Do MacKay and Natynczyk not talk? -

Do MacKay and Natynczyk not talk?

John Geddes on the the general’s extraordinary news conference


Given how much information there is to digest from Gen. Walter Natynczyk’s extraordinary news conference this morning, an answer he gave that suggests a weirdly distant relationship between the Chief of Defence Staff and the Minister of National Defence might easily go unremarked. That would be too bad.

Natynczyk called the news conference essentially to read aloud from a military field report that leaves little doubt a suspected Taliban fighter first detained by Canadian troops in 2006 was later beaten by Afghan National Police. The report also makes it clear that Canadian soldiers in the field knew of earlier instances in which transferred detainees were abused.

The core issue, of course, is who knew how early that detainees were being mistreated in this way after they were transferred, and why it took so very long for the problem to be seriously addressed by Canadian politicians, bureaucrats and senior military officers.

That’s the marrow of the story. But take a moment to consider what might seem like a secondary question (put to Natynczyk by the Globe and Mail’s Steve Chase, I believe) about whether Defence Minister Peter MacKay has ever asked the country’s top military officer if there is credible evidence that detainees transferred to the Afghans were tortured.

“I’ve not provided him information [on] that kind of terms,” Natynczyk said. “He gets reports from the operations and the intelligence staff on a very regular basis. And so based upon that he makes his assessment. There’s a lot of information that flows in the department, a lot of information. Again, it’s not the Chief of Defence Staff that briefs him on the detail. And so I’ve not provided him with that kind of information.”

What? The minister responsible for the armed forces doesn’t talk directly to the top officer about the salient details of by far the most pressing defence issue of the day? What exactly, then, is the line of reporting between the military and its civilian political masters? If the Minister of National Defence and the Chief of Defence Staff don’t talk about this, what do they talk about?

I’m reminded of Natynczyk’s interview with CBC’s James Cudmore on Sept. 9, in which the general said he was basing his plans for pulling troops out of Afghanistan, not on orders from MacKay, but on the text of the House of Commons motion on withdrawing from Kandahar by 2011. It struck me at the time as bizarre that Natynczyk was working directly from his own reading of the House motion, rather than having the government—presumably through the defence minister—explain exactly how it expected Parliament’s will to be implemented.

The relationship between MacKay and Natynczyk should be much more straightforward. Otherwise who’s responsibility for what will be impossible to sort out. And the demarcations of political decision-making and military leadership will become dangerously blurred.


Do MacKay and Natynczyk not talk?

  1. That's unfair, John.
    It sounds like you're expecting MacKay to work for a living. That wasn't the deal he signed up for when he knifed the PC party in the back.

  2. I had assumed that Mackay and Natynczyk regularly conferred directly, and Natynczyk's personal reassurances were what prompted Mackay to repeatedly claim "no proven instance". I guess not. Sounds like Mackay got most of his reassurances from the ops and intel staff instead.

    Strange. You'd think he'd have put the question directly to Natynczyk at some point. Not that the answer would have been much different.

  3. Wasn't that obvious back with Suaad Hagi Mohamud?

  4. Plausible deniability?

    Well that certainly fits with how they are running the war as a whole.

  5. If the "detainee" issue is a scandal that is of such great importance to the opposition, perhaps they should move at the earliest possible date to defeat the government. If not, then detainees matter as much to the opposition as they do to the Harper government.

    • perhaps they should move at the earliest possible date to defeat the government…

      It's not easy being accountable, is it?

  6. He could always have a career digging for potatoes.

  7. Not every issue has to be a vote of confidence, Jteller.. that's a copout.

    Harper can solve this very easily: demanding that Peter Mackay turn in his resignation and initiating a full public inquiry.

  8. Okay, after a bit of reading I don't feel so bad about fuzziness on this topic. Technically the Queen is in command, via the GG. The GG, on advice of the PM, appoints the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). So far, so good. But as best I can tell, it's not written in stone whether the PM or the Minister of Defence is the default 'boss' of the CDS.

    Anybody better versed in this than I? The more I read, the more confused I get.

  9. MacKay is an empy vessel used by the PMO as a wind up doll that repeats talking points.

    Thank god we have reasonable officials at the public service level who are competent enough to run this file for him.

    If Mackay were actually in charge, he probably would have accidentally deployed our troops to Mongolia.

  10. I understand it's been MacKay hopping up and down denying that torture has occurred…but was it not Gordon O'Connor who was the Minister of Defence at the time of the alleged incident?

