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Defence Minister Peter MacKay responds during Question Period in the House of Commons on Tuesday, December 1, 2009. (Adrian Wyld)
Defence Minister Peter MacKay responds during Question Period in the House of Commons on Tuesday, December 1, 2009. (Adrian Wyld)

Globe editorial

The record and the falsehoods Add to ...

The record speaks for itself on what the Canadian government knows, or should have known, about the torture of Afghan detainees. It speaks far louder than the falsehoods from the government that have by now become routine. If these falsehoods are offered unintentionally, one wonders how senior government ministers can be so ignorant of the contents of such an important file.

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Peter MacKay, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has said over and over that no proof exists of torture: "Not a single Taliban prisoner turned over by Canadian Forces can be proven to have been abused. That is the crux of the issue." Yet the evidence was already public. It was among the documents filed in a court action brought by human-rights groups who tried unsuccessfully to put a stop to the transfers. A soldier's meticulous notes describe several Afghan police beating a handcuffed man with shoes or boots. The notes include statements from two Canadian eyewitnesses and before and after photos. (Canada's soldiers took the prisoner back into their custody after learning he had been severely beaten.) Several other cases exist in which Canada demanded investigations of abuse or torture.

Mr. MacKay should read the newspaper files if he can't be bothered reading the government files (no doubt he will deny reading either). Last January, The Globe reported that Justice Department lawyers announced Canada had found a credible case of torture, and therefore stopped transferring detainees. Canadian diplomats even found the instruments of torture (an electrical cable and rubber hose) under a chair in a secret Kandahar jail. "Canadian authorities were informed on November 5, 2007, by Canada's monitoring team, of a credible allegation of mistreatment pertaining to one Canadian-transferred detainee held in an Afghan detention facility," the lawyers said in a letter to Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

The list of falsehoods is long. Former defence minister Gordon O'Connor maintained in May, 2006, that the Red Cross was monitoring the transfers and would inform Canada if something was wrong. The Red Cross later said that wasn't so. When The Globe asked the Foreign Affairs Department if it had produced a report on Afghan human-rights conditions, it was told no. The department's report did exist, however, and was quite strong: "Extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial are all too common." Mr. MacKay and Mr. O'Connor denied knowing of the report.

At every breach of the walls of secrecy that the diplomat Richard Colvin has alleged existed within government and the military, the government fires off untruths (the above list is by no means complete). But they are laughably weak armaments against the truth. As each one is knocked aside, the government's insistence it knew nothing about the torture of detainees becomes more and more tenuous.

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