Canadian government’s Afghan torture scandal

This video is called No to George Bush and torture enablers in Canada.

From the National Post in Canada:

Canada Ignored Torture: Ex-Envoy

Afghan Detainees; Allegations can’t be verified, Tories say

Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service Published: Thursday, November 19, 2009

A senior Canadian diplomat said he was on orders from his Ottawa superiors to leave no paper trail about his allegations that Canada was handing detainees over to Afghan custody where they were allegedly tortured and abused.

Richard Colvin, a top Foreign Affairs official posted in Afghanistan in 2006-07, told a House of Commons committee yesterday that the government and the military turned a blind eye to what was happening to their captives, a claim that the Prime Minister’s Office and Conservative MPs questioned yesterday.

But Mr. Colvin alleged the government imposed a “wall of secrecy” after he wrote and distributed reports about the Canadian military routinely and haphazardly handing over prisoners and then failing to follow up on their fate.

“There was certain information that was seen as too hot potato,” said Mr. Colvin, who was the political officer at the Canadian-run reconstruction base when troops began handing over prisoners to Afghan authorities three years ago.

Mr. Colvin said he was specifically told by Mr. Harper’s former foreign affairs advisor, David Mulroney, to use the phone instead of putting anything in writing about prisoner abuse, which Mr. Colvin said contradicted Canadian policy and international law against surrendering to the risk of torture.

“There was indeed a policy, but behind the military’s wall of secrecy, that’s exactly what we were doing,” said Mr. Colvin, who is now the deputy head of intelligence at the Canadian embassy in Washington.

Mr. Mulroney had just left the Prime Minister’s Office to become deputy minister of Foreign Affairs at the time that he allegedly warned Mr. Colvin to watch his step in April 2007.

At the time, senior Cabinet ministers in Ottawa were on the hot seat over the prisoner abuse allegations, denying daily in the House of Commons that there were any credible reports of torture.

Mr. Colvin also alleged that Rick Hillier, the former defence chief, knew that Afghan detainees were being abused and he turned his back to it. …

Mr. Colvin maintained that he learned from credible sources that Canadian detainees handed to Afghan control were beaten with power cables, given electrical shock and were sleep deprived in Afghan jails.

“According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured,” said Mr. Colvin, who said most of them were insurgent foot soldiers or innocents who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, rather than hard-core Taliban.

He said he first learned of the abuse soon after arriving in Kandahar in the spring of 2006 and that he later saw evidence himself after visiting prisons and seeing torture marks on prisoners. Canada handed over far more prisoners than either the British or the Dutch and that Canada, unlike its allies, did no follow up on the fate of those they surrendered, Mr. Colvin said.

“We kept hopeless records, and apparently to prevent any scrutiny, the Canadian Forces leadership concealed all this behind walls of secrecy,” he said.

The result, said Mr. Colvin, was that Canada helped strengthen the Taliban by spreading fear of foreigners among the Afghan people.

“Instead of winning hearts and minds, we caused Kandaharis to fear the foreigners,” he said. “Canada’s detainee practices in my view alienated us from the population and strengthened the insurgency.”

Mr. Colvin was called before the House of Commons committee after he filed an affidavit with the Military Police Complaints Commission, alleging that he warned senior government officials and military brass of “serious, imminent and alarming” reports of detainee abuse soon after he arrived in Afghanistan. …

In the House of Commons question period yesterday, Mr. MacKay was grilled on why it took 18 months for the government to act on allegations of detainee abuse. While sidestepping questions, he repeatedly affirmed that the government in 2007 improved a weak prisoner transfer arrangement that had been implemented by the former Liberal government.

See also here.

“We detained, and handed over for severe torture, a lot of innocent people,” a Canadian diplomat has told a parliamentary committee on the Canadian Armed Forces’ Afghan mission: here.

Canada’s new guide for prospective citizens no longer pretends that Canada is about social programs and saving the environment. Instead, it celebrates a land reigned over by a monarch and that possesses a tough, no-nonsense military: here.

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai was inaugurated Thursday amid a state of siege in Kabul. Western officials who were present issued hypocritical demands that Karzai fight corruption: here.

Canadian mission participates in Afghan torture – End the war now! Here.

7 thoughts on “Canadian government’s Afghan torture scandal

  1. Karzai pledges end to private security

    Afghanistan: The country will control its own security within five years and prosecute corrupt officials, President Hamid Karzai has pledged in his inauguration speech.

