Saturday, December 05, 2009

On spinning heads

It's a pleasant surprise to see that Peter MacKay's dissembling on his responsibility for covering up damaging documents about torture in Afghanistan has actually received some follow-up. But it's particularly odd that the Cons are sticking to what could have been spun as simply a poor turn of phrase even after MacKay's department has acknowledged his clear statutory role:
In testimony before the Commons defence committee on Thursday, Mr. MacKay scoffed at the idea that there could be political interference in the censorship of the documents, as opposition critics suggest.

But his department said in an email Friday that the minister’s office is directing the lawyers in charge of blacking out documents.

"Instructions are given to Department of Justice counsel by the responsible minister and their officials," said an email from Josee Houde, a communications adviser at the Department of National Defence. "In this case, the responsible ministers and their officials are from the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade."
Mr. MacKay’s spokesman, Dan Dugas, said late Friday that the email from the department changes nothing.

"The fact of the matter is ministers do not redact documents," he said. "Nor do they give direction on what is to be redacted. That is done entirely by experts in the matter and civil servants, who are trained and who have security clearances and have security of the country and people who act for it in mind."

Later Friday, Mr. Dugas said that the DND email was in fact not about redacting documents.

"The answer from department about minister giving direction had nothing to do with redactions," he said in an email.
Now, the issue as it's currently framed seems to be about whether any redactions were the result of "political interference", which is presumably why MacKay is still trying to point fingers elsewhere while running away from his explicit job description. So let's try to clarify exactly what we should be concerned about.

To the extent the issue is merely whether or not MacKay had any role in giving directions as to the redactions, there's no scandal involved in his having done so. In fact, it would be entirely expected that he'd exercise some form of oversight over an information management process for which he holds ultimate responsibility.

By the same token, though, there is serious potential for MacKay to be implicated in a cover-up in one of two ways. If he did give directions which resulted in important information being redacted without justification, then he bears direct responsibility for that. And if he failed to properly oversee the work of his department in handling requested information (i.e. by allowing some other group to make decisions which he should have made), then that too falls directly on him - particularly if paired with an actual torture cover-up in which the Cons' central command has dictated what information is released by departments which are supposed to hold independent responsibility for their records.

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