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Arar commission counsel rejects the ‘have to see it to believe it’ defence of the government.

A lot of professional diplomats and other credible persons are coming to Richard Colvin’s defence today. This Star column is an interview with Paul Cavalluzzo, the senior commission counsel at the Maher Arar inquiry. He says the Conservative government’s claims of needing “first hand evidence” to believe that torture was being committed in Afghanistan is not very credible and very similar to what Maher Arar faced:

…Cavalluzzo, a respected Toronto lawyer, cited similarities between the Conservative government’s hard-line position and Canada’s role in the torture of Arar in a Syrian prison.. “I saw many similarities because his (Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s) position seems to be that unless you see the torture occurring then you don’t have proof of it. In one of the key lessons of the Arar report, the commissioner was critical of consular officials (in Syria) who basically said the same thing,” Cavalluzzo said.

John Baird was peddling that line in the House’s QP on Friday as well, and Cavalluzzo took aim at him as well, and in general the lack of any thinking (for lack of a better term) on the Conservative government’s part in responding to Colvin’s warnings then, and his testimony now:

“There was no credible evidence in Mr. Colvin’s testimony, not a shred of specific evidence,” said Transport Minister John Baird, who fielded questions on Afghan detainees in the House of Commons Friday. Cavalluzzo said Canadian embassy officials in the Arar case also said they didn’t suspect torture because they didn’t see it happen.

Cavalluzzo said O’Connor found that “in situations like that you’ve got to be more analytical in the sense that you have to look at the human rights record of the country, the human rights records of the detention centre where the person is, and you make an educated decision. “It seems in this instance that’s what Mr. Colvin was doing. He didn’t see it, obviously, but he recognized it and when he made these reports alarm bells should have rung in Ottawa and a thorough investigation should have occurred at that time. In my view, Colvin was acting quite appropriately … because he has an obligation to bring it forward to his superiors.”

Very subtle but effective criticism of the Conservatives there in that statement – they should have been actually, you know, analytical in this case and in investigative mode, but they were obviously back then and now in partisan political attack mode, more worried about the credibility of themselves and their government with public opinion towards the Afghanistan mission then doing the right thing (and I might add as a result, may be in violation of international law and up for potential war crimes charges if they were complicit in torture by turning these prisoners over without failing to ensure they would not be tortured, and/or turned a deliberate blind eye to what the Afghan Secret Service was doing).


12 comments to Arar commission counsel rejects the ‘have to see it to believe it’ defence of the government.

  • Frank Frink

    WRT to evidence ‘having to have been seen’:

    1) Obviously those commiting torture and abuse are not exactly going to be issuing invitations to NATO nation diplomats to drop by and watch a torture session or two while they have a cup of tea

    2) In terms of solid evidence of torture and/or abuse? There is no argument. There actually has been evidence presented, back in 2007. Note that… “The following excerpt is typical. In other instances, entire pages are blacked out.”

    “Of the XXX detainees interviewed, XXX said XXX had been whipped with cables, shocked with electricity and/or otherwise ‘hurt’ while in NDS custody in Kandahar. This period of alleged abuse lasted from between XXX days and XXX days and was carried out in XXX and XXX and detainees still had XXX on XXX body; XXX traumatized.” Some of the allegations describe abuse and torture as occurring in Kandahar, others in Kabul. In some, the secret police accuse the regular police of the beatings. One transferred detainee, apparently confused, incoherent and seemingly suffering from mental problems, had no toenails. Others reported beatings and ill treatment. Many said they had never seen a lawyer. Some apparently had never been visited by international monitoring groups.

    What is trouble is the appearance of a cover-up, that there is something to hide. Simply, if there were not this would simply be a matter of the Conservatives stating that there was a problem with the previously negotiated protocol (the one under the Martin Liberal government when Bill Graham was Defense Minister), we listened to and read the reports from Colvin (and presumably others stationed in Afghanistan), and fixed it. McKay has somewhat admitted parts of this. But largely what we are getting from the government is mendacity, obfuscation and smears (has the US been informed that we’ve assigned a ‘Taliban dupe’ to a top security level intelligence posting in their nation’s capitol?).

    Quite simply we are not getting the whole story here and what we are getting is beyond credibility.

    @Roll Tide – While what you quote wrt the liberation of Holland is correct, what may have been S.O.P. 64 years ago has long ago ceased to be S.O.P.

    What happened in 1945 neither excuses nor justifies what is happening now.

    • Frank Frink

      Omitted another quotation from that piece I linked to above. (emphasis mine)

      In one harrowing account, an Afghan turned over by Canadian soldiers told of being beaten unconscious and tortured in the secret police prison in Kandahar. He showed Canadian diplomats fresh welts and then backed up his story by revealing where the electrical cable and the rubber hose that had been used on him were hidden.

