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An inmate, shackled by the feet, arrives at Afghanistan's notorious Sarpoza prison. (Graeme Smith/Graeme Smith/The Globe and Mail)
An inmate, shackled by the feet, arrives at Afghanistan's notorious Sarpoza prison. (Graeme Smith/Graeme Smith/The Globe and Mail)

Brigade 888

House of pain: Canada's connection with Kandahar's ruthless palace guard Add to ...

Even if the Canadians had wanted to investigate the governor's private jails, some officers say, it would have been a difficult subject to broach. Certain doors in the palace seemed permanently closed, the officers said, and the Afghans frowned upon Canadians who explored certain "off-limits" zones in the compound.

The Canadians had other tools for monitoring the governor, however.

Mr. Khalid conducted much of his daily business on cellphones, and Canada was clandestinely recording, transcribing and translating the conversations, according to a source with first-hand knowledge of the operation. English-language transcripts of his phone calls were processed through the Canadian military's All Source Intelligence Centre (ASIC), the source said, and ASIC passed intelligence to Canada's top commander at Kandahar Air Field.

"The generals knew exactly what was going on," the source said.

Canadian diplomats also were aware of allegations that Mr. Khalid was personally involved in torture and human-rights abuses. Government censors have blacked out paragraphs related to the governor's interrogations before releasing documents to the Military Police Complaints Commission, but The Globe and Mail has learned that diplomat Richard Colvin reported in detail about the governor to his superiors in Ottawa.

As early as June, 2006, documents show, the Canadian government was aware of the governor's record of human-rights violations and his history of holding Afghan businessmen as a means of extortion.

Rather than distancing themselves, top Canadian officials defended Mr. Khalid.



At one point, an Afghan source said, the palace hired a labourer to apply fresh paint to an interrogation room every few weeks, as a way of concealing blood on the walls.


With the insurgency on the rise in Kandahar, Mr. Karzai raised concerns about Mr. Khalid's leadership at a meeting with Canadian officials in July, 2006. According to the report, "Canada defended the governor, thereby ensuring his continued tenure."

The Canadian who spoke in favour of the governor was Major-General David Fraser, then serving as commander of the Canadian Forces in southern Afghanistan. His boss at the time, Lieutenant-General Michel Gauthier, maintained the same position when Canada was again asked for advice about Mr. Khalid the following December, according to a government source.

The following year, however, Canadian documents referred to the governor's reputation as that of a "sexual predator and drug user," and in April, 2007, a Canadian corrections official interviewed a prisoner who claimed that Mr. Khalid had personally beat him and administered electric shocks during an interrogation.

In an interview, a source who served on Canada's headquarters staff at Kandahar Air Field said he heard a story of torture from Mr. Khalid's own mouth. Afghan authorities were trying to decide whether to pay compensation to a man from Maywand district who claimed his brother was killed during interrogation by Mr. Khalid. The governor acknowledged causing the man's death, the source said, and the brother received a sum equivalent to roughly $2,000 (U.S.).



Afghan sources also contend the brigade received payments from 'the Canadians,' although they say it's unclear that Canada realized how the Afghans were using the money.


Even so, in April, 2008, then foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier sparked an uproar and official apologies when he suggested during a visit to Kandahar that Mr. Khalid be replaced.

By that time, Canadian concerns about torture had become public, and the governor's militias appear to have grown more discreet. At one point, an Afghan source said, the palace hired a labourer to apply fresh paint to an interrogation room every few weeks, as a way of concealing blood on the walls.

Sources identified at least three locations in the governor's palace that held prisoners, and indicated that Mr. Khalid probably had other informal jails elsewhere in the city. Nor was such activity confined to Brigade 888; the governor was also suspected of using several hundred men assigned to 05 Police Standby Battalion as a personal militia, which also held prisoners outside the Afghan justice system.



We never paid those guys. We had enough trouble getting money for phone cards. Canadian officer


But the palace guards remain one of the more mysterious security forces in Kandahar's recent history. The name "Brigade 888" was not widely known, and it's difficult to confirm who paid them.

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