OTTAWA — The Canadian Security Intelligence Service was aware of allegations that prisoners in Afghanistan were abused, but had no “first-hand knowledge” of torture, says an internal report on the spy agency’s involvement with detainees.
The newly declassified review also says while CSIS “appeared to be tardy in issuing directions and guidelines” on interviewing Afghan detainees, the selection of appropriate personnel and a “common sense approach” to the task ensured the spy service’s “credibility and professional reputation was maintained.”
“The service has since formalized appropriate direction to its officers in dealing with issues of detainees in Afghanistan.”
Last March The Canadian Press revealed CSIS’s involvement in interviewing suspected Taliban fighters alongside military intelligence officers.
In response, CSIS director Dick Fadden commissioned the “comprehensive review” of the service’s activities given the “controversial and high-profile nature” of the issue with the Canadian government, the 13-page report says.
A draft version of the secret April report, with several deletions, was obtained this week under the Access to Information Act.
The Canadian army is thought to have captured hundreds of suspected Taliban fighters over the last nine years. Reports indicate that since 2006 almost 500 have been handed over to Afghan authorities.
CSIS questioned Afghan detainees from 2002 through late 2007, when the military began to conduct interrogations without assistance. The report says the shift occurred “as there was a concern with respect to the legalities and procedures in allowing outside agencies to be involved.”
For the review, CSIS examined files dating as far back as 2002 and interviewed service employees directly involved in the detainee file.
“CSIS policies/directional statements specific to employees’ involvement in matters of Afghan detainees were not in place at the beginning of the service deployment to Afghanistan,” the report says.
“This has only recently been rectified.”
The review identified two outstanding issues, including an incorrectly worded draft Canadian Forces standing order that indicated “CSIS had the lead” on interrogating detainees.
CSIS spokeswoman Isabelle Scott said the correction has been made. The second, undisclosed issue was also addressed, she said, declining to elaborate.
The review findings are consistent with past CSIS insistence that the Canadian Forces were responsible for deciding whether to transfer prisoners to Afghan custody.
However, the report discloses that CSIS played an occasional “facilitation” role as a “liaison conduit” in transfers between Canadian military and Foreign Affairs officials and the infamous Afghan National Directorate of Security.
CSIS officers posted to Afghanistan had “no first-hand knowledge of the abuse, mistreatment or torture of detainees by either (Canadian Forces) or Afghan authorities,” the report says.
However, allegations of “possible abuse by Afghan authorities did exist,” says the report.
Subsequent details have been redacted.
Early on in Afghanistan, the military hoped to “capitalize on the cultural knowledge and experience” of CSIS in the interview process. While the Forces had “well documented” procedures, CSIS involvement was less structured, the review says.
“The Review Team found no indication that direction from (CSIS national headquarters) was sought or provided on the issue of service involvement in the interview of detainees in the custody of the (Canadian Forces).”
Over time, the military became wary of CSIS involvement.
“Even though the CF turned to the service for assistance in conducting interviews of detainees, there was a growing recognition among the CF Intelligence cadre that this process was neither sustainable nor preferred, from a CF professional point of view.”
The review says the precise number of interviews the service participated in is unknown.
However, CSIS has previously put the number at 40 to 50.
The interviews focused on the identities of captives, basic biographical information and “critical intelligence” related to Forces security, the report says.
It says mistreatment of prisoners was not NDS policy but quite the opposite in that “the NDS wanted to prosecute those accused of being terrorists with regard to due diligence to the rules of (Afghan) law.”
“Absent of evidence which could be used in a judicial proceeding, the NDS would release the prisoners from custody.”
Nevertheless, the report acknowledges there continues to be a predominating belief that prisoners “were/are abused at the hands of their Afghan custodians.”
“The service remains cognizant of these allegations and strives to confirm or refute them.”
Some in the Canadian military have publicly defended the notorious Afghan intelligence service.
Maj.-Gen. Mike Ward, in testimony before the Military Police Complaints Commission last fall, called the NDS “a highly thought of organization” and complained the Afghans had been unjustly tarred in human rights reports, including those by the U.S. State Department and Foreign Affairs in Ottawa.
“I’ve read a lot of those reports and just spent a year reading more and more of those reports,” he testified on Sept. 9, 2010.
“They don’t help very much because you create an expectation of a climate of torture or terror in Afghan prisons that is actually not accurate.
“Just as everything is not hunky-dory, these are not torture chambers per se and as I think we’ve found out subsequently.”
Yet Canadian diplomats received reports of potential abuse as late as January 2010, according to documents uncovered by The Canadian Press.
During an unannounced inspection of the Kandahar NDS detention facility, a diplomat and correctional officer were flagged down by a prisoner who’d been captured by Canadian troops.
The date of the actual visit was censored, but the document was written on Jan. 10, 2010.
The suspect alleged his captors threatened to kill him and slapped him around, says a report obtained under the Access to Information law.
“The detainee stated the slaps were delivered with a back and forth motion of the open hand,” says the significant incident report.
The diplomat “observed no visible marks on the inside of the mouth of the detainee.”
When the Foreign Affairs officer went back to verify the allegation on Jan. 3, 2010, the NDS said it had released the suspect.
The Canadian case was closed.