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Military investigates claim detainees abused

Civilian agency also wants answers after allegations at least one Afghan was beaten

Paul Koring, Globe & Mail, 6 Feb 07

Article Link


The Canadian military has launched an investigation into allegations of detainee abuse by soldiers in Afghanistan, The Globe and Mail has learned.


Spokesperson Major Luc Gaudet confirmed Monday that the military began its probe last week after being informed that the Military Police Complaints Commission — a civilian body formed to investigate complaints against the military — had received a request for an investigation into the treatment of several detainees. The commission is expected to decide within days whether to launch its own probe — a “public interest investigation” — into the allegations.


At least one, and perhaps three, Afghan detainees “taken captive by the Canadian Forces appears to have been beaten while detained and interrogated by them,” alleges Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor, in a letter sent to the commission.


The allegations are based on documents obtained by Mr. Attaran under the Access to Information Act outlining injuries in the cases.


The Globe and Mail has examined the military documents obtained by Mr. Attaran that refer to injuries sustained by detainees while in Canadian custody last April.


The fragmentary and heavily redacted record fails to explain how the detainees were injured. The Canadian Forces rejected requests for full logs or detailed accounting of the fate of detainees, claiming “operational security requirements” make such information “not releasable to the public.”


The three Afghans were captured near Dukah by a small group of Canadian soldiers positioned on a hill above the small town.


One, captured after he was seen observing the Canadians, managed to escape only to be recaptured the next day.


He is described as “non compliant” by his captors in a field report, but no mention is made of injuries.


Another is described as being “extremely belligerent” after being found with three women and three children in a room when a compound was raided by Canadian soldiers.


A field report said “it took four personnel to subdue him.”


Prior to Monday's acknowledgment that it had launched its own investigation, the military had denied any wrongdoing in response to a series of written questions in recent weeks seeking explanations for the detainees' injuries.


In the instance where a detainee was apparently most seriously injured, it said only “appropriate force” was used, and claimed the individual was a suspected bomb-maker.


The military said it launched no investigation of its own at the time.


The detainee injuries are listed in a military police transfer log as: “Lacerations on L&R eyebrows; contusions & swelling of both eyes; lacerations on L cheek; lacerations centre of forehead; abrasions on chin; multiple contusions on both upper arms, back & chest.”


Some of those injuries were apparently sustained while the detainee's hands were tied behind his back, the military said.


“When transferred to Military Police stationed at Kandahar Airfield, the detainee continued to display extreme agitation as well as belligerent and totally unco-operative behaviour. Already restrained by nylon straps to his wrists while being guided by Military Police, the detainee used his legs to leverage himself off the back of a vehicle in an effort to generate resistance against the Military Police escorting him. In accordance with proper use of force procedures, Military Police used appropriate physical control techniques to restrain him from doing that,” Canadian Expeditions Forces Command said in written response to questions about the incident. Some of the injuries were inflicted when the detainee was originally captured, CEFCOM says.


In this, and two other cases, detainees apparently suffered injuries while in Canadian custody. The instances were uncovered by Mr. Attaran, who has a long record of human-rights advocacy and has pushed for greater accountability by both the government and the military in the care and handling of detainees.


“Taken together, this extraordinary assortment of injuries suggests that the men, and particularly man #3, were beaten,” Mr. Attaran writes in his bid for the Military Police Complaints Commission probe. Sources close to the commission suggest it will start its own investigation later this week.


Peter Tinsley, chairman of the commission, has written to General Rick Hillier, chief of defence staff, asking if the military wants to provide any explanations before the commission decides whether to investigate. He also warned the military “to preserve all relevant evidence pertaining to the incident(s) in question.”


The commission was established in the wake of the Somalia debacle, where a teenager was tortured and killed by Canadian soldiers and the Canadian military high command was subsequently implicated in a high-level cover-up.


In this case, there are odd omissions in the documentary record and the Canadian Forces have been unwilling to provide anything but the sketchiest detail about the treatment of the detainees. For instance, a picture of the injured face of the most seriously hurt detainee exists, but it has been suppressed from release. The medical forms for the three injured detainees are blank or missing. Despite the lack of documentation, the Canadian Forces insists the injured man received medical treatment.


“A Canadian physician examined the detainee for his injuries — all determined to be superficial cuts and bruises,” CEFCOM said in response to a written question.


The lack of an investigation into the injuries sustained by the three detainees captured near Dukah, about 50 kilometres west of Kandahar, in April last year, stands in sharp contrast to the single investigation conducted by the military into possible detainee mistreatment since the Canadians moved into southern Afghanistan.


Prior to that, the only investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service followed an allegation that “some military police had firmly grabbed the arms of one detainee while taking him to a military transport vehicle,” about two weeks after Dukah captures, CEFCOM said in a written response to Globe and Mail questions.


