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PM hurting troop morale: Dion

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:10 p.m. May 2, 2007]

OTTAWA  — Any problems with troop morale in Afghanistan because of allegations of detainee abuse rests with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his ministers, Liberal leader Stephane Dion asserted on Wednesday.     

The Liberal leader made the comments to reporters just hours after Canada's chief of defence staff, Rick Hillier, said while in Afghanistan that the daily focus on detainee abuse has many troops he spoke to "pissed off."

"They're angry that these allegations have detracted from the overall mission here," Hillier told reporters. 

For over a week, the opposition parties, led by the Liberals, have spent the majority of time in question period grilling the government on the handling of detainees and calling for Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor to resign.

The controversy started after the Globe and Mail reported on the allegations of abuse and torture from 30 former Afghan detainees it interviewed. 

The government has argued that there is no evidence of those specific allegations, although government documents show that the department of foreign affairs was aware of general abuse allegations made by human rights groups monitoring the country. 

Cabinet ministers have been offering a confusing explanation about how closely Canadian officials monitor detainees after they have been handed over to Afghan authorities and who is responsible for the monitoring.

"The confusion between ministers is affecting the morale of everyone," Dion said after question period on Wednesday. 
 
"The confusion is adding day after day and this is not good for the mission and this is not good for our troops."

When reporters suggested to Dion that Gen. Hillier may have been blaming opposition politicians for their continued focus on the detainee abuse allegations when he made his comments, Dion said "I'm not sure he said that" and that he would "not start a debate with the general."

Meanwhile, the Liberals continued to press their attack in question period.  

Wednesday's focus was on an allegation in the Globe and Mail by anonymous foreign affairs officials who suggested to the paper that the original detainee transfer agreement was pushed by Hillier and Defence officials with no input by foreign affairs. 

The prime minister denied the allegation saying, "It is my clear understanding that any such agreement would have required the approval of the Liberal cabinet ministers of the day."

"I think I have already but let me very clear that the information I have would indicate that General Hillier is correct and the Globe and Mail is wrong."

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