Colvin's toughest critic was an architect of Afghan detainee transfer policy - Macleans.ca
 

Colvin’s toughest critic was an architect of Afghan detainee transfer policy


 

A retired diplomat quoted frequently by Conservative cabinet ministers as they try to defend the government’s handling of detainee transfers in Afghanistan was himself closely involved in developing the policy governing those transfers.

Paul Chapin told Maclean’s that as director general of the Department of Foreign Affairs international security bureau from 2003 to the fall of 2006, he worked at a senior level on the 2005 agreement under which Canadian troops turned over detainees to Afghan authorities.

“I had some significant involvement in Afghanistan-related issues,” Chapin said in an interview today.

In the House, Defence Minister Peter MacKay has approvingly quoted Chapin’s criticism of diplomat-whistleblower Richard Colvin’s case for Canadian complicity in Afghan torture as “flimsy”—without noting that Chapin has a considerable professional stake in the controversy.

In an interview today, Chapin described being involved in discussions with lawyers in Foreign Affairs and National Defence, and finally with Afghan officials, in 2005. He said he is “happy to take ownership” of that year’s detainee agreement, which included provisions for the Red Cross to be informed when Canada turned over detainees to the Afghans, but not for Canadians officials to visit detainees in the Afghan prisons.

That was the arrangement in force in 2006, when Colvin was posted to Afghanistan and soon began sending messages back to Ottawa advising senior federal officials that detainees likely faced torture in the notorious Afghan prisons.

In testimony before the House committee on Afghanistan last week, Colvin alleged that detainee transfer policy and practices were so inadequate in 2006 and 2007 that he believed all detainees turned over by Canada were tortured. He said his repeated warnings from the field were ignored and he was finally ordered to stop putting them in writing.

Chapin quickly emerged last week as arguably Colvin’s toughest critic in TV panel discussions on both CBC and CPAC. His comments were soon prominently and repeatedly cited in the House by MacKay and other Conservatives as the opinion of an independent expert.

“Mr. Speaker, let us take it out of the realm of politics. Let us take it into the realm of a quote from a senior former diplomat in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Paul Chapin,” MacKay said last Thursday during Question Period.

“Here is what he had to say yesterday about the testimony: ‘I think what set me back is how serious the allegations are and how flimsy the evidence is.’ He goes on to say: ‘It would have been rather more reassuring had [Colvin] been able to provide some of the detail that would give credibility to these very serious allegations’.”

Chapin stands by his criticisms of Colvin. His key point is that while Colvin might have collected reliable intelligence about torture in Afghan prisons, he failed to gather hard evidence that specific individuals turned over by Canada to the Afghan authorities were abused.

“There might have been a general torture problem, but was there a particular torture problem related to the numbers of Afghan detainees the Canadians had turned over?” Chapin said. “Colvin’s charge is not that there was general torture going on. His charge is that we, Canada, knowingly turned over people to be tortured. And that’s irresponsible because he has no hard evidence for that.”

Chapin said he left Foreign Affairs in the fall of 2006, and wasn’t aware then of Colvin’s memos from Afghanistan, which had begun that spring. The security bureau he headed managed many files and the matter of Afghan detainees, he said, “didn’t track very prominently on my radar.”

But he stressed that the possible abuse of detainees was well understood as a planning issue when Canada was boosting its Afghanistan troop commitment in 2005. “Given the choice of rather bad alternatives that we faced,” Chapin said, “what we came up with we thought was a very reasonable approach.”

UPDATE: For anyone interested in listening to what Paul Chapin had to say last week, here are links to the his Nov. 18 appearance on CBC’s Power & Politics with Evan Solomon and his Nov. 19 appearance on CPAC’s PrimeTime Politics with Peter Van Dusen.


 

Colvin’s toughest critic was an architect of Afghan detainee transfer policy

  1. The Conservatives are now going to trot out every civil servant they can find who feels criticized by Colvin's testimony and insist that they be heard at committee. So much for the Harper Conservatives' vow to protect 'whistleblowers'.

