The Colvin Affair: Who knew what when? -

The Colvin Affair: Who knew what when?

Andrew Coyne questions why the government is attacking Colvin, and not saying, ‘We fixed the problem.’


I confess to some bafflement at the government’s handling of the Afghan prisoner story: a story that would be more of a crisis if Canadian forces were still handing over captured prisoners to the Afghan government without insisting on adequate safeguards and outside supervision. But everyone agrees, I think, that that is no longer the case.

It was the case in 2006-07, when a previous prisoner transfer agreement was in force, and Richard Colvin was writing all those memos warning his superiors of what he was hearing about conditions in the Afghan jails. And presumably it was the case before then, when the Liberals, who negotiated that earlier agreement, were in power. But the agreement was changed in 2007, by the Tories. So you’d think that would be the Tory story: We fixed the problem.

Granted, it’s a scandal if anyone was tortured on our watch at any time, the more so if, as Colvin alleges, senior government officials knew about it, and did nothing. But it’s much less of a scandal if, once apprised of it, they acted to stop it, albeit after much delay. Afghanistan is a chaotic place, and it’s conceivable that it would have taken some time to investigate the charges and verify their accuracy.

So why is the government investing so much energy in impugning Colvin’s credibility? It’s one thing to say, as I think we must, that his evidence is less than bullet-proof: he was told that torture was going on, by sources he considers credible, but has no direct knowledge of it; he told David Mulroney, the deputy minister responsible for the Afghanistan Task Force, and Michel Gauthier, the head of Canadian forces in Afghanistan, of his concerns, and believes that Rick Hillier, the chief of defence staff, and Margaret Bloodworth, the Prime Minister’s national security adviser, also knew; and so on. Colvin is credible, but he is not omniscient. He has levelled some very serious charges at a number of people — essentially, that they knowingly acquiesced in torture — and it’s critical that they be given a chance to respond. (A public inquiry? I don’t think we’re at that stage yet. The Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan, before whom Colvin testified, seems the more appropriate forum.)

But it’s another thing altogether to imply that Colvin is some sort of whack job or stooge of the Taliban. As others have pointed out, his sterling career track — he’s now a senior intelligence officer at the Canadian embassy in Washington — hardly bespeaks eccentricity or incompetence. And if, as the government maintains, there was no reason to believe what he was saying was true — on a balance of probabilities, at least — then why did the government eventually change its practice? If no one in government even knew there was a problem, how could anyone have given the orders to fix it?

Whatever the truth or falsehood of Colvin’s reports, it is scarcely credible that they would not have been passed up to the highest levels: not just in the bureaucracy, but the cabinet as well. If the Minister of National Defence at the time, Gordon O’Connor, did not know, he surely should have; if bureaucrats insulated him from that knowledge, to preserve “plausible deniability,” that is a mark against him as much as them, for not establishing as an inviolable rule that he should be kept abreast of all such sensitive matters.

But the more likely proposition is that he did know. And if he knew, it is equally likely that the Prime Minister would have been told. Again, I don’t find that damning in itself: once told, they acted, even if it now appears rather too slowly. What’s indefensible is for ministers to have lied about what they knew, especially to Parliament — or, if they did not know, for officers and bureaucrats to have deliberately kept them in the dark. The more the government attempts to shoot the messenger, the more one suspects one of these will prove to be true.


The Colvin Affair: Who knew what when?

  1. "Granted, it's a scandal if anyone was tortured on our watch at any time, the more so if, as Colvin alleges, senior government officials knew about it, and did nothing."

    Uh… Andrew? It's not just a "scandal," it is a war crime.

    • It's a war crime if we knew about it and handed them over anyway. It's still a scandal if we didn't. Between them is the possibility that we did not know torture was going on, but should have made greater efforts to find out.

      • "It's a war crime if we knew about it and handed them over anyway. It's still a scandal if we didn't. Between them is the possibility that we did not know torture was going on, but should have made greater efforts to find out."

        Indeed, all we have are suppositions based on Colvin's testimony. We have no proof. That being said, do you honestly believe that our officials did not know that the torture of prisoners is common practice in Afghanistan?

        • Pretty sure he answered that in his column…

          "Whatever the truth or falsehood of Colvin's reports, it is scarcely credible that they would not have been passed up to the highest levels: not just in the bureaucracy, but the cabinet as well. "

          With a war going on, of course cabinet received reports on what Afghan prisons were like. It would be farcical if they didn't.

          • Which brings us back to the original point.

            If they knew about the torture yet they continued to transfer prisoners = war crime.

            Andrew is saying that if they didn't know about the torture, their only crime is negligence and that this is a scandal. I'm saying that they had to have known, therefore, this is more than just a scandal. It is a breach of the Geneva Convention.

      • Come on. We did not know that people are tortured in Afghan jails! This in itself is not plausible especially as there were other very credible sources telling us just that.

      • I find it sad that the Minster of Foreign Affairs and the PMO are trying their damndest to discredit Mr. Colvin. I mean, how bad can he be if he was in fact "2-IC" of the Afghanistan diplomatic mission. This is exactly the reason why I have become so bloody cynical; no honesty or credibility from the government. I have no doubr that the procedure has changed in Afghanistan since 2007 however, it behooves the government to investigate full and fall on their sword if guilty. It's called accountability.

    • Absolutely.

  2. So they were either stupid (or incompetent) then, or are malicious now. As I don't think that the actors are (or were) stupid, or even incompetent, it points to their malice in lying today. Why would they lie, though? Do they think it's not a big deal, and that it won't cost them political points in the long run (i.e. whenever the next election is called)?

    • I'm not sure many Canadians are going to be up in arms over the mistreatment of Taliban fighters by the Afghan Police, even if those Taliban were captured and turned over by our forces.

      What do you think is going to happen in Afghanistan once the NATO forces leave?

      • Dakota, today you are my favourite, you let me quote Law & Order, from the episode where a defence lawyer messes up and goes to see the warehouse where the horrible killer has hidden body parts. Now he knows where the bodies are, but because his client told him where it was, he cannot reveal this information as it falls under solicitor-client privilege. He refuses to divulge, is tried for it, and is convicted of obstructing justice, I believe, and the episode ends with a quick confab between him and McCoy and whomever is his asst of the week, in which McCoy suggests that if he were to have faced the lawyer panel and asked to reveal the info, he wouldn't have been disbarred and would have been allowed to. His response to McCoy is my response to you, in regards to Canadians who do not care about the treatment of Taliban fighters in the care of Afghan police: "Shame on them."

