Skip to main content

The Canadian military has launched an investigation into allegations of detainee abuse by soldiers in Afghanistan, The Globe and Mail has learned.

Spokesperson Major Luc Gaudet confirmed Monday that the military began its probe last week after being informed that the Military Police Complaints Commission - a civilian body formed to investigate complaints against the military - had received a request for an investigation into the treatment of several detainees. The commission is expected to decide within days whether to launch its own probe - a "public interest investigation" - into the allegations.

At least one, and perhaps three, Afghan detainees "taken captive by the Canadian Forces appears to have been beaten while detained and interrogated by them," alleges Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor, in a letter sent to the commission.

The allegations are based on documents obtained by Mr. Attaran under the Access to Information Act outlining injuries in the cases.

The Globe and Mail has examined the military documents obtained by Mr. Attaran that refer to injuries sustained by detainees while in Canadian custody last April.

The fragmentary and heavily redacted record fails to explain how the detainees were injured. The Canadian Forces rejected requests for full logs or detailed accounting of the fate of detainees, claiming "operational security requirements" make such information "not releasable to the public."

The three Afghans were captured near Dukah by a small group of Canadian soldiers positioned on a hill above the small town.

One, captured after he was seen observing the Canadians, managed to escape only to be recaptured the next day.

He is described as "non compliant" by his captors in a field report, but no mention is made of injuries.

Another is described as being "extremely belligerent" after being found with three women and three children in a room when a compound was raided by Canadian soldiers.

A field report said "it took four personnel to subdue him."

Prior to Monday's acknowledgment that it had launched its own investigation, the military had denied any wrongdoing in response to a series of written questions in recent weeks seeking explanations for the detainees' injuries.

In the instance where a detainee was apparently most seriously injured, it said only "appropriate force" was used, and claimed the individual was a suspected bomb-maker.

The military said it launched no investigation of its own at the time.

The detainee injuries are listed in a military police transfer log as: "Lacerations on L&R eyebrows; contusions & swelling of both eyes; lacerations on L cheek; lacerations centre of forehead; abrasions on chin; multiple contusions on both upper arms, back & chest."

Some of those injuries were apparently sustained while the detainee's hands were tied behind his back, the military said.

"When transferred to Military Police stationed at Kandahar Airfield, the detainee continued to display extreme agitation as well as belligerent and totally unco-operative behaviour. Already restrained by nylon straps to his wrists while being guided by Military Police, the detainee used his legs to leverage himself off the back of a vehicle in an effort to generate resistance against the Military Police escorting him. In accordance with proper use of force procedures, Military Police used appropriate physical control techniques to restrain him from doing that," Canadian Expeditions Forces Command said in written response to questions about the incident. Some of the injuries were inflicted when the detainee was originally captured, CEFCOM says.

In this, and two other cases, detainees apparently suffered injuries while in Canadian custody. The instances were uncovered by Mr. Attaran, who has a long record of human-rights advocacy and has pushed for greater accountability by both the government and the military in the care and handling of detainees.

"Taken together, this extraordinary assortment of injuries suggests that the men, and particularly man #3, were beaten," Mr. Attaran writes in his bid for the Military Police Complaints Commission probe. Sources close to the commission suggest it will start its own investigation later this week.

Peter Tinsley, chairman of the commission, has written to General Rick Hillier, chief of defence staff, asking if the military wants to provide any explanations before the commission decides whether to investigate. He also warned the military "to preserve all relevant evidence pertaining to the incident(s) in question."

The commission was established in the wake of the Somalia debacle, where a teenager was tortured and killed by Canadian soldiers and the Canadian military high command was subsequently implicated in a high-level cover-up.

In this case, there are odd omissions in the documentary record and the Canadian Forces have been unwilling to provide anything but the sketchiest detail about the treatment of the detainees. For instance, a picture of the injured face of the most seriously hurt detainee exists, but it has been suppressed from release. The medical forms for the three injured detainees are blank or missing. Despite the lack of documentation, the Canadian Forces insists the injured man received medical treatment.

"A Canadian physician examined the detainee for his injuries - all determined to be superficial cuts and bruises," CEFCOM said in response to a written question.

The lack of an investigation into the injuries sustained by the three detainees captured near Dukah, about 50 kilometres west of Kandahar, in April last year, stands in sharp contrast to the single investigation conducted by the military into possible detainee mistreatment since the Canadians moved into southern Afghanistan.

Prior to that, the only investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service followed an allegation that "some military police had firmly grabbed the arms of one detainee while taking him to a military transport vehicle,'' about two weeks after Dukah captures, CEFCOM said in a written response to Globe and Mail questions.

Mr. Attaran believes the gaps in the documentary record and the confusing and incomplete accounts regarding the three detainees picked up near Dukah about April 7, 2006, may point to a deliberate effort. "My working hypothesis is that the MPs at Kandahar airfield, aware that they possessed three detainees about whom questions might be asked, acted with unusual speed to get the men permanently off the base and into Afghan custody.''

There is an unusual absence of medical records and of an inventory of the detainees personal belongings, compared with other detainee records. "In shortcutting both these steps, the MPS failed to preserve evidence of relevance to an investigation into the detainees' injuries, which circumstances clearly warranted,'' Mr. Attaran said in his submission to the commission.

Interact with The Globe