By David Ljunggren
Mon Oct 29, 2:55 PM ET
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada brushed off allegations on Monday that Taliban members captured by Canadian troops and handed over to Afghan authorities had been tortured, saying the militants often made false claims of mistreatment.
Canada's minority Conservative government, which ran into serious trouble when faced with similar accusations earlier in the year, signed a deal with Kabul in May allowing Canadian officials unlimited access to prisoners. Ottawa said the deal would combat torture.
But the French-language daily La Presse said on Monday it had found three prisoners who alleged inmates had been beaten with bricks and cables, given electric shocks, deprived of sleep and had their nails torn out.
"We do expect these kind of allegations from the Taliban. It is their standard operating procedure to engage in these kinds of accusations. I'd caution ... against taking them as the word of the truth," government minister Peter Van Loan told Parliament.
Opposition politicians said there were serious doubts as to whether the May deal could protect prisoners.
"We now have headlines in the paper that suggest Canada is facilitating a process of torture. This is extremely serious. It's also serious under international law," said Jack Layton, leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party.
Human rights experts, speaking earlier this year, said Canadian soldiers could be guilty of war crimes because they transferred the detainees at a time when Ottawa was aware that Afghan authorities regularly tortured prisoners.
International conventions prohibit a country from handing over prisoners if there is reason to suspect abuse.
The three suspected Taliban members said they had been captured by Canadian troops, given a document that said torture was no longer used in Afghanistan and then transferred to the Afghan secret police.
"The people from the secret service tore it (the document) up and threw it in my face. They tortured me for 20 hours. I protested and said the Canadians had promised that nothing would happen to me," La Presse quoted one of the three men as saying.
"They replied: 'We're not in Canada, we're at home. The Canadians are dogs!"' he said.
La Presse said it had conducted the interviews in Sarpoza prison in the southern city of Kandahar, where Canada's 2,500-strong military mission is based.