Detainees captured by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan will be handed over to American troops as part of Canada’s withdrawal from a combat role in the war-torn country.
The possibility that detainees captured by Canadians were being tortured by Afghan forces dominated the discourse in House of Commons for many months in 2009 and is believed to have prompted Prime Minister Stephen Harper to prorogue Parliament in the final week of that year.
But, now that the Canadians have lowered their flag in Kandahar and left the combat job in that province to the Americans, they have also handed off responsibility for any detainees who were still under their control.
“With the combat mission in Afghanistan now complete, I am pleased to inform the House that our government has signed an arrangement with the Obama administration to facilitate the transfer of detainees captured by Canadian Forces in Afghanistan to U.S. custody at the detention facility in Parwan,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Friday.
The prison, which is just north of Kabul, is operated with the full agreement of the Afghan government and detainees can be prosecuted under Afghan law, Mr. Baird added.
“Canadian officials will continue to be present on the ground to monitor all Canadian transferred detainees until they are sentenced or released,” the minister said. “From the onset of our engagement in Afghanistan, our government has consistently adapted it processes for transferring detainees in Afghanistan to ensure that we meet our international legal obligations.”
It is unknown how many prisoners are still under the control of the Canadians.
The handling of detainees was one of the most contentious issued faced by the Harper government when it had a minority in Parliament. Starting in 2007, there were allegations detainees captured by Canadian troops were being abused, and even tortured, after being handed over to Afghan authorities.
The complaints prompted a probe by the Military Police Complaints Commission.
The Conservatives’ refusal to hand over to the a committee of MPs documents about the treatment of the detainees left the government facing the risk of a contempt ruling and forced the Speaker of the Commons to step in and urge a compromise.
In the end, thousands of documents were released but they are only a fraction of an estimated 40,000 pages of material on the matter held by the Canadian government.