Friday, January 15, 2010

Afghan Detainee Torture: The Orphan Timeline

Writing in a blog post at, Aaron Wherry does his bit to respond to the recent revelation that, while negotiating a prisoner transfer agreement with the government of Afghanistan, the Liberal Party knew about the torture that was prevalent in Afghan prisons.

Wherry seems to think that he has the answer to what seems to him to be a horrible dilemma: simply ignore the revelation at hand, and shift attention back to 2007.

After an ever-so-brief mention of the La Presse revelation, Wherry directs his attention to an April 25, 2007 Globe and Mail article in which it was stated that the government had received warnings about "extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial" of Afghan prisoners.

In skating over the La Presse story, Wherry demonstrates precisely where he thinks the readers' attention should be: after 2006, so long as they only pay attention to developments before April 28, 2007.

Under the stewardship of reporters like Wherry, the pre-2006 portion of the torture chronicles becomes an orphan timeline: disowned by those who are presenting this issue in the public eye. Along with that portion of the timeline, the truth is orphaned as well.

This helps Liberal MPs like John McCallum ignore their party's uncomfortable responsibility for torture and pretend that the Conservative Party didn't approach the issue properly: by investigating and fixing the problem.

But McCallum isn't the only Liberal MP enjoying this orphaning of the truth.

Speaking in a column written for Vancouver's Georgia Straight, Liberal MP Dr Hedy Fry -- who has a history of lying in the House of Commons -- has the temerity to invoke the memory of George W Bush to try to score some cheap points.

"What is it that George Bush used to say?" she asked. "'You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.' It seems to me that Stephen Harper is taking that advice. Or at least one has to wonder."

It seems that this is exactly the the strategy being used by Fry -- whose previous highlight was raising comical allegations of a Conservative Party/HBC conspiracy -- and Wherry. In Dr Fry's case, the hypocrisy of it remains as astounding as it was in McCallum's -- she served in the government that is directly responsible for the torture as Secretary of State for Women and Multiculturalism.

Wherry, Fry and McCallum seem to think they're working it to perfection.

But when truly pressed on the Liberal Party's direct complicity in the torture of detainees handed over by Canadian soldiers, they seem to recognize the key defect in their strategy -- that it will stop working when Canadians realize that the scandal is their fault in the first place.

And while Aaron Wherry, Hedy Fry and John McCallum seem to think they can distract Canadians from that fact by severing the entire pre-2006 period from the torture timeline, they'll find out in time that they can't.


  1. If we base it on the allegations and the cherry picked experts they are complicit of what they have accused the current government.

    ..the House of Commons passed a Liberal Opposition Day motion ordering the government to provide previously undisclosed and redacted documents to Parliamentarians for review, following the revelation by Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk that documentation conclusively proves it was known in 2006 that Canadian-transferred Afghan detainees were tortured.

    They have implicated themselves.

  2. I think you have pegged Wherry wrong. I may be wrong about this, but I don't think he's being so cunning as to merely attempt to change the subject. I think it may be a simple matter of the penny not having quite dropped.

    Some people are bound to respond to the evidence-based claim that "the Liberals knew" and insinuate that it's just a case of Conservatives or their friends trying to deflect attention or something, when the insinuation itself is transparently a self-serving and partisan attempt to slough off what the La Presse investigation reveals. Stupid, witless people will insinuate this and honestly expect that no one will notice what they're up to, which is the mistake witless and stupid make all the time (because they're witless and stupid).

    What the La Presse account amply demonstrates is that the very thing that the Liberals say we should consider a war crime is the very thing they themselves did: They were warned, they knew, they did it anyway; They were told for four years running by their own diplomats that torture was rife in Afghan prisons, they knew about these warnings and their excruciating details, they went ahead and signed that lame transfer agreement (that went on to cause all these problems for the Tories) anyway.

    My point here is that when the shoe is on the other foot, the shoe fits the Liberal noisemakers and their friends so damn comfortably they don't even know they're wearing it. It's not just because they're witless and stupid, though; it's because they are hypocrites, and true hypocrites can't see their own hypocrisy (which is what makes a hypocrite what he is; it's what hypocrisy requires on order to be what it is); they don't even understand that what they are saying is: It's only a war crime if the Conservatives did it.

