men because there was an obvious, inpenetrable code of silence among those involved. And just today, we learn that 10 British detainees in Basra pulled a quite simple escape.

In Canada, the controversy over the investigation of the "handing over" and disappearance of a Taliban soldier captured on the battlefield to the Afghan Army rages on. Meanwhile, miltary lawyers appointed to defend Canadian Omar Khadr, the only juvenile brought to Guantanamo from Afghanistan, say the cards are stacked against him. The US has used coercion and torture to gather the majority of "admissable evidence." His lawyers also claim the Canadian government is abandonning the now 20-year-old Khadr.

In the US, the beginning of a hearing to determine whether the only officer charged with Abu Ghraib abuses shall face court martial hearings revealed that Sgt Steven Jordan plans to dispute the legality of evidence against him. He claims that investigating Generals Fay and Taguba did not properly inform him of his rights.

Also, Staff Sgt. Ray Girouard was found guilty of negligent homicide in relation to the killings of three prisoners north-west of Baghdad in May 2006. The maximum sentence for this is three years, whereas premeditated murder carries up to life without parole. He was also convicted of covering up the crimes. His attempts to prove he was under orders to "kill at military-age men" and pass responsibility up the military command seemed to have failed. But he raised significant questions about the orders he was given.

Australian Prime Minister's surprise visit to the troops in southern Afghanistan reminds that Australian David Hicks, captured in Afghanistan in 2001, is awaiting his military commission trial. His lawyers are attempting to delay the proceedings, challenging the his very detention in US courts. He will in any case appear in a hearing on March 23, the first time he will have seen his family in 2 1/2 years. Meanwhile, an Australian firm Morris Corporation, won the $65 million contract to supply meals at US Detention facilities in Iraq.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Command responsibility defense in Iraq detainee killings

The trial of 101st airborne Staff Sgt. Ray Girouard, who is being blamed for ordering the killing of three detainees in Thar-thar, northwest of Baghdad, in May 2006 is already cutting straight to the issue of command responsbility. The LA Times provides coverage of the trial in Ft Campbell, Kentucky. Girouard claims that he had orders to "kill every military-age male" and that he was screamed at by his superior Sgt. Eric Geressy after Girouard reported they had taken prisoners. Here is a video of Geressy talking about a counterinsurgency raid in Samarra. For background, see the site Expose the War Profiteers.
FT. CAMPBELL, KY. — A senior enlisted man testified Wednesday that he had angrily asked over a military radio why his soldiers had not killed several Iraqi men they had taken into custody during a combat sweep in Iraq last May.

Minutes later, three detainees were shot dead. A 101st Airborne Division squad leader, Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard, is charged with ordering his soldiers to kill the Iraqis.

"I don't understand why … we have these guys alive!" 1st Sgt. Eric Geressy testified he shouted over the radio shortly before two soldiers in Girouard's squad shot and killed the unarmed Iraqis.

Testifying at Girouard's court-martial, Geressy said he believed the Iraqis had been shooting at his men during a firefight and thus should have been killed. In fact, the men had been detained without incident after a May 9 air assault by Girouard's squad on a marshy island 60 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Geressy's radio comments were significant for Girouard's defense team, which maintains that top commanders gave orders to kill every military-age Iraqi male on the island. A soldier who admitted killing the detainees testified Tuesday that he believed that Girouard, in telling his men to kill the detainees, was responding to Geressy's outburst.

"That's what [Geressy] wanted. That's why I proceeded," Pvt. William B. Hunsaker testified during Tuesday's opening session.

Asked by defense lawyer Anita Gorecki whether killing the detainees was what "higher" — the unit's higher command — wanted, Hunsaker replied, "Yes, ma'am."

Girouard, 24, is the highest-ranking of four squad members charged with murdering the detainees. Hunsaker, 24, and two others have pleaded guilty under agreements that require them to testify for the government.