    I wonder how many times a government can throw irndividual representatives or staff under the bus before people start to grow concerned about the competence of the government itself.

  11. So Walt, don't tell me, then you put it in your ear? In your mouth, you say? And then you, uh, you hehehe … light it!? Walt you're killin me …

    • Love that Bob Newhart! He should be Minister of Defense!!

  12. How can it be a cop out? The opposition is effectively stating the government of Canada is complicit in detainee abuse – if that's not something to bring down the government on then I don't know what is. Defeat the government, form a coalition and let's see what the opposition can do with this.

  13. On the flip side.. more of them would have come home had that been the case.

  14. Please don't tell me, all of this is about one, one detainee. This is the proof, this is war for gods sake, and owhat did this detainee do to our men.Did he blow anyone up, did he throw a little acid.What would they do to our troops and what have they already done.Nothing but a witch hunt.

  15. I agree, lets have an election right now.Do the liberals have the guts?

    • Tell ya what. I think SH should call a media conference and announce that "the allegations are baseless, and that the issue is dead – and if the opposition doesn't like it, then they should withdraw confidence for the government and trigger an election".
      Does Stephen have the guts?

  16. I've said it before. We're the good guys. That means we don't torture. We don't condone torture, and we take steps to put a stop to torture wherever possible. That's part of what makes us the good guys. Doesn't matter who. Doesn't matter how many. Doesn't matter when. Doesn't matter the situation.

    Torture. Is. Unacceptable.

    If you don't believe that, join up with the side that agrees with you.. I believe they're called the Taliban.

  17. With this government, the less the public knows, the better. This makes it easier for the public to believe that the PMO talking points actually represent good government.

  18. Once a colony always a colony. In reality i assume the same chain of command applies in the UK??

  19. Not to be too forgiving on Mr Mackay here, but I think what we're seeing is a sort of logical conclusion to power being concentrated in the PMO.

    I'm trying to remember the name of that Donald Savoie article I read in university…"Power at the Apex"? Anyway, he argued that since Trudeau, in every successive government, there has been a trend to remove power from the ministers and keep it in the PMO. Which tends to create Ministers that are kinda dog and pony shows (my words not Savoie's ;). Mackay didn't know about this because for all practical purposes, he didn't need to. Ministers make announcements and answer questions about their portfolios in QP (although not so much these days, isn't that right, John "I'm apparently Mininster of Everything" Baird?), but how each ministry is handled and what their focus will be for the life of the government is decided by the PMO.

    Harper may not know what was going on, but I think we can safely assume his offce sure did.

  20. Right…the govt has all the info. It doesn't take much of an imagination how such a campaign would run. Tories new slogan:" Only we truly support the troops"!
    Maybe i should have more faith in the electorate to do the right thing
    …in any case you're basically saying:" if you can't beat us at the polls, then shut up"!

  21. 'The report also makes it clear that Canadian soldiers in the field knew of earlier instances in which transferred detainees were abused"

    It helps if you read the article.

  22. If pressed hard enough, the great majority of Harper apologists will admit that they don't really care about this issue because they don't actually see anything wrong with torturing what they perceive to be animals. At every possible chance they will try to dehumanize the enemy; and thus hopefully mitigate our responsibility to behave according to the rules of conduct.

    Now why they insist on viewing the world through the thoroughly discredited manichean lens of Cheney-style Neo-Conservatism is a mystery to me.

  23. Sounds like the CDS is an appointee, and technically unaccountable to anybody save the Queen. Since the orders of the Queen are those endorsed by the GG, and the GG endorses only those orders given to her by the House (or perhaps the PM), that would mean that, in reality, there is no significant connection between the Minister of Defence and the military. Which, while an odd situation, explains why John Baird has been answering questions.. he's as (poorly) qualified as anybody else there.

    • "Which, while an odd situation, explains why John Baird has been answering questions.. he's as (poorly) qualified as anybody else there. "

      John Baird answering questions? That's a joke. How about John Baird growling, screaming, yelling, making faces, glaring, intimidating, threatening…… anything but answeing a question politely and respectfully. One area where his parents failed completely. Well…. maybe more than one area.

  24. Plausible deniability! An absolute must in a govt short on experience and shorter still on competence.

    "What? The minister responsible for the armed forces doesn't talk directly to the top officer about the salient details of by far the most pressing defence issue of the day? What exactly, then, is the line of reporting between the military and its civilian political masters"

    Mr G you obviously weren't paying attention when your colleague drew up that handy little Harper govt org chart…all roads lead directly to the PMO. If you stand outside there on almost any given day, you'll probably catch young Peter mumbling his TPs while taking his leave.

