UNAMA report: The state as an agent of torture, abuse and killing of detainees in Afghan custody

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UNAMA working to build awareness, prevent torture (image Khamaa Press)

The treatment of conflict-related detainees in custody is a contentious issue. In recent years torture in some countries has become so widespread it is normalized by certain elements of society. These are the “torture apologists” that believe physical and psychological abuse to be justified, an ideology often propped up by the state though this is played down in public, even denied.

It is essential that all reports of alleged torture are fully investigated and detainees allowed access to lawyers, medical staff trained in identifying and documenting torture and independent human rights advocates.

No matter what alleged crime is levelled at a detainee or conviction established, a fair legal process must be followed that does not include human rights violations. Lately, there are concerns that even well established human rights organizations are refusing to examine some allegations of torture dismissing accusations as “propaganda” in Taliban cases without even bothering to check further. So called “campaigners” have openly stated that insurgents have no rights therefore practicing a “selective” form of human rights. This is unacceptable. They must ensure as far as possible that the state leads by example working within the law or governments and state authorities not only lose all moral credibility but in the worst case scenarios become torturers and terrorists themselves.

Release of UNAMA report update on torture 

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Detainees report having fingernails pulled out

In 2004, United Nations Security Council mandated the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) “to support the establishment of a fair and transparent justice system and to work towards strengthening the rule of law.” The work of UNAMA includes a mandate to improve human rights in relation to the justice and prison sectors within the country. UNAMA’s two earlier reports on detainee treatment found the following,

“compelling evidence that many conflict-related detainees UNAMA interviewed had experienced torture and ill-treatment during arrest and interrogation in numerous detention facilities run by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Afghanistan National Police (ANP).”

The organization has now released a further publication entitled, “Update on the Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghan Custody: Accountability and Implementation of Presidential Decree 129”. The report identifies that 790 detainees were interviewed from February 2013 to December 2014 with 35% indicating torture or ill-treatment during incarceration, some 278 cases. There has been some progress, a 14 percent decline in the last two years regarding the number of detainees reporting abuse at the hands of government and military forces. Worryingly 105 children were included in the report, of whom 44 were said to have experienced ill-treatment.

The report includes statements from detainees themselves, the following are 6 case examples of the suffering they endured at the hands of a number of different bodies,

Torture case example 1

“I was taken to NDS Department 124. They started beating me. They kicked me with their boots and they punched me on the first day. On the second day, they also beat me but this time with a water pipe for about two hours. On the third day, they used a machine on my sexual organs. It was like a clip or pliers and they used it to squeeze my sexual parts till I cried. After this, I made a confession I was a Talib. I was scared because they threatened they would destroy my sexual organs. I just said anything and they wrote it down and I put my thumb prints on the papers. I thought I might die if they destroyed my sexual organs.” Detainee 161, NDS Department 124, July 2013

Torture case example 2

“NDS people took me directly to the NDS Farah city branch. There I was beaten with a cable for half an hour and they accused me of being a Talib and being involved in a murder case. They beat my body cruelly and told me to confess. During the interrogation they also had two electric wires which they used on my body until I became unconscious. I forcibly confessed that I was involved in the person’s killing. Then I was transferred to the NDS provincial facility, they again slapped me and one of them choked me four times. They wanted me to confess my membership of the Taliban but I denied this. They threatened me to death if I did not confess and so I did.” Detainee 252, NDS Farah, June 2014

Torture Case example 3

“ANP arrested me and took me to a police station in Herat city. I was blindfolded and taken to a room where they kicked me and forced me to lie down. They put wires on my toes and gave me electric shocks. I felt pain in my chest and in other parts of my body, as if someone was beating me with a stick. Later I was taken to the Counter-Terrorism Unit at ANP headquarters. At around 10 pm I was again blindfolded and taken to a room where they again made me lie down. I was given electric shocks. They stuffed something in my mouth so that I could not speak, and they beat me. A second group beat me with electric wire and pipes on the soles of my feet. This lasted until 7 a.m. Once, the chief of the Counter-Terrorism Unit took out his pistol and told me: ‘Confess or I’ll beat you!’ On the morning of the third day they pulled off one of the nails of my left hand and two toe nails. I told them that I would confess anything they wanted and my confession was videorecorded.” Detainee 329, ANP Herat, April 2014

Torture case example 4

Afghan National Police (ANP) arrested me and some of my relatives and friends. They took us to the Counter-Terrorism Unit and asked me if I had weapons. I told them I did not. An officer of the Counter-Terrorism Unit told me that I had committed terrorist acts. I told him this was not the case and that I was a simple worker. The more I said I was not involved, the angrier they got and beat me with cables on the soles of my feet. I was also given electric shocks. They put wires on my toes and they used a handle to increase the voltage. I could not breathe during the shocks, and afterwards I could not walk any more. The same group of people did this to me three times. Someone also pressed my throat with his hands, and this is why I feel pain. Among those who tortured me were some men in police uniforms and others in civilian clothes.” Detainee 330, ANP Herat, August 201418

Torture Case Example 5

“The NDS took me to a room in the basement, laid me down with my back against the floor and two persons were holding my feet up. Then one of the NDS personnel, even without asking any questions, began hitting on the soles of my feet with a pipe. They were saying that I was a Taliban and I must confess. I denied. The beating lasted for about 15 minutes. The next day, they took me back to the same room. One of the investigators put his feet on my genitals and pressed very hard. It was very painful. He strongly slapped me on my face five times, kicked and punched me a number of times all over my body (head, back, legs). He also threatened to give me electric shocks if I did not confess I was a suicide attacker. I denied it but he wrote it down in my statement and forced me to sign it. After that they did not interrogate me anymore.” Detainee 260, NDS Department 1, November 2013

