Friday, April 09, 2010

Torturegate: more unsavoury revelations

Afghan detainees? Torture? All was made good by new protocols put in place by the Conservatives in mid-2007 (even if it took a year and a half to act), right?

So say the numerous pro-war folks who have been claiming all along that Torturegate is political--just another nasty attempt to smear the Tories. But it's cold comfort for them this week, with testimony before a Military Police Complaints Commission inquiry: one that the government had been trying to block since 2008 with legal manoeuvring and outright intimidation of witnesses.

Only last summer, two years after everything was supposed to have been fixed (a questionable proposition even then), the government was warned about the dangers of transferring detainees to the dreaded Afghan National Directorate of Security. And the government did nothing.

There were significant information blockages. Torture accounts from detainees were given to Foreign Affairs diplomats, who also saw torture equipment for themselves and reported it. But those reports never reached military police investigators: they were held back by Foreign Affairs.

Yet lead investigator Maj. Francois Bolduc himself, who managed some of the detainee cases in Afghanistan, failed to undertake specific inquiries after reports of torture surfaced in the Globe & Mail, and became defensive when this point was pressed.

Maj. Francois Bolduc, the case manager for the investigation, said he never saw the memo showing that two diplomats had found braided electrical cables and a rubber hose in a room where they were questioning a Canadian detainee. That finding led military officials to stop detainee transfers for four months, but never prompted military police to roll the incident into their wide ranging inquiry into allegations of detainee torture. [emphasis added]

Then there was the behind-closed-doors testimony of military police officer Sgt. Carol Utton, who spoke of "rumours" about torture but also claimed that detainees were clamouring to be turned over to Afghan authorities so they could buy their way out of jail. Yet finding out what actually happened to transferred detainees, she said, wasn't part of the job description.

Another witness, retired Capt. Mark Naipaul, stated to the contrary that the detainees wanted to stay in Canadian custody:

"Most detainees didn't want to leave the [Canadian] facility. They felt they were well treated at the facility and were concerned about where they would go, what they would be faced with once they left," Naipaul said.

Detainees liked the food and often were reluctant to be released from detention even to their families, he added.

"There were some concerns about being transferred to Afghan officials," Naipaul said, adding he could only speculate it was because of the NDS' reputation.

Naipaul said some detainees showed "emotional reaction" when they were told they were going to the NDS.

But the captain said he felt no trepidation about the treatment of detainees after their transfer.
[emphasis added]

Isn't a lot of this starting to sound like wilful blindness?

The Toronto Star editorializes:

The NDS is much like the brutal Soviet-era KGB, the memo warned. That means "there is considerable scope for the use of improper methods." And "Canadian partnership in NDS projects without prior insight into its methods runs the risk of appearing to condone human rights abuses and acts which would be illegal under Canadian law."

Given this recent high-level anxiety, how can Harper affirm, as he did on Wednesday, that we have "rigorous" policies to ensure that our military, which works hand-in-glove with the NDS, doesn't hand over detainees to be tortured?

Good question. And it's Richard Colvin next week. Gloomy days ahead for the government and its apologists.

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