November 25, 2009
A prisoner leans against an entrance to the wing where political prisoners are kept at Sarposa prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Dene Moore/Canadian Press)
The International Committee of the Red Cross had serious concerns about Canada's handling of Afghan detainees, according to reports Richard Colvin sent to the office of former foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay in 2006, CBC News has learned.
"According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured, for the interrogators in Kandahar, it was standard operating procedure," Colvin, a former senior diplomat with Canada's mission in Afghanistan, told a parliamentary committee on Nov. 18.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay denies seeing any of Richard Colvin's reports when he was foreign affairs minister. (Reuters)
CBC News has details of the contents of Colvin's first two reports, which describe a series of meetings he had in 2006 with officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross, the organization that monitors the condition of prisoners of war and detainees.
Colvin reported the Red Cross had concerns about Canada's detainee handling. "Kandahar ICRC losing track of some detainees," Colvin's report said.
The Red Cross blamed this on shoddy record-keeping in the Canadian Forces. Colvin's report said the Red Cross was "angry" and "frustrated," that the Canadian Forces wouldn't notify its monitors of detainee transfers for between two and eight days.
"In other words, in the critical days after a detainee was first transferred to the Afghan intelligence service, nobody was able to monitor them," Colvin told the parliamentary committee last week.
The second of Colvin's memos said that Canada's Dutch allies were so concerned about the conditions in Afghan jails, they wanted to build their own prison, with help from Canada and the United Kingdom. The note also described new meetings with the Red Cross.
Some of Canada's Afghan detainees were being held in "unsatisfactory conditions," the Red Cross warned. There was a lack of safeguards, and it was frequently unclear which Afghan security agency was actually holding a detainee.
"He says all kinds of things are going on," Colvin reported. "He says Canada's responsibility for detainees does not cease because they have been transferred over to Afghan authorities."
Colvin deemed his warnings of "serious and alarming" problems in the treatment of Afghan detainees to be so important that he sent two reports directly to MacKay's office — the first on May 26, 2006, and the second just a few days later.
MacKay, now defence minister, denies seeing any of Colvin's reports when he was foreign affairs minister. He said the first report he saw from Colvin was in June 2007, and it was nothing serious.
MacKay said Colvin's reports were based on groundless allegations made by Taliban prisoners. "Mr. Speaker no courts in the law would take the evidence of one individual based on reports, second and third-hand information and information from the Taliban," MacKay told the House of Commons Wednesday.
Colvin wrote several more reports, which were sent to at least 80 addresses in Afghanistan and Ottawa through a secure email system used to send diplomatic reports.
Among those recipients was an address used by the office of the minister of foreign affairs. In its response to Colvin, the government expressed surprise at the tone of his report, and his allegations that the Canadian Forces were not co-operating, CBC News has learned.