Was Richard Colvin all alone in his concerns?

Defence Minister Peter MacKay did everything he could today to portray Richard Colvin—the Canadian diplomat who alleges the government refused to heed his warnings about torture in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007—as an eccentric voice whose fears back in those days were not echoed by other credible observers.

For my money, however, Human Rights Watch, the internationally respected watchdog group, is highly credible. And in a letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations way back on Nov. 27, 2006, here’s what Human Rights Watch had to say about the situation Canadian troops, and others, were embroiled in:

NATO forces have stated that they have detained only a few detainees, even in the heavy combat zones of southern Afghanistan. Dutch forces operating in Oruzgan announced their first five detainees two weeks ago, while British and Canadian forces operating in Helmand and Kandahar, respectively, have publicly acknowledged fewer than 100 detainees. Given the ferocity of the fighting in these areas, the absence of more detainees raises two alarming alternatives: either that NATO forces are not taking detainees, or, more likely, that NATO forces are circumventing their bilateral agreements by immediately turning over detainees to Afghan authorities and thus abrogating their responsibility to monitor the detainees’ treatment.

We have received credible reports about mistreatment of detainees transferred by NATO to Afghan authorities. It is our understanding that the Afghan Ministry of Defense does not have in place a legal framework for holding detainees. We understand that the Afghan government has not yet ratified a law on military tribunals drafted with the assistance of US authorities. For now, we understand that in practice most NATO detainees are transferred to the National Directorate of Security (NDS), an opaque, unaccountable and abusive institution still governed by classified laws promulgated during Afghanistan’s communist era. The NDS operates detention centers that fail to meet international standards for the treatment of detainees.

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