Canada's JTF2 captives vanish at Guantanamo
U.S. stymies request for information about fate of Afghans caught in raids
The Ottawa Citizen
February 14, 2005
CREDIT: Andres Leighton, The Associated Press
Detainees are shown in their cells facing Mecca during evening prayers in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in this 2002 photo. Canada has an obligation under the law of armed conflict to track the detainees its troops captured even after they are handed over to another country. However, U.S. officials have repeatedly refused to provide details on Guantanamo prisoners.
Individuals captured in Afghanistan by Canadian special forces were transported to the controversial U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, but American officials have been reluctant to provide the government with information on what has happened to the captives.
Members of the Ottawa-based Joint Task Force 2 commando unit took at least three prisoners in January 2002 and another four during a raid several months later. But attempts by Canadian officers to find out what happened to the people appear to have been stymied by the U.S.
Canadian officials were told that once the captives were transferred to the American detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the U.S. would then decide whether to release them or to continue holding them. At least three of the captives taken in the January 2002 JTF2 raid ended up in Guantanamo Bay, according to records obtained by the Citizen under the Access to Information law. It is not known whether they are still being held there.
American officials also declined to provide further details to the Canadian Forces about what happened to four individuals JTF2 turned over to the U.S after the May 2002 raid.
The U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has been steeped in controversy since its establishment shortly after the Afghanistan war began. At the time Canadian government officials said they were confident any prisoners turned over to the U.S. would be treated properly by American authorities.
But since then there has been a steady stream of accusations of torture and sexual harassment of the prisoners, all denied by the Pentagon. The latest allegations involve Canadian teenager Omar Khadr, captured by American forces and accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.
FBI agents working at Guantanamo Bay have also raised concerns that support some of the prisoners' allegations about abuse.
Those concerns, made public in December, were contained in e-mails obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of a lawsuit against the U.S. government. Recently a U.S. translator assigned to Guantanamo Bay also emerged with similar stories of abuse.
Asked over a two-day period last week for information on what became of the Canadians' prisoners, Defence Department officials said they did not readily have such details. Numbers of prisoners taken by Canadian troops in Afghanistan were also not readily available, Canadian Forces officials said.
In August 2003, a Canadian military intelligence officer reminded colleagues that Canada had an obligation under the law of armed conflict, as well as a national obligation, to track the detainees its troops captured even after they were handed over to another country.
However, right from the moment JTF2 turned over prisoners to the Americans in January 2002, Canadian military officials ran into problems finding out what happened to the captives. On Jan. 29, 2002, then-Commodore Jean-Yves Forcier wrote Canadian officers tried to check on the status and well-being of the prisoners. "U.S. authorities have maintained the position that they will not necessarily provide a status update concerning the detainees in question," he wrote.
Commodore J.P. Thiffault informed Vice-Admiral Greg Madison's office on Feb. 8, 2002 the Americans "could not advise on the future prospect of the detainees because a determination had yet to be finalized and will not be finalized until transferred to GTMO." GTMO refers to Guantanamo Bay.
Prisoners who were transferred by the U.S. to Guantanamo Bay were hooded, chained and sedated, prompting human rights groups to allege such methods were against the Geneva Convention.
In April 2002, then-defence minister Art Eggleton reassured the International Red Cross Canada remained concerned about the care and treatment of those captured and transferred into the U.S. system.
But when Canadian officials tried to find out what happened to the four people turned over by JTF2 to the Americans after a May 2002 raid on the village of Band Taimore, they were told the U.S would not provide further details. When Mr. Eggleton's successor, John McCallum, tried to find out that September what happened to prisoners, he was also unsuccessful. He was told by his senior military officials that "details on the captured individuals are sketchy at this time."
That joint U.S.-Canadian raid is still controversial because a 70-year-old man and a three-year-girl were killed in the operation. Canadian Forces officials stress JTF2 had left the compound before the killings took place. Canadian military reports indicate the elderly Afghan man was in U.S. custody and died after being struck in the head by a U.S. soldier's rifle butt. The girl's body was discovered after the raid at the bottom of the village well. It is believed she fell down the well in the confusion of the night-time special forces strike.
The Canadian reports note while any prisoners were in Canadian custody they were handled properly.
The Pentagon has stated it will not apply the Geneva Convention to prisoners turned over to their forces, but will treat such individuals humanely.
Canadian military police did make one trip to the U.S. "enemy prisoner of war" facility located at Kandahar airfield. According to police that facility was also visited by the International Red Cross. While the facility was austere, the police determined detainees were being properly treated at the time.
But human rights agencies note a number of Afghans have died while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan. Two of those have been classified by U.S. military pathologists as homicides. The third is still under investigation.
Canadian Forces officers were also sensitive concerning the language used to describe its prisoners in official reports. In a report from the Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Ray Henault, the term "persons are captured" was changed to "persons have been taken under custody" before the documents were sent on to the defence minister.
More than 500 people from 40 nations are being detained at Guantanamo Bay. It is unknown how many were captured by Canadian troops. A number have been at the prison for more than three years with no charges laid against them. They have also been denied legal representation. Another 208 prisoners have been released. Of those 62 were transferred to the custody of their home countries.
Last week lawyers for Canadian citizen Omar Khadr alleged at Guantanamo Bay he was drugged, threatened with sexual attack and repeatedly chained in stressful positions.
Mr. Khadr, now 18, has been in Guantanamo for the past 2 1/2 years. His family once lived with Osama bin Laden.
His lawyers allege the federal government failed to protect the Canadian citizen from torture. But Dan McTeague, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has said the Canadian government was given assurances by the U.S. Mr. Khadr is being treated in a humane way and the government takes the Americans at their word.
According to the FBI e-mails released in December by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Guantanamo prisoners were chained to the floor for 24 hours at a time. No food or water was provided and prisoners were allowed to defecate on themselves.
FBI officers also complained guards used snarling dogs to intimidate prisoners, a tactic the Pentagon had previously denied was being used.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2005