    Mr Karzai also said he wanted private Afghan and foreign security companies to stop operating in the country within two years.

    He won this year’s fraud-marred presidential election after his main rival Abdullah Abdullah pulled out of a run-off, saying that it was impossible for the vote to be fair.


  2. Evidence of Afghan torture mounts

    Army chief admits Afghan prisoner transfers halted over safety concerns as report cites 400 abuse cases

    Published On Mon Nov 23 2009

    HALIFAX–An Afghan rights agency, at one time entrusted to monitor Canadian-captured prisoners in Kandahar, says it has documented nearly 400 cases of torture from across war-ravaged Afghanistan.

    The latest report from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, a translated version of which was obtained by The Canadian Press, comes as Canada’s top military commander confirmed the army halted transferring prisoners to Afghan authorities on more than one occasion over concerns about abuse.

    Gen. Walt Natynczyk wouldn’t say when the prisoner transfers were halted, or how many times.

    There has been only one occasion when the federal government has publicly acknowledged the army stopped handing over prisoners – in November 2007 – because of torture concerns.

    But the general’s brief comments, at a news conference in Halifax, and the Afghan report came amid a campaign by the Conservative government to discredit the testimony of Richard Colvin, a former diplomat who last week alleged that all Canadian-captured prisoners were subjected to electric shocks and beatings early in the mission.

    The government has described Colvin’s allegation as hearsay, unsubstantiated and “simply not credible.”

    However, the Afghan commission said it uncovered 47 cases of abuse in Kandahar, which was ranked third in terms of the number of abuse claims in Afghanistan. Canada’s main operations, and most of its 2,800-strong force, are based in the province of Kandahar.

    The Afghan report said that iron rods, electric shocks and beatings constituted the preferred methods of torture and most often it was done to extract a confession.

    “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are common in the majority of law enforcement institutions, and at least 98.5 per cent of interviewed victims have been tortured,” said the commission’s April 2009 study.

    The independent study, which tracked abuse claims between 2001 and early 2008, shows most of the allegations – 243 – were levelled in 2006 and 2007.

    That is the time frame when Colvin, now a top intelligence officer at the embassy in Washington, was in Afghanistan and warning the federal government about torture.

    Colvin also charged in testimony at a parliamentary committee last week that detainees were, by and large, innocent taxi drivers and farmers rather than Taliban operatives.

    The Liberals say the Afghan rights study is proof of Colvin’s credibility.

    “The evidence in the AIHRC’s 2009 report proves beyond a doubt the veracity, integrity and reliability of Richard Colvin’s testimony regarding the existence of torture in Afghanistan,” Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh said in an interview Sunday. “The government should stop insulting Canadians, stop being in denial, stop the deliberate cover-up and call a public inquiry to set the record straight.”

    Earlier Sunday, the NDP’s defence critic said an inquiry “is the only way” to get to the bottom of what the Conservative government knew about allegations of torture.

    Speaking to CTV’s Question Period Sunday, MP Jack Harris (St. John’s East) said the government should be ashamed of its attempts to discredit Colvin.

    The Afghan commission, which is funded and mentored by Canada, signed an agreement with Ottawa in February 2007 to monitor prisoners captured by Canada.

    The deal was scrapped when the Conservative government rewrote its transfer arrangement with the Afghan government a few months later and began its own regular prison visits.

    It is unclear whether Canadian diplomats have ever examined the evidence uncovered by the commission – either in the latest controversy or when allegations of abuse by Afghans first became public in 2007.

    Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who has led the charge to discredit Colvin’s allegations, said he doesn’t know whether the Foreign Affairs Department has looked at the prisoner interviews.

    “I couldn’t comment on a veracity or the evidence that’s found within the pages of those reports,” MacKay said.

    “What I can tell you is, what has been placed before a parliamentary committee thus far is simply not credible. There is not a single, proven allegation.”

    Speaking at the same international security conference in Halifax, Natynczyk said he could not offer details on the halting of prisoner transfers because he didn’t want to pre-empt statements that former military commanders, including retired Gen. Rick Hillier, are expected to make before a Commons committee this week.

    The Afghan commission report said 14 per cent of the torture cases involved Afghanistan’s notorious intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security.

    NATO forces, including Canada, usually hand over their prisoners to the NDS.

    British forces halted prisoner transfers last summer because of abuse concerns. It’s unclear whether they have resumed.

