Canadian soldiers have once again been cleared of any wrongdoing in their handling of a trio of Afghan detainees, a two-year-long military investigation released yesterday said.
The Board of Inquiry report found "no evidence suggesting that members of the Canadian Forces have mistreated" three detainees captured separately near Kandahar in April, 2006. It's the third report in under a year to exonerate troops in the treatment of those detainees. Instead, it concluded that troops acted "beyond reproach" and "professionally and humanely."
The report, compiled with 121 witness interviews and other documents, was completed in February but not made public until it was presented in the House of Commons yesterday by Defence Minister Peter MacKay. It examines allegations of abuse as well as medical care given to the detainees.
"I am proud of the professionalism of our men and women in uniform," Mr. MacKay said a statement.
However, the heavily redacted report contains a number of inconsistencies about what a detainee is - described formally as any non-Canadian taken into custody, though soldiers soon began drawing distinctions between "official detainees" and others.
It says that in 2006, there was pressure to fast-track detainee processing so as to promptly hand them over to Afghanistan police, despite widespread allegations of torture and mistreatment.
Some perceptions across top military command about the detainee process also appear contradictory: Asked by investigators whether detainees were handed over because of one top official's concern that Canadians weren't properly trained to handle detainees and may abuse them, one lieutenant-general replied, "No, no, no... I personally was not worried that we would fall into the trap of abusing prisoners," and said they were handed over because the Taliban fighters "are not our detainees, they are their [Afghanistan's]detainees."
The disagreement left Amir Attaran, an Ottawa lawyer and human-rights advocate whose complaints about potential abuse sparked the investigation into the handling of the three detainees, wondering how top officials can disagree over the fundamental question of why the detainee transfer program exists. He called it "quite a major disagreement."
The report also shows that one of the detainees - who was the most heavily injured, having been punched in the arms and head, kicked in the arms and torso, hit with a weapon in his torso and head, had a soldier's knee pressed into his head before he was "forced into compliance" by soldiers during an attempted arrest - wasn't questioned before being handed over to Afghan police.
The report suggests that was because of a pressure for rapid transfer (the military set a 96-hour window to capture a suspected insurgent and hand him over to Afghan forces) as well as a presumption that the man had been sedated for his injuries, which he had not.
It also notes that information and paperwork around the men's arrests was not passed on because of privacy concerns and a time crunch, and highlights a lack of communication with the Ottawa headquarters, CEFCOM, which didn't have around-the-clock operation at the time. Those procedures could be a breach of military protocol, Mr. Attaran believes.
"The repeated violation of basic, standard operating procedures, which the [Canadian Forces]now admit, is hardly professional or confidence-inspiring," he said in an e-mail.
Mr. Attaran and others who had been following the case didn't expect the report's release yesterday, a busy day in the House of Commons as the Harper government attempted to quell uproar over gaffes by two cabinet ministers. A DND spokesman reached last night said he did not know why the report was finished in February and held for four months.
Since last fall, two other investigations have looked into the handling of the detainees. A Canadian Forces National Investigation Service criminal probe concluded last September saying no one should be charged. A Military Police Complaints Commission report released in April reached the same conclusion, but said military police failed in their duty to investigate how an Afghan captured by Canadian soldiers suffered serious facial injuries.