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Forces brass push back hard against Afghan torture allegations

Lieutenant-General Andr� Deschamps reviews his files as he testifies before the Military Police Complaints Commission in Ottawa on Sept. 14, 2010.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Canadian military has returned to Afghan detainee hearings after the summer break with a new zeal for defending its conduct against allegations prisoners captured by Canada were transferred to torture.

Hearings by a civilian-run military watchdog into Afghan detainees restarted late last week and senior Canadian Forces brass testifying appear more unabashed than ever about justifying their behaviour and beating back critics' charges.

Last Thursday, a Forces general on the stand at the Military Policy Complaints Commission disputed the reputation of Afghanistan prisons in international human rights reports as "torture chambers" and praised the Afghan intelligence service widely disparaged as abusive.

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This week, another senior officer challenged the complaints of abuse themselves, saying the Taliban are liable to make false accusations in order to cause political headaches for Canada.

Lieutenant-General André Deschamps, currently the commander of Canada's air force and formerly one of the soldiers who helped direct the Afghanistan war, told the Military Police Complaints Commission on Tuesday that the Taliban try to make mischief in Canada.

He was talking about the political hubbub surrounding April, 2007, articles in The Globe and Mail that detailed allegations of abuse by detainees transferred to Afghan jailers.

"Canada's interest on detainees had become something the Taliban were talking about. When you look at the allegations, you have to think about our credibility. An easy thing for a Taliban detained to do was to state that they'd been abused," Lt.-Gen. Deschamps said.

"It's very easy to do. So you have to look at that."

This more combative mood on the part of the Forces is a change from this spring, when the detainee controversy dominated the spotlight and sources spoke privately about the military's frustration at how much attention was being given to the charges of transfer-to-torture.

Lt.-Gen. Deschamps also said he felt maverick diplomat Richard Colvin was risking operational security in 2006 and 2007 when the foreign service officer broadcast concerns about the treatment of detainees through the government email system.

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Mr. Colvin is the Canadian diplomat formerly posted in Afghanistan who last fall accused the federal government of turning a blind eye to the risks of torture facing detainees.

"He was talking about current and future [military]operations quite openly .... the distribution list was quite large. Many people received this information and we saw a problem in that," the general told the complaints commission hearing.

"We were quite concerned that Mr. Colvin found the need to expand his discussions about military operations and pass the information to many people."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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