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Canadian diplomat David Mulroney prepares to testify before the House of Commons special committee on Afghanistan on November 26, 2009.

BLAIR GABLE

"It was a very, very chaotic year. It was a terrible year."

With these words a senior bureaucrat managing Canada's mission in Kandahar explained to a parliamentary committee why the government did not oversee the treatment of prisoners handed over by Canadian authorities to Afghan officials in 2006.

David Mulroney, now Canada's ambassador to China, vehemently denied that he had hushed up Richard Colvin, the diplomat who warned from Kandahar that detainees were being tortured.

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"The view that I muzzled him, or any other person, is wrong," he told the committee.

But Mr. Mulroney did allude to a disagreement with Mr. Colvin, who he said continued to issue memos with strong opinions after interdepartmental consensus on how to proceed with prisoners had been achieved in 2007.

Mr. Colvin told MPs last week that reports he filed in 2006-07 warned that prisoners handed over to Afghan prisons were almost certain to face torture. He also claimed that he and others in Afghanistan were ordered to stop mentioning torture in their reports.

But Mr Mulroney, who headed the Afghanistan task force in the Foreign Affairs Department, said diplomats in Afghanistan were never ordered to censor their reports.

His testimony partially echoed that of Canada's former top soldier and two other generals.

On Wednesday, ex-defence chief Rick Hillier blasted Mr. Colvin's claim that prisoners handed over Afghan prisoners faced certain torture, calling the allegation "ludicrous."

Mr. Hillier, retired general Michel Gauthier and Major-General David Fraser all testified that they never received any reports of torture until the spring of 2007 - long after Mr. Colvin filed his reports.

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Mr. Hillier and Mr. Gauthier went further, saying they recently reviewed reports from 2006-07 and there was no mention of torture - except one isolated mention in December 2006.

It was precisely the kind of first-hand, blistering defence the Conservative government has been aching to unleash since Mr. Colvin's bombshell allegations were levelled last week.

But the dust from the generals' testimony Wednesday hadn't even settled before contradictions began to emerge.

Uncensored versions of Mr. Colvin's reports began circulating Wednesday night that said the International Committee of the Red Cross, the agency trusted by nations to observe prisoners of war, was named in emails to Ottawa as expressing "alarm" about conditions within Afghan prisons.

The references were particularly stark in one memo written by the diplomat on June 2, 2006.

An official who's seen Mr. Colvin's emailed reports conceded that the Red Cross was "really pissed off" for procedural reasons about Canada's tardy reporting whenever a prisoner was captured, but it was "more concerned about what was done to detainees after they were handed over."

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The reports were widely distributed in both the Defence and Foreign Affairs departments, and even apparently copied to the office of Peter MacKay, who was minister of foreign affairs in 2006.

Opposition MPs, meanwhile, say they can't get to the bottom of the issue without seeing Mr. Colvin's reports and other documents the government may have on the topic of abuse. Several wondered aloud how it was that retired officers could have unfettered access to reports and memos that the federal government has deemed too sensitive to share with the parliamentary committee.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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