(Equal to Chairman JCS) Gen Hillier retired very suddenly just over a year ago and nothing much was reported about it beyond "an uncompromising policy disagreement" between his office and the Prime Ministers office.

Hillier book revelations will rock politicians

By Don Martin, Canwest News Service October 20, 2009 1:11 AM

Befuddled by a galling straight shooter hogging the spotlight, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's staff finally tried to gag and hide Rick Hillier from public view.

It didn't work, of course.

Retired chief of defence staff Hillier's soon-to-be-released autobiography, A Soldier's Story, fell into my hands recently and, as expected, he pulls no punches in needling those huddled inside the parliamentary bubble.

He spits out the sock they tried to stuff into his mouth, rages against a foot-dragging federal bureaucracy, reveals private showdowns with former defence minister Gordon O'Connor and twice dismisses Liberal MP Denis Coderre's politics as "dumber than dirt." Ouch.

While he'll undoubtedly flesh out his recollections during the book promotion tour to come, Hillier's observations about the Afghanistan detainees caught my attention because he insists the government was kept in the loop about torture allegations.

The question of when and what senior ministers knew about the treatment of captured Taliban is another one of those explosive issues where a proven coverup would be worse than the actual crime.

A parade of defence ministers initially denied all knowledge of the allegations in the House of Commons, despite a steady stream of torture reports hitting the bureaucracy from a senior diplomat on the ground.

A Military Police Complaints Commission is probing the allegations, but it has been starved of requested documentation by a stonewalling Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

Even so, Hillier insists the government was well aware of military intelligence on the treatment of detainees and, as Global National reported yesterday, the general allegedly read diplomat Richard Colvin's hard-hitting reports. "The previous fall (2007) we had told Foreign Affairs, CIDA and the rest of the government that, unless inspectors visited Afghan jails continually and built confidence that those detained by us were still being treated humanely, we were not going to transfer any more. We had made sure everyone knew that we were stopping those transfers."

His comments still give the cabinet and prime minister plausible deniability on the file, but the credibility gap is widening given that Hillier insists there was a constant flow of information on the detainees.

Yet the juicy sidebar to the story of Canada's most colourful top soldier is how the Prime Minister's Office, seeking to control the military message and the messenger, attempted to silence Hillier.

"We want to see less of you," O'Connor is quoted as telling Hillier after the general did a series of interviews in 2006. "There was no doubt in my mind that this request was coming from the Prime Minister's Office staffers and that Gord was acting as the front man."

In vintage Hillier style, he told O'Connor to shove the gag order. "I was never again asked to keep a lower profile, but I believe it became a constant sticking point with the prime minister's staff whenever I was in the media," he writes. "The people in the PMO just couldn't understand the importance of connecting the Canadian public with their military or cared not at all about it."

Hillier also raises some gloomy concerns about NATO's fate as it suffers from lagging soldier contributions -- and he obviously lets the prose run away with his opinion.

"Afghanistan has revealed that NATO has reached the stage where it is a corpse decomposing and somebody's going to have to perform a Frankenstein-like life-giving act by breathing some life-saving air through those rotten lips into those putrescent lungs or the alliance will be done."

Yuck. Sorry about the unpleasant imagery to go with your toast and orange juice.

But Hillier's greatest frustration is reserved for a federal bureaucracy that he says deliberately stymied military progress and incapacitated cabinet ministers. "Sometimes our war felt like it was in Ottawa, not Kandahar," he writes.

Hillier has disavowed all ambition to become a politician. That suggests his life story has an unfortunate ending as he disappears into an Ottawa law firm to earn some serious coin.

A man of uniquely charismatic leadership, common-sense views and unshakable personal values would be an instant standout if he entered Canada's wimpy political world.

Having a fearless mouth that roars in defiance of any PMO filter is just a bonus.

dmartin@canwest.com

Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist


I always thought he was a bit crazy, (he's INFANTRY! of course he's crazy LOL) but for those I know who worked with and for him when he was a Col, they all liked and respected him. As CDS I had (and still do) have a great load of respect. Some of his policies left something to be desired, but for the most part, I think he did good things for the Canadian Forces and the army in particular. Some of those things are only now coming into the light as it were, and the madness behind the methods are showing themselves in good ways. And of course, Gen Natynczyk who followed Gen Hillier was also his Number 1 and he has carried on many of the programs that were set up earlier.