    The vast majority of the abuse was carried out by Afghan police officers, according to the report.–evidence-of-afghan-torture-mounts


  3. Another scandal for Stephen Harper

    Richard Cléroux

    Another scandal for Stephen Harper.

    Nothing to do with patronage this time.
    No big blue cardboard cheques in sight.

    This one is more serious. It’s about torture, and Canada is involved.

    Lots of documents as evidence, and a brave whistleblower, Richard Colvin, spilling the beans to a parliamentary committee.

    It goes back to the 18 months between April 2006 and October 2007 soon after the Harper government came to power.

    Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan didn’t do any torture. They handed over Taliban suspects they had captured to the Afghan police and Sarpoza jail guards who took care of things for them.

    Under international law, handing over prisoners for torture is a war crime. So who gave the orders to the soldiers? Who set the hand-over policies in Ottawa? It would take a full public inquiry to find out.

    The Canadians were great soldiers, sweeping up six times as many prisoners as did the British military, and 20 times as many as did the Dutch.

    But the Canadians would wait several days or even weeks before supplying names of prisoners to the Red Cross as required by international law.

    The grateful Afghan jail guards had plenty of time to do what they wanted to make suspects talk – electric shocks, electric cable beatings, sleep deprivation and sexual abuse.

    Another Abu Ghraib. And who supplied the prisoners? That’s why the torture rap is serious.

    The shocking testimony came from our former No. 2 in Afghanistan at the time, career diplomat Richard Colvin. He kept writing reports to higher ups in Ottawa but nobody would listen.

    They wouldn’t answer his reports, wouldn’t take his telephone calls. When he persisted they told him to write nothing on paper. If he had complaints, phone them in. And when he persisted still more, they transferred him to our embassy in Washington, and still never acknowledged his reports on the torture.

    Colvin had flooded Ottawa with 16 documented reports in 18 months. They went to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s national advisor on security Margaret Bloodworth, to the Chief of the Defence Staff, Rick Hillier, to Canadian commander in Afghanistan, Lieut.-General Michel Gauthier; to David Mulroney, our No. 1 man in Afghanistan at the time, today Canadian ambassador in China – in all 76 reports e-mailed to the most powerful people in the Canadian government.

    Today none of them can remember seeing or reading any of the e-mails. Memory loss is such a sad thing.

    Colvin came back to Ottawa recently to testify before a Military Police Public Complaints Commission inquiry into the torture, but the Harper government put a stop to that by threatening to jail Colvin for five years if he testified. They said it might endanger national security.

    More likely it would endanger Harper government security.

    Faced with the loss of his top witness, Inquiry Commission Chair Peter Tinsley suspended his inquiry indefinitely. It appeared the Harper had won. That was before Colvin’s testimony before the parliamentary committee this week.

    The Harper government fought back. There was no torture, no inquiry is needed and it sent out Defence Minister Peter MacKay to discredit Colvin.

    MacKay said that since Colvin had not seen any torture with his own eyes there had been no torture.

    Perhaps the jail guards forgot to invite witnesses.

    MacKay called Colvin “a dupe” of the Taliban. He said Colvin had “hearsay” torture stories.

    It is rare for a cabinet minister to call a senior public servant “a dupe” of the enemy. MacKay has no answer as to why, if Colvin was such a “dupe” foreign affairs appointed him our chief of intelligence in Washington.

    So an enemy “dupe” is handling our intelligence in Washington? Great appointment, Steve!

    All week the government searched in vain for public servants to discredit Colvin. It found none.

    The story made it around the world – the Times of London, Le Monde, La Romandie, the BBC and the New York Times.

    “Canada – torture scandal!”

    The sub-text : “Not so clean, these Boy Scout Canadians.”

    It should be interesting when Harper goes to China in two weeks to lecture the Chinese on their abhorrent human rights record.

    Next week the government strategy is expected to change.

    Instead of attacking Colvin, the government is expected to say that it knew about “some” torture, (but not from Colvin) but that it acted quickly to stop it.

    Trouble is on Thursday a second torture report came out, from Nicolas Gauthier, a Canadian who investigated torture in Sarpoza prison. He has conversations with jailhouse victims backing up the Colvin reports.

    Will the government try to discredit Gauthier as well? And who is next?

    Harper ministers insist no public inquiry is needed. No, none at all!

    Yeah, and I believe in Santa Claus.


