Saturday, November 21, 2009

European Diplomat Confirms That Harper Government Knew About Torture

Despite the fact that the Reformers are trying to discredit the whistle blower Richard Colvin, a European diplomat has come forward to verify his story.

This is a disgrace and Stephen Harper should resign, along with Peter Mackay; and everyone else who knew this was happening but allowed our soldiers to hand prisoners over anyway.

Now those very same soldiers could be facing war crimes themselves, while the Ref-Cons try to wash their hands of the whole sordid affair.

This is how they support the troops?

EU diplomat backs claims on torture
Canadian's warnings on Afghan detainees reflected common view, says his European colleague
Toronto Star
November 21, 2009

Richard Colvin's repeated warnings to the Canadian government about detainee torture in Afghanistan were an expression of the common concerns of like-minded Western nations, not the baseless ramblings of a rogue diplomat, a European colleague says.

Michael Semple, former deputy head of the European Union's mission in Afghanistan when Colvin was second-in-command of the Canadian embassy, said his own records from his time in Kabul are littered with the same findings that the senior Canadian envoy shared with a House of Commons committee this week.

Colvin, now a top intelligence officer at the embassy in Washington, expressed concerns that were "absolutely credible," said Semple, now a research fellow at Harvard University's Carr Center for Human Rights.

"We all worked on it, and we appropriately compared our notes, in terms of understanding what was happening on torture inside the Afghan intelligence service," he told the Star.

The Canadian government should have heeded Colvin's allegation that detainees transferred by Canadian soldiers to local authorities likely were abused, Semple said.

Colvin told a special Commons committee on Afghanistan Wednesday that Canada took vastly more battlefield prisoners than either the British or Dutch militaries operating in southern Afghanistan.

He said that those detainees were, by and large, innocent taxi drivers and farmers rather than Taliban operatives, and that abuse was the "standard operating procedure" of Afghan authorities, regardless of the intelligence value of a prisoner.

The implements of torture were wire cables, electrical shocks and physical and sexual abuse, he said.

Colvin says his verbal and written warnings, sent far and wide to Canadian diplomats and military officials between May 2006 and October 2007, were at first ignored.

Once newspaper reports in April 2007 brought the problems to light, Colvin said he was instructed to keep quiet by David Mulroney, a senior official who had responsibilities to report on Afghanistan to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, then-foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay and Gordon O'Connor, who was the defence minister before he became the first political casualty of the detainee scandal.

Under Mulroney's tenure, diplomats were told not to put torture allegations on paper, Colvin said.

But a senior government official with knowledge of the file told the Star yesterday there was a simple – and not a nefarious – explanation for Mulroney's instruction.

"Under instructions from Mr. Mulroney, regular phone calls were instituted that connected Ottawa with the field, Kabul with Kandahar, and civilians with military," the source said. "That's why some people were reminded to use the phone instead of simply sitting in an office writing out the same report."

The same source, who answered the Star's question on condition of anonymity, said Colvin's allegations were reviewed by departmental officials, not political officials. The timing of that review was not exactly clear, but the source suggested it was in 2007.

"A complete and thorough review of everything that was alleged was done, and a whole government team set to design a monitoring system still in place now. No detail was hidden, every relevant fact was brought to light."

Mulroney is said to be willing to testify in front of the parliamentary committee, to counter Colvin's allegations, which the Conservative government dismissed as "not credible" and "entirely suspect."

"I don't believe it's backed up by fact, and what we have to deal with in a parliamentary hearing, as we do in a court of law or another judicial or public inquiry, is evidence that can be substantiated," MacKay, who succeeded O'Connor as defence minister, said in Halifax Friday.

"The evidence and the suggestion that every single Taliban prisoner that was taken into custody and turned over (to be tortured) is simply not credible."

Semple said the burden of proof should not be on Colvin to show that every detainee was sent to Afghan torture chambers. He also said Colvin never complained to him about Canadian officials in Ottawa or Afghanistan ignoring his advice from the front lines, nor did he mention, as he did in his testimony, that he was being asked to keep his explosive findings out of written reports to his superiors to avoid a scandalous paper trail.

"My reading of this is that he was discreet and did not discuss internal Canadian affairs with people outside his office," Semple said.

Like the defence department earlier this week, the foreign affairs department urged patience to let the Commons committee's hearings run their course. Department spokesman Jamie Christoff said in an email to reporters that current and former foreign affairs employees will provide testimony in the weeks ahead that "will provide important context and information about this issue."

MacKay has acknowledged it was based on the reports of Colvin and others in 2007 that Canada signed a new transfer agreement with the Afghan government that allowed Canadian officials to visit and interview prisoners.

Opposition parties continued to call on the Tories Friday to investigate Colvin's allegations, and the possibility that Afghan detainees may have been abused in the full knowledge of senior Canadian military and diplomatic and political leaders. That, they say, would violate international law, which prohibits a country from knowingly placing individuals in a situation where they will be tortured.

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