Thursday, January 31, 2008

Harper and Soudas: obfuscate and distract

Harper's defence of his aide in the House today again completely misses the point. Today he tried to frame Mr. Soudas' arrangement of the meeting between the Montreal real estate developer and Public Works officials as a matter of just "getting information."
"I reject completely the allegations made by the leader of the Bloc," Harper said under questioning from Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe. "Mr. Soudas took steps to get information about the issue, he agreed with the government's decision and that government decision did not change over the last two years," Harper said, referring to the fact that a lawsuit against the company has not been dropped.
Once again, watch for it:
"Mr. Soudas indicated that a municipal councillor approached him and he got information about the case. Employees have a responsibility to get information about issues, that is the duty of the government, Mr. Soudas did his work," the prime minister said. (emphasis added)
Ding! Ding! Let that little bell go off in your head for all the times you'll be hearing about Mr. Soudas and his efforts to "get information" from these parties. They've got to be kidding.

And now there's news that Mr. Soudas is demanding an apology from Stephane Dion for allegedly characterizing Mr. Soudas' efforts as "extortion." If Mr. Dion doesn't get down on his knees in a public scrum and beg almighty forgiveness, he'll be sued. Video Vox has posted video of Stephane Dion speaking in a scrum on the matter. I watched it and while my French is far from perfect, I certainly heard a lot of "tentatifs" thrown in there by Mr. Dion. Let the bully administration sue, let them make this matter worse than it already is and draw significantly more attention to it. And I say "administration" there for a purpose. This threat is very likely a group strategy, not a lone decision by Mr. Soudas.

So, once again, instead of taking responsibility for the issue at hand, the insertion of the PMO into a legal dispute before the courts for what Mr. Soudas' friend alleges was political gain, the Harper crowd instead goes to war. Confuse the issue and define accountability standards down. Oh yes, and sue, sue, sue.

It's quite the operation they're running up there. For once, I'd like to see them handle an issue professionally and without the surrounding theatrics.

Update: Dion acted late Thursday to correct his use of the word "extortion."
A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper has received an apology from Stephane Dion, even as a lawyer's letter demanding a public retraction was on its way to the Liberal leader.

A lawyer for Dimitri Soudas says he was defamed by Dion and insisted on a public apology no later than next Wednesday. Dion had suggested the prime minister's spokesman was a party to extortion in August 2006.

After question period on Thursday, Dion said: "Yesterday I used an inappropriate word: 'extortion' attempt. I apologize for that, and that was not the apprpriate word.

But Dion added: "I will choose my words well this time: it appears like political interference."

The Canadian Press has updated the link provided above to include the Dion clarification now. That was a boneheaded move, Mr. Dion, to use that word.

So now it's been clarified. Political interference it is.

Norway shattering the glass ceiling for women on boards

A fascinating contrast on the issue of women on corporate boards, the approach of Norway versus the Canadian corporate community:
On Jan. 1, while most of the world was celebrating the arrival of another year, Norway celebrated (or bemoaned, depending on who you talk to) a new law coming into effect requiring nearly half of all seats on public corporate boards to be held by women.

Since creating legislation in 2003 forcing public companies to ensure a 40 per cent quota for women on its boards (and giving companies five years to comply before it became law), Norway now leads the globe in gender equality at the board level, with more women in the upper echelons of decision-making circles than any other country.

According to the executive search firm Rosenzweig & Co., among the 535 most senior and highest paid positions in Canadian companies, just 4.8 per cent are held by women. A survey of all FP 500 companies in Canada last year found that only 15.1 per cent of corporate officers were females.
Those Canadian stats are not regarding women's representation on boards. But the percentage numbers of women on boards in Canada are close: 9 to 12% in 2005, depending on the index. And why does this matter?
It has also been shown that having more women on corporate boards improves corporate governance. In May 2002, a study by the Conference Board of Canada found that more female than male directors pay attention to audit and risk oversight and control, consider the needs of more categories of stakeholders, and examine a wider range of management and organizational performance.

The findings also revealed that 72 per cent of boards with two or more women conduct formal board performance evaluations, while only 49 per cent of all-male boards do.

Perhaps most importantly, the presence of women might even improve profits.

A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that firms with women board members were much more likely than companies with all-male boards to be leaders when ranked by revenue or profit.

Although it has not been proven that women are a direct causal factor in improved governance or financial performance, there is a strong correlation between female numbers on boards and good governance credentials.
So there you go, corporate Canada. Serious food for thought as you go to your next nomination committee meetings...:)

The Manley report has not been adopted by Parliament

The p.r. campaign is on. The Prime Minister is conveying to world leaders a state of affairs regarding Canada's domestic position on Afghanistan that is just not so. He is representing that Canada will stay in Afghanistan in the Kandahar combat mission if two conditions from the Manley report are met.

Wednesday, Harper called Bush which was dutifully laid out to the press corps via Sandra Buckler statements.
Harper told Bush today that NATO must meet conditions recommended by a government-commissioned panel on Jan. 22, according to Sandra Buckler, a spokeswoman for the prime minister. The panel said NATO should provide about 1,000 more troops in the dangerous Kandahar region and arrange for additional military equipment.
Today, Harper calls Gordon Brown which is dutifully laid out to the press corps.
As with Bush on Wednesday, Harper talked to Prime Minister Gordon Brown about Afghanistan and briefed him on the contents of the Manley report.

He explained to Brown the "clear choice" laid out by John Manley's panel - that Canada will remain in Afghanistan beyond February 2009 only if NATO allies supply more combat troops for Kandahar province and Canada acquires new equipment.

Harper told the British prime minister Canada's mission will end as originally scheduled in a year's time if those two conditions are not met.

Harper confirmed he's publicly accepted the broad recommendations of the panel.

The two leaders undertook to pursue the issue further in the coming weeks as Harper talks to other NATO leaders and key players before the government delivers its final decision later this spring. (emphasis added)
Of course the problem with all of this is that the Manley report is not the position of the Parliament of Canada. It is Harper's position but not that of the opposition parties.

Parliament may vote to reject the recommendations of the Manley report. Or, it may vote to accept some recommendations but not all. The 1000 troops may be rejected by Parliament as a condition for staying. The Liberals for example are sticking to the 2009 end of combat position. Nevertheless, Harper is out there focussing on Manley's military recommendations and representing to the world that we will stay if we get 1000 troops and air support.

Here's a commentary today that highlights the flawed strategy Harper is pursuing:
As feared, Harper has cherry-picked the John Manley panel report: ask NATO for another 1,000 troops (who are bound to be found); buy some helicopters and unmanned spy planes; and launch a marketing campaign to convince Canadians that we need more war.

But the Prime Minister is ignoring the panel's other key recommendations: shift from combat to construction; promote a "negotiated political and social reconciliation" among Afghans; get NATO, the United Nations and the Afghan government working together.

This is needed because the overly militarized mission is not working. The insurgency is spreading and, with it, people's fears. Food shortages are increasing. The World Food Program has just issued an appeal for 89,000 tonnes of wheat.

The Liberals, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP should be asking Harper why he's keen on combat but not the prescribed concomitant steps that can salvage the mission.
More worth considering from the same comment:
Most importantly, why does Harper accept the Manley mantra that another 1,000 troops would get the job done?

If the Soviets couldn't defeat the Afghan insurgency (1980-88) with 85,000 troops and no compunction about carpet bombing and sowing millions of land mines, why does he think NATO can succeed with half as many troops – that, too, operating under civilized rules of war?
With no big NATO troop reinforcements on the horizon, the economic and political strategy becomes all the more urgent. But Harper is mum on the subject. Unfortunately, so is the opposition.
The Prime Minister is proceeding full steam ahead with his preferred position. People need to pay attention to this effort and push the opposition to ensure it does not turn into a steam rolled position from which there is no turning back.

The "Stephen Harper photo gallery" commemorative poster

The Wingnuterer has painted a special portrait of Harpie to be placed in his personal hall of fame, aka the government lobby...:)

The Wingnuterer roars back in comic vengeance!


"A disgraceful way to deal with legitimate questions"

The Globe goes to town on Harper today for his shameful behaviour in the House yesterday and his staffer's resignation worthy judgment:
Here we go again. A key staffer in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office and a Conservative fundraiser made separate backroom interventions in a dispute between a Montreal real-estate firm and the Department of Public Works. Asked about the propriety of those meetings yesterday, Mr. Harper said nothing was wrong because no benefits were granted. Then he resorted to the sad ploy of noting opposition MPs had cited two people of Greek origin, but "that doesn't mean there's a conspiracy here."

