November 16, 2007
WASHINGTON, OTTAWA -- The Harper government knew prison conditions were appalling long before The Globe and Mail published a series of stories last April detailing the abuse and torture of prisoners turned over by Canadian soldiers to Afghanistan's notorious secret police, documents released this week show.
The heavily censored documents also show that at the same time as senior ministers were denying evidence of abuse, officials on the ground in Afghanistan were collecting first-hand accounts from prisoners of mistreatment.
Although large sections of the more than 1,000 pages of documents and messages between Ottawa, Kabul and Kandahar remain blacked out, two disturbing pictures emerge from the pile.
First, that despite working hard to create the impression of careful follow-up in monitoring of detainees, efforts have been hampered by a chaotic and unreliable Afghan system in which scores, perhaps hundreds, of detainees have vanished.
Second, in the months prior to public allegations of abuse and torture, there was compelling evidence of terrible conditions in Afghan prisons. In addition to routine reports by diplomats citing widespread torture and abuse, Canadian officials were also delivering first-hand accounts showing how grim the prisons were.
In one, Linda Garwood-Filbert, the newly arrived leader of a Correctional Service Canada inspections team, asked for better boots in February, 2007, months before the published reports, because she was "walking through blood and fecal matter" on the floor of cells as they toured Afghan prisons.
No explanation of why the floors were covered in blood is given.
The government was forced to release the documents on detainee conditions after a federal judge ordered it to disclose them as part of a suit brought by Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
Another report noted that the warden of the main prison in Kandahar, where many prisoners handed over by Canadians soldiers were held, had been fired after charges that he raped juvenile detainees. Cosmetics and hashish were found in his office. He was exonerated because an Afghan military judge said it was "impossible for a drunken man in his 50s to commit an act of rape," reported a Canadian official in a cable to Ottawa.
Other reports detail conditions far outside internationally acceptable norms. At one Kandahar secret police prison, all inmates are shackled in leg irons around the clock. Some have been kept that way for more than a year.
Meanwhile, in the months since May, after the government hastily arranged follow-up inspections in the wake of news reports, a different, but equally disturbing picture, emerges.
It is of scores of disappeared detainees, of strong evidence of torture and abuse continuing despite the inspections and of a frantic effort, in the first few days after the stories appeared last April, to paint a far rosier picture than documented in secret diplomatic cables.
On the first Canadian visit to a secret police prison, officials reported that they were stunned that two prisoners braved almost certain retribution to complain of abuse. "To our surprise, even through NDS officers accompanied us throughout the visit, two prisoners came forward with complaints of mistreatment," says an April 25 cable marked "secret."
The frantic damage-control efforts by the government in that tumultuous last week of April also are clear in the documents. On April 23, Canadian diplomats in Kabul reported back to Ottawa after an urgently arranged meeting with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that "the commission is unable to monitor the condition of detainees as per their agreement with the Canadians, Dutch and others" because the NDS refused to allow them into the prisons.
The next day, then-defence minister Gordon O'Connor told the House of Commons during Question Period that "the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has assured us that it will report any abuse of prisoners. It is able to monitor all the prisoners." Mr. O'Connor had previously told the Commons that the International Committee of the Red Cross would report any abuse or torture of transferred detainees back to Canada, a claim he was later forced to retract when he apologized to the House for misleading it.
Since May, when the Harper government signed a new deal designed to plug the holes that had allowed for no follow-up monitoring of transferred detainees, the government has been claiming a sea change in treatment and tracking.
"We now have a much greater ability to track the detainees to ensure the standards that are expected are being met," Peter MacKay, then foreign minister, said on June 6. "The Afghans themselves, of course, clearly understand the expectations when it comes to detainees who were turned over by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. They will not only ensure that we know about their whereabouts, but their treatment will conform with international standards, the standards we have clearly set out." That stands in sharp contrast to what was being reported by Canadian diplomats, military officers and corrections officers actually charged with the follow-up monitoring.
Five days earlier, on June 1, diplomats struggling to cope with NDS record-keeping reported that some detainees are listed as being "released about three months before they are arrested," while for others there was no record "of these detainee names anywhere on our spreadsheet."
Another report later in June said that "given the poor level of record-keeping, it is to be expected that we will not be able to verify the status of some of these detainees." Canadian Forces flatly refuse to say how many prisoners they have taken and either released or handed over to Afghan authorities. However, blacked-out numbers in the documents indicate the number is in triple digits and Canadian sources in Afghanistan say more than 200.
