'I'm not suggesting that we have not heard serious allegations' - Macleans.ca

‘I’m not suggesting that we have not heard serious allegations’


Peter MacKay explains what the government knew and does not know.

“I’m not suggesting that we have not heard serious allegations from the moment we took office. I’m not suggesting that prison conditions in Afghan jails are anything to behold,” Mr. MacKay said on Sunday, in response to reporters’ questions about allegations of torture and mistreatment of Taliban suspects, an issue that is expected to dominate Parliament this week…

“Not a single Taliban soldier turned over by Canadian forces can be proved to have been abused. That is the crux of the issue.”


‘I’m not suggesting that we have not heard serious allegations’

  1. Don't ask. Don't tell.

    It's becoming patently clear that there are two classes of human beings in the eyes of this government. I'm getting confused, though, since I thought a major argument in favour of eliminating the Taliban was that they both ignored basic human rights.

    I'm not Christian, but I understand many Conservative MPs are. I always thought sins of omission were considered equally grievous to members of that religion. They are to me, at any rate.

      • thank you

        • what i find interesting is how they carve out those that they deem worthy and the rest. it is not just race, or class or some combo. but the 'us' and 'them' attitude is clear.

          and your point on sins of omission is bang on…

          "The doctrine of ministerial responsibility accommodates the delegation of authority and responsibility to a minister's officials by not allowing a minister to delegate her or his accountability. Hence, when something goes wrong, and even though the minister was not personally involved, did not know and could not have been expected to know, the minister must still respond to questions that demand an account. Even when the minister's authority is delegated, the minister still has full authority to act. In this circumstance, the minister is required to:

          1) provide a description or factual explanation of what has happened;

          2) indicate what, if any, corrective action he or she will order to be taken; and,

          3) justify or defend this corrective action or a decision not to act."


  2. The crux of the issue is that we have plausible deniability, asserted MacKay. Also Canadians don't really care if Afghans torture other Afghans so we're good here.

  3. "“Not a single Taliban soldier turned over by Canadian forces can be proved to have been abused."

    Now there's soemthing to be proud of.

    • Actually, I'm tempted to say that they're famous last words. But maybe I'm just too cynical.

  4. That is the crux of the issue.

    Actually, Mr. Belinda, it is not. The crux of the issue is that you don't hand over prisoners when there is a reasonable expectation that they can be tortured.

  5. It is becoming increasingly clear that this government – and the party that forms it – suffers from Bush – Cheney Syndrome – torture is acceptable as a means to the end – but these Christians resemble Pontius Pilate – washing their hands from responsibility!

    • I dunno, I doubt they are actually in favour of torture, like Cheney: I think they just reflexively wash their hands of everything negative and are so incapable of taking anything seriously that they cannot distinguish between important and unimportant subjects. I.e. they're amoral (from stupidity) rather than immoral (from cunning). Which is no excuse, of course, but it's what you'd expect from a caucus in which Peter MacKay represents the talent.

      • Check out the comments on this week's poll about Khadr. I'm starting to believe there's a sizeable number of Canadians who endorse the torture of our perceived and actual enemies. Who don't lose sleep over breaching human rights, particularly when the victims are darker skinned with funny names. I'm growing fearful that it's not a case of combined ignorance and amorality, but rather calculated depravity justifed by hate and fear.

        We've almost lost the ability to be self-critical about our actions, and seem to replacing honour and morality with a logic that a)holds it as self-evident that Canada is just nation, and b) thus defines *anything* we do as necessarily just. Which is scary.

        • I'd not over-emphasize the results of an online unscientific poll too much, Sean.

          I think the only way to see if your fears are justified is for a pollster to put that question out there to Canadians asking "if Canadian forces are turning over enemy combatants/prisoners and we found out they were being tortured, is that acceptable to you?"

          Heck.. ask folks if torture by us is acceptable. That might be the better barometer.

          • Oh, I'm sure it's possible to get any poll result you want with a loaded question, as well you know. That's quite apart from whether respondents truly believe what they're saying and are willing to make social/political/economic decisions based on it, or are reflexively giving the 'right' answer even when they don't really care that much. Look at putative opinion poll support for green policies; if it were actually true, Prime Minister Dion would be ecstatic right now.

          • Uh.. what makes you assume the question will be loaded?
            I mean.. at least wait until the results say something you don't like before making that accusation.

          • I'm not even casting aspersions on a severely loaded question. Phrase it as neutrally as you like, and my point remains the same: many people will give the 'right' answer even if, in their heart, they don't really believe it or care much about the outcome, if only as a social reflex.

