Colvin testimony on torture 'ludicrous': Hillier

Canada's former chief of defence staff, Rick Hillier, says it's "ludicrous" to suggest that all detainees transferred by Canadians to Afghan prisons were likely tortured by Afghan officials and "absolutely false" that he saw reports including those allegations.

Canada's former chief of defence staff Rick Hillier slammed a diplomat's testimony that all detainees transferred by Canadians to Afghan prisons were likely tortured by Afghan officials, saying it's "ludicrous."

Hillier also told the House of Commons committee investigating the issue that is it was "absolutely false" to say he saw Richard Colvin's 2006 reports alleging abuse during his time as Canada's top soldier.

But Hillier said that the reports, which he subsequently reviewed, contain no warnings of the suspected torture.

He said the reports, written in May and June 2006, "said nothing about abuse, nothing about torture or anything else that would have caught my attention or indeed the attention of others." 

"There was no reason based on what was in those reports for anybody to bring it to my attention and after having read that, I'm absolutely confident that was indeed the case," Hillier said Wednesday.

The retired general appeared before the committee joined by Maj.-Gen. David Fraser, who led troops on the ground in Kandahar, and Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, who was responsible for overseas deployments in 2006.

Hillier repeated what he said publicly last week, that he never heard suggestions that Canada may have been indirectly complicit in the torture of detainees in Afghanistan.

His testimony comes a week after the testimony of Richard Colvin, a former senior diplomat with Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

Colvin alleged that prisoners were turned over to Afghanistan's notorious intelligence service by the Canadian military in 2006-07 despite warnings that they would be tortured.

Colvin said that all detainees were likely tortured.

"How ludicrous a statement is that from any one single individual who really has no knowledge to be able to say something like that, and we didn't see any substantive evidence to indicate it was that way," Hillier said.

Colvin had said he began informing the Canadian Forces and Foreign Affairs officials about the detainee situation in 2006 with verbal and written reports.

Colvin also testified he sent a least one letter directly to Hillier and sent almost all his reports to senior military commanders, both in Afghanistan and Ottawa.

But Hillier said it was "absolutely false" for anyone to suggest that he had known about this or had read the report.

'Nothing could be further from the truth'

Hillier also slammed Colvin's claim that many of the detainees who had been arrested were innocent people, saying "nothing could be further from the truth.

"We detained, under violent actions, people trying to kill our sons and daughters, who had in some cases done that, been successful at it, and were continuing to do it."

Hillier said they may have detained the occasional farmer, but that they were "almost inevitably immediately let go."

The Conservatives have also claimed they never saw any of these reports and have questioned the credibility of Colvin's testimony.

Colvin now works as a senior intelligence official at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

Gauthier also denied he had heard any allegation of torture in 2006.

"To be clear and precise about this, last week’s evidence states categorically that the very high risk of torture in Afghan prisons was first made known to senior members of the Canadian Forces in May of 2006 and repeatedly thereafter," Gauthier said.

"In actual fact, I and others received such warnings in a substantial way for the first time more than a year later than that."

Gauthier also said that Colvin's 2006 reports from May to September never mentioned the risk of torture or suspected torture. He said the word torture does appear in a Dec. 4 report, but could be "reasonably interpreted to be a warning of torture."

"I can very safely say there is nothing in any of these 2006 reports that caused any of the subject matter experts on my staff nor by extension me to be alerted to either the fact of torture or a very high risk of torture. Nothing," Gauthier said.

He said during his time in Afghanistan, no one, at any time, raised allegations concerning torture in Afghan jails.

Fraser also said he was never told about the alleged torture of prisoners: "If I had, I would have done something about it," he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised the committee will get "all legally available" documents, but Colvin's lawyer said the Justice Department has clamped down on his client and won't allow him to make public his reports.

With files from The Canadian Press