IDNUMBER 200704280024
PUBLICATION: Vancouver Sun
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: A15
ILLUSTRATION:Photo: Massoud Hossaini, AFP/Getty Images / An Afghan girlcarries a water container in Kabul, Afghanistan Friday. ;
KEYWORDS: WAR; TERRORISM; FOREIGN AID; AFGHANISTAN
DATELINE: SPERWAN GHAR, Afghanistan
BYLINE: Jonathan Fowlie
SOURCE: CanWest News Service
WORD COUNT: 513

Afghan intelligence operative a legend


SPERWAN GHAR, Afghanistan -- Lumbering through camp in combat fatigues, a Toronto Blue Jays hat and battered sandals, the giant of a man known as Saddiq can be described as only one thing: A legend.

"I heard he lost two of his families, and that he took out a bunch of Taliban on his own," one Canadian soldier stationed on the small forward operating base whispered, repeating gossip he had heard just moments before, wondering aloud if it were true.

If you ask Saddiq, the stoic Afghan will stare at you with his dark brown eyes and flatly deny much of what is being said.

But the local Afghans in Panjwaii revere the man and so those around him regularly encourage him to tell his tale of heroism, and of battle for Afghanistan.

Before long, the 41-year-old with the thick black beard is likely to oblige. He'll lift his shirt and pant legs to reveal three shrapnel wounds he says he suffered while fighting against the Russians as a member of the mujahedeen.

Once he's started, the 6-foot-4 Afghan will no doubt go on to tell you that despite the very recent Taliban death threats he has received, he is determined to continue his work as an intelligence operative working for the Canadian army.

Officially, the man known as Saddiq -- a code name he uses to protect his real identity, a common practice among all Canadian interpreters -- is employed by the Canadians as one of its many interpreters, and army officers say that is the only function he is paid to perform.

In an interview, however, the man who speaks very little English claimed to be a lot more.

"When the Taliban is coming to a village, people call me," he said though an interpreter, explaining he oversees a network of informants in seven districts throughout southern Afghanistan. "I take the report and give it to the Canadians."

Saddiq said he has worked for the Canadians for about a year, and did the same for the Americans the four years before that.

Though he gets paid by the Canadians as an interpreter, it is clear he does his job for something much deeper than that. It is clear he is driven by hatred for the Taliban.

"The Taliban is coming to destroy our country," he said. "They use their own Islam. It is not real Islam," he added, asking what part of his religion instructs anyone to cut off someone's head. "That is homicide."

Though Saddiq fashions himself as unflinchingly tough, the grizzled war veteran acknowledged he almost quit three months ago after the Taliban issued a threat in a letter they nailed to the Shreenagha Mosque in Kandahar City.

Saddiq said he knows the threat is far from idle, especially because another informant, a man by the name Hayatullah, was killed by the Taliban in the Panjwaii area last year. And so, temporarily shaken by the spectre of his own death, the warrior sought counsel from his family.

In his mother, his wife and his five young children, Saddiq found fear. "They told me not to do this because the Taliban will kill them," he recalled, explaining he regularly moves his family to keep them safe.

For a final opinion, Saddiq appealed to his uncle, a respected religious leader. "My uncle said I should be in my job because the Taliban is coming to destroy my country," he said. And that was all he needed to reassemble his resolve.

====


IDNUMBER 200704280232
PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: A3
ILLUSTRATION:Photo: Jonathon Fowlie, CanWest News Service / Saddiq: theMan Behind the Myth: Saddiq says the calls he receives about Taliban activity are often from people acting out of a duty to their country, rather than for financial gain. 'These people have had family members killed by the Taliban,' he said. 'So, they give information.' ;
BYLINE: Jonathan Fowlie
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen
WORD COUNT: 632

Canada's eyes, ears against the Taliban; The stoic Saddiq, revered for his past fighting on the side of the mujahedeen, now helps Canadians take on the Taliban, writes Jonathan Fowlie, from Sperwan Ghar, Afghanistan.


Lumbering through camp in combat fatigues, a Toronto Blue Jays hat and battered sandals, the giant of a man known as Saddiq can be described as only one thing: A legend.

"I heard he lost two of his families, and that he took out a bunch of Taliban on his own," one Canadian soldier stationed on the small forward operating base here whispered, repeating gossip he had heard just moments before, and wondering aloud if it were true.

If you ask Saddiq, the stoic Afghan will stare at you with his dark brown eyes and flatly deny much of what is being said.

But the local Afghans in Panjwaii revere the man, so those around him regularly encourage him to tell his tale of heroism and his battle for Afghanistan. Before long, the 41-year-old with the thick black beard is likely to oblige.

He'll lift his shirt and pant legs to reveal three shrapnel wounds he says he suffered while fighting against the Russians as a member of the mujahedeen.

One wound, he said, came after a failed ambush meant to surprise the Russians in Spin Boldak.

The others, during combat near Kandahar City when he was surrounded for 25 days.

Once he's started, the six-foot-four Afghan will no doubt go on to tell you that despite the very recent Taliban death threats he has received, he is determined to continue his work as an intelligence operative working for the Canadian army.

Officially, the man known as Saddiq is employed by the Canadians as one of its many interpreters, and army officers say that is the only function he is paid to perform. "Saddiq" is a code name he uses to protect his real identity, a common practice among Canadian interpreters.

In an interview, however, the man who speaks very little English claimed to be a lot more.

"When the Taliban is coming to a village, people call me," he said through an interpreter, explaining he oversees a network of informants in seven districts throughout southern Afghanistan. "I take the report and give it to the Canadians."

Saddiq said he has worked for the Canadians for about a year, and that he did the same for the Americans for four years before that.

Speaking of what he has been able to uncover, Saddiq said he recently forewarned Canadians of an ambush they successfully fought off in the Zhari district of Kandahar province -- a claim that could not be confirmed or disproved.

He added people throughout his intelligence network regularly call to give him information when they see or hear about Taliban activity. He said the people do not do this for money, but as a "service for their country."

"These people have had family members killed by the Taliban," he said, "so they give information."

Saddiq explained his own motivations are largely the same.

Though he gets paid by the Canadians as an interpreter, it is clear he does his job for something much deeper than that. It is clear he is driven by hatred for the Taliban.

"The Taliban is coming to destroy our country," he said. "They use their own Islam. It is not real Islam," he added, asking what part of his religion instructs anyone to cut off someone's head.

"That is homicide."

Though Saddiq fashions himself as unflinchingly tough, the grizzled war veteran acknowledged he almost quit three months ago after the Taliban issued a threat in a letter they nailed to the Shreenagha Mosque in Kandahar City.

"If you stop we will leave you alone," read the letter, addressed to many Afghans who work with coalition forces. "If you don't quit, and we catch you, we will kill you," it said.

Saddiq said he knows the threat is far from idle, especially because another informant, a man by the name Hayatullah, was killed by the Taliban in the Panjwaii area last year.

And so, temporarily shaken by the spectre of his own death, the warrior sought counsel from his family.

In his mother, his wife and his five young children, Saddiq found fear.

"They told me not to do this because the Taliban will kill them," he recalled, explaining he regularly moves his family to keep them safe.

For a final opinion, Saddiq appealed to his uncle, a respected religious leader.

"My uncle said I should be in my job because the Taliban is coming to destroy my country," he said.

And that was all he needed to reassemble his resolve. In fact, Saddiq even requested he be photographed for this story, and that his face not be hidden.

"I don't care about the danger," he said. "I will resist against the Taliban."

When asked if he thinks the Taliban could ever regain power in Afghanistan, he spoke for the first time in English.

"No," he said sternly and clearly. "Never."

====


IDNUMBER 200704280191
PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: B6 / EDITORIAL
SOURCE: Ottawa Citizen
WORD COUNT: 522

Questions of competence


The confusion in the Harper cabinet over the handling of Afghan prisoners is damaging the credibility of an important and principled mission, and much of the blame lies with the former general who is minister of defence.

Gordon O'Connor's gruff and plain-spoken manner has always been refreshing next to the smooth polish of professional politicians, who won't tell you the time of day without first consulting advisers and focus groups. Mr. O'Connor obtained the defence portfolio because Canada's role in Afghanistan is complex, and having an ex-military man in charge would minimize the risk of unintended consequences.

Mr. O'Connor's appointment has generally been good. Equipment is moving to the troops, who are performing well in the field. There is more -- but not enough -- money in the defence budget, and recruitment seems to be rising.

But the Afghan intervention has been challenging, in particular the question of how best to handle Afghan prisoners taken by Canadian soldiers. In 2001-02, under a Liberal government, Canadian soldiers handed captives to our American allies, which was problematic thanks to Guantanamo and the practice of "rendition." That is, no one could be certain that the U.S. was willing or able to ensure fair treatment of captives.

More recently Canada has been giving the captives to Afghan authorities, but Canada has been doing so without adequately following up on how those captives are being treated. Initially Mr. O'Connor said that the International Red Cross was monitoring treatment of prisoners, but that turned out to be false. Canadians were told that an Afghan human-rights group was making sure no torture or other abuse was occurring. Wrong again. Kabul authorities have denied access to prisoners.

It gets worse. Some detainees have since surfaced and accused their jailers of torture. Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs then tried to censor a report warning that the Afghan regime regularly tortured prisoners, despite the Harper government's avowed statements to the contrary.

Clearly, Mr. O'Connor and his government colleagues haven't a clue what is going on in the jails of our Afghan allies. Canada is engaged in dangerous armed conflict. Appearing clueless on the important issue of detainees does not inspire confidence. How can we know what the enemy is planning when we don't even know what our friends are up to? On Wednesday the defence minister abruptly changed policy again. Now Canada will directly track prisoners detained in Kandahar province, he said -- if the Karzai government agrees to this.

It could be time for NATO to set up its own detention facility, in co-operation with Afghan officials. Taliban prisoners are taught to make false accusations of torture, in order to delegitimize the case for democracy. If we want to refute the accusations, we need to monitor the fate of prisoners.

The Afghan mission is important, and opponents of the intervention -- isolationists, al-Qaeda sympathizers, cynics, misguided pacifists -- celebrate each new sign of government incompetence. Sadly, there is a real question about competence, especially Mr. O'Connor's.

====


IDNUMBER 200704280111
PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Final
SECTION: City
PAGE: E3
ILLUSTRATION:Photo: Jean Levac, the Ottawa Citizen / Peter Pigott, whotravelled to Afghanistan last June as an independent observer for his book, Canada in Afghanistan: The War so Far, discusses the trip at his Orleans townhouse as he sits in front of a National Geographic map of the country. ;
BYLINE: Andrew Thomson
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen
WORD COUNT: 525

Chronicling the kindness and barbarity of Afghanistan; Ottawa author Peter Pigott was struck by the mix of Afghan courtesy and 'unyielding cruelty' he encountered while researching his new book, writes Andrew Thomson.


Peter Pigott spent several childhood years in northwestern India, fascinated by the land on the far side of neighbouring Pakistan. Rudyard Kipling novels and the 19th-century Great Game of superpower intrigue only heightened his curiosity about Afghanistan.

He finally made it last June, embedding himself for a month with Canadian soldiers and officials in and around Kandahar. His new book, Canada in Afghanistan: The War so Far, details his trip and the mission as a whole since 2001.

Mr. Pigott, soon to retire from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade's legal section, travelled as an independent observer. He discussed the trip at his Orleans townhouse, a National Geographic map of Afghanistan spread across the dining room table.

Normally, he writes about the history of transportation, not the complexities of Central Asian geopolitics. He's the first to admit the book has no controversial maxims about troop engagements or withdrawals, hot-button issues that could surface in a federal election campaign.

Canada in Afghanistan details that country's history and culture, Canada's relations to it in recent decades, and first-hand reports from provincial reconstruction teams seeking to rebuild shattered (or non-existent) infrastructure.

"I wrote the book to introduce Afghanistan to Canadian readers," Mr. Pigott said. It's on TV every night, but there are only quick bites of news from Kandahar and things like that."

He confined his travels to the country's south. It's a place, he said, where kindness and barbarity march side-by-side within the Afghan psyche, especially in the treatment of captives.

The book details one hideous example from the post-2001 era: captured French special forces troops tied up and disemboweled following a battle with the Taliban.

It's the result of centuries of mostly unwanted foreign guests, from Alexander the Great and the Mughals to the Soviet Union during the 1980s.

"The Afghans I met were the most courteous and hospitable people ever," Mr. Pigott recounted. "And

yet underneath the surface, there was an unyielding

cruelty."

One problem for Canadian efforts in the south is that many Afghans seem just as eager for a Taliban resurgence now as they did last summer. Mr. Pigott compares their mythical reputation for law and order to characters from The Seven Samurai or The Magnificent Seven.

"The Taliban were the good guys who came into the village and got the bad cops," he said. "It's probably a fallacy, but they were (seen as) the Robin Hoods of the poor people."

So how do Canada and its NATO allies win hearts and minds across the dangerous landscapes of Kandahar province?

A long-term strategy is to wait for a younger generation of Internet-savvy, cellphone-brandishing Afghans to form a functioning middle class, taking the reins of government from older warlords and officials more prone to corruption.

In the meantime, Mr. Pigott said military stability will foster economic growth (including the mineral sector), discourage the unemployed from the Taliban's payroll and attract Afghanistan's diaspora back home. So will appealing to the Taliban's moderate supporters while fighting its hardcore base of insurgents.

"The key to it all is making sure the Afghans run the country themselves," he said.

Despite what he regards as a weak fighting commitment from other European NATO members, Mr. Pigott was impressed by the professionalism of Canadian soldiers.

"The troops were so intense," he said. "They were ready to change the country, ready to fight."

After his visit, Mr. Pigott is convinced that Canada will remain in Afghanistan until at least 2020 -- if not militarily, then at least in a developmental and diplomatic role. He hopes to return in 2009 for a second assessment.

His next book is on the history of the Canadian Pacific shipping line.

====


IDNUMBER 200704280072
PUBLICATION: Times & Transcript (Moncton)
DATE: 2007.04.28
SECTION: News
PAGE: D1
KEYWORDS: TTNEWS; TT NEWS
COPYRIGHT: 2007 Times & Transcript (Moncton)
WORD COUNT: 397

Tories dismiss Afghan torture reports; Gov't denies allegations despite lack of full probe


The embattled Conservative government is pushing a new line about claims of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan - it didn't happen.

But the assurance by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day yesterday came despite the fact that no full investigation has been conducted.

Meanwhile, the mystery continues over who, if anyone, is monitoring the treatment of detainees handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian troops.

