Oh, so now we're in favour of muzzling diplomats - Macleans.ca

Oh, so now we’re in favour of muzzling diplomats


Opposition aims to block diplomat’s testimony on detainee case

UPDATE: To be clear, the committee has every right to demand whatever papers it deems necessary from the government, who in turn have certain prerogatives within the law as to what they choose to release to them. I’d prefer that Canadian parliamentary committees had greater powers of subpoena, or at least that would use the ones they have — if the Ethics committee is any guide, they’re strangely pusillanimous about asserting their authority.

But. There is also a public interest, and an ethical imperative, in having David Mulroney, and others named by Colvin in his testimony, appear before the committee as soon as possible. The public interest requires them to explain themselves; the ethical imperative requires that they be given a chance to defend themselves. For if Colvin is right they are potentially guilty of war crimes: not only deliberately acquiescing in the torture of scores of prisoners over many months, but leaning on him to keep it quiet. That’s about as serious as it gets. Yet they have not been charged, only accused, in a forum that, unless I’m mistaken, precludes them from suing to protect their reputations. They have both the right and the responsibility, therefore, to answer their accuser in the same forum, promptly, rather than leaving these charges to fester in the public mind for weeks on end. We were all properly concerned for Colvin’s reputation. We should be no less careful about the reputations of those he named.

No, Mulroney should not be able to dictate the timing of his appearance before the committee. But neither should the committee hold him hostage to their demands for more documents, the more so given the urgency of Mulroney’s duties as ambassador to China, where he is preparing the ground for the Prime Minister’s coming visit. Call him back later, if need be, but let him testify soon.

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Oh, so now we’re in favour of muzzling diplomats

  1. Seems to me that to avoid a he-said, he-said standoff that it's crucial that the party that's withholding important information be made to bring that forward, doncha think? It may be critical to proving Mulroney's point, afterall…

    • Mulroney will come back for a second interrogation if the committee wants.
      He should have the right to defend himself.

  2. "Oh, so now we're in favour of muzzling diplomats"

    Oh yeah it's that simple isn't it AC? Boy we can't agree on anything today…i don't know what's wrong with you:)

    • We'll just, for the moment, leave aside the attempts Harper has gone to muzzle Colvin, shall we?

  3. How can any committee assess what happened if they do not have access to all information?

    I hope that Defence Minister MacKay stays true, and releases all the information.
    Political posturing be damned – We need to figure out what went down.

    Rushing Mulroney in to give his take is way too one sided, considering that both he and the current gov't have access to all of the data. Enough with the spin already…..

    • Whatever happened to

      "We must clean up corruption and lift up the veils of secrecy that have allowed it to flourish," Harper said, promising to "replace the culture of entitlement with a culture of accountability." Stephen Harper Nov, 2005

      • It's over there beside the income trust, environmental and senate promises.

        Careful, it's dusty over there.

  4. Harper could get all the witnesses he wants, including Mulroney, if he would agree to a full public inquiry. Of course, he would then have to release the documentation too.

  5. What is it about the name, Mulroney, that seems to cause all sorts of problems for Tories. One Mulroney accepts cash in envelopes, and this one instructs nothing be put down on paper.

    I hope the Conservative party is paying for his Beijing-Ottawa airfare, by the way, since he's obviously coming in for a PMO-orchestrated photo-op.

    • You don't know that that is what he instructed Colvin to do. Perhaps we should ask him directly what his instruction was and why?

  6. "The NDP, the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois are demanding the Tories release a long list of documents linked to Mr. Colvin's testimony before they allow Mr. Mulroney a public rejoinder. "

    There's a clear difference between blocking and delaying. I can't tell it's usual for the Globe to be that biased, but you? Andrew? Shame.

  7. do you actually think it is unreasonable for the opposition parties to be able to read the relevant documentation to ensure rigorous questioning before the witness shows up? or do you have something in mind? i am curious.

    • Of course Coyne has something in mind — Selling advertising impressions.

      Remember, the real product of Maclean's is your attention and the consumers are the advertisers.

  8. They were willing to hear the accusations without access to the documents. Now, they are unwilling to hear further evidence that's likely to undermine those accusations. Asking for the documents keeps the accusation alive. Can someone find an example of a Parliamentary committee having access to these kinds of documents?

    • Asking for the documents keeps the accusation alive.

