Diplomat in One Very Hot Oven

Senior Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin testified at a House of Commons committee in mid November that he warned the Canadian government and military officials that Afghan detainees being turned over by Canadian soldiers were being tortured.

“[O]ur actions were counter to our own stated policies. In April 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said publicly that “Canadian military officials don’t send individuals off to be tortured.” That was indeed our official policy. But behind the military’s wall of secrecy, that, unfortunately, is exactly what we were doing.”

A longer excerpt from his testimony is in The Globe and Mail website here.

The push back came quickly, of course. The Globe and Mail reported two days later that “The Harper government devoted the day to a public-relations counteroffensive against Mr. Colvin through phone calls and e-mails to reporters, as well as Mr. MacKay’s attacks. It painted the career diplomat’s testimony as groundless and “ridiculous” and suggested his reports of torture ultimately stem from Taliban propaganda.”

“We are being asked to accept testimony from people who throw acid in the faces of schoolchildren and who blow up buses of civilians in their own country,” Defense Minister Peter MacKay reportedly told the Commons on November 19.

Today, several somebodies finally came forward to defend Mr. Colvin. Steven Chase and Campbell Clark reports that twenty-three former ambassadors are speaking out against the Harper government’s attacks on the diplomat’s credibility, saying that Ottawa’s response to his Afghan detainee abuse testimony threatens to cast a chill over Canada’s foreign service. More from the report:

The ex-heads of Canadian diplomatic missions say in a letter released to the media that they’re worried the treatment of Mr. Colvin will discourage diplomats from reporting frankly to Ottawa from their foreign postings.

“The Colvin affair risks creating a climate in which officers may be more inclined to report what they believe headquarters wants to hear, rather than facts and perceptions deemed unpalatable,” the ex-ambassadors say.

“A fundamental requirement of a foreign service officer is that he or she report on a given situation as observed or understood,” the former heads of mission said. “It is only in this way that any government can draw conclusions knowledgeably and make its considered decisions, even if at variance with the reports received.”

Read the whole thing here.

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