Canada removes U.S., Israel from torture watchlist

OTTAWA Sat Jan 19, 2008 2:03pm EST

A rusting fence with barbed wire is shown at the unused Camp X-Ray at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba September 5, 2007. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

A rusting fence with barbed wire is shown at the unused Camp X-Ray at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba September 5, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper

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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's foreign ministry, responding to pressure from close allies, said on Saturday it would remove the United States and Israel from a watch list of countries where prisoners risk being tortured.

Both nations expressed unhappiness after it emerged they had been listed in a document that formed part of a training course manual on torture awareness given to Canadian diplomats.

Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said he regretted the embarrassment caused by the public disclosure of the manual, which also classified some U.S. interrogation techniques as torture.

"It contains a list that wrongly includes some of our closest allies. I have directed that the manual be reviewed and rewritten," Bernier said in a statement.

"The manual is neither a policy document nor a statement of policy. As such, it does not convey the government's views or positions."

The document -- made available to Reuters and other media outlets -- embarrassed the minority Conservative government, which is a staunch ally of both the United States and Israel.

U.S. ambassador David Wilkins said the listing was absurd, while the Israeli envoy said he wanted his country removed.

Asked why the two countries had been put on the list, a spokesman for Bernier said: "The training manual purposely raised public issues to stimulate discussion and debate in the classroom."

The government mistakenly gave the document to Amnesty International as part of a court case the rights organization has launched against Ottawa over the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan.

AMPLE EVIDENCE OF ABUSE

Amnesty International Canada, which says it has ample evidence that prisoners are abused both in U.S. and Israeli jails, said it was disappointed by Bernier's announcement.

"When it comes to an issue like torture, the government's main concern should not be embarrassing allies," Alex Neve, the group's secretary-general, told Reuters. The U.S. embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Under "definition of torture," the document lists U.S. interrogation techniques such as forced nudity, isolation, sleep deprivation and blindfolding prisoners.

It also mentions the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where a Canadian man is being held.

The man, Omar Khadr, has been in Guantanamo Bay for five years. He is accused of killing a U.S. soldier during a clash in Afghanistan in 2002, when he was 15.

Other countries on the watch list include Syria, China, Iran, Afghanistan, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

The foreign ministry launched the torture awareness course after Ottawa was criticized for the way it handled the case of Canadian engineer Maher Arar, who was deported from the United States to Syria in 2002.

Arar says he was tortured repeatedly during the year he spent in Damascus prisons. An official inquiry into the affair showed Canadian diplomats had not been trained to detect whether detainees might have been abused.

(Editing by Philip Barbara)

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