Good afternoon, colleagues.
This is meeting number 5 of the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, on Wednesday, April 14, 2010.
I remind everyone that today, as you can tell, we are televised, so I would ask everyone to adjust their cellphones or their BlackBerrys.
We're continuing our study of the transfer of Afghan detainees. Appearing as our first witness today as an individual is Ahmadshah Malgarai, the advisor to the former commander of the Joint Task Force in Afghanistan.
I know, Mr. Malgarai, that you have a friend with you today. You'll be making the presentation, basically. As you understand, you will have some opening remarks, and we'll go into a couple of rounds of questioning, if that is all right with you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for inviting me.
I am Ahmadshah Malgarai, although some people know me as Pacha, my Canadian Forces code name. I'm joined today here by my legal counsel, Professor Amir Attaran.
I was employed by the Canadian Forces as a civilian in Afghanistan from June 2007 to June 2008. During that time, I served as a cultural and language advisor. You can tell from my accent that I was born in Afghanistan, but I am a Canadian. I came to Canada as a refugee and studied at Carleton University. Ottawa has been my home since.
In Afghanistan I worked both inside the wire at Kandahar airfield, known as KAF, and outside the camp in the dangerous Panjwai district and on dozens of patrols. I was on patrols hit by rifle fire and IED explosions. I risked my life for Canada's soldiers and the Afghan people. I earned many recommendations from the Canadian military and the Afghan government for my service.
From personal experience, I know what is possible or impossible to say because of operational security. Nothing I will say today is a threat to the security of Canada, Afghanistan, or the soldiers with whom I proudly served. I'm here today because of my solidarity with Canadian soldiers and Afghan people.
I had a secret clearance and worked with several military units that handled or interrogated detainees. I translated many meetings and documents about detainees for DFAIT, for the military police, and for the All Source Intelligence Centre, known as ASIC. I also translated and gave cultural advice to high-level Canadians, such as the commander of JTF Afghanistan during Task Force Afghanistan, Brigadier-General Guy Laroche, a man whom I respect very much, and also visiting ministers and members of Parliament.
What I learned in Afghanistan is that Canada often transferred innocent men to the NDS, and sometimes did so when the NDS threatened their safety and their lives. Let me tell some stories about the detainees. Please excuse me for the fact that some of the dates and details are approximate, but the Canadian Forces took my notes when I left Afghanistan.
Around June or July 2007, the CF forces raided a compound in Hazraji Baba, north of Kandahar City. During that week, a Canadian soldier shot a 17-year-old unarmed Afghan man in the back of the head. Shooting an Afghan unarmed man from the back violates the rules of engagement. The Canadian Forces thought he had a pistol, but it was tested at Bagram airfield and it was not his. Anyway, after the Canadian Forces wrongly killed the man, they panicked. They swept through the neighbourhood arresting people for no reason. They arrested more than 10 men, from about 10 to 90 years old. All the men were taken to Kandahar airfield, where I personally interviewed them with the military tactical questioners unit.
None of the detainees were Taliban. None did anything wrong except to be at home when the Canadian Forces murdered their neighbour. Yet Canada transferred all these innocent men to the NDS. I don't know what happened to them.
Here is another story. Around July 2007, a detainee with battle injuries was in KAF awaiting transfer to NDS. Because he had medical needs, a meeting took place between two DFAIT policy advisers—John Davison and Ed Jager—the military police, and an NDS colonel named Yassin. I attended the meeting to translate.
During the meeting, disagreement broke out. Colonel Yassin said that NDS would not accept a sick detainee. When the Canadians insisted, Colonel Yassin removed his pistol, put it on the table, and said, “Here is my gun. Go shoot him. Give me the body, and I will justify it for you.” I translated the NDS colonel's proposal to murder the detainee.
Canada's government says detainees are never transferred to NDS if there is a risk of abuse, but this is a lie. The detainee was transferred to an NDS colonel who proposed murdering him while military police and DFAIT people watched.
When Colonel Yassin made the death threat, Ed Jager immediately said, “I will pretend you did not say that and I did not hear it.” Of course, pretending did not protect the man, but it is what DFAIT and the military police did. I never found out what NDS did to that man.
