[R-G] (Canada in Afghanistan) All detainees were tortured, all warnings were ignored
shniad at gmail.com
Thu Nov 19 15:29:21 MST 2009
Globe and Mail
Nov. 18, 2009
All detainees were tortured, all warnings were ignored*
In a damning indictment of how Canada handled prisoners early in its
southern Afghan mission, a government whistleblower says all captives that
Canadian soldiers transferred to local authorities ended up being tortured –
even though many were likely innocent.
The revelation to MPs by Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin, who served 17
months in Afghanistan, is the first ever testimony by a government official
that says the country's military handed over detainees to certain torture.
The Harper government has never admitted it knew this was happening.
In his remarks to a Parliamentary committee on the Afghanistan mission, Mr.
Colvin also described a startling pattern of indifference and obstruction to
his attempts to warn higher ups of what was happening in 2006 and 2007.
He said Canada's “complicity in torture” ultimately thwarted its military
aims in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar.
“Instead of winning hearts and minds, we caused Kandaharis to fear the
foreigners. Canada's detainee practices alienated us from the population and
strengthened the insurgency.”
Mr. Colvin, who first started red-flagging for Ottawa “serious, imminent and
alarming” problems with the treatment of detainees in May 2006, said Canada
took far more prisoners in the early days than some other NATO allies. He
said Canadians captured six times more than the British and 20 times as many
as the Dutch.
“They were picked up ... during routine military operations, and on the
basis typically not of intelligence [reports] but suspicion or unproven
Most of the detainees Canada collected were not what Afghan intelligence
services would call “high value targets” such as Taliban commanders,
al-Qaeda terrorists or bomb makers, Mr. Colvin told MPs in testimony
“Many were just local people: farmers; truck drivers; tailors, peasants –
random human beings in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Yet, he said, they all faced the same fate. “According to our information,
the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured. For
interrogators in Kandahar, it was standard operating procedure,” Mr. Colvin
A Canadian soldier guards six of ten suspected Taliban prisoners captured in
a raid on a compound in northern Kandahar province on May 10, 2006.
“In other words, we detained, and handed over for severe torture, a lot of
The diplomat said from the very beginning in May 2006 his warnings were sent
to the senior ranks of the military. This included Lieutenant-General Michel
Gauthier, then-commander of Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, which
oversees foreign deployments. Mr. Colvin said he believes that Lt.-Gen.
Gauthier would have relayed these reports to Canada's top soldier at the
time, General Rick Hillier.
It wasn't until May of 2007 that the Harper government overhauled its
prisoner-transfer agreement with the Afghan government, negotiating a new
one that allowed for follow-up visits to ensure detainees weren't tortured.
Before then, the Conservative government fiercely defended the treatment of
Afghans they had handed over to Kabul's security services for interrogation,
with then-defence minister Gordon O'Connor saying that if there was
something wrong the Red Cross would have informed Canada.
But Mr. Colvin, now posted at Canada's embassy in the United States, said
the Red Cross had trouble even contacting Canada. He said for three months
in 2006, when the Red Cross tried to raise concerns about detainees with the
Canadian army, the “Canadian Forces in Kandahar wouldn't even take their
phone calls.” It's now known the Red Cross was trying to warn Ottawa about
The diplomat said the Canadian government responded to his frequent warnings
by telling him to stop writing these concerns into reports. He said those
asking him to censor himself included David Mulroney, then the senior point
man on Afghanistan, as well as Colleen Swords, a senior official at the
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT).
“At first, we were mostly ignored. However by April 2007 we were receiving
written messages from the senior Canadian government co-ordinator for
Afghanistan to the effect that I should be quiet and do what I was told, and
also phone messages from a DFAIT assistant deputy minister suggesting that,
in future, we should not put things on paper, but instead use the
telephone,” Mr. Colvin told MPs.
He said censorship expanded with the arrival of Arif Lalani as Canada's new
ambassador to Afghanistan in May 2007.
“Immediately, thereafter, the paper trail on detainees was reduced,” he
said. “Reports on detainees began sometimes to be censored with crucial
Conservative government MPs listening to Mr. Colvin's testimony said they
doubted his testimony, suggesting captured prisoners have lied about abuse
or self-harmed themselves for propaganda purposes.
“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
Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant said talk of abuse of detainees is hurting
public support for Afghan military mission.
“The fanning of the fames of outrage over allegations [of torture], however
unproven, are really having the desired effect on the Canadian people of
wanting our troops to return even quicker.”
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