What is perhaps the most ignored aspect of the whole issue of the redacted documents, the Speaker’s ruling against the Harper government on the issue of the torture of Afghan prisoners, and the opposition’s efforts to force the government to comply is that almost no one has commented on the totally absurd nature of the Harper government’s basis for stonewalling. Indeed everyone seems to casually accept the framing of the issue that the government has relied on for months.
That framing suggests that documents relating to the detaining of suspected insurgents and their transfer to the Afghan secret police are somehow critical to national security. If any of these redacted parts of the documents were revealed to the public we are asked to believe that Canadian soldiers’ lives would suddenly be in greater danger than they already are in this outrageous war and occupation.
We are, by implication, asked to imagine the Taliban first of all getting a hold of the documents and then pouring over them with a fine tooth comb to discover…what, exactly? These are documents exclusively related to a narrow aspect of the war in that country, that is, how prisoners of war (we should stop calling them detainees – a sanitizing phrase – like the Afghan “mission”) are handled, who was responsible, who (in particular senior officials in the Foreign Affairs Department, the Defence Department and the military itself) knew what and when did they know it.
There is nothing in these documents that talks about military strategy and tactics or military intelligence gathering. There is nothing that could give the Taliban an advantage in killing Canadian soldiers. There is nothing that reveals our long term policy. These documents were assembled on the basis of their specific relevance to the issue of the torturing of Canada’s Afghan prisoners.
Indeed, if there are any documents that are relevant to national security it is likely they were placed there with the intention of poisoning the relevant data. Nothing would surprise me when it comes to the determination of the Harper regime to deny Canadians and their democratic representatives, access to the information they need.
One window onto the likelihood that there is genuine “national security” information in these thousands of pages of documents is the current case involving George Galloway, the British MP who has banned from Canada last March on the personal orders of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
This case provides us with a unique opportunity to see how the Harper government operates and it should have given the opposition parties more back-bone in facing down the government. All of the documents relating to the banning of Galloway were inadvertently sent to Galloway’s lawyers un-redacted. The government asked for the documents back so they could be redacted – based on the possible threats to national security.
It was too late. The lawyers had read the documents before receiving the request. There was no redaction done by the government. Why? Because as is now clear (the documents are now public) there was nothing in those documents that in any way related to national security. A judge heard the case at the request of the government and found almost nothing to redact. Most of it was about how George Galloway was informed about his banning. In short, the government was lying and was interested only in covering up its political effort to keep Galloway out.
So the government didn’t bother redacting the documents and didn’t appeal the decision for the simple reason that anyone comparing the two documents would find out the truth: that the parts of the documents that would have been redacted were directly related to Jason Kenney’s political interference in an immigration matter – a serious breach of the rules if not the law.
The Harper government will do its best to find a way to get around the very clear ruling of the Speaker, Peter Milliken. Almost the first words out of Harper’s mouth on the issue when he spoke to it in the House of Commons suggest contempt for the ruling:
“Mr. Speaker, we look forward to both complying with your ruling and with the legal obligations that have been established by statutes passed by this Parliament. The fact of the matter is, the government cannot break the law, it cannot order public servants to break the law, nor can it do anything that would unnecessarily jeopardize …Canadian troops.”
This statement is simply false and Harper knows it (Not only false but laughable – what does he think the Speaker ruled? He ruled the Harper government was breaking the law by ignoring the motion demanding the documents.). The Speaker’s ruling was unequivocal: Parliament has an absolute right to the documents it asked for, full stop. That means that regardless of any rules, laws, declarations or protocols the government might have made or come up with, none of them can trump an absolute right.
If the opposition parties had in the first place refused to accept the opportunistic and phony framing of the documents issue they would not now be bending themselves out of shape trying to compromise on something that should not be compromised: total, unrestricted parliamentary access to the documents that will tell us once and for all the critical question at the core of this issue:
Are Canadian senior officials, up to and including ministers of the crown, guilty of war crimes?
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