Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why is John Baird Defending the Torture of Afghan Prisoners?

You know the Reformers are in trouble when they have John Baird come out and try to explain something. Yet here he is ... the transport minister, trying to defend one of the biggest cover-ups in recent memory.

Mrs. Peacock's kindergarten class almost, kinda' sorta' side with Canadians on this issue, but with Don Martin opening the door to areas where the Ref-Cons could discredit the career diplomat Richard Colvin, and James Travers rewriting history; it's not looking good.

I was pleased that a recent CBC poll showed that 92% of Canadians believe Mr. Colvin, so expect more spin and blather in the upcoming weeks.

Mr. Arar's lawyer has come out and suggested that there is no way that the Canadian government and our defense department could not have known that the prisoners they were handing over would be tortured. No way on earth.

So as my mother would say "save your breath to cool your soup" Mr. Baird. No one is listening is to you.

Arar-case lawyer sees torture déjà vu
Afghans' rights record should have led officials to suspect prison abuse, Cavalluzzo concludes
Richard J. Brennan OTTAWA BUREAU
November 21, 2009

OTTAWA–Afghanistan's widely criticized record on human rights should have been enough for Canadian officials to suspect detainees in Afghan prisons were being tortured, says Paul Cavalluzzo, the senior commission counsel at the Maher Arar inquiry.

"In light of the human rights record of Afghanistan, you would expect that officials would check it out either themselves or through non-governmental agencies like the Red Cross as to what may be occurring," Cavalluzzo told the Toronto Star Friday.

The Conservative government has steadfastly refused to acknowledge widespread torture in Afghan jails despite testimony this week from senior Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin, who said that while at the Canadian embassy in Afghanistan in 2006 he repeatedly warned senior government and military officials of allegations of physical and mental abuse.

Cavalluzzo, a respected Toronto lawyer, cited similarities between the Conservative government's hard-line position and Canada's role in the torture of Arar in a Syrian prison.

Arar, a Canadian citizen, was passing through New York on his way home to Ottawa from a vacation in Tunisia seven years ago when U.S. officials held him, wrongly accused him of links with Al Qaeda and sent him to Syria, where he was jailed for months and regularly beaten.

"I saw many similarities because his (Defence Minister Peter MacKay's) position seems to be that unless you see the torture occurring then you don't have proof of it. In one of the key lessons of the Arar report, the commissioner was critical of consular officials (in Syria) who basically said the same thing," Cavalluzzo said.

Dennis O'Connor, the associate chief justice of Ontario who headed the federal inquiry into the Arar affair, cleared the telecom engineer of terrorism allegations, and found the actions of Canadian officials likely led to his being deported by U.S. authorities to Syria.

In 2007, Arar received $10.5 million compensation from the federal government and an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

After Colvin reignited the Afghan torture controversy, Conservatives launched an all-out effort to discredit the 40-year-old diplomat, saying his allegations were based on hearsay and not first-hand knowledge.

"There was no credible evidence in Mr. Colvin's testimony, not a shred of specific evidence," said Transport Minister John Baird, who fielded questions on Afghan detainees in the House of Commons Friday. (So why didn't you look for the evidence when you first started getting the reports?)

Cavalluzzo said Canadian embassy officials in the Arar case also said they didn't suspect torture because they didn't see it happen.

Cavalluzzo said O'Connor found that "in situations like that you've got to be more analytical in the sense that you have to look at the human rights record of the country, the human rights records of the detention centre where the person is, and you make an educated decision.

"It seems in this instance that's what Mr. Colvin was doing. He didn't see it, obviously, but he recognized it and when he made these reports alarm bells should have rung in Ottawa and a thorough investigation should have occurred at that time. In my view, Colvin was acting quite appropriately ... because he has an obligation to bring it forward to his superiors."

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