Politics

Afghan authorities beat citizens on 'whim': board

Canadian soldiers saw and talked about Afghan authorities beating citizens in the street "on an apparent whim" around the time a suspected Taliban fighter turned over to Afghan police was assaulted in June 2006, a military board of inquiry has found.

Assault of prisoner not reported in confusion about detainee policy, admiral says

Canadian soldiers saw and talked about Afghan authorities beating citizens in the street "on an apparent whim" around the time a suspected Taliban fighter turned over to Afghan police was assaulted in June 2006, a military board of inquiry has found.

A man Afghan authorities suspect of insurgency-related activities is interrogated during a joint Canadian-Afghan army patrol in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province in July 2009. ((Colin Perkel/Canadian Press))
The board revealed the suspected insurgent who was assaulted by Afghan police in front of Canadian soldiers wasn't considered a detainee because of the soldiers' confusion over the policy in place.

But the inquiry also admitted it could not locate a number of documents and records related to the incident, including war diaries, radio chat logs, as well as daily, weekly and individual patrol reports. 

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 Centre [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 )

The incident, first disclosed last December by Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada's top military commander, immediately prompted opposition parties to accuse Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government of misleading Canadians over its claims that there was no evidence that detainees transferred by Canadian troops into Afghan custody before 2007 were abused.

Rear Admiral Paul Maddison, president of the inquiry board, said the soldiers, who were part of the first battle group deployed to Kandahar province, were working under an "extremely intense and unprecedented environment" with the increased frequency of combat against a "well-motivated and determined Taliban insurgency."

During a routine mounted patrol, the soldiers pulled over a vehicle and singled out an individual for searching due to "suspicious activity." The soldiers handed over the man to a passing Afghan National Police truck to be taken to the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) in Zhari district, and then noticed the police assaulting him when the truck pulled away.

When they caught up with the man, they determined he had a bloody nose and some contusions from the police hitting him with their shoes. They gave him medical treatment, food and water, Maddison said.

The incident wasn't reported to superiors because the soldiers mistakenly "did not believe there was a requirement to report such events," Maddison told reporters on Friday.

"In the minds of soldiers who are trusted on the field to make the right decision and save lives, in their mind, this was not a detainee event that required reporting.

"In their minds, this was a person under their control and that they were facilitating the transfer to the ANSF. So there was a discrepancy that emerged on the battlefield between the intent in the policy and how it was being operationalized in the field."

A radio operator who sent a memorandum on the incident confused it with another incident in the day, in which three men were briefly detained by Canadian soldiers and released, Maddison added.

Section commander didn't witness abuse 

A partially redacted copy of a Canadian section commander's field report of the incident said that Canadian troops photographed the prisoner prior to handing him over to ensure that if Afghan police "did assault him, as has happened in the past, we would have a visual record of his condition."

But Addison said the section commander told the board his comment was based on rumours he learned in his own research and "personal preparation" for his mission in Afghanistan and neither he nor the soldiers in his section observed "specific abuse of prisoners."

As for the missing documents, Maddison said the board was "absolutely confident" it had what was required to make its findings. The board is investigating why some diaries "were not in place," but the fact that some daily briefings and situation reports could not be located "didn't come as a significant surprise," he said.

"There is a certain amount of what we call the fog of war."

Natynczyk, chief of the defence staff, was forced to correct himself in December when he first learned of the case, a day after telling a parliamentary committee the individual was captured by Afghan forces, not Canadian soldiers. He then ordered an inquiry into how the incident failed to climb up the military chain of command to him or his predecessor, Rick Hillier.

The board made no recommendations on improving detainee transfer reporting because it found the military now has a "unambiguous" management system of documenting and reporting detainees in place.

The detainee issue came to the forefront last November following allegations by Richard Colvin, a former senior diplomat with Canada's mission in Afghanistan. Colvin, now based in Washington, told a parliamentary committee that 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.

Government and military officials — past and present — have vehemently denied his allegations.

Opposition MPs have called for a public inquiry into the Afghan detainee affair and demanded to see uncensored documents pertaining to the issue. The government has refused, citing national security. 

Last week, House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken ruled the government was wrong to deny MPs access to the documents and called on all parties to find a solution that would balance national security concerns with Parliament's right to examine the material.

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