      • The point though is that it wasn't neccesarily just Taliban fighters handed over.

        • It wouldn't matter if Osama bin Laden was the one we handed over. We CANNOT be complicit in torture. If the morality of the situation escapes these people, perhaps this "law and order" govt can grasp the fact that it is plain illegal.

          We just tried Desire somebody from Rwanda for war crimes and sentenced him. How does this work? The laws apply to everyone else but us?

          • "Desire somebody from Rwanda"

            Would that be Desire Munyaneza, guilty on seven counts? The first two are genocide for committing murders and serious bodily harm. The third and fourth are crimes against humanity by committing murder and sexual violence. The fifth, sixth and seventh are again war crimes for committing murders, sexual violence and pillaging.

            Great analogy PolJunkie (eyes rolling). Come on, say it already; Harper is just like Hitler.

      • The point here is not so much that Taliban were handed over…everyone arrested was handed over, including completely innocent civilians caught in the net. There were never any investigations to establish that those arrested were guilty of anything.

        • Even if they are all proved to be Taliban fighters and guilty of crimes, they shouldn't be tortured. This is one of those arguments that if we are to discuss whether it's ok because they were *only* Taliban means that we are condoning torture in some cases, when the people being tortured are people we don't like. Torture, if we are to act as if it is wrong, is wrong in all cases. Whether it's right or not is not germane to this discussion, as when this happened the Canadian official position was that it was wrong.

          Suggesting that the Canadian public would be unmoved because these detainees are allegedly Taliban is disingenous. People who make this argument should be shown that it is logicall incorrect, and if they persist, should be shamed.

    • I think they lie from force of habit. As astounding as it may seem they appear to be lying when the truth might serve better. The only logical explanation that comes to mind is that they continued the transfers after they knew for a fact that the prisoners were being tortured and are afraid of the war crimes charges that could result from their actions. I think Harper and the conservatives are the worst pile of garbage ever sent to Ottawa but I have never doubted their sanity.

  3. Pol junkie…so wrong!!!

  4. "… a story that would be more of a crisis if Canadian forces were still handing over captured prisoners to the Afghan government without insisting on adequate safeguards and outside supervision. But everyone agrees, I think, that that is no longer the case"

    I know this is probably nit picking. But didn't Colvin tesitfy that for all he knew this still went on? Probably just a throwway line…but a Q i'd ask him…if i could.

    • Members of the Committee have a solemn duty to pursue this fully and then recommend a Public Inquiry.

    • This isn't nitpicking, it's a critical point. When human rights organizations and the media were raising the issue before, the Ministers responsible assured us that detainees rights were being observed. Now it comes out that , at the time a senior civil servant was papering the countryside with memos to the contrary, and those ministers and the person in charge of the transfer agreement, all claim they never saw the reports.

      If they were so lax in their investigations, so blase about their assurances, that they never looked for and found those reports back then (and no one drew them to their attention while Justice Department lawyers were working to suppress his testimony before the MPCC for the last several months) what indication do we have that over sight has improved since?

    • It would be interesting to watch what changes our government may be making in Afghanistan as we speak to fix the problem further. I'll bet they still didn't do the job right when they "fixed" the problem a couple years ago.

  5. Get a clue, mlc. Complicity in torture, which is what this would amount to if proven to be true, is most certainly a breach of the Geneva Convention.

    • Absolutely.

    • Does the Geneva Convention apply to enemy combatants? I thought it only applied to a country's military.

  6. We need a Public Inquiry and it has to start the moment our first soldier landed in Afghanistan and everyone from Chretien – Martin and indeed even Harper should be called before the inquiry

    • Yeah, that way it will chew up the maximum amount of taxpayers' money and employ the largest number of lawyers for the longest amount of time.

      • Note Orson that if the Canadian government refuses to investigate and prosecute war crimes if evidence is found f that, the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction to do so. It's in Canada's best interest to hold an inquiry.

        • Great, so call in the ICC. My only point is that a public inquiry is not the only way to deal with things here. There's this uniquely Canadian fetish for public inquiries that I can't quite understand — it's as though certain Canadians think a public inquiry is the sole and automatic solution to all human problems, from bad weather to AIDS to the heartbreak of psoriasis. I beg to differ. There are actually other ways of dealing with problems and issues, including this one.

          • The other Elephant-in-the-room solution which, strangely, nobody seems to be mentioning here is: an election. Unless I'm missing something, Iggy, Layton and Duceppe clearly have the ability to bring the government down. So why don't they do that? Then, with Harper & Co. out of power, presumably PM Iggy would have the power to throw the Tories, and sundry members of our military, to the wolves, including the ICC, and everyone (but the Tories, presumably) in Canada would be happy. Am I missing something?

          • Because not everything is a confidence issue, and Stephen Harper doesn't have the seats to govern as if he has a majority.

          • You missed the point. If the opposition feel strongly about the detainee issue then vote non confidence in the government and let the people decide. This is kind of tricky given the Libs polling numbers. He could end up with a Harper majority government. Then what?

          • A Harper majority with 60% of Canadians voting against him. How, pray tell, does this clarify the who, what, where, when and why of this scandal?

        • While I don't disagree with your assesment, it's going to take a lot to ever see a developed world figure be brought up on war crimes charges. If it didn't happen to Cheney, it's not happening to anyone in Canada over this.

          • I'm not accusing Harper of being complicit in war crimes or any other cabinet minister. I'm saying however that if there is evidence of wrongdoing.. and the Canadian government refuses to prosecute or investigate (regardless of whoever the officials are), then the ICC has the legal power to do it for us.

      • Nonsense. It's not about the money. It's about human decency and adherence to the rule of law. Nobody who was handed over had the benefit of a full investigation to determine their innocence or guilt.

    • YES!

    • You can't call a public inquiry everytime someone stands up and makes baseless accusations that they can't substantiate.

