The 2007 Michener Award finalists talk about their award winning stories and the people who helped make them happen. Michener Awards Ceremony, June 13, 2008
The Globe’s Afghan investigation was born when Paul Koring, then the newspaper’s Washington-based reporter, decided to pursue an offhand comment by a general that Canadian soldiers were unwilling to transfer a prisoner to Afghan police for fear that he would be killed. Mr. Koring and Graeme Smith, the Globe’s foreign correspondent, followed the story through volumes of documents and into the dark recesses of Afghan prisons.
Vos Excellences, Mesdames et Messieurs, Bonsoir.
The Globe and Mail’s long-running and continuing coverage of the abuse and torture of prisoners captured in Afghanistan and turned over the Afghan security forces is about far more than the treatment of detainees.
It’s about all of us and the dangers of turning a blind eye. Fodor Dostoyevsky, famously said: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
Well, we have pried open a dungeon that discredited us all. In doing so, some detainees may be been spared torture or death. As importantly, we have shone some light on the dark recesses of Canadian complicity.
It’s easy to denigrate an enemy. Especially when they are faceless and far away. When they are muzzled and hidden and denied representation and dismissed as “detestable murderers and scumbags.”
But we are all diminished if we ignore the plight of those who are completely and abjectly in our control. Journalism this complex and this difficult can’t be done without the active and steadfast support of an entire organization. If our coverage of the abuse and torture of detainees deserves merit, if it has forced a recalcitrant government to make changes, if he has compelled Canadians to consider whether we are asking our soldiers to be accessories to war crimes, it is because The Globe and Mail deserves its reputation as a great news organization.
The integrity and leadership of Editor-in-chief Ed Greenspon and Managing Editor Colin MacKenzie are of the highest order. Their stewardship means public service journalism has a powerful platform today and one that is expanding beyond traditional newspapering.
This was a team effort involving many fine journalists and editors. Our detainee coverage may seem seamless and sustained and courageous and compelling. But it wasn’t a series or a well-defined project. It wasn’t conceived with an objective. What we have uncovered, what the Globe has published, what Canadians have learned has been ongoing and uncharted. Which is why I am particularly proud to pay tribute to the crucial role of Foreign Editor Stephen Northfield, who championed this story internally and who held us to the highest standards of journalism.
This all began with offhand comment, made more than two years ago by a general who said that some Canadian soldiers had refused to turn a prisoner over to Afghan police because they feared he would be killed on the spot.
Since then, our detainee coverage has reflected nearly the full spectrum of journalistic enterprise. From poring through mountains of documents to clandestine visits inside Afghan prisons. There have been lucky breaks and useful leaks and a minister a caught misleading parliament. Mostly there has been dogged reporting. Although the stories have already resulted in sweeping changes including intrusive follow-up inspections that may – belatedly – bring Canada into compliance with the Geneva Conventions, far too much remains shrouded in secrecy. A criminal investigation, a case headed for the Supreme Court and two independent inquiries remain bogged down by stonewalling. We still cannot be sure of the fate of the captives Canadian soldiers seize on Afghan battlefields.
Graeme Smith, my outstanding colleague and journalistic partner in this effort and I are honoured to have been nominated. We are very proud of this work, proud of The Globe for its unstinting support, and delighted to present these stories to you.
Thank you, Merci.
Michener Awards Ceremony
June 13, 2008
The Globe and Mail published reports in March and April of 2007 that led to an inquiry and a new agreement, allowing Canadian investigators access to detainees. Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor was shuffled out of his position following criticism of his handling of the issue.
Stories published by La Presse in October and November of 2007 indicated that abuse of detainees was continuing. In January 2008, the Canadian government revealed that the transfer of prisoners to Afghan authorities had been suspended.
L-R back row: Philippe Cantin, La Presse; Stephen Northfield, Foreign Editor, Globe and Mail; Paul Koring, The Globe and Mail; Colin MacKenzie, The Globe and Mail; Graeme Smith, The Globe and Mail.
L-R front row; Michèle Ouimet, La Presse; Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, His Excellency Jean-Daniel Lafond; Edward Greenspon, The Globe and Mail.