Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ludicrous parsing

Anyone remember Bill Clinton, in a moment of desperation, stating "I did not have sex with that woman?" Well, of course, that depends on what you mean by "sex."

Now that former general Rick Hillier and two other generals are in a tight little spot of their own, we see that they learned a trick or two from Slick Willie:

Three generals declared Wednesday that there was no mention of the word "torture" in reports from a senior diplomat who asserts that he repeatedly warned the government against surrendering Afghan detainees to local authorities because they would almost certainly be abused.

Here's a "blue dress" memo that Richard Colvin sent in 2006*, on the occasion of his first prison visitation. It was copied, inter alia, to NDHQ, David Mulroney (who was heading up the Privy Council Office-appointed Afghan Task Force at the time) and Colleen Swords (then the Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security Branch and Political Director Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade).

Some excerpts:

Of the [redacted] detainees we interviewed, [redacted] said [redacted] had been whipped with cables, shocked with electricity and/or otherwise "hurt"....detainees still had [redacted] on [redacted] body; [redacted] seemed traumatized.

Individual sat with his toes curled under his feet. When he straightened his toe, it could be seen that the nails of the big toe and the one next to it, were a red-orange on the top of the nail, although the new growth underneath appeared fine. When we asked him about his treatment [redacted] rather than Kabul, he became quiet. He said that [redacted] he had been "hurt" and "had problems." However, he is "happy now." He did not elaborate on what happened [redacted]. [Redacted] seemed very eager to please, very deferential, and expressed gratitude for our visit. General impression was that he was somewhat traumatized.

When we asked him about his treatment [redacted] he said he had "a very bad time. They hit us with cables and wires." He said they also shocked him with electricity. He showed us a number of scars on his legs, which he said were caused by the beating. He said he was hit for [redacted] days....

He and others told [redacted] that three fellow detainees had had their fingers "cut and burned with a lighter"....When we asked about his own treatment [redacted] he said that he was hit on his feet with a cable
or a "big wire" and forced to stand for two days, but "that's all." He showed us a mark on the back of his ankle, which he said was from the cable. [Note: There was a dark red mark on the back of his ankle.]

That's just the first one of a series of communications from Colvin. Beatings, burnings and whippings--but these men were not "tortured," the generals appear to be saying. Nothing to see here: move along. Not even worth a probe. Subsequent emails, sent to Peter MacKay, conveyed the concerns of the International Red Cross Committee about detainee abuse. They landed in the circular file.

The word "ludicrous," used defensively by Hillier yesterday to describe Colvin's testimony, might better be applied to the testimony of the generals, but it doesn't begin to cover this. "Deliberate culpable negligence" would seem a better fit.

Meanwhile the Conservative government is still flailing, attempting even at this late date to maintain their cover-up, while being given aid and comfort by credulous media commentators. Now, that's ludicrous.

*My mistake. It was Colvin's first visit to that particular prison (Sedarat). Since Mulroney didn't arrive on the scene until January 2007, and the email is copied to him, the email was clearly sent in that year.

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