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Torture a Kabul Speciality

Ottawa's deal to inspect prisoners shows it hasn't learned from war history in Afghanistan

Eric Margolis

How did Canada, one of the world's most respected, law-abiding nations, become a party to the torture of prisoners in Afghanistan and a violator of the Geneva Conventions?The story begins in 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

The Soviet KGB created a mirror-image secret police for its Afghan puppet government, KhAD.

Having been pursued by KhAD agents, I can speak with personal knowledge of this subject.


KhAD sought to eradicate all opposition to the Communists. It also ran the education system and religious establishment. KhAD quickly became notorious, even in a famously brutal society, for its cruelties.

All political prisoners -- that is, anyone who opposed the Communists -- were subjected to systematic tortures. These ranged from garden variety beatings, pulling of fingernails, near-drowning and electric shocks to more refined cruelties.

Prisoners were flayed alive, thrown into vats of sulphuric acid, blinded, buried alive, burned with gasoline, or slowly frozen in refrigerated rooms.

Psychological tortures -- sleep deprivation, long isolation in darkness, sound assault, mock executions and psychotropic drugs -- were also used by KhAD under KGB supervision. The same tortures, known as "enhanced interrogation," are routinely used today by the CIA.

The Communists killed two million Afghans. Canada turned its back and refused to aid the mujahedeen battling Soviet occupation. After the Soviets withdrew in 1989, the newborn Taliban movement drove the remaining Afghan Communists -- rebranded the Northern Alliance -- into the far northeast.


In 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, allied itself to the Northern Alliance, and overthrew the Taliban. A figurehead, Hamid Karzai, was put in power. Real power, however, was held by the Communist-dominated Northern Alliance.

Once the Northern Alliance took Kabul, the KhAD, rechristened NDS, was quickly re-established. The old Communist torturers and war criminals went back into business.

Today, an estimated 60% of NDS personnel are former KhAD agents. Canadian and U.S. forces fighting to pacify southern Afghanistan have been routinely handing captives and suspects over to the NDS secret police -- in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions.

This dirty secret was finally exposed to Canadians by a major Globe and Mail investigation.

It exposed Ottawa's childish claims of having assurances from the Afghan Communist secret police -- which had murdered or maimed tens of thousands of victims -- to treat prisoners humanely.

How did Canada get into this mess? Conservative politicians in Ottawa saw a chance to win new voters by whipping up jingoism in a jolly little war against "evil" Muslims that was supposed to be a slam dunk.

Chest-thumping generals leapt before they looked. The men in Ottawa responsible for getting Canadians stuck ever deeper in this ugly conflict had no knowledge whatsoever about Afghanistan, its tribal politics, or history.

Senior officers and politicians who claim not to have known they were handing over prisoners to the Afghan secret police for torture are either stunningly ignorant or lying.

I guess they never read Rudyard Kipling's famous admonition to British soldiers fallen wounded in Afghanistan, "save your last bullet for yourself."

This writer, who has covered many guerrilla wars in Asia, Africa and Central America, repeatedly warned in recent years that the longer Canadian troops stayed in Afghanistan, the more they would become brutalized and involved in war crimes. Such is the nature of all guerrilla wars. Has no one in Ottawa ever studied Algeria, Lebanon or Vietnam?


Canadians who still believe the fairy tale that their forces in Afghanistan are "nation building" or doing social work should reflect on the grim fate of prisoners their soldiers handed over to the mercies of the Afghan secret police.

Ottawa's deal this week with Kabul for inspection of NDS prisoners is a sham. The KhAD had the same empty "agreement" with human rights groups in the 1980s.

It's bad enough Canada's troops are defending Afghanistan's warlords who run its booming heroin industry. Now Ottawa is hand in glove with the Communist Party's veteran torturers. Well done, Ottawa.

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