98.5% - Macleans.ca



Yesterday Richard Colvin reported that, “according to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured.”

Here is an April report from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, a commission Canada funds and is partnered with in the monitoring of detainees. On page 31, it concludes in part:

Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment are common in the majority of law enforcement institutions and at least 98.5% of interviewed victims have been tortured. Institutions where torture has occurred include police (security, justice, traffic), prosecution office, national security, detention center, custody, prison, and national army.

*Note: The report’s use of the term “victim” above is slightly confusing in that context. Here’s how the AIHRC puts it at page 12 of the same report: “The findings of this research reveal that torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment are a commonplace practice in the majority of law enforcement institutions and that at least 98.5% of interviewees believed they had been tortured by these institutions.” It’s possible there is an issue of translation here. Readers are encouraged to review the entire report.



  1. Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment

    If a guard raised his voice to someone, and they subjectively felt it was degrading? That counts in the 98.5%.

    This is why I don't lose any sleep over torture allegations: anything even mildly uncomfortable gets conflated together under the one headline-grabbing definition. By the AIHRC (oh, human rights commissions, wherever would we be without your hysterical scoldings?) methodology and definition, I would not be surprised to find that according to interviews of persons processed by any random Canadian law enforcement institution, 98.5% considered themselves to have been "tortured."

    • While the 98.5% is obviously a head line grabber, it's almost immaterial to the larger issue. Were prisoners that Canadin troops handed over tortured, and did the government know about it. That's the issue. I doubt they're talking about 98.5% who were yelled at.

      Is there a level of "actual torture" thats acceptable? 10%? 20%? more? The government claims they knew of no such thing going on, but a Mr. Colvin testified otherwise. I think the issue is an important one, and deserves further investigation rather than to swept aside based on the criteria you outline.

    • I would not be surprised if interviews found that 98.5% of persons detained by Canadian law enforcement institutions considered themselves to have been "tortured."

      By the AIHRC definitions, most inmates in Canadian prisons could be considered torture victims if they have been subjected to "abusive language". From page 24:

      4.9. Abusive language
      Abusive language is a degrading and inhuman act and a form of psychological torture. In
      most cases, abusive language has been used against victims and this is in contravention of
      laws and human dignity and is common in law enforcement institutions that are supposed
      to implement such laws.

    • Fine, so maybe the 98% figure isn't wholly accurate.

      Can we just talk then about the 11% who were tortured with electric shock? Or the 17% who were beaten with cables? Or the 30% who were beaten with rods? Or the fact that almost every single detainee was punched, kicked or slapped?

      Maybe some percentage of the detainees are just whiners. But some percentage of them were hooked up to car batteries, or had the soles of their feet beaten with iron rods. It's great that you can still sleep well and aren't worried about allegations of torture, but some of us take electrocution, water boarding and beatings more seriously.

  2. Proof Colvin is wrong! He is 1.5% off!!!!! LIBERAL PLANT!!! TERRORIST !!!!!! SPONSORSHIP SCANDAL!!!!

  3. Are we seriously debating whether Afghans torture prisoners accused of working with the Taliban?

    • I don't think anyone's "seriously" debating that. Some people are just trying to make it SEEM as though torture didn't really happen (or as though it isn't a big deal if it did) but I can't imagine they seriously believe that. Meanwhile, the rest of us roll our eyes and silently weep the continuing descent of humanity.

      • Descent of humanity? It's not like things got this bad all of a sudden. The whole of human history is nasty, brutish and soaked in blood. Half of the world's population lives in countries where prisoner abuse, rough treatment, and more severe forms of torture are depressingly common.

        • the trajectory is the nonetheless downward, which constitutes descent. this is not good CR, no matter how bad things are elsewhere.

          • The trajectory is not downwards; it's upwards, which constitutes ascent. Things were much, much worse fifty years ago.

          • I'm quite concerned with the "descent" of our country's reputation around the world.

          • not sure i concur… and even if i did, we are def heading down from any peaks achieved between 50 yrs ago and today.

          • 50 years ago? Sure. 10 years ago? Not so sure. I can't imagine people celebrating torture 10 years ago. 9/11 sent a whole lotta people into nihilism.

          • I don't think there are many Canadians who "celebrate" torture. I can think of a few examples of Canadians who were torture apologists, like Mark Steyn, but I'm pretty sure that most Canadians detest torture, regardless of political leanings.

          • But the question is do they detest it enough to take action? To actually investigate rather than turn away? To press for accountability when it's uncomfortable?

            The problem isn't just that most people are doing nothing, the problem is that people in responsible positions have been refusing to investigate and then instructing Justice Department lawyers to suppress testimony by people who knew what was going on.

          • True, not very many Canadian "celebrate" torture, but to the extent that some do (and some do) I think Jack's right that I can't imagine any Canadians celebrating torture 10 years ago, but now it does (very infrequently) come up.

            As for CONDONING torture (and, more often, being an apologist for torture) that's becoming downright common, imho. And it's scary.