Mr. Attaran believes the gaps in the documentary record and the confusing and incomplete accounts regarding the three detainees picked up near Dukah about April 7, 2006, may point to a deliberate effort. “My working hypothesis is that the MPs at Kandahar airfield, aware that they possessed three detainees about whom questions might be asked, acted with unusual speed to get the men permanently off the base and into Afghan custody.”


There is an unusual absence of medical records and of an inventory of the detainees personal belongings, compared with other detainee records. “In shortcutting both these steps, the MPS failed to preserve evidence of relevance to an investigation into the detainees' injuries, which circumstances clearly warranted,” Mr. Attaran said in his submission to the commission.


Ottawa silent on fate of captured terror suspects

No accounting for scores of detainees that have been handed to Americans, Afghans

PAUL KORING, Globe & Mail, 6 Feb 07

Article Link


WASHINGTON -- Scores of terrorist suspects captured by Canadians have disappeared into the murky netherworld of Afghan and American prisons, but Ottawa refuses to say what has happened to them or even if it knows whether any have been tried, charged, or released, or how they are treated.


According to a Canadian Forces log of detainees, 40 had been handed over by April, 2006. From a review of a heavily excised and incomplete set of military police documents, it seems that several dozen more have been captured and handed over to Afghan police since then.


But Canada's Expeditionary Forces Command, headed by Lieutenant-General Michel Gautier, who oversees all Canadian Forces deployed abroad, refuses to account for terrorist suspects captured since May 1, 2006.


Some have apparently been freed by the Canadians who determined -- in a process not made clear -- that they didn't deserve to be handed over to the Afghan police. However, there is no accounting for them either, only the terse notations "fit for release" on medical forms.


Others, dubbed "fit for transfer," disappear into Afghan prisons. Once there, there is no further Canadian oversight.


Canada's out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach means detainees are handed over to others as soon as possible, often within hours. Once gone, the Canadian government, in effect, washes its hands of further responsibility or accountability.


"At the heart of this . . . we're trying to avoid instances such as torture. The responsibility doesn't end when you hand someone over," said Hilary Homes, Amnesty International Canada's lead advocate on international justice, security and human rights.


The Canadian government admits it "has not done any follow-up" about the fate of detainees, she said in an interview, adding that the "entire detainee regime needs to be investigated."


Canada's top general, Rick Hillier, who once called Taliban fighters "detestable murderers and scumbags," defends handing detainees over to Afghan authorities, despite international condemnation of human-rights abuse in its prisons and widespread police corruption.


"We hand them to either the Afghan national police or the Afghan national army," he has said. "We're trying to help build a country; you've got to help build their rule of law, a justice system, which includes a prison system."


But Ottawa refuses to account for what happens to detainees, either in Canadian Forces custody or after they are handed off to the Afghans.


It won't even say whether any have died in custody or confirm that all those captured were handed over to Afghan police, as is now Canadian policy for its combat troops in Kandahar.


"Information regarding detainees apprehended by CF elements in Afghanistan, as well as to which authorities these individuals were transferred, is not releasable," CEFCOM said in a written response to a series of questions from The Globe and Mail. The military claims "operational security requirements" for refusing to release a log of detainees, even though it had done so in the past.


The log up to April, 2006, lists detainees only by number.


Their names, nationality, and any other personal identifying information isn't included; only the date of capture, the date of transfer and the date, usually weeks later, when the International Committee of the Red Cross was notified that the detainee was in either American or Afghan hands.


At least four detainees were seized from ships stopped on the high seas by Canadian warships in the Persian Gulf or North Arabian Sea between July, 2002, and June, 2005, and were handed over the U.S.


Most, perhaps all, of the 14 suspects captured in Afghanistan by Canadian special forces and regular troops between January, 2002, and the Dec. 18, 2005, agreement with the Afghans, were also handed over to the United States.


Since then, and in some cases before, according to Canadian officials, suspects captured in Afghanistan have been turned over to Afghan police.


Unlike some NATO nations -- such as Holland -- Canada has no right to check on interrogation or conditions in Afghan prisons once it transfers detainees.


Foreign Affairs officials confirm no captives originally handed over by Canadian military forces to their U.S. counterparts remain at Guantanamo, the U.S. prison at a naval base in Cuba. However, they won't say where they are being held, or whether any have been released from custody.


According to Amnesty International, the U.S. military is known to maintain a prison at Bagram Air Base near Kabul and another at Kandahar Air Base. Unlike with Guantanamo, there has been no U.S. accounting of the prisoners held at those prisons. Nor is anything publicly known about what happens to captives handed over to the Afghan authorities.

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