      Uhhh, doesn't refusing to hand over the documents keep the accusation alive???

      • Can someone find an example of a Parliamentary committee having access to these kinds of documents? If not, it seems like a ploy to delay a refutation of Mr. Colvin's evidence.

        • Actually i'd like to know if the executive is in contempt by blocking the will of parliament? Or does this kind of thing happen in every parliament. I'm surprised that AC isn't hot about this…he's often complained that our parliamentary committee system is inferior to the American one…where are you on this Mr Coyne?

    • right so you are suggesting that no accusations should ever surface without docs first… you are being silly. documents are tabled prior to hearings on nearly all subject matter.

      • These are intenal, secret or higher documents. I'd be happy to hear an example of a committee having access to such documents.

        • there is no real designation 'internal' documents…. the overwhelming majority of government docs are internal documents.

          second, even without looking for an example, secret documents can be partially redacted as need be to secure their release and 'in-camera' briefings can also be arranged..

          • You're right, there is no legal category of "internal documents" and that wasn't a useful addition to my comment. However, I'm still looking for an example of secret documents being supplied unedited to Parliamentary committees.

            The Access to Information Act forbids the Canadian government from releasing information obtained in confidence from foreign governments or international organizations and gives the government discretion over a range of other information that would be contained in the documents requested. However, the committee is demanding the documents be released without editing (inc. redaction, presumably). It will be difficult for the government to comply with that request. If you look at the ATIP stats for the Department of Foreign Affairs, you'll see there is already a backlog and considerable delays in processing existing requests. The opposition knows all this. The inevitable delay will be used to bolster claims of a cover-up and to allow Mr. Colvin's charges to stand unchallenged for a while longer.

          • again, the government has an two at least easy outs. redact the appropriate parts (you are making an assumption that redacting will be rejected) or arrange an in camera briefing. neither of these steps have been taken… so i guess it is the government that does not care about mulroney's reputation.

          • "Opposition MPs however say they can't properly question Mr. Mulroney without access to the uncensored versions of e-mails, briefing notes and memos that make up the background story behind Mr. Colvin's testimony."

            Not exactly a wild assumption that redaction would be rejected. Also, it's not clear the information could be disclosed to the committee members, even in camera, without the consent of other governments.

          • uhmmm you are honestly arguing that your assumptions about the opposition's request, the info and the what is allowed all trump a straight answer from the government?

          • No, I'm asking if someone has examples of a parliamentary committee having access to uncensored secret documents.

      • The opposition parties are trying to use Mr. Mulroney's reputation as leverage to gain political advantage.
        "Oh sure, you can defend your name… just as soon as we get this.. and this… and this…" That's pretty much despicable IMO.

        • I'msorry but that's just wilfully obtuse. Full disclosure may be getting them some leverage, but if it also provides public transparency aren't we all winners? Despicable seems to be a pretty elastic term for you here?

          • Denying Mr. Mulroney the opportunity to answer the accusations is the leverage. The opposition are not seeking full disclosure – they are asking for a narrow range of documents about Mr. Colvin's reports. Mr. Mulroney may prefer to discuss the broader context. Since Mr. Colvin was not required to obtain the release of government documents before speaking, it seems tacky to demand it of Mr. Mulroney or other civil servants.

          • it is the commitee's job to discuss whatever mr mulroney would like, right?

          • as KCM argues your argument is bunk. the committee system is not meant to arbitrate Mulroney's reputation, it is meant to ensure robust parliamentary investigation and accountability of the executive. asking committees to question government officials in the absence of full information not only is hypocritical in face of SH's stated commitment to transparency, but it is also an attempt to subjugate parliament.

            btw if everything is hunky dory with Mulroney and the work he was doing why would he simply not table the docs?

          • People are conflating individuals with political parties here… Mr. Mulroney is a public servant, not a Conservative. Mr. Colvin identified Mulroney – and him specifically – of actions that constitute war crimes (by the argument of these self-same partisans on the committee).

            You seem to be under the impression that Mulroney controls the documents that are being demanded (not requested). How did you form that impression?

          • please. mulroney is a civil servant and therefore part o thee executive. the leadership of the executive controls the documents.

            you are either rather ignorant of the system or a hack.

          • you are either rather ignorant of the system or a hack.

            Oh! I hate when I have to choose between two poor options. If only there were another alternative.

