Canadian officials dismissed Afghan torture claims in 2006

Top Canadian officials discussed in 2006 whether the then-governor of Kandahar was involved in the torture of prisoners and dismissed the concern, The Canadian Press has learned.

Intelligence officer and ex-diplomat Richard Colvin

Intelligence officer and ex-diplomat Richard Colvin

OTTAWA — Top Canadian officials discussed in 2006 whether the then-governor of Kandahar was involved in the torture of prisoners and dismissed the concern, The Canadian Press has learned.

The meeting in December of that year — months before torture claims became public — was the culmination of months of pressure from foreign affairs officials on the ground who wanted to see Asadullah Khalid shifted elsewhere, defence and foreign affairs sources said.

One source said the meeting was at the Privy Council Office and involved Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s then-national security adviser, Margaret Bloodworth.

The revelation raises further questions about how much senior officials knew about possible Afghan prisoner abuse, what they did about it, and whether they passed along that information to cabinet ministers — or simply ignored it.

It comes amid a political furor over explosive testimony by federal intelligence officer Richard Colvin.

Colvin told a special House of Commons committee Wednesday that prisoners were turned over to Afghanistan’s notorious intelligence service by the Canadian military in 2006-07 despite warnings that they would be tortured. He also suggested the federal government may have tried to cover up what was happening.

That sparked demands from the opposition Thursday for a public inquiry — demands that were promptly rejected by the Harper government.

That Afghanistan’s intelligence service was apparently engaged in torture was already widely known among senior officials in Ottawa thanks to written warnings by Colvin, Canada’s No. 2 diplomat in Kabul at the time.

But Khalid represented a separate more delicate problem — one that was still considered urgent enough to be raised at the highest levels the bureaucracy and taken seriously.

The government’s line of defence in the House of Commons on Thursday was that Colvin was a “suspect source” of information and a possible Taliban dupe for raising the torture allegations in public.

Yet Defence Minister Peter MacKay later conceded that the government revised its prisoner transfer arrangement with the Karzai government in May 2007 partly because of Colvin’s warnings over the Afghan intelligence service.

What was left unresolved at the time were separate warnings about Khalid who allegedly maintained his own chain of private detention facilities in Kandahar.

Colvin testified that the former governor was “known to us very early on” and considered “an unusually bad actor on human rights issues.”

Defence sources said there were some “pretty heated discussions” between diplomats and military officers who supported Khalid, who was alleged in 2004 to have operated a private prison in Ghanzi — a province in eastern Afghanistan where he served as governor before coming to Kandahar in 2005.

“He had people killed who got in his way and then in Kandahar we found out that he had indeed set up a similar dungeon under his guest house,” Colvin testified at committee Wednesday.

“He acknowledged this when asked. He had sort of justifications for it, but he was known to personally torture people in that dungeon.”

Replacing him as governor was problematic because those posts are filled by presidential appointment. Still, Colvin acknowledged to the committee that foreign affairs officials argued for a change. It was that argument that was apparently put before Bloodworth and others in the December 2006 meeting.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information laws show the military was enthusiastic in its support of Khalid during that period. But as time went on, the quarterly campaign assessments show the verve faded because Khalid was often out of the province, leaving important political decisions up in the air.

It’s unclear to what degree complaints by foreign affairs contributed to his falling from favour. What’s also not apparent is whether the military argued in 2006 meeting to keep him in place.

Staunchly anti-Taliban, Khalid was considered an asset to the burgeoning war. He once paraded the bloodied body of a dead Taliban commander before the local media in Kandahar.

Both foreign affairs and defence sources said no notes were kept of the Khalid meeting.

Canada’s private unease with Khalid went on for almost another 17 months.

Published reports in February 2008 raised concern about his possible involvement in torture and then-foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier let it slip out three months later that Ottawa wanted him gone — an embarrassing revelation that forced President Hamid Karzai to keep the governor in place.

Khalid was eventually replaced in August 2008.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,183 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

50.5% of all active cases are variants of concern

Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott and his sister Melodie pose for a photo at the Mirror restaurant. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Alberta Health Services delivers ‘closure order’ to Mirror restaurant

Alberta Health Services says it has delivered a closure order to a… Continue reading

Flags bearers hold the Canadian flag high during the Flags of Remembrance ceremony in Sylvan Lake in this October file photo. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
New project to pay tribute to Canadians killed in Afghanistan

Flags of Remembrance scheduled for Sept. 11

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
Security and police block the entrance to GraceLife Church as a fence goes up around it near Edmonton on Wednesday April 7, 2021. The Alberta government has closed down and fenced off a church that has been charged with refusing to follow COVID-19 health rules. Alberta Health Services, in a statement, says GraceLife church will remain closed until it shows it will comply with public-health measures meant to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hundreds gather to support Alberta church shut down for ignoring COVID-19 orders

SPRUCE GROVE, Alta. — Hundreds of people are gathered outside an Alberta… Continue reading

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces is developing contingency plans to keep COVID-19 from affecting its ability to defend the country and continue its missions overseas amid concerns potential adversaries could try to take advantage of the crisis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canadian special forces supported major Iraqi military assault on ISIL last month

OTTAWA — Some Canadian soldiers supported a major military offensive last month… Continue reading

A woman pays her repects at a roadblock in Portapique, N.S. on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The joint public inquiry in response to the April mass shooting in Nova Scotia has announced a mandate that includes a probe of the RCMP response as well as the role of gender-based violence in the tragedy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Creating permanent memorial to Nova Scotia mass shooting victims a delicate task

PORTAPIQUE, N.S. — Creating a memorial for those killed in Nova Scotia’s… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Erin O’Toole says ‘I didn’t hide who I was’ running for Conservative leader

OTTAWA — Erin O’Toole assured Conservative supporters that he never hid who… Continue reading

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau, second from left, celebrates his goal with teammates, from left to right, Matthew Tkachuk, Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson, of Sweden, during second period NHL hockey action against the Edmonton Oilers, in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal
Jacob Markstrom earns shutout as Flames blank Oilers 5-0 in Battle of Alberta

CALGARY — It took Sean Monahan breaking out of his goal-scoring slump… Continue reading

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia's opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan's government, but they say Monday's throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province's economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s opposition parties acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented… Continue reading

A grizzly bear walks on a treadmill as Dr. Charles Robbins, right, offers treats as rewards at Washington State University's Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center in this undated handout photo. Grizzly bears seem to favour gently sloping or flat trails like those commonly used by people, which can affect land management practices in wild areas, says an expert who has written a paper on their travel patterns. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Anthony Carnahan *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Grizzly bears prefer walking on gentle slopes at a leisurely pace like humans: study

VANCOUVER — Grizzly bears seem to favour gently sloping or flat trails… Continue reading

FILE - In this July 27, 2020, file photo, nurse Kathe Olmstead prepares a shot that is part of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, N.Y. Moderna said Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, its COVID-19 shot provides strong protection against the coronavirus that's surging in the U.S. and around the world. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)
The COVID-19 wasteland: searching for clues to the pandemic in the sewers

OTTAWA — When Ottawa Public Health officials are trying to decide whether… Continue reading

Most Read