Friday, October 16, 2009

The O'Connor version of civilian oversight of the military

It's similar to Peter MacKay's it seems. Last night O'Connor also denied that he had any knowledge, while Defence Minister, of allegations of torture of Afghan detainees handed over by Canadian troops. He, like MacKay, maintains this in spite of what we learned this week, that reports warning of such allegations had been sent to "top bureaucrats at Foreign Affairs and National Defence, as well as the senior military chain of command." Why this information never made it to these two ministers is now looming large as a question. Here's what O'Connor had to say:
"I always tell the truth and I said it in Parliament, I said it in committees and I'll say it today: I was never made aware of any allegations of prisoner abuse, period," Mr. O'Connor said in an interview with Global TV.

"Nobody came to me and said ‘Minister, there are prisoners being mistreated.' Nobody."

Mr. O'Connor had no explanation for why he may have been left out of the loop about the reports.

"Maybe they were dealt with at the lower levels and found not to be credible," he said.
The questions raised last night in respect of Peter MacKay's denial apply here as well. If all of these senior officials were getting these reports, why not the ministers?

Further, what kind of passive governance is it that these ministers were practicing? Has Stephen Harper got them on such short leashes that their effectiveness is being curtailed? Why were they not asking questions about a contemplated and major issue on the Afghan file? Questions that might have led them to Colvin's reports.

It's hard to believe a Canadian Minister of Defence would not be vigilant about potential torture of Afghan detainees, that he would not be concerned about it being an issue on the ground there. Surely he should know that it would be something that would have to be guarded against given the fact that Canadian military were on the ground. You would think a Defence Minister might turn their mind to the problem in order to protect the Canadian military, to ensure that the military weren't putting themselves in any jeopardy.

Let's also keep in mind that Richard Colvin has provided a sworn statement under oath that he reported on torture allegations back to senior Canadian officials. And Colvin is presently the deputy head of intelligence at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. O'Connor, by contrast, is merely floating in the media the notion that the allegations may have been "dealt with at the lower levels and found not to be credible." We have no idea whether that is true or not. Let's have everybody under oath, then make the judgments.