Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Afghan committee hearing with Hillier raises more questions

Update (6:15 p.m.) below.

So, to sum up some of what we learned at the Afghan Commons committee hearings this afternoon featuring former defence chief Hillier...

The military leaders maintained they did not see any of Colvin's warnings through 2006 or into 2007. CP reports on why:
"We didn't base our work on things like reports written in May or June 2006, which said nothing about abuse, nothing about torture or anything else that would have caught my attention or indeed the attention of others," he said.

He was backed by Michel Gauthier, former head of Canada's expeditionary forces, who said reports in 2006 and early 2007 never even used the word torture - except in one isolated incidence.
They characterized Colvin's reports as second-hand information, similar to the government line, as a rationale as to why "staff" wouldn't have briefed them (Gauthier). The question therefore comes to mind as to whether information was withheld from the military during that 2006-2007 time period. Hillier just read the Colvin reports apparently within the last week:
Hillier said he read some of the reports Colvin referred to for the first time after he spoke about them last week.
And it's remarkable that Hillier and Gauthier referenced the Colvin reports repeatedly throughout their testimony yet the committee does not have access to those reports. And they may not get them according to this report: "Justice to block access to key documents in torture probe." Making a farce of the parliamentary committee hearings.

The strategy of the government appears to be: Colvin has testified, let's portray his allegations as being sole-sourced from him, his opinion. Then refuse to release publicly the reports and underlying evidence Colvin wrote/provided on national security grounds.
...Colvin, who continues to be an employee of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, has informed the committee that Justice Department lawyers have now told him he would be breaking the law and risking a jail term if he released some of those documents.
Have ministers and the Prime Minister refer to Colvin's reports a matters of "his opinion." And see above, the military leadership refers to his reports as containing information not worthy of being brought to their attention. Never mind that Hillier seemed to acknowledge during the hearing today that he was aware of independent reports on torture prior to 2007.

We are supposed to therefore conclude that this is a he said/he said situation, without the committee being provided with proper information. That's unacceptable. There is enough independent information that has caused serious doubt about this framing by the government:
Senior diplomat Richard Colvin was far from being a lone wolf when he sounded alarms about detainee torture in Afghanistan soon after he arrived for a posting in 2006.

At the time, numerous reports in Canada and abroad concluded that torture and abuse was routine in Afghan jails, including warnings from the U.S. State Department, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the United Nations.

There was even a 2006 report from Canada's Foreign Affairs Department, which asserted that "extrajudicial executions, disappearance, torture and detention without trial are all too common" in Afghan prisons.
Throw in news today that Peter MacKay had the information right in front of him:
But on Wednesday he acknowledged that he did receive briefings from his deputy minister that contained attachments that were written, in part, by Colvin.

"But I have not received direct reports from Mr. Colvin," MacKay told reporters, who repeated his contention that the diplomat's allegations are not "credible."
The committee is serious about this, as they should be on our behalf, and the allegations need to be properly vetted and examined. The questions just won't go away if this is the route the government insists on pursuing.

Update (6:15 p.m.): See Dr. Dawg on today's hearing, with precise citation of a Colvin memo.