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Ongoing torture of Afghan prisoners?

In today’s online edition of the Toronto Star, Murray Brewster of The Canadian Press is reporting that an Afghan intelligence officer with the National Directorate of Security (NDS) boasted to Canadian ground commanders as recently as May 2009 that he was permitted to torture prisoners during interrogations.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press show that it was this NDS claim which prompted an immediate halt in the transfer of detainees by Canadian Forces in May 2009.  As readers here may recall, Canadian-captured detainees in Afghanistan are transferred to the custody of the NDS, and it is this practice which is being investigated at the Afghan Public Interest Hearings at the Military Police Complaints Commission.

As Brewster reports:

But the torture claim by the NDS official prompted an extraordinary meeting on May 12, 2009, according to a briefing document prepared for MacKay. Officials with Foreign Affairs, National Defence, military commanders in Ottawa and Afghanistan, along with diplomats in Kabul met via secure video conference link with official of the Privy Council Office — the bureaucratic end of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The “statements are significant and necessitate a response,” said the May 15 summary of the meeting presented to MacKay.

The response was extraordinarily swift.

Within days of the claim being made, Foreign Affairs dispatched officials to interview six Canadian-captured prisoners, who were in custody at the Kandahar NDS facility at the time, and promised to “immediately double their visit tempo,” according to written summary prepared for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

Canada’s ambassador in Kabul at the time, Ron Hoffman, registered Ottawa’s “concern” with President Hamid Karzai’s government. Both the International Red Cross and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission were notified and in turn opened their own investigations.

While the scope of the current MPCC hearings does not extend to conduct as recent as 2009, reports such as these simply beg the question of how Canada can continue its ongoing practice of transferring detainees to the NDS.  As Paul Champ, lawyer for the BCCLA and Amnesty International at the MPCC hearings, remarked in this article:

“Torture is a practise deeply entrenched in the National Directorate of Security and you can’t wave a magic wand and have it disappear overnight,” he said. “Canadian government officials who are dealing with these matters, I’m sure, don’t believe that is the case.”