Day accused the opposition again yesterday of believing "false allegations" of torture made by insurgents.

He insisted that two Corrections Canada officers in Kandahar have had full access to Afghan prisons, and that they have a mandate to report prisoner abuse. But he didn't say if they have been monitoring prisoners handed over by Canadian troops.

Day and other Conservatives again tried to deflect criticism by accusing opposition MPs of attacking the integrity of Canadian troops - even though the abuse allegations are not directed at soldiers.

Day's claim that Canada has had access to detainees is the latest in a series of changing stories by the Conservatives on who is monitoring the treatment of the prisoners.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which the government had tasked with monitoring detainees, said it has been denied access to prisoners in intelligence jails.

The government now says it is on the verge of signing a formal deal with Afghan officials to allow regular access, but critics wonder if even that will do any good.

Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada did little to ease such fears, saying that while the doors to Afghan prisons will swing open for Canadian officials, it will be up to Afghan authorities to deal with any suspected cases of abuse.

"It is the responsibility of our government to look into that and correct the problems that may exist, whether it's to charge someone with abuse or to prosecute someone - or to bring evidence to court," Omar Samad told The Canadian Press.

He said his country is taking "baby steps" toward the "establishment of the rule of law and the legal process must be respected."

Like just about every other situation in the war-ravaged country, the justice system is still a work-in-progress, Samad conceded.

However, under international law, Canada has a responsibility to protect prisoners from abuse and to make sure they are not handed over to a state that practises torture.

====


IDNUMBER 200704280160
PUBLICATION: The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge And Waterloo)
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Final
SECTION: Front
PAGE: A1
DATELINE: OTTAWA
BYLINE: ALLAN WOODS AND BRUCE CAMPION-SMITH
SOURCE: Toronto Star
COPYRIGHT: 2007 Torstar Corporation
WORD COUNT: 549

Opposition poised to exploit Conservative 'cracks'


After seeing the Conservatives suffer through their "worst week" yet, the Liberals are now testing the waters to see if the time is ripe to bring down the government.

And yesterday, NDP Leader Jack Layton extended a hand to the other opposition parties to band together to bring toughened environmental legislation before the Commons for a vote over the coming weeks.

Layton asked Liberal Leader Stephane Dion and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe to set aside "partisan rancour" and use their collective sway to force a vote on Bill C-30, an amended Green plan that would allow Canada to meet its Kyoto targets.

"Too much time has been wasted in Canada's fight against climate change . . . We must have C-30 debated and voted on at the next possible opportunity," Layton wrote.

His invitation came at the end of a week when opposition parties were basking in the woes of the ruling Conservatives.

"The cracks are beginning to show and our job is to show Canadians just how vulnerable they are both on the environment and on the Afghan (mission)," deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told reporters.

"We have shown our lack of confidence in the government this week. It's the worst week that they've had in 14 months. It's (up) to the voters to reflect on what we have said, and what we have proven in the House, and then we'll see," he said.

Ignatieff said any decision on a non-confidence motion by the Liberals would be left to Dion, who was not in the capital yesterday.

But the mere fact that the Liberals are leaving the door open to a possible non-confidence vote marks a dramatic turn for the Tories, who just a few weeks ago were the ones in the driver's seat, showing off their election headquarters and all but daring political opponents to topple the minority government.

Yet the fortunes turned this week, largely on the reported beatings of 30 Afghan prisoners -- and the Conservatives' bumbled handling of the fall-out.

"This has been a week of chaos, of confusion and cover-up for the Conservatives, a political gong show at the expense of our international reputation," Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla said yesterday in question period.

In a week when the Conservatives couldn't get their story straight about how Canada was dealing with reports of torture and abuse in Afghan detention facilities, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day served up yet another explanation yesterday, dismissing the disturbing tales as lies.

"The opposition should cease to make these false allegations . . . that are brought forward by Taliban suspects," Day said.

He said two Canadian prison officials working in Kandahar have been given wide access to three area detention facilities. The Sarpoza prison facility near Kandahar City houses 838 detainees -- "alleged terrorists," with 138 of them kept in a national security section, Day said.

However, it still not clear whether the Canadian prison officials -- who were dispatched to help train and mentor Afghan prison staff -- are responsible for monitoring prisoners transferred into Afghan custody by Canadian troops.

Despite the Conservatives' woes this week, both the NDP and Bloc are skittish about foisting an election on Canadians just over a year after the last federal campaign.

NDP House Leader Libby Davies said the Conservatives' track record has been a "huge disappointment." Yet despite deep disagreements over the Afghan mission and the environment, she said the NDP are willing to give the Tories more time.

Bloc environment critic Bernard Bigras said the government's plan to tackle climate change is "inadequate." But he too steered clear of any election rhetoric, saying "the ball is in the government's camp.

====


IDNUMBER 200704280072
PUBLICATION: The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
DATE: 2007.04.28
SECTION: News
PAGE: A11
KEYWORDS: DGNEWS; DG NEWS
BYLINE: MURRAY BREWSTERThe Canadian Press
COPYRIGHT: 2007 The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
WORD COUNT: 416

Tories dismiss Afghan torture allegations despite no investigation


The embattled Conservative government is pushing a new line about claims of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan - it didn't happen.

But the assurance by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day on Friday came despite the fact that no full investigation has been conducted.

Meanwhile, the mystery continues over who, if anyone, is monitoring the treatment of detainees handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian troops.

Day accused the opposition again Friday of believing "false allegations" of torture made by insurgents.

He insisted that two Corrections Canada officers in Kandahar have had full access to Afghan prisons, and that they have a mandate to report prisoner abuse.

But he didn't say if they have been monitoring prisoners handed over by Canadian troops.

Day and other Conservatives again tried to deflect criticism by accusing opposition MPs of attacking the integrity of Canadian troops - even though the abuse allegations are not directed at soldiers.

Day's claim that Canada has had access to detainees is the latest in a series of changing stories by the Conservatives on who is monitoring the treatment of the prisoners.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which the government had tasked with monitoring detainees, said it has been denied access to prisoners in intelligence jails.

The government now says it is on the verge of signing a formal deal with Afghan officials to allow regular access, but critics wonder if even that will do any good.

Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada did little to ease such fears, saying that while the doors to Afghan prisons will swing open for Canadian officials, it will be up to Afghan authorities to deal with any suspected cases of abuse.

"It is the responsibility of our government to look into that and correct the problems that may exist, whether it's to charge someone with abuse or to prosecute someone - or to bring evidence to court," Omar Samad told The Canadian Press.

He said his country is taking "baby steps" toward the "establishment of the rule of law and the legal process must be respected."

Like just about every other situation in the war-ravaged country, the justice system is still a work-in-progress, Samad conceded, but insisted it is the sovereign right of Afghans to deal with their own citizens.

However, under international law, Canada has a responsibility to protect prisoners from abuse and to make sure they are not handed over to a state that practises torture.

====


IDNUMBER 200704280047
PUBLICATION: The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
DATE: 2007.04.28
SECTION: News
PAGE: A1/A2
KEYWORDS: DGNEWS; DG NEWS
BYLINE: MICHAEL STAPLES staples.michael@dailygleaner.com
COPYRIGHT: 2007 The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
WORD COUNT: 528

Commander must remain calm when facing tragedy


In the midst of the mayhem that saw eight Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, Lt.-Col. Rob Walker took the time to comfort a young medic who tried in vain to save the life of Trooper Patrick James Pentland of Geary.

Walker is the commander of the 1,150-member battle group of The Second Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment (2RCR) now deployed in Afghanistan.

He said it's his job to be a calming influence and that included talking one- on-one to his soldiers.

Walker said the young medic, who had been in Afghanistan for five months, was with the Royal Canadian Dragoons on April 11 when the explosion that killed Pentland and Master Cpl. Allan Stewart occurred.

"It was his first significant (experience with) Canadian casualties and he could not help one of our Canadians - Trooper Pentland. It really hit him hard, " Walker said in an interview with The Daily Gleaner.

"I had a talk with him and reassured him that he did everything he could do to ease his suffering."

Walker, who said he was moved by the experience, is home on a short leave and spending time with family.

"I had to ensure that I was a calming effect," Walker said of the minutes, hours and days following the two deadly explosions. "I had to be there for the tears of my sub-unit commanders and others within the organization.

"I personally interviewed each and every soldier, officer, senior NCO, corporal and private that played a part in the initial response. You can imagine that the scenes they were dealing with were quite traumatic."

Walker said he had talked to Sgt. Don Lucas of Burton and had shared a joke with him. It would be the last time he would see Lucas alive.

The Burton man was one of the victims of the Easter Sunday explosion that killed six soldiers, including five from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown.

"It (the deaths of Lucas and the others) was quite shocking for everyone," Walker said.

In the time leading up to the two bomb blasts, Walker said Canadians had become aware that an individual intent on causing trouble had arrived in the area.

They were pursuing the individual, but "he got to us first," Walker said.

He said the bombing incidents were a shock because his troops had enjoyed relative success up to that point.

"We had no serious injuries to anyone."

Since arriving in-theatre, and prior to the bombings, the battle group had survived six suicide car bombers, five ambushes, and as many as a dozen roadside bombs or mines.

Walker said he walked away from a rocket attack on his vehicle.

Despite everything that's happened, Walker said, success has been achieved to date by killing a number of Taliban and taking away their leadership.

As well, he said, the lines of communication between the troops and Afghan civilians have been opened.

But that could change when the opium crops are ready to be harvested by the middle of next month, or if there is a noticeable increase in activity by the Taliban, Walker said.

The much anticipated spring offensive hasn't materialized.

"The ambushes are basically on the highway. All suicide car bombs are on the highway and IEDs (roadside bombs) are basically in the area where we are working."

Walker said troops conducted an operation where those responsible for planting the explosives were baited. That resulted in a fight and the cell was eliminated.

"Because of that, we basically had calm for about three weeks in our area until we had the two incidents - on the 11th and eighth of April."

Walker said when his troops arrived in Kandahar in January, they were given the task of expanding their presence and trying to understand the environment they were working in.

It was a time when people were returning for the planting season.

Because of that, Canadians had to learn who was in the district and get a sense of who these people were.

"We are at a point now where we have complete freedom of movement anywhere," Walker said. "We conduct operations by day and by night. There is not one location where I will not put my soldiers."

====


PUBLICATION: Kingston Whig-Standard (ON)
DATE: 2007.04.28
SECTION: National/World
PAGE: B2
SOURCE: CP
BYLINE: Murray Brewster
DATELINE: Ottawa
ILLUSTRATION:day
WORD COUNT: 481

Afghan abuse didn't happen, Ottawa says; Dismissal of the allegations latest tack in the Tories' ever-changing stance on the issue


The embattled Conservative government is pushing a new line about claims of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan - it didn't happen.

But the assurance by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day yesterday came despite the fact that no full investigation has been conducted. Meanwhile, the mystery continues over who, if anyone, is monitoring the treatment of detainees handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian troops.

Day accused the opposition again yesterday of believing "false allegations" of torture made by insurgents.

He insisted that two Corrections Canada officers in Kandahar have had full access to Afghan prisons, and that they have a mandate to report prisoner abuse. But he didn't say if they have been monitoring prisoners handed over by Canadian troops.

Day and other Conservatives again tried to deflect criticism by accusing opposition MPs of attacking the integrity of Canadian troops - even though the abuse allegations are not directed at soldiers.

Day's claim that Canada has had access to detainees is the latest in a series of changing stories by the Conservatives on who is monitoring the treatment of the prisoners.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which the government had tasked with monitoring detainees, said it has been denied access to prisoners in intelligence jails.

The government now says it is on the verge of signing a formal deal with Afghan officials to allow regular access, but critics wonder if even that will do any good.

Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada did little to ease such fears, saying that while the doors to Afghan prisons will swing open for Canadian officials, it will be up to Afghan authorities to deal with any suspected cases of abuse.

"It is the responsibility of our government to look into that and correct the problems that may exist, whether it's to charge someone with abuse or to prosecute someone - or to bring evidence to court," Omar Samad told The Canadian Press.

He said his country is taking "baby steps" toward the "establishment of the rule of law and the legal process must be respected."

Like just about every other situation in the war-ravaged country, the justice system is still a work-in-progress, Samad conceded, but insisted it is the sovereign right of Afghans to deal with their own citizens.

However, under international law, Canada has a responsibility to protect prisoners from abuse and to make sure they are not handed over to a state that practises torture.

University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran has said recent reports that as many as 30 detainees, captured by Canadians, may have been abused show that the Afghans cannot be trusted to keep their word when it comes to human rights.

"How can you make the argument that processing someone through the Afghan justice system is going to result in the just separation of the guilty from the innocent?" he asked.

"That's not going to happen."

Even with this new access agreement, Attaran said Canadians need to think long and hard before handing someone over to that kind of system.

"At the end of the day, we are the ones taking detainees," he said. "The responsibility for detainees begins with us."

If detainees are tortured, Canadian troops could face possible war crimes allegations, he said, considered as possible accomplices under international law.

Samad did not deny that abuses may have take place in Afghan jails.

====


PUBLICATION: The Chronicle-Herald
DATE: 2007.04.28
SECTION: Opinion
PAGE: A6
BYLINE: Stephen Maher
ILLUSTRATION:Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, a former general, told theHouse of Commons in May that the Red Cross was in charge of reporting on the status of Canada's former prisoners, which was not true. (Fred Chartrand / CP); Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, a former general, told the House of Commons in May that the Red Cross was in charge of reporting on the status of Canada's former prisoners, which was not true. (Fred Chartrand / CP)
WORD COUNT: 805

Tories' unimpressive detainee display


SUDDENLY THIS WEEK, for the first time since the 2006 election, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper looked as confused and disorderly as the government of Paul Martin, with the opposition landing jabs and ministers responding with wild, weak punches.

The Tories look gravely concerned, and they ought to be, because the file they are fumbling is our war in Afghanistan and no issue is more dangerous to them.

As with the environment, the other trouble spot for Mr. Harper's team, the roots of this government's problems in Afghanistan can be found in the failings of the previous government. But this government has now been in power too long to pass the buck.

And Mr. Harper has made the Afghan war the centrepiece of his government. He has visited Afghanistan, brought Afghan President Hamid Karzai to address Parliament, sent ministers to visit the troops and given countless sincere speeches. He has done everything conceivable to bolster support for the war.

This effort has been accompanied by a political sales job attempting to change the image of the federal government from multicultural Liberal red to militaristic Tory blue, but there is every reason to believe that Mr. Harper's support is real.