  4. Canadians not buying feds’ denial of Afghan torture: poll

    By Joan Bryden , THE CANADIAN PRESS

    OTTAWA – Canadians aren’t buying the Harper government’s assertion that there’s no credible evidence Afghan detainees were tortured, a new poll suggests.

    Indeed, The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey indicates Canadians are twice as likely to believe whistleblower Richard Colvin’s claim that all prisoners handed over by Canadian soldiers to Afghan authorities were likely abused and that government officials were well aware of the problem.

    The poll findings come just as the government is mounting a major counter-offensive to rebut the explosive testimony of Colvin, the former No. 2 at the Canadian embassy in Kabul and now an intelligence officer at the embassy in Washington.

    Rick Hillier, the former chief of defence staff, and several other top military officials are scheduled to testify later today at a Commons committee that is investigating the torture claims.

    Hillier has already said there was always concern about the treatment of prisoners transferred to Afghan prisons but that he doesn’t remember the kind of “smoking gun” warnings Colvin says he repeatedly issued.

    Hillier has his work cut out for him to convince Canadians, the poll suggests.

    Fifty-one per cent of respondents said they believe Colvin’s testimony to the committee last week.

    In stark contrast, only 25 per cent said they believe the government’s contention that the diplomat’s claims are flimsy and not credible.

    A majority in all regions – except Alberta where 41 per cent believed Colvin and 35 per cent the government – sided with the whistleblower.

    Those who identified themselves as supporters of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were most inclined to give the government the benefit of the doubt. But even they were almost evenly split, with 40 per cent buying the government’s take on the issue and 34 per cent buying Colvin’s.

    Moreover, fully 70 per cent said it’s unacceptable that Canadian forces would hand over prisoners if it’s likely they’ll be tortured. No less than 60 per cent in any region and even a majority of Conservative supporters subscribed to this view.

    Harris-Decima chairman Allan Gregg said the results suggest the government’s initial strategy of attacking Colvin’s credibility has backfired badly.

    “You don’t need to be a rocket scientist or a pollster to know that there’s something unseemly about taking an allegation that appears to be heartfelt and twisting it around and throwing it back in someone else’s face,” Gregg said in an interview.

    He said the government would’ve been better advised to take Colvin’s allegations “under advisement” rather than vilifying him as “a nutbar or a rogue kind of dupe of the Taliban.”

    Gregg said Canadians’ deep misgivings about the mission in Afghanistan, combined with their underlying belief that Canada is a peaceful country that should never condone torture, likely predisposes them to believe Colvin.

    “We recognize that we may never be a military power or an economic power but we like to see ourselves as a moral power. The notion that somehow we might be knowingly giving up detainees for potential torture flies directly in the face of that sensibility.”

    The government seems to have softened its tone somewhat this week, acknowledging that it has halted prisoner transfers on several occasions and altered its policy on such transfers in 2007, partly based on Colvin’s advice.

    Harper promised Tuesday to release all “legally available” documents related to the matter. In his first public comments on the controversy, Harper referred to Colvin’s allegations as one person’s opinion.

    The government is going all out to rebut Colvin’s claims.

    In addition to Hillier, the Commons committee was to hear Wednesday from Maj.-Gen. David Fraser, who led troops on the ground in Kandahar, and Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, who was responsible for overseas deployment in 2006.

    David Mulroney, a former senior adviser to Harper on Afghanistan and now Canada’s ambassador to China, wants to appear before the committee on Thursday to “set the record straight.” He has already denied in writing Colvin’s claim that he was told by superiors to stop issuing written reports on possible torture of detainees.

    Opposition parties are threatening to delay Mulroney’s testimony until they’ve had a chance to pore over all the relevant documents. They’re suspicious that whatever the government releases will be highly censored.


  5. at 18:05 on December 2, 2009, EDT.

    Red Cross repeatedly warned Canada of Afghan prison abuse: documents

    Murray Brewster, THE CANADIAN PRESS

    Intelligence officer and ex-diplomat Richard Colvin arrives to testify at a commons special committee on Afghanistan hearing witnesses on transfer of Afghan detainees on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ont., on Wednesday November 18, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick”

    OTTAWA – The International Red Cross met twice with senior Canadian officials in Kandahar to deliver veiled but insistent warnings about torture in Afghan jails a year before Canada acted to protect detainees.

