Security expert calls for probe of torture charges

Investigation should take place “outside the arena of partisan politics”


One of Canada’s leading security experts says explosive allegations from diplomat Richard Colvin on torture in Afghanistan are so troubling the government should now allow an impartial body to investigate his charges.

Wesley Wark, a visiting professor at University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs, who served on the federal government’s Advisory Council on National Security from 2005 until summer 2009, said he finds key aspects of Colvin’s testimony to a House committee today “troubling but doubtful.”

Colvin told MPs that while he was serving in Afghanistan, senior Canadian military and government officials failed to act on his warnings that detainees handed over to Afghanistan’s notorious prison system by Canadian troops were being tortured.

Despite being skeptical about important details in Colvin’s story, Wark said the Conservative government should either allow the federal Military Police Complaints Commission to proceed with its inquiry into the controversy, or let some other body take on the task.

The MPCC’s bid to hear Colvin’s testimony and probe his charges has been repeatedly blocked and delayed by the government’s lawyers and is now tied up in Federal Court.

“My view is that while the Colvin testimony cannot automatically be assumed to represent the whole truth, it is troubling enough that either the MPCC needs to be allowed to continue its work, or the government needs to provide an alternative vehicle to allow for an impartial investigation of the issue of Canadian policy and practice towards Afghan detainees outside the arena of partisan politics,” Wark told Maclean’s.

Wark is no stranger to Ottawa national security and intelligence circles: he has served as a consultant on intelligence policy to the Privy Council Office. He’s a longtime professor at University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies.

Wark said Colvin’s testimony amounts to saying Canadian military and civilian officials were “knowingly complicit” in torture by the Afghan National Security Directorate. He said detainee procedures in Kandahar were supposed to prevent just that sort of abuse.

“It’s important to understand the process applied in the field,” Wark said. “Suspected Taliban insurgents captured by Canadian forces were transferred by combat units as rapidly as possible into the hands of the Canadian MP detachment in Kandahar.”

He said Canadian military police then processed the detainees, gave them medical treatment, and finally transferred them to the Afghans. Canada’s agreement with Afghanistan for turning them over included an assurance that the International Committee of the Red Cross be informed and that the detainees would be properly treated.

“Colvin charges that this system either broke down or was somehow corrupted,” Wark said. “It’s impossible without further access to documents and testimony to know whether this charge is true.”

Now the question facing Prime Minister Stephen Harper is what investigative body—if any—he will allow to see those documents, hear that testimony, and ultimately get to the bottom of Colvin’s extraordinarily grave charges.


Security expert calls for probe of torture charges

  1. I doubt Canada was the only NATO nation who handed over prisoners to Afgan forces. If an investigation is conducted with any sort of credibility, it will open an international can of worms. It's going to get ugly really fast.

    Colvin is now a marked man.

    • Colvin is a courageous man, you mean. These allegations, if true, implicate government officials in war crimes. This is no small matter.

      • This is exactly what I'm saying, and I'm adding that the government will probably do whatever it can smeer Colvin and mark him as an unreliable source.

        If an investigation ensues, it will be impossible to conclude Canadian officials were implicated in war crimes without accusing other NATO nations of doing the same. I doubt the US and the UK will take these accusations lightly, and that the government will allow the investigation to make these accusations.

        • You're probably right, but I hear many more detainees were handed over by Canada as opposed to the other nations. They (the other nations) can hide behind us to some extent. This is our scandal and shame to wear, if proven.

          • If that's the case then we can expect some odd and conflicting news stories in the coming years.

        • I doubt the US and the UK will take these accusations lightly, and that the government will allow the investigation to make these accusations.

          But it would be an independent judicial investigation, no? The government can't tell it what to find or what to conclude.

          • No but unless the investigation is commissioned by the UN then the government can stall and stone wall much like Chretien tried to do with the Gomery inquiry.

            From a strategic stand point this is an interesting story because if the Conservatives can't quiet the media on the investigation then they'll have to try to force an election quickly and hope for a majority. Or else it will do to them what the Gomery inquiry did to the Liberals.

