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Detainees' claims won't be fully checked

Official investigation of abuse can't look at what happened after prisoners were handed over to Afghan authorities, military says

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Canada's military probe into the handling of Afghan detainees won't concern itself with whether they are tortured or abused in prisons, a spokesman for the board of inquiry has confirmed.

"The board's mandate is to make findings and recommendations up to the point when our soldiers transfer detainees to Afghan authorities," Lieutenant-Commander Philip Anido, a spokesman for the board, said in a written response to questions from The Globe and Mail.

The decision not to probe widespread allegations of torture and abuse of detainees turned over to Afghan authorities or the effectiveness of the intrusive new monitoring arrangements, which send Canadian soldiers and diplomats into Afghan prisons, limits the inquiry .

Although the board was originally ordered by Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier more than four months ago in the wake of allegations that three detainees may have been abused by Canadian soldiers, the scope of allegations has grown significantly since then.

In May, the Harper government agreed to new arrangements with the Afghan government that included monitoring arrangements to ensure detainees weren't tortured after being handed over.

That came after Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor admitted he had misled Parliament for nearly a year by claiming that the International Committee of the Red Cross would report back to Canada if it found abuse in Afghan prisons.

It also followed revelations that the government's own human-rights report on Afghanistan, first suppressed and then heavily censored, concluded that abuse was rife.

And it came after more than two dozen detainees told The Globe and Mail they had been ill-treated and tortured.

The new agreement - actually a sweeping addition to the original transfer arrangement signed by Gen. Hillier in December, 2005 - came after the board of inquiry was created. But nothing seems to preclude the board from looking at the new arrangements, which are designed to meet Canada's constitutional and international obligations to insure that prisoners are not transferred to those likely to torture or abuse them.

"The agreement that we entered into is actually one that is significantly enhanced from the flawed agreement that the Liberals entered into," Tory House Leader Peter Van Loan said.

Although the board of inquiry was charged with examining "all relevant orders and directives that govern the treatment and processing of detainees in Afghanistan while they are in Canadian Forces custody," the policy landscape has changed since it was created.

The board acknowledges as much. The original December, 2005, agreement and the follow-on monitoring arrangements set out in the May, 2007, supplement "are benchmark documents, which establish the procedures in the event of a transfer from the custody of the Canadian Forces to the custody of the Afghan authorities," it said in a written response.

The May agreement means that Canadian military personnel, like their Dutch and British counterparts, will be part of follow-on inspection teams checking detainees transferred to Afghan prisons.

It remains unclear why the board of inquiry examining the Canadian Forces policies and procedures regarding detainees hasn't expanded its scope to reflect the new monitoring.

Instead, it says it will "make findings and recommendations on orders, directives, procedures, and training" but only on those "in effect in April, 2006."

That means the board will "make recommendations for changes and improvements" based on a detainee transfer and monitoring situation that has already been changed by the new May, 2007, arrangements.

The board is expected to report in the fall. A separate military police criminal probe into the allegations of abuse of detainees by Canadian soldiers is also under way, as is an outside investigation by the Military Police Complaints Commission.

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