Sunday, November 22, 2009

This is Not Somalia Mr. Hillier. Please Stay on Topic.

I find myself very disappointed and sickened with a lot of things this past week. From the horrific hate literature distributed by the Reformers to the attempt to cover up possible war crimes in Afghanistan.

The actions of the Harper government are just business as usual, and while they continue to lower the bar on human decency, the fall from grace of Rick Hillier has been a sad moment in Canadian history.

Sad, because he appears to be taking part in the Reform Conservatives attempt to discredit the Canadian diplomat, and worse still, deflect criticism by bringing up the horrific Somalia affair.

For anyone old enough to remember, the images of a young Somalian teenager murdered by Canadian soldiers for sport, were sickening. Kim Campbell was defense minister at the time, and running as leader of the Progressive Conservatives. I remember being appalled at her almost dismissive reaction.

I was a strong Kim Campbell supporter, and still voted PC in 1993 after her brief tenure as PM, but she definitely dropped down a notch in my esteem. (And then of course there were the horrible "face ads", making fun of Chretien's impairment.)

Throughout the public inquiry, she remained the focus of attention and the outcome (or sweeping under the rug) was an embarrassment and an outrage. Why would Mr. Hillier want to further discredit our military heritage, just to save Stephen Harper, or his own image? He should be ashamed.

I would also hate to think that the motive was to warn present day soldiers about coming forward, because the only one who paid for the Somalia scandal was the whistle blower; a Canadian soldier.

But if you want to know how far Mrs. Peacock's Kindergarten class will go to protect their Messiah, read this piece of nonsense. Mr. Travers turns this into a partisan issue. He should be ashamed. Just last week he was suggesting Harper should call an election before the stimulus scandal hits in the fall. He's not a journalist, just another communications staffer for the PMO.

Travers: It's not Somalia, but it's the same in many ways
Toronto Star
November 21, 2009

OTTAWA - Rick Hillier, one of the powerful figures at the epicentre of the prisoner torture storm, has a revealing quirk. Question what happened in Afghanistan under his command and the former chief of defence staff talks about what went so horribly wrong for Canada's military in Somalia 16 years ago. (SHAME!)

He did it this week responding to senior diplomat Richard Colvin's searing testimony about Canadian complicity in war crimes and a high-level federal cover-up. Hillier does it again in what will now be the most thumbed chapter in his best-selling book about rebuilding the military and battling bureaucrats.

His point is that the Afghanistan controversy now rocking Conservatives and the Somalia scandal that ripped Liberals aren't the same. (And shame on James Travers. The Liberals inherited the mess from the PCs. They handled it wrong, but I remember whose watch this fell under) In Afghanistan, Canadian troops are behaving professionally in testing situations. In Somalia, a few lost control, took trophy photos of a teenager they killed and plunged the Armed Forces into what Hillier calls "a decade of darkness."

For Hillier, there's pride in the differences (???????? How could you take pride in either????). For Stephen Harper, there's danger in the similarities.

In so many ways, what's unfolding now is the same old story. Distant events spiral out of control, secrecy silences truth and the messenger is humiliated, then shot.

Colvin is under furious gutter attack because what he first reported up the chain of command, and is now telling us all, is so explosive. It's this simple: If he is competent (if he is competent? What is wrong with your Mr. Travers?) – and Colvin's case is strengthened by the use of his intelligence in finally changing the way prisoners were handled and his subsequent promotion to Washington – politicians, bureaucrats and generals were derelict in their duty.

If the allegations are true, those accountable for the mission put self-interest ahead of national interest. In protecting themselves they exposed Canadian troops to war crimes risk and local retribution, smeared this country's human rights reputation and made nonsense of the argument that Canada's guiding Afghanistan purpose is to seed values, rights and justice.

There's no end to the ugliness Colvin fingers. The Prime Minister repeatedly misled Parliament. Peter MacKay becomes the third defence minister wounded (what the hell? MacKay wounded? Are you nuts? Any thought to the Afghan prisoners who were tortured? I'm terribly disappointed in you Mr. Travers) by Canada's see-no-evil prisoner policy.

Senior mandarins ignored warnings rather than speak truth to power. And the meticulously mapped drive to restore the post-Somalia (Just how big a cardboard cheque are you getting for this nonsense? Canada's military had a good reputation before the coming of the Messiah, and Somalia was put behind us. Harper besmirched our reputation by throwing us under an American general and aping George Bush's 'cut and run' speech) military as a national icon has hit a pothole and may have blown a tire.

None of this was necessary. Hillier, his various political masters, their supporting civil servants and troops doing the fighting, have long known that it was problematic to abandon prisoners to Afghanistan's summary justice. Hillier details those worries in his book, first Liberals and then Conservatives applied bureaucratic patches to broken protocols and soldiers first whispered about beatings and rape in Afghanistan's primitive prisons. (Hillier signed the deal during the 2005/2006 election campaign. Reports of torture began in the spring of 2006.)

Those early warnings were opportunities to make actions speak louder than all the scripted sound bites that try and fail to explain why Canadians are dying for Afghanistan. Instead, operational expediency and political calculations were the easy winners.

How this ends hangs in the balance. Colvin's career is now hostage to his refusal to be muzzled. His outspoken courage will be wasted if those who know the back-story but have now gone to ground don't soon corroborate his evidence.

Hillier is right; what happened in Somalia in the '90s isn't the same as what happened on his watch in Afghanistan. All that echoes is the shame, the cover-up and the smears.

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