In the fall of 2007, the CF detained two brothers-in-law named Abdul Ghafar and Atta Mohamad Azckzai. One of those men was a car dealer and the other a mechanic. They were not fighters.
After Mr. Ghafar and Mr. Azckzai were brought to KAF, I received a call from a guard at the Canadian gate, controlled by the Canadian airfield in KAF, called ECP3. Mr. Ghafar's mother, a brave elderly woman, was asking to see me. I went to the gate to see her. She had brought a bag of medicine for her son, who she said had been recently treated for kidney diseases in Pakistan. She asked the guard to take the medicine to her son. She went on her knees, begging and grabbing the guard's feet, but the guard refused. I told my chain of command that to refuse this elderly woman was very insensitive in Afghan culture. Anyway, without his medicine Mr. Ghafar became sick. The doctors at KAF operated and removed his kidney. Then Canada was ready to transfer him.
But as I already told you, the NDS in Kandahar did not want sick detainees. They would not accept Mr. Ghafar. So Canada transferred him to the NDS in Kabul instead. I don't know what happened to him.
Mr. Atta Mohamad Azckzai was also transferred, but not easily. When Ed Jager read him the detainee agreement and he understood that he was being transferred to the NDS, Mr. Azckzai became angry. He asked why he was being transferred. Mr. Jager did not answer. However, Colonel Yassin objected that Mr. Jager was telling the detainee his rights. Mr. Azckzai protested that he had children and no money to bribe his way out of prison. Finally, he put his head on the ground and said to the soldiers, “Please put one bullet in my head. Do that instead of transferring me to the NDS.” He was that scared of the NDS. Colonel Yassin answered. He told all of us, “When Azckzai gets to my room, he will speak.” It was a clear threat to abuse this embarrassing detainee.
Here is the last story. In the summer of 2007 I was with the Canadian Forces assisting in Kalantar village in Kandahar Dand district. I was approached by a very desperate woman. Her husband had been detained a few days before and transferred to the NDS, and now the NDS wanted money to release him. Ransoming detainees is normal for the NDS. If the NDS is not paid, they threaten the family. Afghans know this sort of thing happens. Unfortunately, this woman was too poor. She could not pay the NDS for her husband's freedom. Even worse, with her husband in prison and not working, there was no money to buy food for her four children.
When I saw the children, they looked sick because their mother had to feed them grass and leaves for four days. After our patrol left the village, I do not know what happened to this family.
I am out of time, but there is one question I must discuss: that is the question of why. Why did Canadian officials ignore the abuse of the NDS, or, like Mr. Jager, why did they pretend not to see?
When he testified, Brigadier-General Thompson said that the NDS was “a very valuable partner” and that Canada “acted on the intelligence we received from the NDS”. This is true, but not in a pleasant way. I saw Canadian military intelligence sending detainees to the NDS when the detainees did not tell them what they expected to hear. If the interrogator thought a detainee was lying, the military sent him to the NDS for more questions, Afghan style. Translation: abuse and torture.
When Brigadier-General Thompson called the NDS our partner for intelligence, he was correct. But that means the military used the NDS as a subcontractor for abuse and torture.
I complained about this to the commander of ASIC, and I was punished for it while I was negotiating for the surrender of two Taliban commanders. Someone in the Canadian Forces, I believe, leaked my real name and real identity to the Taliban. Soon the Taliban were threatening, sending night letters to my family because I was a traitor helping the Canadian Forces. My family had to escape Afghanistan as refugees, afraid for their lives.
I am ending now. The stories I told show how transferring detainees to the NDS does not win hearts and minds but increases support for the Taliban. ASIC thought the NDS was a good partner for intelligence reasons, and Canada's government must agree. Certainly when I complained to the official representative of the Government of Canada in Kandahar, Elissa Golberg, nothing changed.
But today the Taliban are stronger, and Canadian soldiers are more in danger than ever before. That shows how foolish the Canadian government's detainee transfer agreements are. They hurt innocent Afghan people and Canadian soldiers at the same time.
Thank you for listening, Mr. Chairman.
You will need your translation device.
First of all, sir, allow me to call you Pacha, because I think it's a beautiful name.