      • Except that the Red Cross was saying that prisoners in Afghanistan and particularly in Kandahar were being tortured on a systematic basis. So you are denying reality. Quite normal, as you have clearly gone off your meds.

  7. In this case it is about torture – it could be about another matter – but what gets to me is that government officials, I understand David Mulroney was mentioned by Colvin, would tell Canadian diplomats not to write to his government about touchy matters.

    I have been reading for nearly four years now reports from journalists who are briefed by officials at the PMO on the condition that they not be named.

    I am left with the impression that our government will use any trick imaginable to make sure that they could never, ever be held responsible for anything. They're not responsible for their budgets either – it's the liberals fault. Just ask the Wildrose Alliance leader or the members of the At Issue panel.

    So what's the point of having Harper and his team in government again?

    • No point at all.

  8. " And if he knew, it is equally likely that the Prime Minister would have been told. Again, I don't find that damning in itself: once told, they acted, even if it now appears rather too slowly"

    More nit picking…maybe? That doesn't gibe entirely with Colvin's testimony. Didn't he say that once Ottawa [ or the DND/] stared to respond he was told to shut up, no written notes and so forth? Not necessarily a conspiracy, but hardly the mark of a govt hell bent on doing the right thing. More like vintage Harper – control the message at all times. In fact this whole episode seems to be an object lesson in how not to reassure the Canadian public and as per our policy…win Afghan hearts and minds.

    • Harper and co. cost Canadian lives.

  9. "I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!"

    I think the Tories have just gotten used to their m.o. of attack and/or use the Sgt Schultz defence.

    I think Cons stonewalling is appalling – the only way Con strategy makes sense is if they are worried about war crime issues. If Cons are worried about Canadian officials being dragged off the The Hague, than it is understandable and I agree. If it's any other reason, Cons are being entirely shortsighted and doing disservice to Canadians who are not keen to see people tortured.

    • You know a political kerfuffle is bad when the REASONABLE option as to why the government is stonewalling is "because they're afraid Canadian officials might be dragged before the Hague".

      • It is not only Fed Con government doing it but I am sick to death of governments thinking it is clever to deny, obfuscate, muddle …. when it comes to public policy. We are supposedly moving to an era of more transparency but it does not seem that way to me – or else public servants are being dragged kicking and screaming towards the goal.

    • OK, who are you and what did you do with Jolyon?

  10. Canadian forces handed over to a sovereign Afghan government, prisoners (Afghan citizens) captured in the field. Rumours about how they were handled were surely out there but if the Canadian ambassador in Afghanistan went to his counterpart in the Afghan national government and to the Governor of Kandahar they would have been assured that no torture was being carried out in their prisons. I believe in fact they did so at the time. This then becomes a diplomatic issue which is not handled by blunt force but by building a case for review and negotiation. It was important at the time to support the legitimacy of that government.

    We seem to act like the Afghan government didn't exist and that every course of action was unilaterally available to us. Our troops needed the support of Afghan politicians and we skilfully seem to have negotiated an improved transfer policy.

    • The Afghan government is notoriously corrupt. We helped install it. We are at least partially responsible.

      • Our responsibility was to hold a sovereign government to account- which we did.

        • Your arguement [ above] seems reasonable until you consider that the Brits and the Dutch had no difficulty cutting a better deal, and earlier.I'm sorry but NATO [ us too] are in the driver's seat here. The sovereignty angle then becomes a classic apologia for torture. Although I'm sure you didn't mean it that way.

          • No one had a legal obligation to "cut a deal". Afghanistan – yes it is a sovereign nation- is a signatory to the Geneva Convention and to the Convention on Torture. Both of these provide for their legal obligations. Canada's obligation was to advise the Afghan authority if they suspected the treaty obligations were not being observed.

    • The "sovereignty" of the Afghan government is at best a useful fiction. The government in question cannot even control its capital much less its territory and five minutes after western forces leave that government will be decorating telephone posts or (more likely) will discretely retire to France to continue their deliberations on the French riviera. The CIA will probably take good care of their station chief in Kabul (aka President Karzai whose ballot stuffing they probably paid for).

      • I'm always bothered by the way people — on both ends of the political and ideological spectrum — selectively invoke or ignore the principle of sovereignty. A pox on practically everyone for that, because practically nobody is consistent in their application of the principle.

      • Of the over 200 sovereign countries in the world I'm sure you would be happy to provide the list which you approve of and the list we can all happily ignore. I just hope Canada is not on someone else's "ignore list"

  11. "So why is the govenrment investing so much energy in impugning Colvin's credibility?"

    Well, duh! Where have you been the last few years Coyne? This is the modus operandi of the Conservative government: any credible questioning of government policies or actions are met with highly cynical, divisive and relentless attacks. No wonder Parliament has become even more of a poisonous, partisan environment in recent years.

    • Andrew is on the fence. He doesn't wish to offend his government friends.

      • Since yo have no evidence for that it's a low blow. He may just be wrong. Anyway since he's written pretty well the definitive critque of this govt [ conservatism is dead or something like that] i'd say cut him some [ not much] slack.

  12. This is not about politics.

    It is about upholding Canadian values, which include Canadian respect for the rule of law, both domestic and international.

    The war in Afghanistan was prompted by an illegal invasion by the U.S. and Britain. It involved the planning and waging of an aggressive war…the very charge that faced those German officials, who claimed they "didn't know" or were simply "following orders".

    The reports were filed. Harper's deputy knew and therefor he must have known. Hillier knew. Minister Cannon certainly knew and therefore MacKay must have known. Other top officials in Ottawa also knew and tried to cover up the truth or simply turn off the written info channel. Let's keep the history in mind.

    Canada joined in the Afghan war ONLY after the U.N. voted to cover the American behind with a toothless organization called ISAF, which almost immediately handed its responsibility to Canada and other western countries. Now we have a golden opportunity.

    Canada can once again be a leader by having a full judicial and public Inquiry into this entire business.

    Richard Colvin is not a rogue and not a renegade. He is a responsible official of the Canadian government with an important post in Washington D.C. at Canada's embassy there.

    He has nothing to gain from being truthful, except the wrath of those who may have known about and been complicit in torture…not just of so-called Taliban, but also of innocent civilians who were never given the benefit of any investigation by those who arrested them and turned them over to the Afghan Secret Police.

