Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Drawing a line

That is what the wall of opposition is doing on the Afghanistan Special Commons Committee. As set out in this report, the government's effort to foist their chosen witness, David Mulroney, on the committee has met with professional, principled objection. Mulroney wishes to appear and cites his name coming up in Richard Colvin's testimony last week. Yet how is a committee supposed to prepare for a witness' testimony properly without having read any evidence in connection with that witness? Commons committees are not soapbox platforms to be manipulated by any party that perceives a sudden benefit in getting a particular witness in front of it. It makes a mockery of the committee system for individual parties to believe they can just show up at will and control the agenda.

So good for the opposition for acting seriously and saying no, you can't appear unless we get documents in advance that will actually let us make sense out of what we're examining.

Second point this morning, when you consider that statement released by the government yesterday, it really is quite glaring how that period of 2006-early 2007 is left unaddressed given the warnings by Richard Colvin to senior foreign affairs and defence officials. The admission that there were 3 halts to detainee transfers in 2009 and one in 2007 just magnifies the earlier omissions in acting on Colvin's reports. It's not an answer to say that steps were taken later yet mysteriously provide no accounting for the earlier time period.

And with respect to the admission that there were recent halts in detainee transfers, that news is still raising questions about the government's thinking:

"How many times do you need to find something wrong before you're criminally negligent in transferring?" asked Amir Attaran, who has represented Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association in a failed court challenge of Canadian detainee policies in Afghanistan.

"You can't say that this is a game of cat and mouse and that each time somebody is found abused we'll stop briefly. That doesn't work. At some point you have to realize you're dealing with a system in which the risk of torture is rampant and to persist is to aid and abet it, and aiding and abetting torture is as much of a crime as torture itself."

But that would require a government with an inclination to provide leadership on a human rights issue. Given this government's track record (Khadr, abandoned Canadians overseas, for e.g.), it's fair to say we don't have one of those.