Saturday, March 06, 2010

Game Changer?

The unequivocal allegations made by Professor Amir Attaran are every bit of the bombshell variety, that could well prove to be a game changer:
"If these documents were released [in full], what they will show is that Canada partnered deliberately with the torturers in Afghanistan for the interrogation of detainees," he said.

"There would be a question of rendition and a question of war crimes on the part of certain Canadian officials. That's what's in these documents, and that's why the government is covering up as hard as it can."

The Afghan detainee story is the lead on both CBC and CTV, with the former doing the heavy journalistic lifting. One can be sure, that this issue will dominate Ottawa next week and beyond. The allegations are explosive, which will embolden the opposition to REJECT the latest stall tactic from the government.

Personally, I'm inclined to believe these allegations, because the seriousness entirely fits with the gov't reaction to date. From the outset, the Conservatives have seemingly over-reacted in trying to obstruct any type of examination. It is the way the gov't has conducted itself that suggests something scandalous is at the heart. If you have nothing to hide, you don't operate in this way. In fact, these charges are completely consistent with a government desperate to hide information. Apologists have argued "nothing to see here", but that argument is undermined by the Conservatives posture. I've always felt there was much more to this story, not because of what we've learned, but because of the lengths the Conservatives have gone to obstruct.

Politically, one has to wonder if this is a game changer? This detainee story once again dominates Parliament, with the added weave being prorogation. The entire narrative centers around a government usurping Parliament's will, operating outside of the law, covering up information, misusing it's power to thwart accountability. It's a potentially fatal concoction, because once a government loses it's moral authority, history shows its days are ultimately numbered.

Rather than this story fading, as the Conservatives had hoped, we now have a situation where the stakes have been raised. While Conservatives took some comfort from the fact that detainee treatment wasn't a top tier concern of Canadians, the issue has morphed into an entirely different set of questions. This story has reached scandal proportions, with all kinds of domestic and international considerations. Attaran is correct to characterize these allegations as much more serious than the Somalia affair, they could well dominate the political landscape for months. Calls for an inquiry will grow louder, more leaks will emerge, the Conservatives have boxed themselves into an untenable position. There is no upside now, political damage a foregone conclusion, the only question, extent.

In the final analysis, these allegations only serve to cement the view that Harper ran from Parliament, to thwart accountability. The government is right back where they left off prior to proroguing, but in reality it is much worse. Canadians will now demand full disclosure and the entire spring session(and beyond) will be hijacked by these charges.

36 comments:

Steve V said...

I note, even the National Post's editorial board is having a hard time defending the Cons. A pretty weasely worded piece, but quite telling that this propaganda rag can't fully rationalize.

kirbycairo said...

I agree that there is a HUGE coverup going on here and Professor Attaran is someone with a great deal of experience in these events. This could be the single biggest story in Canadian political history. But only if the opposition parties get off their duffs pretty quick and actually do something. If they let themselves be drawn into the smokescreen of a retired judge then the story will just die and the Con-men will have gotten away with it again.

Steve V said...

They have to COMPLETELY reject this Judge diversion first thing Monday. With these latest relevations, they will have the momentum to reject, without much political downside.

JimmE said...

Game Changer this may be. To quote from the CBC site:

However, opposition parties said Parliament is entitled to those documents regardless of what Iacobucci decides.

"Parliament is supreme," said Ontario NDP MP Paul Dewar

Parliament is supreme. This sentiment sounds like it came from one Mr Manning no? As Kirbycairo said: "... only if the opposition parties get off their duffs..."

Now, I can't wait to hear THE TRUTH from Tomm...

bigcitylib said...

What are the dates on the docs though? Could implicate Martin Libs. Should still come out in the open, but just sayin...

Steve V said...

I think the final Con move will be to try and draw the previous gov't into the fray. Colvin didn't allude to previous gov't, not sure that dog hunts. Even if some discussion, it is THIS gov't handling that will always be central.

Scott Tribe said...

BCL:

The Liberals have always said they don't mind an inquiry or whatever looking at how prisoner and transfers and such were handled from the start of this mission, and if the current Conservative government has documents that suggested there was culpability amongst officials to do these accusations during the Chretien-Martin administrations, I'm shocked they wouldn't have already released those documents, because that's what this partisan bunch does.

