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Toronto Star, December 14, 2009

Canada ‘defended’ torturer

A foreign affairs source said a memo sent by Colvin in the winter of 2007 was searing in its criticism and indicated the governor was corrupt, dangerous, self-serving and deeply unpopular with Afghans.

Murray Brewster

Asadullah Khalid accused of torturing Afghans
Asadullah Khalid has been accused of personally torturing Afghans while he was governor of Kandahar province. He was ousted from office in 2008. (Photo: JAMES MCCARTEN/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

OTTAWA– A former governor of Kandahar who is accused of personally torturing Afghans might have been removed from office as far back as 2006 if Canadian officials hadn't defended him, according to diplomatic memos that have never been made public by the Canadian government.

The revelation about Asadullah Khalid, who stayed on as governor two years after concerns about his reputation were raised, opens up another embarrassing avenue of inquiry over Afghan prisoner abuse.

The new allegation is contained in a two-year-old report by Richard Colvin, the whistleblower foreign service officer. Colvin's disgust that Canada would support a "known human-rights abuser" was palpable and formed the most incendiary paragraphs of the report. References to Khalid were entirely blacked out in the version of the report publicly released to the Military Police Complaints Commission.

But an uncensored version of the end-of-mission report was shown for the first time to The Canadian Press on a confidential basis.

"As far as I know, Canada has never suggested to (President Hamid) Karzai that Asadullah be replaced," says the memo, dated Oct. 24, 2007.

"In the one meeting where the subject was discussed, in July 2006, it was the president who raised the issue; Canada defended the governor, thereby ensuring his continued tenure."

The uncensored report sheds further light on Colvin's testimony last month before a special House of Commons committee, where he stated the governor was considered a "bad actor" on human rights.

It also makes clear the division between the Canadian military, which supported Khalid, and diplomats, who became increasingly vocal about allegations of corruption, drug-running and prisoner abuse.

Canada ended up withdrawing its support for Khalid in 2008 when former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier, in what was widely viewed as a massive diplomatic blunder, publicly declared the governor had to go and that he'd urged Karzai to replace him.

But Colvin's 2007 memo, which he did not submit to his superiors, lays out in stark terms how the long-standing association had a corrosive effect on Canada's image in Kandahar. Khalid, Colvin warned, discredited Canada through association.

"The governor is a known human-rights abuser," censored parts of the memo say. "He runs at least one private detention facility, at which he personally has tortured detainees. ... His record is well known in Kandahar, including among the Canadian press corps."

Colvin wrote that "rather than tackle this governance failure, Canada has systematically avoided it" and that getting serious about cleaning up Kandahar couldn't happen with Khalid still in place.

The note was written almost a year before Karzai moved Khalid to another job.

The warnings about Khalid – whose brazen decision to display the battered dead body of a revered Taliban leader to local Afghan media, before refusing to return it for a proper burial, triggered a massive bombing campaign in Kandahar city in the spring of 2007 – were heard loud and clear in Ottawa.

Concerns were serious enough to be raised at the highest levels of the federal government, foreign affairs and defence sources said.

A meeting was called in December 2006 in Ottawa to discuss the matter. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's national security adviser, Margaret Bloodworth, attended the session, sources have said.

"There was no policy for dealing with something like this, something sensitive," one source said. "Nobody quite knew what to do."

Yet throughout 2007 the warnings kept getting louder.

A foreign affairs source said a memo sent by Colvin in the winter of 2007 was searing in its criticism and indicated the governor was corrupt, dangerous, self-serving and deeply unpopular with Afghans.

One Afghan government official apparently pleaded with Canadian diplomats and police officers for Khalid's removal during a meeting in February 2007, said the source, who has seen a document outlining the meeting. The official made a direct request to Canada to intervene with the president, the source said.

Two months later, a prisoner handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian Forces alleged Khalid had personally tortured him in a facility next to his palace, according to a memo from Colvin's colleague, Gavin Buchan, on April 25.

The detainee "claimed to have been beaten and electrocuted by the governor himself," Buchan said in a memo also sent to other government departments, including defence and the Afghan task force within the foreign affairs department. It was also flagged to NATO.

By July, Khalid was still in place despite fresh warnings from Colvin based on discussions with another diplomat.

Khalid was believed to have been obtaining his victims from among detainees at the infamous National Directorate of Security, the widely feared Afghan secret service, which eventually took custody of those prisoners taken by Afghan or NATO forces, including Canadian soldiers, that were deemed a credible Taliban threat.

The memos even indicate the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission had confirmed the existence of a private jail, where Khalid took "custody" of five prisoners he used as bargaining chips with the Taliban, who had kidnapped medical workers over his refusal to surrender the corpse of Taliban leader Mullah Dadullah.

Category: Warlords, US-NATO, HR Violations - Views: 8554