Colvin’s torture testimony – #2

Richard Colvin’s testimony will test the mettle of Canada’s national reporters. Will they treat this as an issue that goes to the nation’s soul, or as just another he-said, she-said episode in the partisan gamesmanship of Parliament Hill?

So far, Paul Wells of Maclean’s is passing the test with flying colors. Within hours, Wells refuted one element of the “bucket defence” Conservative MPs put up against Colvin’s testimony.

Conservative MPs are arguing that these prisoners were, after all, trained to tell tall tales about horrible treatment to attract sympathy. This is a standard argument made by torture apologists. It is probably true sometimes.

Wells says the same argument was used to deflect the International Committee of the Red Cross report on torture at the Guantanamo prison in Cuba.

And then an interesting thing happened. The U.S. Department of Justice released detailed memos written by and for the Guantanamo prisoners’ American captors which closely matched the prisoners’ own accounts. (A summary of the techniques for which U.S. officials sought a legal fig leaf is here; Danner’s authoritative account of the ICRC report is here.)

Incidentally, Well’s footnoted definition of a “bucket defence” is worth noting:

A bucket defence is a scattershot defence against an allegation of wrongdoing. The individual parts of the defence may have no relation to one another and may even be mutually contradictory. So, say I borrow a bucket from you and return it with a hole in the bottom. You get angry. I respond: (a) There is no hole; (b) It was there when you loaned the bucket to me; (c) I didn’t put the hole there, Jimmy did; (d) I put the hole there by accident. So the Conservatives are arguing that the prisoners’ testimony is a lie; that Colvin is reporting hearsay; that he buried his reports so nobody could have found them; that prisons are dangerous places everywhere; that Colvin is an unreliable fellow. The goal of a bucket defence is not to suggest a single, coherent, rebuttal of a claim. It is to throw up such a fog of confusion and contradiction that the entire process is discredited or spectators are discouraged from continuing to pay attention.

This is exactly the approach taken by Conservative MP Laurie Hawn CTV Power Play panel.