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Government ‘will not interfere' in Afghan investigation

Globe and Mail, 6 Feb 07

Article Link


A military investigation into allegations of detainee abuse by soldiers in Afghanistan will be open, accountable and free of government interference, the defence minister has said.


Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said the government would not interfere with a military investigation into the allegations that at least one, and perhaps three, Afghan detainees taken captive by Canadian forces were beaten during interrogation.


The allegations were first asserted by Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor, based on documents obtained by Mr. Attaran under the Access to Information Act outlining injuries in the cases.


“Those investigations will determine the facts, whatever they are,” Mr. O'Connor said in response to questioning from NDP leader Jack Layton in Commons on Tuesday.


“I want to assure the member that I do not interfere with, nor will ever interfere with, any investigative process.... Any reports that come from the investigations will be made public.”


Speaking to a media scrum outside parliament, Mr. O'Connor said the National Investigation Service could report back within weeks on the matter, but a Board of Inquiry scrutinizing the whole process would likely take months.


“This isn't Somalia. Let's get the scale properly. There's an allegation of some potential abuse of a prisoner. There's no proof that this actually happened. That's what these investigations will find out. But I can assure you that whatever the investigations result in, the public will be aware.”


Liberal MP and defence critic Denis Coderre said it was important to remain “very vigilant of the situation, very transparent about it, because we truly support the troops.”


The Globe reported on Tuesday morning that the Canadian military has launched an investigation into the allegations.


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 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.


The commission is expected to decide within days whether to launch its own probe — a “public interest investigation” — into the allegations.


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.

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