I would like to congratulate you for your courage. I admit I haven't heard such forceful testimony since that of Richard Colvin. I emphasize what my Liberal colleague, Mr. Wilfert, pointed out. He said that your letters of recommendation were irreproachable. We have them here on the table; everyone has received them. Virtually everyone you have associated with, including General Ménard—who holds a strategic position—the American armed forces, researchers, in short, everyone concedes that you were very helpful. I therefore hope no one here or elsewhere will question what you said. I believe what you said. If you didn't have these letters, we could always wonder what you did and whether what you said was true, but you were in the heart of the action and you therefore witnessed everything you have told us about.
Furthermore, your testimony, in my view, completely contradicts that of General Hillier. He told us, at the witness table, that the prisoners who were captured had been captured after extremely dangerous and violent combat involving exchanges of fire. He said that most of them, only those who were arrested, had explosive residue on their hands. In his mind, that was enough to say they were terrorists. He also told us that all those who were farmers and those who were innocent, ordinary people, were immediately released. Would you go so far as to say that General Hillier did not tell the truth before us?
First of all, thank you very much for the nice words.
No, retired General Hillier did not tell the committee the truth. When a Taliban detainee is detained and is taken to NDS prison, the NDS knows everything about him, because they will ask for the bribe. A dangerous Taliban commander, a dangerous element, can buy his way out of NDS prison. Known Taliban commanders walk out of NDS prison if they pay them.
I told you the story about Hazraji Baba, when over ten men were arrested. They went from 10 years old to 90 years old. With all due respect, I would ask retired General Hillier to tell me and explain to me how a 90-year-old man.... He was a 90-year-old man. He couldn't even walk without help. His hands were tied. His foot was shackled. He was blindfolded. Sometimes, when he couldn't walk fast enough, they pushed him. He fell many times, and he had injuries on his body.
Could he please explain to me how this 90-year-old man, who couldn't even walk, who needed help when you tried to pick him up, could be a fighter?
Thank you for the invitation.
I'm afraid I'm not going to have an awful lot pertinent to tell you because I left Afghanistan in August 2005. I was there from September 2002 to August 2005. I was the first Canadian diplomat accredited full time to Afghanistan, and I was on my own that first year. There was no means of communicating with Ottawa at that time, so I travelled to Islamabad and filed my reports through the Canadian High Commission there. Then, as you are aware, the embassy opened in August 2003, and the first resident ambassador appeared. I was the political counsellor, and the deputy head of mission and chargé in the ambassador's absence. We were a very small team, just four: the ambassador, the CIDA program manager, the consular officer, and me.
I was able to travel extensively, especially in the first year. There were no travel restrictions on me. Sometimes I wondered if people even knew I was there because I went wherever I wanted, when I wanted. I had been told before I left to ensure that I would get the views of the “man on the street”, so it meant that I had to get away from some official circles and travel throughout the country.
My major responsibility, and what I reported to Ottawa on, was reform of the security sector. That included the army, police, justice, counter-narcotics, demilitarization, the provincial reconstruction teams, and so on. I had to report also on political developments, the constitution, elections, the formation of political parties, and of course human rights. The benchmarks against which I reported were the Bonn Agreement, the Loya Jirga decisions, presidential decrees, and civil society perceptions in Kabul and in the provinces.
I was also a political liaison for our defence attaché and RCMP liaison officers who were in Islamabad but accredited to Afghanistan as well.
Another part of the work was to organize all the programs for visits, including being the note-taker and writing the reports on the visits of the defence and foreign affairs ministers, senior officials, the Prime Minister, and the Governor General, twice.
As a background, I'll just tell you that I worked for CIDA at one point: Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, Colombia, Ecuador, and Pakistan. In Foreign Affairs, I worked on the economic and democratic transition in Russia, the Canadian assistance to that transitional period; on Bosnia; on reconstruction of the former Yugoslavia; and on the Balkans. This is before I went to Afghanistan.
What I learned, and certainly Afghanistan confirmed that, is that these fragile states, as they called them, or failing states, and the countries in transition and post-conflict situations, are not the usual diplomatic fare, as you can imagine. Rule of law is most often absent. In fact, I can't think of anywhere that it was present in these countries of transition in the way that we would describe it. Violence was the way they solved their differences, and of course corruption sets in very quickly. Human rights are severely neglected.
