OTTAWA — Finding a piece of braided electrical cable in the office of an Afghani investigations director was enough to get the man fired, but not enough to convince Canadian officials that torture was taking place.
Opposition MPs were incredulous Wednesday as three Canadian civil servants maintained they had no “first-hand” evidence that Afghan detainees were being abused, notwithstanding allegations by some prisoners of being beaten with cables.
It was the highlight of a sometimes testy, two-hour exchange at the special committee on Afghanistan.
“What would a braided piece of electrical cable be used for?” Liberal MP Bob Rae asked Linda Garwood-Filbert.
The Corrections Canada official had testified the cable was found in a prison warden’s office on Nov. 5, 2007, by Foreign Affairs officials, whose report on the matter resulted in the unnamed man’s firing.
Garwood-Filbert told Rae she wasn’t there when the cable was found. But when he pressed, she conceded that “we started getting a bit of a theme when prisoners or detainees were referring to the use of cables.”
Garwood-Filbert had earlier testified that during 33 visits to Afghan prisons and interviews with about two dozen prisoners, she’d seen no evidence of physical abuse. In fact, said the special projects officer at Stony Mountain penitentiary in Manitoba, the Afghan complaints typically revolved around food, living conditions, access to family visits and medical care. “These are also typical complaints from inmates in Canada,” said Garwood-Filbert.
Rae got no further with Colleen Swords, an assistant deputy minister at Foreign Affairs.
He noted the international convention on torture speaks of having “substantial grounds” for believing a person will be subjected to torture, and taking into account “all relevant considerations.”
“If you find an instrument of torture in the office of the director of investigations of the national directorate of security, what is that?” he asked Swords.
She responded the “standard is a substantial risk of torture, and it has to be with respect to the individual, not just generally.”
The day also saw the public release of a huge pile of heavily censored documents.
Conservative ministers have said the documents had to be censored for national security reasons before they could be released
But the value of the newly released material was called into question when the NDP clearly illustrated that damaging references to “extrajudicial executions” and “torture” had been blacked out of one 2006 Foreign Affairs report.
“By redacting just that one sentence, the government was able to cover up knowledge of extrajudicial killings and torture in Afghanistan,” NDP MP Paul Dewar said, citing this as an example of overzealous censorship.
“This is precisely why Canadians can’t trust any document with redactions from this government.”
A majority of MPs — with the minority Conservative caucus dissenting — voted Tuesday for a judicial inquiry to be held at which sensitive information could be handled properly in a non-partisan forum.