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Foreign Affairs Paper Accuses U.S. of Torture

January 24, 2008 by  


Courtesy Mike Blanchfield, with files from Elizabeth Thompson, The Montreal Gazette, The Ottawa Citizen

A Foreign Affairs document has identified the United States and Israel as countries it suspects of practising torture.

The document also defines such U.S. interrogation techniques as blindfolding and forced nudity as torture.

The emergence of the document — a slide presentation meant to instruct Canadian diplomats on how to recognize torture cases abroad — is bound to strain relations with the two countries with which Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sought to strengthen ties during his two years in power.

The document also lists Guantanamo Bay, the controversial U.S. detention centre for suspected terrorists in Cuba, as a place where torture is likely practised.

Supporters of the only Canadian imprisoned there, Omar Khadr, say the document is proof he is being subjected to abuse and that the federal government should break its silence and petition the U.S. to transfer him to Canada.

“Here we’re seeing information that confirms within the government there’s an understanding of the fact that serious human rights concerns, notably torture, do happen there,” said Alex Neve, the executive director of Amnesty International Canada.

Amnesty obtained the document as part of legal disclosure in its lawsuit that challenges the federal government’s policy of transferring detainees captured by the Canadian Forces to Afghanistan’s custody.

Afghanistan is also listed as a country where torture likely occurs, along with China, Egypt, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

One slide in the presentation lists “U.S. interrogation techniques” under the “Definition of Torture.” These include blindfolding or hooding, forced nudity, isolation and sleep deprivation.

The office of Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier immediately moved to disavow the document.

“The training manual is not a policy document and does not reflect the views or policies of this government,” said a statement from Mr. Bernier’s spokesman, who declined an interview.

The document surfaced on the same day a Federal Court judge struck down a controversial refugee agreement with the United States, saying Canada has failed to ensure that the U.S. respects international rules governing torture and refugee rights.

However, no sooner did Justice Michael Phelan declare the Safe Third Country Agreement would cease to take effect on Feb. 1 than the federal government announced it will appeal the ruling and apply for a stay until the case is ruled on by higher courts.

U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins told CTV television yesterday that it was “offensive” his country was on any such torture list and it should be removed.

The document, and the accompanying course, was a result of a recommendation by the Maher Arar inquiry that the government come up with protocols on how to deal with suspected torture cases abroad.

Ottawa lawyer Paul Champ, who is representing Amnesty in its Afghan detainee case, said the document was the only one that Justice Department lawyers gave him in response to a subpoena for evidence in the lawsuit.

All other documents were withheld under national security provisions, but within hours of the Foreign Affairs document being released to him, Justice lawyers asked for it back.

“They said it was a mistake,” said Mr. Champ. “I wasn’t very impressed with that explanation.”

Mr. Champ said the document could prove valuable for Mr. Khadr’s lawyers.

“The significance for Canada is that the Canadian government has never come out and said anything to the U.S. about these practices. Worse, we have a Canadian in that facility,” said Mr. Champ. “It’s just incredible that our government, having acknowledged that there’s torture going on in that location, won’t do anything to get a Canadian citizen out of that environment.”

Mr. Neve said that the document reveals the “disconnect” between what diplomats heading into the field are being told and the government’s policy at the political level.

“We still, as a nation, have taken no forceful human rights position with respect to Guantanamo Bay. That’s a source of shame. And now with this document we’re also seeing that it’s a contradiction,” said Mr. Neve.

Mr. Khadr is accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan and has been held at Guantanamo Bay for five years, since the age of 15.

Australian and British nationals who were held at Guantanamo have since been repatriated.

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