Detainee deal ‘best Canada could do’

A former Liberal minister says an Afghan detainee-transfer deal signed under his watch wasn’t perfect but it was the best Canada could do at the time.

OTTAWA — A former Liberal minister says an Afghan detainee-transfer deal signed under his watch wasn’t perfect but it was the best Canada could do at the time.

Bill Graham told a parliamentary committee Wednesday that the 2005 agreement signed by Gen. Rick Hillier, then chief of defence staff, wasn’t without its shortcomings.

Perhaps the deal’s biggest weakness was a lack of provision for monitoring Canadian-captured prisoners once they had been turned over to the Afghans.

A subsequent deal, signed by the Conservative government in the spring of 2007, included measures for Canadian officials to keep tabs on detainees, such as allowing them into Afghan jails.

“In the end, the agreement wasn’t perfect,” Graham said of the first deal. “No agreement is.”

Graham was Canada’s foreign affairs minister and later defence minister in the early days of the Afghan mission. The first detainee deal was inked during his tenure.

He told a special House of Commons committee on the Afghan mission he would have preferred another NATO country run the jails instead of the Afghans.

Instead, Canada opted to hand over prisoners captured on the battlefield to Afghan authorities.

Graham said Canada is responsible for the treatment of detainees once they are turned over to Afghans — but only to a point.

He said he had no reason to think prisoners faced abuse by local authorities.

“That responsibility was not absolute,” he said.

“You can’t be responsible for what you don’t know about. It’s not an absolute responsibility.”

Also Wednesday, a former adviser to Canada’s military commander in Afghanistan denied an Afghan interpreter’s shocking claims about a prisoner transfer.

Ed Jager told a military police inquiry that translator Ahmadshah Malgarai’s controversial account of a detainee handover at Kandahar Airfield isn’t true.

Malgarai told a parliamentary committee last month that an officer with Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security put a pistol on a table during a transfer and told Jager to kill the prisoner rather than hand him over.

Malgarai also said the same Afghan officer made veiled threats around Jager, saying when a prisoner about to be turned over to the NDS “gets to my room, he will speak.”

Jager says neither episode actually happened.

“I can say so categorically,” he said. “And I do.”

Jager worked for the Foreign Affairs Department as a political adviser to Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche, the commander of Task Force Kandahar, from August 2007 until May 2008.