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Canadian forces working closely with criminals

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The latest revelation in the revelation-a-week detainee/torture scandal is that the government was warned just last year about the Canadian military's possibly illegal relationship with the Afghan version of the FBI, known as the NDS.

The CBC has the story:

Tories alerted to Afghan secret police legal 'risk'

APRIL 6 - The Conservative government was warned last summer that working with the Afghan secret police would lead to allegations Canada condoned abuse and that Canadians could face legal liability for complicity in torture.

The information, contained in a candid top-level government memo shared with CBC News, shows that officials were worried that Canada's relationship with the Afghan National Directorate of Security was risky — and possibly illegal — even while the government was defending it...

The NDS has wider powers of arrest and detention than most intelligence agencies, the memo says, and as a result, "there is considerable scope for the use of improper methods." Engaging with the NDS "entails a degree of risk to Canadian interests," it adds...

"Canadian partnership in NDS projects without prior insight into its methods runs the risk of appearing to condone human rights abuses and acts which would be illegal under Canadian law," the document states.

Government officials admit that Canada has used the fruits of NDS intelligence-gathering. Brig-Gen. Denis Thompson, former commander of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, told a parliamentary committee last week that his assessment of the NDS in fighting the insurgency "is that they were a very valuable partner, and I mean, we acted on the intelligence we received from the NDS." ... (link)

These rather stark views of the NDS are quite similar to those of the former political director of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar, Cory Anderson. Last week, he testified before the ongoing special parliamentary committee on Afghanistan which has played host to the revelations of Richard Colvin and memorable testimonies from a variety of witnesses. His explanation of one of the main tasks of Canadian diplomats is quite startling:

“I don’t think it helps our cause to be so closely associated with the NDS in a very overt fashion because of the specific reputation that it has among the population,” [Anderson] said.

Afghans most often reach out to Canadian diplomats not for development funds but to enquire about missing siblings, he said.

“What they were concerned about was, what happened to their cousin a year-and-a-half ago who has gone missing or why has someone been in NDS custody for months at a time without having any charges laid against them, and were they (transferred by Canadian Forces)?” Anderson said...

The NDS provides good generic intelligence, but there are concerns that intelligence is obtained through ways that breach “obligations under international standards,” he said...

Anderson said he repeatedly voiced concerns about “mission killers” — such as Canada’s partnership with the NDS — with members of the Canadian Forces and politicians, including Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

The diplomat also slammed the military for absolving itself from any monitoring responsibility leaving a handful of diplomats ill-equipped to penetrate the NDS and judge whether torture was taking place... (link)

And the Toronto Star elaborates on Anderson's views on the role of the Canadian Forces:

Anderson spelled out a scenario Wednesday in which the Canadian Forces wiped their hands of responsibility for the well-being of the detainees they had captured as soon as they left their temporary prisons at Kandahar Airfield.

The military did as little as possible to help their civilian partners – primarily diplomats – monitor those prisoners to ensure they were not being tortured, he told the House of Commons special committee ...

[Anderson said the NDS] was an agency built on “endemic and systemic duplicity” and its officials appeared to resent the interference of Canadian diplomats in their operations and resisted all but the most basic cooperation ... (link)

Anderson is of course not the first person to sound warnings about the NDS. Here's what whistle blowing diplomat Richard Colvin wrote about his attempts to tell civilian and military officials about the risk of torture:

[I]n early March 2007, I informed an interagency meeting of some 12 to 15 officials in Ottawa that, "The NDS tortures people, that's what they do, and if we don't want our detainees tortured, we shouldn't give them to the NDS." (The NDS, or National Directorate of Security, is Afghanistan's intelligence service.) The response from the Canadian Expeditionary Force Command (CEFCOM) note-taker was to stop writing and put down her pen... (link)

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