          • Actually, Mr Mulroney is the former deputy minister to one of the Cpnservative MP's on the Afghanistan commission.. so his "non-partisanship" is in a bit of question

          • Mr. Mulroney is a career foreign service officer, part of Canada's non-partisan public service. Deputy ministers (and associate deputy ministers) are civil servants, not partisans.

          • As is yours, Scott — cf. your website.

          • He doesn't have the authority to table the documents himself, and may be prevented by the Access to Information Act from releasing some information. The opposition are attacking Mr. Mulroney's personal credibility without basis while he stands accused of war crimes. What sort of person does this to a diplomat with a stellar career path?

          • What sort of person does this to a diplomat with a stellar career path?

            Trick Question, Peter McKay? Laurie Hawn?

          • That is why a full public inquiry led by a judge with adequate security clearance is required.

          • You're apologizing because I'm willfully obtuse? That's a horribly mixed message.

            Mr. Mulroney was specifically accused of actions that constitute war crimes. And the price that the opposition is demanding, before they will allow him to speak in his own defence, is documentation over which he has no control.

            This is why these partisan committees are useless and ridiculous. They all end up in the same position sooner than later; chasing their own tails around in rapidly diminishing circles until distracted by the next stink in their nostrils or the next flash of light on the horizon.

          • I assume that's mine. Let's not play games…i'm sorry is a common figure of speech…no mixed message. But you're right i hadn't considered that mulroney probably has no control over this documentation. It is a dilemma i agree, he has a right to defend hmself. It still doesn't change the fact that as long as this govt keeps on stalling on full disclosure we will contnue to have this standoff.
            As long as it's only a delay tactic in order to get the govt to release docs i'm ok. However, i can see a point where Mulroney's right to be heard will need to be addressed, whatever the govt does…but the onus is still on them…or are you of the view that only the opposition is playing politics here?

  9. It was critical to proving Mr. Colvin's point, but somehow it was okay to hear him…Mr. Mulroney is more likely to put Mr. Colvin's testimony in the broader context of the Afghanistan war and the fact that Canada and its allies are choosing between a range of imperfect options.

  10. Muzzling? Get real, it's a parliamentary committee not a talk show, and it's a bit precious for him to attempt to arrange his own appearance. Just a tad disrespectful, don't you think?

    Are you saying the government shouldn't provide the documents?

    • Mulroney was accused of some distinctly dodgy actions last week so, no, I don't think it's a 'tad disrespectful' of him to desire forum to present his side of the story.

      • Then he should wait for a response to his letter, and an invitation, and he should be prepared to show up with corroborating documents like Colvin did.

  11. Colvin brought documents to back up his claims. Mulroney just wants to get up and spew government talking points.

    Speaking of Government talking points, you look to be positioning for the next round of Senate appointments Andrew. Pucker up.

  12. Horse-manure Andrew. Releasing documents should be the minimum standard here before moving forward.

  13. I love how fast they can back track : a sure firte way to know when an issue is being used as a poltical football is when they stall and start dragging out the paper trail excuse!

    • Agreed. Harper should simply release the relevant info.

  14. your response is great though…. it makes clear how the CPC and its supporters view parliament. parliament, in this wacky world view, is there to do the government's bidding.

  15. Is its job to broadcast unsubstantiated accusations against civil servants without allowing the accused civil servants the opportunity to appear? It would be great to have a thorough discussion of detainee treatment in Afghanistan, instead of playing games with one person's perspective.

    • again. crack out a dictionary and read up on the distinction between delay and block. you will find it informative.

      you think it makes for a valuable discussion to have one party fully informed and the other party held in the dark on the background to that discussion?

      • Personally I don't see how there's any harm in Mulroney bringing his documents either at the hearing( like Colvin did) or shortly after. But I don't think the request by the opposition is unreasonable. It is after all a rebuttal, not an accusation.

        What I don't get is Th Globe & Coyne calling this request a block. Until the opposition actually stalls Mulroney's presence to the point where it's too late to appear then this is simply a delay.

        • "Personally I don't see how there's any harm in Mulroney bringing his documents either at the hearing( like Colvin did) or shortly after."

          I do. Mulroney should not be allowed to get anything on the public record until and unless there is a full disclosure of the relevant documentation so that parliamentarians can ask all the relevant questions. The opposition needs to stick to their guns on this, otherwise they will lose momentum as the government seeks to muddy the waters.

