Military unaware of Afghan torture: Canada

Canada has about 2,800 soldiers in Kandahar on a combat mission that is due to end this year.

Toronto: Canada released declassified documents on Wednesday that it said cleared military officials of charges that they ignored evidence that Taliban prisoners handed over to Afghanistan`s intelligence service were being tortured.

The main opposition party, however, questioned the findings, saying it had no faith in an ad-hoc committee of Parliament members who reviewed the documents and refused to take part in the process.

The release of some 4,000 previously classified documents comes about two years after a senior Canadian diplomat first alleged that government and military officials knew about the purported torture.

The issue sparked a debate in Parliament and prompted the creation of a special multiparty committee to examine documents related to the treatment of Afghan detainees.

"The allegations of improper conduct are unfounded and critics` accusations of Canadian complicity with torture or even war crimes are simply not true," Foreign Minister John Baird said.

The concerns were first raised in reports by Canada`s Globe and Mail newspaper and by Richard Colvin, who spent 18 months as the senior Canadian diplomat in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007. He said that during that time Canadian officials knew detainees faced a high risk of torture but continued to order military police to hand over detainees to Afghanistan`s National Directorate of Security.

Colvin said he sent several reports on the problem to senior military and government officials that were ignored.

Two former Supreme Court justices, a former British Columbia judge, and the ad-hoc committee of Parliament members combed through the massive file to determine what could be released without endangering national security.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper`s Conservative government released only about one-tenth of the 40,000 classified pages on the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan. Baird said the release brings the matter to a close.

The main opposition New Democrat Party argued that the review merely served to stifle debate over the volatile detainee issue for a full year. The real question is, what`s the government holding back — and why, said Opposition Leader Jack Layton.

"This is a secret government. It`s a government that doesn`t want to reveal any information, that`s well known," Layton said before the documents were released.

Opposition Liberal lawmaker Stephane Dion, a member of the parliamentary review committee, said the documents show that the government didn`t do enough to ensure the safe treatment of detainees because it lost track of them. Dion insisted that the "likelihood is very high" that some were tortured.

David Mulroney, the former head of Canada`s Afghanistan Task Force, said Canada continually improved how it dealt with detainees.

"If you look at the record of what we did over time, if you look at what the documents show in terms of how much time we spent on this, how seized people were with the issue and their responsibilities, there`s a story that will ... reassure Canadians that we did what we were supposed to do," Mulroney told reporters at a briefing in Ottawa.

Canada has about 2,800 soldiers in the volatile southern Afghan province of Kandahar on a combat mission that is due to end this year. More than 900 soldiers are to remain in a different Afghan province in a training role.

Bureau Report

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