Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Harper's Control of the Message Kept us in the Dark About Afghanistan

"What we're seeing here is a degree of control within the government, within the caucus ... that we haven't seen for a very long time .... That control extends to every corner of government.

At a recent news conference, senior military officers were under government orders to answer reporters' questions only on the condition that they were not identified."I have to live within that limitation," Lt.-Gen. Walter Natynczyk, vice-chief of defence staff, told reporters.

The Prime Minister pledged to do better. Yet since that finding, bureaucrats remain largely muzzled. Arif Lalani, Canada's ambassador in Afghanistan, is not allowed to speak with reporters without having each individual request approved by Ottawa, sources say. The Canadian International Development Agency has no one in Kandahar authorized to speak with reporters, even though development is ostensibly the focus of the extended mission.

The above came from a piece that was written by Bruce Campion-Smith, and published in the Star on May 26, 2008. Entitled How Harper controls the spin, it discussed the rigid control that the PMO has over all messaging. The editor of Pravda would have been envious.

So with no one in Afghanistan allowed to keep us up to date on what was happening in a Canadian war zone, all we got from our own news services, was spin. Spin, spin and more spin. Consequently, anyone wanting to learn more had to rely on outside sources.

But what is compelling about this, is the fact that since the Harper government kept an iron grip on all messaging, how can they possibly say now that they never received any of the reports on the Afghan detainee issue?

Not only would they have received them, but they crafted the messaging.

Because if we were allowed to hear what was happening, we might have learned that our Ambassador Arif Lalani confirmed in an interview with American television host Renee Montagne, that "Whenever you hear that a NATO soldier has been killed in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar, it's probably a Canadian soldier. Canada only has 2,500 troops in Afghanistan but they are fighting in one of the most dangerous regions of the country. So while Canadian troops make up only a small fraction of NATO forces, they've suffered the highest number of fatalities proportionately."

This fits in with what others have been suggesting, that because of our policy on detainees, our soldiers were put at greater risk, but it also begs the question - why are fighting in one of the most dangerous regions of the country?

We also learned from Richard Colvin, that when he was drafting his memos, Lalani stepped in and did a little editing. What else was he hiding and what is our government hiding?

Ahead of more testimony at the Afghanistan committee today, the Globe reports that Richard Colvin was asked to delete portions of his reports.

Canada’s former ambassador to Afghanistan asked a diplomat to erase two bluntly worded sections from an April, 2007, report on how Ottawa’s delays in notifying the Red Cross of prisoner transfers to Afghan authorities left these detainees vulnerable to abuse. The Globe and Mail has learned that Arif Lalani asked for the edits from Richard Colvin, a diplomat at the centre of an unfolding controversy over whether Canada turned a blind eye when handing prisoners to Afghanistan’s torture-prone authorities. This editing took place in April, 2007, only days after a Globe investigation revealed disturbing allegations of abuse and torture among prisoners transferred by Canadians to Afghan detention – stories that kicked off a stormy debate in Ottawa.

But we can't blame Lalani for keeping the bad stuff from Harper, because the PMO started receiving warnings as early as 2006.

We have to do better than this. We are pouring billions of dollars into this so-called 'war on terror', and it will be our children and grandchildren who will be paying for it. We invaded and occupied a country against their will. We have to accept that. But now what are we going to do about it?

One thing we have to do is tell this government NO MORE BLOODY SECRETS! We don't need to know sensitive plans, but we do need to know what the hell is going on. It's our money and our young men and women. We get to have a say.

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