Hunsaker and Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, 22, testified Tuesday that they killed the detainees after Girouard told them to cut off their plastic zip ties, let them flee and then shoot them. Hunsaker and Clagett have been sentenced to 18 years in prison; they originally faced life without parole if convicted.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

US' growing Iraq prison-industrial complex

It was recently reported that the Pentagon would be calling up 2,200 more MPs to serve in Iraq to accompany the "surge" in troops. Now the Washington Post reports they are making plans to allow for at least a 30% increase in the number of US detainees at Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper. The total number at Camp Bucca is currently over 13,000. Cropper only has 3,300 but expects to grow by 5,000 detainees over the next couple of months.

This would bring the total numbers to over 21,000 -- the highest yet. What is the end game, especially given the growing evidence that the Iraqi justice system abuses, neglects and tortures prionsers?

The story reveals some interesting details. Attempts to build Iraqi capacity within are stymied by bureaucratic and security-related regulations. And none of the food served to the over 16,000 people comes from within Iraq. Also, the prison workforce is comprised of "third-country nationals." Where are they from? What are they paid? What about the insurance and health care? (See the story of TITAN interpreter Mazin Al Nashi.)
The Camp Cropper contract proposal, reviewed by The Washington Post, underscores the detainee increase and offers insight into U.S. detention practices in Iraq -- including a ban against hiring local staffers and an emphasis on meal practices sensitive to local traditions.

According to the food contract, local Iraqis and Iraqi companies are prohibited from preparing and serving food for the detainees. Neither the U.S. government nor Iraqi government "presently has a vetting process which would accommodate Iraqi employees while ensuring adequate security," according to the contract proposal.

Instead, the contactor is to use "expatriates and third-country nationals." Any third-country nationals hired must live in trailers or tents provided by the contractor on a U.S. military base near the food facility. "This was done for the security and safety of the installation and the workers" and at the request of the U.S. military police battalion on the base, Siegfried said.

The Iraqi guards at the facility are employees of Iraq's Ministry of Justice, which supposedly vets them. Nonetheless, while working at the Camp Cropper detention facility, the guards must be matched with U.S. soldiers, escorted by U.S. units as they travel to and from work, and housed in a compound on the base guarded by U.S. forces, Siegfried said.

However, the guards receive some benefits: Their meals on the base include a wider selection of food and "shall consist of 25% larger portions" than detainees' meals, according to the contract.

All food consumed at the Camp Cropper prison must be purchased outside Iraq and convoyed into the country by either U.S. or Iraqi military forces, according to the contract. That is because food vendors must be inspected by U.S. officials and "currently there are no Iraqi-approved sources for food contracts," said Siegfried.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

British judge lets off senior officers

In relation to the Baha Mousa homicide in Basra, it appears that command responsibility weighed into a judge's decision to drop charges against five officers blamed with the abuse that led to the Hotel receptionist's demise in 2003. He said in relation to the 36 hours of abuse that led to Mousa's death, some of the "techniques" were approved by the officer's superiors. Those techniques included "conditioning" the detainees for questioning by putting them in stress positions and requiring them to wear hoods. One wonders is the beatings sustained by Mr. Mousa were also approved.

Another officer, Col Jorge Mendonca also was recently acquitted for responsibility in the Mousa homicide.

Now the big question: will prosecutors move up the chain of command?

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Court-martial hearing for Abu Ghraib officer

The only officer to be charged for offenses relating to the heinous torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2003-4, Lt Col. Steven L Jordan, will face another hearing to decide whether or not he should be court martialed. The military's own Fay Report concluded that he failed to control the situation at Abu Ghraib and failed to adequately train his soldiers. His "Article 32" hearing in October, he claims, was unfair because the presiding officer unfairly admitted written witness statements that were not evidence when ruling.

