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Four Afghan detainees tortured, government believes

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Ottawa Citizen

Juliet O’Neill
CanWest News Service
Thursday, June 07, 2007

OTTAWA — Four Afghan detainees who were captured by Canadian Forces and transferred to prisons in Afghanistan have claimed to Canadian authorities that they were tortured while in detention, senior cabinet ministers told MPs Wednesday.

While citing this as evidence of the effectiveness of Canada’s prisoner-monitoring procedures, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day also cautioned that Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists are trained to claim they have been tortured.

No physical evidence of torture was visible in any of the cases but all are being investigated by Afghan authorities, who will inform Canadian officials of the results, Day said. The ministers’ information was based on five visits by Canadian authorities to detention facilities in Afghanistan.

The comments were made at an unusual joint meeting of the Commons committees on foreign affairs and international trade and national defence. Testimony was provided by the two ministers, along with Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor and two junior ministers.

“While these allegations are serious, it is true that the enhanced arrangement is working, that we are following up on our commitment,” MacKay told reporters. “And that includes following up on these specific allegations with the Afghan authorities. In due time, we have to give them the opportunity to look into them and find out what exactly (occurred) and whether there is a basis for these allegations.”

MacKay added that Canadians are not involved in any alleged abuse.

The handling of detainees was a hot partisan issue that dominated Parliament in late April. At the time, an embattled O’Connor surprised MacKay by announcing at a committee hearing that Canada had struck a new deal to monitor Afghan detainees.

With several ministers testifying together Wednesday, Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre scoffed at their effort as “Operation Save Gordon.”

The two-hour hearing was marked by bickering over the cabinet ministers’ repeated accusations that opposition MPs are maligning Canadian troops by raising questions about the treatment of prisoners. Opposition MPs also expressed frustration that, even with five ministers testifying, they did not get clear answers to some key questions.

For example, Liberals were unsuccessful in pressing O’Connor to reveal the number of detainees who were captured by Canadians. To bolster their arguments, they cited a U.S. list of the names, birth dates and home countries of the hundreds of prisoners, mostly from Afghanistan, imprisoned at a U.S. military base in Cuba.

“There is no war going on there,” O’Connor countered. By contrast, he said, revealing information about detainees in war-torn Afghanistan could threaten Canada’s military operations overseas.

“This is a military decision, not a political one,” he said.

New Democratic MP Dawn Black was dissatisfied with answers to her questions about whether Canadian authorities are aware of the whereabouts of everyone they have captured. “You cannot get a straight answer from these ministers,” she said afterwards.

MacKay said Afghans are helping, to the best of their ability, to inform Canadians on the whereabouts of detainees. Day said it is not easy to track individuals, especially those who are expert at avoiding detection.

Opposition MPs were clearly exasperated that their questions about the treatment of military prisoners were interpreted as attacks on Canada’s armed forces.

“It demeans everybody,” said Liberal MP Joe McGuire.

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Written by afghandevnews

June 7, 2007 at 11:08 pm

Posted in Human Rights

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