Saturday, January 26, 2008

Detainee transfers stopped -- three months ago?

Torture is wrong, plain and simple. There's no place for it at any time either in peace or in war. Yet we know Canada has been an unwitting agent of such when we've turned over detainees captured on the battlefield to the authorities in Afghanistan. Maybe there's some smugness over doing that rather than sending them to the Americans who then ship them off to Gitmo, but it was still not right without some safeguards.

So what does one make of the news this week that Canada dropped the policy some three months ago? According to Stéphane Dion Dion and Michael Ignatieff, they learned about this change in procedure during their trip there two weeks ago; so Harper must have known well before then. This decision was made, it seems, after people got upset over one detainee getting beaten by an electrical cord.

If Rick Hillier, the Chief of Defence Staff, didn't inform Peter Mackay, the Defence Minister there's something wrong -- or if Mackay kept this to himself and didn't tell the Prime Minister, then there's something really wrong.

The least Harper could have done is quietly told the other opposition leaders of such a change; those leaders, of course, would have been bound to stay quiet under their Privy Council oaths. That Dion and Ignatieff had to find out through the backdoor is inexcusable.

Like most Canadians, we don't need to know every detail about ongoing operations. But it seems to me that this is the kind of decision that should have been announced right away. I for one think the Canadian forces were at much greater risk with the insurgents knowing the Canadians were a conduit for Afghan authorities. This is no ordinary war, not by any means; and we need some straight talk as we try to figure out whether we're going to stay the course or go home next year.

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