Much Ado About Torture

Why doesn’t Gen. Natynczyk support the troops?

Notwithstanding a new EKOS poll indicating that 83% of Canadian surveyed believe the Harper government was aware “there was a strong possibility that prisoners would be tortured,” I seriously doubt this issue will have any discernable impact on support for the Conservatives because, let’s face it, most of the party’s backers view torture quite favourably, especially in the case of suspected terrorists or enemy combatants.

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39 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan War, STEPHEN HARPER Govrnment of Canada

39 responses to “Much Ado About Torture

  1. Brent Fullard

    Surely you jest! What Canadians are you talking about? The ones easily manipulated by the like of Tom Flanagan.

    I saw a show last night that had Tom Flanagan as one of the people in the panel.  The man had the gall to say that Canadians thought that the prisoners were getting what they deserved.

    WTF? I don’t believe for an instant that the average Canadian thinks torture is an ok thing to do.  If they did 75% would not be saying it is something they are concerned about.

  2. Dana

    The best thing that could happen to this country now is if the ICC initiated and completed an investigation into all this. If they find there are non grounds for charges – great. If they end up laying charges – well then let the chips fall where they may.

    Either way we would have had a thorough airing of all of it without all the domestic partisan bullshit.

    Then maybe we can move on.

    Our former international reputation won’t be back any time soon but at least we can get beyond the horrible possibility that we’ve been being governed by war criminals.

  3. Navvy

    I’m with you (and Ibbitson today). Everyone might say they care about the issue, but, like the environment, it’s not a particularly trustworthy polling question.

    As for what CPC backers think, this Decima poll is interesting. Check out the crosstabs on page 3, by vote intention.
    http://www.harrisdecima.com/sites/default/files/releases/2009/11/25/hd-2009-11-25-en392.pdf

  4. One of the comments on CBC News this morning from a viewer was “So a few Afghans got a bloody nose… so what?”

  5. Brent Fullard

    Dana: Right

    Ibbitson, the biased shill from the Globe: Wrong

    We don’t need the Globe and Mail, or any one else for that matter, setting our moral compasses for us.

    Christie Blatchford tried that already at the behest of General “Ludicrous” Hillier.

    Look whose testimony is looking “ludicrous” these days, and it isn’t Richard Colvin’s. but rather Hillier’s.

  6. I think you are right that many Canadians don’t really care about the torture itself, However, I think most people do get a negative impression about any sign of a cover-up, no matter what it is about. And as I said in my own blog this morning, this a perfect storm for Harper because any sign of a cover-up will reinforce what most people already think about him concerning secrecy, paranoia etc.

    Time will tell.

    Always enjoy your blog.

  7. Omar

    On the same CBC panel Brent Fuller references it was also mentioned at least three times that the Afghan detainee torture issue was something that was/is not resonating at the Tim Horton’s lunch counter. WTF? Since when is this two-bit donut shop a barometer on how Canadians feel about issues that effect the national fabric? I’ve been to my local Tim Horton’s on occasion and the overall IQ lounging around the place would make a 5th Grader blush.

  8. Brent Fullard

    Did it not occur to you that perhaps the viewer on the CBC News was really actually asking the subliminal question of:

    “So a few members of Harper’s Cabinet attempted to mislead Parliament….so what?”

  9. Navvy

    One of the comments on CBC News this morning from a viewer was “So a few Afghans got a bloody nose… so what?”

    How much do you want to bet you could find that user commenting about the human rights abuses of the Taliban elsewhere on the CBC site?

    Ibbitson, the biased shill from the Globe: Wrong

    Did I miss the memo about Ibbitson? I’ve always found him to be an intelligent commentator. Did you even read his article? He doesn’t excuse torture, he says the CPC won’t pay for it, and they won’t. God forbid someone rain on your fantasy of Harper being dragged to the Hague in leg irons.

  10. Navvy

    Kirby, I think you’re right. If this does have an affect on CPC popularity it will be more to do with the number of negative headlines than with the substance of them.

  11. Dana

    Most of the commentariat misses the most important point.

