Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Afghanistan torture and the price of integrity

"I encourage you to … start your career planning as soon as possible."

That's Tory Defence Minister Peter MacKay, showing Peter Tinsley the door. Tinsley is presently the head of the Military Police Complaints Commission, which is attempting to get hearings underway about Canadian Forces complicity in torture in Afghanistan.

The Harper government has been throwing up a series of obstacles to prevent subpoenaed witnesses from testifying at the inquiry. I blogged about this a few days ago, but new revelations indicate that federal officials have actually threatened and intimidated witnesses, and forced them to withhold vital documents from the inquiry.

When independent inquiries start getting too close to wrongdoing by top military brass, mysterious things can and do happen. The current Tory cover-up revives uncomfortable memories of the abrupt cancellation of the Somalia inquiry by the Liberal prime minister at the time, Jean Chrétien. That inquiry was looking into the torture-murder of a Somalian boy and other gross abuses of civilians by Canadian Forces personnel. The entire fetid story of the Liberal cover-up may be found here.

Not necessarily by coincidence, there have been direct links between the Somalian and Afghanistan situations, although it should be emphasized that in the latter case the issue is complicity--the actual torture was carried out by our Afghan allies, not by the Canadian Forces.

The inability to get to the bottom of things--or the top--when military malfeasance is at issue is an instance of the "culture of impunity." We normally like to associate the phrase with other countries, but even in democratic Canada, there are people and institutions that operate outside the law, and those operations are off-limits to public scrutiny or the pains and penalties normally applied when warranted by law.

It took a man of some considerable strength of character--Peter Tinsley--to press ahead with an inquiry against all the odds. And he is paying the price for his integrity. On December 11, his term as Commissioner will come to an end. It will not be renewed. Watch for his replacement by a complaisant government puppet, and a speedy and unsatisfactory end to the MPCC's foredoomed investigation.

UPDATE: Yet more Canadian complicity in torture--of one of our own citizens. The Harper government's attempt to minimize the role played by Canadian officials in the Abdullah Almalki case has rightly been labelled "absurd" by Amnesty International. More piano-playing to come?

No comments: