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[This web page was first posted on 2002 April 18.  It was revised and re-posted on 2002 April 25.  It was revised and re-posted on 2002 May 28.]



a philosopher speaks out

against the Canadian involvement

in the war in Afghanistan




Background – 2002 May 28


I eventually received a reply from Art Eggleton, who was dismissed recently as Defence Minister.  The tenor of that reply, as well as one I received from the Prime Minister’s Office, is that this campaign is a struggle for justice and that it is sensible to trust the American assurances that the detainees captured by Canadian forces will be treated according to the ‘principles of the Geneva Convention’, despite not being accorded the status of Prisoners of War. 


I don’t yet share this opinion, but I might be persuaded to accept it if the detainees captured in  January (the ‘Eggleton detainees’, so called because of the confusion into which the whole business plunged Mr. Eggleton) were identified.  This is the basic first step in ensuring that their human rights are being observed.  Accordingly I have sent a fresh letter to the Prime Minister (the new Defence Minister won’t have an e-mail address “until this Friday”) requesting that the Eggleton detainees be publicly identified.


If this request can’t be met, that confirms my suspicion that the current campaign is in effect an internationally illegal vigilante raid, which has brought disgrace to Canada and to its military tradition.


If I receive a reply from the Prime Minister to this letter, I will post it here.


-- D. S. Hutchinson




2002 May 28

subject: please identify the ‘Eggleton detainees’


The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien

Prime Minister of Canada


Dear Sir,


Thank you for dismissing Art Eggleton as Defence Minister.  He has given us Canadians ample cause to merit being fired, especially in January and February when he apparently misled the House of Commons about the combatants captured and detained by Canadian armed forces in Afghanistan (the ‘Eggleton detainees’).  I regret that you didn’t fire him at that point, and I suppose you also regret your decision to defend your incompetent Defence Minister.


Before he was dismissed, Mr. Eggleton found time on 14 May, to reply to my letter of 30 January, in the following terms: “The Canadian government is acting in accordance with the Geneva conventions and Canadian law with respect to the detainees.  Furthermore, Canadian Forces members are well trained to handle detainee situations.  The transfer of detainees taken by Canadian Forces members to the United States authorities is also permitted under international law.  The United States has assured Canada that the detainees, irrespective of their status under international law, will be treated in accordance with the principles of the Geneva Convention.”


I am grateful to see this spelled out.  I’m sure it’s true that the American government has given Canada assurances, but I’m also sure it is foolish for Canada to trust those assurances.  The United States of America at present is a badly wounded and dangerously angry brute of a superpower which has no regard for international standards of justice, as was witnessed quite recently when they decided to renege on their commitment to the Rome Treaty on the International Criminal Court (ICC), the international initiative to create a permanent war crimes tribunal.


I also wrote to you on 18 April, to urge the withdrawal of our troops, in light of the American incompetence displayed in the bombing of our Canadian soldiers, especially given that the mission was intended to capture combatants and ship them off to the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay.  (You may recall the reason why I call that detention facility a concentration camp; if not, that letter is easily available at my University of Toronto academic web site:, where I will also post this letter.)  You didn’t take my advice, instead deciding not to renew the Canadian contingent after the end of the present tour of duty, for the worst possible reason: Canada has so poorly invested in its armed forces that they cannot engage in sustained combat.


In your reply to my letter (dated 26 April, signed by T. Robbins), you offered the following argument: “The campaign against terrorism is the first great global struggle for justice of the 21st century.  As in all such conflicts of the past, Canada has been on the front lines.” <Unstated conclusion: Canadians must fight in the Afghan campaign.>  But I think you made an elementary mistake: no struggle can be a struggle for justice if it is conducted unjustly.  It can be at best vigilante justice, not real Canadian justice, to capture men and ship them off to a concentration camp, where they enjoy neither the protection of accused criminals, nor the protection of Prisoners of War.  Nor is it even made known who they are, so they could be in contact, if only by letter, with the people who are important to them.


A responsible Canadian government should be able to give a public answer to the following questions: What are the names and nationalities of the combatants captured by Canadian troops in Afghanistan in January (the ‘Eggleton detainees’)?  Where are they currently being detained?  What charges have been laid against them, if any?  Please answer those questions in your reply.


If you can’t or won’t answer those questions, then I think the following argument is the only valid one: ‘this Afghan campaign is a vigilante raid; Canadian forces have no business taking part in vigilante raids; so Canadian forces should never have taken part in this Afghan imbroglio.’


