Sunday, December 13, 2009

Canadian government not coming clean on Afghan torture

The Globe and Mail in Canada has revealed that the chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC), Peter Tinsley, has not been extended in the position to complete the inquiry of the alleged torture of the Afghan prisoners who were transferred to Afghan authorities by the Canadian forces in Afghanistan.

It is likely that Mr. Tinsley be replaced by the Conservative government in Ottawa by a person more willing to follow the government’s line. This will indeed be a disturbing development. Already, 111 former Canadian diplomats have signed an open letter expressing their concern over the attempts by the Prime Minister Harper’s government to silence and discredit public servants.

The Conservative Foreign Minister, Lawrence Cannon, has even dismissed the concern expressed by the decorated Canadian public servants by suggesting that “they are not familiar with the Afghanistan file.” Mr. Cannon should have exercised caution and not undermine the decades of experience and wisdom of the Canadian foreign service officials who have served Canada with dignity. As for Mr. Cannon, one would like to know the extent of his expertise on Afghanistan. Sipping Tim Horton’s coffee on the Kandahar base does not make one an expert on Afghanistan!

Writing in the Globe and Mail on November 24, 09, another conservative, General Lewis McKenzie, dismissed the idea of having Canada’s elected representatives review the allegations of torture of Afghan prisoners. He observed:

A public inquiry would be a colossal waste of taxpayers' money. The government should put the file back into the MPCC's lap and direct all players to co-operate. The commission has the highly qualified staff necessary to get to the truth of the matter in the most cost-effective manner.

I believe General McKenzie and the Conservatives want to prevent the public inquiry and prefer MPCC because the government would exercise complete control over the scope and mandate of the inquiry by MPCC. How can the Conservative government “direct all players to co-operate” when it is the one holding back the information. Not extending Mr. Tinsley’s tenure as chair should serve as proof of the government’s intent to silence this inquest.

However, the Conservatives are unlikely to be able to sweep Afghan torture issue under the carpet. The issue has struck a chord with the ordinary Canadians and not just former diplomats. As of Sunday afternoon, 433 readers recorded their comments on the Globe’s website about Mr. Tinsley’s story, which is a clear indication that this issue is of great concern to Canadians. Conservative pundits in Canada should take notice or else they would pay the price when the next time Canadians head to the polling booths.

December 11, 2009

Afghan detainee watchdog warns of Tory 'chilling effect'

By Steven Chase
From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Departing military commission chief's comments come as Harper government digs in its heels in face of parliamentary order to turn over confidential files

The departing head of a commission probing the Afghan detainee controversy says Ottawa's refusal to extend his term so he could finish the job contributes to a "chilling effect" on cabinet-appointed watchdogs charged with keeping government accountable.

Peter Tinsley, whose chairmanship of the Military Police Complaints Commission expired yesterday, offered parting comments even as the Harper government signalled it would defy a parliamentary order to release uncensored versions of records on Afghan detainees.

The Tories are fighting Opposition attempts to follow the paper trail surrounding detainees after stunning military revelations on Wednesday that a Canadian-captured detainee was abused in June, 2006, after being handed over to the Afghans, contrary to Tory government assurances that there was no evidence prisoners were tortured.

The long-simmering issue was reignited in mid-November when diplomat Richard Colvin told a Parliamentary committee that all detainees captured by Canadians likely were tortured after being transferred to Afghan hands in 2006 and early 2007.

The Harper government responded with attacks on Mr. Colvin's credibility, an onslaught that this week brought a letter of protest from former ambassadors.

Friday, the number of former diplomatic heads of mission putting their names to the letter climbed to 111, a list that now includes Allan Gotlieb, who represented Canada in Washington in the 1980s.

The open letter castigates Ottawa for dismissing Mr. Colvin's 2006 and 2007 torture warnings as irrelevant and suspect - a move ex-ambassadors fear casts a chill over the foreign service's ability to report frankly from abroad.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon played down the growing protest among ex-ambassadors, saying: "The signatories were speaking as private persons; they no longer have any responsibilities within the department that I lead. In addition, they are not familiar with the Afghanistan file."

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr. Tinsley said it was unprecedented for the Harper government to forgo reappointment during a significant inquiry. He said the interruption will hurt the probe's ability to do its job.

The Tories said they plan to appoint a new chair soon, but critics have raised concerns Mr. Tinsley's successor will not be as enthusiastic to press ahead.

The commission has run into a string of roadblocks federal lawyers have used to delay and severely limit the scope of its probe.

Mr. Tinsley suggested a bigger problem is the Harper government's attitude to the heads of watchdog agencies, who are appointed on the advice of cabinet. He cited the example of Linda Keen, the former head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, who was fired in 2008.

"Lack of co-operation by the government, or resistance [to] the roles of administrative tribunals, and the effect on the [cabinet] appointees, can have nothing but a ... chilling effect across the field."

He said the fear is that watchdog chairs could be cowed by "an environment where the government of the day sends signals that if you don't guess right what the government of the day wants" there will be consequences.

Separately, Trade Minister Stockwell Day rejected opposition calls for open access to records on detainees. "It would be naive to the extreme to think that that information can be given out."

With reports from Gloria Galloway and Daniel Leblanc

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