    We must have a full and open Inquiry.

    Finally, the Opposition parties are cornered.

    • Let's keep the history in mind.- so why don't you? That's right the US was just sitting around trying to decide what to do as life was getting boring after 2500 of their citizens had been killed in New York and Washington. Hey there's those Taliban guys in Afghanistan who are protecting AlQueda -why don't we go and kill them for fun.- Let's be like those German officials and make an illegal invasion.

    • It's not just about upholding Canadian values, it's also about ensuring that our soldiers are not put into further danger because somebody they picked up and handed over to the Afghans tries to take revenge on them because of the torture they suffered. Or because other members of the same tribe heard about the torture and turned against Canadian soldiers. The Harper Conservative government must be held to account for this recklessness with Canadian lives.

    • Hillier says he never recieved Colvin's information. If anyone is credible, it is Hillier. He has a track record of being honest and forthright.

      • Don't you have a bridge to guard ?

      • Hillier is also the guy who tried shutting the scandal in 2007 by ordering the halt of the release of any information on the detainee program under Access to Information on flimsy national security grounds.

      • But Colvin didn't want to go to him, he didnt like his temperament. Give me a break!

  13. Why wait for an inquiry … I would like to see the evidence for myself … It would be nice if the government, the people in the media or even Mr. Colvin himself, could post all the documents somewhere for all Canadians to see … Then we would not have this "he said, she said" type of debate that happened in Question Period and is merely repeated by Macleans and other members of the media …

    Note to Mr. Coyne: "If" they failed to act albeit slowly? i thought that ship had already sailed. It seems to me that the evidence of Mr. Colvin already is that it was not just a bureaucratic slowdown, it was an ostrich-type willfull blindness, followed now by an attempt to cover-up the failure to investigate when they had information upon which they should have … Not sure why you are almost condoning it …

  14. "If the Minister of National Defence at the time, Gordon O'Connor, did not know, he surely should have; if bureaucrats insulated him from that knowledge, to preserve “plausible deniability,” that is a mark against him as much as them, for not establishing as an inviolable rule that he should be kept abreast of all such sensitive matters."

    That is the essential point, but you didn't take it far enough. The government's defence is that Colvin didn't provide hard and fast evidence that prisoners handed over by Canada to the Afghans were being tortured. That's not Colvin's job. His job is to gather intelligence, which by its very nature does not have evidential value, and bring it to the attention of his hierarchical superiors for reporting up the chain of command. He did his job. Colvin's job was not to approach a minister directly with this information, as Conservative MPs tried to imply at committee.

    Once the government had that information, they had an obligation to investigate it in view of the fact that Canada has a positive duty to ensure that those taken prisoner by Canadian armed forces are not mistreated. The fact that the Harper Conservative government simply ignored the information until they got caught out by the media shows what respect they have for human rights. Allowing Afghans to torture people we handed over to them endangered and continues to endanger our soldiers. The Harper Conservative government needs to be held to account for this. The only way of doing so is a public inquiry.

    • Mulletaur, why don't the Liberals, NDP and BQ just bring the government down instead? Surely that would result in everyting you want. Including an inquiry.

      • Bean, you're echoing the Harper Conservative line that every single issue before Parliament is a confidence issue. That is simply not what our parliamentary system is all about.

        • Well, I certainly didn't mean to echo the Harper Conservative line — as I indicated above, I'm no expert on parliamentary procedure (obviously). It just seems to me that people might go blue in the face, pass out & die calling for a public inquiry that the Harper government doesn't want to call. So I would think that the better way to accomplish your desired result is to bring the government down, get a government in that is willing to call an inquiry, and Bob's your uncle. But I honestly didn't realize that it was that difficult to bring the government down.

          • I've replied above. It's more about appropriateness than difficulty. It would be wrong to condemn the Harper government over this until all the facts are known. But the only way of knowing what happened is a public inquiry. It certainly isn't going to happen in parliamentary committee.

          • And it certainly isn't going to happen during an election.

          • Interesting. That reminds me of Kim Campbell's famous line about election campaigns being no place to discuss serious issues of the day (or something to that effect). For which she was mercilessly crucified.

          • What she said had a certain element of truth to it, just very impolitic to tell people during an election campaign that they are ignorant goofs.

        • ever hear of oppostion days where the party can put forward confidence motions?

          • You are baiting, to bring forth an election because your man is high in the polls. Once elected in a majority situation, you feel he could effectively bury this and have free reign.

          • Why not, your man is low in the polls.

          • Given the available options, I'll take a minority government, no matter who is driving.

      • For the same reason that Harper running to the GG for a prorogation prevented them from bringing the government down: Because our system has rules, and the opposition parties tend to observe the letter and the spirit, as opposed to just the letter that Harper observes.

  15. In the civil service a promotion is rarely a sign of credibility or competence.

    • truer words never written.

      • Really? Truer than "fire is hot", "water is wet", or even "generalizations have exceptions, and smarmy quips about civil servants on the internet generate little controversy"? See Wells' post about nationalism, and stop posting without at least thinking about your bias against bureaucrats.

        In a serious discussion about a conflict between politicians and civil servants, a little levity is welcome; stupidity is not.

        • See my comments to Scott_Tribe. My comments were not meant to generate controversy. I was just pointing out that his promotion may not have been based on competency.

          In the unionized civil service it's next to impossible to fire someone so the best way to get rid of an annoying employee is to get them promoted to another division. I'm not being smarmy just matter of fact.

          • well said – a promotion is not necessarily a promotion! I have gotten rid of several people by promoting them.

          • Save that this is actually a conflict between a civil servant and politicians, unless you can demonstrate that this is manufactured by the media. In my little corner of the OPS I have observed the opposite, that rarely is a promotion or a transfer effective in getting rid of incompetents.

    • Another attempt to smear the civil service and by extension Mr Colvin I see. You Con parrots are so predictable in your lines of attack.

      • Another attempt to label anyone who disagrees as Con parrots and Conbots.

        I think Pete was being facetious. Don't overreact to his comment.

      • I work for the Ontario Public Service and I'm not a Conservative. Anyways, the conflict between politicians and civil servants is a construct of the media. There are two main conflicts in governments – one is between politicians and politicians and the other is between civil servants and civil servants. Politicians and civil servants don't have much conflict because we basically speak different languages.