It would suggest to me even if whatever may have shown up under those 2 Liberal administrations was questionable (if anything), it continued and got worse under Harper. Why else would they be kicking and screaming the way they have?

JimBobby said...

To the Lib's credit, they have asked for a full inquiry going back to the start of the Afghan mission. There is very good evidence that the Martin government was given highly credible evidence of detainee abuse at least as early as 2004.

I blogged on this with copies of the info sent to all MP's in 2004.

I think one of the big things we'll learn is that prior to the Kandahar deployment, very few prisoners were taken. Once in Kandahar, Canadians began taking a lot more casualties and a lot more prisoners. While Martin essentially sent us into Kandahar, we didn't actually get there until after Harper took over.

There are plenty of dirty hands here. The dirtiest hands are of those calling the shots since we went to Kandahar.

What almost everyone is neglecting is the testimony given by NGO witnesses to the Afghanistan Committee just prior to the Christmas break. We've been informed that the current detainee agreement is, in fact, not working. IOW, we are still handing over prisoners to be abused. Every hour we delay getting to the truth is another hour of torture for an as yet undisclosed number of detainees.

This goes way beyond scoring political points. It goes to the very heart of human decency.

Some said...

Judging from the lack of Tomm these days it must be serious.

rockfish said...

Prepare for an 'attack the messenger' defence. Unlike the Cadman-Harper tape affair, it appears there is no one for the so-called leader to sue.
Check.

Steve V said...

Normally, I wouldn't recommend it, but take a stroll over to BT land. The silence is DEAFENING. I'm sure they'll come up with something....

DL said...

So, let's say that the stories are true and that the documents actually do exposing very damaging stuff about what the government knew and when they knew it...then what? Does it mean that McKay has to resign? Does it mean that one of the opposition parties moves a non-confidence motion that makes specific reference to the detainee scandal and we have an election?

What is the end game from the opposition perspective (which New Democrats and Liberals share in this instance)?

ottlib said...

The allegations are certainly serious but and they could be the reason for the Conservatives' stubbornness on releasing the documents.

Then again, this government likes to operate like it is a majority government so their reaction and subsequent actions could have been driven by that.

We have seen it before that whenever someone demands something from these guys they give them the middle finger and refuse to do so.

It could be that in this case they took it too far and now they cannot change that reactions without looking weak and stupid, something Stephen Harper has a pathological need not to be perceived as.

I have no doubt that the Bushian's in the current government would not hesitate in handing over prisoners and detainees to be tortured but I have difficulties believing the professional diplomats and soldiers on the ground would obey such an order if it came, or that only one would eventually come forward to expose such orders.

So, until I see some further evidence that these allegations are true I am going to assume that they are not and assume that the Conservatives' stubbornness is just a result of their usual bloody mindedness.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm betting it's over. This is Stephen Harper's Daniel Ellsberg moment.

Harper was desperately keeping these documents under lock and key. Someone of conscience let Attaran see them. I'll wager those documents are already well beyond Harper's control.

Why did Attaran come out now unless it was to serve notice, in the gentlest way, to Frank Iacabucci that he couldn't save Harper from what's in these documents?

This Iacabucci gambit was never more than a political ploy for Harper in any case. Parliament's right to see these documents in no way can be determined by an ex-judge just because Harper says so. No, this is all for the purpose of damage control with Conservative supporters.

I'm guessing that Attaran, like Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, deliberately chose to get this in front of the media rather than go to the opposition parties with his information. I don't think I'd rely too heavily on Mr. 'Enhanced Interrogation' Ignatieff either.

DL said...

I repeat my earlier question. If this is as bad as it looks for the Tories where do we the opposition go with it? Do we demand McKay's resignation? Do we move non-confidence? Do we just huff and puff a lot? What is the next step?

JimmE said...

Steve,
I agree, if the present PM had ANYTHING on previous admins we would have know about it rather than closing down the house. If there wasn't a smoking gun (sorry) they could have chosen 6 opposition MPs as temporary Privy Councilors to vet the documents. The story would have died over the holidays.
DL,
If the ALL the documents are not made available to MP's the potential is an election on how are we governed (ie do we elect MP's or a President). If framed this way, such an election has the potential of 1993 like results for the present PM.

Jeff said...

How did Attaran get a look at the documents?

Jeff said...