If the presiding officer in this hearing today decides Lt Col. Jordan should face a court martial hearing, it will tentatively be scheduled for July, according to MSNBC.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Study shows "no such thing as torture lite"

A study, led by a King's College pyschiatrist, that surveyed victims of mental and physical torture victims from the Balkans wars reveals that the impacts for both kinds of abuse are the same over the long-term: post traumatic stress and depression. The study, published in the Archive of General Psychiatry, is being offered for free on the journal's site. According to the LA Times:
The worst physical tortures averaged between 3.2 and 3.9. Falling within the same range were several other forms of mistreatment, including isolation, sham executions, death threats and being pelted with urine or feces.

"Nonphysical stressors during captivity were as distressing and traumatic as stressors involving physical pain," Basoglu said.

The interviews were conducted an average of eight years after the mistreatment.

More than 55% of the subjects were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and 17% were clinically depressed. It made no difference whether the abuse was a clear case of physical torture or forms of psychological manipulation.

What mattered most, Basoglu said, was the degree to which the victim felt a loss of control.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Some ironic advice for wardens in Iraq

For a rare taste of detention from the warden's side, this op-ed in the LA Times. Carlson served in the Fallouja detention center in much of 2006, and is currently pursuing a Masters in creative writing.
The warden of Fallouja
Taking charge of a detention center in Iraq? Here's what you need to remember. By Mike Carlson

[ 1 ] They're not prisoners, they're "detainees."

It sounds better, as if they're merely inconvenienced rather than shoehorned into cinderblock cells, thumbing their military-issued Korans and waiting to be interrogated. One-third are innocents caught up in sweeps; one-third are jihadists who will slit your throat, and one-third are opportunists who will rat out their neighbors. You will hold them for 14 days, no more, while the interrogators try to figure out who is what. Each gets a CF, for Camp Fallouja, and a four-digit number. No names will be used, mainly because numbers fit more easily onto spreadsheets. They will be forever known as entas. "Enta" means "you" in Arabic, and that's what you call them day after day, meal after meal, port-a-potty call after port-a-potty call. "Enta, ishra mai," you say, and the enta drinks his water, and if you say, "Enta, ishra mai kulak," he drinks all of his water, every drop, and holds the bottle upside down to prove it.

[ 2 ] It's not personal.

The enta who screams "meesta!" every 10 seconds for 48 hours straight isn't doing it to infuriate you, his captor. What it boils down to is that he can't pronounce "mister," and he was carrying that 155-millimeter round in the back of his pickup, and he was going to try to blow you up, and the reason he was picked by the insurgent leaders to haul the shell is that he's soft in the head, which is why he cannot stop screaming "meesta!"

The major who watches NASCAR races on satellite TV in his air-conditioned office at the battalion headquarters while you and your Marines march entas to and from the latrines in 120-degree heat isn't doing it to antagonize you, his subordinate. Frankly, he's just over here for the retirement money, and he didn't want to be in charge of four regional detention facilities in Al Anbar province any more than you wanted to end up as the warden in Fallouja. He wants to keep his head down and forget about the fact that if one, just one, of your Marines snaps and goes Abu Ghraib on a detainee, his pension is out the window.

[ 3 ] You won't fire your weapon in anger.

You'll fire plenty of training rounds. You'll be awakened nightly by outgoing artillery shells being blasted into the ether a mere 400 meters from your tin-can hooch, where you fall asleep to the drone of your air-conditioning unit and the faint yelps from the sergeant-next-door's porn videos.

Your fingers will ache from absently squeezing the grip of your M16A4 during endless nighttime convoys, transporting detainees from Fallouja to Abu Ghraib or Camp Cropper. The only illumination in the back of the truck will come from the red-lens flashlight you pan across the entas to make sure none of them have wormed loose from their flex cuffs and hatched a plot to kill you.

Your truck will stop one night outside Abu Ghraib. You will wait for explosive ordnance techs to clear a suspicious burlap bag. Because there are so many bombs, you never know how long you'll sit exposed on the road. During the second hour, CF-4562 will ask you in perfect English if he can pee. You will escort him to the edge of the road. When he thinks you aren't looking, 4562 will slink away from you and your rifle. You will immediately see through such a feeble escape attempt, and here, outside the site of America's shame, this enta will be one sandal step away from giving you an absolutely justifiable reason to finally click your weapon's selector off of "safe."