        I'm not smearing the public service and I actually quite enjoy my job. I'm just explaining that competency doesn't get you that far in the civil service. It's the bureaucracy afterall not the meritocracy.

        • not necessarily as there are times when us public servants decide to get rid of a poltician say a ADM or DM even an occasional minister- – it's happened before we used to call it fragging

  16. From the Convention Against Torture:

    Article 11
    Each State Party shall keep under systematic review interrogation rules, instructions, methods and practices as well as arrangements for the custody and treatment of persons subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment in any territory under its jurisdiction, with a view to preventing any cases of torture.

    Article 12
    Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committee in any territory under its jurisdiction.

    • Canada never held jurisdiction in Afghanistan. Afghans signed the convention in 1985 and are therefore the ones with the international obligation to investigate and remedy if it is occurring. Canada's obligation was a moral one -to advise the Afghan competent authority if they believed torture was occurring.

      • Not true Nonpartisan.

        As MIchael Byers said in his column on Macleans:

        If Canadian officials allowed detainees to be transferred to Afghan custody despite an apparent risk of torture, and chose not to take reasonable steps to protect them, they are as guilty of a war crime as the torturers themselves.

        They could be prosecuted in Canada under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. Or they could be hauled before the International Criminal Court. Canada has ratified the ICC's statute, giving it jurisdiction over Canadians who commit war crimes anywhere. However, the International Criminal Court will not intervene if Canadian officials are willing and able to investigate and prosecute.

        • Is that from Byers analysis of the Liberal handover agreement of December 18, 2005?
          He was very critical of the Liberals for not including protection of the detainees.

          • Nope.. that's from his piece in Maclean's today.

            And if he was very critical of the Liberals at the time, that shows he has no partisan axe to grind and his opinion should be taken seriously. He's well read up on the subject of the laws of war.

          • Professor Byers of the NDP "get out of Afghanistan Party" has taken a position which others would disagree with. "apparent risk of torture" does not appear anywhere in the legislation you refer to.- you just can't make it up to suit your purposes. He has never been a "non-partisan" (like me) on issues like environment, war etc. His position is interesting but is one of many. Frankly I wouldn't allow him as an intervenor at your ICC war crimes trial because of his publicly known political positions.

            On the matter of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act you should read it carefully:
            If a superior subsequently

            (i) fails to take, as soon as practicable, all necessary and reasonable measures within their power to prevent or repress the commission of the offence, or the further commission of offences under section 4 or 6, or

            (ii) fails to take, as soon as practicable, all necessary and reasonable measures within their power to submit the matter to the competent authorities for investigation and prosecution.

            Thats exactly what the CF did.

    • reasonable?

  17. "So why is the government investing so much energy in impugning Colvin's credibility?"

    I suspect because he is also alleging attempted censorship of his concerns on the torture of prisoners handed over to the Afghans, which likely would make it's way perhaps into the Privy Councils Office, senior minister aides, a minister or two, maybe even the PMO…

    • Or, future witnesses have actual evidence that will clear the matter up.
      Otherwise, I would think the govt would have been more humble.

  18. I have to confess, I'm no wonk on parliamentary procedure, that's for sure ( I guess it shows). So there's no way that the government can be brought down over this issue?

    • they could, a government can fall on any issue… but an election leads to no serious investigation in the media and it also convolutes the issue with a lot of other 'stuff'.

    • If there is a motion on the subject, the government could declare it a confidence issue. Or the opposition could word a motion on the subject as a confidence issue. Either are possible. But that is not the way the Westminster parliamentary system is supposed to work. The first step is inquiry into the facts. If a parliamentary committee cannot get to the bottom of it, and the government is too implicated in the problem to be trusted to give up the information willingly, the appropriate forum is a public inquiry. Once the facts have been established, a vote before the House of Commons on the issue is appropriate.

      • So M, you're only in favour of a judicial inquiry if the parliamentary committee that's currently looking into this cannot get to the bottom of this matter? Or are you already convinced that it can't or won't get to the bottom of this matter?

        • I think the fact that both parties who have governed recently may have had some responsibility for what has taken place with respect to prisoners in Afghanistan means that we need to have a totally independent look at all of this. The initial reaction of the government, to try to slander one of their key diplomats as a Taliban sympathiser in order to discredit his testimony, only increases this belief. I don't think a government led by Stephen Harper will ever allow the truth to get out based on past form.

  19. It’s extremely troubling that the government is pursuing the line it is on this.
    Even more troubling point is that they are likely to get away with it. I think Andrew’s point is good; why aren’t they pursuing the case that “we fixed this problem”. The likely solution is that somebody covered something up, and it was probably a politician, although a bureaucrat will likely be blamed somewhere along the line.

    It’s not completely impossible that they’re so stupid that they reflexively follow this destructive line of defence, but it’s not the most likely possibility.

    • We've only heard from one witness,
      perhaps the best is yet to come.
      I will be glued to my TV when General Hillier takes the stand.

      • Yes, all the rest have been censored by the Harper Conservative government.

  20. "So you'd think that would be the Tory story: We fixed the problem….So why is the government investing so much energy in impugning Colvin's credibility?"

    Because they're not the brightest bulbs in the pack?

    • It's a very good question,
      and this is the second time (2007) the same issue has been raised.
      The Harper government spent 2 weeks getting hammered in parliament last time, O'Connor was shuffled out.
      Maybe sometime between then and now, the government has found evidence to support their claims.

  21. The Cons are very concerned about the wrong message getting out but, let's be clear… true to their nature, they do not think torture is that bad. The end justifies the means.

  22. "So you'd think that would be the Tory story: We fixed the problem."

    They can't take that line when they know (because they have access to facts that we don't, at least not yet) that they had knowledge of the torture and didn't do anything about it : worse, that they actively discouraged civil servants whose job was to report on such things from reporting the intelligence in written form. They act in a guilty way because they know themselves to be guilty.

  23. The govt is responding as it is because Colvin's motives are to embarass the govt. He is so transparent that even the most casual observer can tell that he's full of BS.

    He's a smart-ass punk that needs to be tuned in.

