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Classified info on detainees leaked in Christmas week

While Parliament's Afghanistan committee tries to get more work done before Christmas, its government members continue their boycott. Meanwhile, information has leaked that makes both the military and the Harper government look bad.

A report in the Ottawa Citizen's Gargoyle blog, cited by Aaron Wherry of Macleans, carried a message from Edmonton Centre MP Laurie Hawn, explaining why he and his Conservative colleagues would not turn up for Tuesday's committee meeting:

I am writing to inform the committee that Conservative Party members of the Special Committee on Canada's Mission in Afghanistan will not to be attending Tuesday's meeting called under Standing Order 106.4.

The Christmas and Holiday Season is a time to spend with family, friends, and loved ones. One would hope that only the most serious of emergencies should interfere with these moments.

There is presently nothing urgent needing study on the subject of Taleban prisoners. The alleged events in question took place over 3 years ago under two different Governments. Subsequently, Canada's prisoner policy was improved by the present Government and remains the "Gold standard" of our NATO allies.

Wherry also cites a report in The Hill Times online, quoting classified transcripts from the Military Complaints Commission. An excerpt:

The transcripts include a shocking account of an apparently innocent Afghan detainee who was an unintended victim of the government's initial, unpublicized, response to the prisoner controversy when it first erupted in February, 2007.

The government reversed its quick-transfer policy and secretly ordered the forces to stop transfers entirely after two human rights groups filed a Federal Court lawsuit over detainees in February, 2007, the statements reveal.

A transcript of one of the interviews with the Military Police Complaints Commission investigators reveals the army police compound in Kandahar could do nothing as the detainee baked in 140-degree heat in a detention centre designed to hold a handful of prisoners for a maximum of 96 hours.

Attempts to cool the man with a water-dispensing ceiling fan—known as a "swamp cooler"—failed when the fan clogged with the chemically treated water at the Kandahar Air Field base. The military police had to borrow the fan from U.S. troops after they were ordered to give other fans they were using to other components of the Canadian base. The man, later released to his family with gifts intended to make amends, was suffering to the point his screams prompted soldiers in a nearby compound to ask the police if they were keeping a dog in the detention centre.

A military police officer told the commission investigators that commanders in Ottawa repeatedly denied pleas to release the man, and his plight became a "nightmare."

"He would scream and yell and climb the cage," Sgt. Carol Utton told the investigators. "At one point we had to go in and take the plastic knife from him, because he was trying to do stuff. One time he screamed and yelled and they thought he was having a heart attack, so they had to call the ambulance to get him. It was radiant heat, but the facility just was not made to hold somebody that long."

All references to the date of the man's capture and his duration of detention with the Canadians were censored out of the transcript of the interview that ended up in the commission's records.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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