Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Harper characteristically weighs in on Afghanistan issue today

A few notes from today's developments on the Afghanistan issue...

1. Despite a set witness list at the Afghan Special Committee, with a pretty fairly balanced set of representatives of various Afghanistan mission participants, the Conservatives were forcefully pushing the issue today, led by the Prime Minister.
"I hope the committee, if it's serious, will hear testimony from all who want to testify," he said.
More uber-irony from the Prime Minister, it's Kafkaesque to the hilt. There's little that they believe they are not entitled to do when it comes to life on Parliament Hill, including treating Commons Committees as p.r. outlets for preferred views to be suddenly inserted.

What the Conservatives are attempting to do, and it may be acceded to via a compromise now, is elbow their witness in. This is particularly incredible when so many potentially valuable witnesses on the issue have been arguably stifled by the government itself in respect of their testimony at the Military Police Complaints Commission. Read this remarkable letter by Richard Colvin's counsel (pdf) to the Justice Department detailing how the government has intimidated witnesses from coming forth. It's distinctly counter to Harper's public statement above as he seeks to have his preferred witness appear. They say one thing in public yet do something totally opposite in private.

2. Here's a notable statement by Harper in the Commons today:
"In every single instance, Canadian diplomats and Canadian soldiers, whenever they are aware of abuse, take the action they are required to take under international law because that is how this country acts and we are proud of those people," Harper said in the House of Commons. (emphasis added)
This is a studious dodge of governmental responsibility, laying responsibility at the feet of the diplomats and Canadian soldiers to act in accordance with international law. Why is he hanging these obligations on others?

3. And if you missed it, another classic "boo" tactic from the Prime Minister, missing the point of it all once again:
“Mr. Speaker, once again, everybody knows that there are widespread allegations,” he said. “Taliban make allegations in every case.”
Shameless in his willingness to say anything to distract and engage in non-responsive talking points. Again, he's doing the MacKay thing, sending the message that Canada presumptively considers all allegations as suspect. He really should read that report of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission:
"Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are common in the majority of law enforcement institutions, and at least 98.5 per cent of interviewed victims have been tortured," said the commission's April 2009 study.

The independent study, which tracked abuse claims between 2001 and early 2008, shows the vast majority of them - 243 - were levelled in 2006 and 2007.

That is the time frame when Colvin was in Afghanistan and warning the federal government about torture.
It's irresponsible for a Prime Minister to be essentially mocking such claims.

4. It should be kept in mind that the Afghan Committee itself can really only achieve a certain level of review of the issue. The committee is inherently capable of being slighted as partisan given its political makeup and more importantly, there's simply not the time to achieve significant examination and pursuit of the issue. 7 minutes per MP is nonsensical. These hearings should be day long affairs. Why a public inquiry continues to be the logical solution.

(h/t to ottawasteph for a few of the links above)