  25. Er…minus the GG + the corgis of course.

  26. The theory of governance you are effectively proposing is direct democracy through popular referendum. If every major issue needs to be decided at the polls, then there's no point electing representatives to "represent" us. We could just have the Queen appoint a Cabinet and have the Cabinet put every major issue to the public in a referendum. Perhaps that is what you would prefer, which is fine, but it is not how responsible government in a parliamentary democarcy works.

    The oppostition is doing there job, for once, opposing the government on an important national issue. They are asking questions of the government, as they are supposed to.

    Things are working roughly as they should.

  27. My reading has, so far, been admittedly of the Wiki variety, and there's likely more definitive and clear sources to be found. But what I've glossed suggests that the CDS falls under the direction of the Minister of Defence and/or the PM (that's the fuzzy part!), not the GG (while she's Commander in Chief, that's always described as ceremonial).

    But ya, it does seem like an odd situation.

  28. It is very confusing, one assumes that they talk, they meet and check whats going on,what are doing, etc… It will be interesting to find out if this is the protocol to follow or just happens with this goverment.

  29. lol!

  30. "Did the Defence Minister ever ask you if there is credible evidence that detainees transferred to the Afghans were tortured?"

    “I've not provided him information [on] that kind of terms (.e, I've never answered that question),” Natynczyk said.

    Isn't that some fairly obvious evasion by Natynczyk? "Were you ever asked that question" is *not* answered by "I've never answered that question".

  31. Maybe he asked, in writing, to be beaten – can anyone prove he didn't?

    Why do we always assume that someone's rights have been violated just because the police or military have beaten them? There are any number of reasons why this may not be so. For example, if the person is not a human, then, obviously, there is no question of human rights. Has anyone proved that this detainee wasn't an extra-terrestrial?

  32. Now that is the best CPC talking point I've heard yet! That one works on all levels! It is just as relevant and reasonable as the other talking points the Conservatives have tried, and is sure to be picked up for future use. You could get yourself a high-paying job here, Style! He (I mean It) doesn't even have to be extra-terrestrial. There are all kinds of creatures from the deep ocean we don't know about yet, or there's Yeti and Bigfoot, Loch Ness . . .

  33. What did this detainee do to our men.

    Well, that could be anything from pretty much nothing, to something really horrible, who knows?

    What I CAN say is that this detainee didn't do anything that our men felt he should be beaten for, since it was our men who took him back from the Afghans and treated his wounds when they discovered he'd was being beaten by the people they'd turned him over to. You may not care how we treat our enemies once we've captured them. I suspect many Ministers of the Crown, and perhaps a few Generals also may not care. I'm quite certain that the troops on the ground have a higher standard that they live up to though, as evidenced by the troops in this case essentially rescuing this particular detainee from his situation.

    You may say "this is war for God's sake" and simply wave a hand at any evidence that detainees we handed over to others were tortured or otherwise abused, frankly that doesn't really bother me. Because I know that our soldiers on the ground have a much better developed sense of honour than that, as demonstrated in this instance, and I'm just ever thankful that it's them over there representing us, and not you or some members of our government..

  34. Nicely said. Our men and women in uniform have shown honour in spite of their political masters. I am so very proud of them!

  35. The opposition is saying let's have an inquiry so the truth will be known instead of this cover up, and these lies, deceit and smearing of witnesses.

  36. Not so strange really. Sometimes the best way to avoid information you'd rather not know is never to ask questions.

  37. So doesn't all this fuzziness draw this tangled line up to so-called leader Steve? Seems to me, after his 'close call' in the Cadman affair, he's worked well on that skill to deflect and hide tracks…

  38. If Harper doesn't feel like he is able to govern, as you suggest, then he should step aside in favour of somebody who does, like Prentice.

  39. Congrats Libs and media,
    you snagged yourself COLONEL STEVEN NOONAN

    'Q. As commander of Task Force Afghanistan you
    would be providing direction and control to the soldiers
    in the field?
    A. When I was there, yes.
    Q. They would be looking ultimately to your
    command and direction with respect to detention and
    capture of individuals?
    A. I was part of that overall direction that was
    provided to soldiers on the ground at that time, yes.
    Q. You would be in discussions with your
    subordinates about the reasons why individuals would be
    A. Yes.
    Q. In fact, Colonel Noonan, when there's a
    determination about whether to release or to transfer
    someone to Afghan authorities you were the responsible
    officer to make that decision? Isn't that so?
    A. That's correct.….

