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Torture? What torture?

Week 2 of the MPCC Afghan Public Interest Hearings started off with testimony this morning from Lieutenant-Colonel Gilles Sansterre, commanding officer of the Canadian Forces National Investigative Service — the arm of the military police tasked with, among other things, investigating serious and sensitive offences committed by CF personnel.  Grace Pastine, the BCCLA’s litigation director, is in Ottawa this week representing the complainants, BCCLA and Amnesty International.

LCol Sansterre, 2003

Lt-Col. Sansterre’s testimony is continuing into the afternoon, but he testified this morning that he was unaware of the Afghan Human Rights monitor’s reports of abuse and torture of detainees in Afghan prisons, and that he had no knowledge of the Federal Court’s 2008 ruling which accepted evidence of detainee torture in Afghanistan.

In her decision, Madam Justice Anne Mactavish found that

prisoners bore physical signs that were consistent with their allegations of abuse.  In addition, Canadian personnel conducting site visits personally observed detainees manifesting signs of mental illness, and in at least two cases, reports of the monitoring visits described detainees as appearing “traumatized.”

Lt-Col. Sansterre was excused for 30 minutes so he could review the Federal Court decision.  Upon resuming his testimony, Lt-Col. Sansterre remarked that allegations of abuse had been investigated by Afghan authorities, and it was not his position to “second-guess” those findings.  (Ed.:  Never mind that there is, of course, an inherent conflict of interest in Afghan authorities conducting investigations into allegations of their own misconduct, and that there were independent reports of abuse from reputable human rights monitoring organizations.  In fact, senior diplomat Richard Colvin has called these Afghan investigations “ficticious.” )

This is rather dismal testimony coming from the Canadian military’s chief investigative officer, who seemed to demonstrate little understanding of the international legal obligations binding Canada’s conduct in theatres of war.