Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Shoot the messenger

Jeffrey Simpson's take on the blustering, posturing and deliberate avoidance of the torture of Afghan detainees after they were handed over to local authorities.

And the Conservative spin machine spins on …

Richard Colvin, according to sources from all over the place, was a diplomat's diplomat. He volunteered for the provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar after a colleague of his, Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry, was killed and three Canadian soldiers wounded when their convoy was blown up in January 2006. Colvin sent communications to everyone he could think of that detainees transferred by soldiers to Afghan authorities were being tortured.

Politicians, DoD, everyone said they never heard anything about it.

If you believe that, I have some nice waterfront property in Florida I'd like to sell you ...

Now he's in the intelligence division of the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC. Most of his colleagues know little about him, as is the way with "spooks". The floor he works on is severely restricted. If anybody knows anything about what was and is going on there, it would be this guy. To be a whistleblower is a dangerous thing for a man in his position.

So the neo-Conservative members of parliament are trying to discredit him. Peter McKay, defence minister, complete with little "yellow ribbon" lapel jewelery, says that Colvin is trying to smear "the troops", which is bound to get tempers riled. They know this, but anyone with a few functioning brain cells knows that's not what this is all about.

According to the Geneva Conventions, to which Canada is a signatory the last time I looked, the soldiers could be complicit it war crimes if they had handed over prisoners who were subsequently tortured.

I doubt whether the front line soldiers knew anything at all about the conditions inside Afghan prisons. But their superiors in both the military and government did - for years - and therein lies the rub.

Former chief of defense staff Rick Hillier blusters on, of course, but at the time he blustered about not being there to "babysit" Afghans. The army's job was to kill "scumbags". Nice.

Problem was that most of the people swept up and handed over were not combatants by any description. They were bakers, truck drivers, farmers, people who just happened to be "in the wrong place at the wrong time" according to Colvin. If Canada couldn't secure its own prisoners or ensure their safety when handed over to someone else, they shouldn't have taken any. They should have been released. There are fears that some jurisdictions just killed people rather than take them prisoner. Now, that is a war crime.

While questions were being asked in Parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper (who says he doesn't "do" Monday question periods) was across the street accepting a honorary jersey from the Canadian lacrosse team. Let's get the important stuff right, eh, Stevie?

My loathing for the man just deepens.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Sydney Peace Prize

John Pilger was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize recently. His acceptance speech was amazing.

Breaking the Australian Silence.

"Tonight, I would like to talk about this silence: about how it affects our national life, the way we see the world, and the way we are manipulated by great power which speaks through an invisible government of propaganda that subdues and limits our political imagination and ensures we are always at war – against our own first people and those seeking refuge, or in someone else’s country."

This has echoes for Canada. We had our little "sorry" episode, just like Australia. As far as I can tell, nothing has changed. Harper's government still refuses to sign the UN treaty on aboriginal rights. I think he's worried that the next big mineral or oil find will be on aboriginal land and he won't want to share the wealth.

There's so many echoes in it to Canada's situation that it almost hurts.

The aboriginal population continues to die disproportionately from swine flu and seasonal flu. They have higher rates of diabetes and heart disease. Their life expectancy is shorter. When the reserve in northern Ontario called Kashechewan was flooded during a rapid spring thaw and the inhabitants were evacuated to other parts of Ontario, they found that many children suffered from scabies. The intake for the water plant was downstream from the sewage outfall. Another wonderful government project.

We pour money and young lives into Afghanistan, supposedly building schools and dams, yet our own citizens are living in horrible situations.

Makes no sense.