    • Yes, because Colvin is the only civil servant who should be listened to. And "protecting whistleblowers" means "ensuring whistleblower's testimony faces no scrutiny".

      • Scrutiny takes place with reference to the facts as presented by Colvin, not by reference to Colvin himself. Either the Harper Conservative government confirms that torture took place, or they refute the allegations. That is exactly what they should have done from the beginning. Instead, Harper waited until he couldn't deny torture any longer, and then acknowledged that what Colvin was saying was true with a change in policy. They can try to discredit Colvin as much as they want now, their own actions prove that he was right and that the Harper Conservative government acknowledges that.

        The only remaining question is why the Harper Conservative government took so long to react to these allegations. A reasonable person would conclude, given the facts as they are known at present, that the Harper Conservatives proved by their actions and inactions that, not only they don't care about human rights, but they also don't care about the safety of our soldiers in Afghanistan, never mind about our international reputation.

        • We're commenting on an exchange between two civil servants, one of whom is being criticized by John Geddes for having a hidden personal agenda, and your comment was that we should expect other civil servants to contradict and question Mr. Colvin or his argument because they feel criticized by him. How does either your comment of Mr. Geddes' insinuation meet your standard for scrutiny?

          • You need to read this again. Or did you mean JG was criticising Chaplin? I don't think he even does that. I read it as a criticism of Mackay.

          • Mr. Geddes remarks that Mr. Chapin was an architect of the detainee policy as if that *diminishes* his authority to criticise Mr. Colvin. In a sane world, closer involvement with the issue should enhance someone's credibility.

          • I see you point. But then why not make this point if you are Mackay…what was that about insanity?

          • I may be puttng words in JGs mouth here, but he could also be implying that Makay didn't disclose Chaplin entirely…presumably because of a perception that the bureaucracy may have a vested interest in discrediting Colvin.

          • Can you please learn how to read? It is "Chapin," not "Chaplin." There has never been a Paul Chaplin who worked at Foreign Affairs.

    • I hope Colvin has something more than: " i believe, or i heard this". He's not obliged to provide times and dates by any means. But a general assertion that our detanees were tortured isn't enough. That said why can't the govt simply cite chapter and verse how we took care of our detainees? They certainly can be expected to provide details, records of visits and so on. Merely trotting out verbal rebuttals will solve nothing…the ball's in the govt's court.

      • The thing is I don't believe he does, and that's why this story will go away…..

  2. Chapin. Bus.

  3. I remember him being on the CBC last week, but I don't remember his interests being declared.

  4. Yes, it is enough. He's an intelligence officer, not a forensic investigator. He did his job exactly as he should have. He reported the information he had, which came from various sources and all said the same thing, that Afghan prisoners, including those handed over by Canada, were being routinely tortured. Further investigation depended on the Harper Conservative government taking its responsibilities to protect Canadian soldiers and Canada's reputation seriously and actually looking into it, rather than waiting until they couldn't deny it any more before taking action. The question is why the Harper Conservative government decided to tell civil servants in Afghanistan to shut up about torture allegations, rather than investigating them thoroughly to prevent this from harming Canada and putting our soldiers at risk.

    • He did his job exactly as he should have, but his superiors and colleagues were all incompetent or corrupted by politics? How did Colvin become the one saintly civil servant?

      • You are wilfully misconstruing what I wrote. I did not reach any conclusions about Colvin's superiors or colleagues. That is what needs to be investigated. We need to know what action, if any, was taken on the basis of what Colvin wrote in his intellgence reports about the torture of Afghan prisoners. So far, all we know, based on Colvin's testimony, was that those at the sharp end were told by their superiors, including David Mulroney, not to write about torture in their reports. Others who worked on the ground in Afghanistan stated that all information concerning Afghan prisoners was controlled by Harper himself, including NATO information management. We also know, due to the time line, that there was a gap of at least a year between Colvin's warnings about torture of Afghan prisoners taking place and the government actually doing something about it (which, by the way, validated Colvin's warnings, as much as the Harper Conservative government now tries to discredit him). So there are no answers, only questions. That is why we need a public inquiry of this matter. We need to get to the bottom of this and make sure that this never happens again.