          • It would be well worth it to poll Canadians with such a direct question. But don't forget, there's a significant proportion of us who subscribe to the "ticking time bomb" argument, despite its contrived and facile construction.

            I keep returning to the imprisonment of Canadians who happened to be of Japanese descent during WWII. Because we're witnessing a popular discourse too far removed from it. There's something of a blood lust, rooted in fear and untempered by a knowledge of history or practice in philosophy (on the most basic level) that honestly has me wondering if we're not on the verge of undoing a lot of progress (in terms of advancing some base level of human decency and honour).

          • The thing is, we're not immune to the memes of American TV. Indeed, as far as I can tell, there's about a 6-month lag. So if American morality is plummeting, a portion of Canadian viewers will be influenced by that.

          • Jack, I know from earlier conversations that you were pretty much horrified by the readiness of Americans to throw reason and morality out the window in the aftermath of 9/11 (you were living there at the time, if I recall).

            I'd be really interested to hear your quick thoughts in a few respects:

            1. Has time tempered your view of things?

            2. Is there a meaningful difference between Americans and Canadians in this particular vein (at least on the basis of your own interactions)? Or put another way, are we simply unreflexively aping American popular discourse? (I keep using discourse, because I think the very terms and definitions of debate are equally, if not more, important than the positions).

          • 1. Well, there's no doubt that being back in Canada for the last 2 years has distanced me from the urgency of fighting back against Cheneyism. Meanwhile, of course, Cheneyism has lost its grip on power and is morphing into the circus of Palinism, so it's no imminent threat. Moving on to your second question, what I worry about is that American memes filter through to us after the 6-12 month lag and thus we could be heading into a period of homegrown Palinism ourselves: nothing near so outrageous and barbaric, of course, this being Canada, but therefore all the more acceptable to the average uninterested voter. I mean, when you've got oafs like Del Maestro and Goodyear sitting in Cabinet, headed up by cynics like Harper and MacKay, opposed only by the likes of the Opposition, things could go sideways pretty quickly — nothing to seriously threaten our liberty, but a lot to threaten our dignity as a grown-up nation. E.g. this prisoner-transfer stuff.

            I did used to find that we ape American popular discourse. When I was living in the States but reading Canadian newspapers online, that was very apparent. Now I don't notice it so much because I'm less plugged in to the US media (for which thank G-d). Layton's positioning on Afghanistan, for instance, was lifted phrase by phrase from American opposition to the Iraq war; for a while there the Liberals were aping Obama as best they could; and the Cabinet regularly uses phraseology, especially on issues of security. They have, after all, no training in this stuff, so they absorb what they see on American TV. One always has to bear in mind that Canadian politicians don't know much about anything, and don't care that they don't know: with a few exceptions, they are just slightly more self-obsessed versions of Joe and Jane Canuck.

          • Thanks!

            I've never much cared if Canada 'punched above its weight,' as was our popular self image for so long. I but do care if we squander our ability as a 'middle power' to chart our own course in the world.

          • Cabinet regularly uses the phraseology of David Frum…

            …who is, though (let us recall), technically Canadian–having bizarrely retained his citizenship despite having worked for a foreign administration that threatened us with de facto economic warfare as a coercive technique in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

            I guess the word “treason” doesn't mean much to us anymore…

          • should read "a popular discourse *not* too far removed…"

  6. I'm presuming that MacKay will claim here since this agency didnt actually, you know, see the torture first hand, it's 'not reliable':

    <bockquote>An Afghan agency, at one time entrusted to monitor Canadian-captured insurgents in Kandahar, says it has documented nearly 400 cases of torture across the war-ravaged country…The Conservative government has described Colvin's allegation as hearsay, unsubstantiated and "simply not credible." However, the Afghan commission said it uncovered 47 cases of abuse in Kandahar, which was ranked third in terms of the number of abuse claims in the country.

    "Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are common in the majority of law enforcement institutions, and at least 98.5 per cent of interviewed victims have been tortured," said the commission's April 2009 study.

    The independent study, which tracked abuse claims between 2001 and early 2008, shows the vast majority of them — 243 — were levelled in 2006 and 2007. That is the time frame when Colvin was in Afghanistan and warning the federal government about torture.

    That's found here, by the way.

    • He just said that Taliban soldiers haven't been abused. He didn't say anything about innocent Afghani farmers that we captured.

  7. Still spinning this story Wherry…wow, that 23% your Liberals are at must really be getting you into a furry.

    • Yeah, this is all "spinning" Dakota. Nothing importnat here for you to consider. It's not as if there might be a connection between this policy and why we're losing the battle for hearts and minds in Afghanistan (and our soldiers dying as a result).