Whether there will be an election is a separate matter. I think the options are 1) they hand over the documents, 2) they get taken to a SITTING judge or 3) contempt charges are brought forward (to govt, military and/or civil service people)

The Mound of Sound said...

That's not exactly clear Jeff. He says he 'saw' them through a Freedom of Information application. Attaran hasn't been clear on whether he simply was allowed to read them or whether he has copies. At first I expected something as explosive as the information he claims to be revealed in these documents would have to be leaked. If it was inadvertent, this might be the biggest secrecy screw-up yet for Harper.

I wonder whether Attaran has come forward at this point to make it clear to Iacabucci that this information will come out, sooner or later and he's risking his reputation if he lets Harper use him as his beard.

JimBobby said...

If you combine what Attaran is saying with teh info Travers published last week, it looks like there may be two types of war crimes happening. The handing over of all detainees to the Afghans when they all risk torture is one sort of crime.

The type of crime Attaran suggests has more to do with so-called "high value" captives. These high-value captives are the types that would be targeted by JTF2. JTF2 is a Joint Task Force comprised of Canadians and Americans. You can bet that the Americans will pressure Canada not to release any docs that point fingers at JTF2.

I sincerely hope that what MoS has been saying turns out to be the case: that the doc's are as good as released/leaked. Abuse is still happening right now. The sooner we bring this out in the open, the sooner we can start trying to end the abuse --- instead of continuing to be complicit.

JB

Calgary Junkie said...

Steve: "Normally, I wouldn't recommend it, but take a stroll over to BT land. The silence is DEAFENING. I'm sure they'll come up with something...."

I'm not a blogger, but here's what I posted today:

If Iggy isn’t careful, this whole detainee thing could spin out of his control (if it hasn’t already), and result in some serious hardball being played by Jack, Gilles and PM Harper. How ?

Jack has already insisted that he wants former SCOC justice Frank Iacobucci to deliver his report by March 26th? or so. Which of course won’t happen.

And Chris Hall reported on Tuesday:

“…yesterday a senior official in the PMO told me point blank:

‘This is something we’re prepared to go to the polls on. Fine, this is a matter of confidence, if you want to move a vote, forcing us to release documents that we don’t believe are able to be released publicly … you go ahead’.

link

So it’s well within the realm of possibility that Jack or Gilles brings in a motion, on their first supply day, demanding the release of the detainee documents. Harper says the vote is a matter of confidence.

And the Lib MPs vote … how ???

As Chantal Hebert said on Thursday’s At Issue Panel ...

“Over the past 48 hours, I found, being around Ottawa, and Liberal MPs, that OUR perception of improvement of Mr. Ignatieff is not widely shared at this point in his caucus … and they ARE nervous nellies”

Everybody knows that Iggy is hugely compromised because of his election un-preparedness. Too bad for him. He should have done REAL work in the last three months, instead of all that pretend stuff.

Jeff said...

Calgary Junkie. when someone commits a crime, it's not something you have an election over. It's a matter of the courts now.

Scott Tribe said...

Calgary Junkie:

IF Harper goes or tries to go the polls over this, he will be crucified in the media and by the opposition political parties as trying to once again run when the going gets tough, and worse, trying to get a majority so he can completely shut down investigations of this issue that at best show the government was misleading the public on the need to clamp down on the documents for "national security" and were rather trying to hide them to prevent political damage/embarrassment, or worst-case scenario, they're trying to conceal violations of international law/war crimes.

If the PMO or the Conservative government think the Canadian people are going to stand for that or give him a majority so he can muzzle Canadian independent or Parliamentary investigations, I think they're being very foolish

(And we havent even brought in the angle that the Int'l Criminal Court will investigate this if Canada won't).

ottlib said...

Hmmmm, Calgary Junkie seems to believe that allegations that the government intentionally handed over detainees for torture is bad for Michael Ignatieff.

Politics is a funny business.

If this proves to be true the Conservatives are done, full stop.

Any election that takes place, whether it is this spring or any time afterwards will see their defeat, it would just be a matter of how badly.

Canadians take their role as good global citizens very seriously. Any evidence that a government put that in danger would would finish that government.

Calgary Junkie said...

"IF Harper goes or tries to go the polls over this, he will be crucified in the media and by the opposition political parties ..."

