Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/12/2009 (4059 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
THE Harper government has done a disservice to Canada and our troops by its obstructionism and inept management of the controversy surrounding detained persons in Afghanistan. Defence Minister Peter MacKay should resign to give a new minister an opportunity to restore confidence in the government and bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.
The question of what to do with suspected terrorists and people of interest held by Canadian soldiers has been around in various forms since the conflict began eight years ago. The fact is the issues were new terrain for the military, which had never been involved in anti-insurgency operations. It was understandable that there was confusion in the field and that mistakes, and delays in fixing them, may have been made. In the fog of war, things can go wrong, and Canadians understand that.
The departments of defence and foreign affairs both stumbled at the beginning of the conflict as the government attempted to come to terms with its legal and moral obligations, and its realistic options on the ground. In January 2002, for example, a furor erupted in Parliament when it was revealed that Canadian special forces were handing detainees in their custody to the Americans, who then shipped them to Guantanamo Bay. The opposition parties were in an uproar because they considered the practice immoral and because detainees were shackled and held in cages.
As Canadian troops became more involved in the fighting, however, it became clear that the arrangement was not acceptable, so the Liberal government of Paul Martin signed a detainee transfer agreement with the Afghan government in 2005.
By spring 2006, however, reports emerged that the Afghans were torturing detainees. The freshly elected Conservative government stumbled and bumbled in response. It was not until the following year that a new agreement was signed that gave Canada the right to inspect Afghan prisons to ensure detainees were being treated properly.
Among questions unresolved is why did it take the Tories so long to respond to reports of abuse, and just what did they know about mounting evidence that Afghan authorities practiced torture?
Rather than admitting a mistake, or apologizing for the delay, or, better still, offering a full and honest explanation, Mr. MacKay decided instead to lead an assault on a respected public servant, who testified at a parliamentary committee that he tried to warn the government repeatedly of evidence of crimes committed by Afghan jailers. The minister was either willfully blind or incompetent in responding that there is no proof that even a single detainee apprehended by Canadian soldiers was tortured. (He has since been proven wrong by his own chief of defence.) The UN, the Red Cross, and other agencies and countries all reported on the abuse, but Mr. MacKay decided, irrationally, that none of it applied to Canada.
When he took over the defence portfolio more than two years ago, Mr. MacKay knew that the detainee question was a sensitive and important issue. He had a duty to ensure that he was fully informed on all aspects of the controversy, but he says today that he never saw any of the reports about torture by former diplomat Richard Colvin. That, in itself, is an admission of failure. The minister must step down. He is unfit to deal with the file any longer.