It’s not a new low for the Stephen Harper Conservatives, but rather a continuation of their import of the worst of the tactics of the U.S. Republican Right. The “you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists” rhetoric, the labeling of opponents as “Taliban sympathizers” or “un-Canadian” or “against the troops.” Basically, smear and appeals to patriotism substituting for policy and debate.
Over the weekend, however, Harper took his cheap political hectoring to a new low. Speaking about a Canadian Navy vessel, using serving sailors as political props for his photo-op, Harper launched into a baseless partisan attack against his political opponents, who have had the temerity to raise questions about his government’s handling of reports of torture of Afghan detainees:
"Let me just say this: living as we do, in a time when some in the political arena do not hesitate before throwing the most serious of allegations at our men and women in uniform, based on the most flimsy of evidence, remember that Canadians from coast to coast to coast are proud of you and stand behind you, and I am proud of you, and I stand beside you."This was an attack unbecoming of a Prime Minister of Canada, and to do so aboard a naval vessel with our sailors as background is doubly disgusting. But it has been all too common a tactic by Harper, by Peter MacKay, by Conservative pundits and the Blogging Tory keyboard commandos: when under attack for their political decisions, hide behind the military and smear your opponents.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear, once and for all, although it really shouldn’t be necessary: absolutely no one here is attacking or making allegations about our military members. Harper is slinging bullshit. The torture scandal is entirely political. This is about what members of the Harper government knew about allegations of tortured Afghan detainees, who knew it, when they knew it, and what action they took and why. Absolutely no one is questioning the decisions or activities of our men and women on the ground, in uniform. Just the Harper administration in Ottawa.
Indeed, if our troops have been put in a compromised situation here, if they may have turned over detainees who went on to face torture in Afghan prisons, then that is the fault of the politicians and civil servants in the Conservative government that ignored the warnings of Richard Colvin and others. It is the Conservatives that would have failed the troops, and that’s one reason why the opposition wants to get to the bottom of this mess.
But instead of investigating this, instead of looking for answers, or even admitting mistakes may have been made by his government, Harper and his ilk are inventing fictitious attacks against the troops. For Harper, the military is a convenient human shield. He can hide behind them and lob grenades at his political opponents, labeling any return fire as unpatriotic attacks on our soldiers, sailors and airmen.
It’s disgusting and unprincipled, and Harper, the Conservatives, and all good Canadians, should be ashamed of his behaviour. Our military deserves better than to be used as a human shield by a Prime Minister unable to fight his own battles.
Scott Tribe: Harper causes me to post twice on a Sunday - very rare
Jane Taber: Using the troops as props
UPDATE: Scott Taylor, a veteran and experienced investigative reporter on military matters with strong ties to the rank and file, rips into Peter MacKay:
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Initially, MacKay charged that by retelling "Taliban lies" Colvin has essentially been fuelling enemies’ propaganda machine. When that tactic failed to score a hit, MacKay wrapped himself in the flag, curled up in the fetal position and pleaded for everyone to "stop attacking his soldiers." This is an emotionally charged issue for many of those who are justly proud of the service of our Canadian Forces, and MacKay claiming that Colvin is somehow attacking our military will immediately invoke their ire.
Although the manoeuvre was dramatically played out by MacKay, the fact is that no one engaged in this debate has alleged wrongdoing on the part of any of our troops.