Canada

Latest Afghan abuse claims spark cries for O'Connor to resign

The opposition called for the defence minister's resignation Monday following allegations that Afghan detainees are being tortured by Afghan security forces.

The opposition made calls for the defence minister's resignation Monday, after the publication of a damning report about the torture Afghan detainees face when Canadian soldiers transfer them to Afghan security forces.

The Globe and Mail published interviews Monday with 30 men who say they were beaten, starved, frozen and choked after they were handed over to Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, a notorious intelligence police force.

Some of the men said they were whipped with bundles of electrical cables until they fell unconscious. Others said they were stripped naked and left outside all night, when temperatures in Kandahar dipped below freezing.

One man said he was hung by his ankles and beaten for eight days, while another said he was choked while a plastic bag was held over his head.

In the House of Commons Monday afternoon, the NDP, Bloc Québécois and Liberal parties attacked the Conservative governmentabout the allegations and called for Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor to step down.

"The torture in Afghanistan is awful," NDP Jack Layton said.

"Will the government do what must must be done now and stop transfers immediately, and launch a public inquiry, and fire the defence minister?"

Allegations taken seriously: O'Connor

O'Connor, along with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, countered that Canadian soldiers treat detainees properly and with care.

Still, the allegations will be looked into, Harper and O'Connor said.

"We take theseallegations seriously," O'Connor said. "The [Afghanistan Independent] Human Rights Commission promised to advise us if any of our detainees are abused."

Harper also rejected an initialsuggestion by Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, thatTaliban prisoners be brought to Canada. Dion later reconsidered the idea as unrealistic.

"We need to find a solution; it cannot be the one we have now,"Dion said.

Opposition leaders weren't the only ones attacking the government over the allegations on Monday.

Law professor Michael Byers, who specializes in international law and human rights, questioned whether O'Connor, as well as chief of defence staff Gen. Rick Hillier, can remain in their positions.

Byers, who teaches at the University of British Columbia,said the Globe's allegations are extremely serious.The reportwould suggest the Canadian military is aiding in the act of torture, by handing detainees over to torturers, he said.

"If this report is accurate, Canadians have engaged in war crimes," he said at a press conference in Ottawa.

'Transfers must stop immediately': professor

Another law professor and human rights expert, Amir Attaran, said the Canadian military must stop the transfers by the end of the day on Monday.

"There is no room for manoeuvre, no room for bargaining," Attaran, a University of Ottawa professor, told CBC News. "The transfers must stop and must stop immediately."

He said Hillier signed an agreement in December 2005 that allowed for the transfers, but didn't include a clause giving the Canadianmilitary the right to inspectdetainees after transfers have taken place.

He said European countries that have transfer agreements have included this clause, which is crucial.

"If we hand detainees over to known torturers … and we tell them, 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink, we will not be back to inspect them,' that gives them a lot of latitude," Attaran said.

Other allegations of torture

Attaran brought other allegations ofabuse to light in February.

Through the Access to Information Act, he said hereceived documents from the Department of National Defence that show three Afghanprisoners wereabused while in the custody of Canadian soldiers.

Those allegations are being investigated by the military and the Military Police Complaints Commission, a civilian agency.

When those allegations surfaced, O'Connor came under fire when he suggested on March 4 that Canada would get reports and updates about alleged detainee abuse from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

On March 19, he admitted the Red Cross is under no obligation to report to Canada, only Afghanistan.

Canada does have an agreement with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission stating the commission will monitor the treatment of detainees on Canada's behalf as an extension to the agreement Hillier signed in 2005.

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