          • Why do you assume Mr. Mulroney's testimony will muddy the waters? Why is he less trustworthy than his subordinate, Mr. Colvin?

          • Wow, more reading comprehension problems. Try reading the last sentence again.

          • What actions did you have in mind in this phrase "as the government seeks to muddy the waters"? From the context, it seemed to be Mr. Mulroney's testimony that was expected to muddy the waters.

          • what don't you understand? the government has control over the release of documentation… by not allowing the release of documents the government is muddying the waters

          • Really – that's a weird way to read a paragraph about the importance of preventing or delaying Mr. Mulroney's testimony. It seems his testimony could clarify matters, or at least identify the issues that require more investigation.

            Others, obviously, disagree and believe his testimony will reveal nothing, or will actually obscure the issue.

            Still others seem to think his testimony is less important than obtaining the documents (which seem to be an unusually ambitious request by a parliamentary committee, but if anyone has any examples etc. etc.).

            Finally, some think this (ambitious?) document request is intended to delay Mr. Mulroney's testimony in order to keep the current narrative about a cover-up the dominant story.

      • They could get further background by hearing from Mr. Mulroney and other senior civil servants. If the full testimony leaves significant questions, the committee could investigate further.

        • how please tell would they know way to ask in the absence of the docs….

          • Did you see Mr. Colvin's reports? What action did you take? Why did you not take further action? Did you edit Mr. Colvin's subsequent reports? Did you communicate to him or his colleagues about what information should be included or excluded in reports? Why did you turn detainees over to Afghan authorities when there were allegations of torture, including reports from international organizations that torture was prevalent?

            That would seem like a good start…

          • How about "what was in the reports" and "who were the reports distributed to" and "can you explain the fact that the redacted reports you signed off on are significantly different from Colvin's drafts which include relevant facts about torture of Afghan prisoners" ? That is just a start. The documents need to be produced first, the relevant questions follow. Documents are facts. To get to the bottom of this, we need to start with the facts.

      • The background is the testimony of Mr. Colvin.

        The opposition is trying to extract every inch of advantage they can from Mr. Mulroney's discomfiture. Whether or not he is accused legitimately. the opposition is willing to let that accusation hang over his head indefinetely unless the government acceeds to their demands.

        The committe has no obligation to hear from Mr. Mulroney at all. But the Canadian public has a pretty finely tuned sense of what's fair, and what isn't.

        • interesting you think COlvin's story is the whole story.

          • It's certainly the basis for some pretty pointed questions to Mulroney, isn't it?

  16. Andrew – go over and read Kady's blog on the matter. It's a game.

    • Indeed – the Conservatives appear to be operating from the same playbook as the In and out Hearings… glad to see at least 1 journalist pick that up.

  17. please. mulroney is a civil servant and therefore part of the executive. the leadership of the executive controls the documents.

    • How did Mulroney seize the leadership of the executive? That seems to be the real story here…

      • you should reread style….why comment does not say that.

        • Well, that's comforting. It appears you're saying Harper has the authority to release the documents. That doesn't explain why the opposition considers Mr. Mulroney too untrustworthy to appear before them without the release of the requested documents.

          In fairness, not all opposition members are saying this and there is a more charitable interpretation of their moves. Refusing to move on until the documents are released might increase the pressure on the government to release the documents. Then again, it might allow Mr. Mulroney and others to speak directly to the public, and leave the committee with no agenda.

          • "Refusing to move on until the documents are released might increase the pressure on the government to release the documents."

            This is the only reason i have seen espoused besides wanting to know the full story so that they know what to ask…. the latter is the only reason i support and only one i have advocated.

            not sure why mulroney booked a ticket without an invite… that seems odd….

  18. if you have another explanation for not understanding that mulroney is part of the executive, then, by all means…

    • No, no, you go ahead… It's fascinating to be told what I do & don't understand…

      But perhaps your confusion is genuine. Just in case, I will point out that even well-placed civil servants do not control 'the leadership of the executive.' (That's why they are called civil servants rather than civil masters.) Do I doubt for a minute that the Harper government is above mistreating civil servants? LOL Do you?

      But in this case, I wouldn't even accuse them of mistreatment. I think the opposition is engaged in a rather unsavoury political exploit here and I would resist it on general principles.

