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Art Eggleton came under fire Tuesday for admitting he was aware Canada's antiterrorism unit had assisted in the capture of prisoners in Afghanistan five days before he informed the Prime Minister.

The Defence Minister said that he became aware last Friday that members of the Joint Task Force 2 had assisted in detaining several prisoners in Afghanistan and had turned them over to U.S. forces, but he had to make sure to confirm the information before informing Jean Chrétien and the rest of cabinet during a meeting Tuesday.

But after the Defence Minister made the remarks about the detainees Tuesday morning, opposition MPs repeatedly questioned Mr. Eggleton's delay in reporting to the Prime Minister.

"The responsibility lies with the minister to inform the public and to inform the Prime Minister, and to ensure that he is informed" said Tory leader Joe Clark on Tuesday outside the House of Commons.

"It's not enough to say there's a mystery here. A mystery is wrong under the circumstances."

Mr. Eggleton said he only became aware that JTF2 members had assisted in the capture of "two or three" prisoners (who were turned over to U.S. forces) on Friday when he saw a photo of white-suited detainees being transported by a forest-green clad soldier.

"Did you notice the fact that they had on forest green uniforms, the three soldiers that were in that picture? Well, they were Canadian - JTF2," Mr. Eggleton said Tuesday morning after a Liberal cabinet meeting.

NDP leader Alexa McDonough said the delay in information is putting Canadian troops at risk.

"Why didn't the defence minister know a lot sooner than Friday? And once the Defence Minister did know, how could he possibly have left the Prime Minister in the dark for that long?

"I think what it does show, is that the government is really quite unconcerned and nonchalant about this whole issue of the position that we have put Canada's military men and women in."

Mr. Clark also criticized Mr. Chrétien outside the House of Commons for saying earlier this week that talk of Canadian troops taking prisoners was only a hypothetical question.

"There's a larger issue here. The larger issue is that we are sending Canadian troops into a conflict situation without clear rules of engagement."

Prisoners captured and taken by U.S. troops are being treated under international law and are being treated humanely, Mr. Eggleton insisted during Question Period and outside the House of Commons.

Mr. Eggleton and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien have come under pressure in recent weeks to define exactly how prisoners taken by Canadian Forces would be treated if turned over to the United States.

The United States has been increasingly criticized for what some are calling the inhumane treatment of Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners who have been captured and are being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Critics argue the United States is wrong not to consider those held in the Guantanamo compound as Prisoners of War under the Geneva Conventions.

Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe said during Question Period that other countries like Britain and France would ensure that the laws of their countries would be in place if their troops were to turn over detainees to the Americans.

But Mr. Chrétien retorted that if the prisoners taken by Canadians were from this country, they would be dealt with under Canadian law.

"The government policy is clearly established. We require the United States to abide by international law and the Geneva convention," Mr. Chrétien said.

There is no evidence to suggest that the U.S. is not following international law, Mr. Eggleton said after Question Period.

"The JTF2 are operating in complete accordance with international law and Canadian law and so are the United States," he said, adding that the Geneva Convention allows for the transfer of detainees.

Where the dispute comes in is whether detainees in Cuba are prisoners of war or whether they are combatants, Mr. Eggleton said, and that must be decided by a military tribunal.

He said Tuedsay morning that military tribunals are allowed within military law and it is too early to say exactly what would happen.

"We are keenly interested in how that is going to be established."

But he said that there is nothing in international law that prevents Canada from turning over prisoners to the United States, even though the United States allows the death penalty.