Walter Natynczyk: Good morning everybody. Thank you for braving the snow to be out here this morning. I would like to make a statement and take questions after that. In May of 2007, I issued a statement related to the events of 14 June 2006, of an incident that took place on the battlefield during combat operations in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan.
Yesterday, I reiterated that information at the Standing Committee on Defence, that the actions of the Canadian Forces, surrounding the Canadian Forces personnel that intervened to safeguard an individual that the Afghan National Police had in custody, when they saw something was not right. I based my assessment on the operations reports and then confirmed that, having spoken to a number of members of the chain of command that were part of Task Force Ryan in June of 2006.
This morning, at about 9:00, I was briefed by my staff who have been researching the case, just to ensure the completeness of all the information that we have been using, especially surrounding the most recent report that we saw in the Globe and Mail on Monday. Today, they provided me with a statement of actually the section commander and when I read that report, I realized it was not totally consistent with the operations report and the information provided to me by the chain of command.
The Canadian Forces personnel were involved in a joint operation and they were supporting the Afghan army and the Afghan police, but after reviewing this new information presented to me, I want to correct my statement made to SCON yesterday and indeed in May of 2007. This new information presented to me shed important details on what occurred on that day, on the 14th of June. The individual who was beaten by the Afghan police was in fact in Canadian custody and then the AMP took control of him, to facilitate his movement from the battlefield to forward operating base Wilson. I want to refer to this statement and actually read parts of it, but I'm going to remove some of the information in terms of personal information.
The statement written by the section commander of the day indicates that they stopped and searched the vehicle.
"There were three individuals in a white van and they got a very weird feel from one of them. I had the interpreter along and he verified that an individual was in all probability enemy Taliban, due to his accent and his false story about being from Kandahar City. So I had him lie down on his stomach and then conducted a detailed search. I had him empty his pockets prior to this, catalogued all the items and then took down his particulars. (I won't mention his name.) We then photographed the individual prior to handing him over to ensure that if the Afghan national police did assault him as it happened in the past, that we would have a visual record of his condition. The Afghan national police section commander (again I won't mentioned the name) then arrived and asked the suspect a couple of questions concurred with our assessment that the individual was enemy. We in good faith handed the PUC, person under custody, over to them so that they could - so that he could be transported to the Zari district centre for operating base Wilson, where watchdog, which is military police, could get to him - I assume that means process him there. That was the last that I saw him."
That is the statement of the sergeant. Now I did not have this information in May of 2007 nor yesterday when I made my statement, but I'm responsible for the information provided by the Canadian Forces and I'm accountable for it today. I intend to investigate why it took so long for this information to get to the chief of defence staff, both my predecessor and I. Nonetheless, I accept the military police report to be accurate. I'm proud that our soldiers acted courageously and ethically when they retrieved the individual from the Afghan national police when it was apparent that he had been injured. That is the kind of decisive action soldiers make on a battlefield and I'm proud of our soldiers. I'm open for your questions.
Question: General Natynczyk, James (inaudible) from the CBC, it seems to me that what your sergeant was saying was that it was common knowledge in Kandahar province on the ground, among Canadian soldiers, that when they transferred Canadian capture detainees to Afghan custody, for whatever reason, be it transport or otherwise, that they were in the very least subject to abuse, at serious risk perhaps of abuse and that there was, according to the sergeant, more than one incident of such abuse occurring. What do you think that says about the way that the department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces and indeed the government of Canada have been telling Canadians that Afghan detainees who are transferred to Afghan authorities were treated?
Walter Natynczyk: Again, this is happening in a combat environment on a battlefield. Our soldiers are making the right kind of decisions on the ground. I agree with you, that does beg a number of questions and I intend to have an investigation on this, on the nature of this event to determine exactly what does it mean, what did it mean in terms of how we conduct ourselves on the battlefield.
Question: Just by way of a supplementary here, do you think it is now possible for the Canadian Forces or for you or for the DND to say that there has never been any credible evidence of abuse of a Canadian transfer detainee in the hands of Afghan authorities?
Walter Natynczyk: I think that again, up to this, up to this point, we have indicated that we transfer from Kandahar, we take people who have - who obviously indicated on the battlefield that they are the enemy, we transfer them back to Kandahar, we put them through a medical assessment. We go through questioning to confirm who they are and then we transfer them only to the Afghan authorities in accordance with the agreement that we have, at the same time recognizing that we are mentoring the Afghan detention system so that they abide, as they agreed to, international standards.
Question: Peter Harris from Global National. Just on that theme, I mean it is pretty remarkable to see you here today. I'm wondering if you see this as proof of torture? Is this proof of abuse?