    The most important element of this issue isn’t whether it resonates with Jack and Jill Timbit or whether its a ballot issue or even whether Mackay resigns or not.

    What matters the most is whether or not there have been violations of international law and whether Canadians are going to be charged with war crimes.

    I’ve said elsewhere that the Harperites will try to withdraw from the ICC if they get a whiff of an investigation. Its come to light that they don’t have that option – once an investigation is opened it continues even if the country tries to stop it by withdrawing.

    Under the Harperites Canada is flirting with rogue state status.

    Now there’s a point of pride for them.

  12. Brent Fullard

    Re comment by Navvy:

    “God forbid someone rain on your fantasy of Harper being dragged to the Hague in leg irons.”

    Correction, as that would be your fantasy and not mine.

    I harbour no fantasies, apart from wanting to know the truth, or is knowing the truth considered a fantasy these days?

    Evidently so.

    Dana has captured the issue perfectly, when he/she stated:

    “The best thing that could happen to this country now is if the ICC initiated and completed an investigation into all this. If they find there are non grounds for charges – great. If they end up laying charges – well then let the chips fall where they may.”

    No fantasies involved in that statement, unless of course as I stated previously, wanting to know the simple truth has become a fantasy in Canada and that having access to the truth requires that it be passed through the Tim Horton filter of public opinion.

    Sorry, make that Tim Horton filter of public moron opinion.

    Probably also explains why Mike Holmes is part of Canada’s delegation to Copenhagen. He’s the new Tim Horton of climate change. More dumbing-down of public policy making in this country.

  13. Navvy

    I honestly don’t understand what point you’re trying to make. You said Ibbitson was wrong and called him a biased shill because he wrote that Mackay wouldn’t be kicked out of cabinet. He’s writing about politics and I think he is right, Harper will not remove him from cabinet. What this has to do with our moral compass, Blatchford or Hillier’s testimony, I haven’t the foggiest.

  14. R/T.. you do have a certain ability to see the forest for the trees that other sort of partisan bloggers don’t.

    Most Canadians aren’t going to change their views at all on this issue.

    Those who hate Harper, will still hate Harper.

    Those who don’t, won’t change their minds.

    The issue isn’t personal to the vast majority of Canadians, particularly as they struggle with financial stress and insecurity about whether or not the world is going to end with the melting of the ice caps.. (only slightly sarcastic).

    No one is suggesting Canadian troops tortured detainees.. and that matters. Because it makes it even LESS personal to most Canadians.

    And no one is suggesting any sort of widespread effort to intentionally move detainees to Afghan captors so that they CAN be tortured (as in U.S. rendition practices). And that makes it LESS personal to most Canadians.

    So.

    To no shock, R/T, your observations are pretty valid, I think. To your dismay, I’m sure, and to my own utter lack of concern.

  15. Ti-Guy

    Conservatives are insane. Incarcerate the criminals and institutionalise the rest.

  16. CWTF

    That’s funny Robbie, coming for a lawyer who basically said that all taken into custody could/should be tortured Taliban or not…
    Just because we did not torture directly, does not mean we were not complicit.

    As CC put it, a lawyer that presumes everyone to be guilty…

    And since when is popular opinion the “right” thing to do?

  17. Navvy

    Conservatives are insane. Incarcerate the criminals and institutionalise the rest.

    Supporting the war in Afghanistan in the name of human rights while shrugging your shoulders when your military is complicity in torture certainly does suggest that some synapses aren’t firing properly.

  18. Ti-Guy

    I don’t get their aversion to getting to the bottom of this. Every time torture comes up, they rush to mitigate it without having any more information than the rest of us. And the arrogance to think they can dictate to the rest of us how how we should feel about it and to what extent it should be investigated.

    Sick and deranged.

  19. Navvy

    Well, according to Rob, investigating DND and the Minister in this case takes away resources from important issues like the economy… somehow. I assume Harper has Flaherty on media analyst duties or something, doing ‘torture’ keyword searches on the globe site.

  20. TofKW

    I have to agree with Rob on this, and you of course RT. The torture aspect of this doesn’t bother Harper’s base, in fact this might even help his image with them in some ways.

