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British documents reveal new claims of detainee abuse

A detainee captured by the Afghan Army on a joint patrol with Canadian troops sits by a wall at a Canadian Forward Operating Base in Howz E Madad in Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

Louie Palu/Louie Palu/ZUMA Press

Two more previously undisclosed allegations of beatings and abuse of Afghan detainees after they were turned over by Canadian troops to Afghanistan's controversial national security service have surfaced in British court documents.

Canadian officials say the abuse allegations, from last summer, were promptly investigated and found groundless: An internal probe by Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security exonerated the NDS interrogator involved. They contend the handling of the allegations demonstrates that Canadian safeguards in detecting claims of abuse and demanding investigations are working.

But Paul Champ, the Ottawa lawyer representing rights groups critical of the Canadian government's policies regarding Afghan detainees, says the latest revelation only proves the need for greater openness and accountability. Allowing the NDS to investigate itself and then resuming transfers based on its self-exoneration makes a mockery of Canada's international obligations to ensure that prisoners aren't transferred to torture, he said.

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"The NDS are torturers, they are known torturers and they will never admit it," said Mr. Champ, who has battled unsuccessfully for years to force Ottawa to release documents concerning detainee transfers and abuse allegations. "To claim otherwise is naive.

"The Federal Court has already ruled that the Canadian Forces can place no confidence in the NDS investigating the NDS," Mr. Champ said, dismissing the government's position that the allegations are baseless because an NDS investigation said so.

Prisoner transfers were halted until the investigation into the two cases was completed, but quickly resumed. Unlike previous halts - which were announced by ministers or senior officials - this one was never disclosed.

The latest allegations to come to light concern two Afghan prisoners who complained of abuse and ill-treatment last July, claiming NDS guards stuck one of them in the face and grabbed the other by the throat.

"Canada took swift action to alert the ICRC and the AIHRC and to demand remedial action by Afghan authorities," said James Christoff, a Foreign Affairs spokesman, using acronyms for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. He added that the "fact that these allegations have come to light demonstrates that the [upgraded Canada-Afghan transfer agreement for detainees]is being implemented and that its provisions are effective."

Paul Dewar, an NDP MP who has pushed for full disclosure in Parliament of documents pertaining to the transfer of Afghan detainees, said the latest revelation - which emerged from a British court case - underscores the fact "that in Canada everything about detainee transfers is shrouded in secrecy."

The "government is in deep denial that anything is wrong," said Mr. Dewar, who noted the irony of British officials and an Afghan NGO knowing the fate of two Afghan prisoners while Canadian MPs are kept in the dark. "Why are they trying to hide everything, if, as they claim, their system works so well?"

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In a series of exchanges with The Globe and Mail, both the Canadian Forces and the Foreign Affairs Department declined to provide any substantiation or documents, from either the initial follow-up visit that produced the allegations of abuse or the subsequent NDS investigation that dismissed them, to buttress the conclusion that the Afghan detainees had lied about being beaten and that the interrogators had been properly investigated and cleared.

While they confirmed that the abuse allegations had been made and that Britain - which also hands detainees over to the NDS in southern Afghanistan - was warned, they declined to provide the details of the warnings given to Britain, the ICRC or the AIHRC.

"The NDS investigation determined that the allegations were not substantiated," Mr. Christoff said in an e-mailed response to written questions.

Critics of the government's policy say it's so lax and willfully blind that it amounts to transferring prisoners to torture, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

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