Monday, December 21, 2009

"Torturegate" Hysteria: More Context.

Andrew Coyne:

"None of this is evidence of a deliberate policy of transferring prisoners for torture, or even negligent disregard of their probable fate—the stuff of war crimes charges. Neither can we say for a fact that senior officials knew prisoners were being mistreated. The facts, at least so far, remain consistent with a story of officials’ evolving awareness of the seriousness of the problem, and of the inadequacies of their initial responses.

"It was, after all, at Canada’s insistence that an agreement was first struck with the Afghan government in December 2005, requiring that any prisoners be treated humanely according to the Geneva Conventions, and ensuring access to Red Cross inspectors at any time. As the weakness of that agreement became apparent, a new arrangement was struck in February 2007 providing for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission to make inspections as well. Corrections Canada officers were flown over to make recommendations for improving Afghan prisons. And when even that proved deficient (the AIHRC complained it was being denied access), after the publication in April 2007 of prisoners’ allegations of mistreatment the protocol was changed yet again, to provide for inspections by Canadian officials."

Barely conscious from all the hyperventilation over who may or may not have acted with sufficient sedulousness about what they may or may not have known about what may or may not have been alleged about events that may or may not have even occurred, three years ago, Ottawa's politicians appear to have produced something approaching a real Constitutional crisis, Coyne observes.

Parliament will fight and Parliament will be right, Coyne says, and he makes a rock-solid case. But why has it got to this point? Why is the Parliamentary Committee on Afghanistan so preoccupied with revisiting alarums that were raised and addressed and inquired into and settled nearly three years ago, instead of getting down to the urgent business before it?

The Committee's far more serious order of business has been, for some long while, the pressing question of what Canada's role in Afghanistan will be, post-2011. The one thing that Harper's Conservatives have been crystal clear about is that Canada's post-2011 role will be up to Parliament, and the Parliamentary Committee has been invited more than once to turn its attentions to the matter. Instead, the Committee provides circuses and distractions, but otherwise, silence. It's still not even on the Committee's radar.

Meanwhile, more context: As for what's actually happening, now, in the real world, there's no evidence of abuse, and no reports of mistreatment.


Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Terry: "up to Parliament". Well, yes, but not as MPs might actually think, decide, following serious and intelligent, er, debate. Rather as they are whipped (or not) to vote by their various parties.

In other words, Parliament's role is a sham and farcical one with puppets of all parties parroting the party line.

For shame on people, MPs, who should have at least a modicum of real bottom.

I much prefer foreign policy, and military deployments, remaining an executive (royal) prerogative. If "Parliament" really does not agree with what the executive is doing then they may throw the bums out by a vote.

Effectively what happened to Neville Chamberlain in May, 1940. Though whether or not Parliament should approve war in the first place (Mackenzie King, 1939) is a nice point since no-one--at least in Canada--is likely in almost any circumstance short of the real, massive, thing to use the "w" word in the first place.


5:04 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

I'm with forcing Parliament to take responsibility for the decisions we elect them to make, but in any event, in this case, the Tories have exercised the "executive (royal) prerogative" in deciding that Parliament should decide.

Parliament should start behaving like grownups. Parliament should decide.

5:52 PM  
Blogger AC said...


Thanks for linking. Three points:

1) It is significant if prisoners captured and transferred by Canada were tortured or abused, even if it happened in the past. It's not a crisis in itself -- bad stuff happens in wars -- but it's something we should wish to prevent, and if it happened, we should try to find out how and why, so that we can ensure it doesn't happen again.

2) If it did happen, and ministers knew about it, and told Parliament that it wasn't happening, or that if it did, they didn't know anything about it, then ministers lied to Parliament on a very serious matter, and there should be consequences.

3) If it did happen, and ministers didn't know about it, that's also serious business, because it means there was a breakdown in the process of reporting up the the chain of command, which is either because the minister and his generals didn't insist hard enough on being informed, or because the military was keeping him/them in the dark. Whatever the explanation, it's something we should want to nail down.

But we can't answer any of these questions at the moment, in large part because the government persists in suppressing the release of pertinent information, even to the point of defying the express will of Parliament. That is now the primary issue, but it subsumes the other three.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Hi Andrew.

First point: Agreed absolutely. I'm out of the closet supporting Paul Dewar's proposal. If there's going to be an inquiry, it should be expanded to scrutinize every allegation and review how these matters are being dealt with on the ground now, not just three years ago.

Second point: Aye and aye.

Third: This is probably the meat of it, although I am less concerned, because the implications are not as dire and the decision-making structure now accords fully with NATO policy, leaving the politicians
out of it, which is the way it should be. These aren't political
decisions. These decisions should be made according to strict NATO
protocol. The policy is that detainees should be treated "as though" the Geneva conventions apply. This tends to give belligerent Pashtun hillbillies access to the best food, the cleanest sheets, the most
modern health care attention and the finest company they've ever known in their lives, and all you have to do to get it is shoot a Canadian soldier, but this is the price one pays for being a civilized country.

Defying the express will of Parliament is certainly the primary issue now to arise from the rumpus-making in the Committee, but for the UN
and ISAF and NATO, and the cause of reconstructing the shattered
Afghan republic, and I suspect the vast majority of Canadians, the
much larger issue that Parliament should be addressing is the question of what the hell Canada intends to do with itself in Afghanistan post-2011.


7:49 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Just for comparison:

"Germany's evolving Afghan mission--and maybe a real scandal"


1:09 PM  
Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/23/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

9:29 AM  

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