Archived—Part I (Report): Board of Inquiry into In-theatre Handling of Detainees

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CF Crest

In-Theatre Detainee Handling Process
Board of Inquiry

Final Report
6 February 2009

Major-General M.G. Macdonald, President
Brigadier-General (Retired) G.E. Sharpe, Member
Captain (Navy) P.C. Avis, Member

Executive Summary

1. The In-Theatre (Afghanistan) Detainee Handling Process Board of Inquiry (BOI) was directed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the detention and treatment of three individuals in Afghanistan on or about 6/7 April 2006, including a review of the orders, directives and procedures in place at the time relating to the treatment and processing of detainees in Afghanistan.  The issue arose following Canadian media reports suggesting Canadian Forces (CF) members may have abused a specific Afghan detainee.

2. Given the serious nature of even the possibility of abuse by CF members, a thorough investigation was deemed essential.  The Board was not asked to consider the treatment of detainees after their transfer to Afghan authorities, nor was post-transfer treatment considered relevant to the Board’s understanding of how detainees in Afghanistan were handled while under the custody, care or control of members of the CF.  The Board was directed not to inquire or make findings into whether Military Police executed any policing duties or functions such as initiating or conducting a military police investigation relating to the Detainees.

3. In accordance with the convening order, the Board investigated the 6/7 April incident.  To appreciate the context surrounding this incident, and to track the sequence of orders, directives, procedures and training, the Board considered the time period of Jan 2005 to Nov 2008 relevant to the inquiry.                                                                                                                             , the move of the main CF contingent from Kabul to Kandahar, and all rotations of the main battle group of conventional forces, including their pre-deployment training.

4. The Board acknowledges that there was some confusion regarding the term detainee, including just when the requirement to report detainee information begins; however, there was no evidence that this confusion impacted the way persons being detained were treated by CF members.  Individuals coming into contact with CF troops could be detained by them under a number of different circumstances: as a result of contact in battle; during search operations; or following transfer to Canadians by Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).  Furthermore, Afghan citizens could be held temporarily during operations for their own safety or for the force protection of Canadian soldiers or their allies.

5. In the Afghanistan theatre of operations during the time frame under consideration there were two distinctly different types of CF operations taking place, both potentially requiring CF members to detain individuals.  Major operations involving large numbers of forces were conducted by the main Battle Group,                                                                        .  Although differences existed in the operational orders, directives and procedures between the two operational entities, the manner in which detainees were treated was found to be the same.

6.  Over the course of nearly two years of deliberations, the Board sat for 40 days, hearing 121 witnesses from the Departments of National Defence, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.  The first witness appeared on 27 March 2007 and the last witness on 10 November 2008.  The Board probed the issue of detainee handling with questions that generated approximately 12,000 pages of testimony and 322 exhibits.  The Board reviewed thousands of related documents and travelled to Edmonton and Afghanistan to hear testimony.  At the completion of this work, the three members, and the two operational and five specialist advisors, had heard no evidence suggesting that members of the Canadian Forces have mistreated detainees in Afghanistan.  Indeed, we heard of several instances where CF members went far beyond what was expected of them to protect the lives of Afghan detainees, even though doing so dramatically increased the risk to themselves and their allies.

7. The members of this Board can state without reservation that the conduct of Canadian Forces personnel when dealing with detainees in the Afghanistan theatre of operations has been consistently above reproach.  Indeed, Board members were able to conclude that the professionalism of members of the Canadian Forces in dealing with Afghanistan citizens is such that the Canadian public can have complete confidence in the manner their military representatives carry out operations in general, and in particular the manner in which they handle detainees.

8. Nonetheless, the Board did identify areas where the higher-level administration, including reporting and record keeping of the detainee handling process, could be improved.  The Board also identified some areas where the timeliness and prudence of direction provided to soldiers in the field left room for improvement.  Over the course of the Board’s deliberations, the majority of those shortcomings were rectified as a result of the natural review of operations and the Army (and to a lesser extent Joint) Lessons Learned process.

9. In order to maximize the Canadian public’s awareness of and access to the information in this report, it has been prepared with both classified and unclassified segments.  The Board considers that the unclassified portion tells the complete story and is sufficient to reach the conclusions presented.  It also provides the information that the public needs to have on this key issue of treatment of detainees.  Nonetheless, the absence of classified information does not automatically mean that this segment can be released to the public without some information being redacted (blacked out). According to Government of Canada regulations, the document must still be reviewed and information severed in accordance with Access to Information (ATI) Act.  The classified portion contains the detailed analysis related to the findings the Board was asked to make, which we consider to be operationally sensitive, and will be severed under the Access to Information Act

10. Readers who have the authorization to read the Report in its entirety will also notice that certain quotations that have been cited in Part II of the Report will be seen again in Part III.  This is an intended repetition to account for the fact that Part II is an unclassified account of events that draws on the pertinent detailed information and quotations from Part III.

