Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Unfinished business

The government may have succeeded in shutting down an independent federal administrative tribunal's hearings today, but this big fat matzoh ball is now public: "Ottawa was warned of possible Afghan torture." The Harpies are in the news today due to their big cheque rule-breaking, but they're pushing democratic limits elsewhere on issues that go to the core of what kind of country we want to be. This story is not as flashy, but it's important:
A Canadian diplomat warned the federal government in writing early in 2006 that Afghan prisoners faced the possibility of torture - reports that have been smothered under a blanket of national security.
The politically explosive revelation was made in an affidavit filed by Richard Colvin - now an intelligence officer with the Foreign Affairs Department - to the Military Police Complaints Commission, which once again adjourned public hearings Wednesday. The inquiry, which is looking at what military police knew, or should have known, about possible Afghan prison torture, has been put on hold for at least six months amid court appeals over its jurisdiction.
Colvin's written submission stated that two reports - one on May 26, 2006, and the other on June 2, 2006 - were distributed widely in the Foreign Affairs and Defence Departments, including to senior military commanders in both Ottawa and Kandahar.
Yet when allegations of abuse surfaced the following spring, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and several cabinet ministers insisted they had received no credible reports from Canadian officials about possible torture.
This is unfinished business that's not going away for the government. The issue may return before the Military Police Complaints Commission in the future, for one thing, as the legal questions are unresolved and action six months or more down the road is difficult to predict. And secondly, the question of a parliamentary probe may have just gotten a push in the form of the release of the Colvin affidavit. It's difficult to see how a parliamentary committee could ignore such allegations now. The Conservatives, having succeeded in shutting down an independent tribunal, may attempt to portray a parliamentary probe as partisan. This is not an issue that easily lends itself to that characterization though.