International Herald Tribune
Decision to stop prisoner transfers made by acting commander in Afghanistan after prison visit
January 24, 2008
The Associated Press
OTTAWA: Canada's acting military commander in Afghanistan stopped Canadian soldiers from transferring prisoners in Afghanistan to local authorities the day after a November prison visit yielded evidence of torture, a general testified Thursday.
Brig.-Gen. Andre Deschamps, the first witness to testify as human-rights groups seek an injunction against the transfers, said the decision was made by Col. Christian Juneau a day after a Nov. 5 visit to the prison, and no prisoners have been transferred since.
The disclosure that Canada stopped handing prisoners over in November comes a year after Canada's Conservative government ridiculed its opponents for raising torture allegations and Prime Minister Stephen Harper accused them of being pro-Taliban.
Juneau was acting commander of Canada's military effort in Afghanistan when Canadian officials heard stories of abuse from prisoners being held in a Kandahar prison.
One prisoner told Canadian officials he had been beaten unconscious, whipped with electrical cables, and belted with a rubber hose at the National Directorate of Security detention facility in Kandahar city in Afghanistan, according to a newly released government letter. The NDS is the domestic intelligence agency of the government of Afghanistan.
Europe's way of encouraging solar power arrives in U.S.Push by gay couples for health coverage poses tough choice for ObamaU.S. frosty toward Britain for its contacts with HezbollahThe prisoner told the Canadians exactly where they could find the torture instruments and led them to his prison cell where they discovered the hose and cable under a chair. He showed the Canadians a four-inch (10-centimeter) bruise on his back. He said he could not recall who interrogated him because he was knocked unconscious.
The letter was submitted this week by government lawyers to Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association as part of their suit to block further transfers.
Paul Champ, the lawyer for Amnesty International Canada and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, was continually thwarted in his efforts to learn more in court on Thursday.
Defense lawyers repeatedly sprang up and claimed National Defense Act protections when Champ asked why the government never told Canadians about the policy change, where the detainees are now and how many there are.
Deschamps did say the prisoner facility at Kandahar airfield has not been expanded since the decision.
Civil libertarians and opposition parties have warned that Canada could be violating the Geneva conventions by turning over captives to Afghan authorities with the knowledge they could be tortured.
A spokeswoman for the prime minister had little to say about the policy shift, except to note that it stemmed from an agreement between the Canadian and Afghan governments to monitor detainees.
"The government will not provide any comment on operational matters," said spokeswoman Sandra Buckler said.
Officials at the Afghan Embassy in Ottawa did not respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.