The opposition parties demand a public inquiry, the government says no. The government accuses them of muzzling potential witnesses, they say the parliamentary committee needs documents. However the dispute is resolved, the committee has about zero chance of getting answers to the questions in today's Globe and Mail editorial.
Anyone who doubts this should think back to the performance of MPs looking into Brian Mulroney's dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber. Those with a longer memory will recall the admixture of interdepartmental friction and interpersonal rivalries at the parliamentary committee on the the al-Mashat affair in 1991.
Frankly, I expect we'll learn more from reports in the press; e.g., the lead story in The Globe, " Whistleblower's warnings on detainees reached Minister's office," or the lead story in Le Devoir, " Torture: Ottawa should have acted sooner," which has a senior official reporting that the prisoner transfer issue finally appeared on Ottawa's radar screen around Christmas 2006. By then, "it was increasingly apparent to everyone that there were big holes in the Protocol and that there was a real possibility that inmates were being abused." While not criticizing the Army, which was doing "difficult work in a difficult environment" our source says that they "did not take this issue [of torture] seriously".
Meanwhile, as politicians play their games in Ottawa, Canadian soldiers, diplomats and aid workers are still in Kandahar, the most dangerous region of Afghanistan. And, according to a report splashed across the front page of today's Wall Street Journal, they will be in much greater danger after President Obama announces his new policy next week:
"Commanders in Afghanistan say they will devote the majority of the fresh troops expected from the White House to securing the country's troubled south and will especially target this volatile city [Kandahar] the Taliban's main power base. … Military commanders on the battlefield are ready to implement a plan that makes a defensive ring around Kandahar a linchpin of the fight to come. No matter how many troops the president decides to authorize, the Kandahar campaign will be an early, large-scale test of U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal's plan of refocusing allied military, political and economic efforts on population centers and away from sparsely peopled rural areas. The new southern strategy is an explicit recognition that a move this past summer to position a few thousand Canadian and U.S. troops outside Kandahar failed to stop insurgents from infiltrating the city."
Until now, the focus in Canada has been on the number of additional troops the Americans will be sending, and on the expected pressure on Canada (and on the Dutch) not to withdraw our troops; indeed, The New York Times reports today that "In quiet meetings over the past month, American defense and national security officials have been trying to forestall those departures, while obtaining commitments of increasing numbers of troops from NATO allies."
However these Canada-U.S. discussions end up, Canadians will be at risk between now and the end of 2011. And, as British forces experienced during the first U.S. surge into neighbouring Helmand province, the casualties could be very steep. A point that all MPs - government and opposition alike - should keep in mind as they deal with the prisoner transfer issue.
(Photo: A Canadian soldier salutes a monument to fallen comrades during Remembrance Day ceremonies in Kandahar. Jonathan Montpetit/The Canadian Press)