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Canadian troops detain an Afghan man during Operation Medusa in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province on Sept. 5, 2006.
Canadian troops detain an Afghan man during Operation Medusa in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province on Sept. 5, 2006.

Ottawa Notebook

NDP demands public inquiry on torture allegations Add to ...

The NDP is calling for a public inquiry into the torture of Afghan detainees handed over by Canadian troops.

The call comes on the heels of explosive testimony yesterday by Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin who said the torture of prisoners is " standard operating procedure."

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said there is a "moral imperative to uncover the truth" about the involvement of Canadian officials. Mr. Colvin testified that senior officials did not want to hear his allegations.

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Mr. Dewar said that there needs to be an "independent lens" to look at this issue. He says it is "inconceivable" that Mr. Colvin's allegations were not passed along to ministers.

As well, Mr. Dewar and his colleague, NDP defence critic Jack Harris raised issues about the credibility of Canada's ambassador to China, David Mulroney. Mr. Mulroney was named by Mr. Colvin yesterday as one of the senior officials who did not want to hear his allegations.

But it comes at a sensitive time for Mr. Mulroney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is about to leave on a major visit - his first one since he became prime minister - to China early next month.

The issue now is how can he press human rights in China given the allegations made yesterday? Indeed, the torture allegations were all over the Chinese press today.

"Mr. Harper needs to speak on this and he really hasn't," Mr. Dewar said.

Mr. Dewar also expressed his anger and shock with the way in which he said Mr. Colvin was treated by Conservative MPs at the committee yesterday.

"It was reprehensible," Mr. Dewar said. "… They've gone back to this pathetic playbook to undermine the person who puts forward the question. They were trying to make Mr. Colvin out, if you can imagine, as a patsy for the insurgency and the Taliban."

"Torture is not a grand conspiracy," he said. "For the government to come out and say things like, 'Oh, well maybe what you saw was not torture.' This reminds me of what we hear from despotic regimes, like in Iran, when prisoners are turned to have been abused and they might have run into a wall a couple of times. Give me a break."

Mr. Dewar said he can't imagine how the government could not agree to call this inquiry. He said that there is a "cloud" right now over the government's reputation.

To do nothing, he said, could undermine the Prime Minister's efforts to look more credible on the world stage.

Says Mr. Harris: "I think that this government's credibility is going to depend on making sure that the air is clear."

(Photo: Canadian troops detain an Afghan man during Operation Medusa in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province on Sept. 5, 2006. Les Perreaux/The Canadian Press)

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