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Afghans torture detainees, UN says

By Alissa J. Rubin
New York Times / October 11, 2011

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KABUL - Suspects are hung by their hands, beaten with cables, given electric shocks, and subjected to other forms of torture in detention facilities run by the Afghan intelligence service and the Afghan national police, according to a study released yesterday by the United Nations here.

The report provides a devastating picture of the abuses committed by arms of the Afghanistan government as the US-led foreign forces are moving to wind down their presence after a decade of war.

The abuses were uncovered even as US and other Western trainers and mentors had been working closely with the ministries overseeing the detention facilities and had funded their operations.

Acting on an early draft of the report seen last month, NATO stopped handing over detainees to the Afghans in several areas.

The report found evidence of “a compelling pattern and practice of systematic torture and ill-treatment’’ during interrogation in the accounts to UN researchers of nearly half of the detainees of the intelligence service, known as the National Directorate of Intelligence.

The national police treatment of detainees was somewhat less severe, the report found. Its research covered 47 facilities sites in 22 provinces.

“Use of interrogation methods, including suspension, beatings, electric shock, stress positions, and threatened sexual assault is unacceptable by any standard of international human rights law,’’ the report said.

It was unclear from the report whether any information extracted under torture was used by the Afghan government or its foreign military allies.

One detainee described being brought in for interrogation in Kandahar and having the interrogator ask whether he knew the name of the office and then, after the man answered, “You should confess what you have done in the past as Taliban - even stones confess here.’’

The man was beaten over several days for hours at a time with electric wire and then signed a confession, the report said.

The report pointed out that even though the abusive practices are entrenched, the Afghan government does not condone torture and has explicitly said the abuses found by the United Nations are not government policy.

“Reform is both possible and desired,’’ said Staffan de Mistura, the UN special representative for Afghanistan, noting that the government had cooperated with the report’s researchers and has begun to take action.

“We take this report very seriously,’’ said Shaida Abdali, the deputy director of Afghanistan’s National Security Council.

“Our government, especially the president, has taken a very strong stand on the protection of everyone’s human rights, their humanity, everywhere and especially in prisons and in detention,’’ he said, adding that he had not read the full document.

The government issued a lengthy response to the report in which the intelligence service denied using electric shock, the threat of rape, and the twisting of genitals, but allowed that there were “deficiencies’’ in a war-torn country that routinely faced suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism.

It also said it had set up an assessment unit to look into the problem and had dismissed several employees at a unit known as Department 124, where the United Nations said the torture appeared to have been the most endemic.

The intelligence service is now admonishing newly assigned interrogators to observe human rights, the government said in its response.

Ultimately prosecution of the torturers is required, said Georgette Gagnon, the director of the human rights for the United Nations here, in order to “prevent and end such acts in the future.’’

In the absence of remedial changes by the Afghans, the information could trigger a provision under US law, known as the Leahy amendment, that would stop some financing for the Afghan security forces, according to human rights experts.

The report overall raises broad ethical questions about US funding of foreign security forces whose military and law enforcement officials routinely use torture.

Several instances have raised similar questions, including in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and El Salvador, according to a RAND report in 2006.

Aid to Colombia in fighting its drug cartels and insurgents also has raised some of these issues.

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