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(JOHN D MCHUGH)
(JOHN D MCHUGH)

Globe editorial

Four questions Add to ...

The federal government's dissembling on abuse Afghan detainees suffered after they left the hands of Canadian Forces is now transparent. The government must be held to account, and needs to answer these questions:

What did the government know, and when? When were the political masters - Stephen Harper, his advisers and his ministers - informed that allegations of torture were being made? Were they informed at all? Richard Colvin said specifically that David Mulroney, then a deputy minister in the Privy Council Office responsible for the Afghanistan Task Force, was party to his reports. Mr. Mulroney reported to the Prime Minister through the Clerk of the Privy Council. Mr. Mulroney either notified the Prime Minister - in which case news of possible torture, and Canada's awareness of the same, reached the highest office; or he did not, in which case he was derelict in his duties.

Who else inside the government was expressing concern? Were reports about possible abuse received from other diplomats, civilian officials and military personnel? In late October, 2007, a dedicated Foreign Affairs monitor in Kandahar "found incontrovertible evidence of continued torture," Mr. Colvin testified. Reporting by Steven Chase in today's Globe shows that in early 2007, Foreign Affairs officials were concerned about the time lag between the signing of the first detainee transfer agreement and the naming of the Afghan Human Rights Commission as a watchdog. By April, 2007, all were aware of the Globe's reporting of evidence of torture.

What was the extent and result of the investigations, once undertaken? Was each credible allegation investigated? Are investigations continuing? If the government still has no confirmed case of torture - Peter McKay, the Defence Minister, said on Monday that "not a single Taliban prisoner turned over by Canadian Forces can be proven to have been abused" - why were transfers of detainees to Afghans stopped twice in 2007? What made Mr. Colvin's evidence "not credible," in Mr. McKay's words, but made other evidence worthy of investigation? And what standard was used to assess evidence, and act on it?

How widespread is the culture of secrecy? Mr. Colvin said that "There was a phone message from the [Foreign Affairs]assistant deputy minister suggesting that in future we should not put things on paper but, instead, use the telephone … By summer 2007, internal censorship had spread to new areas … we could no longer write that the security situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating even though everyone knew that it was." Have these practices spread to other areas where civil servants ought to be free to synthesize the best information; for instance, in the government's quarterly reports on the mission to Parliament?

If the government wants to refute Mr. Colvin's testimony, it must release further documentation - Foreign Affairs' internal human rights reporting; Mr. Colvin's communications; responses from military officials and Mr. Colvin's civilian superiors. It must provide a credible, complete accounting of the investigations, and of who knew what, when: the version of events released on Monday was wholly inadequate. Testimony from the government itself - past and present Ministers of Foreign Affairs, National Defence, and Public Safety; and perhaps the Prime Minister himself - will be needed to complete the story.

If Canada knew about torture, and allowed it to continue, the government needs to say so, and say why. Instead of more attacks on public servants, Canadians deserve unconditioned and complete answers.

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