Afghan police guards keep watch over inmates at a prison in Kabul. Diplomat Richard Colvin says he warned top Canadian officials in 2006-07 that Afghan detainees handed over to Afghans were subsequently being tortured. ((Musadeq Sadeq/Associated Press))

Diplomat Richard Colvin has slammed back at some of the testimony heard by the parliamentary committee investigating the Afghan detainee affair, insisting that he had warned Canadian officials that prisoners were being abused.

In a detailed 16-page letter, Colvin takes issue with 17 statements made by witnesses who spoke to the committee.

"Some of their evidence, with respect, was inaccurate or incomplete," Colvin wrote.

He fires back at witnesses who rejected his claims that he warned top Canadian officials in 2006-07 that Afghan detainees handed over to Afghans were subsequently being tortured.


In a detailed letter, Richard Colvin fired back at witnesses who rejected his claims that he warned top Canadian officials as early as 2006 that Afghan detainees handed over to Afghans were subsequently being tortured. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

In his letter, Colvin highlights six reports sent to Ottawa in 2006, including one he said noted that "torture is rife" in Afghan jails.

"The report used the word 'torture' repeatedly," Colvin wrote.

Colvin writes that during a meeting in March 2007 with 12 to 15 officials in Ottawa, he informed them that the Afghan intelligence service "tortures people, that's what they do, and if we don't want our detainees tortured, we shouldn't give them to the [Afghans]."

Colvin said that at this point, the note-taker stopped writing and put down her pen.

Colvin worked in Kandahar for the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2006. He later moved to Kabul, where he was second-in-command at the Canadian Embassy. In both jobs, Colvin visited detainees transferred by Canadian soldiers to Afghan prisons. He wrote reports about those visits and sent them to Ottawa.

Colvin also stuck by his claim that all detainees transferred by Canadians were likely tortured. He wrote that that information came from "highly credible sources" and not from detainees.

Innocent Afghans detained, Colvin insists

Colvin also takes issue with testimony that denied that innocent people were detained, saying Afghanistan's own intelligence service claimed most of the detainees were unconnected to the insurgency.

During his testimony, Rick Hillier, former chief of the defence staff, said it was "ludicrous" for Colvin to claim all detainees were tortured. As for Colvin's assertion that most of those detained were innocent, Hillier had said "nothing could be further from the truth."

The committee heard from David Mulroney, the government's former senior adviser on Afghanistan, who denied Colvin's claims that he tried to muzzle Colvin.

Colleen Swords, a former assistant deputy minister at Foreign Affairs, also denied Colvin's allegations she had told him to stop writing things down.

But Colvin writes that embassy staffers were told "they should not report information, however accurate, that conflicted with the government's public messaging."

He writes that after the embassy put out a 2006 human rights report which repeatedly used the word torture, "Mulroney told us in person that we should be very careful about what we put in future reports."

As for Swords, Colvin disputes her testimony that those with concerns were told to use the phone first, and then write things down later.

"This is incorrect. Her message to me was that I should use the phone instead of writing," Colvin writes.

Colvin also rejected witness claims that Afghan detainees are trained to say they have been tortured. He wrote that those witnesses "seemed to be confusing Taliban insurgents (poorly educated Pashtuns, usually illiterate, with a parochial, Afghanistan-centred agenda) with al-Qaeda terrorists (international jihadists, often highly educated)."

Colvin also responds to criticisms that he never raised his concerns personally to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, despite having met with him.

"It was not the job of [Foreign Affairs] officials in Afghanistan to push our concerns on ministers, unless they explicitly invited them, which none ever did," he wrote. "Doing so would have invited a reprimand from our superiors."

'Outside the wire'

Colvin also shot back at those who suggested he lacked credibility because he was mostly confined to compounds while in Afghanistan.

"For the record, I went 'outside the wire' in Kandahar at least 11 times, including attending a shura of 30 elders in northern Kandahar."

He added that while in Kabul, he left the protected embassy zone around 500 times.

A spokesman for MacKay said the government can't say much more than it already has in its own defence.

"In past weeks, we have heard from no less than seven senior military and diplomatic officials who have all refuted Mr. Colvin's claims," Dan Dugas said.

"The events happened over three years ago and have been thoroughly aired many times since then. When military and diplomatic officials have been presented with credible, substantiated evidence, they have taken appropriate action."

With files from The Canadian Press