Toronto Star, April 16, 2010

Chilling Afghan claims

And he says “everybody” in the military knew the NDS tortured people

Did Canadian troops use Afghanistan’s notorious security services as “subcontractors for abuse and torture?” That’s what the Commons committee on Afghanistan heard this week from Ahmadshah Malgarai, an Afghan-Canadian who worked as an interpreter in Kandahar.

It is the most damaging allegation yet in the Afghan detainee saga, and it challenges Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s repeated assurances that “the Canadian Forces ... have always acted responsibly.”

“If the (Canadian) interrogator thought a detainee was lying, the military sent him to NDS (the National Directorate of Security) for more questions, Afghan style,” Malgarai told the committee Wednesday. “Translation: Abuse and torture.” Ottawa officials are peddling “a lie” when they say we never turned people over if there was a risk they’d be abused, he said.

On Thursday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay wrote off Malgarai’s testimony as “baseless allegations.” But that seems premature. Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk says the military is looking into the “grave accusations.” And opposition MPs are clamouring with renewed zeal for a public inquiry, rather than have the military investigate itself.

Malgarai’s claims ought not to be dismissed out of hand. They deserve credible scrutiny. He alleges that our troops killed an innocent teen, then tried to cover it up. He recounts stories of detainees being handed over to an NDS officer who at one point invited our troops to shoot an injured detainee, and who at another point threatened a detainee. And he says “everybody” in the military knew the NDS tortured people.

While his claim about the teen was second-hand, his testimony about the NDS echoed concerns raised by others. Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin says he alerted Ottawa to problems, including “the risk of torture and/or actual torture.” Former diplomat Eileen Olexiuk says “I don’t think anybody really cared, quite frankly.” And former diplomat Nicholas Gosselin also documented allegations of abuse. Were all these people innocents abroad? Or are the Harper Conservatives choosing to see no evil?

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