Canwest News Service, May 9, 2010
Canadians believe Afghan detainees tortured -- and disapprove: poll
Canadians see the story as a "chain-of-command issue" where responsibility rests at the top, and not with individual soldiers
By Norma Greenaway
A solid majority of Canadians believe prisoners detained by Canadian soldiers have been tortured after being transferred to Afghan authorities, a new Ipsos Reid poll suggests.
Afghan detainees sit in an Afghan National Army compound at a Canadian forward operating base on Nov. 13, 2008. (Photo: Ethan Baron/Canwest News Service)
A fat majority also say that if torture occurred, it was not only wrong but that they believe there was widespread knowledge of it within the Canadian government -- and that senior officials should lose their jobs, if that was the case.
Pollster John Wright said Canadians are saying they "care deeply" about the possibility of detainees being tortured after Canadian soldiers have transferred them to Afghan custody.
"They're saying it's not proper, it should have stopped and, if it didn't, somebody should have done something about it," he said.
Of the 61% who believe torture occurred, 59% said they think the tactic was routine, compared to 34% who believe it happened only on rare occasions, the poll suggests.
Quebecers were more likely to believe transferred detainees were tortured. Seventy-six per cent of them took that position, whereas residents of Alberta were the least likely to believe it, at 44%.
The poll, conducted exclusively for Canwest News Service and Global Television, lands amid ongoing political fireworks in Ottawa over how to get to the bottom of widespread reports that Afghan authorities have tortured suspected Taliban insurgents after they were handed over by Canadian soldiers.
Almost eight in 10 surveyed said that, assuming transferred detainees were tortured by the Afghan authorities, the actions are "wrong, and once known should have stopped."
One in five, or 19%, agreed with the statement that torture was "just fine because this is war and this sort of thing happens."
In the poll, most of those surveyed said that if torture was happening, they believe government officials, politicians and Canadian Forces personnel knew about it.
More than half -- 52% -- said they believe Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew what was going on, and the same percentage said they believe individual soldiers knew it was happening, according to the poll.
However, a much larger majority -- 75% -- said they believe senior Canadian military officials would have known that transferred prisoners were being tortured. Sixty-five per cent said they believe the minister of defence had to have known, and 66% said they believe the Defence or Foreign Affairs Department were in the know.
Canadians see the story as a "chain-of-command issue" where responsibility rests at the top, and not with individual soldiers, said Mr. Wright, senior vice-president of Ipsos Reid.
Ninety-three per cent of those surveyed said they are proud of the men and women serving in the armed forces, the highest rating ever recorded by the polling firm, Wright said.
A majority said that if it is determined that officials knew as far back as 2007 that torture was taking place and didn't do anything to stop it, or denied it was happening at all, then top bosses should be ousted from their jobs.
Fifty-seven per cent said the defence minister, now Peter MacKay, should be forced to resign, and 56% said the chief of defence staff, currently Walter Natynczyk, should go.
The poll is based on telephone interviews with 1,000 adults, which were conducted last Tuesday through Thursday. The results are considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
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