Certainly, his efforts to get behind our soldiers looks braver than the arm's-length approach of Mr. Martin, who tried to avoid political fallout by framing the war as a bureaucratic exercise under the care of the competent military authorities.

It should be doubly disturbing for the Tories, then, that they undermined civilian support for the war effort with their ineptitude in the House of Commons this week.

War fighting is for soldiers, but politics is for politicians, and this week Mr. Harper and his team let down our soldiers by failing to have convincing answers to a very basic question: can we be sure we are not handing over prisoners to torturers?

The Tories' problem is that the answer is no.

Unlike our British, Danish, Norwegian and Dutch allies, Canada does not have a strong prisoner-exchange agreement with the Afghan government. Until the election, that was the Liberals' fault. Now it is the Tories'.

Without the kind of agreement that allows us to follow up on individual detainees, we can't know what happens to them after we hand them over to torturers who work in the Afghan security services.

Ensuring we have such an arrangement is not - or ought not be - the responsibility of our generals, but of our politicians.

The Tories have had 15 months to do something about this, but Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, a former general, is perhaps too much the military man to understand the importance of a political issue like this.

In a disturbing lapse in May, he told the House of Commons that the Red Cross was in charge of reporting on the status of our former prisoners, which was not true.

On Monday, the Globe and Mail published a very convincing story from Kandahar, where a reporter interviewed 30 suspected Taliban who had been captured by the Canadians and turned over to Afghan's intelligence police. The Globe found the Canadian troops treated the men very well, but there was a clear pattern of abuse from the Afghan police. The prisoners were beaten, whipped, starved, frozen and subjected to electric shocks, left as shattered wrecks.

In our House of Commons, when the opposition attacked, the Tories served up weak excuse after weak excuse. First they said that an Afghan human rights organization was in charge of monitoring the prisoners. The organization then admitted it did not have the staff to do so and was barred from entering prisons.

Then Mr. O'Connor suddenly announced that he had reached a new agreement allowing access to one prison and said soldiers would be able to check on prisoners, which Gen. Rick Hillier said they don't have the training to do.

Then Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day was suddenly claiming, incorrectly, that Corrections Canada was checking up on the status of prisoners.

It was a deeply unimpressive display.

As always, when the going got tough, Mr. Harper lashed out at the Liberals.

"The real problem is the willingness of the leader of the Liberal party and his colleagues to believe, to repeat and to exaggerate any charge against the Canadian military as they fight these fanatics and killers who are called the Taliban," he stormed. "It is a disgrace."

Mr. Harper was incorrectly accusing the Liberals of attacking the military when they were questioning the government, which is the patriotic duty of the opposition. Nobody has said a single word against the role of Canadian soldiers.

This debate would no doubt seem surreal to those soldiers while politicians bicker in comfort and journalists relish the excitement of a government in trouble.

But if civilians don't support this mission, it will fail, and civilians don't want us to hand prisoners to torturers.

For the past three weeks, Chronicle Herald journalists Chris Lambie and Christian Laforce have been telling the harrowing stories of the work our soldiers are doing in Afghanistan. The soldiers are willing to kill and die to win the hearts and minds of fearful, suspicious, hostile Afghans.

Mr. Harper has the easier, but no less important job of winning over the hearts and minds of Canadians. This week, he didn't do a very good job of it.

( )

====


PUBLICATION: The Chronicle-Herald
DATE: 2007.04.28
SECTION: Canada
PAGE: A4
BYLINE: Murray Brewster
ILLUSTRATION:Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day says there has been noabuse of Afghan prisoners by local authorities. (TOM HANSON / CP)
WORD COUNT: 606

Tories dismiss torture talk; Minister admits government has not investigated allegations


OTTAWA - The embattled Conservative government is pushing a new line about claims of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan - it didn't happen.

But the assurance by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day on Friday came despite the fact that no full investigation has been conducted. Meanwhile, the mystery continues over who, if anyone, is monitoring the treatment of detainees handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian troops.

Day accused the opposition again Friday of believing "false allegations" of torture made by insurgents.

He insisted that two Corrections Canada officers in Kandahar have had full access to Afghan prisons, and that they have a mandate to report prisoner abuse. But he didn't say if they have been monitoring prisoners handed over by Canadian troops.

Day and other Conservatives again tried to deflect criticism by accusing opposition MPs of attacking the integrity of Canadian troops - even though the abuse allegations are not directed at soldiers.

Day's claim that Canada has had access to detainees is the latest in a series of changing stories by the Conservatives on who is monitoring the treatment of the prisoners.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which the government had tasked with monitoring detainees, said it has been denied access to prisoners in intelligence jails.

The government now says it is on the verge of signing a formal deal with Afghan officials to allow regular access, but critics wonder if even that will do any good.

Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada did little to ease such fears, saying that while the doors to Afghan prisons will swing open for Canadian officials, it will be up to Afghan authorities to deal with any suspected cases of abuse.

"It is the responsibility of our government to look into that and correct the problems that may exist, whether it's to charge someone with abuse or to prosecute someone - or to bring evidence to court," Omar Samad told The Canadian Press.

He said his country is taking "baby steps" toward the "establishment of the rule of law and the legal process must be respected."

Like just about every other situation in the war-ravaged country, the justice system is still a work-in-progress, Samad conceded, but insisted it is the sovereign right of Afghans to deal with their own citizens.

However, under international law, Canada has a responsibility to protect prisoners from abuse and to make sure they are not handed over to a state that practises torture.

University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran has said recent reports that as many as 30 detainees, captured by Canadians, may have been abused show that the Afghans cannot be trusted to keep their word when it comes to human rights.

"How can you make the argument that processing someone through the Afghan justice system is going to result in the just separation of the guilty from the innocent?" he asked.

"That's not going to happen."

Even with this new access agreement, Attaran said Canadians need to think long and hard before handing someone over to that kind of system.

"At the end of the day, we are the ones taking detainees," he said. "The responsibility for detainees begins with us."

If detainees are tortured, Canadian troops could face possible war crimes allegations, he said, considered as possible accomplices under international law.

Samad did not deny that abuses may have take place in Afghan jails. "There are reports that come out annually by various governments and international human rights organizations that point that are problems in dealing with humans rights in laws in Afghanistan with institutions that do not have the capacity," he said

"No one is denying Afghanistan faces those kinds of institutional and capacity problems."

But he said the Afghan government had not found evidence to the support the claims thus far.

"We are in a fact-finding mode to see if any of this credible and if it is then we have to decide what to do," he said.

Canadian and Afghan officials are in the process of working out the details of a written agreement between the two countries that clearly sets their roles and responsibilities.

Samad hinted that Corrections Canada officers and Foreign Affairs officials on the ground in Kandahar will play a greater role in monitoring detainees.

====


PUBLICATION: The Chronicle-Herald
DATE: 2007.04.28
SECTION: News
PAGE: A1
BYLINE: Chris Lambie Staff Reporter
ILLUSTRATION:A Canadian soldier moves through the village of Badvan, inthe Panjawi district of Kandahar province, on Friday. (Christian Laforce / The Chronicle Herald); Sgt. Greg Collette of Minto, N.B. crosses a bridge near the Arghandab River in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on Friday. (Christian Laforce / Staff); Sgt. Peter Nyitrai-Hacz of Springhill sits on a wall in Badvan village in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province in Afghanistan on Friday. (Christian Laforce / Staff); An Afghan man and his wife drive down a road near Badvan on Friday. (Christian Laforce / Staff); An Afghan man and his wife drive down a road near Badvan on Friday. (Christian Laforce / Staff); An Afghan man and his wife drive down a road near Badvan on Friday. (Christian Laforce / Staff); A Canadian soldier moves through the village of Badvan, in the Panjawi district of Kandahar province, on Friday. (Christian Laforce / The Chronicle Herald); Sgt. Greg Collette of Minto, N.B. crosses a bridge near the Arghandab River in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on Friday. (Christian Laforce / Staff); Sgt. Peter Nyitrai-Hacz of Springhill sits on a wall in Badvan village in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province in Afghanistan on Friday. (Christian Laforce / Staff); An Afghan man and his wife drive down a road near Badvan on Friday. (Christian Laforce / Staff)
WORD COUNT: 579

This enemy has four legs, sharp teeth 'If I had a silencer, that dog would be dead'; "They're not all that friendly and they're a little bit ugly"


MA'SUM GHAR, AfghanistanIT'S DIFFICULT FOR Canadian troops to sneak up on Afghan villages because they have an early-warning system that's impossible to defeat: dogs.

"Everywhere we ever go, there's always dogs," said Sgt. Peter Nyitrai-Hacz of Springhill.

"So to come into any town, the dogs are going to give you away - no matter where you're at."

About 20 soldiers from India Company set out at 3 a.m. Friday to check out the village of Badvan in Kandahar's Panjwaii district. They were especially keen to get a look at a ferry crossing on the Arghandab River that leads to a site used to launch recent rocket attacks at Canadian troops.

The soldiers moved toward the village under the cover of darkness, using night-vision goggles to quietly pick their way four kilometres down a dirt road. But a large snarling Afghan hound spoiled what was supposed to be a surprise.

"Shoot the f---ing thing," one soldier growled over the radio.

"I will," said another, who was closest to the dog.

But he held his fire and the troops moved on.

"If I had a silencer, that dog would be dead," muttered the soldier involved in the canine standoff.

But using lethal force wouldn't have made much difference because soon all of the dogs in the village were barking at the Canadian soldiers.

"In some ways, they scare us more than people because they don't care," said Cpl. Sergio DeFranco, a medic from Ottawa.

The Canadians have used their night-vision gear to count as many as 34 dogs in one pack in nearby Ma'sum Ghar.

"I don't think a congregation of that many dogs is really that safe," Sgt. Nyitrai-Hacz said. "They're not all that friendly and they're a little bit ugly looking."

With roosters crowing and the sun rising, the Canadians were met Friday at the edge of the village by local men making their way to a small mud mosque for morning prayers.

Warrant Officer John Blackmore of Glace Bay questioned them about the presence of Taliban in the area. But the locals said they hadn't seen any insurgents lately.

"Nobody sees any Taliban," Sgt. Nyitrai-Hacz said. "All the locals, no matter where we've ever been, have never said that the Taliban are in that area. If they're not there, what are we doing here?"

The 38-year-old leader of a nine-man section has been on five foreign deployments before Afghanistan. But he considers this one the most dangerous.

"I've only got one real goal on this whole tour and that's taking nine boys home with me," Sgt. Nyitrai-Hacz said.

The fertile river valley the soldiers passed through Friday was full of people harvesting opium and marijuana. The cool wind blowing off the water took some of the heat out of the morning.

"This is beautiful," Sgt. Nyitrai-Hacz said. "When we walking in, it smelled like beach. It smelled like the ocean. And if you look around, you see a lot of sea shells."

As the soldiers left the village, Sgt. Greg Collette of Minto, N.B., issued this warning: "They know we came up here and they know we're going back the same way. Let's not get complacent. The Taliban are everywhere."

The dirt on the path was so fine, it almost felt like walking through water.

"The boys call this moon dust," Warrant Officer Blackmore said.

"You have to be very careful because it's a likely location for (improvised explosive devices) or mines."

When they reached the ferry site, an engineer spent some time trying to figure out if Canadians could cross the river in inflatable assault boats.

"You could do it, but it would be a rough haul," Sgt. Nyitrai-Hacz said.

The Canadians also pondered the idea of using the local makeshift ferry to carry troops to the other side of the river.

"You might as well send tanks across because we'd be laughing so hard, they'd hear us coming," he said.

Children gawked at the soldiers as they trekked through the area. Many of them smiled and were keen to receive sticks of gum the Canadians were handing out.

But Cpl. Brad Eatman of Saint John, N.B., who stayed with the armoured vehicles the soldiers used to get to the area, came back to camp with a nasty welt under one eye. Moments earlier, he'd been handing out candy and bottles of water to kids.

"We were just driving away and I caught it out of the corner of my eye - boom," he said.

The 24-year-old rifleman thought one of the children used a slingshot to fire the stone.

"They've got more balls than me," Cpl. Eatman said. "I wouldn't throw a rock at somebody with a gun."

( )

====


IDNUMBER 200704280137
PUBLICATION: Times Colonist (Victoria)
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: A5
ILLUSTRATION:Colour Photo: CanWest News Service / An interpreter known asSaddiq says he fought against the Russian army when it invaded Afghanistan, and that he now helps the Canadian Forces as a self-professed intelligence expert. ;
DATELINE: SPERWAN GHAR, Afghanistan
BYLINE: Jonathan Fowlie
SOURCE: CanWest News Service
WORD COUNT: 592

Legendary Afghan's hatred of Taliban boon to Canadians


SPERWAN GHAR, Afghanistan -- Lumbering through camp in combat fatigues, a Toronto Blue Jays hat and battered sandals, the giant of a man known as Saddiq can be described as only one thing: A legend.

"I heard he lost two of his families, and that he took out a bunch of Taliban on his own," one Canadian soldier stationed on the small forward operating base here whispered, repeating gossip he had heard just moments before, and wondering aloud if it were true.

If you ask Saddiq, the stoic Afghan will stare at you with his dark brown eyes and flatly deny much of what is being said.

But the local Afghans in Panjwaii revere the man and so those around him regularly encourage him to tell his tale of heroism, and of battle for Afghanistan.

Before long, the 41-year-old with the thick black beard is likely to oblige. He'll lift his shirt and pant legs to reveal three shrapnel wounds he says he suffered while fighting against the Russians as a member of the mujahedeen.

Once he's started, the 6-foot-4 Afghan will no doubt go on to tell you that despite the very recent Taliban death threats he has received, he is determined to continue his work as an intelligence operative working for the Canadian army.

Officially, the man known as Saddiq -- a code name he uses to protect his real identity, a common practice among all Canadian interpreters -- is employed by the Canadians as one of its many interpreters, and army officers say that is the only function he is paid to perform.

In an interview, however, the man who speaks very little English claimed to be a lot more.

"When the Taliban is coming to a village, people call me," he said though an interpreter, explaining he oversees a network of informants in seven districts throughout southern Afghanistan. "I take the report and give it to the Canadians."

Saddiq said he has worked for the Canadians for about a year, and that he did the same for the Americans the four years before that.

Speaking of what he has been able to uncover, Saddiq said he recently forewarned Canadians of an ambush they successfully fought off in the Zhari district of Kandahar province -- a claim that could not be either confirmed of disproven.

He added people throughout his intelligence network regularly call to give him information when they see or hear about Taliban activity, something he said the people do not do for money but rather as a "service for their country."

"These people have had family members killed by the Taliban," he said, "so they give information."

