Politics

Colvin a potential 'liability': military memo

Field reports by ex-diplomat Richard Colvin about Canada's policy of handing prisoners over to Afghan authorities ticked off senior military officials who wanted him disciplined and possibly removed from his job at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul, a memo reveals.

Field reports by ex-diplomat Richard Colvin about Canada's policy of handing prisoners over to Afghan authorities ticked off senior military officials who wanted him disciplined and possibly removed from his job at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul, a bluntly worded memo reveals.

The memo dated May 7, 2007, and written by Mike Carter, a policy adviser at the Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, was released Monday as part of an inquiry by the Military Police Complaints Commission.

The commission is looking into allegations that the Canadian military was aware that prisoners it was transferring into Afghan custody were being tortured.

There were five reports by Colvin between February and April 2007 sent to as many as 100 people within the federal government that were of particular concern to CEFCOM, which manages all operations overseas, the memo stated.

In particular, CEFCOM was concerned about Colvin's:

  • reporting on operational detail or plans of a highly sensitive nature to an inappropriately wide audience;
  • expressing personal opinion or commentary regarding sensitive subject matter without prior consultations;
  • offering unqualified and unsolicited criticism of Canadian Forces' leadership decisions and the tactical practices of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

The memo described the nature of the five messages of concern but much of the detail was censored.

In a report dated April 24, 2007, Colvin recommended that Canada develop "a more cautious field methodology" to ensure fewer detainees were taken, statements that the memo said "contradicted Canada's official position and policy on the issue of Afghan-led detention" and suggested "a lack of faith in the Canadian military leadership."

The memo concluded that, given Colvin's "pattern of questionable reporting decisions" and his failure to heed the advice of senior Canadian military officials on two occasions, "CEFCOM is concerned that his continued employment in Kabul as political counsellor and deputy to the HOM [head of mission] could become a liability to the government of Canada's interests if left unchecked."

The memo also recommended that the Department of Foreign Affairs remind Colvin of his responsibilities as a diplomat and reporting limitations.

"Otherwise, his contribution to the embassy in Kabul should be re-evaluated."

Last fall, Colvin's allegations became public when they were aired before a parliamentary committee looking into the torture claims. At the time, many in government and the military professed never to have heard of the diplomat.

But Gabrielle Duschner, a former senior policy adviser at the overseas command, said she was aware of the internal criticism of Colvin at the time. The memo recommending he be warned and possibly replaced was sent to her by one of her staff, she said.

Duschner said she disagreed with its conclusions.

She told the complaints commission there was a general awareness and concern about the treatment of prisoners in Afghan jails before April 2007.

But Duschner said the issue became a No. 1 priority after media reports were published that month alleging abuse had take place.

The civilian-run complaints commission is investigating what military police knew — or should have known — about abuse allegations. Colvin now works as a senior intelligence official at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

With files from The Canadian Press