Afghan translator alleges shooting coverup

A parliamentary committee has heard stunning allegations from a former translator who claims the Canadian military tried to cover up the fatal shooting of an Afghan man in October 2007.

Man acknowledges there is 'no direct evidence' incident occurred

Former Canadian Forces translator Ahmadshah Malgarai, who testified Wednesday in Ottawa about an alleged fatal shooting in Afghanistan, says a member of the military personally described it to him as "murder." ((Blair Gable/Reuters))

A parliamentary committee has heard stunning allegations from a former translator who claims the Canadian military tried to cover up the fatal shooting of an Afghan man in October 2007.

Ahmadshah Malgarai also alleged to MPs in Ottawa that the Canadian military "panicked" and rounded up a half a dozen Afghans between the age of 10 and 90 after the shooting of a man sleeping on the roof of a compound in southern Afghanistan.

Malgarai, a Canadian citizen born in Afghanistan, admitted inside the committee room that he did not witness the alleged shooting, but said he was present for the interrogation of detained men afterward.

He said the soldier who allegedly shot the man in the back of the head mistakenly thought he had a pistol.

Responding to the allegations late Wednesday, the chief of defence staff, Gen. Walter Natynczyk, issued a statement saying that the Canadian Forces will investigate the matter "appropriately" but that the military would not be led astray by "innuendo."

Gen. Walter Natynczyk, seen here in Ottawa in December, says the military will investigate the allegation that it covered up a shooting in Afghanistan. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))

"The Canadian Forces hold themselves to the highest level of professional conduct," Natynczyk said.

In his testimony, Malgarai also described how one of the detainees put his head on the ground and "begged to have a bullet put in his head" rather than be handed over to the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS).

Malgarai, who served as adviser to the former Joint Task Force Commander in Afghanistan from June 2007 to June 2008, acknowledged under a heated round of questioning from Conservative MP Laurie Hawn that he had "no direct evidence" to support his allegations.

During the opposition's round of questioning, Liberal MP Bob Rae asked the witness directly whether he saw the alleged shooting. Rae noted accidental shootings can sometimes happen in battle and reminded the witness that it was important to "differentiate between what he knows and what he thinks."

Malgarai testified he was not at the compound during the alleged incident, although he was allowed to see the intelligence report and took part in the interrogation of the detained men. He alleged a member of the military personally described it to him as "murder."

He also insisted he passed his allegations that the Canadian military was "subcontracting torture" to the NDS up the chain of command. He also said he "cannot believe" Defence Minister Peter MacKay doesn't know about his allegations.

"I want him to sit across from me look me in the eyes and say he doesn't know," the former translator said.

MP presses witness

When contacted by CBC News following Malgarai's testimony, Michel Gauthier, the now-retired lieutenant-general who was commander of all Canadian Forces overseas at the relevant times of Malgarai's allegations, said that due to his upcoming appearance before the Military Police Complaints Commission, he will not be offering any comment.

When an MP asked whether Malgarai believed that former chief of defence staff Rick Hillier was telling the truth when the general said that Taliban fighters — and not innocent farmers — were detained, the witness replied, "No."

When Hawn then asked if Malgarai was calling Hillier a liar, Ahmadshad became agitated and accused the Tory MP of trying to put words in his mouth.

Hawn then asked why Malgarai would keep working with the Canadian military after these alleged experiences. The witness replied that he did so because he wanted to help his people.

The witness was accompanied by Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor who has led legal efforts to get the government to release unredacted documents pertaining to the Afghanistan mission.

At one point, Attaran would not let Malgarai answer Hawn's question on whether he has an ongoing legal action against the government, telling Hawn he could look it up in the court file.