Saddiq explained his own motivations are largely the same.

Though he gets paid by the Canadians as an interpreter, it is clear he does his job for something much deeper than that. It is clear he is driven by hatred for the Taliban.

"The Taliban is coming to destroy our country," he said. "They use their own Islam. It is not real Islam," he added, asking what part of his religion instructs anyone to cut off someone's head.

"That is homicide."

Though Saddiq fashions himself as unflinchingly tough, the grizzled war veteran acknowledged he almost quit three months ago after the Taliban issued a threat in a letter they nailed to the Shreenagha Mosque in Kandahar City.

Saddiq said he knows the threat is far from idle, especially because another informant, a man by the name Hayatullah, was killed by the Taliban in the Panjwaii area last year. And so, temporarily shaken by the spectre of his own death, the warrior sought counsel from his family.

In his mother, his wife and his five young children, Saddiq found fear.

"They told me not to do this because the Taliban will kill them," he recalled, explaining he regularly moves his family to keep them safe.

For a final opinion, Saddiq appealed to his uncle, a respected religious leader.

"My uncle said I should be in my job because the Taliban is coming to destroy my country," he said.

And that was all he needed to reassemble his resolve. In fact, Saddiq even requested he be photographed for this story, and that his face not be hidden.

"I don't care about the danger," he said. "I will resist against the Taliban."

====


IDNUMBER 200704280093
PUBLICATION: Times Colonist (Victoria)
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Final
SECTION: World
PAGE: B14
ILLUSTRATION:Photo: Jean Levac, CanWest News Service / Peter Pigott,author of a new book on Canada and Afghanistan, says military stability will foster economic growth, keep the unemployed off the Taliban's payroll and attract Afghanistan's diaspora back home. ;
DATELINE: OTTAWA
BYLINE: Andrew Thomson
SOURCE: CanWest News Service
WORD COUNT: 514

Kindness, barbarity side-by-side; Public servant has written a primer on Canadian activities in Afghanistan


OTTAWA --Peter Pigott spent several childhood years in northwestern India, fascinated by the land on the far side of neighbouring Pakistan. Rudyard Kipling novels and the 19th-century's great game of superpower intrigue only heightened his curiosity about Afghanistan.

The aviation author and federal civil servant finally made it there last June, embedding himself for a month with Canadian soldiers and officials in and around Kandahar. His new book, Canada in Afghanistan: The War So Far, describes his trip and the mission since 2001.

Pigott confined his travels to the country's south, where kindness and barbarity march side-by-side within the Afghan psyche. It's a reaction to centuries of mostly unwanted foreign guests, from Alexander the Great to the Soviet Union during the 1980s.

"The Afghans I met were the most courteous and hospitable people ever," Pigott recounts. "And yet, underneath the surface, there was an unyielding cruelty." The book details one hideous example in which captured French special forces troops were tied up and disemboweled following a battle with the Taliban.

One problem for Canadian efforts in the south is that the Taliban enjoy a mythical appeal among locals, making many Afghans eager for a Taliban resurgence.

"The Taliban were the good guys who came into the village and got the bad cops," he explains. "It's probably a fallacy, but they were [seen as] the Robin Hoods of the poor people."

So how do Canada and its NATO allies win hearts and minds across the dangerous landscapes of Kandahar province?

A long-term strategy is to wait for a younger generation of Internet-savvy, cellphone-brandishing Afghans to form a functioning middle class, taking the reins of power from today's warlords and officials more prone to corruption.

In the meantime, Pigott says, military stability will foster economic growth, discourage the unemployed from the Taliban payroll, and attract Afghanistan's diaspora back home.

So will appealing to the Taliban moderate supporters, while fighting its hard-core base of insurgents.

"The key to it all is making sure the Afghans run the country themselves," he argues.

Pigott, who will soon retire from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade's legal section, travelled to Afghanistan as an independent observer. He discussed the trip at his Ottawa home, a National Geographic map of the war-torn country sprawled across the dining room table.

Normally, Pigott writes about the history of transportation, not the complexities of Central Asian geopolitics. He's the first to admit that Canada in Afghanistan, his 14th book, takes no controversial positions on troop engagement or withdrawal -- hot-button issues that could surface in a federal election campaign.

Instead, the book, published earlier this year by Dundurn Press, outlines the history and culture of Afghanistan and its relationship with Canada in recent decades. It also offers first-hand reports from provincial reconstruction teams seeking to rebuild shattered -- or non-existent -- infrastructure.

"I wrote the book to introduce Afghanistan to Canadian readers," Pigott says. "It's on TV every night, but there are only quick bytes of news from Kandahar."

Despite what he regards as a weak fighting commitment from other European members of NATO, Pigott was impressed by the professionalism of Canadian soldiers.

"The troops were so intense," he said. "They were ready to change the country, ready to fight."

After his visit, Pigott is convinced that Canada will remain in Afghanistan until at least 2020 -- if not militarily, then at least in a developmental and diplomatic role.

For his part, he hopes to return in 2009 for a fresh assessment.

====


IDNUMBER 200704280163
PUBLICATION: Edmonton Journal
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Final
SECTION: Ideas
PAGE: A19
COLUMN: Graham Thomson
ILLUSTRATION:Photo: Graham Thomson, The Journal / Canadian CorrectionalService official Ric Fecteau checks on the condition of inmates at the Sarpoza prison in Kandahar City. ; Photo: Graham Thomson, The Journal / Physical conditions are medieval at Sarpoza prison in Kandahar City, where Taliban prisoners are held. ;
BYLINE: Graham Thomson
SOURCE: The Edmonton Journal
WORD COUNT: 876

Flaws etched deep into Afghanistan; Prisoner torture dispute reflects crisis in competence within its government that will take years to correct


One of the biggest issues in Canadian politics these days is the controversy over the treatment of Taliban prisoners captured by Canadian soldiers and handed over to Afghan officials.

Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson has a unique perspective on the issue having spent six weeks embedded with the Canadian military in Afghanistan, during which time he toured the largest prison in Kandahar City to learn more about the conditions of Taliban prisoners. Today he writes on what he found and gives his opinion on the controversy.

Before I set foot in Sarpoza prison in Kandahar City my guide warned me what to expect.

"The conditions are terrible," said Ric Fecteau -- a supervisor with Canadian Correctional Service on a 12-month leave from the Edmonton Institution to help train Afghan prison guards. "The wall are crumbling and need to be replastered and rebuilt, so the actual conditions, the sanitary conditions, everything is terrible."

Indeed, the prison looked like something out of a medieval dungeon with thick stone walls where inmates hung meat from hooks and groped their way by candlelight.

The conditions were appalling. And yet Taliban prisoners are lucky to be there.

The jail is run by professional guards monitored by two Canadian prison officials who are drawing up a plan to greatly improve the jail's infrastructure. Despite the medieval atmosphere of the sunless cells, the Canadians say they have seen no evidence of abuse.

"You would see guards walking right in and having conversations with the prisoners," said Fecteau. "Here are guards and prisoners being very polite with each other."

Like most things in Afghanistan, Sarpoza operates under Third World conditions. The guards live in the prison under conditions much the same as the inmates.

The alternative for Taliban prisoners is to be under the care of the Afghan government's National Directorate of Security which has been compared to Russia's old KGB for its alleged abuse of prisoners and the rule of law.

The activity of the NDS is a huge blind spot in Canada's efforts to monitor the conditions of Taliban suspects.

The NDS has its own jail in Kandahar that has been off-limits to Canadian officials.

This is the facility where Taliban suspects go after they are handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian soldiers. Once they descend into the care of the NDS the suspects disappear from Canada's radar screen. It is alleged agents of the NDS beat and torture prisoners to extract information and confessions. The prisoners reappear on Canada's radar only after they are set free or convicted and sent to Sarpoza prison.

Canadian officials have tried to get inside the NDS facility, but Afghan authorities argued that as a sovereign nation Afghanistan had complete jurisdiction over the prisoners who, NDS officials insisted, were not being abused.

This week, as pressure built on the Harper government over the detainee issue, Ottawa pressured the Afghan government to allow Canadian officials inside the NDS facility. Afghan authorities relented a few days ago and opened the doors.

Officials aren't saying what they saw inside, but sources say some of the inmates were discovered to be needlessly shackled in leg irons. Other inmates complained of abuse that has yet to be corroborated.

Now that the NDS doors have been forced open, the Canadian government is trying to give the impression the detainee issue is under control.

However, there aren't enough Canadian officials in Kandahar to monitor the condition of prisoners at every step of the way after they're turned over to Afghan authorities. Fecteau and his Correctional Service colleague, Linda Garwood-Filbert, are not human rights officials; they are prison guards whose primary job is to help build up Kandahar's prison system, not check on the condition of individual prisoners in NDS care.

The Harper government is putting great faith in, and great stress on, the Afghan independent human rights commission to monitor detainees on Canada's behalf. However the commission doesn't have the resources or expertise to do a thorough job.

Like much of Afghanistan's social structure, the commission is overworked, underfunded and stretched to the breaking point. And it has to deal with the Afghanistan government, which is at turns immature, incompetent or corrupt.

That is probably the biggest challenge facing Canada's mission there: we are in partnership with a government that is deeply flawed.

Besides the stories of prisoner abuse, senior officers with the Afghan National Police are alleged to be underpaying their constables who, in turn, extort money from average Afghans.

There are also myriad tales of drug lords bribing officials to ignore fields of poppy flowers used to make opium and heroin. The government is also chronically late in paying soldiers and teachers -- a problem alternately blamed on bureaucratic incompetence or outright corruption.

It's no wonder people lose confidence in the government of Afghanistan -- not only the Afghan people but Canadians as well.

It will take years to make Afghanistan a functioning society. And it will take more money, more resources and more people.

That's what the Canadian government is not telling Canadians. For the NATO mission to succeed in Afghanistan, we will probably have to invest a generation of blood, sweat, tears and dollars.

If we are successful in denying Afghanistan as a base for international terrorism, we'd be helping the Afghan people and ourselves. It would appear our national interests and our national values intersect at a point halfway around the world.

To reach our goal we don't need to dispatch more soldiers.

We could do something as low-key as sending in more prison guards to back up the huge job facing Fecteau and Garwood-Filbert. Thus, we could assure Canadians our values -- something our troops are willing to die for -- are not being undermined and abused in a dark prison cell in Kandahar City.

gthomson@thejournal.canwest.com

====


IDNUMBER 200704280204
PUBLICATION: The Toronto Star
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Ont
SECTION: National Report
PAGE: F01
ILLUSTRATION:Graham Thomson CP File Photo Alleged Taliban fighters and othersdeemed threats to national security are held in this wing of Sarpoza Prison in Kandahar. Prisoners have said they have been abused by Afghan police, after being turned over by Canadian soldiers. The Canadians, they say, have treated them well. Graham Thomson CP File Photo Alleged Taliban fighters and others deemed threats to national security are held in this wing of Sarpoza Prison in Kandahar. Prisoners have said they have been abused by Afghan police, after being turned over by Canadian soldiers. The Canadians, they say, have treated them well. ;
COPYRIGHT: 2007 Torstar Corporation
WORD COUNT: 1135

Afghan story hardly a surprise; Prisoner abuse just part of the brutal landscape there


The only surprise about the Afghan prisoner controversy gripping Ottawa is that any of this comes as a surprise.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government is reeling under allegations that prisoners captured by Canadian troops are being handed over to Afghan authorities who then torture and abuse them.

The opposition is in full cry. The newspapers are chock-a-block with references to the brutal abuse handed out by Afghan police to those unfortunate enough to be identified as Taliban suspects.

But what did we think would happen when, in 2001, we signed on to support a gang of brutal warlords trying to oust the gang of brutal clerics who were running this unhappy country?

Afghanistan today may have the trappings of democracy - a well-tailored president elected in a relatively fair vote, a parliament that includes women, even a constitution that promises full-blown political rights.

But underneath, not much has changed. As Canada's foreign affairs department notes in an internal report, the reality of Afghanistan remains bleak.

A censored version of that report, grudgingly released this week under access to information laws, talks of "political repression, human rights abuses and criminal activity by warlords, police, militia and remnants of past military forces."

Those unfortunate enough to end up in the Afghan justice system, the report says, find that bribes and connections are essential. "Those who have no money or power can remain in prison without trial for months, and possibly years." Violence against women is widespread "both at home and in public."

And that's the version Ottawa is willing to let the public see. The unexpurgated version is even blunter, noting that "extra-judicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial are all too common."

Civil wars are rarely gentle. The Afghan conflict, which has been sputtering on for more than 27 years, is particularly brutal. Over time, the various sides have treated one another with unspeakable savagery.

For human rights groups, Afghanistan is a full-time job. Amnesty International slams the government of President Hamid Karzai ("barely functional"), the Taliban insurgents ("war crimes") as well as U.S. troops ("torture and ill-treatment").

In this context, Canadian soldiers - equipped with wallet-sized cards that list key elements of the Geneva Conventions on correct prisoner-of-war treatment - seem absurdly benign.

As far as anyone can tell, Canada's hands-on treatment of captured prisoners has been good. First, it seems that not many have been detained. Citing political sensitivity, the defence department won't release figures.

But Amnesty's John Tackaberry estimates the number arrested by Canadian troops since 2002 at about 40.

Second, prisoners themselves say the Canadians treat them well. The Globe and Mail's Graeme Smith recently interviewed 30 who had been detained. Most, he wrote, praised their Canadian captors fulsomely. Their troubles, it seems, began only when Canada handed them over to the Afghans who, among other things, whipped them with thick, electric cables, stripped them naked in freezing cells or left them hanging upside down for days.

Throughout all of this, the Canadian government has adopted the ostrich strategy of keeping its head firmly buried. Technically, it made sure its soldiers would be beyond reproach. In practice, it left glaring loopholes.

On paper, Canadian policy seems golden. The defence department's 2004 manual for handling detainees says all are to be accorded prisoner-of-war status "as this is the highest standard required under international humanitarian law."

Amnesty's Hilary Homes argues that it would be more appropriate to make reference to other elements of international law. Still, compared to the U.S., Canada's formal position has been positively enlightened. Detainees under Canadian control are not to be waterboarded, hung by their wrists, humiliated or threatened with sodomy. It's just name, rank and serial number as far as Canada is concerned.

Of course, it is easy to be Mr. Nice Guy when you don't want to bother imprisoning alleged insurgents yourself. And that seems to be Canada's view.

In the early days of the war, Canadian troops handed over their prisoners to the U.S. When it was pointed out that this could get them in trouble (the Geneva Conventions require that prisoners be transferred only to countries willing to observe basic human rights laws - which the Americans are not), Ottawa came up with another solution. It would hand them over as quickly as possible to the Afghans.