Torture Case example 6

“I was arrested by ALP because they accused my brother of being a Talib. They took me to the ANP station in a district in Kandahar province. During my first night there the ANP village commander and 15 other ANP men beat me with cables. They pulled and squeezed my testicles until my urine had blood. They kicked me in the stomach. Then they gave me pen and paper and ordered me to testify against my brother. About ten days later I was given electric shocks on my feet three times, using power from a wall socket. Altogether I spent three weeks in ANP detention in this district. When I was transferred to the detention facility at ANP headquarters in Kandahar torture marks were still visible on my body, yet the detention authorities only gave me medicine but took no other action.” Detainee 269, ANP Kandahar, May 2014

The report also details testimony relating to extra -judicial killings. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights. stated,“torture is a very serious crime for which there is no justification.”

Recommendations

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Prisoners must not be subjected to torture, cruel and degrading treatment (image TOLO News) 

Among recommendations in the report is the importance of establishing a legal framework with which to address torture. Also key, are education on human rights and torture awareness, prevention and discrediting torture in public culture, adequate forensics for identifying victims, guidelines for standard of proof, documenting evidence of abuse and a remedy for the victims. Towards the end of the report the following response appears,

“It is not the official policy of the Government of Afghanistan to implement torture and ill-treat detainees in order to obtain information and confessions in detention facilities under its control. Some of the incidents mentioned in the UNAMA report are not correct, while some of them could be due to individual violations by officials and personnel of the security and judicial organs. Acknowledging some problems in this regard, the Government of Afghanistan is committed to eliminating torture and ill-treatment and to develop a plan at a senior level and with the cooperation of relevant organs, for a specific program to prevent reoccurrence of such acts, which are against human rights values, in the detention facilities of the Government of Afghanistan.”

UNAMA Afghan torture report update can be read in full on the following link,

Click to access 25_Feb_2015-UNAMA-Detention-Report.pdf

Recent abuse not covered in the report and gaps in research

Islamic Emirate (Afghan Taliban) regularly highlight alleged human rights abuses in the field, in custody and against civilians,  see recently released article concerning the Arbaki (local police) as an example. They stated,

“A new era of suffering and torture was initiated in the already miserable life of our ordinary countrymen when the notorious Arbakism dubbed “Local Police” process was launched by General David Petraeus four or five years ago. These Arbaki militiamen are mostly those malicious, corrupt, addicted and way layers who are rejected by the society due to their delinquencies as they do not waver from committing any felony or brutality.” (See following link for more information on alleged abuses)

“The Odd Silence of the Media Against the Brutalities of Arbakis (local police)”

https://activist1.wordpress.com/2015/02/11/afghanistan-the-odd-silence-of-the-media-against-the-brutalities-of-arbakis-local-police/

Retaliation attacks incited by state torture, extra judicial killing

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Peshawar Army School attack (Pakistan) carried out to avenge torture, unlawful killings of young men in custody in the weeks before massacre

What is often not addressed when researching cases of torture is the link between state violence and insurgent retaliation attacks. The most disturbing cases of late was in neighbouring Pakistan where in the weeks leading up to the Peshawar Army School attack, where over 140 people including schoolchildren were killed and 122 injured by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP). Taliban had repeatedly warned for army and police to stop alleged torture in custody, extra judicial killings or they would target their families. Battered bodies, showing signs of violent abuse piled up in detention centres with families told not to file complaints for the deaths of mostly younger men. Tragically due to the criminal actions of adults who incited terrorism through torture, the children of Peshawar paid a terrible price as this was a final “trigger” which led to a massacre which could have been avoided.

There is a gap in the research on studying state torture and insurgent retaliation. Researchers are reluctant to “rock the boat” due to the criminal nature of some state agencies involved and their denial thus avoidance of any accountability. Access is difficult because of the sensitive nature of the subject and researchers themselves could end up being subjected to a “shoot the messenger” scenario or find themselves in detention and part of the next study on torture.

Insurgents claim their victims openly in public media statements and on video, so the main focus is usually their brutality while state agencies sometimes extreme in their own behaviour escape scrutiny often through media and public collusion avoiding any accountability.

The following article link reflects on American CIA torture in Guantanano Bay, (Cuba) Abu Ghraib (Iraq) and Bagram (Afghanistan) which has recently inspired the Islamic State (IS) to copycat acts of extreme violence and torture, “like for like” killings in ever more gruesome videos.

Four major incidents of bombings, mass shootings have also been documented in Pakistan where state torture and unlawful killing have directly incited a number of major terrorist attacks. This can be seen in statements and videos before and after incidents. Four are documented but it appears this is only the tip of the iceberg. See following link,

“War on Torture: States crossing the line create a security risk for all”

https://activist1.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/war-on-torture-states-crossing-the-line-create-a-security-risk-for-all/

The UNAMA reports has gone some way to addressing torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Afghanistan however it must also look at the wider security risks for society. It is not only those deprived of freedom and violated that suffer but the wider community as insurgents avenge the brutality inflicted on those in custody by carrying out terrorist attacks and “martyrdom” (suicide) operations. It is time this correlation of one inciting another, cause and effect is taken into account!

Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.

About Carol Anne Grayson

Blogging for Humanity.... Campaigner/researcher global health/human rights/drones/WOT/insurgency http://www.esrc.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/PO/experts/Health_and_Wellbeing.aspx Exec Producer of Oscar nominated documentary Incident in New Baghdad, currently filming on drones.
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