I've had many requests since I came back to go on talk shows, to have interviews, and I relented a few weeks ago, and I guess that's why I was invited here, because of my CBC interview. I want to clarify that I agreed to the CBC radio interview, and the sole purpose was to give some support to Richard Colvin, because I didn't see anyone really speaking up for him at all. In fact, he was being, it seemed to me, quite maligned.
During that interview I made no mention of ruling parties, politics, or names. I was quite surprised—and that's my naïveté in dealing with the media—to find it so highly charged and politicized in the evening news.
I want to assure you that in all my career I have served the interests of Canada, the Canadian people, as a non-partisan professional and as a person of integrity in some of the most troublesome hot spots of the world.
I want to refer to the annual human rights reports, because I think some of you might have some from 2002 to 2004 or 2005.
Those of us who work in the field and are charged with preparing human rights reports take this work very seriously. I do in particular, because I feel that if we do these reports well, they describe the human condition against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is important that they are studied by those who receive them and those who are to go out in the field, because they cover everything.
It's also important that we study our usual interlocutors and civil society's perceptions of authorities and power brokers. But this takes time, and we often don't have much time in a post-conflict country such as Afghanistan. We have to make snap decisions just to try to keep people alive. Too often we may be inclined to concoct quick fixes without tackling the root causes and without really understanding the subtleties and complexities of cultures so unlike our own. I have not, in all my career, been in a place as complex as Afghanistan.
With our current restrictions on civilian freedom of movement, it must be increasingly difficult for colleagues in the field to keep up with situations and the characters at play.
We are just now starting to get a glimpse into Afghanistan. l trust we can put this to work in our post-2011 interventions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Olexiuk, I agree with your statement. As the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, I deal with bureaucrats all the time and I can vouch for what you just said in your statement today, that they do the best thing for Canada in a non-partisan way. So I want to thank you on behalf of Canada and my colleagues.
The question here, Ms. Olexiuk, is a very important one. Canada went into the Afghanistan theatre, and it's very important that during your time there you issued a lot of reports. You brought in a lot of issues of human rights in the early time the government was there. Of course, you are saying, and I agree with you, that it's not partisan with you. But at that given time, the government in action was across the aisle, and one of the most senior members of that government, in that cabinet, is sitting right across from me. One would be very interested in knowing, what did he know? Today he stood up in the House of Commons and talked about the ICC, he talked about the Criminal Code, and he talked about the government knowing this.
My main question to you, in regard to your reports on this thing, is what did you tell the senior members of the government, in your view? Did you have a discussion or anything else? This is a very serious charge he has made. He's made a charge, not recognizing that he will be facing the same charges for the things you have just said today about their ignoring your reports on human rights abuses.
So perhaps you can tell us how much discussion did you have with the foreign ministers at that given time—Mr. Pettigrew and Mr. Bill Graham? How far did those go, and we would like to know how much deeper this abuse you talked about went to the Liberal government and the member sitting opposite here. What did he know about it? We will find out later on. We would like you to tell us now, in your view, how much do you think the government of the day knew about human rights abuses.
Which means that this government, knowing the fact that there were human rights abuses, did not take any action in regard to the detainees. I want that to go on the record, Mr. Chairman.
A voice: [Inaudible--Editor]
Mr. Deepak Obhrai: You had your day. Let me have mine.
I want to make it very clear. It's on the record that this government was aware of the human rights abuses to the detainees. And according to the witness who is here, she did not see this government take any action to put that member sitting there, who was a senior member of the cabinet, who should be facing charges too, as you so kindly put it....
I'm trying to understand and bring this thing.... I do understand.
You've done an excellent job of coming and saying what was there at that time. You have given us an excellent window into what transpired during that period of time, because to date we have not had the Liberal foreign ministers or anybody from the Liberal Party have the courage to come and sit over there and talk about the time of the detainee human rights abuses when they were in power. You are the first witness to come and show that, and I want that truly noted very well, Mr. Chair.
Now, in your view, when the 2005 arrangements, the transfer arrangements, came through, what, in your opinion, was the flaw in this agreement?