Colvin redux

The clarity and detail of the rebuttal Richard Colvin filed with the House of Commons this morning stand in stark contrast to the government’s flimsy response.

With devastating thoroughness, Colvin documented factual errors and faulty logic underlying the testimony of government witnesses who tried to explain away Ottawa’s studied indifference to the likely torture of prisoners our soldiers handed over to Afghan authorities.

Download his statement—it’s well worth the read—or check out Kady O’Malley’s summary and the Toronto Star’s account.

In response, the best Dan Dugas, spokesman for Defense Minister Peter MacKay, could offer was another jingoistic attempt to portray criticism of government policy as an attack on Canadian soldiers, and the lame assertion that the impugned government witnesses had already refuted Colvin’s claims.

That’s “refute,” as in “to prove false,” but the only refuting in evidence was by Colvin of the parade of government and military apologists who had attempted to discredit his testimony. By times, the rebuttal bordered on embarrassing, as when Colvin pointed out that his critics don’t seem to know the difference between the Taliban and al-Qa’ida:

Witnesses who testified that ‘the Taliban are trained to claim torture’ seem to be confusing Taliban insurgents (poorly educated Pashtuns, usually illiterate, with a parochial, Afghanistan-centred agenda) with al-Qa’ida terrorists (international jihadists, often highly educated). There is to our knowledge no Taliban equivalent of the al-Qa’ida ‘Manchester manual,’ which was aimed at a sophisticated, literate audience.

Colvin’s credibility, and the reason Canadians overwhelmingly believe him and not MacKay, arises from his palpable reluctance as a whistleblower. He came forward only under subpoena or “invitation” tantamount to subpoena.

[I]t was not the job of DFAIT officials in Afghanistan to push our concerns on ministers, unless they explicitly invited them, which none ever did. Doing so would have invited a reprimand from our superiors. The chain of command for DFAIT officers was back to DFAIT officials at HQ. Circumventing that chain of command would have been evidence of ‘going rogue.’ I was always very correct in my relations with the political level. I volunteered views to fellow bureaucrats, such as Clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch and DFAIT Associate Deputy Minister David Mulroney. But to have done so with ministers would have been inappropriate.

Anyone who has ever witnessed the sometimes awkward interface between the civil service and their political masters knows that this is precisely correct.