Walter Natynczyk: I mean what we know and I have seen the photo of the individual, the fact they take the report as at face value and I also take the report with regard to the field notes of what the sergeant saw and you know, the picture of the individual shows a scrape on his - on his nose and - but I think it is worthwhile to have an investigation in terms of what actually was there. If this is the information I'm finding out this morning at 9:00 on the 9th of December, what else is there before I make a conclusion like this.
Question: But I mean people have been reluctant to call it a cover-up. I'm wondering if inside the military and as you have gone through your forensic investigation on your own in the last few weeks, are you concerned that information flow inside the military during this period of time was lacking?
Walter Natynczyk: You know, I have got 35 years of this business and you know, and I have been on - I have spent three years of my life away from Canada in Bosnia and in Croatia and Cyprus and I have spent a year in Iraq, you know. The line we always use is the first report is always wrong. The second report is less wrong, the third report is starting to get closer to right and it is what I read, you know, it is fascinating, I read the duty officer's report in one hand here, the duty officer report, God bless him, putting the report together and it says here that during the conduct of operation Yangbra (ph.), a Ryan 22 came across three fighting age males in the Zangbat area (ph.). They conducted some initial questioning of the three but did not detain them. A Ryan 22 requested that Ryan 2 sends some Afghan national police to their position and the Afghan national police came along, questioned the three. They did - a gunshot resided test was conducted but the result was negative. As a result of the questioning the ANP decided to detain one of them. It is unclear why the Afghan National police decided to detain the individual.
I have got to keep in mind that this is happening on an active battlefield. You have got an organization that is in three separate fights, three sets as the colonel indicated to me. Our microscope is on this event. That you have section commanders, platoon commanders, company commanders, battalion commanders focused on a complex battlefield and so this perception that one would have that our people is misrepresenting it, no. What you have is a duty officer trying to collate all this information that is coming in and provide as accurate information as he can and so it is difficult sifting through all this information and again I would say on behalf of the soldiers and sailors and airmen and airwomen doing this business, they are doing the best they can, but I would not put any kind of a malicious intent as your question infers.
Question: Raymond Filion, TVA. General Natynczyk...
Walter Natynczyk: Oui, bonjour.
Question: ...pouvez-vous nous dire en français, après des années de déni, est-ce qu'on peut donc conclure aujourd'hui qu'effectivement au moins un détenu, remis aux autorités afghanes par le Canada, a été torturé ou a fait l'objet de sévices?
Walter Natynczyk: L'individuel était dans un état d'arrêt par les Forces canadiennes et à ce moment, la police afghane à prendre le contrôle de cet individu et après notre police ce matin a trouvé l'individuel avec des blessures et le soldat, un caporal a fait les choses correctes à ce moment et reprendre contrôle de cet individu.
Question: Il n'en demeure pas moins que les militaires canadiens ont envoyé quelqu'un, ont transféré quelqu'un où il s'est fait torturé, n'est-ce pas?
Walter Natynczyk: On peut le faire.
Question: On peut en arriver à cette conclusion?
Walter Natynczyk: Oui.
Jason Proulx: Alright, we are going to move to the phone for a few questions, we will come back to the floor. On va passer au téléphone, opérateur, avez-v
vous des questions.
Operator: We have a question from Richard Brennan, Toronto Star. Please go ahead.
Question: Gentlemen, Richard Breenan. How are you? I want to know...
Walter Natynczyk: Sorry, I can't hear you.
Question: Hello, can you hear me?
Walter Natynczyk: It is better, go ahead.
Question: Okay, I will yell. How long had the military been aware that some of the prisoners were being abused when you turned them over?
Walter Natynczyk: I don't know the answer to that question.
Question: But you have just said that there was - that you knew that some of them were abused?
Walter Natynczyk: What I have relayed to you is a report that I saw this morning at 9:00 o'clock. Again, I intend to have an investigation launched in terms of the incident here, to understand the kind of environment that they were in and to have the information that you have just asked about.
Question: Thank you.
Jason Proulx: Next phone question.
Operator: There are no further phone questions.
Jason Proulx: No further phone questions. Let's go to the right side of the room please.
Question: Général, Daniel Thibault de la télévision de Radio-Canada.
Jason Proulx: Plus fort s'il vous plaît.
Question: Daniel Thibault de la télévision de Radio-Canada. Comment vous expliquer que ces informations-là vous arrivent après tout ce temps à 9:00 comme ça le 9 décembre, après toute la controverse et toute l'attention qui a été portée sur ce dossier-là, pourquoi ça a pris tout ce temps0là?
