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The New York Times, February 26, 2015

Prisoner Abuse Still Widespread in Afghanistan, U.N. Says

The report said that 35 percent of the 790 detainees interviewed from February 2013 to December 2014 claimed to have been subjected to mistreatment, including beatings with pipes, electrical shocks and near asphyxiation

By Azam Ahmed

KABUL, Afghanistan — The torture and mistreatment of people arrested for conflict-related activities remain widespread in Afghan prisons, the United Nations said in a report released on Wednesday, pointing to a continued challenge for the nation’s new government.

The report said that 35 percent of the 790 detainees interviewed from February 2013 to December 2014 claimed to have been subjected to mistreatment, including beatings with pipes, electrical shocks and near asphyxiation. There has been just one criminal prosecution for torture since 2010, oversight within security organizations is lacking and many officials with those organizations do not appear to view torture as illegal, the report said.

“Torture is a very serious crime for which there is no justification,” said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.

The United Nations commended the government for its efforts. The report said that there had been a 14 percent drop in such episodes from the previously reported period, which ended two years earlier.

“Afghanistan’s efforts to prevent torture and ill treatment have shown some progress over the last two years,” the head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, said in a statement. “More remains to be done, however, and I welcome the new administration’s immediate attention to end these practices.”

The government pledged to start a new program to eliminate torture.

Asadullah Khalid accused of torturing Afghans
Asadullah Khalid was the governor of Kandahar province in the Karzai regime and later served as the head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), which is the Afghan intelligence service.
McClatchy Newspapers, Aug. 31, 2012: In April 2010 the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said suspicions had been widespread during Khalid’s tenure in Kandahar that “the feared governor kept a private dungeon for prisoners under his palace.” Also in April 2010, Canada’s newspaper The Globe and Mail quoted a former official who’d served under Khalid at the governor’s palace in Kandahar as saying he’d seen a prisoner in a guard room hanging from the ceiling “trussed like a chicken.” The Globe and Mail quoted another man as saying he was among those detained at the palace and “endured weeks of beatings supervised by the governor himself.” (Photo: James McCarten/The Canadian Press)

“Despite the positive change, the government of Afghanistan does not see it as enough and remains strongly committed to a complete elimination of any ill treatment and torture in its detention centers,” according to a statement from the presidential palace.

The report includes disturbing revelations about the continued illegal treatment of detainees just as the Afghans are taking control of the war started by an American-led coalition in 2001.

The mistreatment is said to have taken place at several facilities throughout the country run by a number of the nation’s security services: the Afghan intelligence agency, which is called the National Directorate of Security; the Afghan National Police; the Afghan Local Police; and the Afghan National Army. For the most part, the detainees were accused of being members of the Taliban or other antigovernment groups who were involved in war-related crimes. Typically, torture was said to have been used to obtain a confession.

Extrajudicial killings also come up in the report, with a focus on Kandahar, where the provincial police chief, Lt. Gen. Abdul Raziq, has been dogged by complaints of human rights violations that include the torture and killing of detainees suspected of being Taliban militants.

On Aug. 4, 2014, while speaking to journalists in the Zheray district of Kandahar, General Raziq said he was “extremely grateful” to his security forces for “identifying and targeting” insurgents on the spot. That prevented them from being able to bribe corrupt judges for their release, he said.

Other narratives disclosed in the report included accounts of detainees’ being electrocuted, beaten on the soles of their feet, and having their fingernails and toenails ripped out to obtain confessions.

The Afghans are not alone in their history of abusing suspects.

The C.I.A. for years ran secret prisons in Afghanistan, including a notorious one known as the Salt Pit, in a factory on the plains north of Kabul. The facilities were revealed in a report published in December by a Senate committee, which described practices like waterboarding and sleep deprivation used on detainees.

As of late last year, the Afghans have custody of all detainees in the country, the last of them having been handed over by the Americans when transferring control of a prison in Parwan Province.

The international military has not stopped conducting military operations in Afghanistan. The counterterrorism mission continues, with American Special Operations Forces going alongside their Afghan counterparts to root out remnants of Al Qaeda or other militant groups. In some cases, the Americans are also authorized to target Taliban militants if they are deemed to be a threat to American forces.

But the Americans apparently do not detain these targets. It is unclear whether that means the captives are simply killed or whether the Afghans take immediate custody of suspects during the joint operations.

“Coalition forces, to include the United States, no longer conduct detention operations in Afghanistan and no longer operate detention facilities in Afghanistan,” according to a statement issued Wednesday by the international military headquarters in Kabul.

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