    • Keep on trying Wilson…was Colonel Noonan also responsible for setting policy? Was he responsible for follow ups and seeing if the detainees had been abused? Get behind the troops Wilson!

  40. Also, I may be wrong here, but I'm pretty sure the Geneva Conventions contemplate the possibility that they'll be applied in war…

  41. You may be right, but it may also be that the answer is "yes, and I told the Minister I"d never signed off on any report of abuse. If he'd pushed me, I would have pointed out that it was the responsibility of another arm of the government."

    it also seems the General never asked anyone about credible evidence or he wouldn't've learned about detainee abuse this morning. This despite the fact that he's also publicly denied any evidence of abuse. How did the General and the Minister get the impression there was no evidence of detainee abuse?

  42. I'm not sure that elections are the best way to resolve criminal and/or moral issues.

  43. Ignatieff said he would welcome the inquiry to encompass the activities under the last liberal government as well.
    Shoe slapping, what a horror of war.

  44. Iggy said to torture was okay, I have never seen our PM say it.

    What did they do, have a dog bark at the detainee( gasp) .The NDP have always wanted tea & sympathy with the Taliban.Who, by the way are so pleased that this is going on, I would be ashamed to be questioning all this right now, knowing these louts are watching, and knowing I have family right now in Afghanistan keeping you free!

  45. As you should be.

  46. Let's all settle down. All the CDS said was that he didn't brief McKay about these particular operational details. He didn't say he doesn't talk to him. More journalistic silliness at work here by Geddes.

  47. Millions of brave service people fought and died for democracy and within that were the rights of all prisoners to fair and humane treatment. We try our best to raise and treat our children to live within the Golden Rule hoping others will do also. I have told my children it matters not what other children do it is what you and we as a family do as have millions of others. Hatred and torture begets hatred and torture …. it is just that simple. It is now quite clear ( always was to me) that not only did Harper and company comply with torture they have told many many mistruths ….. Shame on Canada and we can only hope for forgiveness from the families of our proud vets who lost members during WW I & II who gave their lives for Democracy.

    PS: as a retired vet (30+ yrs) I can prove in a simple few words just how useless torture is. but that is not the jest of this post.

  48. I've always been a little fuzzy about how an army is run in a parliamentary democracy, to be honest. It's often seemed to me that there's a lot of convention and goodwill at work, as opposed to a hard and fast chain of executive command (I have no doubt my appraisal is dead wrong, for the record).

    • As outlined in the National Defence Act, the MND is responsible for all matters of national defence, which implies that the CDS is accountable to him for matters of national defence (ie military matters) that s/he is responsible for. The CDS is also accountable to the PM because of the PM's power of appointment.

  49. Hmmm… maybe the question should be did Natynczyk discuss this with the Prime Minister? Afterall, the PM is the super Minister for every portfolio.

  50. Clearly – Natynczyk is made of different metal than Scumbags Hillier – O'Connor and Mackay!
    He recognizes that the honour of the troops that are putting their safety in his hands deserve better than the shams and lies that the other three have been throwing up – because they are vengeful men with little or no scruples and principles!

  51. It's called ensuring that you have plausible deniability. If Peter doesn't talk to his CDS, then his CDS can't possibly tell him stuff that he might not want to know.

    I'm guessing, by this logic, Harper doesn't talk to his Clerk of the PCO, or any of his Cabinet Ministers.

  52. I like the lastest polls, that still have the libbies down in the polls.Go for it!

  53. Mistreatment by the US and its allies is a valuable recruiting tool. Why would they be pleased to see how hard we work to avoid it and how torn up we are by the chance that it happened on our watch?

  54. I have not heard any incivility on the part of the opposition (maybe wrong) but Laurie Hawn and O'Conner have between them used 'nonsense', profanity in the Commons, irresponsible and 'lowest form of politics' Why dont they just say not true and a good example to the Canadian public.

  55. Hey go for it…i'm not guaranteeing anything of course…but i'll go out on a limb and state Harper wont get his majority anyway.

  56. Are you from Arizona, perchance?

  57. I say he will.I just saw nic nanos polling numbers,

  58. What is your point? That article is about money being stolen FROM the Liberal Party.

  59. In this government, the less a minister knows, the better. This makes it easier for said minister to merely spout the talking points provided by the PMO.

  60. How about this one Frenchie? Think Joe and Jane will be interested in this:

    Taxpayers on hook for $1.7-million as PMO rolls out video
    Taxpayers are being asked to pay an extra $1.7-million this fiscal year to help bolster Stephen Harper's communications support services – just as the Prime Minister's Office begins distributing government videos of Harper to the news media.

