Incidents of torture in Afghanistan have not decreased. Afghan military or security forces rely on torture to obtain “confessions,” and in many instances, officers hang detainees on doors or windows for extended periods to force them to confess they are members of the Taliban.
The United Nations Assistance Missions in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR) interviewed 469 persons between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2016. The effort was part of an assessment of how the Afghan government has implemented measures to prohibit and prevent torture of citizens.
What UNAMA found was those subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment “lack any meaningful possibility of obtaining an effective judicial or administrative remedy.” And, “UNAMA could not identify any examples [where] victims of torture or ill-treatment could access any form of effective domestic remedy.”
A released report [PDF] shows torture by the Afghan National Police (ANP) increased by 14 percent when compared to the last period when UNAMA interviewed detainees. “It is a significant and disturbing development,” the report declares.
Seventy-seven of the 172 detainees interviewed shared credible claims of torture or abuse by the Afghan National Police.
At an ANP facility in Kandahar, Detainee 384 told UNAMA police beat him
“I was hung from the ceiling and five ANP beat me,” Detainee 384 recalled. “The Head of Police District 2 was present and he also punished me. I was beaten with a cable made of a bunch of electric lines and a hose. They gave me electric shocks to the genitals. I was naked and they threatened me with sexual assault unless I told them I was Taliban.”
“Whilst I was hung from the ceiling they tied a brick to my genitals. Because of this, bleeding started from my penis,” Detainee 384 added. “I told them they can write whatever they want, but I am not a member of [the] Taliban. I was kept there for ten days and punished continuously for eight days.”
The ANP are also implicated extrajudicial killings in Kandahar, including a high-profile incident involving a Kandahar University student found dead with “bruises and marks around his neck.”
Another individual, Detainee #305, was interrogated by the Counter Terrorism Unit at a facility in Nangarhar. They tried to force him to confess to placing an improvised explosive device that killed a member of the security forces. Not only was he beaten and shocked with electricity, but they “pumped pepper” in his anus and threw pepper in his eyes.
Of the 369 detainees in facilities run by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), which is the primary intelligence agency in Afghanistan, 106 detainees gave reliable accounts of torture or abuse.
At an NDS facility in Farah, Detainee 360 said his feet were tied, and he was beaten by a hose and plastic pipes on his feet. He was asked to tell them who he worked for. They failed to obtain a confession so he was electrocuted. Then, they hung him on the door to the “interrogation office” for a few hours.
“I was not feeling anything in my hands,” Detainee 360 recalled. “The process continued for almost a week and after one week they brought a few pieces of paper filled out with some information and forcibly put my inked fingers on them.”
Detainee 287 was held at an NDS facility in Herat. “When NDS could not get me to confess, they hung me by my hands on the door frame of the cell. I was hung from the door frame for almost an hour and my hands stopped feeling anything. I was taken down and NDS started interrogating me. They told me ‘if you don‟t confess then we will hang you from that place again.”
“It was really hurting me, so I thought it would be good to tell them what they wanted so I had to lie to them and say “I am with the Taliban.” I had to confess to their claim that I was Taliban, because being tortured is not an easy thing.”
The same detainee added, “I had to say something otherwise they could have killed me or mutilated my hands. They wrote everything down and before reading it to me they asked me to fingerprint it. I finger printed all the documents because being hung by my hands was extremely painful and I don’t want to experience it again in my life.”
UNAMA interviewed 37 individuals and found 22 had credible claims of torture in Afghan Local Police (ALP) custody. Multiple people described beatings during their arrest that were intended to coerce confessions.
Unlike the other forces implicated in cases of horrific treatment, a few ALP officers apparently have faced prosecution for robbery, murder, torture, and attempted rape.
Detainee 26 described how two ALP officers covered his mouth to silence him. They beat him for an hour and ordered him to confess.
“After that he took me to the edge of an old well inside his check post and aimed his AK47 at me and told me to confess to being Taliban. He told me if I did not confess he would shoot and kill me like he did with [names redacted]. I was scared and confessed whatever he asked me.”
“[The men he named] were two armed Taliban who surrendered to the ALP Commander, who tortured them to death inside his check post and handed over their dead bodies to ANP, stating that they died during a firefight. After my confession the ALP commander called my father and demanded 400,000 Afs to secure my release. Eventually he decreased his demand to 50,000 Afs, but my father had no money to pay, and therefore I was handed over to ANP,” Detainee 26 shared.
None of the reports of torture described in the report occurred during President Donald Trump’s administration. It is all conduct, which occurred during the final two years of President Barack Obama’s tenure.
The report mentions the Leahy Law, which is supposed to prohibit the United States Defense Department and State Department from “providing assistance to foreign military units which commit gross violations of human rights with impunity.”
NATO’s Resolute Support Mission has a mechanism for initiating investigations to examine “gross violations” of human rights that run afoul of this legislation. Any investigations that confirm allegations can lead to sanctions. But it is evident the U.S. is not holding Afghan security forces accountable or efforts to hold them accountable are not an effective deterrent.
Last year, United States military forces and the CIA were alleged to have tortured Afghan detainees. Those allegations covered the period from May 1, 2003, to December 31, 2014, and December 2002 to March 2008 respectively.
There still exists a significant U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, but much of the so-called combat has been transferred to Afghanistan forces with NATO forces composed of primarily U.S. troops playing an “advisory” or “supportive” role.
The U.S. is complicit and bears some responsibility for the culture within Afghan forces that leads officers to torture Afghans to give what are ultimately false and unreliable confessions.