If so, since this was your decision as well as Mr. Eggleton’s, you share in the disgrace.


Yours very truly, Douglas S. Hutchinson





Hon. Dennis Mills, M.P., Broadview-Danforth

(my Member of Parliament)


Lachlin McKinnon, B.A., (Hons), LL.B, A.R.C.T

Special Advisor to the Governor General of Canada


Paul Knox, The Globe and Mail


Rick Salutin, The Globe and Mail


Professor Cheryl Misak, Chair, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto


Amnesty International Canada





Background – 2002 April 25


Please see below for earlier episodes of this correspondence.


On 2002 April 19, following up on this same business, I sent an e-mail message to Hon. Dennis Mills, the Member of Parliament who represents me in my home riding in Toronto.  He replied very courteously and promptly, a few hours later, in the following terms:


Dear Dr. Hutchinson

Thank you very much for taking the time to communicate with me regarding the situation in Afghanistan.


The events of this week have certainly been distressing.


I have, as requested, forwarded your letters with a covering supporting note from myself to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Defence.


Sincerely,  Dennis Mills




However, until today I had not heard anything from either the Prime Minister or the Defence Minister.  Today’s post brought the following message:


Dear Mr. Hutchinson:


On behalf of the Honourable Art Eggleton, Minister of National Defence, I would like to acknowledge receipt of your correspondence on February 5, 2002.


Please be assured that your correspondence will be reviewed and a response will be forthcoming, if required.




Kevin DeGaust

Special Assistant <to the Minister of National Defence>



This letter was postmarked 2002 April 18, and I believe it was stimulated by a communication from the Prime Minister’s Office, in response to my publicly calling attention to the fact that my letter of late January had so far gone unacknowledged. 


The only remarkable thing is that the above letter from Kevin DeGaust is dated April 15, which would seem to be a keystroke error, if not a deliberate attempt to conceal the fact the letter was stimulated into existence by a directive from the Prime Minister’s office on the 18th of April.  It seems hard to believe that it would take 3 days for his letter to move from signature to franking.  It is also difficult for me to believe that my letter would suddenly have been attended to on 15 April, 3 days before I communicated with the Prime Minister, when it had already languished for 61 days, after having  been received by the MND on February 5 and by the MND Registry on February 13 and stamped with the file number MCU 2002-01076, and processed by the following procedure: “Referred to <space left blank>” and “Charged to <space left blank>”.  In other words, it was not dealt with by anybody, until suddenly Mr. Eggleton’s special assistant attended to it in mid-April.  However, the facts are not directly at my disposal, and I leave it to readers to drawn their own conclusions.


Regrettably, there does seem to be some confusion at times in the Ministry of National Defence about when certain communications were sent and received, a confusion that sometimes afflicts the Minister himself, as a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry has been told in its February hearings into the alleged concealment of information from Parliament (about the three combatants captured by Canadian forces in January in the Kandahar region) on the part of Mr. Eggleton.  I wonder what that Commission of Inquiry has concluded?


I still await a more substantial and accurately dated reply from the Minister of National Defence, or from the Prime Minister.


-- D. S. Hutchinson




Background – 2002 April 18


On 2002 January 30, I sent the following letter to the Minister of Defence, Art Eggleton.  He has not replied, at least not yet (2002 April 18).  In light of yesterday’s blunder, in which American air force personnel mistakenly dropped a 500-pound bomb from their F-16 fighter plane onto a battalion of Canadian troops, killing and seriously injuring many of them, I sent to the Prime Minister an urgent request for an immediate withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan.


 The text of that letter (sent today, 2002 April 18) is also attached below.


D. S. Hutchinson




(the second letter)


2002 April 18


Right Hon. Jean Chretien

Prime Minister of Canada


Sir; I demand the immediate withdrawal of all Canadian troops from Afghanistan, in light of the following three urgent considerations. 


As yesterday's events demonstrated, the American military force in Afghanistan is not well enough trained and co-ordinated for it to be appropriate for our troops to engage in joint military combat with theirs.   This is not the first time that Americans have dropped bombs in Afghanistan on "friendly" troops and killed them; but it is the first time that it has killed friendly non-American troops.  It must be the last.


As events of the last few months have demonstrated, the American military force has had little success in its military objectives, and its military campaign seems headed for the sort of stalemate and quagmire that has predictably frustrated various attempts by foreign powers over the last few centuries to control the Afghan hinterland by military force.


