Canada covered up Afghan abuse allegations: critics

Thu Oct 15, 2009 2:49pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Critics accused the Canadian government of a cover-up Thursday over revelations it had not acted on warnings that Afghan authorities could be abusing detainees handed over by Canadian forces.

The Conservative government regularly dismissed reports of abuse when they first came to light in early 2007, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper accusing his critics of caring more about suspected Taliban members than about Canada's troops.

But an affidavit unveiled at a military police inquiry on Wednesday showed a Canadian diplomat had sent reports about "serious, imminent and alarming" problems with the treatment of detainees in Afghan prisons in May and June 2006.

Government lawyers are trying to prevent the reports from diplomat Richard Colvin being made public and want to block him from appearing at the inquiry.

Ottawa also wants to limit the scope of the probe, which is examining whether military police should have known there was a risk the detainees they handed over could be abused.

"There's no explanation that one can find except that it's a cover-up ... it's almost like an obstruction of justice," said Bob Rae, foreign affairs spokesman for the main opposition Liberal Party.

"It's perfectly clear that, for a long time, the government had the information and made a decision to do nothing with it except to deny any knowledge of it."

Canada has 2,700 soldiers in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on a mission that is due to end in 2011.   Continued...

<p>A Canadian soldier of the NATO-led coalition looks at an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) exploding in the Taliban stronghold of Zhari district in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan March 19, 2009. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini</p>