I am somewhat surprised to see very little in the so-called ‘blogosphere’ being said about the testimony of senior diplomat Richard Colvin in front of a House Committee yesterday. This morning the NDP rightfully called for a full public inquiry concerning the events which Mr. Colvin talked about. For years now people in the intelligence community as well as many in NGOs have been talking about the torture of detainees that have found their way into the hands of the dubious forces of the Afghan government through Canadian hands. Yet any time anyone has asked important questions Harper’s government representatives have marginalized these concerned citizens by openly suggesting that they are naïve lackeys or even unconscious allies of the Taliban. This is, of course, the Harper way; instead of addressing actual concerns about corruption or incompetence they simply attempt to deflect criticism or potential scandal by accusing their accusers. Up to now this technique has been fairly successful, and it may yet work for a while. Eventually, like all such dishonest and centralizing strategies, it will come undone and the government will fall because of some scandal. Of course, the biggest strategy is the precedent that the Harper government will have set for future governments which will feel justified in ignoring scandals and accusing anyone who criticizes the government of being some kind of terrorist or evil-doer.
In the case of this impending scandal, the most distasteful thing I see is that a significant number of Canadians really don’t care if our armed forces or even our government has been directly complicit in torture. There has been a disturbing growth in the number of people who don’t believe that the principles on which our democracies are supposed to be established are to be applied to our supposed foes. However, principles are by their nature always applicable – that is the meaning of the word ‘principle.’ If we do not apply the principles of human rights to everyone, then we simply don’t believe in human rights. If we abandon the principles of rights and the rule of law in the face of some perceived foreign or internal threat, then we have already lost the very fight in which we are claiming to be engaged.