Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Parsing Harper and the CBC

The text in this piece is based on the CBC Newsworld page that originated at 10:35am EST on November 24, 2009. If you doubt the content or think it's been switched around by the powers that be, you could probably visit the Wayback Machine at Archive.org to confirm the initial content if you're that kind of cat. And if you don't agree with my conclusions, well, good for you. That's how things work. Feel free to take exception on your own time, the rest of us get an early start in the morning.

From CBC.ca- Don't muzzle testimony in detainee issue: PM

Let's take it from the top:

A parliamentary committee should not block testimony from those willing to offer evidence responding to allegations that detainees were tortured in Afghan prisons, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

Although not mentioned by name, Harper was referring to David Mulroney, who used to run the government's Afghanistan Task Force.

C'mon. Let's be fair. Prime Minister Harper is, if nothing else, conscious of using the right, non-litigious words for any situation that might, if not shield him, at least make him look not-so-bad in the eyes of the law (the Cadman affair notwithstanding). If the good Mr. Prime Minister welcomes testimony from anyone in the know (such as bureaucrats, field-level workers) who might have two cents worth of opinion on whether or not the federal government a) knew about potential mistreatment of prisoners or b) actually thought this was a bad thing or c) actually cared if it was happening in the first place, so be it. Good on him. But if he's just referring to David Mulroney, well, I guess we can't stop him.

Mulroney, who is now Canada's ambassador to China, said he wants to testify to rebut the testimony of diplomat Richard Colvin. Colvin told a parliamentary committee last week that all detainees transferred by Canadians to Afghan prisons were likely tortured by Afghan officials.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says a parliamentary committee should not block testimony from officials willing to respond to allegations that detainees were tortured in Afghan prisons.

"The diplomat in question, as everyone knows, has a right to his opinion and has given us his opinion," Harper told the House of Commons. "We also know that a large number of his colleagues didn't agree with those opinions and … they have asked for their right to speak, so I’d encourage the opposition not to muzzle them."

One could suggest that he's obliquely referring to Richard Colvin, who recently said that he'd heard allegations of torture of Afghani prisoners. He also admitted that he'd "only spoke to four detainees himself, and he had no way to guarantee those prisoners had in fact been captured by Canadian troops." This isn't rock-hard evidence on Colvin's part. But it has introduced a note of doubt into the process, so those allegations have to be followed-up. Especially by a government who was elected under the auspices of transparency and accountability. Right?

But Opposition MPs have said they do not want to hear from Mulroney yet, saying they want the government to first release documents related to the torture allegations before he appears.

MPs are seeking cabinet minutes from that time period, all memos sent from Colvin and returned to him and human rights reports given to the Defence Department.

Harper said on Tuesday the government "has and will continue to make all legally available information available. But during question period, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said that "we'll hear from witnesses when we have documents, non-redacted documents. We don't want redacted documents."

Bully for Stephen and his betas. That said, why do I have the feeling that the opposition won't be happy with the level of disclosure (especially if there are big black lines pasted through the names of key figures) and that the Conservatives are going to be deeply hurt that the material they supply isn't welcomed with open arms and a cuddle? It's possible that they're going to score a serious point here and hand over everything related to the transfers and bolster their case in such a way that the Liberals can only whine about the whole "it's not what you did it's the way you did it" situation. Or it's possible that Harper's definition of 'everything' is represented by whatever his people have told him is presentable. We'll see.

Colvin has also said his concerns were ignored by top government officials and that the government might have tried to cover up the issue. Colvin further maintained that Mulroney told him to keep quiet about the situation.

Fine. Let Mulroney, in so many words, say "I did not tell anyone to keep quiet about the situation and I disagree with the logic behind Mr. Colvin's findings." Let him be definite and absolute about what happened. Or watch his tapdance. And, listening carefully, so far I'm hearing an overture.

Since then, the government has attacked the credibility of Colvin's testimony. Defence Minister Peter MacKay has claimed that Colvin's statements "cannot be sustained."

Mr. MacKay, define 'sustained' in this context. Assume I'm a moron (and a case surely could be made) and need these things spelled out for me. You haven't said that Colvin's statements are 'untrue', 'out of context', 'false', 'misrepresented' or 'incorrect' and I understand all of those terms. Define 'sustained' or defer to a lawyer who knows what they're talking about.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the prime minister must have known about the torture allegations because of the "cascade" of reports in 2006 and 2007. "It defies belief that this information never reached the prime minister," Ignatieff told the House of Commons. "How can anyone believe that the prime minister did not himself know about torture in Afghan jails and the risk that detainees transferred there would be tortured … How can he possibly justify his failure to act?"

Oh, I don't know. The words "need to know basis" appear to fit in here pretty well, and doesn't Prime Minister Harper hire people to take care of these things? I'm not suggesting that he shouldn't have known about it, I'm just thinking that machinations might have been in place to keep things, shall we say, delegated.

But Harper dismissed the accusation. "The fact of the matter is that whenever Canadian diplomats or Canadian military officials have concrete evidence, substantial evidence, of any kind of abuse, they take appropriate action."

Define 'concrete evidence'. C'mon. You've used the term, stand behind it and risk taking the hit if the rest of the country doesn't agree with your definition.

'Risk taking the hit'. And as soon as I type that, the karmic boomerang flies from my hand...

Rick Hillier, the former defence chief, is to appear at the committee Wednesday, where he's expected to rebut a claim that he was warned that his troops were turning over detainees to torture in Afghan jails.

Good for him! Let him cite dates, times, criteria, details. Nobody else has, Harper and Colvin included. Harper and Colvin especially.

Also scheduled to appear are Maj.-Gen. David Fraser, who led troops on the ground in Kandahar, and Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, who was responsible for overseas deployments in 2006.

Hillier has said he doesn't remember "a smoking gun" of the sort Colvin described. The retired general has said there were always concerns about transferring people to Afghan control, but he doesn't remember such a pointed warning.

The word 'remember' is very interesting. Speaking for myself, I have a lousy memory. I don't remember what I had for lunch on Tuesday of last week. I don't remember anything about my grade 12 formal except for the fact that Romanian red wine is a fine drink when you're seventeen. And if I'd heard rumours about mistreatment of prisoners and a) didn't believe them or b) didn't much care, I might not remember when I first heard the rumblings. I'm just sayin'. Like so many other people over so many other issues in this affair.

Read Colvin's affidavit before flinging mud and decide whether he's a well-intended dupe or whether he's revealing something that was kept out of the public eye. And maybe take a leap and assume that the rest, heaven forbid, is politics.


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