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Canada government now says it knew of torture claims by Afghan detainees

[JURIST] Canadian Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day [official website] told the Canadian House of Commons for the first time Monday that the government had in fact heard claims from detainees held by authorities in Afghanistan that they had been tortured in Afghan custody, although he could not say whether those detainees had previously been held by Canadian forces. The claims were passed along by two Correctional Service of Canada [official website] officers first posted to local jails in Kandahar province in early February. The government had previously denied any direct knowledge of such claims. CBC News has more.

The Canadian government has been deeply embroiled in controversy over the torture issue since the Toronto Globe and Mail reported [text] late last month that thirty terror suspects were tortured by Afghan security forces after being transferred from the custody of Canadian troops belonging to NATO's ISAF [official website] mission. The detainees gave accounts of being beaten, electrocuted, starved, and left in freezing temperatures while detained in Kandahar province jails. The report prompted calls for the resignation [JURIST report] of Canadian Defense Minister Gordon O'Connor [official profile], for an end to the prison transfers, for a public inquiry, and even for an International Criminal Court investigation of "possible war crimes" [JURIST report] committed by Canadian officials.

In February the Canadian government ordered an official inquiry [JURIST report] into reported detainee abuse in Afghanistan following a civilian complaint filed by University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran [Sourcewatch profile], whose research [Globe and Mail report] uncovered a pattern of suspicious injuries on three detainees captured last April and later released. In 2005, Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Rick Hillier [official profile] signed the Canada-Afghanistan Detainee Agreement [text] authorizing prisoner transfers; Attaran said the agreement did not give Canada the power to inspect detainees [JURIST report] after their transfers, thus allowing broad latitude for torture to occur. Last week O'Connor said that Canada had made a new informal agreement with the Afghanistan government to monitor the condition of transferred prisoners after their release, but Day later claimed that Canadian authorities always had access to transferred prisoners [CTV reports].

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