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Canada's Part in Afghan Detainee Abuse

From May 23, 2008

At the center of the Afghan Detainee Abuse Scandal was former Defense Minister, Gordon O'Connor. In statements before the House of Commons in February 2007, O'Connor claimed that the International Red Cross was responsible for the monitoring of prisoners held in Afghanistan, and that "if there is something wrong with their treatment, the Red Cross or Red Crescent would inform us and we would take action."

Soon after, the Red Cross responded that it was not party to the agreement between Canada and Afghanistan, and that it would not inform any foreign government of its discoveries. According to Paul Koring of the Globe and Mail: "The ICRC is precluded from making known its assessments or interventions except to the government whose facilities it is visiting. The ICRC is prohibited under its own charter and by decades of confidential practice from disclosing its findings to third parties."

The Globe and Mail had also reported on the case of three detainees who had been transferred by Canada to Afghan control; each subsequently was found to be injured in a similar manner, possibly consistent with torture. Later, the three detainees disappeared, their whereabouts unknown. The Globe and Mail interviewed 30 others who claimed they were beaten and starved after they were transferred.

By May, opposition pressure had forced the government to action. General Hillier announced that a new agreement had been reached with Afghanistan which would allow Canadian observers to monitor the detainees at will. A few months later Gordon O'Connor was demoted to the National Revenue portfolio.