Canada stops Afghan detainee transfers
By ROB GILLIES
Wed Jan 23, 11:48 PM ET
TORONTO – The Canadian government stopped transferring prisoners in Afghanistan to local Afghan authorities after witnessing evidence of torture, according to a newly released government letter.
The disclosure that Canada stopped handing prisoners over in November comes a year after Canada’s Conservative government ridiculed its opponents for raising torture allegations and Prime Minister Stephen Harper accused them of being pro-Taliban.
The abrupt shift was divulged in a letter submitted this week by government lawyers to a pair of human rights organizations that have launched a case in Federal Court. Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association released the letter late Wednesday.
A prisoner told Canadian officials he had been beaten unconscious, whipped with electrical cables, and belted with a rubber hose at the National Directorate of Security detention facility in Kandahar city in Afghanistan. The NDS is the domestic intelligence agency of the government of Afghanistan.
The prisoner told the Canadians exactly where they could find the torture instruments and led them to his prison cell where they discovered the hose and cable under a chair. He showed the Canadians a four-inch bruise on his back. He said he could not recall who interrogated him because he was knocked unconscious.
That Nov. 5 account is one of numerous allegations of torture included in government documents filed in advance of a Federal Court appearance Thursday. Another one describes electrocution.
Civil libertarians and opposition parties have warned that Canada could be violating the Geneva Conventions by turning over captives to Afghan authorities with the knowledge they could be tortured.
Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association have sued Ottawa in an effort to block further transfers — and the resulting court documents are the only reason Canada’s policy shift has come to light.
When Amnesty International pressed for details about the Nov. 5 incident, government lawyer J. Sanderson Graham sent the group a letter this week explaining what happened next.
Graham said Canadian authorities were informed of “a credible allegation of mistreatment” during that visit with prisoners in an Afghan detention facility.
“As a consequence, there have been no transfers of detainees to Afghan authorities since that date,” said Graham’s letter.
“The allegation is under investigation by the Afghan authorities. Canada will resume transferring detainees when it believes it can do so in accordance with its international legal obligations.”
It was not clear what Canada is doing with such detainees now.
A spokeswoman for the prime minister had little to say about the policy shift, except to note that it stemmed from an agreement between the Canadian and Afghan governments to monitor detainees.
“The government will not provide any comment on operational matters,” said spokeswoman Sandra Buckler said.
Officials at the Afghan Embassy in Ottawa did not immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment late Wednesday.
The Conservative government is under pressure to withdraw about 2,500 troops from Kandahar province, the former Taliban stronghold, after the deaths of 78 soldiers and a diplomat. The mission is set to expire in 2009 without an extension by Canadian lawmakers.