The Afghan committee must have time

David Mulroney must be allowed to rebut Richard Colvin's assertion he'd been warned prisoners were being tortured in Afghanistan. The two diplomats offer different perspectives on the time they shared in Afghanistan.

David Mulroney must be allowed to rebut Richard Colvin’s assertion he’d been warned prisoners were being tortured in Afghanistan.

The two diplomats offer different perspectives on the time they shared in Afghanistan.

Colvin says he told Mulroney Afghan prisoners were being tortured. Mulroney remembers things differently.

As the two stories don’t square, Mulroney, who is Canada’s ambassador to China, must testify before the Commons Afghanistan committee.

But the questioning must not be rushed.

It’s in the public interest that the politicians facing Mulroney be well prepared.

And new information on this affair is surfacing every day.

This is not a trifling matter.

Essentially, Canada and its officials stand accused of sowing terror among Afghan civilians.

Officials decided to blindly hand over prisoners to local security forces, who then tortured them. That made the Afghan people fear Canadians. And resent their presence on their soil.

It turned the Afghans against us. It put our troops – our spouses, brothers, sisters and friends – in greater danger.

Colvin asserts Canadian officials, from Mulroney, then-deputy minister of the Afghanistan Task Force, to Lieutenant-General Michel Gauthier, then-commander of Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, to the Foreign Affairs minister, had been told Afghan citizens captured by Canadians were being tortured as early as May 2006.

Colvin says officials told him to stop telling them about it.

At that time, Canada was taking far more prisoners than any of its NATO allies. Six times more than the British and 20 times more than the Dutch.

“They were picked up … during routine military operations, and on the basis typically not of intelligence [reports] but suspicion or unproven denunciation,” said Colvin. “Many were just local people: farmers, truck drivers, tailors, peasants – random human beings in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured. For interrogators in Kandahar, it was standard operating procedure.”

The Red Cross also tried to warn Canadian officials about this, said Colvin. But Canadian forces in Kandahar wouldn’t take their calls, he said.

Colvin filed reports. But Canadian officials were indifferent to the information, said Colvin.

Colvin was ordered by officials, including Mulroney, to stop writing his reports.

Today, the official line taken by all officials is there was no proof that prisoners were being tortured.

Well, it takes time to round up proof.

It has been less than a week since Colvin has stepped up to provide his remarkable testimony before the committee. Mulroney is already in Ottawa trying to bull his way before the committee to testify in his own defence.

Mulroney must get the chance.

But neither Colvin, Mulroney or the Canadian public will be served by rushing this matter.

The politicians on the committee have asked for documents related to this matter.

That information should be provided and the committee should be allowed to review it before Mulroney and other officials take the stage to answer questions.

To do otherwise would simply hobble the committee’s investigation.

Canada and its officials stand accused of allowing the torture of innocent Afghan civilians.

“Instead of winning hearts and minds, we caused Kandaharis to fear the foreigners,” said Colvin.

“Canada’s detainee practices alienated us from the population and strengthened the insurgency.”

Canada, and its leaders stand accused of perpetuating terror.

That is a serious matter. It is a breach of international law.

The investigation must be thorough.

All players must have the opportunity to testify.

But the questions they face must be thoughtful and thorough. And tough.

The investigation must not be rushed.