Reports of special forces probe troubling: opposition

The Liberals and NDP say they are extremely troubled by news that the Canadian military is investigating the actions of its elite special forces in Afghanistan.
Canadian soldiers search for explosive devices during a patrol in southwest Kandahar, in Afghanistan. Liberal House leader David McGuinty says he's troubled by reports of investigations into the actions of Canada's elite special forces in the war-torn country. ((Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press))

The Liberals and NDP say they are troubled by news that the Canadian military is investigating the actions of its elite special forces in Afghanistan.

"This is a really serious matter, and I think it really underscores what we’ve been saying for some time — that there’s more here than meets the eye," Liberal House Leader David McGuinty told reporters Tuesday in Ottawa.

McGuinty, speaking in Ottawa Tuesday, said the special forces investigations are 'a really serious matter.' ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

His comments came after CBC News revealed Monday evening that Canada's Defence Department quietly began a major inquiry in 2008 into the military's highly secretive force known as Joint Task Force 2, or JTF2.

The military investigation began after a member of JTF2 raised serious allegations against another member of the force and the force in general relating to events that happened between 2005 and 2008.

That investigation, called Sand Trap I, ended after a year and a half with no charges but sparked a second, wider criminal investigation into broader issues called Sand Trap II, which is still going on. In addition, a military board of inquiry, which investigates major problems within the Canadian Forces, is looking into administrative and non-criminal issues surrounding the case, and is hearing 100 witnesses as it conducts its probe.

A high-ranking military official, Maj.-Gen. Daniel Gosselin, is heading the board of inquiry.

Briefing note

A few details of the investigations are contained in a November 2009 military briefing note written by Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada's chief of defence staff, and obtained by the CBC through an Access to Information Act request.

In the note, Natynczyk tells Defence Minister Peter MacKay that a board of inquiry is investigating Sand Trap II and started hearing from witnesses, 100 in total, in May 2009.

Read  the full document.

The military has confirmed that the investigation is taking place, but won't provide details about it. CBC News has learned the handling of detainees may have triggered the initial investigation, although the current probe is much wider than that.

Not part of MPCC hearings

The Sand Trap investigations are not part of the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) public hearings into allegations that military police failed to investigate senior officers responsible for transfers allegedly involving a risk of torture. The military told CBC News that the Sand Trap investigations and board of inquiry are distinct, and broader than anything the MPCC is looking at.

"If these allegations prove true, my understanding is that this investigation was occurring at a time when our own minister of national defence [Peter MacKay] was being asked repeatedly for any knowledge that he might have had about allegations of torture or ongoing investigations," McGuinty said.

"It’s particularly worrisome for me that this whole matter was broken apparently or revealed by a JTF2 member who obviously felt, I guess, according to reports, enough responsibility or enough seriousness around this that they came forward and broke ranks, so to speak," he added.

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NDP defence critic Jack Harris says what concerns him most is the level of secrecy surrounding this case. He said other countries like the United States and the United Kingdom are far more open with their cases.

"There's not sufficient accountability and sufficient transparency [in Canada]," he told the CBC in Regina. "It's something that has to change in our view.

"We'll be asking questions about that obviously when the House returns. And DND should answer the questions as to why this wasn’t made public."

The military has never said much about the work of JTF2, although it has revealed the unit has been involved in high-risk operations against high-value targets, including Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders.

The unit has also been involved in pursuing insurgents who build and plant roadside bombs, and the networks that supply them, the military has said.

During the three-year period at the centre of the Sand Trap investigations, 2005 to 2008, the JTF2 unit was attached to an American special forces command based in Kandahar. JTF2 took its tactical direction from the Americans.