[By Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press | Wednesday, 18 November, 2009.]
A federal official has dropped a political bombshell on Parliament, alleging suspects handed over by Canada to Afghan authorities were tortured - and that the government was at best indifferent and at worst tried to cover it up.
Richard Colvin, an intelligence officer based in Washington who spent 18 months in Afghanistan in the No. 2 diplomatic post, delivered the stunning revelations to a packed committee room Wednesday.
His calm, precise recitation to the special House of Commons committee on Afghanistan directly contradicts nearly three years of assurances by the Conservative government that there was no credible evidence prisoners handed over to local authorities were abused, in violation of international law.
Colvin said the sweeping roundups of prisoners - many of them likely innocent - and their subsequent abuse has driven a wedge between Canada and the people of Kandahar, and destroyed much of the good will soldiers have fought and died to achieve.
"In my judgment, some of our actions in Kandahar, including complicity in torture, turned local people against us," he told a hushed room, where opposition MPs sat with mouths wide-open at what they were hearing.
"Instead of winning hearts and minds, we caused Kandaharis to fear the foreigners."
And he warned ominously that "Canada's detainee practises alienated us from the population and strengthened the insurgency."
In a meticulous seven-page opening statement, Colvin picked apart the handling of the prisoner issue by the Conservative government and the military, starting with the assurance that no torture had taken place.
He told MPs that captives taken by Canadian troops and handed over to the Afghans were subjected to beatings and electric shocks in 2006 and early 2007.
"According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured," he said. "For interrogators in Kandahar, it was standard operating procedure."
Colvin said he remains concerned because Canada continues to hand over its prisoners to the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's notorious intelligence service. (Full story here.)