The casual suggestion that the opposition has an ethnic bias was a disgraceful way to deal with legitimate questions about high-level political intervention in a legal dispute. Deputy press secretary Dimitri Soudas, a key architect of Mr. Harper's Quebec strategy, called an unusual meeting with senior ministerial staffers from Public Works in the Prime Minister's Office in early August, 2006. In what he now characterizes as an effort "to serve the public," Mr. Soudas raised the possibility of the department's dropping its plan to reclaim a building complex from the Rosdev Group.
Yesterday, both Mr. Harper and Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan said nothing was wrong with the meetings because no preferential treatment was given. Surely the mere fact that such high-level meetings took place - one within the Prime Minister's Office itself - constitutes preferential treatment.

Other serious questions remain. Why would Mr. Harper imply that his questioners were racists, a tactic that backfired so disastrously on Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty last year? How many other times have Mr. Harper's political staffers ushered individuals into the company of ministerial officials? And, most important, are such helpful interventions really a matter for the Ethics Commissioner? (emphasis added)
Yes, those are some pretty darned good questions. I'm sure Justice Gomery will helpfully express some more of his newfound outrage for the Harper government at news of the latest Harper government wrongdoing. Doesn't feel so good to have ushered in this crowd, does it now?

Regarding whether this is a matter for the Ethics the very minimum it is. A traditional government with a healthy respect for accountability would fire Mr. Soudas. That's what should happen. And the actions of this staffer - likely sanctioned by the PMO because face it, everything is - should remain the focus here. It's a pretty persuasive case of preferential treatment being explored in exchange for political return in Montreal. That's just not on.

The side issue, reprehensible as it was, was Harper's attempt in the House yesterday to make the allegations of ethical breaches into racist allegations. The mind boggles at the thought process the PM must have gone through, sitting there in the House and coming up with this as an actual response to a question. The only thing I can come up with is he thought he could turn this into the Conservatives defending an ethnic minority and helping their electoral fortunes along the lines of their "ethnic outreach" effort. The problem, of course, there was no ethnic community in need of defending. Not, that is, until the PM opened his mouth. If this was his intent, it backfired in a major foot-in-mouth kind of way.

I wrote something earlier in the week about taking a closer look at Harper's real leadership abilities and what's actually there once you look under the rock. His puny statement yesterday is another example of the Harper judgment in action. Naked, unassisted, from his gut, raw instinct on full display. The PM unscripted. And hitting what has to be an absolute low for a Prime Minister of late. Needless to say, the notion that the Conservatives are going to run their next election campaign on the issue of leadership, with Harper as an iconic leader, could end up being a very risky proposition.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Harpie steps in it, again

Another bizarre, paranoiac response from Harper in the House of Commons when under fire. Shades of his tarring of Linda Keen as a Liberal hack. Here's the exchange:
The Bloc was asking about why Mr. Harper's deputy press secretary, Dimitri Soudas, got involved in the government's long-standing battle with the Rosdev Group two years ago. Mr. Soudas's move in the summer of 2006 came a few months after an intervention on the same matter by his friend and party fundraiser, Leo Housakos, who was named by the Harper government to the board of Via Rail last month.

Mr. Guimond asked Mr. Harper if he had ever met with Mr. Housakos at the Prime Minister's official residence 24 Sussex.

The Bloc member mentioned two people who are of Greek origin,” Mr. Harper replied, “one who was an employee here in Ottawa, another one who is a supporter of the Conservative party in Montreal. The fact that [there's] two Montreal gentlemen of Greek origin doesn't mean there's a conspiracy here.

Mr. Harper's response drew howls of protest from the Opposition. Liberal MP Denis Coderre said it was “degrading” that Mr. Harper made his rebuttal on an ethnic basis. “It's unacceptable for a Prime Minister to say things like that,” Mr. Coderre said. (emphasis added)
Very poor judgment on display today from our PM. There's no excuse for these asinine remarks.

"An "uncommon" practice on the part of a member of the prime minister's office"

Your Privy Council Office in action folks, demonstrating that the problem with this government goes to its very core. It is a partisan operation above all else. A top aide to the PM, a communications person, arranges a meeting between a Montreal developer and Public Works officials over a matter before the courts, allegedly at the behest of a political ally in Montreal and for reportedly partisan purposes, and here's what the PCO is looking at today:

Not to read too much into a google search, but still. It appears they're doing their homework, looking for defensive ammunition to paint the developer in a Liberal light. The games our highest officials in the land play...

Garth Turner sums up the Soudas meeting and why it was inappropriate:
Opposition Liberals are calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to fire one of his top officials in the wake of reports that the official intervened behind closed doors on behalf of a Montreal developer in a dispute with the public works department.

"If that story (is accurate) he is toast, he should be toast," said Liberal Garth Turner, who once served as a Conservative cabinet minister and who was expelled from the Conservative caucus not long after Harper took power. "I don't think anybody should be that close to the prime minister and seen to be... trying to manipulate the public agenda."

Turner said it was very unusual for officials in the Prime Minister's Office to intervene in that way.
Those sentiments were echoed by Conservative Senator Pierre Claude Nolin who said he had a lot of questions about what he described as an "uncommon" practice on the part of a member of the prime minister's office.
Thanks for that succinct analysis Garth. And thanks to the PCO for leading me to that little report...:)

Just as in the Chalk River shutdown situation, with Minister Lunn crossing the line in directing an independent quasi-judicial tribunal to follow his direction, this is another situation where the proper boundaries do not appear to have been respected. You don't get involved in a matter that's before the courts. And you'd think that having come into office on a train called accountability, they'd be extra careful to avoid transgressions like this...

A timely plea from the Information Commissioner

The Information Commissioner, Robert Marleau, with a remarkable piece on the Globe web site last night commenting on the "fog over information" that has crept over the government's activities. He has apparently been emboldened by the Manley report which critiqued the government for its failure to be forthcoming on the Afghan mission. And most helpfully, he has some advice for the Harper government on the detainee matter:
While it may be explicable, if not laudable, for any government to want to withhold bad news, it is difficult to understand why even good news is not being released. Surely the fact that Canada decided not to turn over any more detainees to the local authorities in Afghanistan, thereby removing the risk of them being tortured, was good news. If even good news is not disseminated, you cannot blame Canadians for wondering how much bad news might be lurking in government records, waiting to be uncovered. It is true that the government should not reveal any information that could bring harm to those who serve in Afghanistan. But if the government's position is that everything to do with detainees, and much of what pertains to Afghanistan, is a security matter and is secret by definition, then the Access to Information Act recognizes the importance of protecting certain information and contains exemptions that can be used. The role of my office is to ensure that those exemptions are being applied appropriately.

Given that the security of our country is well protected by these exemptions, it is my view that government institutions, such as the Department of National Defence, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, to name the most prominent of those that hold the most sensitive and secret information, must be exemplary in the free and voluntary release of other information. They must proactively make available all the information they can that is not sensitive or secret within the terms of the Act's exemptions. Releasing information only when someone sees fit to make a formal access to information request should not be the norm, but the exception. (emphasis added)
I'm not sure I agree with his use of the word "laudable" in the first sentence above? A little strange. But beside the larger point...

It's difficult to read this in the current climate of the Harper government which values secrecy and control over information above most other considerations and not think that uh, oh...Mr. Marleau's in trouble. He's speaking truth to power, and I commend him for that. But given the Harper government's track record with independent heads of government, he could very well be in for some trouble of the losing-his-job variety. And isn't that terrible that one would have that reaction? But it seems like that's the Canada in which we're living folks.

"An extraordinary meeting"

More in this blog's ongoing observations of things that are OK if you're Conservative: "PM's aide intervened for Montreal developer." A report alleging an aide at the highest level of the Harper government attempted to help out a Montreal real estate developer on a property deal in exchange for goodwill and political support:
A spokesman for the Prime Minister and a Conservative fundraiser made separate backroom interventions in favour of a real-estate firm that faced losing a $50-million complex to the federal government in 2006, sources told The Globe and Mail and Radio-Canada.

