Tuesday, December 08, 2009

"It wasn't me"

Who is advising the Harper government on strategy these days--Shaggy?

One journalist calls its handling of the Afghan detainee issue "parting ways with reality," although the blunter phrase 'barefaced lies' might at this point be more appropriate. Rather than absolving itself by citing authorities in its favour, it has simply managed to taint those authorities as well. For weeks now we've watched the stain spread, but its only response has been a continual variation on the "wasn't me" theme.

The latest casualty is Gen. Walter Natynczyk. Yesterday's
Globe & Mail carried a story by Paul Koring that explodes the repeated statements by Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay that there is no evidence of Canadians handing over detainees to be tortured. MacKay made such statements as early as 2007, and has done so six times in the past two months alone.

Yesterday Transport Minister John Baird attempted to wave away this heavily-documented report by referring to a statement by Natynczyk in 2007

"The vice chief of defence staff, now the chief of defence staff, had issued a statement over 2½ years ago stating that the Afghan in question was not detained, was not captured and was not transferred by the Canadian Forces," Mr. Baird said.

And then, in the sleazy fashion we have come to expect of government ministers these days, he continued:

"I hope the member opposite will stand in this place and apologize to the men and women in uniform."

The notes of soldiers on the ground at the time do not bear out Natynczyk. Nor was Richard Colvin's testimony refuted by Los Tres Generales on November 26, as a couple of over-eager partisans asserted at the time. Indeed, one careless bit of reporting in that vein was the subject of a Globe & Mail retraction on December 4. "Ludicrous," indeed.

Other witnesses have not been quite so helpful to the government's cause, either. A backlash from the diplomatic community is now building. And Colvin's personal credibility is bolstered every time a new memo leaks out, redacted or unredacted.

The gallons of squid-ink poured over those files by the government, who made them available in unredacted form to friendly witnesses while continuing to withhold them from the parliamentary committee before whom the witnesses were appearing, tells its own story. And its evasive legal manoeuvring to prevent a searching probe by the Military Police Complaints Commission, culminating in the termination of its chairman, tells a distressingly similar tale.

This is a government that has been caught out. Its brazen attempts to stonewall are bad enough, although all governments do that. Its attempted character assassination, however, first of Richard Colvin, then of its critics--alleged to be insulting "the men and women in uniform" by daring even to raise the detainee issue--is morally reprehensible. But with the spectre of The Hague on the horizon, perhaps this desperate, defensive fumbling is all it has left.

The Harper administration has given itself precious little room to manoeuvre, painting itself into a tighter and tighter corner with its rote denials and unfounded smears. Only a miracle can extricate it now. No doubt sacrificial lambs are likely already being sought
to bring that about. Could one of them be Peter MacKay?

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