An exhaustive report released Wednesday exonerates front-line Canadian Forces officers from culpability for exposing Taliban detainees to possible torture.
That’s the good news.
The bad news? Just about every other major player in the Afghan detainee scandal — from Defence Minister Peter MacKay to top Canadian Forces commanders — were complicit in covering up and/or dragging their feet when it came to getting to the truth of the matter.
The Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) was solely tasked to establish whether eight military police officers were culpable for exposing Taliban detainees to torture by transferring them to Afghan authorities in 2005 and 2006. The conclusion? They were not responsible because they were largely kept in the dark about the risks by their superiors.
That the Conservatives stonewalled investigations into the detainee controversy is hardly a secret. Even the Speaker of the House of Commons agreed when he found the government in contempt of Parliament in 2011. Judging from recent polls, a healthy majority of Canadians likely realize it as well.
The parade of obstruction is already well known.
In one unseemly episode, the Conservatives desperately tried to discredit a senior diplomat for giving damning testimony in committee hearings. That spurred 125 retired Canadian ambassadors to sign a letter strongly condemning the smear tactics.
Although not part of its mandate, the MPCC report describes numerous other examples in which the Conservatives tried to block witnesses from giving evidence, or denied or delayed the release of documents by making arbitrary and often inconsistent references to the Canada Evidence Act.
Ironically, the MPCC itself was formed in the wake of a public inquiry into the beating death of a Somali teenager by Canadian troops in 1993.
The current report notes that commission of inquiry ran into similar roadblocks in its quest for information.
In the detainee case, the government has already ruled out even holding a public inquiry. And given MacKay’s response to the MPCC report, the Conservatives are not about to take any lessons from it.
MacKay’s press secretary, Josh Zanin, instead focused on the narrow findings regarding junior officers’ actions on the ground.
“(It’s) one more investigation demonstrating that no credible evidence was found to support the allegations against our men and women in uniform,” Zanin told The Globe and Mail. “We are proud of their professionalism in the conduct of the work we ask them to do.”
But what “we” ask soldiers to do, and what “we” know about the possible consequences are two separate things.
And undermining the integrity of democratic institutions and protocols is something else altogether.
For the Conservatives, it’s just one more notch in their belt on their way to becoming the most opaque, dishonest and contemptuous government this country has ever seen.