After all, the theory went, the Karzai regime is the legal government of Afghanistan. And Afghanistan is party to the Geneva Conventions. So, why not?

The problem is that this theory is at odds with everything the government knows about the Afghan authorities. The U.S. State Department has documented their brutal and corrupt practices; so has Amnesty International. As the public discovered this week, so, too, has Canada's foreign affairs department.

In its efforts to wash its hands of the problem, Ottawa has proved particularly inept. First, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said he would send officials into Afghan prisons to make sure that those captured by our troops were well-treated. Then, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day insisted - incorrectly, according to those on the ground in Kandahar - that Canadian officials have already made such visits.

Meanwhile, Harper insists the abuse allegations are "baseless accusations," while Day labels them part of a Taliban disinformation campaign.

If there were not independent confirmation of Afghan interrogation techniques, this defence might have some validity. But in the context of Afghanistan today, the Harper-Day strategy veers perilously close to that used by Holocaust deniers, who insist that the murder of 6 million Jews during World War II was a fiction created by a powerful, international Zionist conspiracy.

Sadly, all of this is part of a familiar pattern. Hypocrisy has long been Canada's national vice. In the post-9/11 period, it has run rampant. We say we are firm believers in fair play and the rule of law. But it seems we are only willing to apply those standards when there is little cost.

We eagerly chastise Iran for its human rights abuses; Iran, after all, is regarded these days as an official pariah.

Yet, when it is politically convenient to ignore abuse, we happily do so.

Take the case of 20-year-old Omar Khadr. The Conservatives, like the Liberals before them, have made not a peep on behalf of this imprisoned Canadian child soldier, who has been held by the Americans against all international law at Guantanamo Bay for fully a quarter of his life and who now faces charges before a tribunal so blatantly stacked that even his U.S. military lawyer calls it a "kangaroo court."

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, we close our eyes and pledge allegiance to the grand principles of human rights. As the Star's Rosie DiManno reported from Kandahar this week, we may detain Afghans on the flimsiest of evidence. (In the case she witnessed, Canadian troops arrested a man they thought might be a bomber simply because he was bearded, dark and one-armed - a description that could fit thousands in a land of dark, bearded males, many of whom have had hands or limbs blown off by the mines that still pepper the countryside.)

Then, we hand these detainees over to the jailers with the thick, electric cables.

Don't ask. Don't tell. It is all very Canadian.

====


IDNUMBER 200704280201
PUBLICATION: The Toronto Star
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Ont
SECTION: National Report
PAGE: F03
COPYRIGHT: 2007 Torstar Corporation
WORD COUNT: 737

No mystery to Harper's unpopularity; PM is as likeable as a movie villain


At the risk of angering the acolytes of conventional wisdom, it's time someone pointed out the obvious: Maybe Stephen Harper isn't so damn smart after all.

Of course, in Ottawa these days, such an utterance passes for sacrilege. Those who dare question the Prime Minister's infallibility are called names like heretical, bedlamite or Garth Turner.

Remarkably, it's not just the Conservative caucus who seem captivated. Media and political observers describe Harper with a blend of terror and admiration previously reserved for cinematic bogeyman Keyser Soze. Even members of the opposition parties sermonize on Harper's shrewd, strategic brilliance.

To a degree, you can forgive the Liberals and the NDP. In politics, it is wise to never underestimate your opponent. At the same time, it is equally important to not overestimate his advantage.

In truth, there is plenty of evidence that Harper's political strategy is crude, over-calculated and fundamentally schizophrenic. One thing more: It's not working.

A spate of recent polls show support for Harper's Conservatives once again in retreat, leaving the political class in a twitter. How can this be? Isn't Harper's triumph inevitable?

The inability of the Prime Minister to march confidently into majority territory has left official Ottawa baffled. Like the whereabouts of Wajid Khan's Middle East report or John Baird's shame reflex, Smart Stephen's inability to pocket 40 per cent of voters is treated by media as one of the shocking mysteries of contemporary politics.

Except it's not so shocking. The reasons for Harper's difficulty are not impossible to spot.

First, he isn't remotely likeable. That, alone, isn't necessarily fatal. Pierre Trudeau, for example, was loathed by whole chunks of the electorate.

But Harper is different. He has a mean streak, a thin-skinned nastiness that he can't even be bothered to conceal. Never before has a prime minister sought to serve as his own hatchetman. Yet, Harper revels in the role.

He spitefully labels his political opponents Taliban sympathizers or child pornographers. Small wonder that Canadians haven't warmed to him. The guy's miserable. And with this week's debacle surrounding Afghan detainees, he can't even continue to claim the mantle of competence.

Second, he champions policies that most Canadians oppose. He's extended our stay in Kandahar, walked away from Kyoto and is going to kill the country's most effective gun-control tool.

He's torn up 10 provincial agreements to expand child-care spaces, ignored the issue of health care wait times and, after two budgets, has yet to cut personal income taxes. If you can't get a tax cut out of a Conservative, what's the point of even voting?

Finally, his political strategy is at war with itself.

In English Canada, the Prime Minister pursues what American political types call a "retail" effort, with a direct appeal to voters based on bread-and- butter issues.

In a retail campaign, the media are shunned as a hindrance, an unwelcome filter of the government's message. Often exploiting people's prejudices, this can be a particularly unsophisticated brand of politics. It preys on fear and appeals to the least, rather than the best, in human nature. It also assumes that voters are dumb - that simple, selfish gimmicks will attract support. Much of what you see from this government is built around these principles.

In Quebec, however, Harper's approach could not be more different. There, his agenda is designed exclusively for elite consumption. The fiscal imbalance. Recognizing Quebec as a nation. Rebalancing of constitutional powers. These are all music to the ears of a political class that has long offered unwise counsel to vote-seeking federal leaders.

Individual Quebecers - with their enthusiasm for affordable child care, combating climate change and withdrawing troops from Afghanistan - are treated as a distraction. Instead, Harper toils away with his salon supporters hoping to patch together an electoral breakthrough based on supportive editorials.

By pursuing this two-pronged approach, Harper is in risk of outfoxing himself. One political strategy is difficult enough to sustain. Running two conflicting strategies simultaneously is simply asking for trouble.

Not only is he dividing his political brand equity in two halves, he is constantly risking the relatively small base of support he enjoys among each. Every time he celebrates "three strikes and you're out" in Alberta, he risks support in Quebec. Each story in La Presse about plans to shrink the federal government's role to 1867 dimensions trims his Ontario seat count.

In short, the Prime Minister's stalled fortunes are not so hard to explain if you look at Stephen Harper as he truly is: His political strategy is stretched beyond common sense; his policies rankle; and his political demeanour is acidic.

Other than that, he is obviously very smart.

Scott Reid was communications director for former prime minister Paul Martin.

====


IDNUMBER 200704280188
PUBLICATION: The Toronto Star
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Ont
SECTION: News
PAGE: A06
ILLUSTRATION:Tom Hanson CP Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day responds to aquestion in the House of Commons yesterday. Day dismissed tales of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan as lies. ;
BYLINE: Allan Woods and Bruce Campion-Smith
SOURCE: Toronto Star
COPYRIGHT: 2007 Torstar Corporation
WORD COUNT: 633

Liberals ponder forcing election; 'Worst week' for Tories shows their vulnerability, Ignatieff says


After seeing the governing Conservatives suffer through their "worst week" yet, the Liberals are testing the waters to see if the time is ripe to bring down the government.

"The cracks are beginning to show and our job is to show Canadians just how vulnerable they are both on the environment and on the Afghan (mission)," Deputy Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff told reporters yesterday.

"We have shown our lack of confidence in the government this week. It's the worst week that they've had in 14 months. It's (up) to the voters to reflect on what we have said, and what we have proven in the House, and then we'll see," Ignatieff said.

He was commenting on a week in which the Tories have taken a battering over the treatment of prisoners turned over by Canadian soldiers to Afghanistan authorities.

As well, the Tories have been roundly condemned by the opposition for their latest plan to fight climate change.

Ignatieff said any decision on a non-confidence motion by the Liberals would be left to leader Stephane Dion, who was not in the capital yesterday.

But the fact the Liberals are leaving the door open to a possible non- confidence vote marks a dramatic turn for the Conservatives, who just a few weeks were the ones in the driver's seat, showing off their election headquarters and all but daring political opponents to topple the minority government.

Despite the Conservatives' woes this week, both the NDP and Bloc are skittish about forcing an election.

NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley), said there was "no sentiment or feeling within this Parliament for an election."

He said an election now would cost the opposition parties an opportunity to introduce tougher environmental legislation and have a vote on it soon in the Commons. "To call an election and lose our opportunities ... would be irresponsible," Cullen said.

NDP House leader Libby Davies (Vancouver East) said the Conservatives' track record has been a "huge disappointment." Yet despite deep disagreements over the Afghan mission and the environment, she said the NDP is willing to give the Conservatives more time.

Bloc environment critic Bernard Bigras said the government's plan to tackle climate change is "inadequate." But he too steered clear of any election rhetoric, saying "the ball is in the government's camp."

The Conservatives have been on the defensive this week over the reported beatings of 30 Afghan detainees after they had been turned over by Canadian soldiers to the Afghans.

"This has been a week of chaos, of confusion and cover-up for the Conservatives, a political gong show at the expense of our international reputation," Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla (Brampton-Springdale) said yesterday in question period.

In a week when the Conservatives couldn't get their story straight about how Canada was dealing with reports of torture and abuse in Afghan detention facilities, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day yesterday dismissed the disturbing tales as lies.

"The opposition should cease to make these false allegations ... that are brought forward by Taliban suspects," Day said.

He said two Canadian prison officials working in Kandahar have been given wide access to three area detention facilities.

However, it's still not clear whether the Canadian prison officials, who were dispatched to help train and mentor Afghan prison staff, are responsible for monitoring prisoners transferred into Afghan custody by Canadian troops.

Ignatieff accused Day of adding "a new chapter to this evolving tale of incompetence, disinformation and cover-up."

On the environmental front, NDP Leader Jack Layton invited the other opposition parties to band together to bring toughened environmental legislation before the Commons for a vote over the coming weeks.

Layton asked Dion and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe to set aside "partisan rancour" and use their collective sway to force a vote on Bill C-30, an amended Clean Air and Climate Change Act that would allow Canada to meet its Kyoto Protocol targets.

"Too much time has been wasted in Canada's fight against climate change ... We must have C-30 debated and voted on at the next possible opportunity," Layton wrote.

The federal government announced a plan on Thursday to slash greenhouse gas emissions to 20 per cent below current levels by 2020, well behind the aggressive targets set by the Kyoto Protocol that call for emissions at 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.

====


IDNUMBER 200704280181
PUBLICATION: The Toronto Star
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Ont
SECTION: News
PAGE: A10
BYLINE: Amir Shah
SOURCE: Associated Press
COPYRIGHT: 2007 Torstar Corporation
WORD COUNT: 279

District retaken from Taliban; Brief capture by rebels undermines government claims


Hundreds of Afghan soldiers and police retook a district from the Taliban yesterday, after militants seized the area in fierce fighting a day earlier, a senior Afghan official said.

Marajudin Pathan, governor of Ghazni province, said a force of more than 250 officers encountered no resistance when they swept into Giro.

Reached by telephone, Pathan said: "The district is under our control. There was no resistance because the cowardly enemy escaped."

Police, with Afghan soldiers and troops from the U.S.-led military coalition, were combing villages in search of any suspected insurgents, he said.

The Taliban takeover of Giro, 175 kilometres from Kabul, on the way to Kandahar, undermined claims by the Kabul government and its foreign backers that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has expanded government control of the country.

Militants repeatedly overrun rural towns, especially in the south and east, despite the presence of NATO and U.S. troops now numbering 47,000. The Taliban's hold is usually brief.

Officials said more than 100 suspected Taliban attacked Giro Thursday evening, setting fire to buildings and cutting telephone lines. The district mayor, police chief and three police were killed during several hours of fighting, deputy governor Kazim Allayer said. Pathan estimated about 10 militants died.

NATO and the U.S.-led coalition knew of the Giro incident but had no details. A coalition statement did say a service member was killed yesterday during a gun battle with insurgents in Heart to the west.

NATO-led forces are pushing forward with their biggest-ever offensive in southern Afghanistan to root out militants in the opium-producing heartland of Helmand province.

Taliban fighters have stepped up operations in recent weeks after a winter lull, and few areas of the country remain free of political violence.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition said its forces killed five Taliban and arrested five others during an operation yesterday in southeastern Zabul province.

====


IDNUMBER 200704280173
PUBLICATION: The Toronto Star
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Ont
SECTION: News
PAGE: A10
ILLUSTRATION:rosie dimanno toronto star Although formally known as aninterpreter, 41-year-old Saddiq, in practice, is an intelligence operative for Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. He works with a team of informants in the Panjwaii district. rosie dimanno toronto star Although formally known as an interpreter, 41-year- old Saddiq, in practice, is an intelligence operative for Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. He works with a team of informants in the Panjwaii district. ;
COPYRIGHT: 2007 Torstar Corporation
WORD COUNT: 968

'I am Movement Man'


He is either legend or myth, the lines have blurred.

But in person, Saddiq is one formidable human being.

A mountain of a man, maybe 6-foot-4, barrel-chested, with hands like ham hocks, a dishevelled mane of jet-black curls and caterpillar eyebrows. Looks, rather unfortunately, like Saddam Hussein when the late Iraqi dictator was pulled out of that spider hole.

Afghan interpreters working for Charlie Company, seeing him approach, fall to their knees in respect until he urges them to get up, get up. His reputation here, in the Panjwaii district that he has roamed for decades, fearlessly, precedes him.

Saddiq is mujahadeen, the real thing, with battle scars to prove it. He draws open his fatiguejacket to show the mortar indentation on his chest, rolls up a pant leg to reveal shrapnel pucker on one shin, then the other. The Russians gave him those mementos.

The chest wound came during an ambush of Russian troops near Spin Boldak that didn't quite go according to plan. The leg injuries, those were suffered during a 25-day siege in Arghandab, cannon rounds fired relentlessly upon the Afghan fighters. "It shook the trees."

Survived all that. Intends to survive the Taliban, too, second wave, although there's a bounty on his head.

For those reasons, his real name can't be used. But Saddiq is what he's long gone by and how the Taliban know him, and he's fearless about having his photo published. Indeed, the Taliban know his family's identity too, which is why Saddiq keeps moving his young brood - the wife, five children aged six months to 10 years. It's a terrible game of hide-and-seek.

