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Defence Minister Peter MacKay stands during Question Period in the House of Commons on Monday, November 30, 2009. (FRED CHARTRAND)
Defence Minister Peter MacKay stands during Question Period in the House of Commons on Monday, November 30, 2009. (FRED CHARTRAND)

Proof of detainee abuse exists, <br/>despite MacKay's denials Add to ...

Sworn testimony by senior Canadian officers and rare uncensored documentary evidence contradict Defence Minister Peter MacKay's repeated assertions that no proof exists of even a single case of a Canadian-transferred detainee abused by Afghan security forces.

In one well-documented case in the summer of 2006, Canadian soldiers captured and handed over a detainee who was so severely beaten by Afghan police that the Canadians intervened and took the detainee back. Canadian medics then treated the man's injuries. The incident is documented in the field notes of Canadian troops, recounted in a sworn affidavit by a senior officer and confirmed in cross-examination by a general.

The incident, which was previously known, takes on new and greater significance given the chorus of denials from Mr. MacKay.

He has repeatedly insisted, both to the House of Commons and elsewhere, that there is no proof that even a single instance of post-transfer abuse exists.

"Not a single Taliban prisoner turned over by Canadian Forces can be proven to have been abused. That is the crux of the issue." Mr. MacKay said in Halifax on Nov. 22.

The minister's spokesman said Sunday that Mr. MacKay was standing by his repeated denials.

"He has said what he has said based on the advice of generals and senior officials in the department," said Dan Dugas, spokesman for the minister.



Mr. MacKay and the rest of the Conservative government have been under fire for weeks, accused of contravening the Geneva convention that makes it a war crime to transfer prisoners to those who would abuse them and give the detaining power the obligation to recover transferred prisoners if they are being abused. The issue has dominated debate in the House of Commons, and sparked a lengthy parliamentary committee investigation as well as multiple internal government probes.

In the case of the transferred and subsequently rescued detainee, Canadian soldiers intervened to take an Afghan from a room where he was surrounded by five or six Afghan police who were beating the handcuffed man with shoes or boots.

Blood was running down the detainee's face so "I immediately assumed positive control of the individual and removed him," the soldier's field diary says.

The soldier's notes are among thousands of pages of documents filed as part of the federal court action in which Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Union unsuccessfully sought an injunction banning further prisoner transfers.

The incident - and another in which Canadians refused to transfer prisoners threatened with death - suggest Canadian soldiers were well aware of their obligations under the Geneva Convention.

The rescue incident dates from June of 2006, during the period when ministers and senior officers now insist they were completely unaware of repeated warnings of the risks of abuse and torture being filed by diplomat Richard Colvin.

The Canadian soldier's account, handwritten in a field notebook in the hours after the June 19, 2006 incident, is corroborated by a medic's examination of the detainee's injuries and photographs, which the government refuses to release. The account, first outlined in a May, 2007 affidavit by Colonel Steve Noonan, Canada's first task force commander, was subsequently confirmed by then Brigadier-General Joseph Deschamps, who was chief-of-staff for operations in Canada's expeditionary forces command when he was cross-examined about it in January, 2008.

After Col. Noonan's first disclosure of the incident, the military denied the detainee ever really qualified as a Canadian captive. Then Lieutenant-General Walt Natynczyk - who has since been promoted to chief of defence staff - issued a statement in May 2007 denying that the beaten detainee had originally been captured and transferred by Canadian troops.

"Media reporting of a specific example of an individual detained by Afghan Authorities are inaccurate," Gen. Natynczyk said in a statement.

"The incident took place in the Zangabad area in the course of an operation in June 2006. The CF members came upon the individual and questioned him but at no time did they capture him."

However, the soldier's contemporaneous field notes - written on the day of the incident but not released until months after the DND's media statement - offer a version that matches the sworn affidavit and provides compelling detail of a sequence of capture, transfer, rescue and medical treatment. "Local ANP [Afghan National Police]elements were in possession of a PUC [person in custody]detained by CDA troops and subsequently transferred to ANP custody," the detailed written notes say.

They also refer by name and unit to the Canadian platoon that originally captured the individual and took pictures of him (showing no injuries) before they handed him over. Those photos, both showing the detainee unharmed before being handed over and after being beaten, have been withheld by the government.

The master-corporal's notes also quote two other Canadian soldiers who provided statements saying they had witnessed the Afghan police beating the detainee with shoes on the face and back.

Col. Noonan's affidavit also refers to instances of Canadian soldiers refusing to transfer prisoners threatened with death by Afghan security forces.

"The Afghan National Army wished to take custody of a detainee captured by the Canadian Forces and were overheard, by an interpreter, to be contemplating the execution of the detainee," Col. Noonan said in his affidavit, adding that the chain of command was advised and the detainee wasn't transferred.

The incidents demonstrate that Canadian soldiers deployed in a dangerous war zone were willing to take additional risks to uphold their Geneva obligations and recover detainees being abused.

Numerous others instances of post-transfer suspected torture and abuse exist - including at least eight where Canadian officials demanded investigations of detainee abuse or torture by Afghan security officials - but in all those cases documentary records have been withheld or censored by the government.

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