Weekend reading - Macleans.ca

Weekend reading


The Canadian Press tries to make sense of Peter MacKay’s admission that the government had concerns about the treatment of Afghan detainees in early 2006. The Star tries to figure out why retired generals would have access to secret documents and learns that all three generals who testified were briefed by government lawyers beforehand. And the National Post profiles Richard Colvin.

The Globe’s Christie Blatchford reports on what she says is a complete, if heavily redacted, set of Richard Colvin’s memos. One potential problem: Blatchford says Colvin sent three memos in 2006. His affidavit describes six.


Weekend reading

  1. I like how one commenter at The Globe describes Blatchford's column as an application for a Senate seat.

    I don't think that's ever going to get old.

  2. This is so outrageously ridiculous.

  3. I'm not sure how a set of documents can be called complete if they are heavily redacted. Consequently, it would be difficult to be entirely confident in any analysis of them that didn't take that into consideration.

    • i love what gets a thumbs down around these parts.

      MCKenzie makes an obvious point – even a whole set of partial documents is still a partial account – and gets a thumbs down. who wants to put their name on that bit of brilliance?

      • HAHAHA!!! And you moron's were wondering if i ever visit Maclean's boards.
        Steyn…ooh damn i meant to sign Whyte.

  4. The Globe's Christie Blatchford reports

    More properly: The Globe's Christie Blatchford opines.

    If she is taking Mr Colvin to task for incomplete disclosure in his redacted emails, wouldn't it have been proper that she divulged that she had received the GG Literary having "beat four other finalists in the English-language non-fiction category to earn $25,000 for her book Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army [in Afghanistan]."

    That to me would put her closing comments in context:

    In condemning with the same brush highly professional Canadian soldiers, and to complain that they were complicit in breaches of the law of armed conflict and knowingly buried his reports, it is Mr. Colvin who has some explaining left to do.

    Undisclosed bias, perhaps?

    • "Condemning with the same brush" — classic Blatchford mixed metaphor. The gumption of someone like Blatchford, who actually wrote snarkily about front-line soldiers in 2005 (? or 2006?), after she'd got out of the line of fire — to then knock Colvin for supposedly knocking the army (which he doesn't seem to me to be doing at all) — well, it's the stuff that GG non-fiction is made of.

      Basically it's just part of her cougar shtick.

      • "who actually wrote snarkily about front-line soldiers in 2005 (? or 2006?)"

        Did she? I always thought she wrote about them in a very maudlin, over-dramatic fashion, as if she thought she were a WW2 USO entertainer whose responsibility it was to boost the morale of our boys and girls (the plainer, less pretty, less threatening ones, that is) in uniform.

        I wouldn't know. I stopped reading her column ages ago. You can only be dead wrong about important things so many times…

        • It was both, as I dimly recall. Many stories sentimentalising the highly professional CF, others that turned around and talked about how certain soldiers — she actually gave their names, I couldn't believe it — would experience incapacitating physical fear (as one does in battle, by all accounts). It was those latter columns that made me think she was just exploiting our soldiers for copy.

      • Colvin seems to knock the military more than once in his testimony, suggesting it has a culture of secrecy and was concealing information from monitors and politicians. He even suggests that DND official sin Ottawa deliberately avoided noting his comments on detainees so that it wouldn't appear in official reports. He's a brave guy and I respect him for coming forward with his concerns, but he also seems frustrated with the culture of .

        • But he criticises "the Canadian Forces leadership" here, and goes out of his way to say that DND has lots of people who are not so secretive. I wouldn't say that's "knocking the army."

          • And even if he is giving the military brass a knock or two, it is a far cry from knocking the soldiers, as Blatchford would have us believe.

          • His comments aren't confined to the leadership in those quotes (although he singles them out). And going out of your way to note that there are exceptions to a rule isn't exactly denying the rule…

          • I haven't read much of Colvin's testimony…from this clip i'd say his criticisms of the military are very pointed indeed, and very courageous. Although how he expected our pitiful parliamentary process[ particularly under this govt ] to get to the bottom of this is baffling to me. I still haven't decided if he's a brave crusader or a hopelessly lost naif.

  5. The reports provided on the CBC site are bizarre – several of the interviews state that detainees denied any mistreatment. How do you write that report and then go before a parliamentary committee and say all Canadian detainees were tortured? Shouldn't the credibility of their denials be roughly on par with the credibility of their claims of torture (of which there is one very explicit claim that is not mentioned outside of the interview synopsis)?

  6. Tom Flanagan demonstrates how trustworthy the Harper government is:

    "…According to Flanagan, attack ads and flyers work if a party can successfully skirt the line between truth and distortion.

    "If an attack is totally fictional, it will backfire if there's not truth in it at all," he says. "Canadians will tolerate attacks based on half-truths, misstatements, partial misstatements and distortions. As long as there is some basis there it becomes a matter of debate. If there's no basis it will backfire."…"


    • Flanagan is contemptible. He may be saying it's just the way things are. But nonetheless absent anything else one must assume he approves. in fact i believe he goes on to say that the libs should stop whining and get busy too. Political scientists like Flanagan should bear more than a little of the blame for our polity becoming a shameless liars den.

