Afghan transfer deal wasn't perfect: Bill Graham

Former Liberal defence minister Bill Graham says an Afghan detainee-transfer deal signed on his watch wasn't perfect but was the best Canada could do at the time.
Bill Graham told a parliamentary committee Wednesday that a 2005 agreement on detainee transfers he oversaw as then defence minister wasn't without its shortcomings. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

Former Liberal defence minister Bill Graham says an Afghan detainee-transfer deal signed on his watch wasn't perfect but was the best Canada could do at the time.

Graham told a parliamentary committee Wednesday that the 2005 agreement signed by Gen. Rick Hillier, then chief of defence staff, wasn't without its shortcomings.

Perhaps the deal's biggest weakness was the lack of a provision for monitoring Canadian-captured prisoners once they had been turned over to Afghan authorities, Graham said.

A subsequent deal, signed by the Conservative government in the spring of 2007, included measures for Canadian officials to keep tabs on detainees, such as allowing them into Afghan jails.

"In the end, the agreement wasn't perfect," Graham said of the first deal. "No agreement is."

Graham was defence minister from 2004 to 2006 and foreign minister from 2002 to 2004.


Replay the CBC's live blog during Bill Graham's testimony.

He told a special House of Commons committee on the Afghan mission he would have preferred another NATO country run the jails instead of the Afghans.

Nevertheless, Canada opted to hand over prisoners captured on the battlefield to Afghan authorities.

Graham said Canada is responsible for the treatment of detainees once they are turned over to Afghans — but only to a point.

"That responsibility was not absolute," he said. "You can't be responsible for what you don't know about. It's not an absolute responsibility."

Graham said he had no reason to think prisoners faced abuse by local authorities.

Interpreter's claims countered

Also Wednesday, a former adviser to Canada's military commander in Afghanistan denied shocking claims about a prisoner transfer made by an Afghan interpreter before the parliamentary committee last month.

Ed Jager told a military police inquiry that translator Ahmadshah Malgarai's controversial account of a detainee handover at Kandahar Airfield isn't true.

Malgarai told the committee that an officer with Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) put a pistol on a table during a transfer and told Jager to kill the prisoner rather than hand him over.

Malgarai also said the same Afghan officer made veiled threats around Jager, saying when a prisoner about to be turned over to the NDS "gets to my room, he will speak." Jager says neither episode actually happened.

"I can say so categorically," he said. "And I do."

Jager worked for the Foreign Affairs Department as a political adviser to Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche, the commander of Task Force Kandahar, from August 2007 until May 2008.