January 22, 2008 – Compelling evidence that Canadian-transferred detainees are still being tortured in Afghan prisons emerged yesterday from the government’s own follow-up inspection reports, documents it has long tried to keep secret.
In one harrowing account, an Afghan turned over by Canadian soldiers told of being beaten unconscious and tortured in the secret police prison in Kandahar. He showed Canadian diplomats fresh welts and then backed up his story by revealing where the electrical cable and the rubber hose that had been used on him were hidden.
“Under the chair we found a large piece of braided electrical cable as well as a rubber hose,” reads the subsequent diplomatic cable marked “secret” and distributed to some of the most senior officials in the Canadian government and officers in the Canadian military.
The Globe and Mail has established that the report of the case is recent, written after a Nov. 5, 2007, inspection of the National Directorate of Security prison in Kandahar. That was six months after a supposedly improved transfer agreement was put in place to monitor detainee treatment. The agreement was designed to address problems raised by critics about the ill treatment of prisoners taken by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and handed over to Afghan authorities with insufficient follow-up.
The documents were made available yesterday by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, which, along with Amnesty International Canada, is seeking a Federal Court injunction to stop further prisoner transfers. Both rights groups have filed a Federal Court action contending that international law and Canada’s own Constitution bar the government from transferring prisoners to those likely to torture or abuse them.
“The denial of torture is no longer a plausible position” for the Harper government to take, Jason Gratl, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said yesterday. (Previous allegations of abuse and torture by transferred detainees have been dismissed by senior ministers as Taliban propaganda.) “It’s impossible to turn a blind eye to the discovery of the instruments of torture in the very interrogation room where the interview was being conducted.” Mr. Gratl said yesterday in a telephone interview from Vancouver.
In Ottawa, under cross-examination before the parties are to appear in court Thursday, Nicholas Gosselin, Canada’s human-rights officer stationed in Kandahar, confirmed that he was the diplomat who picked up, examined and then carefully returned the cable and hose to beneath the chair in the secret police prison interrogation room.
It is impossible to know whether the latest documents – delivered to the court, Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association only days before the parties are due in court – actually include the full range of the government’s knowledge about ill treatment and abuse of transferred detainees. Even if they do, most of it is blacked out, including dates and other key information.
The following excerpt is typical. In other instances, entire pages are blacked out.
“Of the XXX detainees interviewed, XXX said XXX had been whipped with cables, shocked with electricity and/or otherwise ‘hurt’ while in NDS custody in Kandahar. This period of alleged abuse lasted from between XXX days and XXX days and was carried out in XXX and XXX and detainees still had XXX on XXX body; XXX traumatized.” Some of the allegations describe abuse and torture as occurring in Kandahar, others in Kabul. In some, the secret police accuse the regular police of the beatings. One transferred detainee, apparently confused, incoherent and seemingly suffering from mental problems, had no toenails. Others reported beatings and ill treatment. Many said they had never seen a lawyer. Some apparently had never been visited by international monitoring groups.
Canadian soldiers are being ordered by the government to turn over prisoners that the government knows face torture, Mr. Gratl said. The government has tried to deflect criticism of its detainee-transfer program in the past by suggesting that while there is torture in some Afghan prisons, there was no proof that it applied to detainees handed over by Canadian soldiers. However, the new documents provide specific evidence of torture and abuse of specific detainees known to have been handed over by Canadians and subsequently interviewed by Canadians.No agreements or assurances or inspections “will remove the risk in the foreseeable future” that Canadian soldiers are turning over prisoners that the government knows will be tortured, Mr. Gratl said.
Another document, with the date blacked out, underscored the shoddy record-keeping, the inability to keep track of transferred detainees, and the difficulty in asking the secret police to investigate allegations that they had been torturing prisoners.
In numerous instances, detainees who described torture or abuse asked Canadian interviewers conducting the follow-up inspections not to divulge their names, apparently fearing retribution. It remains unclear how the subsequent investigations reportedly launched by Afghan authorities, all but one of which apparently have concluded that allegations of abuse or torture are unfounded, can have proceeded without knowing the identity of the victim.
Yet in an affidavit, sworn last Dec. 14 and confirmed in cross-examination on Jan. 4, Kerry Buck, director-general of the Afghanistan Task Force of the Department of Foreign Affairs, confirmed that after conducting investigations into all of alleged instances of torture and abuse, all of them save one were found to be groundless, and one was still under investigation.
Mr. Gratl said the Harper government’s continued refusal to cease transfers was besmirching the reputation of Canadian soldiers, who in some instances have refused to turn over detainees in the field fearing Afghan security forces would kill them. The conclusions of all of the investigations had been delivered at the same time, orally, and with no details to the Canadian ambassador in Kabul, Ms. Buck testified. “The reputation of the Canadian Forces is a reputation of a compassionate, careful and respectful organization that complies with international standards,” including the Geneva Conventions that govern the humane treatment of prisoners and specifically prohibit transfers to torture, Mr. Gratl said. Continuing the transfers tars Canadian soldiers “with a reputation of callous indifference,” he said.