Canada turned blind eye to Afghan abuses: diplomat

Wed Nov 18, 2009 7:32pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Senior Canadian military and government officials ignored evidence that Afghan authorities were torturing detainees handed over by Canada's troops and then tried to silence those who raised the alarm, a senior diplomat said on Wednesday.

Richard Colvin said many Afghans arrested by the Canadian military were innocent and the practice of handing over prisoners knowing they could be abused was a war crime.

The startling public allegations -- the first of their kind from a senior official -- is likely to embarrass the minority Conservative government, which has insisted detainees were not passed to Afghan control if there was any danger of torture.

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

Colvin, who was Canada's main representative in Kandahar for much of 2006 and 2007, said he had started sending reports in early 2006 to top officials indicating the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) were abusing detainees.

"For a year and half after they knew about the very high risk of torture, they continued to order military police in the field to hand our detainees to the NDS," he said in testimony to a House of Commons committee on Afghanistan.

Colvin's comments come at a sensitive time. So far 133 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan and recent polls indicate most in Canada oppose the mission.

A government official dismissed Colvin's allegations, telling Reuters there was little to back up what he had said.   Continued...

<p>Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin waits to testify before the Commons Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan on Parliament Hill in Ottawa November 18, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>