OTTAWA - Stashed away in metal shipping containers somewhere at Kandahar Airfield are documents that could shed light on the Afghan detainee affair, an inquiry heard Tuesday.

But more than two years after public hearings were called into the prisoner controversy, the military has yet to find the paperwork and ship it back to Canada.

Instead, stacks of detainee transfer orders are "all thrown together in a storage bin, a sea container" at the military base, Maj. Denis Gagnon told the Military Police Complaints Commission.

Those transfer orders could reveal if Canadian military commanders in Afghanistan weighed the risk of torture before turning over prisoners to Afghan authorities.

Gagnon could not say precisely when the inquiry might see the transfer orders.

"The documents in theatre are far more difficult to find because of the constant rotation of our personnel," he said.

"Plus ... with the current tempo of our operation, they don't have the ability to ... dedicate the proper troops to task in order to properly identify all those documents that may be co-located with many other documents."

Word of the documents' existence emerged as Paul Champ, a lawyer for two civil-rights groups, grilled Gagnon and Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette.

Gagnon told the commission the military has dispatched a team to Kandahar Airfield to determine how long it will take to find the transfer orders and other detainee documents.

Acting commission chair Glenn Stannard asked why the transfer orders weren't included in the paperwork that has already been turned over to the inquiry.

"I don't have an answer for you, sir," Gagnon said.

The transfer orders are just some of the documents caught in a bureaucratic paper jam that threatens to sideline the inquiry.

The commission summoned Blanchette and Foreign Affairs deputy minister Len Edwards to explain why it's taking so long to get paperwork.

Gagnon told the inquiry about a special team within National Defence headquarters that combs documents for so-called "sensitive" information.

That document-screening team has turned over 1,723 documents to the Military Police Complaints Commission since February 2009. But thousands of pages await release to the civilian oversight group.

Blanchette insisted the military has done its work "adequately" and has struck a balance between releasing information and protecting the safety of troops in the field.

Defence Department officials also decide which documents fall within the commission's mandate and which are out of bounds.

But commission lawyer Ron Lunau argued there's no way to verify that all the relevant paper is being released.

He asked Gagnon whether commission lawyers could go to National Defence headquarters to see all the documents for themselves.

"Is there some reason we can't see the documents that have already been reviewed?" Lunau asked.

Gagnon replied that his team has already determined which documents should be turned over.

"Would you allow for the possibility that the commission could disagree?" Lunau asked.

A government lawyer has told the commission it will likely take weeks -- or even months -- before some of the documents are released.

The groups say Canadian military police did not properly investigate officers responsible for directing the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities, allegedly at the risk of torture.

Transferring prisoners between countries knowing they likely face torture is considered a war crime.