The government has long maintained that to disclose the number of detainees transferred by Canadian Forces in Afghanistan would violate operational security, but a government source now tells the Globe that approximately 130 were transferred during the first 14 months of combat operations in Kandahar.
In June 2006, when news broke that Canadian soldiers had twice intervened to prevent the execution of prisoners, a spokesman for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission told the Canadian Press that about 30 percent of prisoners handed over to Afghan authorities were abused. CP’s report of June 2, in its entirety, after the jump.
Canadian soldiers in moral murk over handing Taliban prisoners to Afghan army
Canadian Press Newswire
Fri Jun 2 2006
Section: Foreign General News
Byline: BY BOB WEBER AND MURRAY BREWSTER
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) _ Canadian soldiers have intervened at least twice to prevent the summary execution of Taliban suspects captured on operations with the Afghan army, highlighting the moral murk confronting troops caught between government policy and the brutality of a still-violent country.
And the local representative of Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission suspects that nearly a third of prisoners handed over by Canadians are abused and even tortured in Afghan jails.
Afghan authorities have “two kinds of attitudes,” said Abdul Noorzai of the Kandahar office of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
“When they come into my office, they behave very officially,” he said. “When they go back to their offices they behave in another way.”
Noorzai estimates human rights procedures are violated for about 30 per cent of prisoners handed over to Afghan authorities. He said he is aware of violations that included beatings and torture.
“(Prisoners) were hit by police,” he said, adding his organization has pictures of the victims. “They were fully hit. (Their) whole body was injured.”
Canadian soldiers have stepped in to prevent even worse violations in the field.
In early April, Canadians captured a Taliban soldier while on patrol in the Sangin area.
“We opened up his jacket and found letters and documents inside,” a combat soldier, who did not want to identified, told The Canadian Press.
“They were signed by Taliban commanders, recommending him to village elders wherever he was going. They said he should be treated good because he had proven his bravery by killing, I think it was eight Afghan army soldiers.”
“The Afghan army guys went nuts,” said a second soldier, also on the condition of anonymity.
“They were furious. They wanted to shoot this guy on the spot and we had to stop them.”
While captured suspects are supposed to be handed over to the Afghans, the Canadians held on to this detainee until he could be delivered safely later to other officials.
A similar situation occurred last week in the Panjwai district, the scene of intense fighting since the middle of May.
After a raid at a compound where a Canadian vehicle had been ambushed the day before, Afghan soldiers wanted to kill a detainee on the spot.
“They want to execute him here,” said a Canadian soldier in a radio conversation recorded by a CTV crew.
“I am obviously not for that. He’s probably of low (intelligence) value but either we take him or he gets executed.”
Again, the Canadians held the prisoner until they could turn him over to cooler Afghan heads.
An agreement signed with the Afghan government Dec. 18 by Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier binds Canada to hand prisoners over to local authorities _ either the Afghan police or the army.
Britain and the Netherlands are also obliged to hand over suspected militants to local authorities, while the United States is not.
Military officials and politicians say coalition forces are in Afghanistan at the invitation of the Afghan government. The detainees are Afghans, captured on Afghan soil, and are the responsibility of the national government.
“We have a firm agreement with the Afghan government and that agreement protects Canada’s obligation (and) Canada’s international obligations,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in Montreal on Friday. “Obviously we will stay in touch with Afghan authorities to ensure that that agreement is being honoured.”
Officials say the International Committee of the Red Cross ensures prisoners are treated properly. The Canadian agreement stipulates that prisoners handed over to Afghans must be allowed visits “at any time” by the Red Cross.
Canadian and Afghan authorities must also maintain written records for all detainees and make them available to the Red Cross. The Dutch agreement gives its officers and diplomats the further right to check on the condition of detainees they originally captured.
But Canada is also obliged under international law to ensure detainees are protected against torture and summary execution, even after they are transferred to Afghan custody.
Canadian Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, who commands coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, told the Globe and Mail newspaper Friday that Canadian commanders in the field are as scrupulous as possible about handing prisoners over to Afghan commanders they know and trust.
“We don’t hand people on to people if we know they are torturers,” he said.
“We take a lot of time to develop a relationship with the foreign security forces here so that if there are detainees we hand them over to the right foreign security forces that will do the right thing.”
Noorzai, whose organization was created by the international community at the Bonn Agreement that helped lead to today’s Afghan government, says his office gets its information from its own investigations and reports from Afghan police.
He estimates there are about 200 Taliban prisoners in his country’s jails.
He emphasizes that most Afghan authorities follow proper procedures for detainees.
But Noorzai said people who have known only war for 30 years need time to learn the ways of law and order.
“It can’t be changed overnight,” he said.
“It took a long time to make them warriors. It’s taking a long time to make great human beings.”