    Details of the face-to-face meetings in 2006, outlined in uncensored memos examined by The Canadian Press, undermine the federal government’s claims that diplomat Richard Colvin was a lone voice raising vague concerns about torture.

    The Red Cross is prevented by international rules from using the term “torture” and from commenting on one country’s behaviour to another.

    But the risks were so dire that detainees might be tortured in Afghan jails that the agency felt compelled to alert senior Canadian diplomats and officers in person, say memos made available on a confidential basis to The Canadian Press.

    At one of the meetings, on June 2, 2006, at Kandahar Airfield, a military lawyer, the RCMP officer in charge of training Afghan police and some of Canada’s diplomatic staff were all advised about potential torture at the hands of Afghan prison officials.

    A Red Cross representative “made a point of raising a the issue of treatment of Afghan detainees, including some who had been transferred to the Afghan authorities by Canadian forces,” Colvin reports in parts of a previously censored memo.

    The Red Cross complained about the “lack of judicial safeguards” and warned: “All kinds of things are going on.”

    The wording is clear diplomatic code for torture, says a University of Ottawa law professor, and was as explicit as the Red Cross could be given diplomatic constraints.

    Errol Mendes describes the meeting as the seminal moment when Canadian officials and commanders had the duty under international law to launch their own investigation into the conditions in Afghan prisons.

    “When you have a statement like that, which is coded language for torture and everything else, you have a duty to link it to the more general allegations of abuse that were all over the place at that time,” Mendes said.

    A spokesman for the International Red Cross played down the face-to-face sessions with Canadian officials.

    The agency would “never share confidential information,” and the memo and Mendes’ comments are “someone’s interpretation of the meeting,” Bernard Barrett, Red Cross spokesman in Washington, D.C., said in an interview.

    Canadian government officials and Conservative MPs have repeatedly indicated that Colvin alone dealt with the Red Cross, and funnelled the humanitarian agency’s concerns to Ottawa.

    “Out of 5,000 Canadians who have travelled through there, at least in that period of time, you were the one single person who is coming forward with this information. So you will forgive me if I am skeptical,” Tory MP Jim Abbott said on Nov. 18, the day Colvin testified before a Parliamentary committee.

    Senior government officials and generals in Ottawa have also said they either didn’t read Colvin’s warnings or considered them too vague to be of concern.

    Defence Minister Peter MacKay last week acknowledged the government had heard “concerns about the state of prisons” in Afghanistan from the moment the Conservatives took office in early 2006.

    His statement did not indicate the origin of those concerns, whether from general reports issued by the U.S. State Department or from broad warnings by human-rights agencies to all forces operating in the region.

    But the new memos show that the insistent concerns were specific to Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan and made directly to senior Canadian officials, not transmitted through a single diplomat.

    Two further high-level Red Cross meetings about torture took place in Ottawa and Geneva around the same time with Canadian officials.

    To date, Colvin has been pilloried by cabinet ministers, military leaders and some Tory MPs as gullible and easily manipulated by Taliban propaganda. Some have also claimed there is no hard evidence for his claims.

    Three high-ranking generals, including former general Rick Hillier, described his allegations last week as “ludicrous.”

    But the new memos show that Colvin’s concerns were in fact shared by a respected humanitarian agency that pushed the diplomatic envelope to get the ear of Canadian officials. The International Red Cross by convention is allowed to raise specific concerns about torture only with the national government of a country.

    At the first face-to-face meeting, Maj. Erik Liebert, deputy commander of the provincial reconstruction base, was told by the Red Cross that no one in the Canadian military would take their telephone calls. He also heard Canada was too slow to report that it captured prisoners – sometimes taking 60 days – and that “a lot can happen in two months.”

    That meeting spawned a second more detailed discussion at Kandahar Airfield on June 2.

    Apart from delivering their warnings, Red Cross officials, who are duty-bound to protect prisoners in conflict zones, also complained about “unsatisfactory” conditions at Kandahar’s medieval Sarpoza prison.

    The Kandahar meeting was followed by a more high-level meeting on June 12, 2006, in Ottawa involving the international agency’s delegation head for the U.S. and Canada as well as the agency’s legal adviser from Washington.

    The memos show there was also a fourth meeting in Geneva.

    The intent of those meetings was for the Red Cross “to communicate its legal read of the situation in Afghanistan, as it has done with NATO in April 2006.”

