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U.N.: Afghanistan in Violation of Anti-Torture Convention

When, or if, most U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan nest year, they will leave behind a culture of torture and coercive interrogation perpretrated by Afghan intelligence and police officials, according to a recently released report from the United Nations.

After interviewing 379 pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners at 47 Afghan facilities, U.N. observers found that the detainees–mostly alleged Taliban members and sympathizers–had been threatened, beaten on the soles of their feet with pipes and electric wires, suspended from ceilings by their shackled wrists, and sexually abused to force them into confessions.

The report, released in January 2013, also described "twisting of the detainees' penises" and "wrenching" of their testicles, among other abuses, as well as the torture of child detainees.

At police headquarters in Khost, Afghanistan, a 16-year-old boy, after denying he was a member of the Taliban, "was pushed to the floor as a police interrogator beat him on the backs of his thighs, lower back and head, first with a wooden stick and then with a rubber hose and an electrical cable," the 74-page report said. The boy then "thumb-printed a confession."

Another boy, also 16, was tortured at the same police station over three days, beaten and electrocuted, before also confessing.

In its response to the report, Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) said that "(m)aybe there are deficiencies" in its interrogation practices, but "torture methods such as electric shock, threat of rape, twisting of sexual organs etc. are methods that are absolutely non­existent in the NDS."

The U.N. maintains, however, that the torture is so pervasive that, by transferring detainees from the Bagram Prison to the custody of Afghan officials–as was agreed upon by the U.S. and Afghanistan in January–the U.S. military would be violating the terms of the international Convention Against Torture, which prohibits such transfers "to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that (detainees) would be in danger of being subjected to torture."

Some estimates, according to The New York Times, are that 700 to 900 prisoners at Bagram were still in American custody at the time the U.N. report was released.

After seeing an advance copy of the report, U.S. Gen. John Allen, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), suspended transfers of detainees to all the Afghan detention facilities cited for abuse. But those transfers resumed after most of the facilities purportedly certified that they were not torturing detainees.

"We can never completely rule out the chance of torture by the (Afghan) government, but in its own Constitution it prohibits torture, and it is a signatory of the torture convention," said Col. Thomas Collins, an ISAF senior spokesman. "What we have to have is reasonable assurances that the people will be treated well and not be tortured."

The U.N. report called on ISAF to provide "training in non-coercive interviewing techniques" and "modern prison management," as well as a "basic understanding" of due process, and to hold back support if NDS and Afghan police don't take "concerted action to cease torture and abusive interrogation practices."

Sources: "Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghan Custody," United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, October 2011 (released January 2013); The New York Times

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