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Public probe on detainees 'imperative,' panel told

Investigation into allegations of abuse called vital to keeping confidence in Forces

PAUL KORING, DANIEL LEBLANC, Globe & Mail, 8 Feb 07

Article Link

 

WASHINGTON, OTTAWA -- A public investigation with open hearings into allegations of detainee abuse "is absolutely imperative to maintain confidence in the Canadian Forces," the Military Police Complaints Commission has been told in a submission from Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran.

 

The little-known commission has broad powers of oversight and investigation. It is expected to decide whether to order a rare "public interest inquiry" by tomorrow. NDP defence critic Dawn Black also called yesterday for at least part of an inquiry into the matter to be public.

 

"We need an investigation that is thorough and transparent," Ms. Black said outside the House of Commons. "There are serious allegations that need to be addressed . . . so that all Canadians can rest assured that the process was fair and open."

 

MPCC chairman Peter Tinsley could opt for a full Gomery-style inquiry that examines the vexed and mostly secret process in which Afghan detainees are interrogated by Canadian military police and then handed over to Afghan police.

 

The military already has ordered two probes: one a criminal investigation into whether three Afghan detainees were beaten or abused in Canadian custody in April and the other -- a wider board of inquiry -- into the handling of detainees.

 

Neither will be public, although Defence Minister Gordon O'Conner promised to make their findings known.

 

Naval Captain Steve Moore, the Provost Marshal (military chief of police), wants the MPCC to delay launching any public probe until the criminal investigation is complete.

 

But Prof. Attaran argues there is no reason to delay.

 

"The fact that investigations of different kinds can co-exist is agreed by all parties, as the minister himself recognizes when striking the "non-criminal" BOI (Board of Inquiry) and the "criminal" CFNIS (Canadian Forces National Investigation Service)," he said in his submission to the commission, a document obtained by The Globe and Mail.

 

The MPCC's chief of staff, Stanley Blythe, said Mr. Tinsley will consider submissions, consult with staff and decide by the end of the week.

 

"Holding a public hearing sends an important, across-the-board signal to the Canadian public and the Forces that detainee abuse will not be tolerated," Prof. Attaran said in urging the commission to hold a full public-interest inquiry.

 

"The lesson of history is that public confidence is of paramount importance to safeguarding the deservedly excellent reputation of the Canadian Forces," Prof. Attaran said.

 

He said the MPCC was created for precisely this type of issue and that closed-door investigations by the military were insufficient to deal with the murky and secret treatment and transfer of Afghans captured and detained by Canadian soldiers.

 

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said he wanted to wait until the outcome of the military probes. "We will then evaluate what's been made public and see if there is a need for a fuller inquiry that is independent from the Canadian Forces," he said.

 

Former Liberal leader Bill Graham, who was defence minister at the time Canada signed a detainee-transfer pact with Afghanistan, said the deal was the best possible for Canada.

 

However, unlike some other North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations with soldiers in Afghanistan, such as the Netherlands and Britain, Canada retains no follow-up right to make sure detainees aren't tortured or abused in Afghanistan's prisons.

 

International human-rights organizations, including Afghanistan's own, have concluded that abuse and torture are rife in Afghan jails. The U.S. State Department reached the same conclusion.

 

"It is Canadian Forces policy to transfer detainees -- 40 or so to date -- to the Afghan National Police," said Prof. Attaran, who has sifted through hundreds of military documents that provide a fragmentary and incomplete record of what happens to Afghan captives in Canadian custody.

 

"This would be unobjectionable and unremarkable, except for the fact that the ANP are known torturers," he said.

 

General Rick Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff, signed the pact in December of 2005. The government has defended it, saying it safeguards detainees and that the International Committee of the Red Cross monitors their imprisonment.

 

But the Canadian Forces and the government continue to be extremely secretive about captives, refusing, for instance, to even say how many were transferred or were released. At the same time, they insist proper treatment of detainees is a top priority.

 

"In the Canadian Forces' chain of command, from this Chief of the Defence Staff, as a soldier, right down to the most junior soldier in our Canadian Forces, we have an incredible hypersensitivity to handling detainees. We understand how important it is to get this right," Gen. Hillier said after announcing the board of inquiry to investigate the treatment of those captured.

 

But the blunt-speaking Gen. Hillier has denigrated those fighting against Canadian troops in Afghanistan as "detestable murderers and scumbags."


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