    A spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs confirmed the Ottawa meeting did take place, but Katherine Heath-Eves declined to discuss the substance.

    “In recognition of the confidential nature of the relationship between the ICRC and the government of Canada, we are not in a position to comment on either the meeting or the participants or our reporting of the meeting,” she said in an emailed response.

    Dan Dugas, a spokesman for MacKay who was foreign affairs minister at the time, said the minister was never briefed on any of the meetings.

    After torture allegations surfaced in the Canadian media in the spring of 2007, Canada’s embassy staff in Kabul went to the Red Cross in Afghanistan, hoping to gauge the extent of abuse throughout the Afghan prison system.

    But by that time the relationship with the spurned Red Cross had become strained, the memos indicate.

    “They therefore declined to provide us with their assessment of the prevalence of abuse – whether ‘two per cent, 20 per cent, 200 per cent’ – but twice said we should not be surprised by the story in the Globe and Mail,” said the June 9, 2007, memo examined by The Canadian Press.

    Officials were told that by the Red Cross that Canada and the ICRC “have a joint interest in ensuring proper treatment of detainees,” said the report by Colvin.

    However, the Red Cross apparently told Colvin that it was reluctant to share information “because of Canadian political pressure, there is the risk that information we provide would crop up in a public forum.”

    Earlier that year, former defence minister Gordon O’Connor was forced into an embarrassing public retreat after assuring the House of Commons that the Red Cross was keeping an eye on Canadian-captured prisoners, only to be reminded that it wasn’t the agency’s role.


  6. at 13:30 on December 20, 2009, EDT.

    Red Cross president talked about Afghan detainees with Tory ministers in 2006

    Murray Brewster, THE CANADIAN PRESS

    Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay, right, looks at former minister of national defence Gordon O’Connor, left, prior to the start of the Special Committee on Canada’s Mission in Afghanistan on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Pawel Dwulit”

    OTTAWA – Three federal cabinet ministers and a senior government official met the head of the International Red Cross in the fall of 2006 as the humantarian organization tried to focus Canada’s attention on alleged abuses in Afghan prisons, The Canadian Press has learned.

    Precisely what Jakob Kellenberger told Peter MacKay, Gordon O’Connor, Stockwell Day and Robert Greenhill, then the president of the Canadian International Development Agency, in the Sept. 26, 2006 meetings is blanketed by diplomatic secrecy.

    McKay was then Foreign Affairs minister, O’Connor was at Defence and Day was Public Safety minister overseeing Corrections Canada officers in Kandahar.

    While the details of the meeting are secret, enough was said about Afghanistan to generate a report from MacKay’s office a month later which flagged the Red Cross president’s concerns.

    The contents of the report, one of thousands of documents filed in the Military Police Complaints Commission investigation of torture allegations, are censored.

    The email was titled: “Re: meeting with ICRC president re detention issues.”

    The Conservative governmernt has insisted it never received direct warnings about possible Afghan torture of Canadian-transferred prisoners, although MacKay has conceded that general concerns were heard almost from the moment the government took office in early 2006.

    The fact the Red Cross meetings took place raises further questions about what the federal government knew and the kind of warnings they received in those critical early months.

    Officially, the Red Cross would only say the talks focused on topics including Afghanistan, humanitarian law in modern conflicts and co-operation with Canada.

    Unofficially, sources in Geneva said the international agency, whose functions include monitoring the treatment of prisoners, was growing frustrated over Canada’s tardy notification of its handover of captured suspected Taliban to Afghan authorities. The delay could often be as much as 34 days, making it difficult to track the detainees.

    A spokesman for MacKay referred questions to the foreign affairs department, which declined to comment.

    “Recognizing the confidential nature of the relationship between the ICRC and the (government of Canada), we are not in a position to comment on any meetings between the two parties,” Katherine Heath-Eves wrote in an email on Saturday.

    The Red Cross is bound by international convention not to discuss with other countries what it saw in Afghan prisons. But it could drop broad hints, as officials did at two meetings with Canadian military and civilian officials in Kandahar in May and June 2006.

    During those meetings, which took place a year before the federal government acted to protect detainees, officials issued veiled but insistent warnings about torture in Afghan jails. There were at least two other meetings between Red Cross officials – one in Ottawa, the other in Geneva – to discuss Afghan prisoners.

    Diplomat-whistleblower Richard Colvin was also sounding an alarm at the time, although the government has dismissed his reports as vague and based on hearsay.

