On the subject of brave women getting the story in Afghanistan

From the 2007 Michener Awards citation:

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.

In his acceptance speech, Philippe Cantin said he was honoured to be sharing the award with the Globe and praised the work of the entire La Presse news team responsible for developing the series on Afghanistan. He also congratulated lead reporter Michèle Ouimet for her courage under fire and for the risks she took to obtain the information required for her stories. Ms Ouimet is a foreign correspondent for La Presse covering stories in Afghanistan and in the neighbouring regions.

Michèle Ouimet’s column today, translated and excerpted:

Mr. Harper’s lies

Melissa Fung gave a one-hour interveiw to the CBC. She talked about her 28 days of captivity: her fear, the endless nights when she slept very little, her life in a hole barely larger than a closet, her strange relationship with her captors, her liberation

For one minute, and only one, she spoke about the conditions surrounding her liberation. For her, there was no doubt: prisoners were liberated in exchange for her liberty.

One explosive minute that puts the prime minister of Canada in an embarrassing situation. Tuesday Stephen Harper claimed that there had been no exchange. He was categorical. He was reacting to news in the Pakistan Observer which affirmed that two Taliban prisoners had been freed in exchange for Melissa Fung.

Yesterday it was Mme Fung’s turn. Two days, two declarations, two different sources. Mme Fung and the Pakistan Observer.

Yesterday the denial came from Mr. Harper’s press secretary, Dimitri Soudas. I could bombard him with all the questions I liked, he repeated the same answer: no exchange, no ransom.

So Mme Fung is lying? The Pakistan Observer is on the wrong track? Or is it the Afghan government that accepted the exchange?

Mr. Soudas repeated his answer like a mantra: no exchange, no ransom.

Who to believe? Mme Fung, who spoke with the chief of Afghan intelligence, or Mr. Harper, who has a tendancy — and here, I am being polite — to take certain liberties with the truth as soon as one touches on the Afghan question?

I have already tasted this medicine. In 2007 I wrote that the Taliban captured by Canadian soldiers were tortured. Stephen Harper swept this story away, swearing it was false. His foreign-affairs minister Maxime Bernier added that this was Taliban propaganda.

Yet the story was true. Two weeks after its publication Mr. Harper was contradicted by the Federal Court and president Hamid Karzai recognized that there was still torture in his country.

So I ask the question again: Who to believe?

….Minister Lawrence Cannon’s press secretary reacted to Mme Fung’s claims with an email that can be summed up in a few words: no ransom, no exchange. For any other question, she added, talk to the Afghan authorities.

When I was in Afghanistan, Canadian authorities refused to answer my questions. “Call Ottawa,” they said.

Today I’m in Montreal and they tell me: “Call Kabul.”

It’s an absolute mania.

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