Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Perfecting new ways of cover-up - Sanitize the source documents

Parts of detainee report erased at ambassador's request

Steven Chase and Campbell Clark
Globe and Mail
December 2, 2009

OTTAWA — From Wednesday's Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, Dec. 02, 2009 12:00AM EST Last updated on Wednesday, Dec. 02, 2009 9:36AM EST

Canada's former ambassador to Afghanistan asked a diplomat to erase two bluntly worded sections from an April, 2007, report on how Ottawa's delays in notifying the Red Cross of prisoner transfers to Afghan authorities left these detainees vulnerable to abuse.

The Globe and Mail has learned that Arif Lalani asked for the edits from Richard Colvin, a diplomat at the centre of an unfolding controversy over whether Canada turned a blind eye when handing prisoners to Afghanistan's torture-prone authorities.

This editing took place in April, 2007, only days after a Globe investigation revealed disturbing allegations of abuse and torture among prisoners transferred by Canadians to Afghan detention - stories that kicked off a stormy debate in Ottawa.

In one of the sections he was requested to delete, Mr. Colvin remarked on a pattern observed by the Red Cross: that abuse took place almost immediately after prisoners were transferred to the Afghans - timing that meant Canada's tardiness made it very hard for the human-rights monitor to guard against torture.

"[A Red Cross official], who had read The Globe and Mail's reporting, said that the allegations of abuse made by those Afghans interviewed by [reporter] Graeme Smith fit a common pattern," Mr. Colvin wrote in text that was cut out.

"In the International Committee of the Red Cross's experience, 'a lot of abuse happens in the first days,' " he wrote, adding that the human-rights monitor argued this was cause for "more rapid notification" that "would offer better protection to the detainees."

Mr. Colvin's testimony last month alleged that likely all detainees handed over to the Afghans in 2006 and early 2007 were tortured, even though, he said, many were innocent. He told MPs that higher-ups began censoring his reports from Afghanistan in the spring of 2007, saying this was the first time since arriving there a year earlier that he found his memos facing editing from on high.

Military commanders have denied his allegations, saying very few innocents were handed over to the Afghans and that they did not knowingly turn over prisoners to be tortured.

The Globe and Mail has also learned that Mr. Lalani also asked Mr. Colvin to dramatically scale back the number of people in Foreign Affairs who would be e-mailed this same late April report on detainees - chopping the recipient list to about five from more than 70.

"Richard, please go with my distr[ibution list] - Arif," Mr. Lalani wrote on a printout of the draft e-mail, a heavily censored copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail. The edited and final version of this report was e-mailed from Kabul on April 30, 2007.

Mr. Lalani, considered a fast-rising star in Canada's diplomatic corps, was sent to Afghanistan in April, 2007, as Ottawa sought to place higher-ranked diplomats in Kabul. Today, he is director-general of the Foreign Affairs Department's policy planning bureau.

It was David Mulroney, the senior official handed the job of bringing tighter supervision to Canada's Afghan mission in January, 2007, who chose Mr. Lalani as ambassador there.

Mr. Mulroney last week denied he "muzzled" Mr. Colvin when he appeared before a parliamentary committee. He said he wanted strong opinions to be expressed on the phone, and he insisted that all diplomats consult their ambassador on reports.

In another section he was asked by Mr. Lalani to erase, Mr. Colvin reminded Ottawa that it had been warned about 10 months earlier of these dangerous delays in notifying the Red Cross of detainees.

In the deleted text, Mr. Colvin even acknowledged that Ottawa's own internal statistics on notification delays corroborated the Red Cross's estimates. "Our own records substantiate ICRC's comments about continued delays in notification," the diplomat wrote. "For the four-month period of December 1, 2006, to March 30, 2007, the gap from detention by Canadian Forces to ICRC being informed was as long as 34 days," he wrote.

A Foreign Affairs spokeswoman played down Mr. Lalani's editing of Mr. Colvin's memo, saying it's part of an ambassador's job. "All ambassadors are ultimately responsible for approving reporting generated by the embassy," Katherine Heath-Eves said.

"Reporting is expected to be factual, objective, collaborative and subject to rigorous assessment. Mr. Lalani applied these same standards during his time as ambassador in Kabul."


Colvin memo: See here.

This is a draft version of a memo Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin wrote in late April, 2007, regarding advice offered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on problems tracking prisoners Canada handed over to Afghanistan's intelligence service. The draft was given to the Justice Department during the military police complaints commission's probe of the detainees issue. It was subsequently censored by the government.

Arif Lalani, Canada's then-ambassador to Afghanistan, had just started his posting. He took this draft and cut the number of recipients in Foreign Affairs and National Defence who would receive it from more than 70 to five: three people and two organizational in-boxes for the mission in Afghanistan. "Richard, please go with my distr[ibution list] - Arif," Mr. Lalani wrote in the draft memo. A revised version was sent April 30.

The Globe has learned that the second page of this draft memo - later blacked out by government censors - has edit marks from Mr. Lalani telling Mr. Colvin to delete a section about how the Red Cross believes April, 2007, reports in The Globe and Mail "fit a common pattern" known to them about how "a lot of abuse happens in the first days" after Canadian Forces hand prisoners over to Afghan detention.

Part of what is crossed out by the ambassador is where Mr. Colvin draws a line between Canada's habitually late reporting of detainees to the Red Cross and the fact that abuse often happens very early in detention - leaving the reader to draw the conclusion that this makes it very hard for the human-rights monitor to guard against torture. "Our own records substantiate ICRC's comments about continued delays in notification," the diplomat wrote.


Dr Mike said...

Ouch , that one`s gonna leave a mark.

No wonder Harper refuses to have an inquiry.

Sounds like Tiger Woods all over again.

Dr Mike Popovich

crf said...

Such a request from Lalani would only be because Harper has demanded such a policy be put into place.

Nothing controversial that could harm the government should appear in writing.

Censor what you write. And only talk about controversial issues on the phone. And unquestionably follow orders never written down, only conveyed to you over the phone.

Without a written record, people can do the I "can't recall", "I acted on your concerns as I understood them at the time", "I disagree with your present interpretation" dance.

Accountability? Harper thinks only Taliban sympathisers want "accountability".

This attempt to govern without accountability by telling people not to email, and to only use the telephone isn't just happening in the the foreign affairs department: it's all over government.

The censoring to avoid accountability in stopping torture is just the first big crack which has exposed Harper's essential corrupt modus operandi. More will follow as other departments fail.

You cannot run an entire country from one telephone in Ottawa.