        It may surprise you to learn that even the most dynamic bureaucratic organizations do not exactly welcome facts that rock the boat, because it means they will have to do something about them, and bureaucracies are not about change. When there is political direction from on high to suppress warnings about torture, the inertia is even greater. That appears to be the case here, but again, we need to have a thorough investigation of the facts to figure out what actually happened.

        • "The question is why the Harper Conservative government decided to tell civil servants in Afghanistan to shut up about torture allegations, rather than investigating them thoroughly to prevent this from harming Canada and putting our soldiers at risk."

          You are assuming that Colvin's colleagues and superiors either received and followed these directions or were so incompetent the directions were unnecessary. Why not speak to those people and hear their explanations?

          • That will happen in due course. First, the relevant documents need to be made available for examination by the parliamentary committee so that they even know what questions to ask. If the government doesn't hand over all the relevant documents, calls for a public inquiry will grow.

    • I'm not disagreeing with you in general Mulletaur, just perhaps in emphasis. Certainly it's the govt's resonsibility to show that they did everything reasonably possible in difficult curcumstances. Normally the burden of proof would lie with the accuser. But as you say, he did his job, and they didn't listen. In this case the onus lies with the govt. i'd just feel better if Colvin has something more than " i heard this or that."!

      • Agreed that it would have been better if Colvin were able to provide direct evidence of torture of prisoners handed over to the Afghans by the Canadian armed forces. That's a pretty tall order, almost certainly beyond Colvin's brief and very likely beyond the operational capabilities of the organization Colvin works for, at least in the context of Afghanistan.

  5. Talk about full disclosure…

  6. "There might have been a general torture problem, but was there a particular torture problem related to the numbers of Afghan detainees the Canadians had turned over?” "Chapin said. “Colvin's charge is not that there was general torture going on. His charge is that we, Canada, knowingly turned over people to be tortured. And that's irresponsible because he has no hard evidence for that"

    That's not quite what Colvin said, is it? Colvin said [ as i recall] that given his warnings and the evidence for torture that was available in Afghanistan, our officials/govt/top brass should have known what the risks were.

    • Chapin's response is that "the possible abuse of detainees was well understood as a planning issue" but “Given the choice of rather bad alternatives that we faced,” Chapin said, “what we came up with we thought was a very reasonable approach.”

      The opposition is pretending that there was an ideal solution to the detainee issue, a claim that's unlikely to withstand testimony from more senior bureaucrats closely involved with the agreements.

      • There remains the possibility that Colvin was being unrealistic, which is why we need an inquiry of some kind.
        However you are forgetting the nub of his argument…that the govt covered up or tried to suppress any attempt on his part to give a heads up. If things were so hunky dory as you claim, why bother to try and discredit the man? If the opposition is pretending something, then you're equally pretending that there was nothing to see here…move along people. It's the alleged cover-up that's the issue…not whether Colvin was mistaken…there are others who do back up his assertions.

  7. "There might have been a general torture problem, but was there a particular torture problem related to the numbers of Afghan detainees the Canadians had turned over?” "Chapin said. “Colvin's charge is not that there was general torture going on. His charge is that we, Canada, knowingly turned over people to be tortured. And that's irresponsible because he has no hard evidence for that"

    That's not quite what Colvin said, is it? Colvin said [ as i recall] that given his warnings and the evidence for torture that was available in Afghanistan, our officials/govt/top brass should have known what the risks were.

  8. I made the following comment when Paul Chapin was first trotted out as talking DFAIT diplomatic head on Evan Solomon's Politics and Power show on CBC-NN – this guy is so sleazy he should have his pension cancelled…I stand by that comment!

    • Wow…incredible political insight with that one. Really appreciate your 2 cents!