Thursday, January 7, 2010

Canadian Prime Minister Dimitri Soudas

The government can't hide forever

By Kate Heartfield,
The Ottawa Citizen
January 7, 2010

Conservative spokesman Dimitri Soudas, who apparently runs the federal government now, said mockingly last week that the Opposition could spend its time between now and the next Parliament on March 3 talking about "Taliban terrorists" if it wanted to.

As for the government MPs, they are all spending the next two months diligently crunching the numbers for the next federal budget. (I assume this means the government has eliminated the Department of Finance Canada, as a deficit-cutting measure.) When they aren't doing that, they'll be watching the Olympics.

This leaves us journalists with a bit of a dilemma in the interim. Which activity do we cover? Since I'm no math whiz, I guess I'll talk about Taliban terrorists.

The people Soudas means are the Afghans that Canadian troops round up and hand over to Afghan authorities. He's banking on the assumption that if Canadians think these prisoners are all terrorists, Canadians will be just fine with our government handing them over to be tortured.

Perhaps Soudas is right, and we despise torture only when innocent Canadian citizens are on the receiving end (and even then, as Maher Arar can attest, we're slow to get worked up.) But shouldn't we care as much, or more, when Canadian citizens are the ones doing the legwork for the torturers? Many apologists for the Canadian government have said that this debate is about what Afghans do to other Afghans, and therefore unworthy of Canadian attention. But the Afghan authorities wouldn't have their hands on these guys if Canadian troops hadn't rounded them up.

So it is our duty, as Canadians, to ask a few questions about the guys Canadian forces are rounding up. Starting with: Are we really sure they're all "Taliban terrorists"?

Diplomat Richard Colvin -- whose credibility continues to stand impressively firm despite the government's best efforts to destroy it -- isn't convinced they are. And he's not the only one.

This summer, Gen. David Petraeus sent Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone to Afghanistan to take a hard look at the detainees there. Stone, who is a grim-visaged marine, not a soft-hearted Taliban-lover, found that of the 600 detainees at the Bagram air base, 400 of them posed no danger and should be set free immediately. Some had been held for years without trial despite the fact that there was little evidence against them.

If two-thirds of American detainees at Bagram, as recently as this summer, shouldn't have been there at all, is it really that far-fetched to question whether Canada has handed over -- or is handing over -- anyone who isn't a "Taliban terrorist"? Isn't it possible, given the environment there, that some detainees are ending up in Canadian, then Afghan, custody because they're in the wrong place at the wrong time and look suspicious?

I don't have a definitive answer to this question, and neither do you. If it turns out that innocent Afghans were or are being collected by Canadians and handed over for torture, that might not matter to you. But you have the right to know. It's happening in your name.

When the government refuses to provide answers to the Opposition or the media, it's refusing to provide answers to you, the Canadian citizen. Opposition MPs and journalists are paid to ask the questions most people don't have the time or resources to ask.

So yes, I'm still asking questions about Taliban terrorists, and about the shadowy masses of Afghan detainees who might or might not be Taliban terrorists, and about the government's refusal to provide information to Parliament. If the Opposition MPs have any sense of duty to the Canadian public, they'll keep asking about it too, whether Parliament's prorogued or not.

The sad fact is, though, that not all Opposition MPs seem to have much interest in keeping the issue alive. Michael Ignatieff seems to have been spooked into paralysis by his last attempt to stare down the government. Perhaps Bob Rae, who's been very impressive on the detainee file, will fill the leadership gap. Perhaps not.

Torture isn't a left-right issue, and Conservatives are doing their side a disservice by trying to turn it into one -- and by picking the wrong side to boot. But not every Conservative hides behind the smarmy language so beloved of Soudas, Peter MacKay and John Baird. Senator Hugh Segal, as he attempted on CBC radio last week to defend the prorogation, acknowledged at least that it's valid for MPs of all parties to keep discussing the detainee issue. I bet there are many intelligent, decent, fair-minded Conservative MPs who think so too. If only they were allowed to speak.

Kate Heartfield is a member of the Citizen's editorial board. Blog:


Dr Mike said...

I am sick & tired of the meek party-squelched MPs who sit on their hands & tow the line even if they think the line bend south a long time ago.

When will MPs of all party affiliations grow a pair & stand-up to the leadership if they think the position is nothing more than tenuous at best.

I would gladly pay my Mp out of my own pocket if I thought he would represent my wishes.

As it stands now , I want a refund.

Dr Mike Popovich

kiramatali shah said...

There's a movement to radically change California government, by getting rid of career politicians and chopping their salaries in half. A group known as Citizens for California Reform wants to make the California legislature a part time time job, just like it was until 1966.

henrylow said...

There's a movement to radically change California government, by getting rid of career politicians and chopping their salaries in half. A group known as Citizens for California Reform wants to make the California legislature a part time time job, just like it was until 1966.