Walter Natynczyk: C'est une bonne question . Quand j'ai vu le rapport ce matin, quand je me souviens de vendredi, le 4 mai de 2007, quand j'ai fait ma première investigation avec les renseignements disponibles pour moi cette soirée, le 4 mai, et même temps, six semaines et quand j'ai vu ça, quand j'ai vu ce rapport vis-à-vis tous les autres rapports, et les autres rapports sont vraiment - les rapports envoyés ici à Ottawa pendant cette période et c'est pourquoi j'ai une question , pourquoi, pourquoi pas avant aujourd'hui.
Question: Et une question supplémentaire, s'il y a cette information-là qui vous est parvenue aujourd'hui dans un cas en particulier, est-ce qu'on peut croire qu'il pourrait manquer de l'information et il pourrait y avoir d'autres cas de ce genre-là?
Walter Natynczyk: Et c'est pourquoi j'ai besoin maintenant d'une investigation sur le cas, sur la situation là-bas, d'avoir une compréhension totale de cet environnement.
Jason Proulx: L'autre microphone s'il vous plaît.
Question: General Natynczyk, the NDP called yesterday for defence minister MacKay's resignation for repeatedly insisting that there was not a single bit of proven evidence of torture of a detainee handed over by Canada. Now that you have seen this report, does it constitute evidence of torture or abuse of Canadian detainees and has the military not left its minister hanging out to dry?
Walter Natynczyk: Clearly, an individual who was in custody of the Canadian Forces and the Afghan police assumed custody and that individual was abused and I am responsible for providing that information.
Question: And the second part of my question about have you left the minister hanging out to dry or are you apologizing to him?
Walter Natynczyk: You know, I regret that I only had this information at this point and I looked at my watch too at 9:06 this morning when I received this report, I thought, my goodness why have we not - why have I not had this information? Why didn't we have this information back in 2006 and 2007? And again having looked at all the reports coming back to Ottawa, they reflected the operations summary that day, but I'm responsible for that information and providing the minister, providing Canadians with the best information I have at the time and that is what I'm doing today.
Question: My supplementary, you know, the question you just asked, why this information didn't come to you, I'm sure a lot of Canadians and politicians are asking the same question, given this has been such a high profile issue, a document suddenly turning up the day after you testified and struggled with some tough questions, would only confirm suspicions in many people's mind of a cover-up. At this point, would you agree that probably the only way to really have a proper airing of this issue is a public enquiry?
Walter Natynczyk: You know, the kind of enquiry that government wished to take is a government decision. It is not my place to make a recommendation.
Question: But you would want to clear the military's name I assume?
Walter Natynczyk: Again I want to know why it took 2½ years since the 4th of May when I made a statement on behalf of the Canadian Forces, why it has taken so long to have this information come to me, but also, you know, when I see the operations report and you know, as the chief of defence staff or in any senior position, you only know what is happening at the apex of this huge pyramid and if you see some discrepancy, you want to drill down on it. So when I see the report and then I talk to the chain of command, but their knowledge, what I realized, was based upon the reports that they have seen too because I wasn't there and obviously nor was the platoon commander or the operations officer or the battalion commander. All of them I spoke to, but you know what, the section commander was there and I refer back to this information and I trust that section commander. I just those corporals and privates to do the right thing as they did.
Question: Thank you.
Question: Leslie McKinnon from CBC TV. I just want to go back to the affidavit of colonel Steve Noonan (ph.) who testified before a Federal Court in January of 2008. He was very clear in his affidavit about what happened to that detainee. He said, quote, "The detainee was turned over to the Afghan national police by Canadian Forces" and this is a sworn affidavit which I assume would have gone - been done over many times. Does it seem that he may have had information that you - that you did not have?
Walter Natynczyk: Again, he was operating from the same reports that were there and I'm not sure if Steve Noonan saw this individual report, but as I mentioned to you yesterday, what does "turned over" mean? Does it mean that it was under custody, that custody -- does it mean that the Canadians said "There they are, away you go"? But this report today clarifies in great detail what actually occurred on the ground so that is why I say I trust what the sergeant said, I trust it and it puts into context what colonel Steve Noonan said in that affidavit.
Question: And also because of this issue and perhaps a loss of confidence in the facts now, are you worried at all that this may put Canadian soldiers in the field in Afghanistan in harm's way in any way?
Walter Natynczyk: No. I mean I do not see the information I provided today to put soldiers in harm's way. In fact, for those again, the section and the sergeant and the military police for them to realize that the entire chain of command understands what they faced that day and the fact they made the right decision, they acted very professionally and courageously to do the right thing, I think actually we should be inspired by their conduct that day.