Dimitri Soudas, a key architect of Stephen Harper's Quebec policies and his deputy press secretary, got involved in the battle between Ottawa and the Rosdev Group a few months after the Tories took office with a promise to bring the highest ethical standard to public life.

Mr. Soudas called an extraordinary meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Langevin Block on August 2, 2006, with senior ministerial staffers from Public Works.

Conservative officials said there was a clear sense in the party at the time that Rosdev and its influential president, Michael Rosenberg, could become strong allies in Montreal, especially in a riding like Outremont with a strong Jewish community.
See, now this is just the kind of thing that causes great cynicism among the voting public. Once again the Conservatives are being shown to have little in substance to support their electoral rhetoric from 2006 on cleaning up government. Clean governments don't make decisions about exercising options on office buildings for political reasons. Nor do they give a leg up to companies because of who the company might know, in this case a friend of a top aide to the PM.

Yes, it's quite the government these guys are running up there. I'd say all pretenses of the Harper government being an icon of accountability and transparency are just about shot by now...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Worst nomination strategy evah

Rudy takes third tonight in his firewall state of Florida. Hats off to Rudy and the brilliant strategists piloting the Giuliani campaign. You folks have earned a special place in the annals of American electoral strategery. Let's give former Mayor Ed Koch a chance to provide an epitaph shall we:
Ed Koch, who has feuded with Giuliani for years, was delighted with Giuliani's crushing defeat in Florida. He crowed, before the final votes were even tallied, that he was certain the verdict by Florida's voters "will drive a stake through his heart. The beast is dead."
And here I was, all geared up for Rudy in "08. Oh well, on to the next beatable Republican...

Out of control

Another day another position on the detainee issue. In view of the Globe's report this morning on the details of what the military is doing with detainees - or not doing, in the case of "grey zone" transfers - Harper has apparently decided to go passive and leave it up to the military as to whether information will be disclosed to the Canadian public. Now that's leadership for you, hey? Shrugging his shoulders and leaving it to the military to decide what information the public is to get. Instead of admitting they are wrong to continue with the secrecy now that the details have been outed, they're stubbornly sticking to their position.
In an apparent policy twist, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says it's up to the Canadian military to decide if and when it will disclose information about the handling of insurgent detainees captured in Afghanistan.

“These are operational matters of the Canadian military,” Mr. Harper said as opposition MPs hammered the government for a second day in Question Period with accusations of excessive secrecy and mismanagement of the Afghan mission.

“If the Canadian military chooses to reveal that information that's their decision, but the government certainly isn't going to reveal it on their behalf,” the Prime Minister told the House of Commons.
Who is running this file anyway?

He just doesn't get that he and his government have a responsibility here. That Canadians want to know from their government what is going on in Afghanistan and that the secretive approach they're choosing is failing. Throwing his hands up in the air on the detainee issue and leaving it up to the military just doesn't cut it.

And there seems to be a level of antagonism and frustration toward the military implicit in these statements that isn't going to help resolve tensions between the government and the military at the moment. Nor will it assure Canadians that there is anyone on the government side leading on the issue. Harper seems more intent on an emotional response, as in, you guys want to disclose details, fine go ahead.

There's a giant vacuum here and Harper appears to be flailing.

A big shout out to Linda Keen today

Watch video of Linda Keen's statement to the Natural Resources Committee here. Or here. You will be impressed. It's a refreshing cut through the haze the government has thrown out at Canadians over the past few weeks. Talking about safety, the law, independence of the nuclear commission, the commission's mandate. What a concept.

Safety was the focus of her remarks, appropriately so. Linking her actions to international standards and her mandate under the law.
The woman who was fired by the federal Conservatives as president of Canada's nuclear safety watchdog said Tuesday the safety risk of resuming the Chalk River, Ont., reactor was 1,000 times higher than accepted international standards.

Linda Keen, former president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, said there was a one in 1,000 chance of an accident occurring and she did not believe the medical isotope-producing nuclear reactor in Chalk River should resume operation.

In the case of a nuclear fuel failure, the international standard for acceptable risk is one in a million, said Keen.

"Some have suggested that the chance of a nuclear accident was low and that the reactor was safe enough. Well with respect, safe enough is simply not good enough," said Keen, who spoke before a House of Commons natural resources committee.

"When it comes to nuclear facilities, ignoring safety requirements is simply not an option, not now, not ever."

She said she was acting according to the law when she refused to approve the restart of the reactor.
She also clarified, as she did previously in her letter to Lunn, that it was AECL that shut down the reactor and cited a letter from AECL in this regard.

Also took on directly the Conservative government's p.r. campaign to the effect that she had a duty to take into account the production of medical isotopes by explaining the mandate of the commission.
“Under the law, the commission did not have the authority to take the issue of isotopes into consideration,” Ms. Keen testified Tuesday, noting her mandate was solely to protect Canadians from a nuclear incident.

“Independence in regulating nuclear facilities matters. It matters because nuclear reactors are in communities where Canadians live,” she said. “They need to know that the commission will make its decision based on what's right.”
She certainly showed today why the Conservatives cannot possibly live with a regulator like this. She's independent, concerned with safety above all else, as Canadians should want the regulator to be. And she refused to allow Minister Lunn to interfere with the actions of the Commission.

She came across as diligent, competent, reasoned and firm. Exactly who we should be supporting as the President of the Nuclear Safety Commission.

Clearly, Mr. Harper's Canada has no room for such individuals.

"Go away and come back another day"

Let's not get carried away, as some members of the media are, with this talking point over how the government is acting in a non partisan manner on the Afghan file and how there seems to be a different tone. I fail to see how dumping responsibility for the future of the mission in Dion's lap is going to somehow work out in a kumbaya spirit of high mindedness after two years of partisan hatchetry from the Conservative government.

And if you think there are no more games to be played, read this. The Conservatives just don't seem to want to give Linda Keen her chance to speak.

How embarrassing for the Harper "operational secrets" policy

It appears today that anonymous sources disagree with the PMO's take on classifying the detainee transfers as matters of "operational secrecy" and are slapping that same PMO in the face big time today with a timely leak to the Globe. You have to wonder where this information comes from:
The Canadian Forces are holding insurgent detainees at their Kandahar Air Force base rather than turning them over to Afghan authorities, are taking fewer prisoners and are quickly releasing some of them.

The information, provided to The Globe and Mail by sources, answers questions about Canada's new policy for handling detainees that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other ministers repeatedly refused to provide Monday, citing the need for combat operational secrecy.
Mr. Harper told the House of Commons Monday that his government will “never” answer questions about how many prisoners Canadian troops take or where they are kept. He also said the bilateral agreement governing the transfer of prisoners to Afghan authorities is still in place. (emphasis added)
Never, he said. Apparently others disagree. It looks like somebody hung back, giving Harper a chance to do the right thing and explain the highly publicized change in detainee policy. Failing to see that on Monday and instead seeing a government digging in, we see this report in the Globe.

And that's a good thing. The Canadian people have a right to know whether the policy on transfers is being conducted in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. That's what needs to be known.

What's interesting here is the blatant disagreement over the secrecy of the policy between the Harper government and whoever leaked this. The sources who are releasing this information must be awfully confident that this information regarding the Kandahar base, taking fewer prisoners and releasing some quickly will not pose any issues to Canadian forces in the field. After all, to release such information when the government has been touting the danger in releasing it would surely bring someone in for significant vitriol from the government. Whoever leaked it is willing to risk that accusation.

It's also of significance that there may be what's referred to as "grey zone" transfers going on where the Canadians and Afghans in the field deem it to be an Afghan led operation with the Afghans then taking the lead on taking custody of detainees.
One well-placed source who spoke to The Globe and Mail Monday on condition of anonymity said that, in addition to being told that Canadian detainees were being held at Kandahar Air Force base, he understood some insurgents detained in joint Canadian Forces-Afghan National Army combat operations were being turned over to the Afghan military in a “grey zone” action.

He said he has been told that Canadians have been content in some cases to allow operations to be labelled as Afghan-led military proceedings. Thus, detainees passed into Afghan military hands with no records kept.
If that is true, that's a big problem. It's tantamount to outsourcing the detainees' handling to the Afghans when we know of torture occurring. This could be the real reason for the leak, to put a stop to this practice. And this could be the real source of concern for the government, having it get out that Canada is in effect circumventing its obligations under the detainee agreement it has with the Afghan government. This is perhaps why Harper said yesterday that the bilateral agreement with the Afghan government governing the transfer of prisoners is still in place. Sure it still may be in place. But it may very well be that there's just no need to transfer anymore. If the Afghans take the prisoners, Canada's not transferring anyone. Hands clean, no problems. Except for the Canadian reputation in the world and with its NATO partners. And under international law. I suspect they don't call them "grey zone" transfers for nothing.

