Testifying last week on the mission in Afghanistan, Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin claimed that detainees transferred by Canadian forces to Afghan authorities were likely tortured. He added that the government may have covered up their knowledge of his reports. Colvin sent 17 reports to more than 70 people starting in the spring of 2006.
The Conservative government attacked the credibility of Colvin's testimony, saying that it can't be substantiated and is based mostly on second-and third-hand evidence. Colvin was a senior diplomat with the Department of Foreign Affairs. He was second in command in Kabul at the time of the reports and has since been promoted to a senior position in Washington. It seems unlikely that Colvin would have been able to attain senior diplomatic positions without a degree of credibility or the ability to research a report.
The Conservatives have so far rejected calls for a public inquiry into the matter. All three opposition parties support these calls. A judicial inquiry may be able to get to the bottom of this matter in a less partisan way than a parliamentary committee would be able to. It would also offer judicial expertise and the ability to subpoena documents. On the other hand, a parliamentary committee is already investigating the issue. This is the line that the Conservatives have taken.
The Conservatives' reluctance to allow a judicial inquiry into the issue may come from somewhere more sinister. Perhaps the Conservatives don't really want to get to the bottom of this issue. Either way, the investigation needs to go beyond Colvin to what he knows and what happened to the information that he sent out to government officials. These allegations could have serious consequences for Canada's image as an advocate of human rights. It could also have implications for Canada's mission in Afghanistan and future treatment of detainees.
Canada needs to do everything in its power to ensure the detainees we hand over are not tortured and, if information is received indicating this may be occurring, it must be acted on. This is not the type of information that should be ignored. Torture is a serious matter and was not handled properly in this case. Colvin sent his first report in the spring of 2006. It was not until Nicolas Goselin's reports a year later, citing a detainee who was beaten with electrical wire and a rubber hose, that action was taken and the transfer of detainees to Afghan prisons was stopped. What makes this testimony more credible than Colvin's? It seems as though different standards were used to evaluate the reports.
Defense Minister Peter MacKay said the Conservatives will not try to remove Colvin from his position in Washington, despite their doubts about his testimony's credibility. It is good that Colvin's employment will not suffer because of his decision to speak out. It would be unfair to punish him for his testimony. Especially since, as MacKay stated, the Civil Service is non-partisan and the government isn't responsible for these appointments.
Parliamentary committee sessions will continue next week. When those who received Colvin's emails warning of torture appear, they may answer some of these questions. One way or another Canadians need answers. Colvin is just a starting point for that.