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Military police failed to carry out obligations to detainees, probe finds

But clears MPs of beating, withholding care, or covering up the injuries on an Afghan prisoner

Globe and Mail Update

Canadian military police failed in their duty to investigate how an Afghan captured by Canadian soldiers suffered serious facial injuries, a long-running independent probe has concluded.

The Military Police Complaints Commission report, to be released today, exonerates the military police from allegations they beat detainees, withheld proper medical care or tried to cover up the injuries inflicted on the first Afghan battlefield prisoners captured by Canadian soldiers in Kandahar province more than three years ago.

The MPCC concluded, however, that “there was a failure by the military police … to investigate the origins of the injuries of one of the detainees, when it was their duty to do so.” The detainee was so badly beaten that the military police contingent's commanding officer remarked he was “beat up pretty bad. He looked like he had been kind of booted.”

Yet the military police accepted without question the second-hand, hearsay claims of soldiers in the field that the injuries were inflicted to subdue a struggling captive.

In his report, MPCC chairman Peter Tinsley points to systemic problems in which Canadian military police seem to have lost sight of their fundamental duty to investigate possible war crimes, including the abuse of prisoners.

He quotes and endorses the findings of RCMP Inspector George Gfellner, who was seconded to the criminal investigation arising out of the same incident. The RCMP case report hadn't previously been made public, although a special military police unit determined no charges would be laid. Still, Insp. Gfellner found a “disturbing prevalence of an MP mindset in which their police training and instincts are somehow submerged or switched off when assigned to duties considered by some to be purely military.”

Why neither the military police nor anyone in the entire military chain of command recognized the need for an investigation remains unexplained. For instance, when a senior Canadian Foreign Affairs official in the human-rights and international-law section e-mailed his concerns, saying, “We would like to be satisfied that no allegations of mistreatment will arise against the CF as a result of these arrests, detentions and transfers,” it was entirely ignored. No one in the military even replied.

Not until nearly a year later, when Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran noted the unexplained facial injuries on medial forms and The Globe and Mail published them (and the military's flat denial that anything untoward had occurred) did the military belated launch multiple probes. The criminal investigation, which concluded last September, determined no one should be charged. The board of inquiry examining the whole range of policies and training concerning detainee handling still hasn't been made public.

Mr. Attaran, who as the original complainant was provided with an advance copy of the report, said he was generally satisfied with the investigation by the MPCC. “My biggest complaint with the report was that the MPCC swallowed the Defence Department's poison in agreeing to censor parts of it.”

Canadians “cannot have any confidence in the transparency” of the probe or its conclusions, he said yesterday in an interview. “We don't know that there is something of significance being held back, but some of the redactions are whole paragraphs.”

Mr. Tinsley seems to have reluctantly agreed to redactions. He said the MPCC “has not been persuaded as to the validity of [the military's claims of security] concerns and, as such, is not satisfied with the current redacted state of this report.”

However, he acquiesced, despite the MPCC's specific mandate as a supposedly independent body created by Parliament.

Some of the redactions are inconsistent and make no sense. For instance, in one section of the 77-page report, a reference to which of the three detainees was subsequently killed in combat after being released by the Afghan police, is obscured. In two other instances the detainee is identified.

The MPCC investigation into the handling of the first three Afghans captured after Canadian troops moved south into the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar has only just been completed, three years after the events and more than two years since it was launched.

It paints a picture of relentless pressure from the high command in Ottawa to turn detainees over to Afghan security forces as quickly as possible; so quickly that questioning is sometimes curtailed and military intelligence officers can't complete assessments of whether detainees are important or not.

“The chain of command placed considerable pressure [for the] transfer of the detainees in question with the greatest possible dispatch, even to the point where speed appeared to be an end in itself,” the MPCC found, adding “this pressure did not play a significant role in the MPs' failure to investigate, as there seems not to have been any inclination to do so in any event.”

A broader MPCC public inquiry into whether Canada's policy of turning battlefield captives over to Afghan security forces – despite widespread and persistent reports that prisoners are tortured and abused in Afghan prisons – is expected to begin public hearings next month. However, the government is seeking to quash that probe, arguing the MPCC is overstepping its mandate.

“The implication of transfer to torture are not small, it's a war crime … the military police should be investigating that crime and they haven't,” Mr. Attaran said.

The MPCC was created in the aftermath of the torture and murder of a defenceless Somali teenager by Canadian elite troops in the 1990s.

Its probes of allegations involving the treatment and transfer of Afghan detainees represent the first instances where the government has fought to curb or shut down an MPCC probe.

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