A question e-mailed to the Prime Minister’s Office this week: “In light of recent reports and revelations, does the government of Canada believe that American authorities did, in the years following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, engage in the torture and mistreatment of detainees and prisoners?”
The answer received just now by phone from the Prime Minister’s press secretary: “No.”
A hasty conversation followed, my microcassette recorder cutting out for a few seconds in the middle. A rough transcript of that chat after the jump.
Aaron Wherry: The answer is no or no comment?
Kory Teneycke: The answer is no.
Wherry: The reason I asked and I put this to public safety and foreign affairs and kind of got the dodge, but a year and a half ago Bernier had that incident with the manual and we apologized and said we didn’t want to embarrass the United States et cetera, et cetera, Van Loan at committee a couple of weeks ago said western democracies don’t torture. So we obviously commented on this in the past.
Teneycke: Right. Well, but, I think what you’re dealing with though is a shifting definition being debated in the U.S. as to what constitutes torture and that’s a debate that is largely a U.S. domestic debate…
(tape cuts out)
Wherry: … In the process of that issue coming, it became an issue of whether or not we actually believed they participated in torture.
Teneycke: If the question is, do we believe that the United States has a policy of torturing prisoners and detainees, obviously the answer is no … but I don’t think we’re really looking to wade into a domestic debate in the United States around this issue.
Wherry: But we have transferred prisoners to them, no?
Teneycke: We transfer prisoners to the United States and them to us fairly routinely.
Wherry: So it’s not entirely a domestic debate?
Teneycke: Well obviously we wouldn’t transfer… there are lots of complications around transferring prisoners to states where there is a high likelihood of torture. But the United States is a world leader on human rights and has one of the most well-developed justice systems in the entire world, so you know, we’re not talking about a rogue state here.
Wherry: No, but we are talking about a state that… I mean, let’s be honest, the reports and the revelations and the memos that have come out in the past two weeks, make it pretty clear what has happened.
Teneycke: But clearly the Canadian government does not believe that the United States has a policy of torturing prisoners and we’ll continue to work cooperatively with the U.S. government on a range of issues. But we’re not dealing with a rogue state or a state that detainees people without trial or has a history of systematic human rights abuses. This is not the case with the United States of America.