Government knew of Afghan detainee abuse risk: general

Wed Dec 9, 2009 6:06pm EST
 
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - In a major embarrassment for the government, Canada's top soldier unexpectedly revealed on Wednesday that some Canadian troops had known detainees handed over to Afghan authorities could be abused.

The announcement by General Walt Natynczyk effectively swept away the long-held official line that there was no credible evidence prisoners might be harmed.

Legal experts say handing over detainees in the knowledge they could be abused is a war crime.

The opposition Liberal Party demanded a formal inquiry and said Defense Minister Peter MacKay should resign.

The ruling Conservatives, although still ahead of the Liberals, have slipped in recent polls amid intense media coverage of the abuse allegations.

MacKay has repeatedly told the House of Commons there is no evidence that soldiers knew prisoners might be abused. Last month, MacKay and senior officials publicly denigrated a Canadian diplomat based in Afghanistan who said he had repeatedly warned of the risk of torture in 2006 and 2007.

A contrite Natynczyk said on Wednesday he had just received information about an incident in southern Afghanistan in June 2006 that showed soldiers knew what could happen to detainees.

Reading from the field notes written by an officer after troops arrested an Afghan man, he said: "We then photographed the individual prior to handing him over to ensure that if the Afghan National Police did assault him, as has happened in the past, that we would have a visual record of his condition."   Continued...

 
<p>General Walt Natynczyk, the chief of Canada's defense staff, listens to a question during a news conference at the Department of National Defence headquarters in Ottawa December 9, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>