You will raise the muzzle slowly with muscles that ache from humping 60 pounds of body armor and ammo and water and Quick-Clot coagulant, but before your thumb moves over the safety, you will automatically say "kiff," Arabic for "stop," because it's been drilled into you as part of the rules of engagement. You will want to shoot, and 4562 will hear that in your voice. He will stop. He will manage a feeble stream of urine before you shoo him back aboard the truck.

[ 4 ] You will be a constant target outside the wire.

A green beam of light will dazzle you through the Cyclops lens of your night-vision goggles as it streaks toward the armored sides of your truck. You will grit your teeth, and the rocket-propelled grenade will hit, and then, by the grace of some malfunction, it will only gouge out a divot from the big green plates, an errant golf swing's worth of metal. You will pan your rifle barrel across the garbage-strewn fields and pockmarked buildings, but you will see nothing, just a stray dog scurrying away from the tiny blast. A feeling of anticlimax will wash over you, of one beer short of the perfect buzz and a throw just wide of the catcher's mitt. You are a Marine and trained to kill, but you can never find any insurgents to shoot.

[ 5 ] You will tell yourself lies about how being shot at will change you.

You won't be able to tell your wife about the near-miss when you call home because you know she'll be worried, and when she worries, she cries, and you cannot, absolutely cannot, have her cry, mainly because it will make you cry, and you're a captain in a crowded phone center surrounded by junior Marines. Your neck will cramp up for two weeks, as if all your fears have been concentrated into a small kernel of misery somewhere north of your shoulder blade. Then, one day, the pain will be gone, and you will walk up to the side of the truck and place your fist inside the divot to remind yourself that it really happened.

[ 6 ] You will screw up.

A sergeant will push one of your female Marines too hard during physical training, and she will turn on the waterworks and accuse him of sexual harassment. You will chew out the sergeant, but later discover that she is simply angry with him for forbidding her to visit her boyfriend in another unit.

You will apologize to the sergeant, but the incident will have cost you some of the platoon's trust, and you will find yourself hating her. She will hate you too, until she goes home early, knocked up by the very same boyfriend she was forbidden to see. You will feel a quick self-righteous high, followed by a prolonged low; your neglect of your own rule — don't take it personally — means you failed her as a leader.

[ 7 ] You will drink water until your urine is clear.

You will drink and drink and keep drinking until you've drained more than 800 bottles of water during your stay in the Iraqi desert.

[ 8 ] Your interpreter will be your greatest hidden ally.

Ali is rotund, aged and bearded, a prototypical Islamic authority figure. He reads the facility rules to all new detainees, his face hidden behind dark glasses and a ball cap. Your understanding of Arabic progresses to the point where you know he's adding regulations. You take him aside, and he explains that he tells the new arrivals that there are snipers in every tower, that trapdoors lurk beyond the borders of each gravel path and that attacking a Marine in the facility would result in a coward's death, voiding the promise of 72 virgins. You allow him to continue.

[ 9 ] You won't abuse any detainees.

Your property room will hold a sniper rifle that killed a Marine and bears the fingerprints of the man inside Cell 4A. Evidence photos will show a bomb crater and bloody boots with shinbones still laced inside, and wires that lead from the crater to the home of CF-7634. As you perform your daily cell checks, you will occasionally want to smash and kick and eye gouge and palm-heel strike. But you won't. You will need to look in the mirror tomorrow when you shave.

[ 10 ] You will get by with 20 words of Arabic.