    However the part which will get interesting is the cover-up. As these things usually do, they take on a life of their own and it’s usually the cover-up that takes down a politician.

    Which is why I wrote at the start of this affair that Harper should have just called a public inquiry in the first place, admit mistakes were made, make a half-hearted attempt to enact whatever recommendations come from the inquiry, fire a few junior ministers and aids, and take the 2% drop in opinion polls for a while. The attempts to cover-up the entire mess are what threaten to do any serious damage.

  21. Brent Fullard

    Navvy said:

    “What this has to do with our moral compass, Blatchford or Hillier’s testimony, I haven’t the foggiest.”

    On that we agree. You don’t have the foggiest.

  22. CWTF.. when you and I stand side by side in Kandahar, and have watched our friends murdered, then we can have a conversation over whether we’re “doing enough” to comply with Geneva principals.. and any way, at what point did I suggest that I embrace torture as a practice for dealing with detainees?

    You must have confused me with Michael Ignatieff.

  23. benalbanach

    I guess it boils down to that old question.”Why are we there?”
    If we are there to encourage them to adopt our value system..then whose system are we talking about?

  24. TofKW

    Rob, unlike Harper’s zombies you’re an intelligent person and a good debater (usually). I’m surprised you bring up the cheap torture shot against Iggy. You know full well this is a canard. In his academic analysis of torture within the pages of The Lesser Evil after weighing it carefully, he came out against. The problem with Ignatieff is (being an academic) he openly debates himself in public, and this is where all the torture fodder from the Harper War Room comes from. Many people who are seeking to discredit him allude to argumentative passages in that analysis, out of context, to advance the false claim that he supports torture. Here is a direct passage with his ultimate conclusion:

    “So I end up supporting an absolute and unconditional ban on both torture and those forms of coercive interrogation that involve stress and duress, and I believe that enforcement of such a ban should be up to the military justice system plus the federal courts. I also believe that the training of interrogators can be improved by executive order and that the training must rigorously exclude stress and duress methods. “

    I’m not an Iggy fan by any means (read past posts for proof) but he’s definitely in the Anti-Torture column.

  25. Navvy

    CWTF.. when you and I stand side by side in Kandahar, and have watched our friends murdered, then we can have a conversation over whether we’re “doing enough” to comply with Geneva principals.. and any way, at what point did I suggest that I embrace torture as a practice for dealing with detainees?

    Spare me. The focus of the questions is on top military and civilian officials. I haven’t seen any evidence of Canadian soldiers gathering up detainees out of blood lust. Rob Harvie, against torture, unless he’s for it.

  26. jkg

    This is another one of those strange dichotomies that is somewhat treated as if though they are mutually inclusive or conspecific. Remember, one of the great lines of reasoning, amongst others, for going into Afghanistan rests on abstract appeals to moral absolutism, yet the lethargy, disinterest, or better moral relativism pervades when dealing with issues like dealing with the treatment of prisoners. After all, it is a war. In these circumstances, the populist sentiment of the “ends justify the means” becomes the subtext of a lot this discourse, whether people realize it or not, and it is for that reason, that politically, this will not affect the dynamics in Parliament at all. Harper will do what he has done with all other floundering ministers: Shuffle them or have a ministerial subordinate take the fall. We, good or bad, move on.

    Remember what the big point of contention is today, and that is the HST. If you permit me to be cynical for a moment, the ire generated over this policy has diverted a lot of the attention of the general electorate (voters, not partisans). And when Stephen Taylor marshals his blogging tories, you can bet with false equivalences (but the Liberals! Bias Mainstream Media!) and appeals to consequentialism, this will blow over, which is unfortunate from a virtue ethics standpoint.

  27. Joseph

    Yes, it may be true that Harper’s base won’t care. They never have. In their eyes, nothing seems to matter except him staying in power.

    Fortunately, beyond the base, people do care . . . about the original issue and particularly the unseemly way they’ve tried to cover up there culpability.

    It is the lack of trust and petty arrogance that have always kept Harper from maintaining the numbers he would need to gain a majority government.

