Saturday, December 12, 2009

Harper Must Come Clean. Jody Deserves Better.

Despite the fact that the majority of Canadians question our role in Afghanistan, they do support our troops. They have been given a difficult job to do, but are doing that job with honour and dignity.

However, this government continues to try to hide behind our soldiers, suggesting that the opposition, and in particular Michael Ignatieff; are attacking our men and women in uniform.

In fact the opposite is true.

Our soldiers like the fact that those back home are thinking of them, but don't like the politics. They are smart enough to know that not everyone agrees with the war, but continue to do us proud. They know about the Geneva convention and became very concerned with what was happening to the people they captured. They worried so much that they started taking photos.

Unfortunately, not everyone worried about what this might do to moral, or the safety of our military engaged in Afghanistan. They chose to play games and are still playing games.

This is simply not good enough. Jody in the video deserves better. Our fallen soldiers deserve better. We need a full public inquiry that will exonerate them, and lay the blame at the feet of those who made the decisions; which were often contradictory to those decisions made by those on the ground; who put humanity and honour above all else.

The government should have hugged Colvin, not demonized him
Jeffrey Simpson
Dec. 12, 2009

Patriotism being the last refuge of scoundrels, it's hardly surprising that the Harper government's last line of defence in the Afghan detainee affair has been the military and the flag.

All those who question what happened to Afghan prisoners, runs the government's line, are casting aspersions on the military, the diplomatic corps and Canada. The line is bunk.

We now know, courtesy of an admission from the Chief of the Defence Staff, that Canadian soldiers did their job right. They found a prisoner who'd been tortured, did what they could for him, and reported what they'd discovered.

Worse from the government's perspective: The soldiers' report, cited by General Walter Natynczyk, strongly suggests it was common knowledge among Canadian soldiers in Kandahar in 2006 that prisoners were being abused. Into the dustbin, therefore, went repeated assertions from Defence Minister Peter MacKay that there had never been “credible” evidence of detainee abuse, and not a “single” instance of torture.

The government had plenty of evidence of problems in 2006, and not just from their own soldiers and civil servant Richard Colvin, who papered Ottawa with reports and warnings about what was happening. The Americans were so concerned that they built their own prison. Human-rights groups inside and outside Afghanistan were waving red flags. This is Afghanistan, after all, a post-medieval society where behaviour we would consider unacceptable is often the rule rather than the exception, and not just in the treatment of prisoners.

It was not until May of 2007 – after The Globe and Mail ran stories about abuse, and evidence came to light from other sources – that the government updated and improved its arrangements for prisoners with Afghan authorities.

Therefore, it's “ludicrous” – to use a choice expression of derision by Rick Hillier, the former chief of the defence staff, against Mr. Colvin – that neither he nor other senior military officers, to say nothing of the government, knew anything about what was happening in the prisons.

There were warning lights flashing inside the government and from outside the government.

Mr. MacKay and other ministers insist the government had no “absolute proof” of abuse, whereas we now know such proof was provided. And, in any event, there was so much credible evidence of problems, or at least very strong likelihood of problems, that only the willfully blind or completely distracted would have ignored it or displayed such a lack of interest.

Likewise, it's wrong for Mr. MacKay to say he hadn't assaulted Mr. Colvin's character, since that's precisely what he, the Conservative Frat Pack of attack dogs and the military's journalist supporters have been doing since Mr. Colvin's affidavit and subsequent parliamentary testimony.

Such have been the attacks that 71 former ambassadors – the number is growing every day – have signed a letter reproaching the government for its campaign of vilification of Mr. Colvin.

Usually a retiring bunch (literally), former envoys trained to take orders and stay neutral seldom band together in such numbers to deplore a government's policies.

What we are witnessing is a window into this government's preferred method of behaviour, its method of responding to criticism and, strangely for a government preoccupied with spin and image control, of bad public relations.

The government's ferociously partisan instinct is to crush dissent, and to punish the dissenters.

Hence the treatment meted out to Mr. Colvin. Hence the stonewalling and attack dog methods in the Commons. Hence the last line of defence: patriotism.

The narrative from a more nuanced government could have been: We heard Mr. Colvin's warnings and those from other sources. He was a fine public servant, but he had only one angle on the challenges we faced. We listened to his information and sought to corroborate it because, after all, we were working in another country for which we had to show certain respect. When we gathered more information, we acted to upgrade our agreement with Afghan authorities. Rather than demonizing Mr. Colvin, the government should have hugged him.

Instead, his allegations are described as “ludicrous,” his character is assaulted, and those who raise questions about whether Canada was fulfilling its Geneva convention obligations in handling prisoners are accused of undermining troops' morale, criticizing the secularly sacred military and lacking in patriotism.

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