          • Indeed, most Canadians detest torture. I meant that in 1999 I couldn't have imagined some guy like "Bill from Guelph" showing up and writing the following, minutes after Colvin testified:

            Oh Wow–poor Canadian soldiers who are going to be Taliban targets because of mistakes like publicizing this nonsense–believe me these Taliban won't give you info that might save Canadian soldiers' lives if you put them into detention so that they can watch MTV & eats steaks–heh if I was a Taliban,I would attack the Canadians first cuz if I got caught I'd get the MTV treatment

            Also, I'd say that Coyne is an apologist, Steyn is someone who obscenely mocks torture victims, as you pointed out to Foreigner at one point. That is, we've reached the point where sheer sadism is a serious factor in North American foreign policy.

          • not clear from many of the posts on this site today.

        • True, my descent line was overly theatrical (I didn't really mean it to sound as dramatic as it does, and I did mean descent of humanity in Canada, in the context of our privileged democratic lifestyle, not humanity in general). Nevertheless, that we're having a heated debate, in Canada, in 2009, over whether or not it's a problem that we may have turned hundreds of people, some of them innocent of wrongdoing, over to almost certain torture is worrying to me.

          I do think it's pretty clear that torture's apologists are flourishing these days, and in my mind that is a descent from where we were a decade ago.

  4. You're surprised Jack? This is what conservatives did in the US in response to the prison abuses at Abu Graib in Iraq as well as finding out they were water-boarding prisoners at Guantanamo and likely elsewhere.. and this is what they're doing up here now. The idea that one has to respect human rights and laws when dealing with prisoners as it relates to fighting terrorism is now considered by them to be an obstacle – they're applying the classical Machiavellian logic if the ends justifying the means.

    • I expected more of avr, for one. And frankly of the CPC. There is no indigenous right-wing in Canada anymore, at least electorally: it's just pathetically small-time Republicanism.

      • I think that everybody needs to tone down their rhetoric on this particular story, at least until all the facts are out.

        • what do you call the findings of an investigation by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission CR, if not facts?

          • I'm talking about Colvin's report, not the AIHRC one.

          • CR you well know that we are never likely to arrive at a place n time where all sides agree all the facts are fully on the table. waiting for such an imaginary occurrence is not realistic.

            and further, we do seem to have some relevants facts already on the table via the AIHRC and the Canadian Forces board of inquiry report of Feb. 6, 2009 “Afghanistan In-Theatre Detainee Handling Process”, as discussed by Geddes here: http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/11/19/on-colvins-sto

          • There may be a parliamentary inquiry soon. That's not an imaginary occurrence.

            So far, all we really have is Colvin's testimony yesterday. We need a full investigation. Until we get the facts of the matter I'm not prepared throw around accusations.

          • you beleive that all sides will simply take the inquiry at face value and be fully content to take it as fact?

            we don't just have colvin's accusations CR. We have also have considerable understanding of the operation of the afghan legal and military apparatus as well as the Canadian detainee transfer system. while neither substantiates Colvin's accusations, they are both are fully pertinent to the conversation. pretending we have no grounds to consider the Colvin accusations is as silly as saying we know the Colvin accusations to be fact.

          • Dude, I'm just saying that we need to take Colvin's testimony seriously and investigate. I don't think that's an unreasonable thing to say.

          • sorry CR did not pick that up in your comments.

          • I'm just saying that we need to take Colvin's testimony seriously and investigate

            Mark my words, with that radical attitude you'll be considered, by some, a Chomskyesque malcontent by the end of next week.

          • LOL.. boy this is familiar.

            First it's "we shouldn't comment until all the facts are out," but we all know full well that once the facts are out, the mantra will be, "oh that's old news, there's no reason to be talking about that."

          • Thwim, are you accusing me personally of being a mantra-spouting shill?

  5. If we want to have a philisophical/ethical debate about whether it's at all realistic that our standards of morality should apply in a medieval society at war, one that we are genuinely, but perhaps misguidedly, trying to help – then let's have one. Otherwise will the nihilists, apologists and moral relativists please shut the #$@^ up!…please.

    • I'd like to withdraw that remark. After reading Colvin's statement to the committee i'd say there is no debate to be had. Our policy should match our morals. Anyway folks who think otherwise will continue to have their say…as they should…it's just tiresome to have to read them.

  6. I'd like to withdraw that remark. After reading Colvin's statement to the committee i'd say there is no debate to be had. Our policy should match our morals. Anyway folks who think otherwise will continue to have their say…as they should…it's just tiresome to have to read them.

  7. The most disturbing part of Colvin's terstimony, to me, isn't about the torture allegations (which we've heard before) but the lengths to which Canada went to avoid transparency or accountability in the prisoner transfer agreement.

    Obviously Canada's military and political leaders knew what would happen and decided to construct a firewall of plausible deniability, alongside propaganda about "scumbags" instead of seeking to stop the torture.

  8. I see the boo birds have been through handing out the minuses left and left again. Get back to work Baird you maroon you!