    For what little it matters, by the way, I don't find all that much horribly at fault with either the previous Liberal government or their Conservative successors in the way they handled detainees and detainee transfers. By this I mean yes, they were both shoddy and slapdash and laggardly, but this is what we can say in hindsight, but nothing that either the Liberals or the Conservatives have done can be called a "war crime," not with a straight face, anyway.

    I love this bit from the previous commenter: ". . .the revelation by Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk that documentation conclusively proves it was known in 2006 that Canadian-transferred Afghan detainees were tortured."

    Can idiocy possibly get more spectacularly fireworks-show obvious than that? Do I have to point out that idiots won't even notice how idiotic it sounds?

    Some bloke gets picked up by a couple of Canadian soldiers, who hand him off to a couple of dodgy Afghan coppers. The Canucks have second thoughts, come back around, find the Afghan bulls slapping the perp about the head with a shoe, rescue the perp, case closed.

    General Natynczyk realizes he's failed to note this incident during his testimony to the Commons committee, quickly asks to be put back on the witness list to report the four-years-old incident, and for his trouble he's accused of a "flip flop," and the matter is reported as "the revelation by Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk that documentation conclusively proves it was known in 2006 that Canadian-transferred Afghan detainees were tortured."

    You can't make this stuff up.

    It's why I don't write novels. The real world contains just about anything the most fevered imagination can conjure, and events that unfold in the tawdry, cossetted, parochial and self-regarding little world of Ottawa politics are as lurid and outrageous as anything you'll find in Evelyn Waugh or Flann O'Brien.

  3. OK, Terry, respect.

    I could sit and look at the Wherry piece all day and not see it much differently than I do now. The guy mentions the La Presse article for about two paragraphs then says, "enough of that". Let's go to this other news article, then we'll quote from Hansard for a little bit.

    I know you don't see it differently without good reason.

    As I know I've noted elsewhere -- maybe even here -- I don't expect that the Conservatives would have done any better than the Liberals if they were the ones negotiating the 2005 prisoner transfer agreement.

    Moreover, I suspect that the Tories would be just as willing to tar the Liberals for their mistake. The difference is, of course, that this is all a "what if". It isn't rational to judge the current situation -- with the Conservatives defending themselves against a duplicitous Official Opposition -- based on a "what if" scenario.

    There seems to have been a particular culture of thought on the matter: that we wait for reports of torture, then act, as opposed to making these decisions based on a risk assessment.

    Moreover, because of the conduct of the Taliban and Al Qaida -- who have trained their fighters to claim torture even if they weren't tortured -- there may have been sufficient room for doubt concerning any tortore claims.

    I've come to realize that part of the problem is that the Canadian Forces don't seem to have a standing policy on the handling or transfer of detainees. There needs to be one so that problems like this don't come up again.

  4. "I've come to realize that part of the problem is that the Canadian Forces don't seem to have a standing policy on the handling or transfer of detainees. There needs to be one so that problems like this don't come up again."

    All NATO countries in Af'stan (with the exception of the US) realized three years ago that there wasn't a consistent "standing policy," so they devised one. I've explained it in some detail elsewhere, but the point was to esnure that "problems like this don't come up again," so for almost three years there has been one policy and protocol and process to which the Canadian Forces are bound: NATO rules. The NATO policy and process and protocol governs the Canadian Forces' handling of detainees, and (here comes the irony, wait for it. . .) Ottawa has nothing to do with it. Politicians aren't allowed to have anything to do with it. and this is exactly how things should be. It isn't a politician's job to be flouncing around the night desk down at the cop shop instructing duty officers on which scoundrel should be kept in cells and which one shuold be made to go home and sleep it off.

    Here comes another irony. Does the Quebec Provincial Police grant the Geneva Convention's prisoner-of-war status to the members of the Hell's Angels it sweeps up in raids? Hell no. But you will actually hear people in this country suggest that the Afghan government should grant the Convention's POW status to any deranged maniac from the outback of Zabul who takes a potshot at a Canadian soldier.

    NATO countries treat the insurgents (pardon me, alleged insurgents) they capture as though the Geneva Convention applies. "As though". We do this because we're civilized, and because it's a recognized universal protocol in an international treaty. That's the only reason we do it. It would be some cheek for some foreign country to instruct the Afghan government that Taliban whackjobs in their prisoners deserve POW status. Can yo imagine? Can you imagine if the Ontario Provincial Police told the Surete de Quebec that they wouldn't hand over Hells Angels members they arrested on Quebec warrants unless Quebec agreed in advance to grant criminal bikers some kind of political-prisoner status?


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