Rampant Torture Uncovered in Afghan Prisons, Putting the U.S. Withdrawal at Risk


A year after the United Nations first documented abuse in Afghan prisons, it now says torture continues to run rampant, despite the Afghan government’s promise of detention reform.

Afghan prisoners face a range of torture techniques, which include hanging them by their wrists and beating them with cables and wooden sticks and administering electrical shocks, according to a U.N. report soon to be released. The Afghan government disputes these claims, however, saying this is exaggerated.

"We don't torture detainees and we treat them in accordance with the law. Our detention centers are open, and human-rights and other organizations visit the centers regularly to observe the situation and are satisfied with them," said Shafiqullah Taheri, a spokesman for NDS, the Afghan intelligence services, according to the Wall Street Journal.

These allegations against the Afghan government represent a potential new hurdle for the transition of security responsibilities by the U.S.-led coalition. Although President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly said that all detainees held at the main U.S. detention center in Bagram will be transferred to Afghan custody, these torture charges could make such transfers illegal under U.S law.

NATO’s forces in Afghanistan have also suspended the transfer of detainees to any facilities that have been named in the report, the Gaurdian said.

The 100-page U.N. report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) based its findings off interviews of 600 detainees, covering around 80 detention centers run by the national and local police forces and the NDS. Over half of the detainees interviewed had been tortured.

According to BBC, Unama has said that although some changes had been implemented based upon the recommendations from its 2011 report, there seems to be little to no follow up in the case of the offenders.

"Unama found a persistent lack of accountability for perpetrators of torture with few investigations and no prosecutions for those responsible," said Georgette Gagnon, Unama's Director of Human Rights, according to BBC. “Without deterrents and disincentives to use torture, including a robust, independent, investigation process, criminal prosecutions and courts' consistent refusal to accept confessions gained through torture, Afghan officials have no incentive to stop torture."

According to the Huffington Post, one detainee from the Western province of Farah told the Unama team, "They laid me on the ground. One of them sat on my feet and another one sat on my head, and the third one took a pipe and started beating me with it. They were beating me for some time like one hour and were frequently telling me that,`You are with Taliban and this is what you deserve.'"

Despite the Afghan government’s claims that the allegations set against them are largely false, they have also said that they would not rule out the possibility of torture at their detention facilities, ABC News has reported.

The Wall Street Journal also reports that the latest U.N. report also reveals the existence of abuse and torture at unofficial detention facilities that are operated by the Afghan government but cannot be monitored by human-rights groups.

Not only are the findings troubling, but also point out the type of human rights abuse that many worry could become more prevalent in the country as international forces become less watchful over the Afghan government.