Also of note, the article confirms how upset Rick Hillier was about the Buckler attempt to put responsibility for lack of disclosure on the detainee policy on the military. Reported here as being "absolutely livid" and having angrily phoned Harper on Friday night. I'll bet. The National had a piece on last night in the same vein. The military is clearly not happy.

You have to wonder just what is going on here. After the government makes it explicit that the policy is not to be disclosed, bam, it's on the front page of the Globe. One could theorize ad nauseam.

Needless to say, definitely more fuel for question period today.

Karl Rove gets some comeuppance

So sad:
When 17-year-old Alessio Manti heard that Karl Rove, the former chief political adviser to President Bush, would be delivering the commencement address this spring to his class at Choate Rosemary Hall — the elite boarding school that produced such liberal giants as John F. Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson — he was shocked.

“I thought it was a joke,” Mr. Manti said. “Commencement is not the place for him.”

He was not alone. Although Mr. Rove played a major role in helping President Bush capture two terms in the White House, he could not gain the support of the senior class here. With students threatening to walk out on graduation, the school announced on Monday that Mr. Rove would not speak at commencement.
And here I was, all geared up for another Andy Card moment...:)

Good for the Choate students for standing up to the choice and defeating it:
At a meeting last week, a clear majority of the graduating class of about 230 said it opposed Mr. Rove’s invitation, students who were at the meeting said.

In an editorial titled “Rove in ’08: We Think Not,” the campus newspaper, The News, urged the school to withdraw the invitation.
I suspect that such incidents will be the fate for many of the Bush administration alumni who have yet to grasp the level of contempt for them and what they did to their nation over the Bush years. This is the least of what should happen to Mr. Rove.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Harpie's revolving door of lobbyists

Oh looky, the revolving door of lobbyists going in and out of the Harper government continues:
To deal with the possibility of an election, Conservative party and Hill staffers are holding regular meetings to finalize their election plans. For election readiness, some Conservative sources cited the example of Yaroslav Baran, new staff director or chief of staff to Chief Government Whip Jay Hill (Prince George-Peace River, B.C.). They say that Mr. Baran was brought on board in preparation of an election and could head his party’s communications in the war room. The Conservative Party has announced that it won’t allow lobbyists to work in its war room in the next federal election campaign.

Prior to starting his new Hill job this week, Mr. Baran was working as a lobbyist with the Earnscliffe Strategy Group in Ottawa. In the last two election campaigns, he worked as a top staffer in the communications department of the Tory war rooms. Mr. Baran declined an interview request last week to discuss his potential role in the next federal election campaign. (emphasis added)
Mr. Baran seems to go in and out quite a bit it seems. But the big loophole is that Mr. Baran volunteered in the past when he worked in Tory war rooms. You see, that makes a beeg difference in Conservative fairy tale land. To the rest of us, the optics are just plain awful.

Accountability is just for other people because.....wait for it...IOKIYAC...:)

Hypocrisy, anyone?

[h/t to a little birdie in my email today...:)]

A few notes from Harper's "news" conference

Not surprising information coming from Harper's "news" conference today. He supports the Manley report's "broad" recommendations but his government's formal response is coming. All right. Trial balloon time.

Says he's going to be speaking to Stephane Dion about it. Yet couching it in a bit of a patronizing manner:
The government will introduce a motion this spring seeking support of the House of Commons for the mission, which is set to end in its current form on February 2009.

"I would invite the opposition parties to think carefully about their positions and to give this report the consideration it deserves," Harper said, adding he would be speaking with Liberal Leader Stephane Dion.

Harper didn't say whether the vote would take place before or after the Bucharest meeting.
See, now that's not taking the high road and leading. He's being much less than transparent about his timing of the vote, which we all know should properly come AFTER the NATO meetings, as per his Manley report which he accepts at a broad level. That should be an up front disclosure that he should make prior to the Liberals or any party sitting down to discuss any kind of voting support in the House. If Mr. Harper continues to game the issue, not gonna work. And continuing to dump responsibility for the way forward on the leader of the opposition is not going to work either. That's not leadership, Harpie.

Also, not sure if the folks at NATO appreciate these kinds of threats:
While a full response to the Manley report is weeks away, Harper said he would be leading a diplomatic effort to secure more support from NATO allies at a key meeting in Bucharest, Romania in April.

He thought the report would give him "tremendous ammunition" there -- and he gave a warning.

"Canada has done what it said it would do and more," Harper said. " We now say we need help. If NATO can't come through with that help, then frankly I think NATO's own reputation and future will be in grave jeopardy."
What right does a minority government PM have to bluster about NATO in this manner? Threatening its existence is not exactly the hallmark of a nuanced diplomatic strategy. And do you suppose that perhaps, just perhaps, NATO countries have legitimately opposite positions on the mission? That they wish to retain the status quo? That their views are largely those of the Canadian population, bearing with the mission or opposing it outright, as reflected in their own home countries' populations.

And finally, this doesn't sound like taking responsibility, it sounds like bristling resentment:
The Manley report supported the general thrust of the Afghan mission but had some criticisms, including calling on the prime minister to take a more active role in both leading political direction of the mission and for better communications.

Harper said the report criticizes governments, and not specifically his own, "but we take the criticism seriously.

"If I can be frank about it, this is an extremely difficult mission. We don't believe it's perfect. We never have," he said.

"There has been no issue that has caused me as prime minister has more headaches, or more heartache, than this particular mission. I don't think that's going to change in the future."

Harper said he thought the panel would acknowledge that the government has taken steps to address some deficiencies noted, such as an Afghan communications task force to improve dissemination of information about the mission.

"Let's be truthful ... a robust military mission, where there are casualties, is never going to be easy to communicate. And it is never going to be popular to communicate."
Discomfort and reluctance to grab the issue head on. That's not what his Manley report exactly called for, now is it?

Harper's leadership abilities need some serious scrutiny

By jove I think they're on to something. I watched the video of Michael Ignatieff on Question Period yesterday and he shrewdly, in almost every response, turned the focus back to Stephen Harper's leadership. The interview largely centred around the Afghanistan mission, namely the Manley report, the explosive detainee issue and Ms. Buckler's retracted dumping on the military at the end of the week. In every response, Ignatieff hammered away at the notion of Harper's leadership on the file. For example:
Ignatieff said that the public and Parliament have not received "honest answers" from the government and that Harper has to grab the mission "by the throat and pull it together."

"Afghanistan is the most important thing Canada has done in 50 years, and he's not leading," he said. "The prime minister has to act like a prime minister, and not like a partisan leader on this issue of Afghanistan."
He's not leading. Exactly. The issue of Stephen Harper's leadership appears to be directly in the Liberals' sights. At least I hope it is. The supposed strength that Harper has and that Conservatives will seek to emphasize in an election campaign (witness Friday's "Harper Leadership" placards at the Conservative rally) should be examined very closely and taken on directly. The Conservatives would like to make leadership all a question of Stephane Dion not being a leader. They would like to suggest, of course, that Harper by implication is a leader. That needs to be scrutinized and made an issue of going forward.

Is Harper inspiring? He's being described in international circles now as "The Automaton." (h/t Dana at Galloping Beaver for catching this incredible article in the Economist). Here's an apt summation of the Harper personality:
But Mr Harper has been unable to do much more than survive. Respected for his competence, he has all the charisma of an automaton. “I thought that people needed time to get used to Mr Harper,” says Roger Gibbins of the Canada West Foundation, an Alberta-based think-tank. “But it's turned out that to know Harper is not to love him.” That is especially true for women.
By all accounts, Harper just doesn't have it. He's had two years to capture the imagination of the Canadian public. And it's just not happening.

Is Harper decisive? On major issues, Harper has a habit of farming out decision making to the likes of David Johnston (Mulroney affair), John Manley (Afghanistan), Bernard Lord (bilingualism). Tough call to make, Harper runs for the high profile and public service minded citizens to do the heavy lifting his government, or he, can't. Two of the reports from these individuals thus far have muddied the waters, not clarified matters. Hard to say that this strategy of delegation on significant matters is working out well for him.