He is both hunter and prey.

"I am Movement Man," he declares, quite liking the sound of it. And the wide grin gentles his features.

Formally, Saddiq is an interpreter himself - except he doesn't speak much English. In practice, he's an intelligence operative, the eyes and ears for Canadian forces in southern Afghanistan over the past year, rotating between companies, just as he'd served with American troops for the previous four years.

In on the fight against the Taliban since 9/11; in on the fight against foreign invaders for a lifetime before that.

Now 41, Saddiq can't recall exactly how young he was when he first took up the resistance. "The hair on my face was just starting to come in."

But he has been jihad for all of his conscious existence. What the neo- Taliban are doing now, he is convinced, isn't jihad at all.

"My uncle, he is a very wise religious man, a mullah. I went to him and asked, this work that I am doing for the U.S. Army and the coalition forces, is it a sin? My uncle told me, no, it is not a sin because the Taliban are not fighting for Islam. They are destroying our villages, destroying our country. He said, 'Since when does Islam let you cut off the heads of people'? He said, 'This is not Islam. This is homicide."'

Saddiq's work, clandestine, is to provide intel for coalition forces. "I take report and give it to Canadians."

Canadian commanders say his contribution is invaluable but won't definitively describe him as an agent or spy, generally referring to Saddiq as a "guide."

"It's obvious the respect he commands," one sergeant told the Star. "Who knows what stories about him are true and what's just part of the legend. What matters to us is that he knows what he's doing. When he tells us something, we listen."

A year ago, it was Saddiq's information that saved a Canadian company from an ambush in Sangin. The troops were prepared and no Canadian casualties resulted, although a dozen Taliban were killed, he says.

Saddiq has a vast network of Afghan sources that contact him by cell or on his satellite phone. They whisper on the movement of Taliban cabals, ambush plots, attack plans, the placement of improvised explosive devices and mines. "They see any Taliban, they sneak away and call me."

His core group of operatives - all of whom are at high risk - live in half a dozen major villages through the Panjwaii valley but each has his own subsidiary web of agents radiating outward from region to region.

"I know every place in these four provinces. I have six very important informers and they all have their own informants. But one of the head informers I lost during Operation Medusa last summer."

That man was captured by the Taliban, denounced as a spy by some villagers, and decapitated.

"It is dangerous work for all of us," Saddiq says simply. "My fear is not for me. It's for my family, that they might be tortured. But they have protection."

Last year, two of his brothers - both deaf-mutes - were vigorously interrogated by the Taliban. They claimed, in sign language, to know little of Saddiq's whereabouts, insisted he was driving a cab in Kandahar city last they heard. It was probably their handicap that saved their lives though the Taliban are far from charitable toward the weak. Then, only three months ago, Saddiq was named in "night letters" nailed to the door of the Shreenagha Mosque in Kandahar city. "They said, 'Quit your job and we will let you live'. Or else, 'When we catch you, we will kill you'."

Saddiq can't return to the village of his birth because there are unfriendly elements there and he would be ratted out.

There are stories that his first family was murdered by the Taliban. He says this isn't true. But he's clearly got a deep enmity against the Taliban because this is no job for the faint of heart or the merely adventurous.

"I've never seen anything good that the Taliban have done. They burn schools. The coalition forces build schools, roads, clinics."

There are two types of Taliban, Saddiq explains - the local cells, who are native Afghans, and the more hardcore foreign element composed of Chechens, Pakistanis, Arabs and some others.

"It's been very relaxed these past few months," says Saddiq. "That's because Afghans are collecting the opium crop right now. They don't want to lose that money. In another 20 days, maybe, it won't be so quiet any more. And they will start again."

He's ready. He's always been ready. So uncowed by the Taliban that he refuses to hide his face behind a scarf when being photographed by the Star.

"I know my life is in danger but I won't be afraid. I will resist the Taliban to the point of death. And they will lose whether I live or die. They will never rule Afghanistan again."

And then Saddiq, fearless warrior, ambles off - to call his mother.

====


DATE: 2007.04.27
KEYWORDS: POLITICS JUSTICE DEFENCE INTERNATIONAL SOCIAL
PUBLICATION: cpw
WORD COUNT: 172

Tories dismiss Afghan torture allegations despite no investigation


OTTAWA (CP) _ The Conservative government is dismissing claims of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan despite the fact that no investigation has been conducted.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day accused the opposition today of believing ``false allegations'' of torture made by suspected terrorists, who were turned over to Afghan officials by Canadian troops.

Day insisted that two Corrections Canada officers in Kandahar have full access Afghan prisons, and that they have a mandate to report prisoner abuse.

But he didn't say if they have been monitoring prisoners handed over by Canadian troops.

Day's claims are the latest in a series of changing stories by the Conservatives on who is monitoring the treatment of detainees.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which the government has tasked with monitoring detainees, says it has been denied access to prisoners in intelligence jails.

Reports that as many as 30 Canadian-captured prisoners were abused by Afghan jailers has caused a storm of controversy on Parliament Hill.

The Conservatives have dismissed opposition concerns about the handling of prisoners as an attack on the integrity of Canadian troops, even though the abuse allegations are not directed at soldiers.

====


IDNUMBER 200704280261
PUBLICATION: National Post
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: National
SECTION: Canada
PAGE: A5
ILLUSTRATION:Black & White Photo: John D McHugh, AFP, Getty Images /Members of 1st Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry guard suspected Taliban prisoners captured in a raid on a compound in Northern Kandahar last May. Afghanistan denies detainees turned over by Canada are tortured. ;
DATELINE: OTTAWA
BYLINE: John Ivison
SOURCE: National Post
WORD COUNT: 679

Torture allegations are lies, Afghan official says; Detention staff 'should be praised not punished'


OTTAWA - The head of Afghanistan's intelligence service says allegations of torture in detention centres operated by his security forces are "lies" and that Canadian officials and human rights groups can have full access to monitor detainees in future.

In a letter to Omar Samad, Afghanistan's ambassador in Canada, which was obtained by the National Post, Amrullah Saleh, the head of the National Directorate of Security, rejects allegations of torture made in Canadian media this week. He said that NDS staff are "patriots who risk their lives on a daily basis to provide security for the people of Afghanistan. At the end of the month, they get 4800 Afghanis or $80. They should be praised not punished."

In the letter, which was forwarded to Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Saleh said officials from Canada's embassy can visit detention facilities whenever they wish and interview as many detainees as they wish. He said

the same offer is open to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. "I have issued a letter to AIHRC allowing them unhindered access ... they have not used it so far." Representatives of the AIHRC could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Saleh, a confidante of President Hamid Karzai, added the International Commission of the Red Cross spends four days every month conducting interviews with detainees across the country. He told Mr. Samad he could pass him reports, files and dossiers sent by ICRC "outlining the shortcomings and praising the significant improvements of the detention centres of NDS since 2005.

"The government of Canada can contact ICRC directly and take their view independently."

Simon Schorno, a spokesman for ICRC in Washington, said his organization does not comment publicly on its reports, which are filed on a confidential basis to the Afghan authorities. He confirmed that ICRC staff visit Afghan detention centres on a regular basis but said Mr. Saleh was mistaken in suggesting the Canadian government could access its reports.

Mr. Saleh said he was "shocked" by reports of detainee abuse and said no attempts were made to verify the claims with NDS. Detainees in NDS custody receive "officers grade food", he said. "It means 52 Afghanis per day. It means an officer in NDS also receives 52 Afghanis as food allowance. This is unprecedented in the history of Afghanistan."

He admitted detainees are chained and their hands tied when they are transported. "Do Canadians have any other method of how we should transport these detainees from one place to another?"

Despite Mr. Saleh's denials, NDS has long been accused of human rights abuses by bodies ranging from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, headed up by former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour, and even Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs. Last year, the UNHCR produced a report that repeated allegations of detention without trial, extortion, torture and due process violations. "Serious concerns remain over the capacity and commitment of these security institutions to comply with international standards," it concluded.

Amir Attaran, Canada Research chair and Professor of Law and Medicine at the University of Ottawa, said the Canadian government is guilty of taking reports by Afghan officials at face value, while ignoring evidence provided by the UN and its own bureaucrats. "Let's be quite straight. The government response to allegations that it is cosy with torture is to adopt the excuses of the torturers," he said.

Mr. Samad, the Afghan ambassador in Ottawa, said the NDS, like other Afghan institutions, is going through a transformative process, and is now bound by the laws of the country and international law when it comes to human rights.

"But it will take years to complete these changes. You can't take any institution and turn it around overnight." He said he did not believe there is a "pattern of abuse" in Afghan prisons.

He said NDS agents feel they should get some credit for what they are doing. "They are living in a dangerous world of Taliban terrorists and suicide bombers. An NDS official was beheaded a few days ago. They feel they are getting a bad rap," he said.

Jivison@nationalpost.com
KEYWORDS: WAR; PRISONERS OF WAR

====


PUBLICATION: GLOBE AND MAIL
IDN: 071180243
DATE: 2007.04.28
PAGE: F6 (ILLUS)
BYLINE: JOE FRIESEN
SECTION: Focus
EDITION: Metro
DATELINE: MINNEDOSA, MAN.
WORDS: 2560
WORD COUNT: 2310

CENTREPIECE: A SOLDIER'S STORY 'Why am I a hero?' Scott Collen died three times after his platoon was attacked by an Afghan suicide bomber. Now all he wants is to do is go back.


Joe Friesen MINNEDOSA, MAN.

Corporal Scott Collen looked at his watch: 9:33 a.m. A perfect time for another cigarette, he thought.

Cpl. Collen was standing by the road, his rifle resting in his arms. His platoon had stopped about 300 metres short of its objective to allow an Afghan family and their two cows to pass. He scanned the grape fields off to the right, wary of a Taliban ambush.

It was last Sept. 18, a typically hot day in the Panjwai district near Kandahar. The corporal was itching for the patrol to end. Only a few more minutes, he thought, bending to reach for the pack of Player's Light in the side pocket of his desert camouflage pants.

He never saw the old man on the bike wheel out from behind a mud wall and into their midst. He didn't even turn his head. The man blew himself apart before anyone could react, sending ball bearings and bicycle parts flying through the air, killing four of Cpl. Collen's friends and wounding 10 others.

Four metres from the blast, the corporal didn't hear it; he just felt the wind blow past his ears, encasing him in dust.

"I remember the dust, and my ears kind of ringing, and getting pushed forward. I went to step with my left leg, and my leg just kind of buckled under me. I fell on my back, and I remember lying there.

"You couldn't see anything. It was just pure dust. All I could taste in my mouth was gunpowder and dust. I was thinking, 'Holy shit, I'm dead.' " The silence lasted several seconds, and then the dust started to clear. Cpl. Collen looked at his legs. They were numb from the knees down, and one foot was pointed in the wrong direction. He was covered in blood.

"I looked around, and I remember seeing the whole platoon lying on the ground. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't catch my breath. I could taste blood in my mouth. I thought, 'I'm going to die on this godforsaken road.' " He turned, looking for cover. He saw one of his friends lying motionless, his eyes staring blankly. "I knew he was dead. I just thought, 'Oh, my god.' I looked the other way and I saw one of the other guys and he was dead." A sergeant who was bleeding from a stomach wound crawled over and tied a tourniquet around Cpl. Collen's leg, as soldiers from a platoon a few hundred metres back ran toward them. They opened his flak vest and saw blood rushing from a wound near his spine.

"My buddy was looking at me and I saw his eyes get big. I remember distinctly hearing him go, 'Oh, shit.' " As they waited for a Black Hawk helicopter to remove the wounded, the medic made him the first priority for the airlift. Not a good sign.

The helicopter ride was the worst of his life. The air pressure felt like elephants on his chest. Eighteen minutes after he reached for that cigarette, Cpl. Collen was wheeled into the military hospital at Kandahar airfield.

His mind was starting to drift. The doctors kept talking at him, asking the same questions, over and over. Why weren't they just getting on with the operation? He got angry, and said he was tired and wanted to rest.

"I looked over at my buddy and I said, 'Vince, I'm tired.' I remember him talking to me and saying, 'You're fine, you're fine.' And I said, 'No. I'm tired.' I just looked at the wall and closed my eyes." And then he died. Cpl. Scott Collen, five days from his 29th birthday, a member of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and a married father of three who joined the military at the age of 22 because he had a wife and kids and a mortgage and a car and a dead-end job at a lumberyard, was dead.

His heart had stopped, overwhelmed by the collapsed lung and the blood collecting in his chest.

There was no tunnel, no white light, no waiting room at the gates of heaven. It was just like being asleep. And just like that, he came back, waking moments later to the sight of a doctor carving into his chest with scissors, trying desperately to drain the chest wound. His friend Vince was screaming at him: "Don't ever do that again." In fact, Cpl. Collen flat-lined twice more in the next 24 hours, as he endured several surgeries in Kandahar, and later in Ramstein, Germany. Each time, he returned oblivious to the panic he had caused.

After his first surgery in Kandahar, a Canadian Forces padre brought him a telephone and helped him contact his wife. The call reached Pam Collen at 7:30 a.m. at the family's home in Minnedosa, a sleepy Manitoba town where she works at the Legion Hall, serving $2 beers to a regular clientele of aging veterans.

The kids, 12-year-old Cory, six-year-old Samantha and four-year-old Kirsten, were just waking up to the sound of the weather forecast on television when the phone rang. Ms. Collen stopped for a moment, wondering who could be calling so early.

She took the call in her bedroom, so the children wouldn't hear.

When the padre told her that her husband had been injured, she couldn't form a single word.

"They kept checking to see if I was still there. I was trying to talk, but I couldn't get anything out." She and Scott spoke briefly. He told her that he was okay, but he was about to go into surgery again. She walked out the bedroom door and saw her youngest sitting at the top of the stairs. Kirsten hadn't heard anything, but she knew what the phone call meant.

"What's wrong with Daddy?" she asked. Pam couldn't hold back her tears. "Daddy's been hurt, but he's going to be okay." She hoped it was true.

While Cory and Samantha went to school that day, Kirsten stayed home with her mother. Soon, the house was a hive of activity as news spread and friends and relatives flocked to provide support.

Kirsten spent the day silently drawing her father.

"He was injured and he had bandages on him," Pam says of the pictures.

"She had made him in a bed, and he was all wrapped up, and there were some breaks in him. And a family was next to him and they were crying. She didn't have to say a word. I just looked at her picture and I started bawling." The homecoming Cpl. Collen was carried home four days later on a transport plane specially equipped for combat casualties.

