Canada rejects call for probe into Afghan abuse

Thu Nov 19, 2009 3:05pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government on Thursday dismissed calls for a public inquiry into allegations senior officials had ignored evidence that Afghan authorities were torturing detainees handed over by Canadian troops.

In testimony on Wednesday, diplomat Richard Colvin said Canada's detainee practices in 2006 and 2007 were probably illegal and said his superiors had tried to shut him up when he raised the alarm.

Two opposition parties pressed the minority Conservative government for an official public inquiry on Thursday.

But Defense Minister Peter MacKay, describing Colvin's statements as ridiculous and unsubstantiated, said there was no evidence to back up allegations that Afghans arrested on suspicion of being Taliban members had been tortured.

"What we know ... is that when pressed, when the evidence is put to the test, it simply does not stand up," he told the House of Commons. "We're being asked to accept testimony from people who throw acid in the faces of schoolchildren, who blow up buses and civilians in their own country."

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

The furor comes at a time when Canadians show signs they are tiring of the mission. So far 133 soldiers have died.

Colvin -- who was based in Afghanistan for most of 2006 and 2007 -- sent a total of 17 reports to senior Foreign Ministry and National Defense officials, laying out his concerns that prisoners handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian troops were being abused.   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>