Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why Does Harper Not Want the Committee to See the Evidence?

With the Media and the Reformers spinning out of control, everyone is overlooking something very serious.

Our soldiers and members of our government, from Harper down; could be facing war crimes.

With the Reform Conservatives being only concerned with the court of public opinion, and how this will affect their chances for a majority; not one of them has shown even a shred of concern for our troops.

Remember them? Those men and women who are fighting and dying for something they thought was noble.

Instead everyone, including Rick Hillier, is concerned with their own careers. This is inexcusable.

And if the Ref-Cons are successful in stopping a full investigation, then the international courts have no choice but to take over, under a law that we are a signatory to, called "Command Responsibility". Under this law and in the court case, stating that you didn't see the memos, is not an allowable defense.

And to state that they have no 'evidence' of torture, is absolutely ridiculous. You don't have to actually 'see' the torture taking place, to know it's happening.

Stephen Harper's big deny for today is the suggestion that the opposition won't allow David Mulroney to speak. They will allow him to speak once they see the evidence that Harper and MacKay seem intent to keep hidden. Why is that?

Harper's shabby Afghan semantics
November 25, 2009

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government spent much of 2006 and 2007 brushing off concerns that Canadian troops were handing over detainees to the Afghan security forces, who were notorious for torturing prisoners. "We don't have evidence" of abuse, Harper insisted in April, 2007, as if that settled the matter.

But by then a senior diplomat in Afghanistan, Richard Colvin, had spent a full year letter-bombing Ottawa with dire warnings. Yesterday, when Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff wanted to know how Harper could possibly have been unaware of Colvin's "cascade of reports" about torture, Harper trotted out the same bland defence.

"Whenever Canadian diplomats or Canadian military officials have concrete evidence, have substantial evidence of any kind of abuse, they take appropriate action," he said. Many of Colvin's colleagues "did not agree" with him, Harper added.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay makes much the same case: "There has not been a single, solitary, proven allegation of a prisoner being abused that was transferred from the Canadian Forces."

This lawyerly harping on "concrete evidence" and "proven allegations" might play well in a court of law, but in this context it is beside the point. As far as anyone knows, no one has seen a Canadian soldier turn over a suspect to a torturer to be pistol-whipped, cudgelled, shocked or raped. But Ottawa just doesn't know for sure. Given the risk, why was Ottawa so ready to hand over prisoners?

Colvin sent senior Canadian officials no fewer than 17 messages in 2006 and 2007 warning that Afghan interrogators used torture as "standard operating procedure," that Canadian troops were handing over "a lot of innocent people," and that could make them complicit in war crimes. He also copied more than 70 people. Yet officials let the transfers continue, kept Canadians in the dark by cloaking the practise "in extreme secrecy," and even stonewalled the Red Cross, he said.

Surely Ottawa had reason to be concerned, if nothing else.

Canada's former top soldier was. "We always had concerns with those handovers," though no proof, says Gen. Rick Hillier. If Harper was unaware of Colvin's reports and had no reason to worry, why did he ink a new deal in 2007 to protect detainees? Why did Ottawa halt transfers three times this year? And why try to stop Colvin, a courageous whistleblower, from testifying to a military police inquiry?

As for Colvin's credibility, the Afghan human rights panel has just confirmed that there were indeed 232 cases of torture in 2006/07.

In short, Colvin was red-flagging a real problem, to a Conservative government that seemed in a hurry to get detainees off its hands without worrying overmuch what might befall them, how Canada's image might suffer, or what legal consequences our troops might risk.

The Commons committee looking into this mess is to hear from Hillier and other military figures today. It should also agree to hear testimony from David Mulroney, who was Harper's point man on the Afghan mission when Colvin filed his reports. He can be recalled later, if need be after related documents are tabled.

For his part, Harper should release whatever documents Ottawa has, including Colvin's unedited memos, cabinet minutes leading to the tougher 2007 transfer policy, foreign ministry reports on the Afghan human rights situation and records on prisoner transfers.

And the PM should give the legalisms a rest. We need the truth.

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