The pivotal paperwork (II)


The most recent word, received just now from an official at National Defence, is that a response to the question raised yesterday is still being sought.

To recap, the 2006 field report cited by General Walter Natynczyk this week read, in part, “We then photographed the individual prior to handing him over, to ensure that if the ANP did assault him, as has happened in the past, we would have a visual record of his condition.”

When the same field report was released to the BCCLA and Amnesty International in Nov. 2007, that sentence read, “We then photographed the individual prior to handing him over [REDACTED].”


The pivotal paperwork (II)

  1. I think it would be interesting to see the contents of the redacted portions of all of these documents. Some can be guessed at and commented on even without seeing the originals in their complete form. I am sure that almost none of what was redacted has anything to do with national security or maintaining the confidentiality of information given by our allies. Instead, the deletions have everything to do with obstruction of Parliament by the Harper Conservative government and their lame attempt to cover up their own terminal incompetence.

    • Agreed, in principle. However, the matter isn't really about their competence, but rather that government ministers and their political agents have lied to the House repeatedly and are withholding evidence of those transgressions in violation of a vote of the House. It's not about the wisdom, competence success or failure of their policies … it's about the rule of law. If Harper's Team thinks they are above Parliamentary votes, then they believe they are outside of the law. There's no separation of Powers here. Ministers — including the PM — are MPs in the House, bound by its will. If they continue to ignore this fact, they loose democratic legitimacy and should be treated as common criminals.

      • No, it's not really about their competence. But it's nice icing on the cake.

        After all, this kerfuffle is one more thing to add on to the list of mishandled portfolios: CNSC and Linda Keen, Listeriosis and "Death By a Thousand Cold Cuts", Sexy Health Care, Misplaced Binders, Missing Binders, Environmental policies that make you wonder if there really is an environment anymore, continuing to cut government revenues when we know there's a recession coming, putting political logos on government infrastructure cheques, missing the boat on H1N1, the Victor/Victoria routine that nicely mirrors the action on Senate Reform, etc…I could go on.

        I won't bother arguing that none of this would have happened if some other party had been in power…but a list of mistakes that long isn't a resume I'd be proud of, if I were an MP.

      • "It's not about the wisdom, competence success or failure of their policies … "

        If their policy was to be wilfully ignorant of the torture of Afghan detainees handed over to the Afghan authorities by the Canadian military, it is in fact a question of policy. If the military and civilian hierarchy had the information in their possession but did not recognize the importance of it or simply ignored its existence, which seems to be the case with the recent Natynczyk bombshell, it is also a question of competence. Knowing that torture was going on and not doing anything about it for more than a year and a half could be classed as bad policy, incompetence or both.

        I agree that the Harper Conservative government is in comtempt of Parliament, but then they have always wanted to wreck our federal institutions, because the heritors of the Reform Party are fundamentally losers who don't see any advantage in defending a system which they think has kept them out of power until very recently. But fundamentally this is about competence in government and bad policy, not Parliamentary procedure.

    • One thing that is missing from this debate is an understanding of how these things get censored. Entry level foreign service officers are given a pile of documents a foot high. They are then given the Govt of Canada guidelines on what is considered "secret". They then go at it. No Ministers. No political staffers. No smoky back rooms or midnight conspirators. Just low level 'crats with a black pen and marginal understanding of what is or isn't sensitive.

      • That's partly correct. But there's another factor at play in the process: these low level bureaucrats have bosses. Bosses who know that their careers depend on their ability to "yield the black pen" to save the government from public embarrassment. Not by doing anything illegal, but by interpreting the law more or less broadly depending on the case at hand.

        How much do their careers depend on this? It depends on who is forming the government. Some governments are more… pointedly persuasive than others.

        • That's just not how it works NNCS. Scott has it right.

          Besides, it goes through DoJ for a second review, and they don't give a rats behind about who is on the hook at DND.

          Still, there is a bureacratic tendency to over-vet. Better safe than sorry is the motto.

          • Fine, I get that there is a bureaucratic tendency to over-vet. However, there was absolutely nothing that compromised national security, privacy of individuals or international agreements in these redacted words. Unless you want to consider an agreement with the Afghans an international agreement, but since the Afghans had broken the agreement already (by not living up to their end) I fail to see how saying so changes anything.

