Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Spin overshadowing policy

Three items this morning on the Afghan detainee torture ongoing maelstrom which continues to bring forth embarrassing disclosures and rebukes for the Harper government.

First up, CP has another leak. Looks like they've reviewed confidential documents from a source which show a government preoccupied with message management in 2006 instead of their legal obligations, after having been advised by the Red Cross about detainee issues. Here's one striking exposure of the Harper philosophy of government in action, they prepared boiler-plate talking points for the Red Cross, itemizing lots of things to tell the Red Cross they intended to do, including seeking to visit prisons, for e.g. Yet they prepared an internal strategic plan that reflected exactly the opposite:
...officials in Ottawa placed the notion of formally monitoring prisoners at the bottom of a "Strategic (Macro) Level Engagement" plan produced near the end of February 2007.

No. 1 on the eight-point plan for officials was to "Prepare standard key messages (ie. importance of adhering to obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law regarding the treatment of detainees.)"

Point No. 8 in the plan was to "consider supplementing the existing arrangement" in such a way to include the "guarantee of access for Canadian authorities to individuals transferred by the (Canadian Forces)."
That is the Harper government in a nutshell, saying one thing publicly to the Red Cross, doing another privately. That they saw fit to treat torture allegations as mostly a p.r. challenge, remarkable. Leaving the military hanging in the balance, to deal with the allegations on the ground.

Which brings us to the second item today, a Globe editorial essentially stating that the government has repeatedly lied on what it knew about Afghan detainee torture and continues to lie on an ongoing basis as it deals with the file.
The record speaks for itself on what the Canadian government knows, or should have known, about the torture of Afghan detainees. It speaks far louder than the falsehoods from the government that have by now become routine. If these falsehoods are offered unintentionally, one wonders how senior government ministers can be so ignorant of the contents of such an important file.

Peter MacKay, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has said over and over that no proof exists of torture: “Not a single Taliban prisoner turned over by Canadian Forces can be proven to have been abused. That is the crux of the issue.” Yet the evidence was already public.
At every breach of the walls of secrecy that the diplomat Richard Colvin has alleged existed within government and the military, the government fires off untruths (the above list is by no means complete). But they are laughably weak armaments against the truth. As each one is knocked aside, the government's insistence it knew nothing about the torture of detainees becomes more and more tenuous.
Laughably weak. Fairly brutal editorial, about as bad as it could get right now considering that this file is still developing and doesn't look to be getting any better.

Finally, the third item, news that 23 former ambassadors, by profession politically neutral, have decided to stand up for Richard Colvin by publicly disavowing the government's trashing of him. This is viewed as a rare step, but clearly, this government's provocative conduct has prodded them to speak out. They've witnessed one of their own, doing his job, savaged for doing just that. Their key motivation to speak out is the stifling effect that might be felt in the diplomatic corps as a result of the public attacks on Colvin by this government.

Individuals and institutions beyond the political opposition are clearly feeling the need to line up against the Harper government's outrageous behaviour on this file. This is a good sign. Bet Peter MacKay and Lawrence Cannon are looking forward to their testimony before the Afghan Commons Committee tomorrow.