Canada soldier wrong to allege Afghan abuse: panel

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A soldier who embarrassed Ottawa by alleging troops knew Afghan authorities were abusing prisoners handed over by Canada’s forces was mistaken, a military board of inquiry reported on Friday.

A note by the soldier, written after an incident on June 14, 2006, became public last December and seemed to contradict official assurances that Canadian troops had no credible evidence that prisoners might be harmed.

In the note, the soldier wrote that Canadians had photographed a suspect “to ensure that if the Afghan National Police (ANP) did assault him, as has happened in the past, that we would have a visual record of his condition.”

The soldier -- a section commander -- told the board he had been referring to prior reports of abuse.

“He also heard rumors of the brutality of the ANP and witnessed the ANP using certain forms of corporal punishment. However, the section commander testified that he never observed ANP in the act of abusing detainees,” said Rear-Admiral Paul Maddison, who chaired the board.

“It is also important to note that the board asked each witness if they had ever observed the Afghan National Security Forces abusing a detainee before June 14, 2006, and the answers were all ‘no’,” Maddison told a news conference.

The report did say Canadian soldiers had witnessed widespread violence by some elements of the ANP.

“The practice of corporal punishments being meted out on apparent whim in the street and elsewhere was common and was observed and commented upon by most Canadian Forces members. Corruption and bribery were also observed,” it said.

The issue of Afghan abuse could prompt a vote of confidence in the House of Commons and trigger federal election in the near future.

Opposition legislators are demanding the minority Conservative government provide uncensored files on prisoner transfers but it is refusing to so, citing national security.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson