In their own words: David Mulroney's opening statement at Afghanistan committee

David Mulroney, Canada's Ambassador to China, testified Thursday at the House of Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan about matters that occurred while he was a deputy minister in charge of Canada's Afghanistan mission. He held that post from early 2007 until this year.

I've copied and pasted the text of his address from a PDF. When you do that, the French text gets fairly mangled and there may be some spelling errors in the English text. Download the PDF to review the text as it was distributed by Mulroney's staff:

Remarks for Ambassador David Mulroney


Thank you for the opportunity to share my experience and perspective on the Afghanistan mission and the important issue of Canadian transferred detainees. Recent testimony and media coverage have left the impression that I discouraged honest reporting about the situation in Afghanistan and that I contributed to a situation in which detainees captured by the Canadian Forces were transferred to Afghan authorities without due regard to the risk of torture. This is simply not true.

Des temoiqnaqes et des reportages dans les medias laissent entendre que j' ai decouraqe la diffusion de rapports de la situation en Afghanistan et que j' ai joue un role dans des circonstances ou des detenus captures par les Forces canadiennes auraient ete transferee aux autorites afghanes sans tenir compte du risque de torture. Ce n'est pas vrai.

Like so many others, I am proud of my work on Afghanistan, and very confident that I did my best to ensure that, in everything we did, we acted to conduct our operations effectively, save Afghan and Canadian lives, build stronger Afghan institution s, and meet our legal obligations – as well as the high expectations of Canadians. Let me start by explaining my own involvement in the evolution of the Afghanistan mission. I had visited Afghanistan twice in my student days in the 1970s, and returned again, much later, in my capacity as Assistant Deputy Minister Asia Pacific, first with then-Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, in January 2002 and in September 2003 with then-Foreign Minister Bill Graham, for the opening of our embassy in Kabul. Later, as Foreign and Defence Policy advisor to the Prime Minister from April 2006 to February 2007, I participated, when my presence in Ottawa would allow it, as an observer in the committee of Deputy Ministers that then oversaw the mission.

Among the issues I followed closely at that time were efforts to have civilian officials re-engage in Kandahar following the death of our colleague Glyn Berry on January 15, 2006. In the aftermath of Operation Medusa that summer, which, as General Hillier described yesterday was Canada's largest military engagement since Korea, I worked to help secure the additional equipment that was needed to support our people in the field. I also worked on preparations for the NATO Summit in Riga in which the Prime Minister launched the diplomatic engagement that over time brought thousands of additional troops to southern Afghanistan; and I helped to plan a visit to Afghanistan by the previous Clerk of the Privy Council , a visit that would make recommendations about how we managed Afghanistan, including having me return to DFAIT to take up that challenge. In February 2007, I was named Associate Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and was given lead responsibility to coordinate intergovernmental efforts on Afghanistan.

With the exception of also being lead official for the G8 in 2007, I would work almost exclusively on Afghanistan at Foreign Affairs and later at PCO until May of 2009. I visited Afghanistan 11 more times in that period. The mission I joined in February 2007 was characterized as “3-D”, referring to the pillars of defence, diplomacy and development working together, but the effort was not as coordinated and coherent as it should have been, and needed to be. The number of civilians deployed to the field was too few, and they were too junior. Management structures defining who was accountable and responsible for what, were too diffuse. Most serious, in my view, was a lack of true coordination – between HQ and the field, between Kabul and Kandahar, and between the military and the civilians, something that prevented us from delivering a truly whole-ofgovernment effort.

I worked to change that with a growing team of talented people. We created a new Afghanistan Task Force in DFAIT which brought all resources under my responsibility. We set to work to build a single coordinated plan that would allow us to align people, programs and resources in support of a clearly defined set of Canadian objectives. This was a process that would not be complete until we had, thanks to the Manley Panel, established coherence around 6 priorities and 3 signature projects. We also began to build up civilian resources, and, importantly, to bring more senior civilian resources into Afghanistan. This, too, took time. We needed to completely revamp how we identified, recruited, trained, deployed and supported our people. We grew our civilian presence from a handful in Kandahar in early 2006 to more than 120 in Afghanistan today, including more than 80 in Kandahar.