    His baseless allegations cannot be simply ignored. But a public inquiry will just be a waste of money and a soapbox for others to make baseless accusations.

    • "He's a smart-ass punk that needs to be tuned in."

      That's why he was promoted to be Intelligence Officer in our Washington embassy. Did you go off your meds, Fred ?

    • I know Richard, went to grad school with him, and he is definitely not a BS-er

      • I believe Colvin believes the allegations he heard
        , I don't understand why he didn't document what he heard and saw, with names and picures etc.
        And I really don't understand why, with the importance of the isse, he did not bring it up when he had face to face meetings with Hillier and McKay.

        I also believe, that no commander, no soldier, no Canadian official, no Minister , would handover a prisoner knowing the prisoner would be tortured, even if his job depended on it.

        • "And I really don't understand why, with the importance of the isse, he did not bring it up when he had face to face meetings with Hillier and McKay."

          Of course you don't understand that, wilsonarse, because you have never been a civil servant.

    • smart ass punk

      Who are you? Dirty Harry?

      • Well then, sounds like a prime candidate for a Senate appointment.

        Problem-solving is easy.

    • Yes, add him to the list of those that need to be "taught a lesson". Must be pretty long list by now.

  24. "his evidence is less than bullet-proof"

    Considering the history of Afghanistan, the Canadian government should have assumed prisoners where being tortured, unless they had proof otherwise.

    • And so should have the Liberal government right after handing over the first prisoners in january 2002.

      • Exactly why we need a public inquiry. No other way to sort out responsibility exists.

        • Stop lying Wilson. It's beeen pointed out to you several times now that we were in fact under another command structure prior to 2005.

  25. The standard of proof as to whether Canadian bureaucrats should have acted on Mr. Colvin's reports back in 2006 is balance of probabilities (suspend transferring of detainees given what was widely known about Afghani prison practices) , not beyond a reasonable doubt (ie corroborating firsthand evidence that they now claim is lacking).

    Peter McKay has it backwards, and should know better as a former prosecutor.

    • It goes way beyond that, Dot. Intelligence information does not have any probative value in a court of law. It is simply information, nothing more, nothing less. Nevertheless, if an officer of the Crown says that prisoners are being tortured and has good reason to believe so, the government needs to investigate, either to disprove it or to affirm it and change policy. It is not sufficient to say "there was no proof". There is never any proof with intelligence, by definition. But if there is a chance that Canada's reputation will be damaged by allegations about torture no matter how fanciful the government has a positive responsibility to investigate and prove them wrong or draw the necessary policy conclusions.

  26. This is how the CPC shows it is "tough on crime". They could give a damn about people who have been accused, let alone proven guilty of committing a crime.

    We have something to worry about how they deal with our corrections and judicial system here in Canada; we really have something to worry about their attitudes and policies, especially unwritten, when it comes to undeveloped or war-torn countries.

  27. I seem to recall that the CF halted prisoner transfers to the Afghans on its own initiative, whenever that was, i.e. without having the Government make the call. Am I misremembering that? If it's true, it's certainly an important piece of the puzzle as to who know and acted or did not act upon what when.

    • No, the CF doesn't have the authority to decide that on their own. The transfers stopped when the the Globe and Mail drew attention to the fact that prisoners transferred by Canada were being tortured.

      • I would have thought the same thing, but it seems, from the story that transfers had been suspended, that "The Canadian Forces, working with other Canadian Officials in Afghanistan, exercise their discretion concerning this policy," at least according to Sandra Buckler. And, as I say, I may be misremembering, but my vague impression was that it was the commander in the field who initially called a halt to such transfers.

      • I would have thought the same thing, but it seems, from the story that transfers had been suspended, that "The Canadian Forces, working with other Canadian Officials in Afghanistan, exercise their discretion concerning this policy," at least according to Sandra Buckler. And, as I say, I may be misremembering, but my vague impression was that it was the commander in the field who initially called a halt to such transfers.

  28. Excellent article-honest, insightful without any political false currency. of course, the Toronto Star is loading it's pages with all kinds of false currency. WAR CRIMES is the headline in todays Red Star and yesterday TORTURE. was the big word front and center.

    Let's face it, the liberals are so desperate that they can't make the town whore and the Toronto Star, a 24/7 liberal campaign machine is working both sides of the street, trying to get its its readership to swallow this one. And swallow they shall.

    How ya doing Jack?

    • Wow, I want some of what Dieter is smoking.

  29. Much of the rhetoric herein is just rancid, rabid anti-Conservative psychotic mumblings, burblings and associated lice-like Lemmings of the World United… Straight facts. Conservative philosophy not only works, it is the basis of the Confederation, notwithstanding the old Liberals of the Confederation were, [when examined and tested,] Conservatives. We all know this. Why is it an issue? Old Liberals were conservative. Adam Smith et al. So. I do not give a particular hoot about Afghan prisoners. Moreover, my soldiers should be killing them dead. They are scumbags. When my soldiers come home, they are going to be integrated into the Police Service of the Country ..and in fact flying squads will be used in the Major Cities to bolster police in sweep, search, destroy missions…OK sweep search and return-to-Jamaica-missions ! Yes. We are a hairs breadth away from extrajudicial killings in this land. Tamils;Sikhs;Muslims from India, Indonesia, Phillipines, Bali and the Arabic/Mideastern lands… but .. and you forget that the Armenians assassinated the Turkish Ambassador in Ottawa a few years ago! wow. I want soldiers..with guns in our cities (Toronto!) and I do not find that scarey.
    Thank you Liberals for defining what I wish. I believe were should shoot Somali pirates in the head then run the props over them, as we pull away. Are you seriously wanting to turn this into a Somali (Airborne Regiment) wipeout? If so, you are the enemy of my land and it's people. Jean Cretien disbanded the Airborne. Thank Christ someone was waiting in the wings with JTF 2.

    • Got a kleenex? I need to wipe the spittle off.

    • As an ex-CF soldier, all I have to say is that you are seriously disturbed. Sending PW's off to be tortured by a third party is not what this country or its forces have ever stood for. The majority of these alleged "Taliban" types are farmers just trying to avoid having the hard cores kill them and their families. Perhaps you thought that the torture and murder of a Somali teenager stealing food was justified by certain elements of 2 Commando; personally I don't.

