Canadian federal officials were well aware of allegations of abuse in Afghan jails as the Canadian military was handing over detainees to Afghanistan's intelligence service in 2006, Canada's former top official on Afghanistan said Thursday.
David Mulroney, who headed the Afghanistan task force for Canada's Foreign Affairs Department, testified at a Parliament hearing that there was no alternative to handing over the prisoners because the Canadian military was under agreement with Afghan officials to do so.
He said Canadian officials were working to improve the system in the meantime.
"There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the Afghan system was riddled with problems," said Mulroney.
Richard Colvin, a Canadian intelligence officer who was working in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, alleged last week that he sent several reports to senior military and government officials indicating that captives taken by Canadian troops and handed over to Afghan authorities were subjected to beatings and electric shocks in 2006 and early 2007.
Colvin said his reports were ignored. He also claimed that he and others in Afghanistan were ordered to stop mentioning torture in their reports.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has defended the handover of prisoners, arguing there was no credible evidence of torture until the spring of 2007.
Mulroney, now ambassador to China, said that while there was evidence of torture prior to 2007, "there was no mention specifically of Canadian-transferred prisoners; that was a deficiency that we later cleared up."
He also said there was no way to get credible evidence about abuse of Canadian transferees because there was no proper monitoring of prisoners prior to 2007.
Canada had originally agreed to transfer detainees in late 2005, but it did not reserve the right to monitor them after they were transferred. Once the torture allegations surfaced, Canada rewrote the deal to allow greater access to the prisons and unannounced inspections to check for abuse.
Mulroney said that in 2006, with Canadian troops facing heavy fighting, the situation was so "chaotic" that it took until 2007 to put a new prisoner transfer protocol in place.
Mulroney's testimony appeared to contradict that of military commanders who insisted that they heard no allegations of torture until the spring of 2007. Former Gen. Rick Hillier, once Canada's top military commander and main spokesman for the war in Afghanistan; retired general Michel Gauthier; and Maj.-Gen. David Fraser all testified Wednesday that they never received any reports of torture until long after Colvin filed his reports.
Uncensored versions of Colvin's reports began circulating Wednesday night that said the International Committee of the Red Cross was named in e-mails to the Canadian government expressing "alarm" about conditions within Afghan prisons.
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, who is now an intelligence officer at the Canadian embassy in Washington.
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.
According to Colvin, 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.