So my early focus, after making a quick initial visit to Afghanistan, was to bring greater coherence to our work, to create a more truly collaborative approach between HQ and the field, and to begin assigning more civilians – and more senior civilians – to the field. With regard to the specific issue of detainees, it was clear that here, too, greater coordination between government departments was required. As General Hillier indicated in his opening statement yesterday, reporting from respected international sources confirmed that the challenges faced by Afghanistan were enormous, and that Canada's detainee policy had to be situated within that context. It was precisely because of those challenges that the Government had concluded the transfer arrangement in December 2005, which provided assurances from the Government of Afghanistan that detainees transferred by the Canadian Forces would be treated humanely and in accordance with Afghanistan's international legal obligations.

But as General Hillier also testified yesterday, we learned that in the face of an evolving insurgency and many other challenges, we needed to rein-force- our as elsewhere, consistent with our objective to build Afghanistan's capacity to implement those obligations. When I took up my responsibilities at DFAIT in February 2007, the department was already exploring ways to engage in monitoring and tracking detainees. At the same time, we had an exchange of letters with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission – an organization for which we are a major funderin which the AIHRC agreed to notify Canada should it learn of any mistreatment of Canadiantransferred detainees. In mid-March we began detailed work to create a contingency plan – a standard operating procedure – in the event of well-founded allegations of mistreatment.

We did this not because of confirmed instances of real and substantial risk of torture or mistreatment of Canadian transferred detainees, but because Hwas clear that what we had in place at the time could and should be further reinforced. We needed to be far more engaged in terms of monitoring, training and providing infrastructure and equipment. We worked quickly and collaboratively to design a system that would require contributions from the CF, ONO, OFAIT, Correctional Services, the RCMP, Justice, and several of our diplomatic posts. I spent hours talking with (and in many cases visiting) people involved in the intelligence work, and the actual operations in the field. I walked through every step of the incarceration process at Kandahar Airfield. I would later visit the NOS detention facility in Kandahar and sit in on an interview with a Canadian-transferred detainee.

We were very attuned to the many problems in the Afghan justice system. In a country so beset by poverty, illiteracy, insurgency, with a lack of public institutions, and suffering from decades of civil strife – the possibility of mistreatment could not be ignored . We did not ignore it. A dedicated and experienced interdepartmental team talked with Afghan officials in Kabul and Kandahar, with allies and with informed people in the relevant international organizations – in short, everyone who had a stake in the issue to find out what they knew. We reviewed all relevant reports and documents; took the time to consult; built a common sense of objectives and purpose; a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities; and marshalled the resources to ensure effective implementation. And we negotiated a new and better Arrangement with the Afghans.

Throughout, we were very clearly aware of our responsibilities under international law and were informed by a need to build capacity in Afghan institutions. . We in no way underestimated the challenges, but we had confidence in our people and in the array of tools that we could bring to the effort training, monitoring, providing new infrastructure and equipment, engaging the Afghans at all levels to remind them of their obligations and commitments. The issue was not theoretical. First, we had no doubt that the detainees captured by the CF posed a real threat to Afghans and, more than that, in some cases had Canadian blood on their hands. Our inability to put into the Afghan justice system those who were captured on the battlefield or in operations against lED makers would have put Afghans and Canadians at more risk. .

Second, a working correctional system and a working justice system are critical to governance, nowhere more so than in Afghanjstan. If we gave up on that, it would be a terri ble set back for the Afghan people. We believed that we needed to effect change, and that we had the ability – and the obligation – to do so. On May 3, 2007, our governments signed a Supplementary Arrangement that enhanced the December 2005 Arrangement in a number of important respects to make explicit Canada's expectations and Afghanistan's responsibilities. The Supplementary Arrangement: • Provided us with unrestricted and private access to any person transferred by the CF to Afghan authorities; • Acknowledged that the AIHRC and the ICRC have the same unrestricted access; • Made clear that the Afghanistan Government would investigate ALL allegations of abuse and mistreatment and prosecute offenders in accordance with national law and internationally applicable legal standards; and,

• Provided that Canadian-transferred detainees would only be held in a limited number of facilities, thereby facilitating access and monitoring. This was a major interdepartmental achievement and remains arguably the strongest model for any NATO nation operating in Afghanistan. Now, let me say a few words about my management, not just at DFAIT or PCO, but of the broader interdepartmental team that I was asked to coord inate. The Afghanistan mission presented us with a number of challenges that none of us had ever dealt with before. We learned every single day, talked about how we could do better, integrated best practises into our work and refined our policies and processes in the wake of an evolving series of challenges. One of those challenges was how to move from policy discussion to policy formu lation to implementation.