      • Flanagan's really the one 'just visiting' and trying to influence the Canadian way of life. His protege is 'just following.'

  7. from Christie B's article….
    "By the kindest reckoning, he [Colvin] would have spent a grand total of a half-day outside the wire in Kandahar.

    Certainly, this does not diminish his time in that hard country – and he was there as a diplomat, not as a soldier or journalist – but it does mean he got nowhere near what's called a “point-of-capture” on a battlefield and had no visceral sense of who it was Canadian troops were detaining."…

    My own comment…

    I used to work with Glyn Berry, Colvin's predecessor, and have direct experience on how the reporting structure for his job works. I found David Mulroney's evidence both believable and compelling.

    It is becoming abundantly clear on the other hand that Colvin's reports lacked credibility, all the more so because he had no first hand knowledge of what was happening. It is not at all surprising therefore that the military and others with a more direct experience raised red flags about what he was saying.

    • Why would these be the only incredible fabrications in his – otherwise seemingly stellar and trustworthy -career?

      • Hmm, and are his accusations the only war crimes in Hillier and Mulroney's otherwise stellar careers?

        • Why would they be the only ones in otherwise stellar careers? Everyone but the government is lying.

    • Which is not to say that Colvin was lying or fabricating, just transmitting facts that didn't support the strong conclusions he offered at the committee?

      Mulroney mentioned that Colvin was re-opening policy debates without offering new information, which may have contributed to the reception of his advice. I found this quote from Colvin suggestive: So I said, “Look, you know, the NDS tortures people, that's what they do. And if we don't want our detainees tortured, we shouldn't give them to the NDS.” I was a bit taken aback to see the CEFCOM note-taker stop writing. She didn't write that down and then she put her pen down.

      Once the decision was made, by Canada and our allies, to transfer detainees to the NDS, it wasn't helpful to repeat general observations about the NDS.

      • 'Once the decision was made, by Canada and our allies, to transfer detainees to the NDS, it wasn't helpful to repeat general observations about the NDS'

        I n other words don't rock the boat, shut up and go file some reports that evryone will later claim not to have seen…can't think why he bothered at all?

    • "I used to work with Glyn Berry, Colvin's predecessor…"


      If you're ready to venture that kind of insider information, you wouldn't do so anonymously.

      • So whats your name???

        • He (or I) are not pretending to know people-in-the-news, and then using that as a cover to malign somebody else. Got it?

      • Foreign Affairs has over 2,000 employees and works closely with other government departments, so its not exactly insider information to have crossed paths with Glynn Berry or to understand how the department is structured.

        • It's still bullsh*t.

  8. I am not in a position to comment on an individual's career, but I can say that, based on my experience and knowledge, some descriptions of his seniority that I have seen in the media are blown out of proportion.

    • "but I can say that, based on my experience and knowledge…"

      And that means what, exactly?

      Spare us, please.

    • Yes, someone going by the handle "Two Yen" is more believable than somebody who is posted at our Embassy in the US and testifies under oath!


  9. Folks are very hopeful to see our soldiers shown to be guilty of war crimes. Says more about themselves than our soldiers.

    • Are you paying attention at all?

    • Big Dave that is complete nonsense. You should be ashamed.

    • Using our soldiers to hide incompetence again, I see.

      This coming from a bunch that, according to TheGreatSaint Hillier, didn't want TV images of the coffins of soldiers killed on the battlefield.

      Do you guys have no shame?

    • Hey Big Dave,
      Your comment belies ignorance regarding the issue.
      You fail to understand the detainee debacle is not about the troops.
      It is about the policymakers who have placed them in untenable positions.
      The calls for a full accounting of the Harper government's actions have arisen precisely because Canadians do not wish to see our brave Afghan forces placed in legal jeopardy because they have been ordered to follow an operationally questionable status-quo that was known to be broken. Only a small mind could possible believe that any sane Canadian is 'hoping' to see our guys and gals get accused of war crimes. Following directives from DND and Foreign Affairs, our people in Afghanistan deserve to be provided with the policy framework possible to facilitate their success on the ground. When it becomes known that a policy is weak, flawed, and/or illegal – it is up to Ottawa to rectify the situation without delay. And that sir, is what this detainee fiasco is all about: unacceptable delays in policy adjustment at the highest levels of our government.

    • That B*S* response worked wonders for the Bush-Cheney vaudeville show; now that we've seen the movie and like most of the world are still paying for the ticket, I dare say the 'create a faux goat' tactic may not hit its mark a second time around… But keep copying the Republican playbook. Hopefully it will lead your so-called leader to an equally deserving conclusion.

  10. Good goddam, but some Canucks are stupid. No Dave, it's not the soldiers as Blahferd believes, it's their political masters who tell them what to do. And that's where the problem lies. Good Goddamm, but that is pointedly obvious isn't it?

