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Troops knew of Afghan prisoner abuse, retired captain says

A Canadian soldier guards six of ten suspected Taliban prisoners captured in a raid on a compound in northern Kandahar province on May 10, 2006.

JOHN D MCHUGH

A former military police officer says Canadian soldiers responsible for transferring detainees accepted that Afghan jailers likely abused prisoners, but believed their obligation to captives ended at handover.

Retired captain Mark Naipaul, who has served in Afghanistan, told an inquiry into detainees on Thursday that he never found evidence that prisoners transferred by Canadians had been maltreated.

Still, he added, military police felt it was the job of civilians at the Department of Foreign Affairs to determine whether there were problems after transfer. The testimony underscored a larger disconnect within the Canadian government over detainees.

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We were concerned strictly with the handling of detainees while in Canadian hands, and once the transfer occurred we no longer saw that there was a responsibility for the [military police] Mark Naipaul, retired military police captain




This separation of responsibilities - wherein the military leaves civilians to track what happens to detainees in the maze of Afghan detention facilities - is emerging as an important factor in allegations that Canada turned a blind eye to prisoner abuse.

It has led to finger-pointing at high levels between the Canadian Forces and Foreign Affairs, revealed last week in Commons testimony and confidential documents published in The Globe and Mail, in which both sides blame the other for shortfalls in detainee monitoring.

Mr. Naipaul told the Military Police Complaints Commission on Thursday that military police did not dismiss out of hand allegations in the media that some detainees had been abused in Afghan custody. But he said the focus of military police was on ensuring Canadians didn't maltreat prisoners.

"My general sense with the people that I served with was 'Yeah, those allegations, they occurred, and we're doing the best we can to not have them happen in our custody,'" he said.

"We were concerned strictly with the handling of detainees while in Canadian hands, and once the transfer occurred we no longer saw that there was a responsibility for the [military police]note> MPs."

The ex-soldier was asked whether he and comrades felt there was any substance to the published stories of abuse - or whether they considered them merely the work of "busybodies."

"It was more of a matter that these are the allegations out there; accept that it happens, and now what do we do about it to mitigate any discussions of Canadians mistreating?" he said.

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The hearings by the Military Police Complaints Commission, an arm's-length civilian watchdog, are investigating why Canada continued transferring captives to torture-prone Afghan jails even after Ottawa received multiple complaints of abuse.

One of the problems has been bad communication between Foreign Affairs, which monitors detainees, and the military, which decides whether to transfer them into Afghan hands.

As The Globe reported last week, senior military officers in late 2007 complained loudly to Ottawa that Foreign Affairs diplomats were failing to deliver reports on the health of transferred detainees, frustrating their ability to decide whether handovers should continue.

And on March 31, a senior Foreign Affairs official went before the Commons committee on Afghanistan and blamed the military for hindering detainee monitoring by refusing to help diplomats.

Cory Anderson, who was posted in Afghanistan, criticized the Canadian Forces for leaving to civilians the onerous task of tracking detainees through the secretive Afghan National Directorate of Security. "[They]enjoy an intimate and comprehensive relationship with the NDS … but refuse to wade into the one facet of that relationship where adherence to our international obligations is most at risk," he said.

Also on Thursday, Mr. Naipaul said most detainees didn't want to be handed over to Afghan authorities because of the comfortable conditions in Canadian custody.

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"They would often joke about leaving the facility, that they had good food, that they could see that they were getting bigger," Mr. Naipaul said.

The Geneva Conventions make it a war crime to transfer prisoners to those who would abuse them, and oblige the detaining power to recover transferred prisoners if they are being abused.

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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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