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Politics Information from Afghan intelligence possibly tainted by torture, CSIS official says

Canada's spy agency acknowledged it's possible it received strategic information from Afghan's notorious intelligence agency that was extracted through abusive interrogation of detainees.

A senior official from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which has been operating in Afghanistan since 2002, testified Wednesday before a Commons committee probing allegations that prisoners rounded up by Canada were knowingly transferred to torture at Afghan hands.

Michel Coulombe, assistant director of foreign collection at CSIS, said the service's intelligence gathering in Afghanistan has led to the disruption and dismantling of insurgent networks planning "imminent" bomb attacks against soldiers and civilians.

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One of the most troubling accusations, levelled this spring by a former military interpreter, is that Canadians deliberately handed detainees to Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security so the torture-prone agency could wring more information from them.

Mr. Coulombe said it's possible CSIS obtained intelligence from the NDS that came from questioning of prisoners transferred from Canadian hands. He never said, however, whether information that might have been gleaned from torture came specifically from Canadian-transferred detainees or those rounded up by another country.

He said CSIS policy is to flag any information received from foreign intelligence services that it believes was extracted via torture - and to permanently attach a "caveat" to the information. Rules say that the agency cannot exclusively rely on information obtained through maltreatment.

The CSIS official dismissed accusations that the service outsourced abuse to the NDS so more information could be extracted from detainees.

"What do you say to people then who say CSIS subcontracted harsher interrogations?" Bloc MP Claude Bachand asked.

"I would say those people are mistaken," Mr. Coulombe replied.

This type of questioning from opposition politicians prompted a complaint from Conservative MP Jim Abbott, who, like the Harper government, is sorely frustrated at the amount of ongoing attention given to detainee allegations.

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Mr. Abbott lamented the fact that accusations from a former diplomat and an ex-interpreter - alleging Canada turned a blind eye to torture - are still being investigated despite the testimony of top generals and bureaucrats who dismissed the charges.

"It is not a question of equal value to [all]testimony," Mr. Abbott told the CSIS official. "Your testimony and the testimony of people like the generals, in my judgment, is at a significant higher value and carries far more weight."

The CSIS official said the spy agency questioned prisoners captured by Canada until late 2007, when the Canadian Forces took over interrogations.

Mr. Coulombe refused to say how many detainees were quizzed by CSIS or divulge the techniques used to elicit responses, saying answering these questions could jeopardize the safety of Canadians in Afghanistan.

The CSIS official was asked by Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh what the service would do if it received intelligence obtained through torture that could help in dismantling or disrupting bomb attacks - or protecting soldiers - and couldn't corroborate it.

Mr. Coulombe said he was reluctant to discuss hypothetical scenarios but repeated that CSIS would never act exclusively on intelligence obtained under torture.

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But, he added, "I think the average Canadian would not accept that its intelligence service do nothing - and let Canadian military or civilians be killed because we did nothing."

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