As responsible voices around the world have been arguing, the American conduct of the war in Afghanistan is contrary to international law and the principles of fundamental justice.  For a succinct explanation of exactly why the American treatment of its captured combatants is illegal, please refer to the recent article by the leading legal theorist Ronald Dworkin (an American), "The Trouble with the Tribunals", published recently in  The New York Review of Books.  To link to Professor Dworkin’s article, click here.


In my opinion, "concentration camp" is the only accurate term to describe the American facility at Guantanamo Bay, which is characterized by the following features: the prisoners are not identified as to name or nationality (with a few exceptions, who are citizens of 'friendly' nations); there is no limit set as to how long they can be incarcerated, and no right of habeas corpus; they enjoy neither the treatment due to Prisoners of War (a status which the Americans have refused to accord them, despite wide and strong international pressure), nor the treatment due to persons accused of crimes; they cannot be assured that they will even be informed about the evidence which might form the basis for a verdict of guilty by the tribunal, and for an American-administered punishment.  It was in precisely in this frame of mind (a firm subjective conviction that the captured men don't deserve the full protection of the law because they are evidently enemies of the state) that the Nazi authorities justified to themselves their various Konzentrationslager.


I have already expressed my alarm about the involvement of Canadian troops in this military campaign, which has illegal rules of engagement in respect of captured combatants.  I expressed my alarm to the Defence Minister Mr. Eggleton, copying my letter to you.  I wrote this letter on 2002 January 30, and I have yet to receive an answer, or even an acknowledgement.  So this is another thing I earnestly request you, as well as issuing the order to recall our troops from Afghanistan: please either persuade your Defence Minister (or his staff) to attend to his correspondence properly, or else ask for his resignation.


If either you or Mr. Eggleton needs to be reminded of my January letter, it is posted on a web site associated with my University of Toronto philosophy course PHL200Y, at this URL:


I have also posted, at the same URL, the text of this present letter, and I hope I will be able to report publicly in due course that I received an acknowledgement from you.


Yours sincerely,


Doug Hutchinson

Professor of Philosophy

Trinity College and University of Toronto


copies: Faculty and Graduate Students of Philosophy, University of Toronto;

Heather Mallick, The Globe and Mail.





(the first letter)


2002 January 30


Hon. Art Eggleton

Minister of Defence

Parliament, Ottawa


Sir; you should be ashamed of yourself for having ordered Canadian soldiers into combat without the corresponding obligation to treat any captured combatants as Prisoners of War.  In modern times Canadian soldiers have never acted under these rules of engagement, and you have brought disgrace to Canadian military tradition, and offended the sensibilities of all right-thinking Canadians.


If you don’t yet understand my outrage I would ask you to read the enclosed opinion piece by Heather Mallick, published in the Globe and Mail on 26 January, a piece which expresses my sentiments exactly.  Every single Canadian that I have spoken to during these last few days shares these opinions.


I accept that it can be right and in the public interest to outmanoeuvre our enemies, and to neutralize or perhaps even kill them, if they threaten us; but it can never be right or in the public interest to humiliate our enemies.  The United States of America is making this mistake, and it is imperative that we inform them that it is unacceptable and that we will have nothing to do with it.


I accept that the United States is our ally and friend; but that is no reason to follow it into disgraceful and foolish behaviour.  The Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero discussed this question in his book On Friendship, saying that it can be right to break off a friendship if the friend asks you to do what is wrong, and that if you follow your friend into crime, to claim that one did it for the sake of a friend “is no excuse” (sec. xi.37).


I write not only as an ordinary private Canadian, but also as a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.  I have a large audience of students and colleagues who are hearing my view of your un-Canadian conduct.  My Canadian values are consonant with those of the late Pierre Trudeau, who, had he been still with us, would surely have been able to explain to you the difference between the illegitimate use of force and the legitimate use of force, in keeping with our Canadian tradition.  I urge you, for all our sakes, to reconsider.


Yours very sincerely,


Doug Hutchinson

Professor of Philosophy

Trinity College and University of Toronto


copies:  Prime Minister Chretien, Parliament; Hon. John Godfrey, Parliament;

Heather Mallick, Globe and Mail




[This web page was first posted on 2002 April 18.  It was revised and re-posted on 2002 April 25.  It was revised and re-posted on 2002 May 28.]