Jason Proulx: We have time for three more questions. Nous avons le temps pour trois autres questions. Yes?
Question: Steve Chase from the Globe and Mail. Thanks for coming to us today and explaining this. I wanted to ask you, that is a follow-up to a question you were asked yesterday after the committee, has minister MacKay ever consulted you as CDS on the question of whether there was credible evidence of torture of Canadian detainees? Has he ever consulted you on that issue?
Walter Natynczyk: I mean I have not provided him information, that kind of turns - -he get reports from the staff and the operations and the intelligence staff on a very regular basis and so based upon that, he makes his assessment. There is a lot of information that flows into the department, a lot of information that again, it is not the chief of defence staff who briefs him on the detail, so I have not provided him that kind of information.
Question: A supplementary question. Could you - could you maybe put into context for Canadians, the average Canadians who may not follow this issue in minutia why you think it is important to hold a news conference today? Obviously it is a correction you could have issued a press release, but what is important about the distinction between him being in Canadian custody as to what you said previously? Why is it important for the Canadian record and Canadian people to hear that from you?
Walter Natynczyk: Yes, I think it is really important that back in May of 2007 and yesterday, I'm providing and I'm your chief of defence staff, if you don't have trust in me, we have a real issue, because I represent all those men and women out there and I'm providing to all Canadians the very best information provided through the entire chain to me, but I stand responsible. I'm personally responsible and yesterday just like in May 07, I provided the best information that was available to me and the moment I saw that report, I saw this report this morning and I realized that it was wrong, that the information I provided yesterday was incorrect and I'm responsible for that, so I wanted to make sure like I faced you yesterday, I face you today and say this is the best information I have and I wanted to make sure that you understand this.
Jason Proulx: Last question.
Question: General, yesterday, in the House of Commons, the minister cited your name among the public servants and military officials who had, quote, "rejected and refuted the observations made by Richard Colvin about the fate of detainees handed over by Canadians" and I wonder if you - do you agree that you have rejected and refuted his testimony?
Walter Natynczyk: What I'm providing is the information on what occurred on this event, in this incident with regard to how this section commander dealt with this Afghan individual who was suspected of being a Taliban and that they transferred that custody across to the Afghan police. The Afghan police did abuse this individual and our people did the right thing and took him back. And I'm not speaking about transfers from the Kandahar airfield, our detention facility, our temporary facility and the transfer of detainees into the Afghan prison system. The information I'm providing to you is a report from the battlefield in the midst of combat about what our people did on the ground, but the fact is that we did exercise custody of this Afghan individual.
Question: May I ask a supplementary? When you were reading the report, you said that they took photos in the event that he - the individual was assaulted by the - by ANPs as it happened in the past. So do you think this was a one-time incident or were you aware then or now of a practice of assaulting detainees?
Walter Natynczyk: Yes, I was not aware of any other event before this report, and seeing this report today, but again, it is worthwhile for an investigation, a board of enquiry to determine the nature of that statement and the rest of this event and why it took so long to get to me.
Question: Thank you.
Jason Proulx: Final question, Murray.
Question: General, does this constitute what you just called a battlefield transfer and in any way did this action that was taken, to transfer this individual to the Afghan police and subsequently what happened to him, violate our responsibilities under international law?
Walter Natynczyk: I mean again, that is why I think an investigation would be worthwhile in terms of what we knew, what the soldiers knew on the ground, in terms of the transferring of that individual or transferring the custody across, that is exactly the kind of rationale for my investigation in this event.
Question: Now I realize, general, that we - that you didn't know and - but I mean what I'm asking is for your assessment of what you see, have we broken any international law?
Walter Natynczyk: You see, I don't know what those soldiers knew on the ground and that is why it would be premature for me to come up with that assessment at this point.
Question: And why didn't Colonel Holt know this?
Walter Natynczyk: Again, that is another good question that should be answered through a board of enquiry.
Question: But what kind of confidence can we have in the regime you have put in place in 2006 if the battalion commander himself didn't know that a Canadian detainee had been abused at the hand of Afghan authorities?
Walter Natynczyk: Again, I think it is worthwhile to investigate the circumstances of this event and shed some light on what actually people knew on the ground.
Jason Proulx: Okay, folks, thank you very much for coming out. We appreciate it. Merci beaucoup pour avoir - être venus. Nous prendrons vos passes en haut. Please make sure to return your passes and they will give you back your ID cards if they took them and our escorts will make sure you get out. Thank you.