It will be twelve months ago Friday that the Commons passed a motion demanding the government release documents revealing what ministers and generals knew about Afghanistan prisoner abuse. Since then, an ugly fight that included the padlocking of Parliament and a celebrated ruling by Speaker Peter Milliken fizzled into a hapless skirmish, leaving Canadians none the wiser.
For the Prime Minister, the triumph is now as complete as it was once improbable. Memory struggles for a better example of a minority leader so successfully beating the odds in sweeping aside public interest to escape a crisis.
Harper’s position last December was precarious. Diplomat Richard Colvin’s compelling testimony and Chief of Defense Staff Walt Natynczyk’s sudden reversal had blown gaping holes in the always suspect, never sustainable argument that official Ottawa was alone in never hearing a discouraging word about mistreatment and torture.
Worse, Conservatives were caught in a cover-up. In hurriedly correcting the record by confirming Afghans abused a Canadian prisoner, Natynczyk also drew attention to a misleading May, 2007 press release.
Massaged — some say dictated — by Sandra Buckler, then Harper’s communications director, the statement released by Natynczyk ignored readily available evidence to claim there had been no specific prisoner complaints. Three days earlier Steven Noonan, the senior officer responsible for Canadian expeditionary forces, filed an affidavit in a high-profile court case detailing the incident that eventually forced Natynczyk’s reversal as well as another where a Canadian prisoner had to be rescued to prevent murder.
Conservative prospects were so bleak last December that Harper prorogued Parliament — thinly claiming the government needed time to recalibrate its agenda — rather than disclose documents widely believed to be damning. But oh what a difference a year makes. Today Conservatives are climbing opinion polls, pressure for an inquiry is below zero and Liberals along with the Bloc are mired in a glacial process that has yet to make a single document public.
Read it here.