General: Canada halted prison moves more than once

AP News
Posted: Nov 22, 2009 9:59 PM

Canada's top general said Sunday the transfer of prisoners to Afghan authorities has been halted more than once due to concerns detainees would be tortured.

Gen. Walt Natynczyk, the country's chief of defense staff, declined to elaborate Sunday because he didn't want to pre-empt statements by other military officials in upcoming hearings on the matter in Parliament.

A senior Canadian diplomat alleged last week that government officials ignored evidence that prisoners handed over to Afghanistan's intelligence service a few years ago were tortured.

Peter MacKay, Canada's defense minister, has been attacking the credibility of former diplomat Richard Colvin's allegations, saying not a single Taliban prisoner turned over by Canadian forces can be proven to have been abused.

Natynczyk's brief remarks at the end of the three-day Halifax International Security Forum appear to contradict that.

The Canadian government has only previously acknowledged that transfers were stopped once after Canadian officials saw evidence that one prisoner was abused by his Afghan jailer after being handed over.

Opposition parties called for a public inquiry after Colvin alleged that captives taken by Canadian troops and handed over to Afghan authorities were subjected to beatings and electric shocks in 2006 and early 2007.

Canada has about 2,800 soldiers in the volatile southern Afghan city of Kandahar on a combat mission that is due to end in 2011. Canadian troops first began transferring detainees to Afghan authorities in late 2005.

Colvin, now an intelligence officer at the Canadian embassy in Washington, spent 18 months in Afghanistan as senior diplomat during 2006 and 2007. He said that Canadian officials knew detainees faced a high risk of torture for a year and a half but continued to order military police to hand over detainees to the Afghani National Directorate of Security.

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Colvin said he sent several reports to senior military and government officials, which he said were ignored. He said former Gen. Rick Hillier, Canada's top military commander and main spokesman for the war in Afghanistan, knew detainees faced torture.

The Red Cross tried for three months in 2006 to warn the Canadian army in Kandahar about what was happening to prisoners, but no one would take their phone calls, said Colvin.

According to the intelligence officer, Canada took roughly six times more prisoners than British forces and 20 times more than the Dutch. He said the vast majority of the prisoners were ordinary Afghans, many with no connection to the insurgency.

Colvin also said he was told in 2007 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's foreign affairs adviser, David Mulroney, to leave no paper trail about the allegations.