    Supplementary estimates tabled last month by the Privy Council Office, the Prime Minister's bureaucratic back office, boosted internal operational spending by almost $7.3-million for 2009-10. That's on top of existing budgets.

  61. Or how about this one? Think Joe and Jane will be interested in this? These extravagent spending of our money on their friends has the added feature of not being a decade old.

    Feds paid out nearly $7M in separation, severance pay
    Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has paid out nearly $7 million to political staffers who have left their jobs over the past two years.

    The amount of “separation pay” that was doled out at the discretion of cabinet ministers is more than twice the amount of “severance pay” the Conservatives were obliged to pay departing political aides under government guidelines…

    NDP finance critic Thomas Mulcair, who served as a provincial cabinet minister in Quebec, described the $7 million payout to Conservative staffers as “an outrage” and an “orgy with public money.”

    “When they are letting go staff, they are treating the public purse like it was a Conservative candy store,” he said.

  62. Nic nanos poll says no to them all

    • Can you please provide a link to the Nanos poll to which you have referred – the one that asked questions on each of the aforementioned issues? This would be a valuable addition to the current conversation and act to further the current debate.

  63. Well, yes, but I do think the General can be forgiven the evasion, especially if the answer is no. Which is not to say that he should keep that fact hidden, but still, asked right on the spot "Did your "boss" ever even due some basic due diligence, like simply asking you if there was any evidence of the thing he keeps insisting there's no evidence of" I don't expect the CNS to just come right out and say, "No. The Minister of National Defence never asked me any such thing".

    I mean, if the question was "Is the Minister of Defence incompetent, and do you think he should resign?" do you think a General would EVER say "Yes, and yes"?

  64. so the answer is no, they dont have the guts.

  65. No, the answer is there's a process…or don't you like parliamentary democracy?

  66. No, Frenchie – I care about BOTH. Those of us who want actual accountability as opposed to just partisan finger-pointing are capable of hating theft and hating negligence at the same time.

    As for the original post, the issue of who briefs whom speaks to the real problem here. Canadian political people have forgotten how to govern. The real question for me here isnt whether the government responded to a problem in time. No, worse: we have a Minister of Defence and pay for him to have a million dollars worth of office staff, etc. precisely so they can actively *prevent* this sort of thing from happening rather than waiting for allegations. Every statement made about concrete allegations is an admission of failure. Oversight is all about preventing mistakes, not responding to them.

    The CDS insists he never briefed the MOD on this or that. Classic dodge of an overpoliticized government. We are at war, and Foreign and Defence Ministries are betraying the soldiers who serve us if they are not asking, no, demanding, proof every day that policies are being adhered to, problems anticipated, and rules followed. Otherwise, we would not need a civilian government during war at all. This is important not for the sake of the Taliban, but for the sake of the credibility of Canada, for the safety of every soldier who IS doing a good job, and especially important in light of our purpose in being there.

    Guerrilla wars are about building popular support. Torture of any sort has a bad way of serving as a recruiting tool for the tortured side. Astounding how many so called conservatives on these boards insist that mistreatment of our enemies in a guerrilla war is a bright idea, or reason for indifference on Parliaments part. Quite the opposite, and if Harper, Mackay and Co. had actually spent as much time helping the soldiers they claim to love as they did crafting the next 10%er or writing the latest attack ads, they would have been leaning daily on our ally to be clean or else, instead of waiting around for the first confirmed sign of trouble.

  67. Did the soldiers themselves do anything wrong? According to the report, they turned the fella over to ANP pers as per the policy. They saw him being beaten and took him back. They did this because it was the right thing to do and that they had inkling that this had happened before. Which is something that anyone who has travelled outside of the west has seen before.
    Now I don't doubt that the opposition and the media are not directly accusing the soldiers in field of torture or are they? Has Bob Rae or Paul Koring ever been in a combat situation? No, they are observers and commenters and they are stepping pretty close to the line of accusing our guys of actual torture.

    • So the soldiers got it right and did their job, but the government and top brass oversight did not do their job.

      Isn't that exactly what the Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc, the media, the independent critics, the Red Cross, Colvin and any and every other critic out there has been saying from the very beginning?!?!

      And isn't that exactly what the Conservatives and any and every other kool-aid drinking blind supporter of the government out there, including Christie Blatchford, has been saying is an attack on our soldiers?!?!

  68. Do MacKay and Natynczyk not talk?

    Good question.