      Why don't you go back to printing novelty Economic Action Plan cheques and planning your next batch of ten percenters. That's all you Cons are good for.

    • There are some of us who find torture an abomination. Some of us who do walk around with a core morality that does include bottom lines. Which is why I was equally enraged by the enactment of Security Certificate legislation brought in by the Liberal goverment post 9/11. Get it through your thick skull that some of us don't give a sh*t what party banner runs the country, so long as that governence includes certain boundaries that include basic human rights and honourable engagement/treatment of both non-Canadians and citizens. Or minimally, having the balls to come out and explain where and why we are going to lower the bar, rather than cowardly hiding behind denials and obfuscation.

      Does your morality start and stop with keeping the Conservatives in power? They would actually benefit from their core dropping the sycophant schtick, and occasionally expressing displeasure with their conduct (where warranted, of course). For all the rhetoric about terrorists and Taliban, you'd think we'd want to avoid surrendering our moral right to condemn the behaviour of certain groups, even in the absence of actually caring about the fate of some.

      • Or minimally, having the balls to come out and explain where and why we are going to lower the bar, rather than cowardly hiding behind denials and obfuscation.

        Why bother? You people are going to work yourselves into a self-righteous lather anyway.

        But since you asked: it genuinely doesn't bother me that much. I am simply not angered or outraged by the possibility of very bad people being mistreated by slightly less bad people halfway around the world; I save non-indifference for situations where one side has an identifiable moral high ground, and that doesn't cover Taliban or Taliban-sympathizers, ever.

        • But since you asked: it genuinely doesn't bother me that much. I am simply not angered or outraged by the possibility of very bad people being mistreated by slightly less bad people halfway around the world; I save non-indifference for situations where one side has an identifiable moral high ground, and that doesn't cover Taliban or Taliban-sympathizers, ever.

          That's not what should anger or outrage you avr. Every sophisticated analyst of the Afghan situation recognizes that there is no military solution to the war. The only hope we would have for a positive outcome is if Aghans themsleves could be persuaded to turn against the Taliban (the way Iraqi Sunnis were persuaded to turn against Al Qaida). This is the proverbial battle for hearts and minds.

          • @avr: So you know for a fact that all of the prisoners taken by Canadian troops were Taliban/insurgents and you’re OK with their torture. How do you feel about the torture of innocent Afghan farmers?

        • I am simply not angered or outraged by the possibility of very bad people being mistreated by slightly less bad people halfway around the world…

          "…even if such mistreatment helps to sabotage the hearts-and-minds facet of the Canadian contingent's mission".

          Superb. I think we've just gotten a précis of the overall Harperoid view of this issue: it really doesn't matter whether or not we prevail in Afghanistan. What matters is that the mere existence of the mission–as a factoid about which they really care nothing—continues to give them a platform for a cheap faux-patriotism, with all its attendant lapel pins, bumper stickers and mouse pads. Their "indifference" to the need for discipline and tactical sensitivity flows from their view of the Afghan mission as a fundamentally domestic struggle–for the right to claim the moral high ground on the "War on Terror"–rather than an Afghan one. What actually happens to Afghans is of little or no interest to them.

          Thanks for clarifying that, AVR. You've rendered us a huge service: you've admitted something Harper never would, or could.

          • I agree. Exactly right.

        • "You people.."

          Honest question: what people do you think I am?

          • Someone who intensely cares about, is deeply offended by, and will make political decisions based on allegations of torture in Afghanistan.

            I suspect there are fewer of you than you imagine.

          • Well, if you read my various posts around here, I've more or less been saying the same thing: I think many Canadians are rather unconcerned about human rights and moral bottom lines (or more accurately, their universal application). So why do you think I'm deluded about the level of support for my position?

            You are right that I care very deeply about decency and honour. And that I'll always favour a government that a) adheres to certain basic standards in that respect, and b) has the guts to honestly explain when they see the need to bend those standards. To be fair, I rather like that you've come out plainly with regard to b). We may disagree, but it's the basis of a far more honest and productive conversation than we're getting from the cowards running the country.

          • The kind with a conscience.

    • Yeah, Wherry. Your Liberal partisanship is sickening. I mean, honestly: quoting a high-ranking Conservative minister's statements to the media verbatim and without comment? How do you sleep at night?

    • Dakota, generally you are an instigator, and that is a role you seem to enjoy, so be it. However, sometimes you raise persuasive points and issues for consideration, and I actually begin to "get" the Conservatives.
      But these are the kinds of fundamental things that define us as a society, and if we get in the habit of rolling over on our values whenever the government finds it convenient or deems it "necessary", it's only a matter of time before the layered judgements make it permissible to dine on one another.