    This latest sordid episode yet again drives home those less than appealing attributes to those voters who won’t just slop up whatever the conservatives dish out.

  28. The extent of Canadians’ apathy over the detainee issue is hard to quantify and can be overstated; it may very well be deeper and wider, however, than many of us would like it to be.

    If so, we would merely have reinforced for us the truth of an important fact about war–that it is socially degrading. There is no way for a civilised liberal democracy to prosecute a war without needing to bend its most (ostensibly) cherished values, sometimes to the breaking point. War doesn’t ennoble; it stains. That’s why healthy societies avoid war at all costs, leave it as a very last resort, and pursue limited, quickly achievable objectives when the military option becomes absolutely necessary.

    Thus, America’s GWOT program is the West’s greatest cultural menace, as its necessity for 1984-type perpetual warfare risks devastating the Western spirit and the moral foundation of its liberal institutions more thoroughly than any jihadis could hope to do.

  29. jkg

    If so, we would merely have reinforced for us the truth of an important fact about war–that it is socially degrading.

    It is always strikes me that one of the reasons for enhanced jingoism is precisely to mask the social burden of war. The war romanticists have seemingly been successful in marginalizing people who try to remind the social costs of war as most are seen to be on the fringe for some reason.

  30. CWTF

    I was going to say “fuck you” Rob but Navvy said it more politely.

    I’ve been saying this for years, if you join the army, you may come back in a pine box.
    That is the reality. You don’t like it, don’t join.

    If politicians and generals decide to play “little boy soldiers” and waste their lives, so be it.

    And if more solidiers come back in pine box or with missing limbs and/or the more likely stress disorders, (as you put it), I won’t be loosing any sleep over it.

    But to know that “my nation” is complicit in torture, something that we abhor, is something that I cannot tolerate.

  31. Grammin

    I consider myself a pretty much average Con supporter, but I don’t support torture. Do I think they MAY have known? Perhaps, but let’s just face it – we are operating in a shitty country and supporting troops (Afghani) of a questionable background and nature. This is an internal affair that international forces have continued to be mired in and it is going to be messy. So yeah, torture, civilian casualties, rape, starvation, displacement, etc. are all going to occur just as they always have in every war. Until I see tangible proof that OUR forces have committed widespread atrocities, spare me the mud-slinging and the fabricated crisis. I am sure the average troop has witnessed a thousand things that would disgust the weak-kneed sofa-commentators in their comfy Canadian urban homes, but if they were to speak to it continually they would fall under even more scrutiny just for being in proximity to that which regularly occurs in areas on conflict. The fact is that when Joe Public sees and knows too much about what happens in foreign wars, there is going to be outrage and whining. This is why we cannot win because absolutely defeating this type of enemy requires the type of stomach we as a society lack.

  32. benalbanach

    Grammin. I agree. You are indeed a pretty much average Con supporter.

  33. Rob — …you do have a certain ability to see the forest for the trees that other sort of partisan bloggers don’t.

    I don’t really consider myself to be a partisan blogger, but aside from that quibble, I simply don’t have the time to get mired in details and prefer instead just cutting to the chase if possible.

  34. Grammin — I’m inclined to agree with you in many respects. That said, I don’t think it would have taken any great leap of the imagination to presume that any prisoners turned over to the Afghan authorities would be tortured and abused. As such, reasonable measures should have been taken from the outset to prevent such violations of the Geneva Conventions.

    Aside from the lies and pathetic attempts by the government to cover this up, I think the most troubling thing about this affair is that it highlights the unfortunate fact that our forces are in Afghanistan supporting a loathsome, barbarous and ridiculously corrupt regime that has no qualms whatsoever about torturing those it regards as “enemies” out of retribution or other primal motives.

    But to confess that atrocities are routinely carried out by our “friend and ally” is an unconscionable admission that the whole venture in Afghanistan is probably an illegitimate farce and therefore must be vehemently denied. As I see it, that’s what’s at the core of this controversy.

  35. SF wrote …

    “Thus, America’s GWOT program is the West’s greatest cultural menace, as its necessity for 1984-type perpetual warfare risks devastating the Western spirit and the moral foundation of its liberal institutions more thoroughly than any jihadis could hope to do.”

