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Hillier orders full inquiry into treatment of detainees

Defence Minister O'Connor vows findings will be made public



Article Link


WASHINGTON, OTTAWA -- Canada's top soldier, General Rick Hillier, ordered a full-blown board of inquiry yesterday to probe detainee treatment in Afghanistan as a political storm shook Ottawa over allegations that captives were beaten while in Canadian custody.


As Gen. Hillier and Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor unveiled multiple probes into the detainee-abuse allegations, they also rejected any comparison with Somalia, where elite Canadian troops tortured and killed a teenage captive more than a decade ago and senior officers were embroiled in a cover-up that eventually stained the entire military.


"This isn't Somalia," Mr. O'Connor said outside the House of Commons, when asked what assurances Canadians had that the government wouldn't close down an inquiry if embarrassing revelations emerged.


"Let's get the scale properly," he said, adding that the findings of both a criminal investigation by the military and the board of inquiry would be made public.


Gen. Hillier said: "We learned many lessons from Somalia. One is responsibility of the chain of command. One is thorough training and preparation."


The general said there was "an incredible hyper-sensitivity to handling detainees.


"We understand how important it is to get this right," he said, and added that "if there was a lapse in a process or policies, we'll find that out and correct it."


In Afghanistan, military police investigators will try to find the three Afghans who may have been beaten 10 months ago. Their whereabouts are unknown because once the Canadian military hands them over to Afghan authorities, it keeps no records of whether they are released or charged, or languish in prison.


In the Commons, NDP Leader Jack Layton demanded assurances that the results of the investigations would be made public.


"The Forces have been through enough with what happened in Somalia and the allegations and the cover-ups," he said.


Amir Attaran, the University of Ottawa law professor whose digging through detainee-transfer documents uncovered a pattern of suspicious injuries on three detainees captured last April near Dukah, Afghanistan, said he doubted the military could properly investigate itself.


"In light of what happened a decade ago in Somalia, I very much doubt that (the military) should investigate internally," he said.


Prof. Attaran has lodged a complaint with the civilian Military Police Complaints Commission, which is considering a "public-interest investigation."


The military's Provost Marshal is navy Captain Steve Moore, the Canadian Forces' senior police officer.


He has asked the MPCC to delay any probe it may launch until the criminal investigation -- by the military's National Investigation Service -- is complete. That could take weeks.


The commission is expected to decide later this week whether it will investigate independently.


But the military's internal process has produced divergent approaches to the incident over time.


For instance, the convening officer for the board of inquiry will be Lieutenant-General Michel Gauthier, who commands Canadian Expeditionary Force Command. Yet it was his military police chief, Major Doug Boot, who approved a written answer to The Globe and Mail late last month rejecting the notion that any abuse had occurred and insisting that proper medical treatment had been given to the injured detainees.


In that answer, the military seemed to have already concluded that the detainees had been properly treated.


Capt. Moore was informed of the contents of that answer on Jan. 30, Canadian Forces spokesman Major Luc Gaudet confirmed yesterday.


It was Capt. Moore, the military's top cop, who then ordered the criminal probe into the same allegations.


Gen. Hillier, in a Feb. 6 letter to the MPCC explaining his decision to launch the board of inquiry, said "the allegations of misconduct and detainee abuse are taken very seriously by both myself and my subordinate commanders."


Capt. Moore, in his Feb. 6 letter to the MPCC asking that it delay any public-interest inquiry until the criminal probe is complete, said he had immediately "directed the CFNIS to conduct a full investigation into potential offences related to the treatment of detainees."


Yet when the same key information detailing detainee injuries contained in a military police transfer log was brought to CEFCOM's attention on Jan 24 in a written question from The Globe -- the document number, names and dates were provided to the military so it could track down the incident -- the military did not institute an investigation, but prepared a detailed account backing up the conduct of Canadian soldiers and military police.


Referring to the most seriously injured detainee, the military said: "Appropriate physical use of force was necessary to bring him to the ground. He was then restrained using proper nylon straps that were applied to his wrists." Later, "military police used appropriate physical control techniques" when the detainee was "already restrained by nylon straps to his wrists."


That reply was prepared and returned to The Globe within 24 hours.

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