  30. The real truth could sink the conservatives. Don't bet your life that its still not going on. The leadership in this country is taking us down a war crime path. History will not shine brightly on Canada in the future. We have lost our way even as badly as the US in the fight against terrorism. No fight is worth the price of throwing away our reputation as a fair and just country. Time to get out of world conflicts. Use our troops and resources solely for defence and national emergencies.

  31. Yiks, this is nasty:

    ''…Mr. Attaran notes that Gen. Hillier signed the agreement even though the Afghan government's own human rights commission warned (the Liberal govt) in 2004 that the torture of prisoners is "routine."
    (note, Martin and Graham approved the agreement in May 2005, it was signed Dec 2005, by Hillier)

    That agency, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, monitors the conditions of detainees, a role recognized under the arrangement signed by Gen. Hillier….''

    The Liberal agreement Dec 2005 was condemned by all,
    but the experts (Byers) say it is the soldiers themselves that could be charged with war crimes, as they do the handing over:

  32. I'm amazed the liberals still have a following. Look what McGuinty has done to the province of Ontario-bankrupt, have not status. Look what Miller has done to the City of Toronto-massive financial problems due to his pie in the sky brand of Marxism. And the federal Liberals are a collection of infighting, face scratching, back biting, back stabbing egotists, who believe they and only they should be allowed to govern.

    • Stick to the subject and get off of your right-wing rant.

      • Please don't discourage Herr Sprockets, it increases Liberal votes when he rants like that.

        • You're probably correct (I abhorr the word "right"). I can't help but be PO'd every time I think that I sttod on guard in Europe in the 70's to possibly be called on to protect morons like that!

          • You also stood on guard to protect the rest of us.

          • I appreciate your thanks, however, it was my father's generation that last saw combat in Europe to defend those who either couldn't, wouldn't or just plain never wanted to. In retrospect, I would have made a different choice. That is the reason that they target 20 yr. olds for service in the military…50 year olds are smarter than that.

    • This guy seems to have gotten lost on his way to the Toronto Star comments section.

      • I think he got lost on his way to Canada!

  33. As Coyne says Colvin’s allegations are unproven. So unless there is specific proof then his accusations cannot be considered as credible.
    We are getting bent out of shape over something that happened to 2 1/2 years ago. Hillier said he was never told and Colvin admitted he never told ministers, Hillier or even the PM when they were in Afghanistan.
    Paul Martin changed the handing over of detainees from the U.S. forces to the Afghan government and so the Libs should be careful. An inquiry could wash over them as well.
    In the meantime Canadians have little interest in what happened to detainees 2 1/2 years ago. Harper is going to China soon and the Xmas break is coming then the Olympics. In the meantime we could have a budget in mid to late January. If that happens it will be interesting to see the Libs turning themselves into pretzels having to support the budget.

    • "As Coyne says Colvin's allegations are unproven."

      They are only unproven because the Harper Conservative government decided not to investigate, for fear of what might be found. In other words, they knew the inevitable conclusion of any possible investigation : very bad for your boy Stevie.

      • There are important things to be discussed in Canada like Economy, unemployment, troop pull out, our soldiers dying, etc. Who the F%&k cares about some terrorists being tortured in a 3rd world country by 3d party? What a waste and Candians are idiots!

        • "There are important things to be discussed in Canada like … our soldiers dying …"

          You responded to your own rant – this is precisely about our soldiers dying, being put at increasing and unnecessary risk because of the Harper Conservative government's policy on detention and transfer of Afghans captured by the Canadian armed forces.

        • Farmers = Terrorists?
          WHY WASTE TIME = reactionary?

  34. I confess to some bafflement at the government's handling of the Afghan prisoner story…

    What's the prob? "We acted decisively on the non-credible information he never told us and we never saw." Simple.

  35. I'm concerned about the international backlash on this. I mean first we bail out on Kyoto, then we may be complicit in war crimes… what's next? Greztky cries in front of the press? oh wait…

    I can just imagine some Eastern European kid grabbing a Canadian athlete in Vancouver and: "I used to look up to country… but now you torture prisoners. Shame on you."

  36. To my media friends:

    What happens when a theory that is set to reorder the world economy is severely called into question by some very damning leaks,

    which subject by its very nature is of fundamental importance to all the citizenry,

    is ignore in favour of highly partisan, inside the beltway, media elite pet issues?

    I'll give you an answer:

    the death of the media industry.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to read….gulp…informative blogs to get the information I need.

    • My thoughts exactly biff. With the extra tidbit that I strongly suspect the PMO is giving this story (detainees) just enough rope to hang those pushing it come budget time. All bureaucratic chains of command are famous for butt covering (CYA). The military epitomises the practise…they know who what where when and why to the nth degree and certainly briefed the PCO. For those paying attention, that would make it SECRET, by oath, forever.

  37. Check that,

    and Fox News, who prominently featured the CRU leak on their website.

    No relation to Fox's skyrocketing ratings I'm sure.

  38. "When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers" – Ralph Waldo Emerson

  39. I am getting tired of Taliban good Canadian soldiers bad from the Liberal party. Liberals all worried about treatment of Taliban but don't give dam about treatment of Canadian soldiers and civilians by the Taliban. Liberals are a sick lot.

  40. and where else could you read that but the Conservative Television Network news website!

    • Well , the G&M for one place.LOL!! suck it up

      • G&M, National Post, CTV, Toronto Sun, take your pick – all supporters of the Reform/Allaince party. Suck that up!

        • I think you are paranoid, how peculiar.I guess you missed the fact is was on the CBC, you know, the LBC masquerading as a 'national news network.It sucks to be liberal right now try not to take it too badly

  41. Why the Liberals Love This

    For generations, the natural governing party was trying to morph Canada into a nation of pacifists. This was sited in today's Toronto Star by Thomas Walkom: "Ten years ago, Canada was a country that prided itself on pacifism" Of course, the pacifism began with Trudeau the charismatic leader, who established a warm relationship with Cuba and wasn't the least concerned about Cuba's hideous track record on torture or terrorist training camps.

    Many liberals are depressed by the number of Canadians who have the audacity to place a : support our troops" decal on their vehicle, or who openly support the mission.