When your prisoner-release convoy is waved into a field strewn with basketball-sized boulders by an Army lieutenant too new to speak Arabic, that will be just enough to get the entas to stop washing their feet and shouting blessings to Allah and to herd them into the civil affairs compound. Later, an 18-year-old lance corporal will fall asleep at the wheel and swerve off the Fallouja cloverleaf. As the 7-ton rumbles down the embankment, the entas will fling themselves off the truck. One enta will break his arm, and, again, your 20 words will coax him into medical treatment. Through it all — the bungled release, the accident, the medevac — you will not be attacked. Two days later, a similar convoy traveling the exact same route will be blown up by an IED, and the ache in your neck will return for another two weeks.

[ 11 ] After seven months, you will fly home.

On the way back to the U.S., your Marines will be told by Maj. NASCAR that they can drink, and they will — to excess. You will resign yourself to breaking up the inevitable fights, and as you step between two Marines about to swing, you will realize that this has been your purpose. You set limits.

[ 12 ] You will return to civilian life.

You will be jumpy and vaguely unsatisfied, disconnected from the civilians around you who care only about text messages and gas prices and catty e-mails. Navy doctors will find Iraqi sand trapped in the innermost pathways of your ear canals. Your wife now snores, and all her unfamiliar noises combine to drive you from your bed.

On one such night, you will turn on the television news and see that Anna Nicole Smith's death has trumped the coverage of America's 3,118th fatality, 31-year-old Petty Officer 1st Class Gilbert Minjares Jr. You will note that, at 39, Smith was younger than most of the helicopters flying in Iraq. You will turn off the TV and sit in the dark and feel your eyes water as you think about how you took 55 Marines and sailors into a combat zone and brought all 55 back home, and that no one in America besides you and those 55 really cares or understands what you went through.

You processed 1,230 detainees, without a single incident of abuse, while America sat on the couch and watched girls go wild. As far as you know, you killed no one. This used to bother you, because killing is what Marines are trained to do. But now, after viewing documentaries and reports that paint American forces as Redcoat invaders, you take some comfort in the fact that you never pulled the trigger.

Those numbers — 55, 1,230 and 0 — will allow you to sleep tonight, and the next night, and the next. But each night you will insert a mouth guard made of silicone before you go to sleep, because your dentist informs you that you are always, always, always unconsciously grinding your teeth.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Canadians take bold step to curb abuse

The Canadian Press reported today that Canadian forces in Kandahar will work together with the Afghanistan Independent Commission for Human Rights (AICHR) to ensure that no detainee abuse occurs under Canada's watch.

Earlier allegations of physical abuse of detainees at Kandahar Base in 2006 marred the Canadian force's image in the south of Afghanistan. Official investigations in these are on-going. Concerns over torture in Afghan prisons will also be a focus of the AICHR, which will now be notified when detainees are handed from Canadian to Afghan custody. This makes Canada the only NATO partner with this policy so far.
The Kandahar office of Afghanistan's human rights commission has agreed to act as a watchdog for detainees captured by Canadians to ensure that valid complaints of abuse are investigated, the Canadian Press has learned.

The secret agreement with military commanders papers over concerns raised by human rights groups about the practice of handing captured Taliban prisoners over to Afghan authorities who have a reputation for torture. It could also take some of the fire out of a burning debate over allegations that Canadian troops abused detainees last spring.

"Canadians respect human rights very well," Abdul Quadar Noorzai, the Kandahar manager of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said in an interview. He was eager to trumpet the agreement signed last Friday with Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant, commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

"It is one of the greatest acts taken by them and I really appreciate it from the core of my heart," said a beaming Noorzai, who's been working for a year to carve out such an arrangement.

Marc Raider, a spokesman for the Defence Department in Ottawa, confirmed the existence of the agreement and said it builds on a December 2005 technical arrangement signed between Afghanistan's defence minister and Canadian Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier.

[...]The negotiations were started almost a year ago when Nader Naderi, commissioner of the Afghan human rights commission based in Kabul, went to Canada and met with the minister of defence.

Noorzai said eventually he would like to see the agreement expanded, or a separate arrangement signed, that would allow the commission to report on civilian shootings by foreign troops.

Over the past month, four Afghan bystanders have been killed in shootings involving Canadian soldiers.

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