Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Let's Remember What the Afghan Document Fight is Really About

Yes there's an issue of Harper's secrecy fetish. Yes there's an issue of the supremacy of the House of Commons. Yes there's a question of contempt of Parliament. There are all those issues and they're all important but let's not overlook what's really in issue here.

The fundamental question concerns Canada's role in the treatment and apparent torture of suspects, Afghan nationals our forces detained and subsequently handed over to that country's brutal national security service.

The fundamental question arises out of a morass of contradictory and irreconcilable statements made by political leaders, military leaders, diplomats and others. Some say we acquiesced in the torture of our detainees by their security services. Others say we deliberately handed some over to the Afghan thugs so they would be tortured to elicit intelligence. Whether we indifferently handed them over or deliberately handed them over is a fine point and has real significance but, either way, our leaders may be complicit in torture and that's a war crime.

The fundamental question is whether our military or political leaders committed war crimes. Along the way this fight has acquired an unsavory partisan political dimension - both sides at various times and in various ways trying to wring advantage out of it. We on the opposition side need to be principled and disciplined enough to stay on issue, focused on the fundamental question. The Canadian public will quickly enough resent us if we don't. On these things you're suspect enough as it is without fueling unnecessary cynicism.

It's important, absolutely critical, that we ascertain whether we in fact committed war crimes or whether our leaders did that in our name. If it happened but we fail to unmask it, how on earth are we ever to stop it, to change course?

They say if you sleep with dogs you get up with fleas. In this case we're the eager-to-please junior partner to the senior partner that gave the world Abu Ghraib and Guantanimo. When you look up to someone like that you may come to emulate their behaviour. You may even pick up their bad habits.

Our senior partner has a well-deserved and deeply sullied reputation as a torturer. That doesn't mean that we have to accept their standard or their ways whether in the political or the military arena. To the contrary, by virtue of knowing what they have done, the extent and course of their depravity, it is incumbent on us to ensure that our honour is intact. When credible allegations are presented that our honour has been stained by our own leaders it is our duty to get to the bottom of them. And that is what this document battle is all about. If we lose focus on our purpose we don't stand a chance of succeeding. If we fail, our country, our military and our parliament will be the poorer for it.


JimBobby said...

Great piece, Mound. Indeed, parliamentary procedural wrangling has many people distracted from the real issue: human rights, torture, detainee abuse -- collusion with thugs, warlords, opium dealers, bribe-takers and torturers.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm becoming convinced, JB, that we take serious matters frivolously and frivolous matters seriously. Rahim Jaffer. What is that all about beyond scoring political points? What purpose does it serve or, better yet, whose purposes does it serve? The Libs have been trying to use it as a cudgel to thrash Harper but the public isn't buying it. Harper's polling numbers are in the doldrums but they're solid - and they're consistently better than Ignatieff's.

But what about the interests of the country? Canada, like every other nation, is facing the onset of huge environmental challenges that impact on so many aspects of our national and individual lives - econhomic, political, social, even military. Yet our leaders display the environmental acumen of pre-schoolers. Harper and Ignatieff are the very worst. They bleat on about the treasure known as the Athabasca Tar Sands while making vague and very passing references to cutting carbon emissions. They won't recognize the core problems much less deal with them and they're squandering time we don't have to waste.

The next post is a repost of an item from 9 October, 2006 on World Overshoot Day. In 2006, 9 October represented the day on which mankind had consumed earth's total annual supply of renewables. The numbers just came in for 2009. Overshoot day has, in just three years, advanced two full weeks. It's now September 25th and it's accelerating. I'd guess we'll reach overshoot this year around September 17th.

From our oceans to our dwindling forests and farmland to our aquifers we're rapidly, very rapidly depleting our resources and we're already nearing very real tipping points. Yet Bert & Ernie are utterly oblivious to it.

I haven't read it yet but the last issue of Adbusters has what seems to be a fascinating article on "ecopsychology." The premise is that civilization is responding to our environmental collapse with something eerily similar to the five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Unfortunately, that's a one-way route with a bad ending.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just turning into a cynical old man but I keep looking to our leaders for inspiration, real vision and there's nothing to be found.

ck said...

Sorry, I'm about to be the pragmatist that no one likes. To play devil's advocate.

MoS; while I agree with your piece, I can't say that the whole torturegate affair could and should go above the rule of law, rules of democracy and of course, Brother Steve's secretive ways.

Also, if a snap spring election were called, if Iggy were to run a campaign on torture of Afghan Detainees, he & his party would lose quite badly.

The fact is, the majority of the center that Harper don't care about the detainees themselves. They swallow the kool-aid of 'why should we care what happens to thugs who throw acid on girls' faces?' Yes, sadly, many Canadians have taken on that American vigilante thing.

Canadians are all too willing to swallow Blathering Blatchford's mantra of you can't have a proper war without torture.

Canadians do care about the rule of law to some degree, transparent and accountable gov't and being turned off by Harpercon's deceitful games, and if an election were called, if the Liberals are smart,they will campaign on what I mentioned above, as well as sound policies (which if they get a minority, they won't be able to accomplish many of them, but still, people feel warm and fuzzy about ideas).

They shouldn't campaign on Detainees. The right wing pundits are expecting that from them and they will make Iggy pay and pay for it.

We know the NDP, nor the Bloc will campaign on Detainees.

As for detainee issue, I think that it's going to end up being the international community that will nail Steve on that, not parliament.

The Mound of Sound said...

I believe you're right CK. To the people of Quebec outrages like the detainee issue do resonate quite strongly, particularly compared to the indifference in English Canada.

The Mound of Sound said...

Whether Ignatieff can ever find acceptance of the voting public seems a distant possibility today. I would welcome an election simply because of that. If he can't win the support of the public in the face of a government as bad as Harper's then he's simply the wrong person for the job of leader. It's that simple even if it sounds cold. He's entitled to lead the LPC into the next election so let's have at it and then deal with the aftermath. Hell I'm half ready to kidnap Louise Arbour and lock her up in a cellar until she agreed to lead the Liberal Party.