TORONTO: A former senior Canadian diplomat in Afghanistan said Wednesday that top ranking Canadian officials ignored evidence that prisoners Canada handed over to Afghanistan's intelligence service a few years ago were tortured.
Intelligence officer Richard Colvin testified before a Parliament committee that captives taken by Canadian troops and handed over to the Afghans were subjected to beatings and electric shocks in 2006 and early 2007.
Canada has about 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan's volatile south.
Colvin said Canadian officials knew detainees faced a high risk of torture for a year and a half but continued to order military police in Afghanistan to hand over detainees to the Afghani National Directorate of Security.
Colvin said he sent several reports to senior military and government officials but he said they ignored the reports. He said that former Gen. Rick Hillier, Canada's top military commander and main spokesman for the war in Afghanistan, knew detainees faced torture.
Colvin also said he was told by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's foreign affairs adviser, David Mulroney, in 2007 to leave no paper trail about the allegations.
"In April 2007 Prime Minister Stephen Harper said publicly that Canadian military officials don't send individuals off to be tortured. That was indeed our policy. But behind the military's wall of secrecy that unfortunately was exactly what we were doing," Colvin said.
Colvin is now an intelligence officer at the Canadian embassy in Washington.
He said the Red Cross tried for three months in 2006 to warn the Canadian army in Afghanistan's southern province of Kandahar about what was happening to prisoners, but no one would "even take their phone calls."
"According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured," Colvin said. "For interrogators in Kandahar, it was standard operating procedure."
Colvin said Canada took roughly six times more prisoners than British forces and 20 times more than the Dutch. He said the vast majority of them were not "high-value targets" such as Taliban commanders, Al-Qaida operatives or bomb-makers, but rather ordinary Afghans, many with no connection to the insurgency.
He said some of them may have occasionally carried a gun for the Taliban, either having been bought or coerced, he said, but many were farmers, truck drivers and peasants "in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"Instead of winning hearts and minds," he said, "we caused Kandaharis to fear foreigners."
Peter Kent, Canada's parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, said since a new transfer agreement was signed with Afghan officials, the Canadian government has received no complaints of torture.
Transfers were suspended for a short time in 2007 after Canadian officials saw evidence that one prisoner was abused by his Afghan jailer after being handed over.