          • "the government can stall and stone wall much like Chretien tried to do with the Gomery inquiry."

            Then let's just pray that there's someone with the courage and clarity of a Paul Martin type to emerge from this cold, autocratic government. It wouldn't hurt if the guy was also half-as-good with a budget, but let's not expect miracles…

          • "From a strategic stand point this is an interesting story because if the Conservatives can't quiet the media on the investigation then they'll have to try to force an election quickly and hope for a majority. "

            the Tories won't try to quiet the media. they'll just do the usual bait and switch. I'll be shocked in the media keeps up with this kind of scrutiny for more than two weeks.

        • If you read the testimony, you'll find that our NATO allies in Afghanistan had infinitely more stringent and transparent guidelines in place to protect the integrity of the detainee process. None of our allies will be implicated by extension if Canada's complicity is investigated.

  2. If this professor is on an advisory committee of this government, that probably means he leans "right-wing" Conservative in his views on security.

    Thus, if he's calling for an impartial investigation to be held – notwithstanding his "doubts"- this should be and is a significant opinion on this matter.

    • I'm pretty sure I've seen Mr Wark on a number of CPAC broadcasts over the last few years.

      My impression is that he usually provides a factual account of all aspects of the issue at hand, without exaggeration and without omitting uncomfortable information, which from my perspective means that I would be hard pressed to know where to place him on the political spectrum.

      • Another cog in the Inquiry Industry looking for a paycheque i am sure.

        • Wow, now the PMO is trying to discredit Wesley Wark. Is there any depth to which you chuckleheads won't stoop ?

  3. Cue the left wing salivating at another opportunity to show how evil western society really is, drawing rediculous moral equivalencies between the West's inherent imperfections, and the abhorrent brutality that is the norm in the radical regimes we fight against.

    I'd venture a guess, that outside the left leaning media, and their partisan left followers, this subject occupies the thoughts of precious few Canadians.

    Horrible stuff is happening to innocent people all over the world, at the hands of despicably grotesque regimes. The notion a few gay stoning, women beating, roadside bombing Taliban thugs getting bad treatment at the hands of their previous victims/countrymen, are causing very few every day Canadians to lose sleep at night.

    • They didn't even get a hearing you clown. Sitting there judging from your cosseted perch in a free country. It's our duty to discourage this sort of behaviour, not just shug our shoulders.

    • "Horrible stuff is happening to innocent people all over the world, at the hands of despicably grotesque regimes"

      like Canada (allegedly). I don't know how you can live with that–I certainly can't. When we are complicit in the abhorrent brtuality we fight against, why on earth are we fighting? What was that quote after World War II?

      First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
      Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
      Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
      Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
      Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

      Just because it starts with Taliban thugs doesn't mean it ends there. Oh, right, many of these people were probably innocent already. But what's a little thing like guilt or innocence when you've got torture implements to hand!

      • Pastor Martin Niemöller German anti-Natzi.

        You left the catholics out…but i'm sure they'll understand. :)

    • It is not western society which is evil … just the particular manifestation known as the Harper Government.

  4. While the Taliban ply downs syndrome kids with candy and the promise of 99 virgins, in return for walking into a market with a bomb vest controlled by a remote detonator,

    the far left occupies its time crying out for the expansion of terrorists' rights.

    • Try and keep up, biff. The word is that, naturally enough in a guerrilla war, many of the people turned over to Afghan authorities were innocent. Recall that not every Pushtun male is a member of the Taliban.

      • I'm keeping up Jack.

        The three, that's right, three, instances of waterboarding (a procedure that cheeky members of the press voluntarily underwent to prove a point – as do most Navy Seals) made us "just as bad as them", "them" being those who hang boys for being gay, chop heads off on camera ect,

        Those in Guantanamo are also "innocent until proven guilty"…meaning they are "innocent"

        Yes, yes, many "innocents" we have to worry about.