    The totrure alligation, which is old history, is something the liberals can use to undermine our troops.

    • It won't work. However, you can support our troops and not the mission.That is anyone's prerogative. The NDP are gaining on the libs, I love this.

    • Once again Srockets you equate supporting the troops with supporting the mission. As a former CF soldier I certainly support the troops; as a Canadian citizen, I am against the mission. If you really want to support the troops, ask the hard questions of the government that commands them. The troops have no input into where they are sent or the actions they are to take. If you feel so bloody adament about ther mission, wht not enlist? Want to detain more Afghan peasants caught betwen the Taliban and ISAF forces? Head to the nearest CF recruiting office; they're dying for more IED fodder.

  42. And the greatest thing is Colvin LOOKS like a Conservative. Look at him, all business like, crew cut and serious. He could be a Conservative candidate. Why are the Conservatives attacking him?

    • Looks like one,?hunh take that sweeping paint brush and tuck it away.Racist

      • Yes, according to Liberals, only white males with short hair and wearing business suits are Conservatives. It's actually not even possible for a woman to be a conservative — all female conservative MPs are really men in drag.

  43. Knucke; head,

    How do you show your support for the troops? I asked every single Liberal M.P. how they show their support for the troops. Guess how many responses i got-zero.

    The Liberals have hurt our country beyond description. The policies have left us infertile-females produce less than 1.5 children during their reproductive years- their policies have led to massive numbers of divorces, which in turn has created unacceptable numbers of single parent families, and their financial gutting of our armed forces, beginning with the Messiah, has likely resulted in the unnecessary deaths of many of our troops. And their flirtation with pacifism, contributed to the Rwandan genocide.

    • I am pertty much up to the gills with your right-wing spew. I show my support for the troops (including a foster son who served 2 tours in Afghanistan) like every other former soldier – morally! And I ask the tough questions of my MP's that we elected to represent our viewpoints. To date, neither the Reform/Alliance or Liberals have given adequate answers and both parties are guilty of covering the facts. Like I said before, if you want to support the mission so friggin' badly, grow a spine and enlist; something that I don't believe you have the guts to do. If in fact you lived in the former Czechoslovakia as you claim and are still PO'd because you and your ilk hadn't the guts or wherewithall to stand up for yourselves, GET OVER IT . By the way, thank the UN for its failure in Rwanda, not any Canadian government; they commanded, not us!

      • You're getting a tad hot under the old collier, Mr. Head. But that's okay-at least you're honest.

        Our politicians aren't the most reliable diseminators of the truth, just as our newspapers are as crooked as my spine-according to you.

        I support the mission because I believe that failed states are an abomination to the well being of the inhabitants, and in the case of Afghanistan, this failed state was a well developed training ground for al Quida-read peter Bergen's book, the Osama bin Ladden I know.

        Perhaps i could suggest another excellent read called,Fixing Failed States:A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World. Authors Ghani and Lockhart, both former U.N. advisers to Afghanistan, spotlight the critical problem of failed states: countries where governments have all but collapsed, basic services go unprovided and terrorism and criminality reign unchecked—or even abetted—by a corrupt and predatory state. Close to the heart of their thesis is the concept of R2P.

        • A final read is Ghost Wars, by Steve Coll'. It covers Afghanistan from the Soviet Invasion to September 10,to the years just before 9/11. it's insightful and serves as an excellent elixir to the numerous, laughable conspiracy theories put forth by some mischievous elements on the left.

          When I read Linda McQuaig, Haroon Siddiqui or Thiomas Walkom, I'm in tune to their spin and purpose for writing. I beleive that vry few if their asserions would stand the test of a rebuttle involving good scholarship.

          Suffice it to say if the Taliban and via associatio al Quada, get their hands on Pakistans nukes, the world will pay a very heavy proce.

  44. I m with Mackay and Hillier on this one. If you are going to besmirch the reputation of our Canadian troops, saying they are complicit in torture and therefore have committed war crimes, then you better have evidence to BACK IT UP. Evidence, as in FACTS.

    I disagree with our host. For the Government to take the tack: "Yeah, this was probably happening in 2006 but we fixed the problem" is still accusing our soldiers of committing war crimes in 2006. Such a position, while more politically adept perhaps, would be deeply insulting to our soldiers who served in Afghanistan in 2006 and is injurious to the morale of those serving with such distinction today. I would be shocked if the Government did not respond to Colvin's opinions or innuendo in any other way than they have.

    I am aware that the NDP and many Liberals, as well as a major portion of our media, will leap at the chance to denigrate our soldiers in the effort to score cheap political points against the Conservatives, but I expect the Government to support our troops, and to stand behind them in the face of these insults to their honour because they cannot defend themselves.

    • Yes the government is standing behind the troops; you have to in order to push them into an unpopular conflict. The ydo nothing in order to really support them. Mybe you should speak to some veterans of the Afghan miision that have lost their jobs with the CF because of lack of support with PTSD.

  45. And I have read, Shake Hands With the Devil

  46. Here's my choice for your final read of the day…..pull your head out of your ass or go back to Europe!

  47. Mr. Head,

    You have clearly lost control of your bodily functions and are making a rather large mess of what could have been an intelligent social discourse.

  48. I found Thomas Walkom's comment in today's Star to be most revealing:Ten years ago, Canada was a country that prided itself on pacifism, said Walkom. Then he said: Today, Canada is a nation proudly at war Wlakom is simply wrong on both counts.

    I doubt that a majority of Canadians ever believed that we were a nation of pacifists. And I doubt that those of us who support our role in Afghanistan, do so because we're claim proud of the fact that we are at war. Walkom's thinking is simplistic and suggestive.

    This is they type of stuff that we get from Walkom and a few other Star journalists, which is one reason why this paper should be removed from Ontario's classrooms.

  49. Torture of detainees did take place. Torture still takes place. Detainees were and are turned over. Agreements, there, mean nothing. There's no way we can monitor those prisons well enough to verify otherwise. The knowledge of torture went all the way up the line to the top.
    When one admits the truth the opposition dissipates. The harder one denies, the large the opposition and the longer the stench will linger.
    The character assassination of the messenger exacerbates the negative impact.