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Bruce Anderson

The bind Ottawa is in Add to ...

Last week wasn't a good one for the Conservatives on the Afghan detainee file, but this week is making it seem like it was.

Today's statement by Canada's Chief of Defence Staff opens up a whole new set of awkward questions for the government. Questions so uncomfortable that the opposition may well find the momentum necessary to cause a public inquiry. The next several days on this file will be an good test of the re-organizing Liberal opposition.

The most challenging question implicit in today's events is why the information General Walter Natynczyck revealed this afternoon came to light so long after this issue blew up, and followed extraordinarily aggressive attacks on Richard Colvin's credibility. General Rick Hillier's rage at Mr. Colvin now looks well over the top, based on what his successor said today.

When you peel away the layers of detail, today's revelation is even more evidence that our troops were apprehensive that detainees they handed over to the ANP would be tortured. This alone makes it impossible for the Conservatives to continue with the argument that to push this issue is to somehow disrespect our troops. In fact, the opposite case could more easily be made: that the full truth should be revealed to ensure that the reputation of our troops is upheld.

In taking such a hostile tone to their questioners, the Conservatives bet heavily that nothing would come to light that would shift the moral high ground they argued they owned. That bet appears lost. Yet another example of how hyper-partisanship often causes self-inflicted wounds.

Today's information does a lot to substantiate the crediblity of Mr. Colvin, who was already recovering the upper hand in recent days. It adds to questions about how committed the Harper cabinet is to transparency. It creates even more distance between the CDS and the Defence Minister, something hard to imagine given the gap that had already emerged in the last few days.

A while ago, I wrote that there would need to be more evidence to corroborate Mr. Colvin and a process by which that information came to light, in order for this issue to create political consequences. Both of those conditions have been met, and while Copenhagen, Christmas and the Olympics will all give breathing space to the government, the government is now faced with a risk-filled dillemma.

If an inquiry is inevitable, they should avoid looking as though they were dragged kicking and screaming into it. If they gamble that stonewalling will work, they may lose that gamble, and look like they cared too little about doing the right thing to safeguard the international honor of Canada.

 

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