    As usual, the best and most cogent point is lost in a sea of rhetoric.

    The British held the “khaki election” of 1945 because there was a wide recognition that civil society must return to a state of normalcy. Perpetual war disrupts civil society in profound ways, and if not counterbalanced by a return to pre-war ethos and mores, then the radical changes engendered by conflict of a duration become normal and passively accepted – even if they have constrained civil liberties.

    The 1945 election saw the turning-out of the Conservatives in Parliament in favour of Labour. However, many war policies continued until 1953 – most particularly, rationing of food.

    How long would such policies continued had the polity not returned to its traditional representational & democratic traditions in 1945?

    Does anyone here believe that the United States is the same today – from a civil liberties perspective – as it was in 1992? What is the long-term cost of perpetual war? Particularly, in the age of electronic communications?

    I opposed the War in Iraq. I supported the War in Afghanistan.

    However, it may now be approaching the time to hand over the policing of Afghanistan to the United Nations.

  36. ATY — The U.N. cannot “police” a civil war.

    Regarding SF’s point, I cringe every time some right-wing pundit fears that we should ever return to a “pre-9/11 mindset”… Personally, I think that’s exactly where we should hit the re-set button and dispense with the ridiculous security regime and intrusive police state that’s arisen post 9/11.

  37. Navvy

    However the part which will get interesting is the cover-up. As these things usually do, they take on a life of their own and it’s usually the cover-up that takes down a politician.

    The above statement by TofKW seems to be getting more correct by the hour. The current showdown between Parliament and the Government is historic. Instead of a mea culpa and a quick end to the issue, the CPC has decided to take on Canada’s most important institution and show, once again, how disdainful they are of Canada’s system of government. I sure hope that, unlike during the shameful proroguement episode, Canadians actually take notice this time.

  38. TofKW

    Grammin, I think you are spot-on through most of your comments, and for the most part confirming my earlier point. The CPC supporters don’t care at all about this, aside from whatever political damage there may be to Harper’s poll numbers of course. And this apathy extends to the average Canadian as well, as Rob put it succinctly at 10:47am. His points are all quite valid, as are yours. It’s a war, and in a particularly nasty hellhole of a place. Mistakes happen, and our soldiers did absolutely nothing wrong.

    Which is why Harper should have announced a damned inquiry at the beginning of all this, just as Colvin’s testimony hit the fan. Most Canadians would realise this would have probably happened regardless if the Liberals (who initiated the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities to begin with) were in power, or the Conservatives.

    As I wrote earlier, it is the cover-up and lies that the Harper government is currently engaging in that will do all the damage to them. You would think the politicians would have figured this out by now after the Nixon and Clinton fiascos. The most humiliating scenario now is if the ICC was to begin a full investigation, and of all things I agree with Jack Layton in this regard.

    Though I consider Harper a loathsome PM, believe it or not I’m actually trying to help the CPC crowd here …only because this scandal extends well beyond our domestic squabbles and can bestow serious damage to Canada’s international reputation. Hell, the Chinese have already begun to use this against us.

  39. TofKW.. if we agreed on too much, life would be awfully dull, no?

    I note that the quote from Michael, however, comes not from “The Lesser Evil”, but from an article written for Prospect in April of 2006, several months after Ignatieff decided to return to the country he estranged himself from for so long.. and quite some time after writing “The Lesser Evil” in 2004 when he was still gaga over George W. Bush.

    In fact, in “The Lesser Evil”, Ignatieff does advocate violence against terrorists (pre-emptive assassination) and “coercive interrogation techniques”, short of physical violence.

    It was once he decided to seek office in Canada that he began seriously backtracking, until he developed the absolute position quoted in your post.

    Don’t get me wrong.. I find a lot of what he says in “The Lesser Evil” very intellectually honest.. that while torture may work, it debases the torturer and each act, over time, undermines the democracy it seeks to protect. And that is an extremely valid point. I just find he has been a little more than disingenuine about what he says one moment to the next..

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