      • pls let me know where i said mulroney was part of the leadership of the executive…. or that civil servants control the executive in any way shape or form.

        • "pls let me know where i said mulroney was part of the leadership of the executive…."

          sea_n_mountain – take a moment, relax and read what you written so far.

          "i don't know…. you should ask SH. mulroney is a civil servant and therefore part of the executive. the leadership of the executive controls the documents."

          • joylon that does not say mulroney or any other civil servant controls the exec… you are reading into it.

        • Sigh…

          Once a thread starts down the path of "I never said…" it's already gone on too long.
          Jolyon has already pointed out the departure point… and I need to get back to work.

          • perhaps we are reading past each other garvin…. my point is that while accusations like yours that pin this whole debacle on the opposition misses the point that if the CPC wanted to protect mulroney's, rep as per your argument, they would fulfill the reasonable opposition request for background docs.

          • You are reading waaay past what I wrote. I criticized the opposition (and I stand by that criticism) but made no positive claims whatever about the government. I think it's fair to say that the Harper government is the most cut-throat, ball-busting, high-sticking, cheap-shotting collection of pricks & goons ever assembled in this federation… at least since Jean Chretien's government, or Paul Martin's, or Brian Mulroney's.

            Mr. Mulroney has been accused of complicity in torture. I think he should be allowed to answer the charge. I have no faith in the government to protect his reputation and – in a way – I am holding the opposition to the higher standard here. So be it.

          • youare holding the opposition to a higher standard…. i just tend to think that we should hold the government to the highest standard (which is not to say that i think they will meet it)…

            btw i am not saying mulroney should not get a chance to defend himself far from it, i just think that the opposition should be furnished with the materials they are permitted and think necessary before his appearance.

  19. Andrew, this is below you.

    These people are already very capable distracting from the real issue — go read Kady's blog at CBC which accurately describes what they pulled during the In and Out hearings.

    If he shows up at the hearing unscheduled, the taxpayers should not have to pay for his plane fare. Are we?

  20. Andrew, the basic principle of discovery is pretty fundamental to a process like this, dontcha think?

  21. Committee felt clever enough to ask questions last week without full access to documents so I wonder what's changed over the weekend that makes committee members incapable this week – other than partisan politics, of course.

    • They had a detailed affidavit from Colvin, with appendices that included reprots, emails and his diaries.

  22. We all (Andrew included) realize that Mulroney could, y'know, talk to whoever he wanted about this? Like, say, the press?

    I don't even think defenders of the opposition position even need to get into arguing over whether it's right to demand the papers. Go ahead and demand whatever you want, and you still shouldn't be accused of "muzzling".

  23. Mr. Coyne, you are deliberately obtuse.

    • I remember that in Wells' longish article chronicling one of the Tory election wins, he talked about these hypothetical people that the Tory campaign staff would use to describe certain voters. "Zoe" was a left-leaning urbanite who lived in a trendy loft, and who would never, ever vote Tory. I had no idea that she was a real person.

    • I remember that in Wells' longish article chronicling one of the Tory election wins, he talked about these hypothetical people that the Tory campaign staff would use to describe certain voters. "Zoe" was a left-leaning urbanite who lived in a trendy loft, and who would never, ever vote Tory. I had no idea that she was a real person.

  24. "But. There is also a public interest, and an ethical imperative…."

    Andrew, let's not get caught up in the weeds, the public interest at this point isan independent public inquiry.

    And BTW? with respects to these tactics, I think Kady O'Malley brings up a good point about the parliamentary committee meeting into the In and Out scandal which highlights exactly why tolerating any less than a public inquiry is not in anyone's best interests.

  25. In Canada under are marvellous political system judicial inquiries are the only acceptable method of fact finding.Expensive and usually unproductive as they are they do tend to find some version of the truth.This committee show is a farce and should not be reported as anything other than a vaudeville act.

  26. This Afghan non-issue has been the perfect smoke screen for unprofessional journalists who refuse to acknowledge the KEY global issue that has emerge in the last week and that is the ClimateGate scandal over the leaked information at the CRU in the UK. Information that clearly shows what skeptics have been advocating for years, that the whole Global Warming scare is just one big fraud!

    I used to respect Andrew as a journalist. Not any more. He's failed miserably to give coverage to this issue as it deserves!