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An Afghan man lifts up his arms as a soldier with the the Royal Canadian Regiment approaches him during a patrol in the Panjwaii district, southwest of Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Sept. 9, 2010. (Anja Niedringhaus/AP)
An Afghan man lifts up his arms as a soldier with the the Royal Canadian Regiment approaches him during a patrol in the Panjwaii district, southwest of Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Sept. 9, 2010. (Anja Niedringhaus/AP)

Afghan prisons not 'torture chambers,' Canadian general testifies Add to ...

A Canadian Forces general says Afghanistan's prisons don't deserve their reputation in international human rights reports as "torture chambers" and calls the notorious intelligence service that takes charge of Canada's detainees a "very highly thought of organization."

Major-General Michael Ward's comments on Thursday at a hearing into whether Canada knowingly transferred prisoners to torture in Afghanistan illustrates the stark difference between the military and its critics over Canadian detainee policy.

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The senior soldier's testimony before the Military Police Complaints Commission also squarely contradicts the public statements of two outspoken Canadian diplomats, who five months ago strongly criticized Afghan handling of detainees and the National Directorate of Security intelligence service.

Maj.-Gen. Ward offered fulsome praise for the NDS, heavily criticized by human rights monitors, and said the image of Afghan detention facilities painted by international reports is erroneous.

"I have read a lot of those reports. I just spent a year reading more and more of those reports," the general told the commission hearings, adding that they can be unhelpful.

"Because when you create an expectation of a climate of torture or terror in Afghan prisons, it's actually not accurate. Just as everything's not hunky dory ... these are not torture chambers, per se," the general said.

The senior officer said many reports on Afghan jails lack sufficient evidence of mistreatment.

"They're not specific in terms of, 'On this day' ... or 'As a result of the following investigation,'" he said.

Commission chair Glenn Stannard asked Maj.-Gen. Ward to verify that he wasn't saying torture never occurred in Afghan facilities.

The soldier said he wasn't, but added that he thinks the frequency of abuse is hard to measure: "I don't think anybody can quantify it with any degree of certainty."

The Canadian government has acknowledged two cases where former detainees were abused after transfer to the Afghans. In one case, it temporarily halted handovers of prisoners to Afghans in November, 2007, after a transferred detainee told a Canadian diplomat of being beaten unconscious and tortured; he also showed the monitor fresh welts and revealed where the electrical cable and the rubber hose used on him were hidden.

Two Foreign Affairs staffers spoke out about the National Directorate of Security and its behaviour inside detention facilities in April, 2010.

Richard Colvin, a diplomat who was posted in Afghanistan for Canada, told the Military Police Complaints Commission hearings "the NDS tortures people - that's what they do."

And senior Foreign Affairs official Cory Anderson, on leave from his job at the time, raised serious doubts before a Commons committee about the wisdom of continuing to transfer detainees to the NDS. Mr. Anderson, who testified he'd been constrained by Ottawa in what he could say, called the NDS secretive, untrustworthy and susceptible to bribery and tribal pressures.



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