Hey, I don't know how this whole thing is going to play out. I'm just telling you that, according to Chris Hall, Harper is not afraid of going to the voters on this, if the Opps push him too far.

Let me remind you of the time Rona Ambrose was Environment Minister, and you guys were calling for her resignation. Harper stood in the House, and said he would make such a vote a matter of confidence.

Bottom line: Harper will stand up for his Ministers. No way does he throw MacKay under the bus.

So, as DL said: "... where do we the opposition go with it? ..."

It's gonna be interesting all around.

Anyway, I have to go, so can't reply to any more stuff until tomorrow.

Gayle said...

"Bottom line: Harper will stand up for his Ministers."

Bottom line: Harper never ever ever admits to being wrong.

It will be his undoing.

Jerry Prager said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry Prager said...

Considering Iggy's great budget speech I'd say the reason he said there will be NO election will come clear by a respectful visit to the GG after a visit to the Supreme Court (since he didn't support the Contempt motion.)

As for Martin, BigCitylib, the Harpercons are religious zealots and were so eager to join the war on Islam before the Bush League Season was over they tried to show the Americans how real-world they were compared to Libs and make a very big mistake.

ottlib said...

Bottom line: Stephen Harper will do what he thinks is best for Stephen Harper.

If these allegations prove true he will throw his entire caucus under the bus if he believes it will help him.

Ms. Ambrose was accused of incompetence. These allegations, if true, will result in accusations of war crimes.

Anybody who believes Stephen Harper will do anything or sacrifice anybody not to wear that kind of accusations is delusional.

As well, anybody who believes Stephen Harper will send Canadians to the polls while accusations of war crimes hang over his government definitely needs to share whatever it is they are smoking with the rest of us.

Nero Wolfe said...

Stephen Harper would throw his mother under a bus to escape responsibility for anything.

My question is this

How can he escape responsibility.

He is the Prime Minister (Pathetic and incompetent as he is)

Is he going to plead complete ignorance.

Is he going to be like Seargent Schultz in Hogans Heroes

"I know nothing, I see nothing"

Or will he try to blame it all on Peter Mckay, Gordon O'connor,
and the Canadian military.

I can't see how he escapes this one.

Aaron said...

My favorite conservative comment posted at BC Blue on BloggingTories

"The security of our troops trumps your imagined constitution."

When precisely did the Conservative party become an anti=democracy anti-constitution organization?

The Mound of Sound said...

We're a good long way off from the day when Harper considers resigning over something like this.

First of all, somebody has to get their hands on the 'smoking gun' documents described by Attaran. If they're as cut and dried as he contends the next step would be to go to.. OMG ...lifelong Tory fixer, bureaucrat and current RCMP Commish Bill Elliot to request that he launch an investigation into the very same folks who appointed him to that plum job. Eeeeks! Somehow that seems fraught with peril.

Oh well. I think Harper would do whatever it takes to derail an investigation. That's why I suspect his people are right when they say he'd put the thing (as some contrivance) to the electorate.

Can you imagine what a sordid spectacle that would be? Harper placing himself into the hands of the Canadian public! Just imagine how he would wring that out.

Then again, if the documents show what Attaran contends they do, an election might be Harper's best shot at a rearguard action.

Shit, how did it ever get to this?

The Mound of Sound said...

qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent He who lies down with dogs will get up with fleas

JimmE said...

Mound,

An election fought on this issue would be the present PM's last. Listening to two Reform-a-tory pals today I was shocked to hear how angry they are about this issue. Not Liberal voting angry but not showing up to the polls angry. My right wing friends are after all Canadians and the idea that their government is hiding the truth about serious allegations does not sit well with them.

The Mound of Sound said...

But Harper is a shrewd guy with timing foremost in his mind. There are some who think Iacabucci is a stall tactic to stifle the torture issue until after a fall election.

Here's one thing we have to remember. Steve has demonstrated an ability to catch the Libs unaware and unprepared. That's what won him his last minority.

As far as I can tell, today's IgLibs are no more aware and no more prepared than Dion's team was. No policy, no direction, no vision. Travers writes about that today in the Star.

I hope you're right Jimm, I really do. If this accelerates the day of reckoning between moderate Conservatives and ReformaTories, all the better.

Steve V said...

Mound

To be fair the Libs are in way better shape than the past.