Is Harper accountable? Does the "buck stop" with him? I think we all know the answer to this one. The environment - it's the Liberals fault. The shutdown at Chalk River? It's Linda Keen's fault. The public isn't told about detainees no longer being handed over to the Afghans? It's the military's fault. Accountability? You've got to be kidding me.

Is Harper setting the right "tone at the top" as, for example, a CEO would be judged? Have to say no, again. Partisan mudslinging, pointing fingers just don't rank. Off the cuff hateful remarks don't help either. Describing Linda Keen as a Liberal hack in the House of Commons and characterizing the Liberals as Taliban-lovers come to mind. Is there a truthful tone to his leadership? Ask Newfoundlanders. Ask income trust investors. And controlling the ability of Ministers to speak and their very agendas, doesn't exactly seem like a leader who trusts his team. Not a very good message.

Is Harper's judgment sound? Hmmm...putting Rona Ambrose in the Environment Ministry, then replacing her with a partisan hatchet man. Choosing to follow the Bush foreign policy lead when Canadians detest that approach. Playing divide and conquer with the provinces. His high profile friendship with Brian Mulroney until recently. Cutting the GST when economists panned the move while cities struggle and the 2008 economy lurches ahead with a U.S. recession looming like an elephant in the background. And again, the nasty personal attacks that he seems to launch when unscripted, in the House of Commons for example. A lot of questions here about the "leader's" judgment.

Seems to me that leadership doesn't exactly appear to be a strong suit for Stephen Harper if you look at any conventional measures of the concept. If the case is made in the right way, there's a good chance Canadians will wise up to the emperor having no clothes as well.

But hey, don't let me stop you, Conservative brainiac strategists...:)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Buh bye

You cannot read this article and see how Ms. Buckler retains her current posting. The anger in military circles is palpable. Conservative MP's and anonymous political staffers are weighing in behind the scenes. Despite Harpie's demonstration of solidarity with Ms. Buckler today - or was it a farewell turn - it appears that it's not going to help. And Dave emphatically explains why.

It is inexcusable to have messed with the military at this moment in the way that they did, in order to somehow protect their political behinds. Not respect worthy, credibility destroying. In a spokesperson, fatal.

No science please, we're Conservatives

Mini Bush, following the conservative ideology to a tee, eliminating the National Science Adviser's position:
The one scientist in this country who had direct access to the Prime Minister is being dismissed. Canada’s National Science Adviser, Dr. Arthur Carty, was appointed by former Prime Minister Paul Martin to provide expert advice on the government’s role in matters of science and science policy. Now, less than four years after the position was created, the Harper government feels that it’s no longer necessary.

The National Science Adviser is a voice of reason to the government over actions it should take on issues such as climate change, genetically modified foods, managing fisheries, sustaining the environment - any time the politicians need to be educated on the basic science behind those often controversial issues. Of course, decisions are seldom made for purely scientific reasons; all too often, the interests of industry, special interest groups or a misinformed public will cloud the scientific truth. The Adviser’s job is to provide clarity and perspective.

Dr. Carty is extremely well qualified for this position. He was president of the National Research Council for 10 years and a prominent professor at Waterloo University for 27 years, among other accomplishments.
Yes, extremely well qualified. But what does that matter? In the Harper government's eyes, he was appointed by Paul Martin and that makes him capable of being characterized as a "Liberal hack" in the vein of the hatchet job they did on Linda Keen, the chief nuclear regulator.
All science involves uncertainties - that’s the way the system works. But it takes a scientific eye to determine whether those uncertainties are significant or not. Without that perspective, a politician hears conflicting views or biased information that clouds the issue and confuses the public.

That’s where the National Science Adviser comes in. He or she is an independent, expert witness whose job is to provide perspective and education to the people at the top where the decisions are made.

Apparently, that’s no longer going to happen in Canada.
To that we say, we are shocked that such a move would occur under the Harper Conservatives. In this as in so many other matters, Mini Bush is simply following the conservative script that's been written by the Bush administration.

Stephane's a funny guy

I particularly enjoy the computer generated Harper in what looks something like his 3 Amigos vest.


About those knives being drawn...

There are a few items from an informative Star report today of note. First off, we see how the Harper government's behaviour is coming back to haunt them. In the form of anonymous officials seeking to dump all over them:
"If I was aware, can you believe that he was not aware, the minister of national defence?" Dion asked. "Clearly, this government is in complete confusion, so much that they want to hide the truth from Canadians."

MacKay was in Kandahar handing out soccer balls to Afghan children on the very day the military opted to stop transfers.

"He gets briefed on everything," said a senior government official who works on the Afghan file and asked not to be identified. (emphasis added)
Yes, he gets briefed on everything. A lot of good it does him too, hey? Here's another anonymous quote achieving a similar effect:
Dion said it is up to Harper to decide what to do with his political staff, but one government official said Buckler is now a "huge liability" because the communications mix-up comes in the same week that the Tories were sharply criticized for casting a veil of secrecy over the Afghan mission.

The government official told the Star that the military had "immediately" informed other departments of the decision and that the Prime Minister's Office would have been in the loop. "Given their control and the micromanagement, there's not a damn thing they don't know," he said, speaking on background. (emphasis added)
Kind of get the feeling that Ms. Buckler has made a few enemies? I'd expect to see a lot more of this in coming months. Ms. Buckler's attempt to shift responsibility to the military for the lack of disclosure about the changed detainee policy, and Linda Keen's firing as well, may have freed up a few formerly shrinking violets among the government ranks who don't like what they're witnessing on the inside. A government concerned with its own skin above all else.

Given the reports that the military were livid about Ms. Buckler's recent public statements, it's going to be difficult for her to continue on in her post. She's earned significant enmity, apparently, and the Afghan file will not be getting any easier to handle.

The same Star report cited above quotes an expert with a theory on what's happening to detainees that are captured now:
One military expert suggested the most likely scenario is that Afghan National Army soldiers fighting along with Canadian soldiers are now taking prisoners and handing them over to local jails.

"That is probably the answer," said Alain Pellerin, head of the Conference of Defence Associations.

If that is the case, then it is a "step backward" from a May 2007 agreement between Ottawa and Kabul that allows Canadian officials to inspect Afghan jails and monitor those prisoners it has transferred.
Outsourcing the transfers to the ANA so we can keep our hands clean from handing over detainees to Afghan prisons where they might be tortured? Sounds like shirking to me. Turning a blind eye to the problem is not going to fix anything. If this is what is happening now, it's absolutely a step backward.

It might be the case that Junior signed off on the policy change, whatever it is, while in Afghanistan in early November around the time that the commander on the ground put a halt to the transfers. If it is the case that we're now handing responsibility for capture of detainees over to the ANA, and they're handing them over in turn to Afghan jails, it might be that the Harper government didn't want this fact to get out because it would appear that Canada was reneging on its recently updated agreement with the Afghan government on monitoring of detainees. You can't live up to an agreement and monitor the health of detainees if you never captured them in the first place. This would be an end run around the obligations just undertaken, if you will. Not the kind of thing you're eager to broadcast.

Quite the exemplary operation we're running over there, and here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

On Buckler: "military commanders were livid at the assertion"

The Defence Department confirms that the government was told about the halt to transfers of detainees at the time that change in policy occurred:
In response, Buckler claimed Thursday that the military had not informed the government.

Sources at the Defence Department said military commanders were livid at the assertion and insisted the government was informed "promptly" after the transfers were halted.

"I can't give you dates and times right now, but it was soon after," said a source with knowledge of the briefings.

"There have been a lot of heated discussions around this place over the last 24 hours.
" (emphasis added)
No kidding.

Meanwhile, Junior MacKay continues to fearmonger and seems to want to portray Stephane Dion as disloyal:
Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who was in Afghanistan when the transfers were halted last Nov. 6, refused to say when he was informed of the decision and accused Dion of being reckless.

"I"m not going to do anything that's going to endanger the lives of Canadian Forces personnel or Afghans involved in this operation," MacKay said on his way into a Conservative party rally.

"If he wants to be irresponsible and talk about the briefing he received, that's a decision for him."
Um, gee Junior, let's that the information confirming that the transfers were halted was put out by the Justice Department this week in the federal court lawsuit, it is perfectly acceptable for Dion to speak about whatever briefing he had. The only person on the federal scene doing any truth telling is Dion as far as I can see. The rest of the Conservative lot are preoccupied with the political optics and Junior is still into it. And Junior best be on top of things as it looks like the military is mighty peeved at the Harper gang's antics, as well they should be.

