Well, the news is here. After the Conservatives failed to keep Richard Colvin silent or ignored, we learn that Canada may have sent Afghan prisoners to be tortured. Mr. Colvin, a diploma with Foreign Affairs, described a pattern of misbehaviour among Canadian officials in Afghanistan that facilitated torture.
Colvin said he was specifically told by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former foreign affairs adviser, David Mulroney, to use the phone instead of putting anything in writing about prisoner abuse, which Colvin said contradicted Canadian policy and international law against surrendering to the risk of torture.
“There was indeed a policy, but behind the military’s wall of secrecy, that’s exactly what we were doing,” said Colvin, who is now the deputy head of intelligence at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.
Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives and military brass have a bit of a different take on the subject.
The Conservative government and senior military brass were in full damage control Thursday as they sought to discredit accusations from a top diplomat that Canada turned a blind eye to reports that Afghan prisoners were tortured after Canadian soldiers surrendered them to local control.Defence Minister Peter MacKay dismissed Richard Colvin’s allegations that virtually all Afghan prisoners were tortured as “nothing short of hearsay, second- or third-hand information, or that which came directly from the Taliban.”
As MacKay went on the offensive in the House of Commons, the recently retired head of Canadian forces overseas, Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, said there was no way that Canada would have knowingly participated in a “war crime” of handed over detainees to torture.
So, who do we believe? The Liberal’s Foreign Affairs critic, Bob Rae, suggests we should trust Richard Colvin’s account:
Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said that [Defence Minster Peter] MacKay’s attacks on Colvin — a man who is now Canada’s head of intelligence at the Canadian embassy is Washington and presumably considered credible enough to hold the senior post — are “reprehensible.”
Rae also pointed out that MacKay contradicted himself in the Commons by insisting that Colvin’s story was “full of holes,” but then later saying that the diplomat’s concerns played a part in Canada’s decision to strengthen its transfer-of-prisoners arrangement in 2007 to allow for followup visits to ensure detainees weren’t tortured.
My guess is that Colvin’s story is a little embellished. Without any corroboration, I’m hesitant to believe that the Canadian establishment in Afghanistan was so completely infested with corruption and criminal activity. Nonetheless, on the whole, I’m ready to side with Mr. Colvin. The government’s argument is weak and implausible. It seems unrealistic that no prisoners whom Canada turned over to Afghan authorities were tortured. Mistakes are going to happen, sadly, but the Conservatives’ offensive is just a little bit too much.
Even if the government was not complicit in any wrongdoing by senior officials in Afghanistan, its refusal to properly confront this issue after the fact makes them accomplices. If they want to return to side of the righteous, they must make sure that this never happens again; they must take the NDP’s advice and create some sort of public investigation.
It is imperative that any investigation be public. Stephen Harper’s government has already made too much of an effort to hide inconvenient testimony to be fully trusted to take care of this matter on their own.
Moreover, considering that Canadian investigators in Afghanistan are willing to turn a blind eye to the rape of children – even when our soldiers alert them to the tragedy – how can the public trust them to ever hold the guilty accountable?