  11. Mr. Colvin's 2006 memoranda are more concerned with bookeeping than with any actual concerns that prisoners had actually been abused, much less tortured. If there are other memoranda that are more on point it will be interesting to see them, but the ones disclosed so far wouldn't raise any issues that weren't already being dealt with by others who actually had responsibility for them.
    His later ones appear to be motivated at least in part out of dudgeon at being told to stop sending blanket e-mails to dozens of people. Which seems to be good advice. If you want people to actually do something, you send a request to the one or two people who might have responsiblity, not dozens.

    • Sigh…more conjecture…how can you possibly know what motivated him? As to it being good advise…it might as easliy be seen as suppression. If i wanted to raise some wind and i thought i was being ignored/suppressed i'd try and contact as many individuals as i could.

  12. Oops…Colvin revealed as…

  13. Hi Fat Arse
    Your comment misses the point I am making, which is that there is an issue here which YOU bring up which IS very real, but there is also the reaction and frame of mind that knee-jerk people from both sides are bringing, hoping for a specific conclusion before facts exist to back them up.
    I think your position is quite reasonable, though I disagree with it.
    I am quite ready to say that I don't know who is correct or to be believed here- I can't imagine a career diplomat like Colvin being a liar or villain, in fact I'm much more inclined to believe that he's trying to do the right thing. That in itself doesn't mean he's correct. (As an aside, this stuff that "its not about the soldiers its about the leadership" seems like hypocritical tripe though. If Colvin is claiming that our detainee transfer policy is flawed, then sure. But if he is claiming that the overwhelming majority of our detainees are innocent, then that surely is an accusation against the men in the field.)

    My point is, I disagree with your conclusion but I think you're coming from a reasonable place.

    I think that the majority of commenters are coming from a respectful place, and I too would like the truth of the matter and wish the Conservatives would be dealing with the issue in a more straightforward manner.But to answer a previous poster, I have been paying attention, to the columnists and commenters over the past weeks. And I think one would have to be blind not to see that there are those gleefully hoping to find military misdeeds. And anyone living in Canada that has been paying attention to their neighbours knows that there IS a sadly significant segment of our population that views our soldiers as villains, as morally equivalent to their enemies, and hopes for them to be accused of war crimes.
    If anyone wonders if I'm accusing them, I can't answer. They have to ask themselves how they react to accusations or testimony against our Forces.
    And folks who throw out words like "stupid" and "ignorant" based on my short post ALSO say more about the frame of mind they bring to the issue.

    • How you can actually see that commenters are "gleefully hoping" to find military misdeeds is nothing but conjecture, and therefore worthless, other than as opinion. Similarly if i were to assert that some commenters were gleefully hoping to see Colvi evealed as a taliban dupe…mere conjecture.
      Anyhow asseting "this" is not quite what you asseted above.
      "folks are very hopeful to see our soldiers shown to be guilty of war crimes. Says more about themselves than our soldiers"

  14. There is no legal reason to redact the word "torture". No one, including Colvin himself, has suggested that he explicitly mentioned the threat of torture in any of the 2006 memos.

    Consequently, I find myself in rare agreement with Blatchford: Mr. Colvin has some splainin' to do.

  15. And another thing, so what if the documents were shown to two retired generals?

    They have already seen them!

    It's obviously very hard to sustain a claim of national security confidentiality against people who have previously seen the information in question. There is absolutely nothing nefarious about allowing the generals to see documents not made available to Parliamentarians, when they have already seen the documents.

    The Parliamentarians may complain, but if they want to change the law, well, they know who to go to to make those changes, don't they?

    • That's convenient…for the govt that is. And…i thought the generals had not seen Colvin's reports in particular…or was i not paying close enough attention?

      • The Department of Justice regularly objects to the release of information that might harm national security. There has never been a judgement which has suggested that they have done so to prevent "embarrassment", or for reasons of government "convenience".

        In this case since I suspect that the documents in question contain no "smoking gun", the inability to release them actually helps Colvin, not the government. So no, it's not "convenient " for the government.

        • 'In this case since I suspect that the documents in question contain no "smoking gun", the inability to release them actually helps Colvin, not the government. So no, it's not "convenient " for the government"

          But that would be the action of a responsible and consistent govt – are you telling me this govt wouldn't find a way to release any documents that vindicate them…in a heart beat!

  16. For all those commentators who still maintain that Colvin's reports about torture and abuse of detainees are lacking credibility, there's a simple test to determine if you are correct. It's this: Since Colvin made his claims about detainees being tortured has corroborating evidence from multiple sources appeared? The answer to this question is a resounding yes.
    And to anyone who continues to maintain Colvin's lack of credibility let me ask you this question: what kind of evidence is required for National Security Certificates? Is CSIS required to provide only 'concrete' evidence or are they permitted to use hearsay, third hand accounts or even rumours and speculation?