Friday, May 14, 2010

Epic document struggle D-day

There were some positive indications late last night that a deal on the Afghan detainee documents would indeed be reached, after this week's seesaw. Like this one: "MPs reach agreement in principle for Afghan documents."
Parliament has reached an agreement in principle to view the uncensored Afghan detainee documents, but the deal could still unravel when MPs meet Friday.

Under the tentative agreement, one MP per party would be allowed to look at the documents, and an eminent panel of judges would decide which documents could be released, CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported Thursday night.

The stakes are high for MPs on all sides: If the deal falls apart on Friday, it could lead to a contempt of Parliament motion against the government.
More: "Liberals, NDP confident detainee documents deal will be reached." This Globe report is a little less positive, going into more detail about the debate over the panel of judges, what balance of power there will be between MPs and the panel, when it comes into play, etc.
“We’ve crossed the Rubicon on the idea there’s a panel and the government crossed the Rubicon on the idea that they have to show un-redacted, unfiltered documents to MPs,” one MP familiar with the negotiations said.

“We’re circling around how the panel gets triggered and how do the MPs relate to the panel. That’s where we are, sort of,” the MP added.
You can easily see the can of worms here. What to do when there's a dispute, is it 3 out of 4 parties who have to agree to proceed to the panel? 2 out of 4? Or are 1 party's concerns enough to trigger a review? It would be hard to believe they'd be proceeding on a unanimity basis. When the panel is sought out, are these legal arguments that will be made to the judge panel or do the MPs make the case on other grounds? Judges are used to legal arguments. Whatever they're contemplating, you'd have to think the government's got a resource imbalance in its favour, in the background. The opposition members are likely to be taxed more, resource wise by this huge process. And who's defining what "national security" means here anyway? Are these judges/experts going to have specialized knowledge on that front? What rules are these judges bound by? Among many other questions that come to mind.

Anyway, guess we'll see what's in store today, for good or ill.