Journalists have been excluded from the first two days of a probe into whether Canada handed over prisoners to torture after the federal government said it had security concerns about reporters being present at the hearings.
The Military Police Complaints Commission is investigating why Canada continued transferring suspects rounded up by its soldiers to torture-prone Afghan jails even after Ottawa received complaints of abuse.
Department of Justice lawyer Elizabeth Richards, part of the federal government's counsel at the hearings, would only say there was "sensitive" information being discussed. "I can tell you there's a security concern that's been raised and so part of the proceedings will be taking place in camera," she told The Globe and Mail.
The public-interest hearings are supposed to be held in public but the commission can shut its doors when faced with arguments that the information disclosed could be "injurious to the defence of Canada" or its allies, if it could harm the administration of justice and law enforcement, or threaten someone's own security.
The military watchdog's hearing was sparked by a complaint from two human-rights groups, Amnesty International Canada and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. The Geneva Conventions, to which Canada is a signatory, say it's a war crime to transfer prisoners to a country knowing they'd likely face torture.
The first signs of trouble appeared in June of 2007, only one month after the Harper government agreed, under pressure, to start monitoring detainees that soldiers had transferred to the Afghans.
"From the very first visit, Canadian diplomats began hearing first hand account of torture and abuse," Paul Champ, lawyer for Amnesty International and the BCLA, told the inquiry today in an opening statement.
Between June 5, 2007, and November 5, 2007, complaints of abuse mounted as Department of Foreign Affairs officials paid inspection visits to Afghan jails. They were monitoring detainees that had been transferred from Canadian hands.
"Approximately one-quarter to one-third of detainees interviewed told Canadian diplomats they had been tortured in the most horrible forms imaginable," Mr. Champ told the inquiry.
"Some of those detainees had wounds consistent with their allegations. Others were described by Canadian diplomats as traumatized."