Yet in more than six months of follow-up monitoring, Canadian officials have been able to arrange only 32 interviews. Several of those were multiple meetings with the same detainees, David Mulroney, the government's point man on the Afghan file, has said.
That suggests that more than 100, perhaps more than 150 detainees have gone missing.
In the 32 interviews, at least seven detainees claimed they were abused or ill-treated. The government no longer seems to use the word "torture" in connection with prisoners in Afghanistan.
Among the many partially blacked-out references in the documents released in Ottawa is a cryptic mention from early April, warning "there are also indications that Canadians may have been present during questioning of detainees by NDS."
What the documents say
This spring, as cabinet ministers were defending prisoner safeguards as adequate and denying the existence of prison-abuse allegations,
numerous government reports showed otherwise.
1 - In February, conditions were so appalling in Afghan prisons that a Correctional Service Canada team asked for better boots with which to wade through the blood and feces on the floors.
2 - When The Globe and Mail published allegations of abuse in April, cabinet ministers denied any knowledge. But officials knew that Kandahar's notorious Sarpoza prison - where many detainees captured by Canadian soldiers were held - was run by a warden suspected of raping inmates as early as February, when Correctional Service officials arrived in Afghanistan.
3 - In June, one month after the Harper government announced new follow-up visits to monitor detainees, Canadian diplomats reported that Afghan records were so bad it was impossible to know what happened to many prisoners.
CIVPOL have made the request on our behalf to be issued with the desert camel boots, as they have also had to convert since being in theatre. they afford the appropriate ankle support when getting in and out of the LAV/Coyote/Nyala vehicles. Additionally the colour is more appropriate in the summer heat. On a Health and Safety level we will be walking through blood and fecal matter when either on patrol or in the prison and should not be wearing our personal footwear as it will track into our personal quarters. We are also trying to get Ranger blankets issued as there is no guarantee that when we go on patrol that we will
Specific discussion focused on the recent exoneration of the previous Warden of Sarpoza. MUHAMMAD NADIR was accused and arrested in early 2007 for the rape or attempted rape of a juvenile prisoner. When the Warden's room was searched they also found hashish, wine and cosmetics. CSC had been made aware of this incident when they arrived in theatre in early February.
1) Follow-up on detainee transfers by Canada.
Have we heard back from ANP and ANA on detainees we transferred to them? What are we doing to pursue this?
ANP and ANA were provided with a list of individuals transferred into their custody by the Canadian Forces. given the poor level of record-keeping by the ANP/ANA, and the fact that they do not keep any records on original detaining force, it is to be expected that we will not be able to verify the status of some of these detainees, particularly if they were released. KABUL is in regular contact with ANP and ANA officials.
FOR AIHRC AND ICRC EYES ONLY
NDS SITE VISIT
The Director of the Corrections Component and Gavin Buchan of DFAIT attended NDS. The following was noted in relation to persons on remand.
XXXXXXX, son of XXXXXXXX has been there for 21/2 months. His investigation is finished. When asked about abuse he said his toes had been burned but it was not apparent to CSC inspection. He also said he had been kicked and beaten while blindfolded, that they had stepped on his belly. This reportedly took place in the NDS office. When asked who had abused him he said it was officers at NDS however he could not identify them due to the blindfold. NDS alleged that XXXXXXXXX had killed two ANP in Myan Shin or Shah Wali Kot before being captured.
Another prisoner beckoned to us and told us his name was XXXXXXXX (spelling to be verified), son of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. He said that he had been in detention for about one year. The first month was at XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. When asked about cells at XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, which is where he was held. When asked about other prisoners he said that there were none. When asked about the number of cells he said it was just a room. He went on to state that he had been interrogated by foreigners and XXXXXXXX. He alleged that XXXXXXXX beat him and gave him electric shocks. He also stated he was bound by his feet and hands and was made to stand for 10 days.
He said the reason for the detention was that he had been accused by an enemy in Government of being XXXXXX of Taliban XXXXXXXXX. He has never been to court. His name in the file is XXXXXXXXXX but he claims that is inaccurate and that he was captured in Maywand, not Panjawayi as recorded in the file, and that after his detention his care was appropriated by XXXXXXXXXX.
For your considerations,
Director Corrections Component