Thursday, October 15, 2009

The MacKay version of civilian oversight of the military

Apparently there's not much of it. This is what Peter MacKay is suggesting tonight. The Sgt. Schulz of Canadian cabinet ministers, when memos were being circulated widely in his department on matters on the ground in Afghanistan, he saw nothing: "MacKay denies seeing Afghan torture warnings." MacKay's position:
Defence Minister Peter MacKay says he never saw reports by a Canadian diplomat warning of possible torture in Afghan prisons.

It was revealed this week that two reports in early 2006 warned the federal government that prisoners turned over by Canadian troops were likely being tortured.

The documents were circulated widely throughout the Foreign Affairs and Defence departments and were also shared with senior military commanders in Ottawa and Afghanistan, said an affidavit filed with a military watchdog agency.

Yet when allegations of abuse surfaced in the spring of 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and several cabinet ministers insisted they had received no credible reports from Canadian officials about possible torture.

MacKay, who was foreign minister at the time, insisted Thursday that he knew nothing of the documents.

"I have not seen those reports in either my capacity as minister of National Defence or previously as minister of Foreign Affairs," he said in a telephone interview from Halifax.

"I can't speak for other ministers."
A few questions come to mind. Was there a "plausible denial" policy in place to shield the Harper ministers (and Harper) from the hard facts? Did they purposely avoid such reports that were being "circulated widely" through the Foreign Affairs and Defence departments? And if so, what does this say about the civilian leadership the Harper government has been exercising on the Afghanistan file? Were the memos kept from them? What say you, other Harper ministers and Mr. Prime Minister? Did anyone in a position of civilian leadership get the memo? I mean, it's only Canada's respect for the Geneva Conventions that was at issue.

Lots of questions that MacKay's stated position unfortunately doesn't do anything to answer.