Mulroney-Schreiber about to start up again

It's a good news day all around for the Harper government. Potentially big news on the Mulroney front today:
Norman Spector, a former chief of staff to Mulroney in the early 1990s, says he'll be bringing documentary evidence to the committee.

Spector, writing in Le Devoir newspaper, says he'll "help identify the source of large quantities of money carried to 24 Sussex while Mr. Mulroney was prime minister of Canada."

A spokesman for Mulroney says the allegations are old news and that Spector has an axe to grind, for reasons the former prime minister does not understand.
Hyping his testimony to occur two weeks from now. While this sounds interesting, it's hard to believe such information would not have been vetted by the RCMP in previous investigations. Wait and see...whatever it is, however, it's a timely reminder of what's in store for the Harper government as the Ethics Committee continues its work.

Dion was told while in Afghanistan about the halt to the detainee transfers

He just spoke in a live scrum. He said that while in Afghanistan he and Ignatieff were told this information by officials. Making it clear that the Harper government lied yesterday when it said it had not been informed of the military's change in the transfers. How could the opposition know before the government? It's ridiculous.

Sandra Buckler should be fired. End of story. And it's becoming clear that the Prime Minister and his various Ministers knew full well what was going on and yet in November, continued to omit this crucial information to the public.

They've got a big problem.

Update, from a Globe report this afternooon:
And Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said Friday he knew all along the Prime Minister's Office was aware of the policy change because he and deputy leader Michael Ignatieff had personally been briefed on it in mid-January by Canadian officials during their visit to Afghanistan.

Mr. Dion said he was prohibited from making it public under a security undertaking the Liberals had agreed to before their visit.

“We never, Mr. Ignatieff and I, disclosed this information, we did not have the right to do so, it would not have been responsible for us to do so, but we were aware. We forcefully disagreed with it,” Mr. Dion said.

“This is the only reason why I never believed [the government's] story they were not aware.”

What is a p.r. flack doing in the middle of the detainee issue anyway?

Well, it's clear that they're rattled in the PMO. Sandra Buckler's retracted her statement yesterday to the Globe to the effect that the military didn't tell the government about the halt in transfers of detainees. After she's been thoroughly discredited on her compartmentalization of the matter as "operational" military procedure, it's not surprising. It's also been reported that the decision made on the ground in Afghanistan was approved of by Defence headquarters in Ottawa, furthering the chances that her statement was suspect. And so, the great unravelling today:
The Prime Minister's communications director is retracting her statement that the military did not inform the government that it had suspended the transfer of prisoners to Afghan custody in November.

In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail on Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's communications director, Sandra Buckler, said the military did not tell the government about the suspension.

Ms. Buckler called Friday to say she “misspoke” but would not say whether the military had or had not informed the government.

“I should not have said what I said to you, I misspoke, and I wanted to make sure you were aware of that,” she said. “I made a mistake…what I said was wrong.”

When asked whether that meant that the military had informed the government that the transfer of prisoners to Afghan jails had been suspended in November, Ms. Buckler would not comment.

“I shouldn't have said it and I'm not going to comment on operational decisions made by the military,” Ms. Buckler said.
So we still have no sense of what's going on with detainees. Or why she was wrong. It's a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Can anyone in this government give a straight answer? Where's Junior? This is his ministry. Where's Bernier? Where's Harper? Huh?

Whatever happened to "with bells on"?

Somebody has short term memory loss...

November 14, 2007:
"I want to tell you here tonight that I, Martin Brian Mulroney, 18th prime minister of Canada, will be there before the royal commission with bells on, because I have done nothing wrong and have absolutely nothing to hide," he said.
January 25, 2008:
Brian Mulroney may not return for a second appearance in front of a Parliamentary committee looking into his relationship with Karlheinz Schreiber unless he gets assurances from the committee that it won't stray from its mandate.

In a letter to committee chair Paul Szabo, Mr. Mulroney's lawyer is accusing the House of Commons panel of bias and of violating his client's rights, saying its final report on the matter could be tainted. Guy Pratte writes that Mr. Szabo wrongly allowed questions not related to the committee's mandate and expresses concern about a request from Mr. Szabo that Canada's Auditor-General examine the former prime minister's tax records.

The letter said: "... allow me to remind you that Mr. Mulroney has co-operated fully with the committee and to assure you that he intends to continue to do so to the extent that legitimate questions remain to be examined.

"But given the way the proceedings have unfolded thus far, any reasonable observer must conclude that very serious breaches of fairness have occurred ..."
See, now this is exactly the kind of thing he could have avoided if he'd only kept to the public inquiry route. Instead, he put the kibosh on it after his appearance before the Ethics Committee and Mr. Harper and a willing Mr. Johnston took him up on his bright idea. Now he's unhappy with the Ethics Committee forum. Whoopsie.

I'm sure the Committee will take note and file the letter in the appropriate place...after it gets out a summons to witness with Mr. Mulroney's name on it. Now that wouldn't look too swell, would it?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The innocent little knaves supposedly didn't know

More games from the Conservatives on the detainee issue showing how they're playing politics with this serious issue:
Privately, Conservatives are suggesting they were not told by the military that the hand overs were no longer taking place.
On a matter that has stoked outrage and dominated the spring session of the House of Commons, the Conservatives expect us to believe that they knew nothing of the change in policy? Very hard to believe. Extremely hard to believe. With this controlling PMO that knows all about every aspect of the government's vulnerabilities, it's just the opposite of what we've seen from them.

Let's assume for a moment that this was would mean that apparently they took the message from the spring session that instead of getting on top of the file and ensuring that torture was not taking place, they should instead ignore it and hope it goes away. Let the military take care of it and ask no inconvenient questions of them. Wall it off.

And following through, if this is indeed true, that the Harper government knew nothing about the change in detainee policy, it represents an absolute abdication of responsibility of their civilian oversight of the military on a fundamental issue. And conduct demonstrating utter contempt for the Canadian public's right to know that the issue was being handled properly.

Accountability, transparency...oh how long ago all of that bluster was...

The embarrassing Harper government position on detainees under scrutiny in court today

Hard to predict the outcome...but the judge seemed pretty ticked:
A federal lawyer argued that Mr. Champ's quest for an injunction is now moot because the transfers have stopped. But he was cut off by the judge when he suggested the controversy was over.

“Up until noon on Tuesday we thought there was a live controversy,” said Federal Court Justice Anne Mactavish.

She added that the prisoner policy could change at a moment's notice and nobody would ever know.

But the federal lawyer said Afghan detainees are and will remain safe from torture.

“The facts that are before this court offer no indication that anyone's rights are being threatened,” said federal attorney J. Sanderson Graham.

“What will happen in two weeks, or two months, is mere speculation.”
Yes, it's quite the uncertain quagmire that we're in on this issue. The government may have succeeded for now in legally outmanoeuvring the applicants on this point. By stopping the transfers, they have theoretically put the risk of torture at bay. However, as the applicants and the judge seem concerned, there is no assurance that the transfers won't start up again at any time. And there is also no assurance to be gained from the federal government as to the current situation for detainees. National security's being used as a veil to prevent any public assurances from being obtained. Perhaps the judge might seek these in confidence, with some kind of oversight or reporting requirement to the court. The federal government, after all, has demonstrated to the court that it's not been forthcoming. You'd think the court would want assurances that such behaviour would not happen again.

In the larger scheme of things, this court action has already succeeded, however. In forcing this issue to the top of the agenda when it comes to Afghanistan. We may all be focussed on the military end of things, how many troops are needed, whether that will make a difference, etc. But there are equally important other considerations, i.e., how we conduct ourselves and maintain our commitment to the rule of law and the Geneva Conventions. And in respect of those things, the Harper government's lack of commitment has also been woefully exposed. So if they "win" in staving off this injunction, it'll be a pyrrhic victory, that's for sure.

