Saturday, December 12, 2009

"Canada is Not an Island". Do you Remember Who Said That Stephen Harper?

In 2006 as part of an address to our soldiers in Afghanistan, Stephen Harper stated; " ... Canada is not an island. And what happens in places like Afghanistan threatens and affects all of us back home in our own country."

And yet in his handling of the Afghan Detainee issue, Harper does indeed believe that Canada is an island, and that what happened in Afghanistan can be contained here if he just somehow manages to control the spin.

He is calling the request for a public inquiry, just partisan attacks by opposition members who do not respect our troops or are somehow unpatriotic. He claims that handing over documents that would reveal who knew what and when, on the torture issue; would be a threat to national security, and put our soldiers at further risk.

Funny thing is. I didn't see George Bush's lips move.

Does he honestly believe that the rest of the world isn't watching this with some interest? War crimes are a very serious offense, and with many NATO countries already questioning whether or not they should continue, this could be used as proof that they should pull out.

The Dutch media has already reported that their military knew about torture, so demanded they be allowed to personally track anyone they turned over. The German people are sceptical of their country's further involvement.

But perhaps more importantly, Prof. William Schabas, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway, told Sun Media that the International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, had recently been in contact with him, about Canada possibly being complicit in torture.

The original investigation only involved Rick Hillier and Gordon O'Connor, but apparently the names of Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper have been added.

Amnesty International, the International Red Cross ... the list goes on.

And yet the Harper government has stated that they will not adhere to a binding parliamentary motion to hand over all unredacted memos, relating to the matter. They will use every means at their disposal to ignore the will of Parliament, and ignore the international courts.

If they get away with this, it will be a very sad day for Canada indeed. We will then officially be an island.

Ottawa won't release Afghan documents
Harper government says it will not comply with Opposition motion passed by Parliament, setting stage for legal battle
Susan Delacourt Ottawa Bureau
December 11, 2009

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government appears unwilling to hand over documents as ordered in a vote last night in the Commons, setting the stage for a showdown with Parliament and a possible rendezvous with the courts.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said that the government would release only "legally available" documents on whether Afghan prisoners detained by Canadian forces were subject to torture when handed over to local authorities, and what the government knew about the issue. The definition of that is apparently going to be established in days and perhaps weeks to come by officials.

"These are done by experts, non-partisan individuals, who have a look at these things, who have no other interests but the best interests and security of Canadians, particularly those Canadians in uniform," Nicholson said.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said that's not good enough, and the government is standing in the way of democratic rights.

"This is about democracy. Last night, the House of Commons said 'We need the documents. We need all the documents. We need to end the censure. We need to end all this wiping-out of documents.'

"We need the truth. This is about the honour of Canada. This is about torture. This is about our human-rights reputation," Ignatieff told reporters in Montreal.

"This is an issue about fundamental democracy in Canada and we see absolutely no reason why the government just can't do what Parliament says."

International Trade Minister Stockwell Day indicated this morning that the opposition parties would have to go to the courts to get all the information they're seeking.

A PMO spokesperson later confirmed that the Conservative government does not intend to turn over the documents as ordered by Parliament.

The government will respect laws intended to protect national security and the operational security of the Afghan mission, the spokesperson said.

"When people ask for all the information, when they ask for every little bit of information ... it would be naive to the extreme to think that that information can be given out. I don't think Canadians would like the fact that our troops would be unnecessarily exposed," Day told reporters during the release of a quarterly progress report on Canadian involvement in Afghanistan.

"But if there's a piece of information that somebody doesn't have, there is a process," Day said.

The Liberals narrowly pushed through a motion in the Commons on Thursday that forces the Harper government to release waves of unedited documents on Afghan detainee treatment.

The motion passed with a vote of 145-143, and has legal force – Parliament, according to the Commons law clerk, represents the ultimate court in the land.

But the government and the department of justice are arguing that other laws – those protecting national security, for instance – take priority, and Day made clear today that the Conservative government intends to use that interpretation to block the documents' release.

"We are not going to make information available just readily, about friend and foe alike, about specific items, about a security operation that could imperil our own troops and could imperil the citizens," Day said.

The government fought hard Thursday against the release of information, arguing that the Taliban would profit from the data, while soldiers and Canada's partners abroad could be compromised.

Information about when and how Canadian officials visit particular prisons, for instance, "would be of great value to the insurgents, and to the terrorists," said Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said such arguments were "ridiculous."

"The risk of putting anybody in operational danger is about zero, but even if there was a case of operational risk, a parliamentary committee could find a way to get the documents," Ignatieff said.

He said the Liberals were forced to take this measure because of the way the Conservatives have been releasing documents surrounding the detainee-transfer issue for the past few years – either with significant portions blacked out, or indiscriminately sharing more documents with friendly sources outside Parliament than with MPs.

The issue has become more contentious in the wake of recent testimony to a committee of MPs by senior Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin that he had warned of potential detainee torture while he served in Afghanistan, but that his warnings were ignored.

Then on Wednesday, chief of defence staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk produced evidence that a prisoner detained by Canadians and transferred to Afghan police in June 2006 was abused – only a day after he had given contrary testimony to a Commons committee.

Natynczyk also cited a report that said soldiers photographed the detainee before the transfer to ensure that if Afghan police abused him "as had happened in the past," they would have a record of his condition. Intelligence specialist Wesley Wark said the heavy censorship of the documents supplied to the parliamentary committee probing the handling of prisoners has turned the hearings into a "farce."

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