        The choice of "innocents" the far left seeks to champion is a fascinating commentary.

        As for those not caught trying to kill Americans….like say, oh I dunno, those languishing right now Castro's political prisons….not for plotting to bomb children but for expressing a desire for political freedom…well they just don't muster the energy to post about.

        • If you're denying that genuinely (as opposed to rhetorically) innocent people were sent to Abu Ghraib, Baghram, and Gitmo, you're not arguing from the established facts. According to Colvin's charges, many of the prisoners taken by Canadian forces were likewise innocent.

    • Yeah we want suicide bombing declared a human right! That's exactly what we're saying.

    • Gee, biff, I thought while we were occupying our time crying out for human rights, we also had our armed services waging war against the Taliban. Sort of like doing two things at the same time.

      But I guess in the far right-wing world, two wrongs make a right.

      • Yes and those who champion the Guantanamo terrorists rights, could spend of shred of energy championing those we know with absolute certainty are innocent in places like Cuba (since their supposed "crime" is a desire for a basic right to freedom of speech), but alas, only horribly complicit deafening silence for those who cannot give us political hay to attack our partisan enemies.

        • I would absolutely like to speak up for those in Cuba jailed for speaking freely.

          But Canada didn't hand those people over to the Cuban regime, did we? So I don't see how this is relevant to the discussion at hand.

          But thanks for confirming that in your world two wrongs DO make a right. I can't agree with you, but at least I can understand better where you are coming from.

          • Actually,

            I wouldn't compare jailing, torturing, and even killing people we know with absolute certainty are innocent (since their "crime" is their thoughts and beliefs), and the treatment of prisoners in a war zone.

            Those "two wrongs" are precisely the type of moral equivalence the left attempts to seize on matters such as these – for purely political reasons, it appears.

            The purported "wrong" of holding Khlied Sheik Mohammad, cannot be compared to the wrong of hanging an Iranian boy for being suspected of being attracted to other boys.

            Those are your "two [apparently equivalent] wrongs" not mine.

          • The two wrongs I'm talking about are the wrongs done by the Taliban, like stoning women to death, and the wrongs done by the government of Canada, like handing detainees who may or may not be guilty over to people who the government of Canada has reason to believe will torture them.

            Now, we don't know (with absolute certainty) that the government of Canada did any such thing, as yet, and so I am hopeful. But I must say comments of Conservative suppoorters, such as yourself, on these boards leaves my hopes withering on the vine, since you really don't care if we are complicit in torture!

            I cannot understand why you don't see that "they did it too" is not a good defence, anywhere, at any time. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Wrong doesn't suddenly become right if the opponent did wrong too.

          • And the plaintitive whine emerges once more: "But mmooommm! They do it too!"

            Tell you what biff, you go waste your efforts trying to convince cuba to release people in a rousing display of typical conservative efforts and economical sense: spending money and resources for nothing.

            Meanwhile, I'll act here, where my own government, being concerned for my vote, might actually take action.

  5. Strangely, this topic did not come up during Maclean's Afghanistan debate. Perhaps I missed it.

    • The title of this article speaks to its lack of credibility and its uselessness by the use the word "likely". The end of the article also has one wondering why anyone would waste their time printing this story which is heavy on speculation and light on facts. The reporter seems to be relying on the word of Richard Colvin who admits to the reporter at the end of the article that he "only spoke to four detainees himself and he had no way to guarantee those prisoners had in fact been captured by Canadian troops. He also admitted he never raised the allegations with ministers who travelled through Kandahar."
      Seems to me that someone with an axe to grind with our military and our government is hoping to tarnish them with this load of rubbish. Fortunately this article is so bereft of factual information that no intelligent Canadian will pay it any heed

  6. I go to conservative blogs to read about news of two boys being hung in Iran for suspicion of homosexuality. I go to those same sources to read about the Cuban goulag victims. True innocents suspected of nothing more than thinking or being the "wrong" way. Not a lot of energy on the left focused there.

