Top general changes story on Taliban suspect

Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada's top military commander, is now saying a suspected Taliban fighter abused by Afghan police in June 2006 had been detained by Canadian troops, contrary to comments he made Tuesday.

Beaten man had been in Canadian custody

Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada's top military commander, is now saying a suspected Taliban fighter abused by Afghan police in June 2006 had been detained by Canadian troops, contrary to comments he made Tuesday.

"The individual who was beaten by the Afghan police was, in fact, in Canadian custody," Natynczyk told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday.

Natynczyk had told a parliamentary committee that Canadian troops questioned the man, picked up during operations in Zangabad. But Natynczyk said it was the Afghans who took him into custody.

On Wednesday, the defence staff chief said he has received new information and learned that Canadians had taken the suspect into custody before handing him over to the Afghans.

Field report transcript

20:00 14 Jun 06 [location redacted]

Stopped along Rte [redacted] and held up a vehicle that was proceeding south down the route. Stopped and searched the three individuals in the white van and got a very weird feel from one of them.

Had the terp [interpreter] come and he [unclear] that the individual was in all probability Enemy (Taliban) due to his accent and his false story of being from Kandahar City. So I had him lie down on his stomach, then conducted a detailed search. (I had him empty his pockets prior to this) catalogued all his items and then took down his particulars (name [redacted] from Uruzgan).

We then photographed the individual prior to handing him over, to ensure that if the ANP did assault him, as has happened in the past, we would have a visual record of his condition.

The ANP Section Comd, [redacted] then arrived, asked the suspect a couple of questions and concurred with our assessment that the individual was enemy.

We in good faith handed the PUC [person under control] over to them so that he could be transported to the Zhari District Center [Forward Operating Base Wilson] where [watchdog] (a radio call-sign for military police) could get him. That was the last I saw him. [redacted] is one of [redacted] men.

(View the report)

Natynczyk read from a  report on the incident by the section commander, who said the Canadians had the suspect get down on his stomach before they conducted a detailed search, which included emptying the Afghan's pockets and cataloguing all the items.

But the sergeant also wrote that the man was photographed  "prior to handing him over, to ensure that if the [Afghan National Police] did assault him, as has happened in the past, we would have a visual record of his condition."

"I did not have this information in May of 2007 nor yesterday when I made my statement," Natynczyk said. "But I am responsible for the information provided by the Canadian Forces and I am accountable for it today."

Natynczyk said he will investigate the incident and why it took so long to get the information about what happened.

Canadian troops rescued man: general

Natynczyk said that after the Taliban suspect was taken into custody by Canadians, he was given to the Afghan police.

The police then started beating the man with their shoes, boots and weapons. Natynczyk said that prompted Canadian troops to rescue the man.

"I am proud that our soldiers acted courageously and ethically when they retrieved the individual from the Afghan National Police when it was apparent that he had been injured," Natynczyk said.

The Conservative government has said there is no evidence that Afghan detainees in Canadian custody who were subsequently handed over to Afghan officials before 2007 were abused.

The detainee issue has come to the forefront following allegations by Richard Colvin, a former senior diplomat with Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

Colvin, now based in Washington, said prisoners were turned over to Afghan prison officials by the Canadian military in 2006-07, despite his warnings to the Canadian government that they would be tortured.

The Conservatives have questioned the credibility of his testimony.

Colvin's lawyer said on Wednesday that her client is working on a written submission to the parliamentary special committee looking into the detainee issue "that will clarify some of the inaccuracies made in recent testimony regarding the transfer of detainees."

Ignatieff concerned with trust

Natynczyk's comments renewed calls for a public inquiry into the issue and demands for Defence Minister Peter MacKay to resign.

"When Gen. Natynczyk corrected his account this morning, he did so, he said, in order to restore trust in his office and in his institution," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said during question period in the House of Commons.

"The issue here is trust. We can’t trust this government, we can’t trust a word that comes out of the mouth of this minister. When will the prime minister fire him and call a full independent public inquiry?"

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the facts confirm what the government has been saying, that when the Canadian Forces see substantive evidence of any case of abuse, they have taken corrective action.

"That’s what they did in this case. And frankly, Gen. Natynczyk today, correcting the record on a particular point, indicates once again that the Canadian Forces — from the highest level down to the man in the trenches — act with the highest integrity at all times," Harper said.

Speaking before the special parliamentary committee, MacKay stressed that torture is abhorrent and can never be tolerated

"Let me be clear, the government of Canada has never been complicit in torture or any violation of international law by wilfully allowing detainees, Taliban prisoners, taken by the Canadian Forces, to be exposed to abuse," MacKay said.

"No one ever turned a blind eye."