Torture is Systemic in Afghan Prisons, UN Report Finds

No prosecutions for torturers have yet been initiated and the likelihood that US officials will be held accountable is remote

by John Glaser, October 10, 2011

Detainees in Afghan prisons are hung from the ceilings by their wrists, severely beaten with cables and wooden sticks, have their toenails torn off, are treated with electric shock, and even have their genitals twisted until they lose consciousness, according to a study released Monday by the United Nations.

The study, which covered 47 facilities sites in 22 provinces, found “a compelling pattern and practice of systematic torture and ill-treatment” during interrogation by US-supported Afghan authorities. Both US and NATO military trainers and counterparts have been working closely with these authorities, consistently supervising the detention facilities and funding their operations.

The report detailed instances where detained suspects not yet charged with crimes signed confessions only after days of torture, sealing their fate as a convict in Afghanistan.

Before the report was published, the Afghan government got word of its findings and officials sternly denied the claims of torture. Gen. John R. Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, saw a draft of the report and halted transfers of suspected insurgents to 16 of the 47 facilities uncovered in the report.

The Afghan government claims that although the torture was widespread and systemic, they do not condone torture. It has reportedly set up an “assessment unit” to look into the issue and has already dismissed some of the employees at one particularly abusive facility. No prosecution for the torturers has yet been initiated.

The negligence of the US and NATO administrators, and of the Obama administration in Washington, overseeing the detention facilities in Afghanistan could be prosecutable, although chances for accountability in that respect are very remote. The revelations may trigger restrictions on US aid to Afghanistan, under a provision of law called the Leahy law.

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