Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Latest Joe Canadian Award Goes to Richard Colvin

Despite the fact that the Reformers are using every trick in the book to avoid having to share what they knew and when, about the allegations of torture; Diplomat Richard Colvin is holding strong.

He cares about the Geneva Convention and he cares about Canada's honour.

It was unprecedented for so many former ambassadors to come to his aid, suggesting that he is indeed a man to be respected and admired.

He took a lot of abuse from the Harper government, especially from Peter Mackay, but has never wavered.

So for standing up for Canada and the Canadian people, he wins my 'Joe Canadian Award'.

His name is Richard, and HE IS CANADIAN!

Diplomat fires back on Afghan prisoner abuse
Richard Colvin offers new revelations in letter to Parliamentary committee
Tonda MacCharles Ottawa Bureau
December 16, 2009

OTTAWA – The diplomat has dropped the diplomacy.

Foreign services officer Richard Colvin provided new details Wednesday in a letter to Parliament outlining the specifics of his warnings to Ottawa about the risks of torture facing detainees handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian soldiers.

In a written submission to a parliamentary committee probing allegations of abuse, Colvin confirms that he — and his military and RCMP colleagues in Kandahar — passed on warnings from the International Red Cross Committee that it could not track Canada's transferred detainees early in the spring of 2006, a full year before the government acted to improve protections.

Details in Colvin's letter stand in sharp contrast to the version of events given by three cabinet ministers, three generals and senior bureaucrats like David Mulroney who steered the Afghan task force in Ottawa.

Contrary to the government's claims that Colvin's was a lone voice, and did not provide specific evidence or explicitly warn that "torture" was an issue, Colvin's letter spells out that his concerns were shared by other Kandahar-based personnel, as well as by Canada's military allies in the International Security Assistance Force or ISAF.

As first reported by the Star, Colvin's earliest warning came in May 2006 and specified that it was none other than the Red Cross, the global humanitarian agency charged with monitoring detainees and reporting directly to the Afghan government, which transmitted in no uncertain terms its concerns to Canada through Colvin.

"As a result of lengthy delays and inadequate information, detainees were in some cases getting lost and therefore could not be monitored," Colvin's letter says, citing that memo which still remains largely censored from public view.

Colvin's letter refers to a June 2, 2006 memo that went further, containing "verbatim comments that spelled out the nature of the concerns."

"We were sufficiently concerned that the whole-of-government leadership of the PRT (provincial reconstruction team) — from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAIT), the Canadian Forces and the RCMP — not only reported the warnings to Ottawa but also promptly took steps in the field to try to address them," Colvin's letter states.

Colvin's letter reveals that in June 2007 after a new prisoner transfer deal was finally struck, and Canadian embassy officials reported on cases of suspected torture of four detainees, the Canadian embassy asked the NDS to investigate. The Afghan intelligence service sent such a flimsy response, and denial of any wrongdoing, that then-ambassador Arif Lalani "refused even to accept the report. He sent it back."

Colvin's letter says that assertions to the committee by other witnesses that the first "credible claims of torture" only arose in November 2007 "are therefore inaccurate."

It sets out a chronology of increasingly sharper warnings.

By September 2006, when Colvin was at the embassy in Kabul, he reported "even blunter complaints from ISAF about Canada's detainee transfers."

By Dec. 4, 2006, Colvin's letter cites an embassy report that conveyed "allies' concerns that detainees may 'vanish from sight' after being transferred to Afghan custody as well as the risk that they were 'tortured.'"

By the end of December 2006, Colvin's letter states the embassy's annual human rights report warned "torture" is rife in Afghan jails, as are "extrajudicial executions and disappearances."

The report used the word "torture" repeatedly, according to Colvin's letter.

Colvin also says delivered verbal warnings too, particularly in March 2007.

At an inter-departmental meeting a month before a Globe and Mail article detailed first-hand interviews with Afghans detainees who claimed they'd been tortured after transfer by the Canadians, Colvin writes he told Ottawa officials that the Afghan National Directorate of Security — its intelligence service — "tortures" its captives.

"The NDS tortures people, that's what they do, and if we don't want our detainees tortured, we shouldn't give them to the NDS," Colvin quotes himself at the meeting.

The letter cites two 2006 reports by the U.S. State Department report (March 8, 2006) and a UN report by Secretary General Kofi Annan of March 7, 2006.

Both explicitly cited torture as documented practice in Afghan prisons. The U.S. reported secret or unofficial prisons to which the International Red Cross had no access.

Colvin's letter says Canada's decision not to directly monitor its detainees — unlike its NATO allies like the Dutch — and its slow system of notifying Red Cross field investigators was a real problem.

"Because of notification delays the Red Cross was also unable to monitor (transferred detainees) during the first days or weeks of detention, when the risk of torture is highest," Colvin writes.

Colvin says despite a new deal that was struck in May 2007, it wasn't until five months later that a Canadian monitor was sent into the Afghan prisons.

In late October 2007, he says, a monitor "quickly found conclusive evidence of torture" and only then were transfers halted a 17-month period since the earliest warnings from the Kandahar PRT personnel.

Colvin's letter recaps and fills in some of the blanks in censored documents already filed with the committee and with the Military Police Complaints Commission that is also probing the treatment of Afghan detainees.

Colvin defends his specific claim that "all detainees were tortured," and denies it was mere speculation that Gen. Rick Hillier dismissed as "ludicrous."

He does not reveal the "highly credible source" of his information, but says he warned Ottawa of it in May or June 2007. "Detainees were not a source," of the claim, he says.

And as for the suggestion by Defence Minister Peter MacKay that Colvin in general accepted unsubstantiated claims of abuse by "the Taliban," Colvin's letter says his sources while in Afghanistan were Afghan and foreign intelligence services and reports, other NATO embassies, ISAF, the United Nations and European Union missions and "relevant human rights organizations," although he does not identify the International Red Cross Committee as a source of information about "torture."

Colvin also refutes David Mulroney's denial that officials like Colvin were urged not to put damaging information in writing.

His letter says that although Mulroney claimed he was only encouraging "fact-based" reporting, "embassy staffers were told that they should not report information, however accurate, that conflicted with the government's public messaging."

Colvin points to a sanitized memo by ambassador Arif Lalani that said security was improving but deleted references to an opinion expressed by Afghan's own defence minister that the security situation was actually deteriorating.

He also points to a September 2007 report by an unnamed embassy staffer that said security had gotten worse — which earned a written rebuke by Mulroney.

NDP critic Jack Harris said Wednesday after Colvin's letter was released that it proves that there should be an independent "fact-finding" inquiry into the whole affair.

"This is not going away."

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