Thursday, November 19, 2009

Typical Institutional Behaviour

As I travel further into retirement and have more time to devote to newspaper reading, it occurs to me that I have now lived long enough to see through the majority of attempts by the media and by government to manipulate the public. The latest case in point which I would like to address should be obvious even to the most casual thinker; I refer to the ongoing testimony of Richard Colvin, who was Canada’s second-highest diplomat stationed in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, to a House of Commons committee.

According to Colvin, a whistle-blower in the noblest sense of the word, he tried to alert the Canadian government repeatedly to the fact that Afghans turned over by the Canadian military to Afghan authorities were regularly tortured, despite the fact that most of them had no ties to terrorism, being simple villagers, taxi-drivers, etc., innocent victims who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Indeed, it reached such a point that he was told by his ‘bosses’ in Ottawa to no longer put in writing his allegations.

The Conservative Government’s stance for several years has been that it had no knowledge of such activity, despite the urgent reports sent by Colvin to senior civil servants in the Prime Minister’s Office, General Hillier, who was the Commander of the troops at the time, and various politicians. In trying to handle the damage being done by Colvin’s testimony, the Conservative Government members on the committee are engaging in a classic ‘shoot the messenger’ strategy, trying to impugn him by saying that since he never personally witnessed torture, such evidence he is presenting would not stand up in a court of law. As well, Conservative (former NDPer) Cheryl Gallant is lamenting that his talk of abuse of prisoners is undermining public support for the Afghan mission, a mission that I think very few Canadians now support given the terrible toll of young lives lost to support a corrupt regime, in essence sacrificing their lives for absolutely nothing.

Nonetheless, her statement, and the attitude of the Conservatives on the committee serve only to try to divert thinking Canadians from forcing them to address the real issues here. If it is true that, as claimed, former Defense Minister Gordon O’Connor, and current Defense Minister Peter Mackay knew nothing about these allegations of abuse, what does that say about their competence as ministers? Indeed, can’t the case be cogently argued that Mackay has a moral duty to resign since, if he is telling the truth and did not receive any reports, he is incompetent to head the Ministry of Defense?

Of course, such an act of integrity will never happen, politicians knowing that if they attack the messenger vigorously enough, and let enough time elapse, the public will forget.

With principles so sorely lacking in public life, is it any wonder that only a minority of Canadians vote in federal, provincial, and municipal elections?

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