Suspected insurgents tortured in Afghanistan, U.N. says

Suspected insurgents in Afghan custody have been subjected to torture including electric shocks, being hung by their hands and having their genitals twisted, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan said in a report Monday.

The 74-page report, detailing a widespread pattern of brutal abuses, will probably complicate American efforts to hand over security responsibilities to Afghan authorities as a prelude to winding down the Western combat mission in Afghanistan.

“Torture is one of the most serious human rights violations under international law, a crime under Afghan law, and strictly prohibited under both laws,” said Georgette Gagnon, the director of human rights for the U.N. mission. “Accountability for torture demands prosecutions and the taking of all necessary measures by Afghan authorities to prevent and end such acts in the future.”


In a preemptive move, the NATO force announced last month that it had halted prisoner transfers to more than a dozen detainee centers named in the report, a draft of which was shown to American commanders. Many of the suspected fighters who end up in detention are captured in the field by U.S. and coalition forces.

The United Nations said the abuse, while routine and systematic, was not based on Afghan government policy, but rather appeared to have been carried out at the initiative of individual jailers and security officials. It added that Afghan government ministries had cooperated in the investigation and had already moved to take action against some of the officials allegedly involved.

Nonetheless, the allegations could call into question the legality of continued Western funding of training for Afghanistan’s security services — another linchpin of the U.S. pullout plan. The Obama administration is withdrawing 10,000 American troops by the end of the year, with an additional 23,000 to follow in 2012.

The report, which was researched over nearly a year, ending in August, represents a setback to enormously expensive U.S.-led efforts to bring Afghanistan’s criminal justice system and security practices up to something resembling international standards. The allegations also pose an immediate day-to-day practical challenge to Western officials dealing with a backlog of security suspects who cannot be handed over to Afghan officials because of the potential for abuse.

The report, based on interviews with more than 300 detainees, cited varying degrees of abuses at nearly 50 facilities in two-thirds of Afghanistan’s provinces.

Most of the security detainees were suspected of affiliation with the Taliban or other insurgent groups, and the abuse was almost always aimed at wringing confessions from them about attacks on Western and Afghan troops, or operations in the planning stages.

The detainee accounts were compelling in their consistency, the report said, with prisoners asserting that abuse often escalated from beating and slapping to spending long periods suspended by their hands, sometimes culminating in electric shocks or the detainees’ genitals being twisted until the prisoners passed out.

The NATO force, responding to the formal release of the findings, reiterated that it was working to “improve detention operations” and safeguard against abuses.