British Columbia

B.C. rights group releases documents alleging Afghan prison abuse

A B.C. civil rights group says it has obtained government documents that detail reports of torture of detainees in Afghanistan after they were transferred to Afghan authorities by Canadian troops.

A B.C. civil rights organization says it has obtained federal government documents that detail reports of torture of detainees in Afghanistan after Canadian troops handed them over to Afghan authorities.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association says it obtained the heavily censored documents as part of its court case in conjunction with Amnesty International demanding that the Canadian military stop the transfer of prisoners.

The association said the documents, made available on its website on Monday, are an exchange between diplomatic and Foreign Affairs Department personnel who visited various facilities in Afghanistan.

The diplomatic communiqués — marked "secret" — disclose that Canadian officials were aware that the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) engaged in forms of torture of prisoners after they were transferred into NDS custody, the rights group said.

The documents contain summaries of interviews with detainees, who report being whipped with cables, shocked with electricity and beaten unconscious while in Afghan custody. One detainee interviewed showed fresh welts on his body, then led Canadian investigators to discover a hidden electrical cable and rubber hose he said was used to strike him.

Dates and other key information on the documents have been blacked out, making it difficult to determine the time frame of the exchange. The Globe and Mail reported Tuesday that the reports were filed six months after the Canadian government put in place what it said was an improved transfer agreement with Afghan authorities to monitor detainee treatment.

Among the several prisoners who declined to give their names to Canadian officials, one who said he was beaten with electrical cables while blindfolded said he wanted to remain anonymous "as to avoid any possible repercussions," one of the documents said.

The documents also describe the sometimes poor record-keeping by Afghan authorities, as well as the difficulty Canadian officials encountered in trying to determine whether the detainee they were visiting at facilities was captured by Canadian forces, or was even the person they were seeking to interview.

Allegations previously dismissed as 'Taliban propaganda'

When questioned about previous allegations of detainees transferred to Afghan custody by Canadian soldiers being subject to torture, government members have dismissed the accusations as "Taliban propaganda."

But the documents show that Canada knew that torture was happening and compel Prime Minister Stephen Harper to act on the matter, said Jason Gratl, president of the association.

"It's hard for anybody who reads these documents to conclude anything other than that torture is ongoing," Gratl told CBC News.

The CBC contacted the Foreign Affairs Department on Monday about the documents, but no one was able to respond, the CBC's Deborah Goble reported.

Since last April, allegations have been dogging the government that some prisoners taken by the Canadian military were in turn abused after being handed over to the Afghan authorities.

Published reports on April 23 suggested as many as 30 prisoners had been mistreated by the Afghans.

Two days following those allegations, a prison visit was arranged for Corrections Canada officers and an official at Canada's provincial reconstruction base. Reports were filed that night to both the Foreign Affairs Department and the Correctional Service of Canada.

Gavin Buchan, the political director of the reconstruction base, wrote how two prisoners came forward with complaints of mistreatment, despite being accompanied by NDS officers.

When confronted by deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff in the House of Commons on April 26, Harper described claims of prisoner abuse as "baseless allegations."

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day was also quoted that day as saying: "We have no proof of the allegations."

Monitoring agreement

In recent months, the government negotiated its prisoner deal with the Afghans, giving Canadian authorities the right to monitor those captured.

As recently as March, then defence minister Gordon O'Connor was saying there was no problem monitoring detainees in Afghan jails because Canada had signed an agreement with the International Red Cross to keep tabs on them.

A few days later, however, the Red Cross said that wasn't the case. It does its own monitoring of detainees, but it is under no obligation to report on these conditions to other governments, nor does it do so. Spot inspections conducted in Afghan jails are only reported back to the Afghan government, the Red Cross said.

O'Connor apologized to the House for having provided misleading information. However, he continued to say that the Canadian government had not been made aware of any abuse of Afghan prisoners.

With files from the Canadian Press