Sunday, January 20, 2008

"How High Should I Jump?" Caving to Political Pressure

While the right managed to fabricate an international incident for Dion last week, let's talk about a real one shall we?

As I'm sure you know a manual and training course for diplomats on how to recognise torture victims was released a couple of days ago. It was produced by Foreign Affairs.

The document, and the accompanying course, was a result of a recommendation by the Maher Arar inquiry that the government come up with protocols on how to deal with suspected torture cases abroad.

A good move I thought and long over-due. As we now know the document contained a list of countries that Canada believes engages in torture and the US and Israel were of course on that list.

Not surprisingly the US was not happy with that revelation. In fact Ambassador Wilkins looked visibly angry on QP last week and said:

U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins told CTV television Thursday that it was "offensive" his country was on any such torture list and it should be removed.

In Haaretz:

"We find it to be offensive for us to be on the same list with countries like Iran and China. Quite frankly it's absurd," U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins told The Associated Press. "For us to be on a list like that is just ridiculous." He said the U.S. does not authorize or condone torture. "We think it should be removed and we've made that request. We have voiced our opinion very forcefully," Wilkins said.

Israel was none too happy either:

"If Israel is included in the list in question, the ambassador of Israel would expect its removal," said Israeli embassy spokesman Michael Mendel.

Well being the strong principled government that Harper professes to be, what do you suppose they did? I mean this is a government that is tough and sticks to it's guns right? Wrong. They rolled over faster than a puppy looking for a belly rub.

Bernier, our fumbling, inexperienced Foreign Affairs Minister basically asked the two countries how high he should jump.

"I regret the embarrassment caused by the public disclosure of the manual used in the department's torture awareness training," he said in a statement released early Saturday.
"It contains a list that wrongly includes some of our closest allies.
"I have directed that the manual be reviewed and rewritten. The manual is neither a policy document nor a statement of policy. As such, it does not convey the Government's views or positions."

I guess in the same way that Harper believed he knew more about nuclear reactors than the safety commissioner, he and Bernier must feel they know more about torture and where it exists than the panel assigned to investigate same and design the course.

I'm not well versed on Israel, so I will not go there. The US however is quite another matter. We obviously have plenty of evidence of how the current Administration has conducted itself. Images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay come to mind of course as do Dick Cheney and Roberto Gonzales comments. And we cannot forget what triggered this document, the rendition of Maher Arar.

Beyond what seems obvious to most of us, deeper questions must be asked. Questions that Bernier obviously did not take the time put forward based on his quick, pathetic acquiescence. Chief among them obviously is how was the list compiled? I cannot believe that the department of Foreign Affairs would throw together such a list based on hear-say. To put together a course of this type would require an incredible amount of research. It seems clear that Bernier hasn't taken the time to speak with the department in depth on the subject, but rather took his orders from on high and simply demanded a re-write.

So two things could happen here. They could re-write it clearly putting future individuals at risk and turn a blind eye to what the panel has determined to be fact or, they could issue the re-write demand but not remove the countries, in which case we will never know because you can be sure this new document will not be released again without heavy redaction.

In either case this decision is not based on integrity nor is it grounded in sound policy. No. This, like all other decisions taken by this government is all about optics and politics. Specifically, our relationship with other governments that Harper shares his ideology with. That is his only consideration. Not Canadians potentially being tortured, not Canadians on Death Row in the US and certainly not Canadians being held at Guantanamo Bay without a fair trial. These things are not on Harper's radar. Begging for a relationship with an administration (read Bush) that doesn't even register on the radar in the US, is what Harper is concerned about. He wants a Conservative world and is willing to do anything to achieve that.

Harper is obviously more concerned about a lame duck in the US than Canada having an independent voice in the world. Had Bernier come out with proof today that the report was incorrect, I would have taken notice. He did nothing of the sort.

Will another civil servant's head roll? Who knows? What we do know is that we have a cowardly government, who comes running anytime the current US Administration snaps it's fingers.

Disgusting in my opinion, but entirely predictable.


Scotian said...

I'd say you pretty much hit the nail on the head with this one KNB. Since this manual was a direct result of the O'Connor report on Arar what does it say about the commitment to treating the results of that commission seriously by this government despite what they said at the time? Not that this should come as any surprise since Harper was willing to publicly in the house of Commons treat/consider Arar as a terrorist by siding with the US determination when the Liberal government was trying to secure his rights as a Canadian citizen in *SYRIAN* custody just to score cheap political points off the Libs by claiming that doing so showed the Libs were soft on terrorists/terrorism. It would not be the first time we have been out of favour with some of our allies including the two named because we were not willing to simply protect their reputations when we had reason to believe what we do, which is clearly true of the Americans and given how bad things have deteriorated in the ME I can also see it with the other too. Indeed, the fact that we have been willing to call things as we see them evenhandedly in the past was one of the reasons we were respected as an honest broker internationally, another thing Harper's government undermines.

That this government would be so obviously worried that we may have offended I do not think will sit well even with some that think that label/category for one or both of those nations was not fair, and as for everyone else that does think it fair this is really going to look especially fawning and servile. Not to mention looking like a political belief being put in place of what the facts are seen to be by those charged with making such determinations aka ideology over reality. Again, nice work KNB, but as I have said before I find that a common theme within your writings, otherwise why would I not just read them but comment on them? :)

knb said...

Thank you Scotian. In your comment, you sussed out that which I did not go into great depth on. I fear my post may have been pages long had I expanded, but you were succinct.

In the end, this government is clear in what they want to accomplish, but opaque in how they do it.

Those who have a hook in their cheek have little option. Fight it and die or show no resistance and die as well.

Hell of a choice.

ottlib said...

I am really surprised this course and its findings even saw the light of day. The folks who wrote it must have known that it would elicit this reaction.

The federal public service, by its very nature, tends to be an organization that does not rock the boat. Such findings as found in this course would normally have been removed before it went to the Deputy Minister because of their explosive nature.

The fact they were not and were actually released to the public speaks volumes about how pissed the bureaucracy is with the Harper Government, particularly Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Harper and his gang are alienating vast swaths of the federal public service and I believe this incident is just the beginning of a backlash.

As an old political science professor once said to me: Elected politicians come and go but the bureaucracy stays forever and whoe is the politician who forgets that simple fact.

knb said...

Mr. Harper and his gang are alienating vast swaths of the federal public service and I believe this incident is just the beginning of a backlash.

I get that sense too ottlib. It certainly is not going to go away if the Harper government continues to blame them for everything.

Sheila Fraser was on The House and commented on the Keen case. She was not impressed. Of course they wouldn't have the guts to touch her.

sassy said...

" ... this is a government that is tough and sticks to it's guns right? ... "

Kiss-up (USA) kick-down (Keen) is more like it.

KNB - "They rolled over faster than a puppy looking for a belly rub" - good one :)