            But let us remember this document was used as evidence in a trial. What was the trial about? Whether Canadian Forces were being ordered to hand detainees over to persons likely to torture them. Redacting that particular portion of the text completely changed the outcome of the trial, in my view. I would like to know whether the individual charged with redacting these documents knew what the documents were to be used for. Did that individual's boss know? Because it seems to me that's obstruction of justice if they did.

          • Not really, Jenn.

            The evidence came out in ample detail in the evidence of Gen. Deschamps and Col. Noonan:


            Further, the Federal Court would have had the opportunity to review any Government redactions. That ensures fairness.

            Finally, you should know that the "trial" was determined on an issue of law, not facts: the issue became whether or not the Charter applied on the ground in Afghanistan. The Federal Court decided that it did not. The FCA agreed.

            The evidence you cite had no real bearing on that issue of law.

          • Still, I'm with you to the extent that I can't think of a justification to redact that portion. I can't see how it would have damaged the relationship with Afghanistan.

            And I can't see how it would have been a good idea for any other reason; if you think there was a "cover-up", for example.

            Even if you were of the mistaken belief that it is a good idea to try to hide the facts, by the time this judicial review occurred they had the 'new arrangement with Afghanistan' in place, with added monitoring, so this would have been seen as 'old news'.

            This ANP revelation is much more significant in the context of MacKay's statements to the contrary than it ever would have been in the judicial review. And As I have said, the person vetting this document would have had to have been prescient to know what Minister MacKay was going to say three years later.

          • This is a good discussion. I took so long because I had to do homework! Thanks for giving me the hints I needed to find the decision(s) in question.

            You are quite right, sadly, that the case hinged only upon the Charter. And while I disagree with the judge's reasoning starting at para. 252 to approximately 298 or 310, I haven't read the underlying cases, and am not a lawyer. Particularly, I am not a justice of the Supreme Court, which would be the only opinion that matters. And even I am not sure that my disagreement would have changed the outcome of the decision.

            One thing, though. You stated the Federal Court had the opportunity to review the redactions. I'm not so sure about that (not that I think it would have mattered to the outcome after all).

  2. Oh, well then – as long as nothing damning was redacted.

    See, we should totally trust the Conservative Party. They would never lie to us.

  3. No they never would. Harper's commitment to democracy, truth, the rule of law, the supremacy of parliament is clearly demonstrated in his own writings available at this link:
    http://splatto.net/blog/post/2009/09/12/Our-Benig… Anytime now his government will spread democracy and freedom accross the land.

    • couldn't get the link to work

  4. But I woudnt hold my breath

  5. Quite frankly the liberal strategy on this is nothing short of brilliant. Harper cant win. If the government produces the documents it will no doubt provide final proof for what everyone already knows: that they are a bunch oc bumbling obstructionist bent on deception. If they refuse to comply with the will of parliament they are the enemies of democracy opposing the legitimate representatives of the people. If this is what Ignatieff and Donolo can do, Harpers happy days really are over (finally).

      • Yes, but zombies feast on brains.

        • Precious few of those over on the government side of Parliament.

          • brains or zombies?

  6. The redacted portion is something you really would not want to be public. If the Afghans know about the reason for the photographs, and they wish to brutalize detainees, then they will use methods that are not visible with photographs, rendering them useless.

    • Twisting yourself into a pretzel to try to spin on behalf of the government is only going to give you back problems.

  7. Deleted…you're joking Macleans! What are you now a nanny? Better not say the S word. Or is a damn computer?

  8. It's a rather shameful abandonment of support by the Conservatives to have failed to act on their soldiers reports of torture in the field and not only refuse to revise the policy sooner when good suggestions were made but also deny anything needed to be done until the Red Cross told them otherwise.

    But then, I guess the soldiers aren't credible sources of information on such things as Peter MacKay noted earlier this week (http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/12/09/the-commons-wi… Battlefield's are stressfull and all that. Especially when you've time to stop and take photographs….

  9. "… as has happened in the past, we would have a visual record of his condition.”

    So is this statement simply referring to the general state of play in Afghanistan? Or is it confirming – at least anecdotally – that their have been previous problems with detainees?

  10. Well, we now know *why* that portion was redacted. It's all too easy to misquote.

    " . . . if the ANP did assault him . . . " Drop the first word (as most unscrupulous politicians might do) and you've practically got a confession of guilt.

    And that "as has happened in the past" also would have raised eyebrows. When in the past? And where?

    What we've got here is a passage that should have explained that the photograph was taken for comparison with the detainee's condition upon release. The judgement of the redactor then would be that the passage was too prone to be misunderstood.

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