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PRISONERS IN AFGHANISTAN

What Ottawa doesn't want you to know

Government was told detainees faced 'extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial'

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

The Harper government knew from its own officials that prisoners held by Afghan security forces faced the possibility of torture, abuse and extrajudicial killing, The Globe and Mail has learned.

But the government has eradicated every single reference to torture and abuse in prison from a heavily blacked-out version of a report prepared by Canadian diplomats in Kabul and released under an access to information request.

Initially, the government denied the existence of the report, responding in writing that "no such report on human-rights performance in other countries exists." After complaints to the Access to Information Commissioner, it released a heavily edited version this week.

Among the sentences blacked out by the Foreign Affairs Department in the report's summary is "Extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial are all too common," according to full passages of the report obtained independently by The Globe.

The Foreign Affairs report, titled Afghanistan-2006; Good Governance, Democratic Development and Human Rights, was marked "CEO" for Canadian Eyes Only. It seems to remove any last vestige of doubt that the senior officials and ministers knew that torture and abuse were rife in Afghan jails.

The report leaves untouched many paragraphs such as those beginning "one positive development" or "there are some bright spots."

But heavy dark blocks obliterate sentences such as "the overall human rights situation in Afghanistan deteriorated in 2006."

It's not clear why such internationally agreed and obvious observations are blacked out of the Canadian report. No national-security issues seem involved, nor are there personal privacy issues, reasons often cited for excising information.

A comparison of the full text — parts of which were obtained by The Globe and Mail — with the edited version shows a consistent pattern of excising negative findings or observations from the report with positive ones left in.

There was no explanation for blacking out observations such as "military, intelligence and police forces have been accused of involvement in arbitrary arrest, kidnapping extortion, torture and extrajudicial killing."

Although the findings aren't surprising — they echo other, and widely publicized, reports by Louise Arbour, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, the U.S. State Department, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and various international human-rights groups — the report by Canada's own diplomats seems to undermine the government's claims that it was unaware of the fate likely faced by detainees handed over by Canadian troops to Afghan security forces.

The report raises a red flag for any government bound by the Geneva Conventions and responsible for safeguarding transferred detainees from torture and abuse.

It makes repeated dark references to the reputation and performance of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, or intelligence police. Most prisoners captured by Canadian troops are now turned over to the widely feared NDS, which is considered tougher but perhaps less corrupt that the Afghan National Police. "Allegations of torture and arbitrary detention by NDS officials have also been reported," the full text of the report says.

Another portion that is blacked out reads "widespread allegations of corruption and human-rights violations exist with respect to the Afghanistan National Police (ANP) and Ministry of Interior (MOI)."

Little of this is new, none of it is surprising. In March, when the U.S. State Department issued its annual report, it made clear that Afghan prisons, where Canada consigns detainees captured by its troops, were rife with torture, abuse and corruption. The report echoed equally grim assessments issued earlier by the United Nations and Afghanistan's own independent Human Rights Commission.

"Security and factional forces committed extrajudicial killings and torture," the U.S. report said. The most recent report by Ms. Arbour found: "The NSD, responsible for both civil and military intelligence, operates in relative secrecy without adequate judicial oversight and there have been reports of prolonged detention without trial, extortion, torture, and systematic due process violations."

The Globe first asked Foreign Affairs on March 7 if Canadian diplomats compiled and wrote similar reports on Afghan human-rights conditions. "No" was the answer.

On March 22, in response to an Access to Information Act request, Jeff Esau, a journalist and researcher working for The Globe, received the following response to his request for the report:

"Please be advised that Canada does not produce an annual human rights report analogous to the reports produced by, for example, the United States or the United Kingdom. Therefore no such report on human rights performance in other countries exists," wrote Jocelyne Sabourin, Director of the Access to Information division at Foreign Affairs.

An earlier access request, filed Jan. 29 by Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor, asked specifically for the human-rights report on Afghanistan and noted that Foreign Affairs had, in the past, made such reports available to non-governmental organizations. It also noted that the report on Syria had been referenced in the report on the Maher Arar case.

It was only after the 30-day deadline for a response had long passed and Mr. Attaran complained to Information Commissioner Dan Dupuis, that the edited version was delivered this week, eradicating all reporting of torture and abuse beneath the censor's black pen.

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