Pam was there to greet him at the airport. She was expecting the worst, thinking he would be unrecognizable. But he looked okay, she thought. They had been married six years, and it was on their honeymoon that they had got a message saying Scott had been accepted into the Canadian Forces. A big, brawling man, he loved to hunt and, after being kicked out of high school, he had dreamed of playing soldier for a living.

Before he left for Afghanistan, they had discussed what she would do if he were killed. They drew up a will and planned the funeral -- down to the pallbearers and the music that would be played. But they never even considered the possibility that he might come home wounded.

"We didn't have a plan for this," Pam says.

Although his face had been spared, shrapnel had torn apart his ankle, blown through his lower leg and ripped through his back and out his shoulder. A Dutch surgeon told him he was probably the luckiest man he'd ever met. The shrapnel had missed every major artery along the way. It had probably skimmed one, but not sliced it. Otherwise, he would have bled to death in less than a minute.

Cpl. Collen was sent to Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre for treatment, but he didn't take well to his new surroundings. "I was pretty angry." He was angry about having been hurt, angry that he had been spared when his friends had not, and angry about abandoning those friends still in Afghanistan.

"The first psychiatrist who came in, I told her I didn't even want to talk to her. She sat down and said, 'I know exactly what you're going through.' A civilian psychiatrist. I said, 'No you don't.' She said, 'Oh, I've read books.' I'm like, 'Get out. I don't even want to look at you. You come in here, you've read a book and you think you know what we're all going through. You've got no idea.

Go somewhere else. I've got no time for you.' " She left and never came back.

She was the second physician he had chased from his room. The first doctor was dark-skinned, and Cpl. Collen started yelling as soon as he entered the room, refusing to be treated by him.

He suspects that his residual anger at the Afghans who attacked him is what sparked the outburst. He is deeply embarrassed by the incident, which he says he can't remember, and was on a lot of painkilling medication at the time. However wrong it was, the doctor never returned.

One day, Cpl. Collen was sitting in his wheelchair outside the Winnipeg hospital when a couple asked him how he had been hurt.

He explained that he had been blown up in Afghanistan.

The woman said his fate was another example of why Canada shouldn't be fighting over there. They were middle-class people, Cpl. Collen says, the kind who don't know anyone in the military and have no idea what the military does.

"She started giving examples of this, that and the other thing.

I said to her, 'You've got no idea what you're talking about. You watch five minutes of it on the news and you make up the rest. You're bitching and complaining about it. If you don't want to see it, do something about it.' " The anger didn't start to dissipate until he was transferred to a smaller hospital a stone's throw from his home in Minnedosa. And even that didn't start smoothly.

When the minivan carrying him back turned off Highway 17, the whole route into town was lined with people waving signs and yellow ribbons. The local paper carried the headline "A Hero's Welcome Home," but Cpl. Collen was uncomfortable being the centre of attention, and certainly didn't consider himself a hero.

"At first, I was pretty mad about it. Why am I a hero? I got blown up." But his aunt, a nurse at the hospital, was responsible for the welcome. He couldn't stay angry with her.

From the outset, he faced a long and difficult recovery. One doctor said he would be lucky to get 40-per-cent movement back in his right shoulder. He took that as a challenge. It took him months to find enough strength to lift a coffee cup, but he's back to drinking 20 cups a day again.

When he was discharged from the hospital at the end of October, he couldn't stand, and was expected to be in a wheelchair for months.

A local contractor dropped everything to build a ramp in front of the Collen house.

But the corporal hated the wheelchair. The kids' rooms were upstairs and downstairs, so he couldn't put them to bed. He couldn't walk 200 metres down the street to take them tobogganing. Sometimes they said things like, "We liked it better before Daddy got hurt." He decided to rebel against the chair. He crawled downstairs when Pam was at work to check e-mail on the computer. He climbed into his truck and drove off, leaving his chair to roll in the driveway, and giving his father a minor panic. During hunting season, his father and brother picked him up, threw the wheelchair in the back of the truck, and took him out in the countryside. They set him up in the bush with a rifle propped up against his walker, but he never got a chance to shoot. He fell asleep instead.

Everything was tiring at first. Physiotherapy sessions required days of recovery.

He couldn't pick up his daughter, and the kids were walking on eggshells, afraid of making a loud noise or something else to upset him.

He grew terrified of people moving behind him. He always sits in the corner at coffee shops, and warns the children not to creep up when he's at the computer. Christmas shopping was next to impossible because he felt so unsafe in crowds. He hasn't been able to sleep soundly since he was wounded. "I used to wake up at night thinking I was right there again." The road ahead At first, the doctors said he would never be able to rejoin the infantry. But a surgeon told him that Canadian doctors haven't seen such severe shrapnel injuries since the Korean War, and there's no telling how his body will react to treatment.

He believes he can return to the battlefield, and no one is discouraging him at this point. He's walking now, and this month he gleefully tore apart his wheelchair ramp. Still, even a five-minute trip to the coffee shop is a major excursion, and when he gets there, he just wants to turn around and go back to bed.

He thinks he'll be back to work at CFB Shilo, 45 minutes south of Minnedosa, in July and he hopes to be with his regiment in 2008 when its next Afghan rotation begins.

But why would someone who has already sacrificed so much for the military choose to put himself in that position again? "When I first got home, I thought there's no way I'd go back.

Now, yeah, I want to go back. Next year, my buddies are going to be back over there, so I'd rather be there with them than watching it on TV." But he's torn. "A lot of the family, they don't like the idea.

They're pretty much against it. But it's the life I chose. They'll support me on it, but they're not for it." Pam says privately that she would much rather he remained at home, but she would never pressure him to stay. She wouldn't want to stand between him and what he wants to do with his life. She feels the same way about young Cory, who's a cadet and wants to join the military when he's 18.

"If it's something he wants to do," she says , "I'm not going to tell him he can't do it." Joe Friesen is The Globe and Mail's correspondent in Winnipeg.

He recently returned after spending four weeks reporting on Canada's military activities in Afghanistan.

ADDED SEARCH TERMS:

GEOGRAPHIC NAME: Canada; Afghanistan

SUBJECT TERM:defence; strife; bombs; biography profiles

PERSONAL NAME: Scott Collen

ORGANIZATION NAME: Armed Forces

====


PUBLICATION: GLOBE AND MAIL
IDN: 071180235
DATE: 2007.04.28
PAGE: A21 (ILLUS)
BYLINE: CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD
SECTION: Comment Column
EDITION: Metro
DATELINE:
WORDS: 1074
WORD COUNT: 1043

Soldier stories deserve to be heard Lost in the headlines over the Afghan detainee issue, acts of valour were being recognized


CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD The night this week that I phoned to congratulate Jess Larochelle -- I've never met him, but I've written about him before, so like most lunatic writers I felt as if I knew him -- he sounded delighted and surprised by the call, and politely let me babble for a few minutes. Then he said, "I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude," and quietly explained that he was visiting the parents of one of his fallen friends, was in their living room right then, and couldn't speak any longer.

As I hung up, I was both stricken and smiling: It was such a Canadian soldier's moment on so many levels.

This nice young man who might have been celebrating his own fine time in the sun was instead mourning a friend, and doing the right thing by spending time with his buddy's folks. Only those parents who have lost a soldier-child know how much the company of those young people matters. It may hurt like hell, but it's a welcome hurt. More than a few of the families who have lost a son, or a daughter, have ended up adopting the rest of the members of their child's section: They need one another.

Jess Larochelle is a 24-year-old private with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment. When I was last in Afghanistan, over the Christmas holidays, I'd heard a lot about him.

Of the many who behaved with courage and grace on Oct. 14, the day that a little fortified position called Strong Point Centre was attacked by the Taliban, probably no one else was spoken of with quite the same head-shaking admiration that accompanied the mere mention of Larochelle's name.

This was a function of the grit and hard-headedness he had demonstrated but also of his tender years -- he was, as his platoon commander Lieutenant Ray Corby later described him, this baby-faced kid who had just held it all together so magnificently.

When the Taliban attacked that Saturday, it was in a disciplined way and from multiple directions, using RPG fire and a heavy volume of small arms. Pte. Larochelle was alone in an OP, or observation post, in a defensive position on a hill where the Light Armoured Vehicle couldn't go. Lt. Corby saw an RPG hit the OP and assumed the worst.

He conducted himself in exemplary fashion this day too, but by the time he was able to make it up to the OP to check on the lone soldier -- Lt. Corby was only three weeks into the job as the 9 Platoon boss and one of his sections had just returned from leave -- his gnawing concern appeared to be well-founded. The first time he called out, there was no answer. "The second time I yelled, I saw this little head pop up," he said.

It was Pte. Larochelle, who in short order gave Lt. Corby covering fire so he could jump in the OP safely, then calmly briefed him on what he'd been doing -- firing at the attacking enemy to the west with the machine gun and rocket launchers, then turning his back to the enemy and firing to the eastern flank to protect it.

Pte. Larochelle was almost out of ammo, and, as Lt. Corby said, would have been forgiven if in the circumstances he'd stopped firing and ducked down. But he never did.

In fact, he was poised enough to provide Lt. Corby more excellent cover as he raced over to another position, where he discovered that two soldiers had been fatally injured by shrapnel -- Sergeant Darcy Tedford and Pte. Blake Williamson -- and three others wounded, though by now back on their feet and in the fight once again.

After the battle, the platoon returned to Kandahar Air Field, about 30 kilometres east, and immediately began practising how they would carry their fallen comrades in one of those stirring ramp ceremonies with which Canadians have become familiar.

Pte. Larochelle was one of those who carried on his shoulders the casket of his friend, Pte. Williamson.

Only after Pte. Williamson was on his way back home did Pte. Larochelle confess there was something wrong with his back. He'd been injured in the RPG attack on the OP -- pretty damn seriously, too, it turned out. He returned to Canada, where doctors thought for a time they might have to fuse some vertebrae in his neck, and though still on light duties, he's recovering, pain-free much of the time, and back with his unit in Petawawa.

This week, the story lost in the headlines over the Afghan detainee issue, Pte. Larochelle was awarded the Star of Military Valour, in prestige second only to the Canadian Victoria Cross, which has never been awarded since Canada established its own awards in 1993.

He was not alone: Corporal Sean Teal was also awarded the SMV, while seven others were awarded the Medal of Military Valour, including the terrific young guy, Master Corporal Sean Niefer, who ran the show in the LAV that Globe photographer Kevin Van Paassen and I spent about a week in over Christmas.

All of these decorations are for distinguished acts of valour "in the presence of the enemy," a wonderfully mild description for the sort of courage they reward.

Seven other soldiers received Mentions in Dispatches for valiant conduct, devotion to duty or distinguished service.

All the award winners were members of the 1RCR battle group led by Lieutenant-Colonel Omer Lavoie. Pte. Larochelle, born to military parents Randy and Anna and raised in various parts of Canada and in Germany, considers North Bay home. It was there I spoke to his dad, who said that Jesse, as his folks call him, was always someone who could be counted on.

Soldier stories always lose out to political ones. That's what this week was. But if you for a minute thought that the hullabaloo over Afghan detainees was in any way about Canadian soldiers, you were wrong. Their stories are rarely shouted and infrequently heard in a world that pays attention to noise. And more often than not they involve nice young guys like Jess Larochelle who, whether he is manning a machine gun, in two directions no less, or visiting a fallen friend's lonely parents, is doing what's right.

cblatchford@globeandmail.com

ADDED SEARCH TERMS:

GEOGRAPHIC NAME: Canada; Afghanistan

SUBJECT TERM:defence; strife; heroes; bravery; awards; biography

PERSONAL NAME: Jess Larochelle

ORGANIZATION NAME: Taliban; Armed Forces

====


PUBLICATION: GLOBE AND MAIL
IDN: 071180203
DATE: 2007.04.28
PAGE: A1 (ILLUS)
BYLINE: DANIEL LEBLANC
SECTION: National News
EDITION: Metro
DATELINE: Ottawa ONT
WORDS: 718
WORD COUNT: 689

PRISONERS IN AFGHANISTAN: THE BLAME GAME BEGINS O'Connor being hung out to dry on detainee file, official says


DANIEL LEBLANC With a report from Campbell Clark OTTAWA Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor feels he has been left to twist in the wind by his cabinet colleagues, senior federal sources said yesterday as finger-pointing burst into the open over the government's handling of the Afghan detainee crisis.

A senior defence official, seeking to present Mr. O'Connor's views as he fights for his political life, said the Defence Minister feels he has been shouldering the blame for Canada's policies toward Afghan detainees for more than a year.

It was only after Mr. O'Connor ran into trouble in the House of Commons this week amid new reports of prisoner torture, that other cabinet ministers were brought in to defend the government.

"He didn't have any support for a year," the official said. "This week, [other ministers] started to stand up because the Prime Minister gave the green light. He had been alone for a year. . . . The minister is a team player. If his job is to take flak for everybody, he will take it." The Harper government prides itself on running a tight ship. The detainee crisis, however, is exposing fissures between departments spearheading a mission that is supposed to be composed in equal parts of defence, diplomacy and development.

National Defence feels it has been carrying a disproportionate share of the load in Afghanistan -- and the public-relations war.

It believes other departments and agencies should be responsible for issues such as detainee policy, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency.

"The bureaucrats at Foreign Affairs resisted getting stuck with this issue this week," the defence source said. "They don't want this hornet's nest. They are happy going to their cocktail parties and eating little shrimps." In particular, there have been complaints that Canada's foreign aid is slow to arrive in the dangerous southern province where the Canadian Forces are active.

"When CIDA discovers the road to Kandahar, they will be able to send in their funds," the defence source said.

The issue of whether detainees captured by Canadian troops are being properly treated in Afghan jails has bedevilled Mr. O'Connor since last year when it was revealed that the agreement between the Canadian military and the Afghan government offers weaker human-rights safeguards than does a similar deal struck with the Dutch.

In March, Mr. O'Connor was forced to acknowledge in the House of Commons that the International Committee of the Red Cross does not inform Canada of the treatment of detainees captured by Canadian troops and transferred to Afghan authorities.

The issue flared again this week after The Globe and Mail revealed that 30 detainees complained of torture in Afghan jails, despite a DND agreement that called on the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to monitor their treatment.

Mr. O'Connor fielded questions on the file at the start of the week, but after confusion, backtracking and intense grilling from the opposition, he was replaced by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and even junior minister of foreign affairs Helena Guergis.

While the Conservative government has been unflinching in its support of the Afghanistan mission, opinion polls show that public support is declining.

Inside the Conservative caucus, some are starting to have qualms, too.

