By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
Plausible deniability. That’s what underlings – most notably political underlings – provide in order to protect their masters from being caught in an unpleasant backlash if certain unsavory facts become known, facts that could damage a government, for example, or careers – especially political careers.
Is that what’s happening in Ottawa with regard to the scandal over the torture of prisoners Canadian soldiers handed over to the Afghan police and military?
Were the underlings in the Canadian military, the Prime Minister’s Office and the defence department protecting their bosses by denying the veracity of certain events in theatre so that the claim could be made, as it is now, that the charges last week before a parliamentary committee that Afghan prisoners were being tortured were without merit?
Or are our leaders fudging?
The revelations by Richard Colvin, a senior diplomat who was posted to Afghanistan (he now holds a senior and sensitive job at the Canadian embassy in Washington), raises a number of questions.
Senior government officials in Ottawa were told that the Afghan police and military were torturing prisoners handed over to them by the Canadians. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has admitted as much. However, it seems that this information was classified as not being reliable or truthful, to the satisfaction of Canadian officials.
Colvin said he sent a number of reports to his superiors in Ottawa informing them of the situation and asking them to act on it but was ignored. He said that one top government official actually told him to keep the matter quiet.
Another revelation from the discussion on this subject is that Canadian troops took more Afghans into custody than other troops – the British and the Dutch, for example. Why was that?
Colvin said that some of the Afghans arrested by the Canadians and turned over to Afghan authorities and who were allegedly raped and tortured were not even Taliban but regular folks – taxi drivers, labourers, tailors, farmers, etc.
Was this a case of the Canadian troops going overboard in their efforts to contain possible threats to their safety? Was it a matter of them not caring whether or not they had real Taliban in their custody since all Afghans look alike? Could it have been that, in their anger over the killing of so many of their fellow soldiers, this was just payback? Could it have been a sign that the soldiers are just fed up fighting a war that doesn’t make sense to them?
Could it have been just plain racism on the part of some soldiers?
Some military apologists in our local media seem to suggest that our soldiers could do no wrong and that blame for anything that went off the rails in Afghanistan should be laid at the feet of the politicians.
If any soldiers did wrong, just as the politicians and their top officials, they must be held accountable. They cannot be excused because, as some claim, they were just doing their jobs and that we sent them there to protect our freedoms. (We have always found that statement distasteful. It is not our freedoms the Canadian soldiers are fighting for; it is for the freedom of the Afghan people from the Taliban. If the continued safety of the Afghan people – especially the women and girls – is our concern and that is why we continue to be there, just say so. People who continually repeat this falsehood come off as brainless clods just parroting an official government line).
We have long felt that our continuing presence in Afghanistan is wrong, that we should have been out of that conflict a long time ago. We still do.
However, as long as we stay there, we are expected to conduct ourselves properly and anyone, soldier or politician, who fails to do so, should be held to account.
Maybe the soldiers are just following the thinking of their former boss, Gen. Rick Hillier, when he said that they were going into Afghanistan to “kill scum”.