Welcome to the BCCLA’s National Security blog. Right now, we’re tracking the Afghan detainee hearings in Parliament and will be providing commentary and updates as testimony progresses.
Today, documents that support Mr. Richard Colvin’s testimony are being made publicly available for the first time by the BCCLA and Amnesty International.
Mr. Colvin, a senior diplomat who was stationed in Afghanistan, recently testified before a parliamentary committee that Canadian officials at the highest levels of seniority were made aware of serious concerns that Afghan prisoners were being subjected to torture and other human rights violations.
Prior to his testimony before Parliament, Mr. Colvin was called as witness before the Military Police Complaints Commission. The documents that are being released today were originally released to the Military Police Complaints Commission after being heavily censored by the Canadian government.
The BCCLA and Amnesty received those documents on November 23, 2009, but confidentiality agreements prevented the BCCLA and Amnesty from making the documents public. Those confidentiality agreements were lifted today, so the BCCLA and Amnesty are making those censored documents available to the public in their entirety.
The documents contain a series of 2006-2007 email correspondences and reports shared between officials involved in the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. They discuss detainee transfer agreements and the possibility that detainees transferred by Canadian Forces could be tortured by Afghan police.
The BCCLA and Amnesty are shocked that many of Mr. Colvin’s documents were not disclosed during the course of the lawsuits our organizations launched in 2007 and 2008. The government failed to disclose these documents despite the fact that they were obviously of direct relevance to the issues before the court and were certainly covered by requests for disclosure of documents that were made by our legal team. There is a legal duty for parties to disclose such documents, and the failure to disclose these documents raises serious questions about whether the government met their legal obligations.
The documents focus on inadequate tracking mechanisms that sometimes lost track of transferred detainees, and Richard Colvin’s concerns that Canadian Forces were sending detainees into almost certain torture at the hand of Afghan police.
The messages from Mr. Colvin became increasingly blunt as the severity of the situation and the government’s failure to address the situation became clear. He summed it up best in an email dated October 24, 2007:
“There seems to be a continued reluctance to acknowledge the scope or severity of the detainee problem, instead claiming that the “alleged” abuse is a Taliban fabrication or stressing fictitious ‘Afghan investigations.’ Our systemic failure to operationalize our human-rights rhetoric runs contrary to Canadian values and interests, and has needlessly damaged public support for the Afghan deployment.”
The documents are available online here.
To learn more about the BCCLA’s work on Afghan detainee issues and how you can help in the fight against torture, please visit our Afghan detainee section.