The Globe & Mail's tabloid journo Christie Blatchford is still trying to recover some of her cred on the Richard Colvin file, lost when her inexpert leakage on behalf of the government was exposed for all to see last December.
Colvin remains in her sights, and today she bemoans the fact that the rest of the media have moved on when real live witnesses have been found who allegedly contradict Colvin's claims of having given distant early warning on the Afghan torture issue.
Blatchford has seized upon this account to rescue her cause. Gavin Buchan occupied Colvin's position before and after the latter served in Kandahar. He testified this past Thursday, before the Parliamentary committee looking into the Afghan detainee matter, that the first he heard of any torture was when the April 2007 story broke in the Globe. Retired Major General Timothy Grant said the same thing.
Blatchford sees this, of course, as reinforcing her contemptuous dismissal of Colvin as a "so-called whistleblower" in a column last November 30, claiming he had "seized his cause late in the game." And to be sure, the testimony from Buchan--more so than Grant's, because nobody seems to tell generals anything--is something to be reckoned with. In it, he stated flatly that Colvin had never mentioned detainee abuse to him, even in transition notes that he received when he took over Colvin's job.
Colvin, on the other hand, has insistently claimed that he had been blowing the whistle since early 2006. Michael Ignatieff provided a useful timeline during a debate in the House of Commons last December 10:
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.
So the crux is this: either Colvin--who is sticking to his story consistently--somehow failed to deliver his concerns to his successor although he sent them hither and yon, or Buchan was, to put it as charitably as possible, working in a self-created silo until the Globe & Mail story broke. But if this sort of thing is any indication, Colvin is in the clear. This too.
Colvin, of course, has had one hand tied behind his back all along, and his enemies have taken full advantage. Memos from him have been redacted, and he is not legally permitted to disclose what those blacked-out portions say. This has allowed Blatchford to disparage him without evidence, and sleazy games to be played by the government last month.
These exchanges between Colvin and Alain "good and ready" Préfontaine are priceless:
Diplomat Richard Colvin: "If we had access to the un-redacted version then there would be some crucial information, additional information which we obviously don’t have because of the redactions."
Justice Department lawyer Alain Préfontaine: "I have had access to the un-redacted document. I don’t see there anything that is missing or crucial or important."
Colvin: "Well I am afraid you are acknowledging that you are new to this issue because if you were someone who was involved in this file, involved in Afghanistan, involved in this issue, what has been redacted is extremely important and it is critical to understanding that there is nothing particularly subtle about this message. I don’t agree that it’s a subtle signal."
Préfontaine: "The commission will decide whether it was too subtle for the reader to pick up your meaning."
Colvin: "I think the commissioner is only given the redacted version so he may have some difficulty fully assessing the subtlety or lack thereof of this report."
Préfontaine: "I realize it’s difficult for the commission to have to contend without ability of independent verification of what you say, or for that matter, what I say."
Colvin: "I am fully prepared for the commissioner to see the un-redacted version and to form his own opinion."
Préfontaine: "So would I. But it’s not my call to make, Mr. Colvin."
Military Police Complaints Commission chairman Glenn Stannard: "Did you say the information contained in the un-redacted [version] really isn’t critical – or did I misread that?"
Préfontaine: "No, you didn’t Mr. Stannard."
Stannard: "Just a real silly question then: any reason why we don’t have it? "
Préfontaine: "Because disclosure would be injurious to either national defence, international relations or national security."
Stannard: "Even though it’s not critical information?"
Préfontaine: "Well it might be that the information has nothing to do with what Mr. Colvin makes it out to be."
Colvin: “Obviously critical information has been removed by the censor. And I’m not allowed to speak to what’s behind the blacked-out portions. So I am not sure what good it is to read simply read the little bits which the censor decided is available to the Canadian public.”
Préfontaine: “Because at the end of the day, Mr. Colvin, this commission is going to be asked to pass judgment on the actions of some on the basis of this material. That’s why.”
Colvin: "I can give you my assessment of the significance of this section if you like."
Préfontaine: "No. I just am looking at what information you relayed to the reader, who will eventually end up being the commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan, who is tasked to make the decision of whether to transfer or not."
Colvin: “But your redactions ... have made my content somewhat incoherent because big chunks of it have been sliced out. So I am not sure what good it does to read all these little bits.”
Préfontaine: “I have heard your opinion, Mr. Colvin.”
If Stephen Harper bows to the will of Parliament, of course, those redacted portions of Colvin's memos will likely become publicly available. Then we'll see who is telling the truth and who is not. And I know where I'm putting my money.