Canada

MacKay seeks answers on torture memos

Defence Minister Peter MacKay says he intends to find out why reports warning of the possible torture of Afghan prisoners early in the Kandahar mission never made it to his desk.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay says he intends to find out why reports warning of the possible torture of Afghan prisoners early in the Kandahar mission never made it to his desk.

MacKay said Monday that neither he nor his deputy minister ever saw diplomat Richard Colvin's reports, which were circulated widely within the Foreign Affairs and National Defence departments, as well as among senior military commanders.

In an affidavit to the Military Police Complaints Commission made public last week, Colvin said he wrote a memo in 2006 to senior military and Foreign Affairs officials describing what he thought were "serious, imminent and alarming" problems with the handling of detainees by Afghan security forces.

Colvin, who also worked in Kabul, said he wrote about 16 more memos about the issue over the next year and a half.

In one of the memos, Colvin, who is now an intelligence officer at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, outlined specific allegations of torture made by a detainee transferred to an Afghan prison by Canadian soldiers.

For more than a year after the reports were filed, the federal government maintained it knew nothing of possible prisoner abuse. 

Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former defence minister Gordon O'Connor said they never saw the allegations, but there has been no public comment from the top military brass.

All three opposition parties demanded answers in question period on Monday, saying they find it hard to believe that warnings of such stark human-rights abuses could have been ignored by senior officials and not passed along to their ministers.

Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh demanded to know how far up the chain of command the reports went and accused the Conservatives of "wilful blindness."

With files from The Canadian Press

now