11. Given the focus and breadth of this investigation, as well as the extensive range of experience of the Board members and advisors, we were able to observe on a number of areas internal to DND that, although not within the specific mandate of the Board, we felt could be improved.  These issues, which are not and should not be considered to be formal findings, have been identified and our observations have been provided for the benefit of the Convening Authority.

12. This Board provided members and advisors alike a rare opportunity to observe the qualities and values guiding the actions of Canadian soldiers under trying circumstances.  The overwhelming effect has been to reaffirm our trust and confidence in both the values and the soldiers.  Canadians have every reason to be proud of their men and women in uniform, and their conduct concerning the treatment and handling of detainees in Afghanistan.


1.  The Board consisted of the President, Major-General Matt Macdonald and two designated members, Captain (Navy) Peter Avis and Brigadier-General (Retired) G.E. (Joe) Sharpe.  In addition to the members, the Board benefited from the advice and input of both general and specialist subject matter experts (SMEs).  Chief Warrant Officers Wayne Ford and Denis Levesque participated on the Board as operations advisors; their presence proved invaluable in helping the Board to understand the operational context of the events in question, as well as to relate to the soldiers and non-commissioned members called to testify.

2. This report consists of six parts, and has been prepared in two main sections; the first is unclassified and consists of Part I – the Executive Summary and Introduction, Part II – Canadian Forces Operations in Afghanistan in 2006, and Part VI – Board Conclusions.  This unclassified portion provides the backdrop required to understand CF operations in Afghanistan leading up to the taking of three Detainees on 6/7 April 2006, and their subsequent handling and transfer to Afghan authorities.  It includes a description of the force used by CF members to capture the three Detainees, as well as the administrative actions that were taken to report the issue to higher headquarters.   An individual who reads only the narrative found in Parts I and II will have all the information necessary to understand what happened to the three Detainees while they were under the care and control of Canadians, and will understand the Board’s Conclusions presented in Part VI.

3. Throughout the unclassified portion of the report extensive reference is made in footnotes to exhibits and testimony that must remain classified.  However, there has been a complete and rigorous legal review of the accuracy of the references, and the reader can have full confidence in the content even without access to the references.

4. The remaining portion of the report is classified SECRET, specifically responding to the direct tasks given the Board by the Convening Authority.  It consists of a major body in Part III with nine chapters – each corresponding to a finding or recommendation required.  It also includes Part IV, the Board’s recommendations and Part V, the Board’s Observations. 

5. Finally, the report includes a number of Annexes and Attachments, both unclassified and secret, that represent further information about the Board’s mandate, composition and activities.

6. Over the course of the nearly two years between the calling of this Board and the delivery of the final report, 121 witnesses were interviewed (and six returned to add additional detail).  Forty days were devoted to hearing witnesses, the first being heard on 27 March 2007 and the last on 10 November 2008.  Considerable time was spent preparing for witnesses, reviewing evidence and writing the final report.  The Board suspended operations several times during this period in order to avoid conflicting with a parallel investigation being conducted by the National Investigation Services (NIS).

7. The CF chain of command as it relates to the MP function is a subject that the Board became aware of during its deliberations.  Specifically, the Board heard evidence that the CFPM who is responsible for MP policing functions and force generation has no command authority over MP or their operations in theatre.  However, as this issue is beyond the mandate of the Board, it has not been addressed in this report.

8. Throughout the document, there are military terms and protocols which may be obscure to the non-military reader.  A major protocol that is used throughout the report is that of “Rotations” or “Roto” of the CF Task Forces and Battle Groups that cycled through Afghanistan and, for our study, Kandahar. The term Roto was frequently used throughout testimony heard by the Board to locate events in time and place.  The initial deployment of a Battle Group to an area of operations is often referred to as Roto 0.  Deployments normally last six months for the Battle Groups of conventional forces, and then another Battle Group replaces them (a process referred to as a Relief in Place or RIP). The follow-on or first rotation, Roto 1, is thus actually the second Battle Group to deploy.  In some instances where a geographic move takes place during a rotation – such as the move from Kabul to Kandahar necessitated by the Government decision to fundamentally change the mission of the CF from security operations in Op ATHENA to combat operations in Task Force Afghanistan in late 2005 – Roto 4 for Op ATHENA becomes a Roto 0 for Task Force Afghanistan.   Readers are encouraged to refer to Table 1 on page 18 of Part II to get a better understanding of this protocol.

9. The action that takes place in the report covers activities on three continents, so it is important for the reader to understand the dates on which significant events took place from the outset.  While the Convening Order for the Board states “on or about 6/7 April 2006 in Afghanistan,” one must understand that in Afghanistan time, the                                                       started 6 April, 2006, the capture of the three Detainees took place on 7 April, 2006, and the transfer of the three Detainees took place on 8 April, 2006.  When reading the timings in the text, this memory aid will be useful.

10.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ; however, in all cases the full details were available to the Board and the actions taken to ensure OPSEC did not alter the meaning.

11.   This report represents the tangible results of the Board’s efforts – a significant investment in time and effort for the CF.  Although a number of complications caused the elapsed time from beginning to end of the Board to be nearly two years, the Board members are confident that the end product was well worth the effort.