The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.
It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy. Osama bin Laden may be a primitive “figurehead” — or even dead, for all we know — but whoever put those All-American jet planes loaded with All-American fuel into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did it with chilling precision and accuracy. The second one was a dead-on bullseye. Straight into the middle of the skyscraper.
Nothing — even George Bush’s $350 billion “Star Wars” missile defense system — could have prevented Tuesday’s attack, and it cost next to nothing to pull off. Fewer than 20 unarmed Suicide soldiers from some apparently primitive country somewhere on the other side of the world took out the World Trade Center and half the Pentagon with three quick and costless strikes on one day. The efficiency of it was terrifying.
We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for WAR seem to know who did it or where to look for them.
This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed — for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won’t hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.
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.
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.
James Fallows, the Atlantic writer who is a thoughtful observer of US foreign affairs and an admirer of President Obama, says the president’s newly announced war strategy rests on two “judgment calls.”
1) Whether Al Qaeda/related terrorist groups really do depend so heavily on a specific geographic base in Afghanistan that, if the U.S. can disrupt them there, we won’t have to apply similar efforts later on in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, or anyplace else.
2) Whether a limited increase in U.S. troops, for a limited amount of time, really can make a decisive difference — in the long-term stability of the Afghan regime, in the competence of the police and military, in the resistance to a Taliban or terrorist return, and so on, after allowing for any friction or hostility created by the additional presence of U.S. troops.
Fallows is skeptical:
I am no expert on either point.* But I know these things: for Obama’s strategy to pan out, the answer on both calls had better turn out to be Yes. And my observation of the world over the years makes me assume, fear, and expect that the answer to #2 is going to be No. That is what I meant just after the speech in saying, “I hope he’s right.” The alternatives are grim.
*Fallows is being characteristically modest. He is a former presidential speechwriter, a seasoned observer of foreign policy, and the author, among many other things, of Blind into Baghdad, a devastating account of the US invasion of Iraq. If he is skeptical of Obama’s Afghan strategy, it’s chilling news for Canadian policy-makers.
Read the full post, Afghanistan for Beginners.
Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin told the Commons Committee on Afghan Detainees today that virtually all the prisoners Canada turned over to Afghan security forces in 2006 and 2007 were tortured. Colvin says senior Canadian military and civilian ignored his warnings about the abuse, and Red Cross officials who tried to intervene could not get their phone calls returned for three months. Here is:
- The Canadian Press account of Colvin’s testimony.
- A transcript of his opening statement.
- Video of Bob Rae questioning Peter MacKay on the allegations in Question Period.
- Stories from CBC, the Toronto Sun, the Toronto Star, and the Globe and Mail.
If anyone has video of Colvin’s actual testimony, please send me the link.
The Globe and Mail quotes military and foreign affairs sources as saying Canadian diplomats in Afghanistan in 2007 were ordered to hold back information in their reports to Ottawa about the handling of the prisoners because the explosive human-rights controversy was seen as ‘detracting from the narrative’ Harper government wanted to promote.
Who said this?
There is no piece of land in Afghanistan that has not been occupied by one of our soldiers at some time or another. Nevertheless much of the territory stays in the hands of the terrorists. We control the provincial centers, but we cannot maintain political control over the territory we seize.
Our soldiers are not to blame. They’ve fought incredibly bravely in adverse conditions. But to occupy towns and villages temporarily has little value in such a vast land where the insurgents can just disappear into the hills…
About 99 percent of the battles and skirmishes that we fought in Afghanistan were won by our side. The problem is that the next morning there is the same situation as if there had been no battle. The terrorists are again in the village where they were — or we thought they were — destroyed a day or so before.
Are these the words of some Canadian or American soldier-turned-dissident? Or perhaps a US General pushing President Barack Obama for more troops?
Nope. This was Sergei Akhromeyev, commander of the Soviet armed forces, speaking to the Soviet Politburo on Nov. 13, 1986. Two years later, the Soviet Union abandoned Afghanistan after nine futile years. US and Canadian troops, who have been there almost as long, will inevitably do the same. The only question is when.
Victor Sebestyen, author of “Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire,” recalls the remarks in today’s edition of the New York Times. He points out that humiliation in Afghanistan began the rapid unravelling of the Soviet dictatorship. The US, too, is likely to pay a lasting price in lost prestige and power as a result of the humiliation that awaits it in withdrawing from Afghanistan.
Contrarian is one who believes the US and Canada went into Afghanistan for good reasons: in hot pursuit of those who planned and executed the 9/11 attacks. The US relied too heavily on air power, thereby forfeiting any chance of an early success in that narrow goal. Then the Bush administration stupidly allowed itself to get distracted in the senseless invasion of Iraq.
Our current effort to occupy Afghanistan is doomed.
Hats off to Murray Brewster of Canadian Press for his chilling story on the Harper Government’s determined campaign to prevent a Military Police Complaints Commission inquiry from getting to the bottom of allegations that Canadian troops in Afghanistan abetted torture.
The commission is investigating complaints by Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association that Canadian troops knowingly handed over prisoners to torture in Afghan prisons. But federal lawyers invoked a little known national security clause in the Canada Evidence Act to bar a key government witness from testifying. Their fig leaf? They claimed Richard Colvin, who was political director at a Canadian-run base when troops began handing over prisoners, had no relevant testimony to offer.
Colvin’s lawyer said he has both personal knowledge and documents relating “to the risk of torture resulting from the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities.” Lead commission counsel Freya Kristjanson said Colvin has “highly relative, credible and important evidence to provide on the issues.”
Colvin was the only government witness who agreed to speak with commission lawyers, but the Justice Department invoked the gag order before he could do so. They also invoked a classic Catch 22, saying other witnesses might be allowed to testify if the commission could show they have relevant evidence, something commission lawyers will find hard to do since the witnesses, including a retired general, refuse to speak with them.
In the Commons Wednesday, Defense Minister and Central Nova MP Peter MacKay pretended there is no cover-up. He noted that the commission had praised the government for its openness. Kristjanson said MacKay was referring to comments she made last spring in reaction to the promised disclosure by federal lawyers, but they stopped co-operating immediately after she praised them.