Defence Minister Peter MacKay claims that he was never informed that the detainees Canadian forces were handing over to Afghan authorities faced the possibility of being tortured. This statement follows the public release of an affidavit given to the Military Police Compaints Commission (MPCC) last Wednesday, where former senior diplomat Richard Colvin says that he warned Colvin, now an intelligence officer at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, was posted in Afghanistan from April 2006 to October 2007.
During his posting, he had written multiple reports and memos to top officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and National Defence stating “serious, imminent and alarming” concerns that detainees were being abused once handed over to Afghan jails. One of his memos explicitly outlined allegations of prisoners being tortured. MacKay and former Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor claim that they personally never received any such warnings. In early 2007 reports of abuse were first made public, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper amongst other Conservative officials rejected them as unfounded and even Taliban propaganda.
While MacKay adamantly denies having known about the abuse of detainees, he never mentions what he may have done had he actually seen the report. Nor does he claim that handing prisoners over to authorities with the knowledge that they may be tortured would be the wrong thing to do.
One could give him the benefit of the doubt that he did not make any such statements, because they are obvious givens. However, his denials combined with the fact that Harper and other ministers have frequently rejected such reports as baseless suggest, at the very least, that they are trying to maintain an air of denial that torture is in fact happening.
The Conservative government’s efforts to suppress information that alludes to senior officials being aware of Colvin’s reports, instead of actively investigating and preventing the torturing of detainees, are signs themselves that the government is not taking its responsibilities seriously.
Whether or not Minister MacKay was actually informed of the torturing of detainees, it is quite clear now these abuses happpened and the Canadian government must take action.
For more reading see:
- Canada covered up Afghan abuse allegations: critics (Reuters)
- Ministers say there were not told of Afghan detainee abuse fears (Vancouver Sun-Canwest News Service)
- Mackay denies seeing Afghan torture reports (CBC)