      “Under the chair we found a large piece of braided electrical cable as well as a rubber hose,” reads the subsequent diplomatic cable marked “secret” and distributed to some of the most senior officials in the Canadian government and officers in the Canadian military.


      In Ottawa, under cross-examination before the parties are to appear in court Thursday, Nicholas Gosselin, Canada’s human-rights officer stationed in Kandahar, confirmed that he was the diplomat who picked up, examined and then carefully returned the cable and hose to beneath the chair in the secret police prison interrogation room.

  • Toe

    Finally the dialogue Canadians have always wanted is opened up by a totally credible public servant with high standards. I want to hear what Hillier has to say, after all it was his book that started the first calls for a public inquiry. Harper/Baird’s time has come. YAY!!!

    • Frank


      So, is this issue about Harper, or is it about the alleged (mis)treatment of POW’s (that’s a rhetorical question)?

      • Toe

        You bet it’s rhetorical, because there is nothing ‘alleged’ about this. Nato (which includes Canada) is guilty, (NATO deeply regrets the deaths of…) but of course we’ll let the Inquiry decide. Civilian deaths of the War in Afghanistan (2001-present), direct and indirect civilian casualties are between roughly 9,000 and 27,000. But no one really knows cuz the military stops counting at 30 for each individual incident.! Not very mediagenic.
        (sorry) this is about torture/rape, not deaths, altho I’m sure the farmers who’ve been raped by their own feel like it’s a death.

  • The government’s actions on this file should raise a red flag for every Canadian. Fortunately, most credible journalists are equally concerned.

  • Big Winnie

    “politcally correct war” and “The US Armies political correctness caused Fort Hood..”

    I thought I’d read it all but this certainly proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, some people haven’t got a clue about this issue.

    This whole issue is about a government that turned a blind eye to the reports forwarded by Mr. Colvin.
    Not only that they:
    A) Had Colvin not include impirtant info in email/reports
    B) refused to give him legal representation
    C) Had the balls to threaten him with prosecution if he testified (Security act or something or other)
    D) Tried everything in their power to preent him from testifying
    E) He testifies, and the gov’t attempts to impugn his reputation/credibility
    F) They refuse to hold an inquiry

    If the government was concerned, they would have thanked Mr. Colvin, acted on the reports but instead they chose to cover it all up and “pretend it never happened”. For proof, read any paper, Hansard, watch Power Play, Power and Politics to see how this government is huffing and puffing trying to sway public opinion.

  • Roll Tide

    Canadian Soldiers liberated Holland, turned Dutch Nazi collaborators over to the Dutch.

    “During the occupation, the Dutch Nazis had already been ostracized by the nation. Merely having been a member of Anton Mussert’s National Socialist Movement (NSB or Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging) was sufficient reason for arrest. The spouses and children of many NSB members were also arrested and interned in camps. In the process, they were bullied and often severely abused. More than 120,000 suspects were forced to await trial in more than 100 makeshift internment camps, such as deserted factories and schools, old forts, prisons and former German concentration camps.”;jsessionid=LLjJJmyDJHwCn8y7vqXLN2Lp5n2J1x2nKn79M1dfx2qnSfpynnhv!921627548!-2106413634?docId=5002278431

    I spoke with a Canadian War veteran who witnessed Dutch woman stripped naked, hair cut off and hauled in the middle of the town square to be shamed. Her crime, she dated a German Nazi during occupation. He could not do anything.

    These things are sad, but you cannot run a perfect politically correct war.

    The US Armies political correctness caused Fort Hood..

    • @Roll Tide, “political correctness caused Fort Hood”??? Explain to me in your warped view how the US Army was being “politically correct”.

      As for the first part, there is nothing “politically correct” about following international law. The Serbs found that out from their genocide of Bosnian Muslims at Srebenica. War crimes are war crimes – period. end. stop, and if our officials were complicit in allowing prisoners to be handed over knowing they were to be tortured.. or deliberately turned a blind eye to it.. then every single of them should be arrested and frog-marched before the International Criminal Court at the Hague.

  • Big Winnie

    Now we have another diplomat who backs up Colvin, along with the reporter from the G&M. One thing I’d still like to know is why the government asked for details to not be included in the reports/email? To me, this smacks of a coverup, and if so, they should be prosecuted.

  • foottothefire

    Harperites, “up for potential war crimes charges”? If only. There’s about as much chance of that happening as Dick Chaney being brought up on same.

    Fascists could give a damn for the future but it’s the Chaney’s, Republicans, Harperites etc. that’ll insure somewhere down the history road, others will pay the revenge price.

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