    Being caught with an AK 47 at a terrorist training camp, suspected of planting a roadside bomb or caught trying to mass murder civilians and the hails of "PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE" ring the left wing halls, the "innocent" made to be media celebrities worthy of all our waking moment's notice.

    • i don't spend all my time going through blogs so i might be wrong. But doesn't amnesty international also officially protest these atrocities in Iran or political prisoners in Cuba?
      Even for non trendy cases such as these i'd bet that if lefties didn't take up the cause very little would get done at all. Not meaning to vilify the many commited conservative advocates working on behalf of oppressed individuals at all.

      • Not meaning to vilify the many commited conservative advocates working on behalf of oppressed individuals at all.

        I've been told that Cuban pro-democracy militants languishing in Castro's jails engrave portraits of David Frum and Mark Steyn on their walls with their fingernails in honour of the men who've done so much to advance their cause. They've dubbed Steyn "The Great Liberator" and Frum "The Great Emancipator".

        Bolivar's not been totally forgotten, mind you, but he's been demoted far down the list. Apparently, he now sits just below Rachel Marsden in the Cuban pantheon of progressive heroes.

        • Well i was thinking more along the lines of regular church going folks. If Steyn or Frum are poster boys for freedom in Castro's jails i'd be surprised, not shocked [ i'm a little too old for that ] but surprised and a little disheartened that the gene pool for freedoms latterday icons has become so shallow.

          • Kidding, KCM. I was kidding… ;)

          • I knew that…i did…i…really really did. :)

    • That's swell, Biff. Now, can you draw the correct conclusion from the circumstances you've just breathlessly (and barely grammatically) delineated? No? Let me help you with that:

      So-called "conservatives", while in full possession of the moral fortitude required to wallow in the macabre details of outrages committed by those for whose actions they are not accountable, lack the moral fortitude required to confront the outrages committed by those for whose actions they are accountable.

      But the key question is—why are you proud of that?

      • You may choose to equate hanging a boy for being gay, stoning girls for being impure, or imprisoning citizens for the way they think, as an equivalent "outrage" to the difficult policy decision of how to treat prisoners in a war zone,

        I do not.

        As for being "proud" of not drawing those equivalences? No I wouldn't say proud. I would say fundamentally correct and morally justified.

        • …the difficult policy decision of how to treat prisoners in a war zone…

          No "difficult policy decision" is at issue here. We Canadians do not torture our prisoners, nor do we allow allies to torture prisoners whom we deliver to them: that is a non-negotiable standard of military comportment for us and for all civilised nations that honour the rule of law. The question of whether our Forces have consistently lived up to that standard is what's at issue.

          And it's a crucial issue, at least for those of us who insist on judging our behaviour according to an ethical absolute. It might not be so crucial for the moral relativists among us who think it "correct" to judge our behaviour in terms of how it compares to the Taliban's.

      • lol. I haven't a clue what you just said, but i agree with every word of it.

  7. And the Cubans,

    who sit in political prisons, dissappear regularly for the wrong views, while Canadians enjoy that country as a popular tourist destination and the left hails Castro as appropriately Anti-American…better yet, an anti-"neocon" standard bearer.

    Never a peep for them.

    Absolute certainty of their innocence rather than wishful speculation that they are not moral monsters. Not caught trying to kill anyone. Not accused of supporting the most hateful and disgusting ideology. Just wanting to be free.

    They languish in the dark shadows of the silence of the left.

    Without the politically correct form of suffering.

    • I'm not silent about it, Biff, and I consider myself on the left. Careful about making sweeping generalizations, old boy.

      • Of course, I don't mean "everybody" and if you have written or overtly supported the awareness of their oppression I commend you.

        Though a perusal of the left leaning standar bearers in the media (NY Times for instance, prominant liberal bloggers, and of course, the left leaning members of this blog) and you compare posts on Guantanamo detainees, to the causes I mentioned, and in particular those in Cuba, you'd see a scale that is not only tilted one way, it would be tipped over to the one side, absent any balance whatsoever.