  8. "It's not as if there might be a connection between this policy and why we're losing the battle for hearts and minds in Afghanistan (and our soldiers dying as a result). "

    Wow, the tin foil hat squad is on the march. What conspiracy theory is next? Maybe it was Harper that killed Michael Jackson!

    • If Intense Debate had an ignore feature, you'd be the primary reason I'd be encouraging Macleans to get rid of completely anonymous sign-ins.

  9. Read over McKay's weasel words carefully:
    "from the moment we took office": to convey Liberals knew and it is just an inherited problem

    “Not a single Taliban soldier": likely true, since they weren't actually Taliban soldiers, but were actually mostly just Afghani farmers

  10. The real problem here is the Conservatives trying to deny there was any problem and trying to trash Richard Colvin's reputation in an attempt to make themselves look better. It's completeley, utterly despicable. You may not pay a political price for it – because, sadly, most Canadians probably don't much care about this, at least not in comparison, to bread-and-butter economic issues – but that doesn't make it any less despicable.

    Colvin has done a courageous thing and given us some real insight into why we're losing the battle for hearts and minds. He should be commended for this. Instead your party is trying to smear him the same way they try to smear anyone they consider an "enemy". Disgusting.

  11. If our soldiers were turning over Afghan detainees – including innocent people – to Afghan government forces who would then proceed to torture them, then how do you expect those Afghan prisoners to feel about Canadian soldiers? How do you expect their family members, friends and neighbours to feel?

    You don't need a conspiracy theory to understand this genius. It's just common sense.

    Now let me blow your mind here and make a non-partisan point. The policy under Paul Martin's Liberal govt was also inadequate.

  12. The Govt. looks as confused about the issue of torture as Iggy himself.
    This won't work out badly for Harper, he will sacrifice Mackay, O'Connor and Hillier after which Canadians will, as was the case with the Somalia nastiness, try to forget it ever happened.

    • Your cynicism is depressing.
      Probably accurate.. but still depressing.

  13. Wow. Good thing we knew for complete certain that everybody we turned over was a Taliban sympathizer then.

    Or does your lack of concern extend to anybody with darker skin than your own?

    • I'm equally indifferent to harms done to violent or hostile individuals of all races, actually. But thanks for the casual accusation of racism; good job.

      • And the innocent ones who we captured? Are you equally as blase? Or is the mere act of being in Afghanistan and not in military uniform sufficient evidence of guilt for you?

  14. So in otherwords, anybody who disagrees with you is secretly lying, because your view is infallible?

    • I think you're reading too much into what I'm saying.

      Don't expect this to be a government-toppling scandal because All Canadians Are Shocked And Repulsed By Torture (And Will Say So), is all.

  15. Spin it that way if you like, sure.

    • What does that mean?

      • Don't worry. It says more about him than you.

        • Thanks. I'm more interested in getting avr to say what he really means. Deep down, he's too smart and honourable to settle for drive-by jabs, I suspect. And if I've managed to leave the impression that my positions are the result of partisan idiocy, then that's something I'd like to know. Because that's surely not my intent.

          • If decency and honour get you labelled a partisan, then perhaps it's the accusation that is partisan.

          • Hear here!

      • Don't worry. It says more about him than you.

  16. The policy of Canadian soldiers turning over detainees to Afghan security forces who proceeded to torture them clearly would HARM our battle for hearts and minds. It makes our guys no better than the Taliban brutes (with the further disadvantage of being foreigners). So the next time a Canadian soldier is killed by an IED (an IED that non-hostile locals might have warned them about) keep in mind how un-bothered you are by the whole thing.

    Now one can argue that the battle for hearts and minds is doomed anyway. That Afghans have never embraced foreign trrops and never will. Fine. Than we should just get out of there because it's hopeless. Until we reach that conclusion though we owe it to our troops to at least fight the most intelligent war we can. This poicy clearly was NOT intelligent (which is why it was subsequently changed). Colvin was giving advice that would help our soldiers and our war effort. And how is he being repaid by the Conservatives?

  17. MacKay found a hair to split, and he’s splitting it for all he’s worth. This is what Ottawa does to people (assuming they weren’t like this before Ottawa – not always the case, alas).

  18. Bravo. Exactly right.

    • Well said Sir Francis. This is indeed where you eventually end up when you make stategy your goal not merely your means… when politics trumps policy at all points…a hollow cynical shell.