Thursday, November 19, 2009

Shooting Our Reputation to Hell

The Conservatives have rejected calls for a public inquiry into the allegations of Afghan detainee torture presented by a former senior diplomat.

Richard Colvin, a former senior diplomat with Canada's Afghan mission, told a House of Commons committee on the Afghan mission that Canada was aware of torture being used against detainees who were transferred to Canadian custody to Afghan prisons.

Colvin said that between 2006 and 2007 Canada was warned by the Afghan intelligence service that detainees would be tortured, yet handed them to Afghan prisons anyway. Torture techniques included sleep deprivation, electrical shocks, and rape, he said. He also told committee members that most of the detainees were not Taliban, but rather individuals who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time- only a couple are thought to be foot soldiers.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has responded by saying that there will be no public inquiry into the allegations, which the government feels lack credibility. He said that Canadians are being asked to accept the word of prisoners "who throw acid in the face of schoolgirls."

Except that they're not. We're being asked to think about testimony that has been given by a senior diplomat, a man who has everything to lose and nothing to gain by coming forward. While I fully agree that we should not instantly jump to assumptions about what happened or why, we do need to be prepared to seriously investigate the allegations of torture. Unless the Canadian government investigates this issue and is able to honestly clear its name, our reputation will be as sullied as that of the United States under the Bush administration.

How can we even think to criticize countries like China for their human rights abuses when we harbour a dark stain, whether or not it is true, that removes any and all credibility behind our moral authority?

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