Friday, November 20, 2009

It's not the torture, it's the cover-up

I haven’t followed the ins and outs of Richard Colvin’s testimony and the ensuing Conservative smear campaign super-closely, but I do have some thoughts here on what the issues are and how the opposition should be pursuing them.

To me, this isn’t so much about allegations of torture in Afghan prisons, and the program of the Canadian military transferring prisoners to Afghan custody where they could face abuse. When the government, after much public pressure and pressure from the opposition parties, finally revamped the transfer program a few years ago it was an acknowledgment by the government that yes, there is a problem here, and we need to take appropriate action to ensure our soldiers aren’t unknowingly complicit to abuse.

Colvin’s testimony served to underline the necessity for the reform of the transfer program, and again raise the question of who knew what when, and why the government took so long to act.

What is new, however, and newly damaging and meriting of close scrutiny, is Colvin’s testimony of how when he tried to raise these issues, he was constantly shut-down, told to report verbally so there would be no paper-trail, his memos sent to the circular-file.

You can say that the reports of torture and abuse he raised are hearsay and second or third-hand, whether that matters or not is debatable but it is a legitimate point.

But what is not second-hand, what is not hearsay, are the roadblocks he ran into from his superiors in government when he tried to pass these allegations and reports up the chain of command. He had direct, first-hand knowledge of being told to report verbally so there would be nothing on paper, nothing that could be released under Access to Information requests.

Whether the allegations of abuse were legitimate or not, and indeed if they weren’t the government wouldn’t have later revamped the transfer programs, they should have been evaluated and considered and not covered-up. This is compounded by the extraordinary lengths the Conservatives went to in attempting to stop Colvin from telling his story, whether to the courts or to parliament.

It’s not the crime, they say, it’s the cover-up. Here it’s probably both, but the cover-up may be more damming. The Conservatives are trying to distract attention by trying to discredit Colvin's testimony as third-hand hearsay. We need to pivot back to the cover-up, and the direct attempts to stifle and suppress his reports.

BY THE BY, speaking of Rick Hillier jumping in to take a few swings at Colvin and say he knew nothing about nothing, it's worth remembering that it was Hiller as Chief of Defence Staff who tried to clamp-down on the growing scandal in 2007 by ordering the halt of the release of any information on the detainnee program under Access to Information on flimsy national security grounds.

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JimBobby said...

It all boils down to who knew of the problem between May 2006 and November 2007. Colvin says he started making noises in May 2006. In May 2007, allegations of detainee abuse hit the MSM. In November 2007, after the Gosselin revelations, a temporary suspension of detainee tranfers was implemented. A few months later, detainee transfers were restarted.

CanadianSense said...

The last time we had a real case the low level paid for it and the top were not touched. (links below)

1992-1997 example

When did prisoners get delivered, 2002-2006 before a change in policy?

When did Colvin arrive in theatre?

Did anyone in Nato have a better program when did they employ it?

Why did Colvin not release the names (sources)or have an answer by NOT having a one-on-one discussion with McKay or Hillier at the committee?

"End Run", Chain of Command excuses?

It would have been simple matter to send a memo after the one on one meeting to create the paper trail disclosing his serious concerns.

Did he raise the issue in front of them in the meetings? Why not, why now?

If you are going to cover your arse and you think you are getting snowed you can protect yourself.

In my opinion this is just another sideshow and Colvin is being played. If he had "credible" sources those names and photos would have been in the media a long time ago.

The Prison in Iraq is an example how you can't supress "bad news" or crimes.

This could not stay buried.

Mike514 said...

I don't totally agree with you, but you've hit on some important points, so I applaud you.

One thing I would say is: Don't put all your eggs in one basket. For example, Colvin was asked to verbally transmit information. But he didn't even do that, because he never raised the issue during meetings with Hillier and MacKay.

On a semi-related note, if Canada is in A-stan under NATO, why doesn't NATO have a general policy on detainee transfers that all participating countries can follow?

Why, in the MSM, have our policies been compared to the UK and the Dutch's detainee transfer policies? Why is each country in charge of its own policies, and there aren't global NATO transfer policies?