More questions on the Afghan detainee issue this morning

A Globe report last night suggested that Canadian Forces might be handing over detainees to the U.S. forces who have a prison at Bagram in Afghanistan, now that we've temporarily stopped handing them over to the Afghans:
It's not clear whether Canadian troops are still taking prisoners only to release them or whether – despite the claims of senior generals – they are being held for months in the temporary cells run by Canadian Military Police on Kandahar Air Base or whether prisoners are being turned over to U.S. forces, which do operate a big prison at Bagram in Afghanistan.
Bagram might be a problem. The Washington Post has reported on what has happened at U.S. facilities at Bagram and in Afghanistan:
The U.S. military holds 300 or so people at Bagram, north of the capital of Kabul, and in Kandahar, Jalalabad and Asadabad. Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 700 people had been released from those sites, most of them held a few weeks or less. Special Forces units also have holding centers at their firebases, including at Gardez and Khost.

In December 2002, two Afghans died in U.S. custody in Afghanistan. The U.S. military classified both as homicides. Another Afghan died in June 2003 at a detention site near Asadabad.

"Afghans detained at Bagram airbase in 2002 have described being held in detention for weeks, continuously shackled, intentionally kept awake for extended periods of time, and forced to kneel or stand in painful positions for extended periods," said a report in March by Human Rights Watch. "Some say they were kicked and beaten when arrested, or later as part of efforts to keep them awake. Some say they were doused with freezing water in the winter." (emphasis added)
In Afghanistan, the CIA used to conduct some interrogations in a cluster of metal shipping containers at Bagram air base protected by three layers of concertina wire. It is unclear whether that center is still open, but the CIA's main interrogation center now appears to be in Kabul, at a location nicknamed "The Pit" by agency and Special Forces operators.

"Prisoner abuse is nothing new," said one military officer who has been working closely with CIA interrogators in Afghanistan. A dozen former and current national security officials interviewed by The Washington Post in 2002, including several who had witnessed interrogations, defended the use of stressful interrogation tactics and the use of violence against detainees as just and necessary.
If this is the Harper government's temporary solution, it will require further scrutiny to ensure that such activities are not occurring at the present time.

Note that the halt to the transfer of detainees to the Afghans is one of the top "World" stories in the New York Times today, "Canadian Military Has Quit Turning Detainees Over to Afghans." It calls attention to the public denials of the Harper government and also the specific details of the instances of torture that have appeared in the Canadian media. I'm sure that the news of the torture claims from Afghan prisoners is very newsworthy to Americans who are now witnessing an additional 2-3000 troops headed to Afghanistan. It's more evidence that raises questions about the state of affairs in Afghanistan for all the NATO countries.

And in a Globe update to their report last night, there is some new context provided about the goings on in the lawsuit to stop the transfer of detainees. Specifically, it points out that in December, a month after detainees were no longer being transferred, the government filed evidence in the lawsuit swearing to the need to continue the detainee transfers. Misleading the court? You be the judge:
More than a month after it stopped handing prisoners over to Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, the Harper government sent a senior general to give a sworn affidavit in the case brought by Amnesty and BCCLA.

The rights groups wanted transfers banned, claiming the government is bound by both international law and the Canadian Constitution from delivering detainees to those likely to torture or abuse them.

Brigadier-General André Deschamps, chief of staff to Canada's Expeditionary Forces Command, which runs the counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan, asserted that Canada would have to quit fighting if it was barred from transferring detainees.

He also said, in his Dec. 14 affidavit, that more Canadian troops might be killed if detainee transfers were halted.

Listing a long series of possible embarrassments and defeats, Gen. Deschamps, outlined what he said would be the dire, war-losing consequences should Canada be barred from turning prisoners it captured on the battlefield over to Afghan security forces.

Taliban fighters might surrender in droves, warned the general, if they knew Canada would release them because it could not either hold them or transfer them.

"The insurgents could attack us with impunity knowing that if they fail to win an engagement they would simply have to surrender and wait for release to resume operations," he said.

"The Canadian Forces has no capacity or ability to hold detainees other than for transfer purposes," said Gen. Deschamps, an air force officer.

Building a NATO detention facility, perhaps on the Kandahar base, which currently houses more than 10,000 troops, has been repeatedly suggested by international human-rights groups. Canada and most NATO nations are opposed.

"The long-term, indefinite detention of detainees in such circumstances would be inconsistent with the sovereignty of Afghanistan," Gen. Deschamps said.

Madam Justice Anne Mactavish has ordered Gen. Deschamps to appear in Federal Court today where he is expected to face tough questioning from lawyers for Amnesty and the BCCLA.
"Tough questioning." Now that's a restrained way of putting it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The secretive Harper government forced to admit the truth on detainees

That torture of detainees was happening in Afghanistan, despite its many repeated denials and taunts of the opposition as Taliban-lovers. So they put a stop to detainee transfers, apparently, in November. Yet they said nothing to the Canadian public or Parliament for months. Even the Manley report referenced the problem but knew nothing of the government's action here. It took legal process to force the Harper government to do it. Otherwise, we all know what would be happening. Nada, zippo. And so a big, huge shout out tonight to Amnesty International and the BC Civil Liberties Association for prosecuting this lawsuit against the Harper government to stop the detainee transfers. Some details of the revelation:
The Harper government quietly stopped transferring prisoners into Afghan custody months ago after compelling evidence of torture was discovered, the government admitted Wednesday on the eve of a federal court hearing.

The government kept the its decision under wraps, even as it prepared to fight rights groups seeking a halt to transfers and as it tried to drum up public support for extending Canada's commitment to wage war on the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

Justice Department lawyers admitted Wednesday that detainee transfers were halted 10 weeks ago.

In early November, a prisoner told Canadian diplomats in an interrogation room in a secret police jail in Kandahar that he had been beaten and then told them where they could find the electrical cable and rubber hose used by his torturers. The Canadians found them beneath a chair.

“Canadian authorities were informed on November 5, 2007, by Canada's monitoring team, of a credible allegation of mistreatment pertaining to one Canadian-transferred detainee held in an Afghan detention facility,” the lawyers said in a letter sent Wednesday to Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

“As a consequence there have been no transfers of detainees to Afghan authorities since that date,” the letter confirmed.

The government only revealed it had ceased transfers Wednesday as it tried to make a deal with Amnesty and the BCCLA to drop their application for an injunction forbidding transfers. But the government refused a counter-offer in which they would have agreed to give seven days notice before resuming transfers.

The hearing on the injunction is expected to proceed this morning.

“Canada will resume transferring detainees when it believes it can do so in accordance with its international legal obligations,” Justice Department lawyers wrote in their letter.
So as you can read, this is not over. They intend to resume the transfers. This is a temporary victory for the rule of law and the Geneva Conventions. It's not a stretch to think that the government may have simply stopped them temporarily in order to argue in this court case that the point is moot. Trust them? Well, the groups are continuing their lawsuit to obtain an injunction halting the transfers.

In light of the recent confirmation that detainees have been tortured and now this secretive shift by the Conservatives not to hand over detainees any longer, it's worth reminding ourselves of the partisan caliber of the Prime Minister and his Ministers' responses on the matter to date:
"I can understand the passion that the leader of the Opposition and members of his party feel for Taliban prisoners. I just wish occasionally they would show the same passion for Canadian soldiers." - Prime Minister Stephen Harper in March 2007


"These are merely allegations being made by the Taliban." - Harper in April 2007


"These people have no compunction about machine-gunning, mowing down little children. They have no compunction about decapitating or hanging elderly women . . . . Now we've captured them and, yes, these people that we've captured want nothing more to do than to kill you and your children. And we're asking you to treat them humanely." - Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day in April 2007


"We do expect these kinds of allegations from the Taliban." - Tory House leader Peter Van Loan in October 2007
Pretty nervy to be making partisan hay while people are sitting in Afghan jails being electrocuted and having their toenails ripped off, isn't it? The government's handling of this issue tells you a lot about their character. Their instinct is to deny, cover up, circle the wagons, point partisan fingers elsewhere. Then, once they're in a pickle, reverse course only when absolutely legally necessary. Like on the eve of a court hearing.

They should have had the decency and humanity to conduct themselves with dignity while such allegations were whirling and refrain from the cat-calling as above. Now that we know the truth, they've been exposed.

It's an ugly, ugly government comprised of inhuman partisans we've got representing us.

Things we shouldn't see in Canada

They're getting sued. Good:
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association says the police handcuffing and tethering of a Victoria teenager in a cell for four hours amounted to torture.

