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Lieutenant-Colonel Gilles Sansterre, commander of the National Investigations Service, speaks with a Military Police Complaints Commission lawyer during a break in testimony on April 12, 2010, in Ottawa. (Pawel Dwulit/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Lieutenant-Colonel Gilles Sansterre, commander of the National Investigations Service, speaks with a Military Police Complaints Commission lawyer during a break in testimony on April 12, 2010, in Ottawa. (Pawel Dwulit/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

No reason to investigate detainee abuse, Forces' investigator says Add to ...

The Canadian military's top investigator says there's no reason for his office to probe eight allegations of detainee abuse because he doesn't want to "second-guess" the Afghanistan government's judgment on the matter.

In all cases, the Afghan government ruled the complaints were groundless.

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Lieutenant-Colonel Gilles Sansterre told a probe of Canada's detainee record that he didn't see the need to question or reassess those findings without more proof.

"With the absence of clearer evidence of torture abuse, it wouldn't be my job to second-guess them," he told the Military Police Complaints Commission, a civilian-run watchdog.

Col. Sansterre, head of the Canadian Forces National Investigative Service, was answering questions on allegations of torture gathered by Canadian diplomats visiting Afghan jails in 2007. These eight complaints included being electrocuted, beaten with cables, hung for days, cut and burned with a lighter.

The organization accused of this torture was Afghanistan's notorious intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security. This was also the agency that investigated the allegations and found them without merit.

Canadian diplomats have been troubled by the quality of these investigations, e-mails indicate. "The question arises as to how we ensure a meaningful investigation given it is likely the NDS will be investigating themselves?" one diplomat wrote from Canada's Kabul office in 2007, records released several years ago show.

One of the allegations led to Canada halting transfers for three months. On Nov. 5, 2007, one of the detainees transferred to Afghans told a Canadian diplomat of being beaten unconscious and tortured. He showed the officials fresh welts and then backed up his story by revealing where the electrical cable and the rubber hose used on him were hidden.

The Military Police Complaints Commission is investigating allegations by Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association that the military police "aided and abetted the torture of detainees" by handing over prisoners to Afghan jailers despite reports of maltreatment.

Canada is bound by international conventions that make it a war crime to hand over prisoners to torture and that oblige countries to take back captives being abused.

Col. Sansterre also said he knew nothing about a Federal Court ruling handed down in 2008 just months before he took charge of the National Investigative Service. It flagged "real and serious concerns" about protections afforded detainees transferred to Afghan jails.

The ruling goes to the heart of the complaints commission's inquiry. Col. Sansterre was excused for half an hour to read the decision.

He also said he'd hadn't read reports on Afghanistan's human-rights abuses by the U.S. State Department, the United Nations or the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Grace Pastine, a lawyer for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said it's surprising the lead military investigator didn't understand the legal challenge over detainees that helped spur Ottawa to revise its agreement on transfers to Afghan jails.

"His testimony underlines the shocking inadequacy of the investigations of the allegations of transfer to torture," she said.

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