        The occaisional lone voice on the left speaking out for the Cubans do not detract from my point, indeed they complete it.

        • The big difference is that we, as Canadians, do not oppress Cubans in Cuba, nor do we hold people in the Yankee gulag in Guantanamo. We do, however, have a positive international legal responsibility to ensure that those who our armed forces take prisoner are treated correctly. We may not hand over prisoners to the Afghans if we know they are being systematically tortured. That is exactly what the Harper Conservative government has done. The Red Cross told them that prisoners we were handing over to the Afghans were being systematically tortured, and yet the Harper Conservative government did nothing about it for two years – they did nothing about it until they were caught out in yet another lie, and were forced to do something about it.

  8. Is Bush our PM? Is Guantanamo our prison? Is Iraq our war? Did Canada control Abu Garub prison? Funny I seem to have read a plethora of commontary from the Canadian left on these subjects. Oh, and when Chretien was in power, was there a scentilla of concern expressed about how we treat the Taliban, by these same individuals?

    True suffering of others is not the concern. A platform for partisan attacks is.

    • You're right, no Conservatives have ever expressed any concern about the suffering you refer to. They are certainly not concerned about the suffering of Omar Khadr, a child soldier held in the Yankee gulag in Guantanamo, despite the fact that there is clear evidence of his innocence. No, Conservatives don't care whether Afghan prisoners, not all of whom are Taliban, are tortured or not. That much is clear. Also, when is the last time Stephen Harper or any of his ministers spoke out about human rights violations in Cuba ?

  9. Ok, enough "biff."

  10. This is all about a post mortem for our failed mission in afghanistan. People are already starting to shift the blame. I expect before long the Harperites will try to sadle our soldiers with responsibility for their assinine policies. "Our strategy was brilliant (not) but the soldiers executed it incompetantly>" As the saying goes "Victory has a thousand fathers, defeat is a bastard child." Of course the Harperites will have a few problems with this approach. Serving soldiers would not be able to reply but the best general we have had in a long time is now retired and not so constrained. Even while serving he was more outspoken than most. It would be a most entertaining spectacle watching Harper, Mackay and the rest of the mealy mouthed crowd try to deal with him but then they lack the guts to even try. Too bad

  11. I think there there are some liberlas out there in a all out rush to demand a public inquiry might need to think twice because were harper to stop protecting the soldiers (as that is what he is doing right now Harper is eating the pain for the militaty read Colvins report again) .. again I will say .. If Harper really wanted to deflect attention on this file he would go along with the Inquiry like he did with Mulroney-Schreiber and we all saw how that turned out. Let's face a few facts this problem goes way back during Chretien again see the dates of the earliest reports by Colvin – be careful what you wish for!

  12. I think we should call for a probe of the Toronto Star to determine if it is an impartial newspaper as it claims to be.

    • Personally, I think the misdirection to concern of Cuba was the better play. This one's too much of a 'meh' response to really deflect attention.

      • That's an interesting point. Cuba, according to A,Amnesty International, does torture and does imprison it's citizens if they speak out against the regime. Yet, this doesn't seem to upset any of our left leaning Canadians from visiting the island or even patronizing Fidel as Sasha Trudeau recently did. Go figure.

    • We already know it isn't Same with the ever loving left CBC.

      Conservatives are a militant bunch when we need to be. :-)

  13. Indeed. And the left is never appalled by torture in Cuba. Take this example:

    Roberto López Chávez, was just a kid. He went on a hunger strike to protest the abuses. The guards denied him water, Roberto lay on the floor of his punishment cell, agonizing, deliriously asking for water. water…

    The soldiers came in and asked him: "Do you want water?"… The they took out their members and urinated in his mouth, on his face… He died the following day. We were cellmates; when he died I felt something wither inside me.

    by Armando Valladares

  14. Partisan sniping gets none of us anywhere. I want answers and bloody soon. I don't care if other countries did this, this is Canada and WE don't do that, period. I want some anwers.

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