After fighting an effective guerrilla campaign for four years, the federal government has achieved victory on the Afghan detainee file — demonstrating that truth is also the last casualty of war.
Last week, efforts to clarify whether Canadian officials knew local Afghan security forces were torturing prisoners who’d been transferred into their custody ground to a halt.
(If such allegations proved true, it would constitute a violation of international law.)
The panel tasked to review 40,000 documents pertaining to the issue has been axed after examining only 10 per cent of the material. The new majority government has proclaimed the case closed and says it won’t reconstitute the body, composed of retired Supreme Court justices and select MPs.
The panel was a creature of compromise.
Parliament had demanded to see the documents unedited, and the previous minority government defied its will, wrapping itself in the blanket of national security.
In a historic ruling, the Speaker of the House took Parliament’s side, although he urged both sides to find middle ground. In order to avoid a constitutional crisis that could have led to a snap election, the panel was jury-rigged as a filter — vetting sensitive material while maintaining MPs’ right to know.
In the midst of fierce partisanship and minority-government politics, the last Parliament had in fact stumbled across a reasonable process by which to handle such matters. It should have been preserved — not only until the work of digesting the Afghan documents had been completed — but also as a model to follow in future conflicts.
If Parliament, for example, wanted to subject certain aspects of the current air campaign in Libya to closer scrutiny, what would be the point in revisiting the debate over national security versus parliamentary sovereignty?
Let the panel sort it out. Other mature democracies have enacted similar processes.
But the Tories are now dismissing the panel as a creature of the last Parliament and suggesting the NDP’s unwillingness to participate in the process has doomed it. How convenient.
Ever since the words “Afghan detainees” crept into Canadians’ consciousness four years ago, the Conservatives have stonewalled, ducked, weaved and obstructed various probes.
They even vilified one diplomat who dared to speak the truth to a parliamentary committee.
And now they’ve got away with it.
— An editorial from the Halifax Chronicle Herald.