Friday, December 11, 2009

It's a Shame That it Had to Come to This But Harper Left the Opposition no Choice

When reading the news today, regarding the new motion brought forward by Mr, Ignatieff; we have to remember this: We elected 308 Members of Parliament. We did not elect this government.

When we cast our ballot there is no guarantee that the party we vote for will lead. We accept that they may oppose. But we trust them to represent us and we entrust them WITH OUR SECRETS.

This is not a partisan issue, it is a national one. If we don't do the right thing and launch a full public inquiry, the international courts will take the matter out of our hands. I can't imagine anyone wanting that to happen.

The Liberals are willing to put their own record on the line, because the honour of our country and our troops is at stake.

MPs order release of Afghan torture documents
Harper loses showdown over Afghanistan files
Richard J. Brennan
Susan Delacourt Ottawa Bureau
December 11, 2009

OTTAWA–Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has lost its iron grip on information about detainee treatment in Afghanistan after a showdown that pitted the power of the ruling party against the power of Parliament.

The Liberals narrowly pushed through a motion in the Commons on Thursday that forces Harper's government to release waves of unedited documents so that Parliament can examine 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 motion passed with a vote of 145-143.

It is not clear how that information will be released, or whether the government will continue to resist the documents' release.

Failure to hand over the material, however, could result in the Conservative government being found in contempt of Parliament and could see the Commons asking the police to step in and obtain the information that has now been formally ordered released.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's motion was supported by the New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois.

The government fought hard Thursday against the release of information, arguing that the Taliban would profit from the data (Give me a break. The Taliban are profiting from this government's decision to ignore the concerns of the people of Afghanistan), 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.

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."

"I think a much more liberal approach to provision of documents would be the way to go so that the public at large doesn't feel that the government is simply trying to stiff the parliamentary committee, which is very much the impression one gets at the moment," said Wark, a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa.

Thursday's debate provoked a battle of legal letters between the justice department and the law clerk of the House of Commons about whether Parliament reigns supreme over other laws of the land, such as laws to protect evidence and national security.

Carolyn Kobernick, an assistant deputy justice minister, argued the department and federal government are bound to "ensure respect for the national interest in accordance with the rule of law."

But Robert Walsh, law clerk of the Commons, replied that view "fails to recognize the constitutional function of the House of Commons to hold the government to account and does not adequately address parliamentary privilege as part of the constitutional law of Canada."

When asked about Afghanistan during the Commons question period on Thursday, Harper argued there's nothing new in the opposition's attack.

"People have been operating in extremely difficult conditions in Afghanistan. Whenever they have been faced with difficulties, they have taken the appropriate action," Harper said.

Systems have been changed two, three, four years ago. This issue has long since been dealt with."

NDP Leader Jack Layton warned that if Canada doesn't call a public inquiry to probe allegations of prisoner tortured by Afghan officials then some international body will do it instead.

Meanwhile, Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs have asked for an emergency meeting of the special committee on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan to discuss holding meetings during Parliament's recess, which lasts until Jan. 25.

Among other things, they want to get another crack at Defence Minister Peter MacKay, whose appearance Thursday was cut short.

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