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Anti-torture efforts in Afghan prisons ineffective, study finds

  • Article by: ALISSA J. RUBIN
  • New York Times
  • January 20, 2013 - 8:45 PM

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - Intense efforts to halt torture and other harsh coercive methods that are used in some Afghan intelligence and police detention centers have not produced any appreciable improvement in the treatment of detainees, according to a report released on Sunday by the United Nations, raising questions for the international military coalition.

The report, titled "Treatment of Conflict Related Detainees in Afghan Custody," offered a grim tour of Afghanistan's detention facilities, where even adolescents have reported such abuse as beatings with hoses and pipes and threats of sodomy.

Despite concerted efforts for more than a year to train intelligence and police officials in interrogation techniques that respect human rights, the U.N. investigation found that incidences of torture by the police had risen in the last year.

In the case of the intelligence service, the U.N. reported a lower incidence of torture. But it was not clear whether that finding reflected improved behavior as much as it did a decrease in the number of detainees handed over to the intelligence service by the international military coalition. And some detainees have alluded to new secret interrogation centers.

The Afghan government rejected the report's specific allegations but said that there were some abuses and that it had taken numerous steps to improve the treatment of detainees. The government gave U.N. officials access to those held in all but one detention facility.

Among the questions raised by the report is whether the pervasiveness of torture will make it difficult for the U.S. military to hand over those being held in the Parwan Detention Facility, also known as Bagram Prison, as required under the agreement reached last week in Washington between President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The international Convention Against Torture, which the United States has signed, prohibits nations from sending detainees "to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."

The U.N. did not look at the Parwan Detention Facility, in part because it is not yet wholly under Afghan control. But there could be questions about whether, given the inadequacies throughout the Afghan system, it would violate the torture convention to transfer those prisoners under U.S. control to the Afghans. According to some estimates, 700 to 900 prisoners are still in U.S. custody there.

The military is confident that the Afghan section of the Parwan center follows all of the human rights guidelines on the treatment of detainees, said Col. Thomas Collins, a senior spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, which is known as ISAF. And, although conditions could worsen, or prisoners could be transferred to other facilities where abuse occurred, the Americans cannot do anything about that.

"We can never completely rule out the chance of torture by the government, but in its own constitution it prohibits torture, and it is a signatory of the torture convention," he said. "What we have to have is reasonable assurances that the people will be treated well and will not be tortured."

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