Monday, December 07, 2009

Drip, drip, drip: The discrediting of Peter MacKay continues

More trouble for MacKay, the drips of information about Afghan detainee treatment keep coming and contradicting him. From the Globe last night, this article recounts an instance of detainee abuse by Afghans in 2006. This information comes out of the Amnesty International/BC Civil Liberties Union litigation against the federal government where they attempted to get an order halting the transfer of detainees by Canadians to Afghans. That litigation was unsuccessful but has produced reams of information, including this bit last night from a sworn statement submitted to the court. This, it seems, is something a Defence Minister should have known about:
In the case of the transferred and subsequently rescued detainee, Canadian soldiers intervened to take an Afghan from a room where he was surrounded by five or six Afghan police who were beating the handcuffed man with shoes or boots.

Blood was running down the detainee's face so “I immediately assumed positive control of the individual and removed him,” the soldier's field diary says.
The rescue incident dates from June of 2006, during the period when ministers and senior officers now insist they were completely unaware of repeated warnings of the risks of abuse and torture being filed by diplomat Richard Colvin.

The Canadian soldier's account, handwritten in a field notebook in the hours after the June 19, 2006 incident, is corroborated by a medic's examination of the detainee's injuries and photographs, which the government refuses to release. The account, first outlined in a May, 2007 affidavit by Colonel Steve Noonan, Canada's first task force commander, was subsequently confirmed by then Brigadier-General Joseph Deschamps, who was chief-of-staff for operations in Canada's expeditionary forces command when he was cross-examined about it in January, 2008.
As the Globe handily sets out, this instance above clearly discredits MacKay's repeated professions, for e.g., "There has never been a single, solitary, proven allegation of abuse of a detainee, a Taliban prisoner, transferred by Canadian Forces.” Dec. 2 in the House of Commons." Given that the soldier's account of the incident was filed in the Federal Court, MacKay appears incompetent. He was Defence Minister at the time of that litigation. It's hard to believe he'd try to cover up something that was filed in public litigation. Or do they just think they can say anything these days?

And by the way, blaming military and department officials for the fact that he didn't know, as MacKay's spokesman did last night, is no profile in courage. Guess who's the least popular person in the Defence Department on Monday?

So we have questions about MacKay's credibility, again. We also have questions now about the military's handling of the information above. The Globe reports of how the "Canadian-transferred" element of the above prisoner transfer was called into question publicly by no less a figure than General Natynczyk, in contradiction to the documentary record. Some questions should be posed to General Natynczyk about that.

Further, this is a timely report on the actions of Canadian soldiers here, acting in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, retrieving the above prisoner from the torturous situation and in other instances, refusing transfer where execution was suspected to be the likely result. A very timely demonstration of the soldiers' respect for the Geneva Conventions, when the Harper politicos have been accusing the opposition of attacking the troops. The opposition hasn't at all. These disclosed facts further the point that the troops are not the principal issue here. It's the government's attempts to cover up that there was abuse going on. Surely they knew about such documentary evidence. Why can't they just disclose what they did as a result? Why all the blacking out and shifting stories? Why did they permit transfers to continue in light of this June 2006 incident and continue to place soldiers - who were obviously concerned - in this precarious situation?

In case they haven't noticed, this issue is not diminishing and their credibility will continue to be hammered. Those "thousands of pages" from the Federal Court litigation sound like they are being combed for the sake of getting us a clearer, ongoing picture of the facts.