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.

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