On detainees, as all the files we were coming to terms with, I encouraged an open airing of views, opinions and suggestions. But once the policy wasdecided, I made it clear that it was up to all officials to implement it, with rigour and commitment and discipline. I have already observed that I felt that we needed far more consultation and teamwork. I noticed that departments tended to report separately, in some cases only to their own people. And although I would certainly be considered an insider, when reading some of the field reporting, it was not always clear whether what we were reading was based on first-hand experience or opinion; whether an author was speaking with the authority of his home department, the embassy or even the g.overnment of Canada; or offering an individual view. Though there was a high volume of reporting, there was a lower volume of hard facts. I felt that it was my job to ensure that we were providing the best possible advice.

Allow me to say a few words about one member of our team. Richard Colvin willingly volunteered to go into a dangerous theatre of operations and undertook very challenging work at a time when . there was not a long line up of people to do so. He demonstrated bravery and dedication, and for that I am grateful. Richard was one of a very large number of people who brought ideas, suggestions and recommendations to bear for consideration. I didn't necessarily always agree with him, but I always listened. The volume of reporting he did would alone suggest that he always had ample opportunity to express himself and have his views considered. In fact, the revised Transfer Arrangement addresses each of the shortcomings he spoke to in his testimony before this Committee because of the collaborative, interdepartmental work we did to get to that point. He acknowledged this to me.

The view that I muzzled him or any other officia ls is wrong. The correspondence to which he has referred in this is, I believe, from April 24, 2007. We had written to provide our embassy in Kabul with our diplomatic contingency plan, the product of extensive interdepartmental consultation that had included the embassy. He wrote back with a message that appeared to reopen the debate based on no new information; to request that we take up a course of action that were were already taking; and to offer views about how the military should conduct its operations. This caused considerable confusion in Ottawa. I made three points to him: • first, the approach we have outlined represents interdepartmental consensus at this stage • second, more detailed and specific tasking for you vis a vis Government of Afghanistan and AIHRC will follow • and third, ideas/opinion and strongly held views are often best first expressed by phone

Getting very difference departments, agencies and the CF to agree and much less do the same thing is not easy. I insisted that we take the time to consu lt widely on all major issues. I asked people to talk through things, confer with colleagues, and to use the phone more – you can't do work of this nature with officia ls in three continents and divided by severa l time zones exclusively through email exchange. We would bring all Ottawa players together into a single room, and connect them with key contacts in Kabul, Kandahar and, where warranted, Brussels or New York. I made it clear that any and all views were welcome and that we were interested in seeing any new, relevant information. I also said that I expected people to be clear about whether they were reporting based on direct experience and whether they were adding new information. Our ability to add facts and understanding grew with our deployment of civilian experts.

I asked that the Ambassador be consulted on all important policy messages, a necessary fact of life in every mission, and something that senior people in Canada assumed was happening . I asked for reporting from the field that was factual, objective, collaborative, and subject to rigorous assessment. Finally, I made it clear that, after those extensive consultations, once a policy direction was set, I did not expect people, in the absence of any • new or relevant information, to reopen the debate. To do so would be to sow confusion in the system, undermine effective implementation, and demoralize those who were risking their lives to visit the prisons and meet the commitments that all departments and agencies had agreed on. I am also very proud of the fact that, far from stifling opinion or hiding the truth, we built up the resources to report fully, bluntly, and transparently on the mission. In this respect, I point to the Manley Panel report, and to the Quarterly Reports that we have published since June 2008.

No other country offers this level of transparency. But our ability to do this was linked to getting civilian resources into the field, and shifting from opinion, circumstantial evidence and allegation, to fact. J'a i cree une solide equlpe interministerielle profondernent dediee aaccomplir la mission et . a promouvoir les valeurs canadiennes, a commencer par Ie respect de la loi. I spent more than two years on the Afghanistan file. I served in DFAIT, as Secretary to the Manley Panel, and in PCO, where I directed the work that sawall of the Panel's recommendations implemented. I helped to forge a strong interdepartmental team that was fiercely devoted to the mission, but also fiercely devoted to Canadian values, starting with a respect for the law.

I left behind some colleagues who, I know, felt frustrated because once our own airing of views and opinions had concluded, and all relevant consultations were completed, we moved decisively from debate to implementation. I am confident, though, that we did this carefully, effectively and with total fidelity to the standards expected of us by the Canadian Government, the international community, and most importantly, Canadians.

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