OTTAWA — Documents show a Canadian soldier alleges that Afghan authorities routinely executed detainees his unit handed over to them.
The stack of records disclosed by the federal government also says detainees at a Kandahar prison told Foreign Affairs and Corrections Canada officials on a site tour that they had been tortured.
And they reveal that a Canadian military policewoman stationed at the Kandahar base was assaulted in early 2008 upon getting out of the shower and told to mind her own business.
The opposition parties have been pressing for full access to documents about the detainee transfers, saying they will help explain what politicians and military commanders knew about the affair.
The government tabled more than 2,500 pages on the issue Thursday, but the heavily censored material was greeted with scorn from the opposition.
Questions have lingered since diplomat-whistleblower Richard Colvin’s allegations last year that most prisoners Canada transferred to Afghan custody were subsequently tortured.
The accusation that detainees were killed by Afghan army or police officers comes from a Canadian soldier with the Royal Canadian Regiment who served in the Panjawi District.
Upon returning to Canada, he told a military doctor treating him for stress about his concerns.
“After they handed over the detainee, the local authority would walk the detainee out of range and the detainee would be shot,” says a 2008 report on the soldier’s claims. “This occurred on more than one occasion.”
The doctor told investigators about his patient’s allegations since they involved possible criminal activity. He added that those who return from Afghanistan with stress-related conditions sometimes exaggerate, and that the killings may never have happened.
“However, the condition that he does have would not give him any reason to lie, therefore, he may be telling the truth,” the report says.
An April 2007 report by a Foreign Affairs official who joined a Correctional Service of Canada staffer on an “exhaustive inspection” of the notorious National Directorate of Security facility in Kandahar City also cites claims of abuse.
“To our surprise, even though NDS officers accompanied us throughout the visit, two prisoners nonetheless came forward with complaints of mistreatment,” the official wrote.
One inmate said he was beaten and given electric shocks while another said he had been kicked, beaten and burned.
“While we saw no immediate evidence of abuse, matters would require further investigation and/or corroboration,” says the report on the visit, several portions of which are blacked out.
In a statement Thursday, the Defence Department said that every time the Canadian Forces have received a credible allegation of detainee mistreatment they have acted.
“Canada only transfers detainees to Afghan authorities if the Canadian Commander is satisfied that there are no substantial grounds for believing that there exists a real risk that a transferred detainee will be subjected to torture or other forms of mistreatment.”
Amnesty International has complained that military police failed to probe officers who directed the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities despite knowing they might be tortured.
A February 2008 memo prepared at National Defence Headquarters by Capt. S.M. Moore noted “significant shortcomings and areas for concern with regard to the conduct of (military police) operations in Afghanistan.”
Many of the problems “are systemic” and result from a lack of oversight, it says.
The memo notes a survey conducted “in theatre revealed that soldiers stated they had witnessed the abuse of detainees” — yet the information was not immediately passed on to military police.
National Defence says the survey results were passed through the chain of command for analysis.
“Senior Army leadership immediately ordered an investigation by the chain of command in theatre.”
The memo adds that on Feb. 15, 2008, two unknown individuals approached a female military police member when she exited the shower, grabbed her arms, pushed her against the shower wall and told her: “MPs mind your own business.”
The Defence Department said Thursday the incident was not related to detainees. “The female MP was unharmed during the incident which was investigated by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service.”
Other documents suggest many of the military police assigned to Afghanistan lacked basic soldiering skills.
The material was tabled in the House of Commons without translations, in no particular order, and with deletions on nearly every page.
Opposition parties scrambled to photocopy and study the trove.
Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh said the move appeared to be another stalling tactic.
”This government has had three-and-a-half months to provide these documents, yet their response today has been totally incoherent, totally disorderly, like chickens with their heads cut off.“
New Democrat Thomas Mulcair was derisive of the censorship: ”We got two boxes of contempt for Parliament.“
The release was the latest government manoeuvre in a brewing constitutional clash that pits the government’s right to secrecy against Parliament’s right to know.
Opposition parties are demanding all the available material on the question of how Afghan detainees have been handled — uncensored.
But the government insists it must protect national security. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the government was trying to respond to the MPs’ demands, within limits imposed by security considerations.
”Officials will make all relevant documents available and the tabling today is part of that process,” he said.
Critics aren’t buying that.
”Behind the lie that this is about national security, it’s the same old story: they’re just trying to buy time to protect themselves,” Mulcair said.
Nicholson said the censorship isn’t done by politicians, but by ”non-partisan public servants whose only interest is the protection of national security.”
The opposition has formally asked the Speaker to rule on whether MP privileges have been breached by the government’s refusal to produce the documents uncensored.
The Speaker is awaiting the government’s formal reply to the accusation before ruling.
If he does find a breach, the opposition threatens to move a motion finding the government, and senior cabinet ministers, in contempt of Parliament.
Dosanjh was irked that the latest release of documents wasn’t cleared by Frank Iacobucci, the former Supreme Court justice named by the government to vet the material deemed sensitive and decide what can be released.
”Does he have a real job or is it just more cover for this government?” Dosanjh asked.
Mulcair called the latest release ”an old lawyer’s trick.”
”Inundate them with documents that are very highly censored just to buy time,” he said.