    But the meeting in Ottawa at the end of September would – at the very least – have focused the attention of government ministers on the issue of prisoners, if not the actual jail conditions.

    It is evident that what was said caught the attention of government officials because it generated not only the followup report from MacKay’s office, but in a November 2006 meeting with the Red Cross there was a clear change in messaging.

    Uncensored talking points viewed on a confidential basis by The Canadian Press say the humanitarian agency was told that Canada was “reflecting on how to engage more pro-actively” with the Afghans over prisoners.

    The consideration included “asking the government of Afghanistan for permission to visit the prisons” and to discuss the entire process of handling detainees, said the Nov. 20, 2006 document.

    The suggestion of an ad-hoc monitoring regime was at the time welcome news to the Red Cross, which had 2005 and 2006 delivered a handful of diplomatic notes to the Canadian embassy in Kabul related to prisoner concerns.

    Instead of following up on the promise made to the Red Cross, federal officials continued to resist establishing a monitoring regime. It was only on May 3, 2007 that Ottawa signed a new deal with the Afghan government, giving Canadians the right to check on the prisoners they captured.

    The county’s former top man on the Afghan file conceded in testimony before a House of Commons committee that officials were aware of the abuse allegations, but made a distinction between Canadian-captured prisoners and others in the system.

    “The fact that there were allegations of mistreatment in Afghan prisons was known to us,” said David Mulroney, who led the Privy Council’s Afghanistan task force. “There was no mention specifically of Canadian-transferred prisoners – that was a deficiency that we later cleared up.”

    He also acknowledged there was no way to get credible evidence about abuse of Canadian transferees because there was no proper monitoring of prisoners prior to 2007.

    Content Provided By Canadian Press.


  7. Richard Colvin faces ‘reprisal’ for detainee testimony

    Intelligence officer and ex-diplomat Richard Colvin arrives at a Commons special committee on Afghanistan on Parliament Hill on Wednesday, November 18, 2009.

    Letter accuses Conservative government of retaliating against diplomat who blew whistle on Afghan torture by refusing to pay his legal bills

    Steven Chase

    Ottawa — The Globe and Mail Published on Monday, Jan. 25, 2010 10:34AM EST Last updated on Monday, Jan. 25, 2010 11:11AM EST

    The Canadian diplomat who charged that Ottawa turned a blind eye to his warnings about torture of Afghan prisoners now says he’s being punished by the Harper government for speaking out.

    Richard Colvin’s lawyer talks of this “reprisal” in a letter released today that says Ottawa is ignoring his requests for further legal aid funding as he prepares to appear before an inquiry investigating the handling of Afghan prisoners.

    Mr. Colvin, who reignited the long-simmering Afghan detainee issue last fall, is entitled to government funding because he’s a public servant.

    But the government has failed to respond to requests to resolve the legal bills of Mr. Colvin, who was posted to Afghanistan for 17 months between 2006 and 2007. It offered an initial amount last fall, which Mr. Colvin’s lawyers said was insufficient to cover costs.

    The Conservatives launched harsh attacks on the public servant after his testimony before a Parliamentary committee last fall, dismissing his credibility and suggesting he’d been duped by Taliban propaganda.

    Mr. Colvin first emerged on the Afghan file last October when he told the Military Police Complaints Commission via affidavit that he’d raised early red flags about the torture of prisoners back in May and June of 2006.

    “Coupled with the government’s public attacks on Mr. Colvin and his testimony before the Special Committee on … Afghanistan, our client is left with the reasonable belief that the denial of further legal indemnification is a reprisal for his participation before the committee and the commission,” lawyer Owen Rees wrote in a letter sent to the Military Police Complaints Commission today.

    The commission is preparing to resume hearings into the Afghan detainee matter in late March and Mr. Colvin’s testimony is expected to play a role in this inquiry.

    Without legal representation, Mr. Rees said, it would be difficult for Mr. Colvin to continue to testify before the commission.

    “The government of Canada’s inaction in this regard is impeding our client’s ability to participate as a witness before the commission with the assistance of legal counsel, which is appropriate and necessary given the complexity of the legal issues raised, including the government’s claims of national security confidentiality,” he wrote.

    The government has denied all of Mr. Colvin’s allegations.

    “There are incredible holes in the story that have to be examined,” Defence Minister Peter MacKay told the Commons at the time, rejecting calls for a public inquiry.


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