One MP, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed concern that Canadian troops are fighting a war that cannot be won.

Yesterday, the opposition accused the government of mishandling the crisis and failing to respect international law, which requires Canada to ensure that detainees are well treated even after they change hands.

"This has been a week of chaos, of confusion and cover-up for the Conservatives, a political gong show at the expense of our international reputation and the Canadian military," Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla said.

However, federal sources said the previous Liberal government made a mistake in 2005 when it tasked the military -- and not Foreign Affairs, which has more expertise in human rights -- to sign a deal with the Afghans to ensure that prisoners of war were not abused after their transfer into local jails.

Mr. Day said yesterday that the opposition attacks had to stop because they were affecting Canadian officials in Afghanistan.

"Stop maligning our corrections officers and stop maligning our troops," Mr. Day said.

ADDED SEARCH TERMS:

GEOGRAPHIC NAME: Canada; Afghanistan

SUBJECT TERM:foreign policy; defence; strife; human rights; prisoners; political

PERSONAL NAME: Gordon O'Connor

ORGANIZATION NAME: Conservative Party of Canada

====


PUBLICATION: GLOBE AND MAIL
IDN: 071180186
DATE: 2007.04.28
PAGE: A22
BYLINE:
SECTION: Editorial
EDITION: Metro
DATELINE:
WORDS: 206
WORD COUNT: 232

Unsung heroes


St. John Ambulance Canada and the Canadian Red Cross are two charitable organizations with a mission to improve, through training, the health, safety and quality of life of Canadians. Their success is measured in stories of everyday valour. Like that of Corporal Shaun Fevens, a young Canadian reservist from the Princess Louise Fusiliers, who survived a roadside bomb attack on Easter Sunday near Kandahar.

As he lay seriously injured from the blast, Cpl. Fevens calmly instructed fellow soldiers on how to staunch the bleeding. According to his mother, Maurietta Fevens, "he never received any special medical training. He did some advanced St. John Ambulance courses and CPR." And stories like that of Tristan Unsworth, an 11-year-old who earlier this month reacted quickly to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre after a classmate began to choke on a peppermint candy. Tristan and his school credit a Canadian Red Cross babysitting course he attended in February.

The names St. John Ambulance and Canadian Red Cross are often mentioned, almost in an offhand way, in coverage of remarkable stories like these, but too often they are taken for granted. They ought not to be. The good works of these organizations help to form the bulwark of our civil society.

ADDED SEARCH TERMS:

GEOGRAPHIC NAME: Canada

SUBJECT TERM:rescues; charities

ORGANIZATION NAME: St. John Ambulance Canada; Canadian Red Cross

====


SOURCETAG 0704280272
PUBLICATION: The Toronto Sun
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: 8
ILLUSTRATION:photo of STOCKWELL DAY Deflect criticism
BYLINE: MURRAY BREWSTER, THE CANADIAN PRESS
DATELINE: OTTAWA
WORD COUNT: 212

Tories deny Afghan prisoner abuse


The Conservative government is pushing a new line about claims of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan -- it didn't happen.

But the assurance by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day yesterday came despite the fact that no full investigation has been conducted.

Meanwhile, the mystery continues over who, if anyone, is monitoring the treatment of detainees handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian troops.

Day accused the opposition again of believing "false allegations" of torture made by insurgents. He insisted that two Corrections Canada officers in Kandahar have had full access to Afghan prisons, and they have a mandate to report prisoner abuse.

Day and other Conservatives tried again to deflect criticism by accusing opposition MPs of attacking the integrity of our troops -- even though the abuse allegations are not directed at soldiers.

Day's claim that Canada has had access to detainees is the latest in a series of changing stories by the Tories.

ON VERGE OF A DEAL

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said it has been denied access to prisoners in intelligence jails.

The government now says it is on the verge of signing a formal deal with Afghan officials to allow regular access, but critics wonder if even that will do any good.

Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada did little to ease such fears, saying that it will be up to Afghan authorities to deal with any suspected cases of abuse. Omar Samad insisted it is the sovereign right of Afghans to deal with their own citizens.

However, under international law, Canada has a responsibility to protect prisoners from abuse. KEYWORDS=CANADA

====


SOURCETAG 0704280364
PUBLICATION: The London Free Press
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: A4
BYLINE: MURRAY BREWSTER, CP
DATELINE: OTTAWA
WORD COUNT: 309

Tories now deny claims of prisoner abuse


The embattled Conservative government is pushing a new line about claims of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan: It didn't happen.

But the assurance by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day yesterday came despite the fact that no full investigation has been conducted.

Meanwhile, the mystery continues over who, if anyone, is monitoring the treatment of detainees handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian troops.

Day accused the opposition again yesterday of believing "false allegations" of torture made by insurgents.

He insisted two Corrections Canada officers in Kandahar have had full access to Afghan prisons and that they have a mandate to report prisoner abuse. But he didn't say if they have been monitoring prisoners handed over by Canadian troops.

Day and other Conservatives again tried to deflect criticism by accusing opposition MPs of attacking the integrity of Canadian troops -- even though the abuse allegations are not directed at soldiers.

Day's claim that Canada has had access to detainees is the latest in a series of changing stories by the Conservatives on who is monitoring the treatment of the prisoners.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which the government had tasked with monitoring detainees, said it has been denied access to prisoners in intelligence jails.

The government now says it is on the verge of signing a formal deal with Afghan officials to allow regular access, but critics wonder if that will do any good.

Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada did little to ease such fears, saying while the doors to Afghan prisons will swing open for Canadian officials, it will be up to Afghan authorities to deal with any suspected cases of abuse.

"It is the responsibility of our government to look into that and correct the problems that may exist, whether it's to charge someone with abuse or to prosecute someone -- or to bring evidence to court," Omar Samad said.

He said his country is taking "baby steps" toward the "establishment of the rule of law and the legal process must be respected."

The justice system is still a work-in-progress, Samad conceded, but insisted it is the sovereign right of Afghans to deal with their own citizens.

However, under international law, Canada must protect prisoners from abuse and make sure they are not handed over to a state that practises torture. KEYWORDS=CANADA

====


SOURCETAG 0704280755
PUBLICATION: The Edmonton Sun
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: 54
BYLINE: MURRAY BREWSTER, CP
DATELINE: OTTAWA
WORD COUNT: 185

Day now says prisoner abuse didn't happen


The embattled Conservative government is pushing a new line about claims of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan - it didn't happen.

But the assurance by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day yesterday came despite the fact that no full investigation has been conducted.

Meanwhile, the mystery continues over who, if anyone, is monitoring the treatment of detainees handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian troops.

Day accused the opposition again yesterday of believing "false allegations" of torture made by insurgents.

He insisted that two Corrections Canada officers in Kandahar have had full access to Afghan prisons, and that they have a mandate to report prisoner abuse.

But he didn't say if they have been monitoring prisoners handed over by Canadian troops.

Day and other Conservatives again tried to deflect criticism by accusing opposition MPs of attacking the integrity of Canadian troops - even though the abuse allegations are not directed at soldiers.

Day's claim that Canada has had access to detainees is the latest in a series of changing stories by the Conservatives on who is monitoring the treatment of the prisoners.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which the government had tasked with monitoring detainees, said it has been denied access to prisoners in intelligence jails.

The government now says it is on the verge of signing a formal deal with Afghan officials to allow regular access, but critics wonder if even that will do any good. KEYWORDS=CANADA

====


SOURCETAG 0704280627
PUBLICATION: The Calgary Sun
DATE: 2007.04.28
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: 28
ILLUSTRATION:photo of STOCKWELL DAY Denies abuse
BYLINE: MURRAY BREWSTER, CP
DATELINE: OTTAWA
WORD COUNT: 216

Tories deny Afghan abuse


The embattled Conservative government is pushing a new line about claims of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan -- it didn't happen.

But the assurance by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day yesterday came despite the fact no full investigation has been conducted.

Meanwhile, the mystery continues over who, if anyone, is monitoring the treatment of detainees handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian troops.

Day accused the Opposition again of believing "false allegations" of torture made by insurgents.

He insisted two Corrections Canada officers in Kandahar have had full access to Afghan prisons, and they have a mandate to report prisoner abuse.

But he didn't say if they have been monitoring prisoners handed over by Canadian troops.

Day and other Conservatives again tried to deflect criticism by accusing Opposition MPs of attacking the integrity of Canadian troops -- even though the abuse allegations are not directed at soldiers.

Day's claim that Canada has had access to detainees is the latest in a series of changing stories by the Conservatives on who is monitoring the treatment of the prisoners.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which the government had tasked with monitoring detainees, said it has been denied access to prisoners in intelligence jails.

The government now says it is on the verge of signing a formal deal with Afghan officials to allow regular access, but critics wonder if even that will do any good.

Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada did little to ease such fears, saying while the doors to Afghan prisons will swing open for Canadian officials, it will be up to Afghan authorities to actually deal with any suspected cases of abuse. KEYWORDS=NATIONAL

====


PUBLICATION: WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
DATE: 2007.04.28
PAGE: A19
SECTION: Focus
WORD COUNT: 1096

Canada's Afghan prisoner policy flawedBlind spot in Kandahar


CP Wire GRAHAM THOMSON Before I set foot in Sarpoza prison in Kandahar City my guide warned me what to expect. "The conditions are terrible," said Ric Fecteau, one of two supervisors from the Canadian Correctional Service on a 12-month tour to help train Afghan prison guards. "The walls are crumbling and need to be replastered and rebuilt, so the actual conditions, the sanitary conditions, everything is terrible." Indeed, the prison looked like something out of medieval dungeon with thick stone walls where inmates hung meat from hooks and groped their way by candlelight. The conditions were appalling.

But then I noticed something that didn't seem to fit this snapshot from the Middle Ages. The prisoners in the wing where Taliban fighters are held looked clean and healthy. One man who shyly tried to hide his face from the camera wore clothes that were as spotless and white as freshly laundered linen. The guards were friendly, too.

This, I was assured by Fecteau, was not some charade put on for the benefit of visitors. He has been visiting the prison since early February and has seen no evidence of abuse. He says he has had access to every nook and cranny of a facility that is a veritable fortress of nooks and crannies where you could easily imagine inmates shackled to the walls and beaten.

That, however, doesn't happen here, according to Fecteau.

"The relationship between the prison police and the inmates tells an entirely different story," he said. "You would see guards walking right in and having conversations with the prisoners. Here are guards and prisoners being very polite with each other." It's not Fecteau's job to monitor the condition of prisoners, but he couldn't ignore the issue either. So, he used his own translator to ask Taliban prisoners out of earshot of the guards about their treatment.

He said they complain about the physical conditions of the prison -- the crumbling walls, spotty electricity and vermin -- but none complain they are being abused. Everybody grumbles about the state of the building, including the guards who live there in conditions not much better than the inmates.

"It is definitely a Third World prison," said Linda Garwood-Filbert, a supervisor from Manitoba's Stony Mountain Institute. "The cells are bigger than what we have at home but then the accommodation is eight inmates to 10 inmates to a cell. You won't see any beds but you will see mattresses and blankets and pillows." Consequently, a large part of her mission is to draw up a plan to fix the jail's deteriorating infrastructure. Canada will supply the money and Afghans will supply the manpower. Fecteau and Garwood-Filbert will supply the expertise.

It's all part of Canada's goal to help Afghanistan build a functioning judicial system, one that respects the rights of the individual.

There is, however, a huge blind spot in Canada's plan. It is the Afghanistan National Directorate of Security. Afghan officials like to compare it benignly to America's FBI. Others say it's more like the USSR's notorious KGB, a secret police force that ignored the law.

The NDS has its own jail in Kandahar that was off-limits to Canadian officials. This is the facility where Taliban suspects go after they are handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian soldiers.

Once they descend into the care of the NDS, the suspects disappear from Canada's radar screen. It is agents of the NDS who are alleged to beat and torture prisoners to extract information and confessions.

The prisoners reappear on the radar only after they are set free or convicted and sent to Sarpoza prison. Canadian officials tried unsuccessfully to get inside the NDS facility.

Afghan authorities argued that, as a sovereign nation, Afghanistan had complete jurisdiction over the prisoners who, NDS officials insisted, were not being abused.

This week, as pressure built on the Harper government over the detainee issue, Ottawa in turn pressured the Afghan government which finally allowed Canadian officials inside the NDS facility.

Officials aren't saying what they discovered, but sources say some of the inmates were discovered to be needlessly shackled in leg irons. Other inmates complained of abuse that has yet to be corroborated.

Now that the NDS doors have been forced open, the Canadian government is trying to give the impression that the detainee issue is under control.

However, there aren't enough Canadian officials in Kandahar to monitor the condition of prisoners at every step of the way after they're turned over to Afghan authorities. Fecteau and Garwood-Filbert are not human rights officials; they are prison guards whose primary job is to help build up Kandahar's prison system, not check on the condition of individual prisoners in the NDS care.

The Harper government is putting great faith in, and great stress on, the Afghan independent human rights commission to monitor detainees on Canada's behalf. The commission, however, doesn't have the resources or expertise to do a thorough job. Like much of Afghanistan's social structure, the commission is overworked, underfunded and stretched to the breaking point.

It has to deal with the Afghanistan government, which is immature at best and unscrupulous at worst. That is probably the biggest challenge facing Canada's mission there: We are in partnership with a government that is not only inexperienced but often inept and at times corrupt.

Besides stories of prisoner abuse, senior officers with the Afghan National Police are alleged to be underpaying their constables who in turn extort money from average Afghans.

There are also myriad tales of drug lords bribing officials to ignore fields of poppy flowers used to make opium and heroin. The government is also chronically late in paying soldiers and teachers -- a problem alternately blamed on bureaucratic incompetence or outright corruption.

Consequently, it's no wonder people lose confidence in the government of Afghanistan -- not only the Afghan people, but Canadians, as well. We have a very flawed partner in the war on terror. It will take years to make Afghanistan a functioning society. It will take more money, more resources and more people. That's what the Canadian government is not telling Canadians.

For the NATO mission to succeed in Afghanistan, we will probably have to invest a generation of blood, sweat, tears and dollars.

By denying Afghanistan as a base for international terrorism, we'd be doing it not only for the Afghan people but for ourselves. Our national interests and our national values intersect in Afghanistan.

Rather than dispatch more troops, we could do something as low-key as send in more prison guards to back up the huge job facing Fecteau and Garwood-Filbert -- and thus assure Canadians our values are not being undermined and abused in a dark prison cell in Kandahar City.

gthomson@thejournal.canwest.com