Monday, November 23, 2009

Whatever It Takes

Just when the Harper government starts moving up in the polls, it always manages to reveal the mean spiritedness at its core. Richard Colvin, a career diplomat, testified last week before a Parliamentary subcommittee. He claimed that, while he was posted to Afghanistan, he sent reports to 76 people in various government departments, detailing his suspicions that prisoners captured by Canadian Forces were turned over to Afghan authorities and tortured.

He also claimed that his reports were, for the most part, ignored. When they were brought to someone's attention, he was told that the information he sent was too sensitive to be put in writing. His reports could be delivered orally; but he was to leave no paper trail. He was also told that if he brought his information to the Military Police Complaints Commission -- a government agency specifically established to deal with these issues -- legal action would be taken against him

The next day, the government rose in righteous indignation, claiming that the man it had promoted to a senior post in Washington was not to be believed. Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said that Colvin's testimony was full of "holes" -- and that he (MacKay) had never seen any reports of suspected torture.

But, as Chantal Hebert noted in The Toronto Star, the government's claims of ignorance ring hallow: "Colvin, among others, was supposed to be their eyes and ears in Afghanistan." And, given the fallout from the Gomery inquiry, it is hard to imagine that the civil service would "keep its Conservative masters out of the loop."

The problem is not new. It has bedevilled the government before. Former Defense Minister Gordon O'Connor was removed from his post in part because he bungled earlier reports that our troops had handed over prisoners to Afghan torturers. The issue is no mere scruple. If Canadian soldiers are found to have cooperated in torture, they can be convicted -- under international law -- of war crimes.

Any claim of government ignorance begins to sound like the Cheney-Rumsfeld version of what happened at Abu Ghraib: It was a few bad apples who were responsible for the outrage. Time -- and good journalism -- have revealed that the directions for "enhanced interrogation techniques" came directly from the vice president's office.

Mr. Colvin knows that his testimony is not improving his career prospects. And the government's reaction is part of a pattern. When the RCMP suggested that the gun registry was a useful tool, the government trained its rhetorical guns on the Mounties. When the opposition formed a coalition last November, the Harperites fulminated about how the other parties were in league with "the separatists" -- the same tactic they had used to try and topple the government of Paul Martin. And, of course, there were the ads picturing puffins pooping on Stephane Dion, and the ad hominem attacks on Michael Ignatieff. And that is the point: the only way Mr. Harper and company know of dealing with criticism is to launch ad hominem attacks on those who criticize them. They will do whatever it takes to destroy those who will not tow the line.

Handing a majority government to these folks would be the equivalent of handing the cars keys to a fourteen year old. It would be an act of parental neglect.


ChrisJ said...

The conservatives are behaving themselves at the moment; thus political commentators are finding them more mainstream and centrist.

If the conservatives get a majority, somebody will have to eat their words, but all of us will have to suffer.

Owen Gray said...

They've worked hard to position themselves in the centre. But, every once in awhile, they remind us of their roots and what makes them tick.