Canada: Military unaware of Afghan torture

AP News
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Posted: Jun 22, 2011 11:09 PM
Canada: Military unaware of Afghan torture

Canada released declassified documents Wednesday that it said cleared military officials of charges that they ignored evidence that Taliban prisoners handed over to Afghanistan's intelligence service were being tortured.

The main opposition party, however, questioned the findings, saying it had no faith in an ad-hoc committee of Parliament members who reviewed the documents and refused to take part in the process.

The release of some 4,000 previously classified documents comes about two years after a senior Canadian diplomat first alleged that government and military officials knew about the purported torture.

The issue sparked a debate in Parliament and prompted the creation of a special multiparty committee to examine documents related to the treatment of Afghan detainees.

"The allegations of improper conduct are unfounded and critics' accusations of Canadian complicity with torture or even war crimes are simply not true," Foreign Minister John Baird said.

The concerns were first raised in reports by Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper and by Richard Colvin, who spent 18 months as the senior Canadian diplomat in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007. He said that during that time Canadian officials knew detainees faced a high risk of torture but continued to order military police to hand over detainees to Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security.

Colvin said he sent several reports on the issue to senior military and government officials that were ignored.

Two former Supreme Court justices, a former British Columbia judge and the ad-hoc committee of Parliament members combed through the massive file to determine what could be released without endangering national security.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government released only about one-tenth of the 40,000 classified pages on the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan. Baird said the release brings the matter to a close.

The main opposition New Democrat Party argued that the review merely served to stifle debate over the volatile detainee issue for a full year. Opposition Leader Jack Layton said the real question is, what's the government holding back _ and why.

"This is a secret government. It's a government that doesn't want to reveal any information, that's well known," Layton said before the documents were released.

Opposition Liberal lawmaker Stephane Dion, a member of the parliamentary review committee, said the documents show that the government didn't do enough to ensure the safe treatment of detainees because it lost track of them. Dion insisted that the "likelihood is very high" that some were tortured.

A newly released 2007 memo to Canada's Foreign Affairs minister, originally secret, raised concerns about the situation in Afghanistan and what the government was saying publicly. The memo was about a Federal Court case being waged by human rights groups concerned about the treatment of Afghan prisoners. Officials were worried that if some materials were entered into the court record they could have left the impression that Canada should have known "there was the potential for mistreatment of detainees."

"A challenge will be managing the suggestion that the content of material released is inconsistent with government of Canada messaging," says the Nov. 14, 2007, memo introduced in Parliament.

Large portions of the documents remained blacked out.

Canada has about 2,800 soldiers in the volatile southern Afghan province of Kandahar on a combat mission that is due to end this year. More than 900 soldiers are to remain in a different Afghan province in a training role.