Military probes abuse allegations in Afghanistan

Military officials are investigating allegations three Afghan prisoners were abused while in the custody of Canadian soldiers.

Gen. Rick Hillier says all prisoners handled humanely

Military officials are investigating allegations that threeAfghan prisoners were abused while in the custody of Canadian soldiers.

The allegations come from a law professor at the University of Ottawa, Amir Attaran, based on government documents he obtained under the Access to Information Act.

University of Ottawa law Prof. Amir Attaran alleges as many as three Afghan detainees were beaten by Canadian soldiers last April. ((CBC))

Attaran said he received three documents from the Department of National Defence. They were handwritten reports fromCanadian military police in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

The documents show three men were brought to military police by a single interrogator in one day with injuries to their faces, headsand upper bodies, he told the CBC on Tuesday.

He said the men had swollen eyes, cuts on their eyebrows, gashes to their forehead and slashes on their cheeks.

"It seems to me that if one interrogator has brought in three people in a single day with very similar injuries, this is something that merits investigation," he said.

Defence minister promises open investigation

Gordon O'Connor, Canada's defence minister, said the claims are being investigated.

"There is an allegation of some potential abuse of a prisoner," he said in Ottawa on Tuesday. "There is no proof this actually happened. That's what these investigations will find out."

The results of the investigations will be made public, he said.

The issue of detainees is a sensitive one for the Canadian military, which spent a decade answering questions about the 1993 torture and slaying of a Somali man during a peacekeeping mission to the African country.

O'Connor scoffed at any comparison.

"This isn't Somalia," he said. "Let's get the scale properly."

Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of the defence staff, said he's confident Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan are behaving appropriately and professionally.

He said all prisoners are handled in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of Canada's defence staff, said he's confident Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan are behaving appropriately and professionally. ((Tom Hanson/Canadian Press))

"We treat them all the way through exactly as I said: humanely, with the best intentions, with the appropriate policies," he said.

Attaran sent the information to the Military Police Complaints Commission, a civilian-run body that investigates complaints.

Stanley Blythe, a spokesperson for the chief of staff for the commission, said the commission received the complaint a week ago. It alleges Afghans in custody were mistreated and that the military police failed to deal with it.

There's no evidence available at this time that the military police committed any of the alleged mistreatment, he said.

Attaran said he doesn't know all the details surrounding the incident because DND has refused to provide all the documents he has requested, including a photo of one of the men.

"Only yesterday, because this was about to break in the press, did the DND agree to conduct an internal investigation. An inquiry of this kind should be open to the public," he said.

Prisoners had cuts, bruises

A group of Canadian soldiers captured the Afghans near a small town about 50 kilometres west of Kandahar, where more than 2,000 Canadians are serving. The men were taken to the medical centre on the Kandahar base.

A military report says the man with the most serious injuries— bruises and cuts to his arm, back and chest— was injured when his hands were tied behind his back.

The military initially said "appropriate force" was used against the man, who it said was a bomb-maker.

One of the detainees was described in military reports as "non-compliant," while a second was described as "extremely belligerent," taking four men to subdue him.

Military officials in Kandahar aren't commenting on the abuse allegations and have referred all questions to Ottawa.Since therotation on the base has changed, all soldiers and officials involved in the alleged incident have returned to Canada.

Blythe said the complaints commission is expected to make a decision whether to launch a public interest probe before the end of the week.

The commission has held one inquiry in the past five years, said Blythe. It probed allegations military police didn't properly investigate a sexual assault at a cadet camp. The hearing in the case has been completed and a decision is pending.

Canadian soldiers are serving under the NATO banner in the Kandahar region, a stronghold of Taliban militants. Forty-four soldiers and one diplomat have died since the mission started in 2002.

With files from the Canadian Press