Thursday, December 31, 2009

This should be the end of the Afghan detainee issue as something, er, serious...

...but, given Canadian blinkers and self-referential obsession, it will not be. At the end of the year this is the one thing about Canada in Afstan, and related politics, that you should read--and very carefully. From Terry Glavin (paragraphs not in order, read the whole blinking thing; please):
"The news managers here in Canada have trouble understanding the Afghan story. . ." [not just an understatement, also a terrible indictment - MC] really need to listen to this interview with Matthew Fisher on the subject, towards the end of an conversation that provides a rare overview of Canada's engagements in Afghanistan in their proper context. I awaited Matthew's verdict on the "detainee issue" with some trepidation, because there is no Canadian reporter who knows these subjects better than Matthew does. As it turns out, Matthew was even more full-throated about it all than I was.

I happen to be convinced that Matthew holds certain views about Afghanistan's potential that are rather too pessimistic, a consequence of the amount of time he's spent in the damnedest and most dangerous parts of the country, and the sorts of savagery he's seen, up close. But nevermind all that. Here's what Matthew had to say about the Great Detainee Rumpus of 2009:

"It is preposterous," Mathew begins. I especially noticed this: "People trying to compare this to Somalia . . . the cavalier use of the term war crimes. . . we are not even within a million miles of reaching any of these points. It is a tremendous slur to ever invoke words like these. These are words that were used, and with reason, for the holocaust, for the genocide in Cambodia, for the horrible things that happened with tens of thousands of people being slaughtered in Rwanda. . ."...

"I believe it's because the news managers here in Canada have trouble understanding the Afghan story. We don't have a history of war correspondence, or covering wars, and somehow, if the war is political at home, it's manageable. . . most of the coverage for the past few months has been devoted to covering emails at a time when there are several thousand Canadian soldiers out walking point every day, and at extreme risk, in Afghanistan."
Certain well-suspected suspects are also brought before the bar:
It's not just that William Schabas and Michael Byers started all this and got nothing for their 2007 war-crimes complaint to the International Criminal Court apart from a whack of uncritical press and a pat on the head from the ICC along with a fancy 'don't call us, we'll call you' letter. It's not just that Byers and Schabas teamed up with Stephen Staples and got another free pass recently by calling a press conference to announce that they were reviving the effort, only this time they'd appended to their pleadings a sheaf of newspaper clippings with Richard Colvin's name in the headlines.

It was Matthew's reference to the Cambodian genocide that reminded me that the William Schabas who loudly proclaims Canadian war crimes in Afghanistan is the same William Schabas who has loudly objected to the genocide findings against the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Stalin's atrocities in the Ukraine? Not genocide, says Schabas. Rwanda? Yes, the crime of genocide, a war crime. Bosnia? Nope, not a righteous bust - it was just ethnic cleansing. Darfur? Why no, Your Honour, the International Criminal Court is legally wrong to prosecute Sudan for genocide, because while the Khartoum regime may well have slaughtered hundreds of thousands of non-Arabs, it didn't mean to. And the ICC was wrong about Srebrenica, too...
Thank you Mr Glavin.


Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

"...if the war is political at home, it's manageable..."

That, right there, is what I believe animates much of the national conversation on the Afghan mission. The average person - and I include the vast majority of journalists in that group - has no frame of reference whatsoever for Afghanistan. No metrics for where we started, what we've done, how far we've come. They simply can't process it. But if they make it political, well, that's something they can understand. And so they latch on to that like a life preserver, so that they don't drown in the ocean of what they don't understand about the military, about Afghanistan, and about the ongoing effort there to lift that country out of ignorance, brutality, and squalor.

9:41 p.m., December 31, 2009  

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