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Afghan Torture Practices Exposed

Erin Dwyer

Suspected insurgents transferred to Afghan custody by international forces have purportedly been subjected to practices of torture, according to a United Nations report out Monday. The 74-page report gave detailed descriptions of brutal abuses violating international and Afghan laws of torture. Drafted by the UN mission in Afghanistan, known as UNAMA, the report, which was conducted from October 2010 to August 2011, was based on interviews with 379 detainees being held at the nearly 50 facilities in two-thirds of Afghanistan’s provinces.

Detainees described experiencing torture in various forms including: suspension — being hung from the wrists for extended periods of time, beatings — most frequently on the soles of the feet, electric shock, twisting of genitals, stress positions such as forced standing, removal of toenails, and threatened sexual abuses. Regular blindfolding, hooding, and refusing medical care to detainees in some facilities were also reported. Torture was also said to be used on detainees under the age of 18.

An Afghan policeman stands guard inside Kandahar jail.

According to the report, Canada and the United Kingdom had previously canceled the transfer of detainees to facilities based on reports of torture and mistreatment. The United States and NATO, in addition, have stopped transferring detainees to 16 facilities for the same reason. For its part, in the wake of this enlightenment, the Afghan government has compiled a group to investigate policing practices of detainees and has already dismissed several employees at a unit known as Department 124, where the United Nations said the torture appears to have been the most severe.

These counts of torture represent a critical setback to the costly U.S.-led effort to bring Afghanistan’s criminal justice system and state policing up to date in accordance with international laws. The Obama administration hopes to withdraw 10,000 American troops by the end of the year, with an additional 23,000 to follow in 2012. The consequences of the report complicate America’s ability to relinquish security responsibilities to Afghan authorities and decrease Western presence, funding, and combat forces.