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An inmate, shackled by the feet, arrives at Afghanistan's notorious Sarpoza prison. (Graeme Smith/Graeme Smith/The Globe and Mail)
An inmate, shackled by the feet, arrives at Afghanistan's notorious Sarpoza prison. (Graeme Smith/Graeme Smith/The Globe and Mail)

Brigade 888

House of pain: Canada's connection with Kandahar's ruthless palace guard Add to ...

Budget records obtained from the Kandahar palace, dated July, 2006, to June, 2007, show monthly payments of $12,200 (U.S.) to the brigade's commanders, and indicate the money was from "JPCC," a reference to the Joint Provincial Co-ordination Centre, the outpost for the Canadian military liaison team at the palace.

Afghan sources also contend the brigade received payments from "the Canadians," although they say it's unclear that Canada realized how the Afghans were using the money.

However, Canadian soldiers who served at the JPCC said they were unaware of any payments to Brigade 888 and insisted that the amounts described would have been greater than the JPCC's modest budget.

"We never paid those guys," a Canadian officer said. "We had enough trouble getting money for phone cards."

One soldier suggested that the payment records may have reflected the fact that Canadians were handling payroll duties for the guards on behalf of the governor. Documents show that the JPCC had serious problems with corruption in the salary-payment system for the Afghan guards; as a result, the Canadian officer said, it began to supervise the monthly "pay parades," taking bundles of local currency from the governor's office to hand out.

This would have circumvented the regular pay system through the corrupt Interior Ministry, but the officer said he is not sure where the governor got the stacks of cash.

Another soldier suggested that the money may have been supplied by U.S. special forces, whose personnel visited Brigade 888's offices on a regular basis. But an Afghan source said he believed the money was Canadian development aid, redirected by the governor to his palace guard.

A joint Afghan-Canadian patrol interrogates a suspected insurgent in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province on July 2, 2009.

Tight lips

It's not easy to find anyone who served in Brigade 888. Every member of the bodyguard unit was replaced when Mr. Khalid was forced out of his job in the summer of 2008. Some remained in his retinue when he was promoted to the Karzai cabinet as border affairs minister, a post he lost in a recent shuffle.

Reached by telephone, two former guards declined to comment, and the former governor himself has always denied any role in torture.

Some Canadians who served in Kandahar say they're reluctant to discuss Brigade 888 for fear that Canadians will misunderstand the context of their actions, failing to see that such harsh methods were necessary in the bitter war.

One source who served at the palace in 2007 said he still struggles with the morality of what happened in those windowless rooms. "The interrogation methods were purely evil, there is no question about that, but in some cases produced valuable information to save some lives," he said. "The question here is about moral values. I mean, our values can only be our values if we don't break or bend them at a time when they are tested.

Graeme Smith was The Globe and Mail's lead correspondent in Afghanistan from 2005 until early last year. Last month, he received his third consecutive nomination for a National Newspaper Award.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Globe and Mail article published in the April 10 Focus section regarding Kandahar's palace guard was not intended to leave an impression, which would have been erroneous, that Canadian military officials knew of or agreed with allegations reported by a diplomat that the then-governor Asadullah Khalid was involved in torture. In that article, the quote, "The generals knew exactly what was going on," was not intended to suggest the generals knew of these torture allegations, but rather the fact that some military officials received general intelligence from the monitoring of the governor's communications. The article also reported comments from a soldier suggesting Canadian troops supervised pay to Afghan guards, including Brigade 888, a unit charged with the governor's security. However, that soldier said, subsequent to publication, that he was referring only to Afghan police guards. The Globe and Mail regrets not contacting Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Michel Gauthier, who was head of overseas deployment in 2006 and 2007, or Maj-Gen. David Fraser, the top Canadian commander in Kandahar for most of 2006, for comment.

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