Through all of the maneuvering in the Canadian House of Commons on April 24th, some things just seemed to have slipped by with little notice.
Despite the number of times the government was faced with one incontrovertible fact, the question was never really answered. The head investigator for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Amir Mohammed Ansari, has stated that regardless of the legal permission to inspect Afghanistan National Security Directorate prisons to ensure proper treatment of prisoners, the AIHRC has been denied access. They have no idea what treatment prisoners transfered to Afghanistan from Canadian hands are receiving.
Amir Mohammed Ansari tells the Globe "Legally we have permission to visit prisoners inside the NDS prison, But they don't allow it."Which falls right back in the lap of Minister of National Defence, Gordon O'Connor.
O'Connor has a lot to answer for. First, he misled Parliament by stating that the International Committee of the Red Cross was monitoring prisoners handed to the Afghan authorities and that that body would report to Canada if there were any irregularities. The ICRC refuted that quickly and stated that no such arrangement existed.
Then O'Connor announces that the AIHRC is monitoring prisoners' treatment, has a face-to-face, look-him-in-the-eye meeting with Ansari and we are expected to believe that Ansari did not express his frustration with the problems being encountered with respect to access to detainees.
Why would Ansari tell the Globe and Mail but not tell O'Connor? That simply doesn't make sense.
When all of this came out, Harper was well aware that he was on the ropes. There is a huge credibility problem here and it underlines the gross incompetence of the Minister of National Defence.
Harper tried to deflect questions by suggesting that they were not about to accept unsubstantiated allegations made by Taliban PWs. That's fair enough, and Harper is right that such allegations need to be investigated.
But what about the public statements made by the body with which the government has an agreement to monitor prisoner treatment? No answer to that, and it's hardly an allegation. Since Ansari has no axe to grind with the Harper government, why are the Harperites not accepting Ansari's statements at face value?
The easy answer is, everything Ansari is saying is true and Harper has no good answer. O'Connor has dropped the ball... again.
After being questioned by Jack Layton on prisoner treatment, Harper resorted to a tactic for which he is now famous - making an unsubstantiated accusation intended to smear the opposition. Here's what he said:
... to suggest that the Canadian Forces would deliberately violate the Geneva Convention, and to make that suggestion solely, solely based on the allegations of the Taliban, I think Mr. Speaker is the height of irresponsibility.Wait a minute! Wait a minute! NO. They wouldn't.
This was the first direct reference to the Canadian Forces during the entire exchange. No one prior to that line even hinted that the members of the Canadian Forces were at fault. It was all aimed at O'Connor, Minister of National Defence, and he is NOT the Canadian Forces. He runs DND and little things like prisoner transfer agreements are in his rice bowl.
But Harper's statement says a lot. First is that he's deflecting to the troops. Once the pressure was too great he played his "support the troops" card.
The other important aspect is the fact that he is starting to develop an escape route if this all goes sour. If I was a member of the Canadian Forces right now, I'd be a little worried. Harper's number one concern, above all other concerns, is his own self-promotion and his ambition for power. He will screw anybody to achieve his goals. And this time he made it clear that if he gets pushed into a corner he'll blame it on the troops in the field.
You can expect him to say something along the lines of: The troops were not aware that they were in violation of international law. His inference that the Canadian Forces in the field bear responsibility is the start of a major deflection. Harper and his government will not assume responsibility for mishandling of prisoners, but you can bet someone in the Canadian Forces will wear the can.
Harper also responded to demands that prisoners captured by Canadian Forces be transfered to Canada by stating,
"No. We don't want Taliban prisoners in Canada. We're fighting them in Afghanistan so they won't come here."That from the man who provided reporters with an extremely faulty military history lesson over a year ago in France. What Harper doesn't seem to remember from his high-school history is that in past conflicts, specifically the 2nd World War, German and Italian PWs were sent to Canada.
There is another issue which arises from Harper's statement. Up to now Harper has been telling us that the purpose of the mission to Afghanistan was to meet an international obligation to provide the people of Afghanistan with security and the chance for an improved life. Now, it's to keep the Taliban off Canadian streets? That's a new one.
Harper is desperate. I would advise being well clear of any buses if Harper is anywhere nearby.