Thursday, January 14, 2010

Flailing, flailing...

The Usual Suspects are trying to deflect blame for Torturegate onto the Liberals.

Readers know that I'm no friend of the latter, but can't we inject a dollop of Canadian fairness into the discussion, not to mention some pesky facts?

Fact: General Rick Hillier, acting on his own or not as the case may be, signed a deeply flawed agreement to turn over detainees to the Afghan authorities in December, 2005, during an election campaign. The Conservatives were elected a month later. Instances of mistreatment were reported by Richard Colvin to his superiors, first in May 2006, and well into 2007.

Fact: The Liberal government was indeed considering transfers of detainees to Afghan authorities as early as May, 2005. But what came out of these initial discussions was merely a framework agreement:

Graham’s May 2005 letter states that the government wanted an agreement under which Afghan detainees transferred by Canada would "be afforded treatment consistent with the standards set out in the Third Geneva Convention, regardless of the legal status of those detainees." [emphasis added]

The letter also says that Canadians would pass information on detainees to the International Committee of the Red Cross, "which has the mandate and resources to track Prisoners of War and detainees captured during armed conflict." However, it does not clarify whether the ICRC would report back to Canada on the condition of the detainees.

O’Connor [the Conservative's former Minister of Defence] recently apologized for incorrectly telling Parliament that the ICRC was reporting back to Canada.

On May 31, 2005, Graham and Hillier met Afghanistan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah to discuss the possibility of a bilateral "framework agreement," according to the briefing note. In a July 28 letter, Hillier asked Graham for authority to work toward the negotiation of a bilateral agreement on the treatment of detainees.

Graham signed off on the plan. [emphases added]

In other words, the Liberals wanted an arrangement that would conform to strict Geneva Convention protocols. As we now can see, of course, there was many a slip 'twixt that perfectly reasonable position and the final, flawed document signed by General Hillier. But the execution hardly discredits the original approach.

Fact: The Liberals, following the NDP, have called for a public inquiry that would encompass the entire Afghanistan mission. If there are skeletons in the Liberal closet in this matter, they seems unafraid of having them rattled.

Fact: The Conservatives waited a leisurely year and a half or so, during which detainee abuse was taking place, to put a new agreement into place on May 3, 2007, after being embarrassed by an extensive and shocking report in the Globe & Mail on April 23. That's a mere ten days, indicating that the government can move swiftly--when it wants to.

Here's Michael Ignatieff on the chronology:

Let us remember how we got here. The sequence of events is extremely important.

On December 18, 2005, during a federal election, General Rick Hillier, then CDS, signed a detainee transfer agreement with the Afghan government.

The ministers opposite were sworn in on February 6, 2006, and the defence minister has admitted that he heard serious allegations of detainee abuse from the moment the government took office.


In March 2006, the U.S. State Department reported that Afghan authorities, and I quote: “tortured and abused detainees on a regular basis.” However, despite this information, the Conservative government carried on as usual. And a few weeks later, in spring 2006, the first detainees were transferred by the Canadian Forces.


In May 2006 Richard Colvin began sending reports of detainee abuse to his superiors.

On June 2, 2006, the Afghan independent human rights commission reported that a third of detainees handed over by Canadian Forces were abused or tortured in Afghan custody. On that same day Richard Colvin sent another memo with reports of torture in Afghan jails. Still the government did nothing.

Mr. Colvin sent three more reports before the end of 2006. He made additional reports in March, April, June and July 2007. Yet, 17 months, 17 memos, and still the government did nothing.


In 2006, the Canadian Embassy in Kabul had a report on human rights stating that torture was systematic in Afghan prisons. Once again, the government did nothing.


It was during the summer of 2006 that the detainee abuse confirmed yesterday by General Natynczyk took place. It was documented and reported by soldiers in the field who did their job. Still the government did not do its job.

In November 2006 the Department of Foreign Affairs actually issued talking points playing down reports of torture. Secret memos leaked to the press confirmed that the government's priority was spinning the issue rather than preventing torture from occurring.


In February 2007, there were three additional allegations of detainee abuse. That same month, the military police complaints commission initiated an investigation that was blocked by the government.


The government's year of wilful blindness only ended when graphic reports of abuse surfaced in the Canadian press on April 23, 2007.


It was not until May 3, 2007, that the government signed a new detainee transfer agreement. However, that did not put an end to the problems. [emphases added]

Not surprisingly, an insufficient grasp of the facts (if I can be parliamentary for once) has been compounded by misleading statements like this one:

The International Red Cross issued a stinging rebuke of Richard Colvin in late November, for asserting that the organization did not engage in the proper diligence and followup on the treatment of detainees.

Follow the link and see for yourself how far the IRC's statements depart from this claim. No such allegations were ever made by Colvin about the IRC. His concerns had to do with the length of time it took for the Canadian military to report to the IRC about detainee transfers, not about the IRC itself. The Red Cross was concerned, not about accusations against it that were never made, but about Colvin's talking publicly about the IRC's role. And their spokesperson's actual comments do not add one iota of weight to the government's case.

Proroguing Parliament does not suspend the First Rule of Holes.
National Post commenter "wolfman 49" walks up one side of this Tory apologist and down the other:

This is probably the most pathetic partisan nonsense I have read in a long time. The writer seems to acknowledge that war crimes have in fact been committed. Then the standard deflection to the Liberals of several years ago. But wait: Did the Liberal Government refuse to hand over documents demanded and ordered by Parliament? No. Did the Liberal Government attack its own diplomat publicly? No. Did the Liberal Government prorogue Parliament to end a committee investigation? No! Did the Liberal Government engage in cover up? No! Harper did all of these things. We live in the present, not the past and this is called a "cover up" of Nixon-like proportions!!!

Someone's got something to hide, but it doesn't appear to be the Official Opposition. The deflector in question sees no value in a public inquiry. Small wonder.

1 comment:

knygathin_zhaum said...

I will admit to some ... confusion.

Where ARE the deleted comments cited by Shiner and dBO?

And most of the ones up don't look like panic at all.

The whole thing's a bit boring actually. Vote the budget down and force an election if it's that big an issue.

Promise an inquiry, and if the Liberals win a majority, call Doug Young out of retirement so he can shut it down if it gets too embarrassing for them.