Police surveillance videotape released on Tuesday shows how Victoria police handcuffed 15-year-old Willow Kinloch and then used a nylon strap to bind her legs and secure her feet to the bottom of a cell door, giving her just a few centimetres to move.
Kinloch's family has filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Victoria and the four officers involved.

The case is expected to go to trial this fall.
Look forward to hearing the explanation of how a 15 year old kid was such a threat to multiple police officers. Absolutely stunning.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Manley: "there is no obvious answer"

You said a mouthful, Mr. Manley.

I intend to read the Manley report before writing much substantive about it. But here are a few thoughts off the top of my head after seeing some of the coverage.

I will be looking to see what it says about the detainee situation, if anything. We can't ignore that issue. If we're going to stay, and that will depend on an election, then resources need to be marshalled to handle detainees properly. Weapons and troops don't remedy this glaring breach of international law.

The recommendation, at first blush, that we continue to look to NATO and likely the U.S. to come in with some mythical 1000 force saviour to set everything right seems farcical. The Kandahar mission is but a bulwark against legions of Taliban and Al-Qaeda sympathizers over the Afghan-Pakistani border. The force might be bolstered. But to what end? The status quo? Adding helicopters and drones is a recommendation prompting a similar question. What for? There is no evidence that such efforts will make a difference in Afghanistan going forward. The western world can spend billions to maintain a band-aid operation that simply holds back a tide while the Taliban and its sympathizers concoct crude weaponry and engage in guerrilla tactics at fractions of our cost in human and economic treasure. I fail to see how you "win" or achieve any measure of success in a forum with those asymmetrical rules of engagement.

I do wish the NDP and BQ had held off their immediate indictments of it. You'd think they'd present a more responsible and thoughtful position before rushing to the microphones. I'm not a supporter of either party, obviously, but I subscribe to a version of democracy that is more thoughtful than such actions convey. They owe us more than that. Harper, we know, will be seeking to manipulate it for any partisan gain he can, always with a view to an election. It leaves the Liberals, once again, to come up with leadership on the issue. Hopefully they will do so in a manner that leaves open the possibility for the electorate to ultimately weigh in on the future of the mission.

But in any event, I'll read the report, hopefully tonight. We all should.

Stop the detainee transfers. Now.

Some days you come across a report that just makes you want to stand up and scream. Something to the effect of "NO, this is NOT what Canada is all about. This is what happens in Bush's America." There's such a report in the Globe this morning (and see CP) that will make you want to scream something, insert your own variety. It's about the ongoing saga of detainees being tortured in Afghanistan. There's what appears to be at least one crystal clear case of a Canadian-captured detainee who was handed over and tortured. It's documented. The investigators are shown the instruments of torture, still in the room with the detainee. And the report was sent directly to "...some of the most senior officials in the Canadian government and officers in the Canadian military." Here are some of the details:
Compelling evidence that Canadian-transferred detainees are still being tortured in Afghan prisons emerged Monday from the government's own follow-up inspection reports, documents it has long tried to keep secret.

In one harrowing account, an Afghan turned over by Canadian soldiers told of being beaten unconscious and tortured in the secret police prison in Kandahar. He showed Canadian diplomats fresh welts and then backed up his story by revealing where the electrical cable and the rubber hose that had been used on him were hidden.

Under the chair we found a large piece of braided electrical cable as well as a rubber hose,” reads the subsequent diplomatic cable marked “secret” and distributed to some of the most senior officials in the Canadian government and officers in the Canadian military.

The Globe and Mail has established that the report of the case is recent, written after a Nov. 5, 2007, inspection of the National Directorate of Security prison in Kandahar. That was six months after a supposedly improved transfer agreement was put in place to monitor detainee treatment. The agreement was designed to address problems raised by critics about the ill treatment of prisoners taken by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and handed over to Afghan authorities with insufficient follow-up. (emphasis added)
This evidence brings a violation of the Geneva Conventions directly into our house. Canada cannot be participating in such violations and should immediately signify to the Afghan government that enough is enough. We need to put an end to this barbarism now. That's what we should do. It's what Canadian values, humanity, morality, and the rule of law require.

I would like to hear Stephane Dion step up and tell everyone that he would not permit this to go on as PM. That he would put a stop to these transfers. And do so in the face of the impracticalities naysayers will throw at him. And in the face of the Conservative petty ridicule that will be unleashed at him while doing so. Dion stared down the separatists during and after the 1995 referendum. That was the major challenge facing the federation then. It's the Conservatives now. And he needs to engage them with that sense of magnitude. Because they don't care about the rule of law. It's the rule of law, stupid. That's what people should be concerned about. We've seen what happens when the Democrats in the U.S. were rolled by a lawless administration. We need to learn from that. The Conservatives don't care about legal niceties.

They don't care about interfering with the independence of a quasi-judicial tribunal, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Boom, Linda Keen, the Chair is fired in the dead of night.

They don't care about election spending limits. They play fast and loose and top up their national spending with an in-and-out scheme that requires Elections Canada to say, no, you guys don't get to do that. In the meantime, they spend more than their opponents.

And they've shown from the start of the debate over this issue that they don't care about detainees being tortured. They just don't get it that it doesn't matter who the detainees are. It doesn't matter if they're Taliban. Canada adheres to the rule of law. We don't torture and we don't hand over prisoners to be tortured. Because if we do, we're violating international law. We're becoming the ugly force we're supposedly trying to fight against.

Once again the detainee file which they've been at pains to hide has just blown up in their faces. And what a well-timed report. With all the focus on the Manley panel recommendations, to be released today, the torture of detainees deserves equal focus to the theoretics of getting support from NATO, or debating why it is that CIDA's not performing up to snuff. But good luck trying to get any Conservative to stand up and do the right thing.

The pitiful Maxime Bernier is not up to the job. He demonstrated that as recently as this weekend when he apologized for his department's manual on torture which had the fatal flaw of telling the truth that the world knows, that the U.S. is engaging in torture around the world. At Gitmo, at the CIA "black sites" and possibly on their own soil. Nor is lapdog Junior MacKay going to be of any use here either. Junior's got his head so far up the Americans' wazoos that he can't see straight. Harper? Let's see if he can restrain himself from some predictable hatorade tarring the opposition as Taliban lovers. This crowd is out to lunch when it comes to doing the right thing. Bernier should resign. These are foreign affairs materials that he must have seen.

If the Harper government won't do anything about this, they need to be defeated. Read this:
The following excerpt is typical. In other instances, entire pages are blacked out.

“Of the XXX detainees interviewed, XXX said XXX had been whipped with cables, shocked with electricity and/or otherwise ‘hurt' while in NDS custody in Kandahar. This period of alleged abuse lasted from between XXX days and XXX days and was carried out in XXX and XXX and detainees still had XXX on XXX body; XXX traumatized.” Some of the allegations describe abuse and torture as occurring in Kandahar, others in Kabul. In some, the secret police accuse the regular police of the beatings. One transferred detainee, apparently confused, incoherent and seemingly suffering from mental problems, had no toenails. Others reported beatings and ill treatment. Many said they had never seen a lawyer. Some apparently had never been visited by international monitoring groups.
That's more from the documents disclosing the torture allegations, dumped by the Conservatives belatedly, a few days before the court proceedings commence, in the lawsuit in Federal Court brought by Amnesty International. Late disclosure. More elbows up sharp practice evidencing contempt for the rules. But for that lawsuit, none of this would be public. Until forced to disclose, the Conservatives hide information from the Canadian public.

Why would we want an election over this? This is about what kind of nation we want to be. To employ a construct I absolutely hate given the source, we need to ask ourselves: are we with the nations of the world like Bush's and Karzai's who torture? Or are we going to stand up for the rule of law and Canadian values at a time when the world is faced with these horrendous choices?

Conservative hatorade watch

I'm sure if this is what the Conservatives are up to, herding troublemakers to disrupt an Ignatieff speech in Alberta on Friday, he'll dispatch with them handily. Debate is what university forums are all about. So to hear that the Conservatives are putting out the word to attend the event, it's not exactly news. What might be news here, however, is the feverish pitch at which they're doing it. And the tone employed by the national executive who put the word out:
"We need a skeptical, questioning audience for this hypocrite - especially after his recent performance in Afghanistan," wrote Mr. Marciano, referring to the trip Mr. Ignatieff took this month to the war-wracked country with Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion.
Sure political parties send partisans to these things. But these guys are taking it to a whole new level of boorishness.