Afghanistan fingernail factories

If you’re feeling all patriotic after reading Kevin Rudd’s ‘Australia stands with Syrians fighting for freedom’ I don’t recommend you read the UNAMA report ‘Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghan Custody’ that was released this week.

The practices documented meet the international definition of torture. This war has dragged all of us through the mud of vulgarity, brutality and inhumanity, and continues to do so.

The report asserts that 46 per cent of prisoners held by security forces, and about one-third of those held by Afghan National Police (ANP),are tortured.

Ten per cent of the prisoners examined were minors, and nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of the children held by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and ANP were tortured.

Detainees (which include children) described experiencing torture in the form of suspension (being hung by the wrists from chains or other devices for lengthy periods) and beatings with rubber hoses, electric cables or wooden sticks, most frequently on the soles of the feet. Then there’s electric shocks, twisting and wrenching of detainees’ genitals, stress positions including forced standing, removal of toenails, threatened sexual abuse, routine blindfolding and hooding and denial of access to medical care. One case resulted in death.

UNAMA didn’t find indications of torture at the provincial NDS facility in Uruzgan when it visited, but as was reported last month there is also a police-run prison in Uruzgan where some Afghans captured by Australian forces allegedly have been sent. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) says no Afghans detained by Australian troops have been handed over to the police-run prison in the past two years.

The report reveals that:

In early July 2011, US and ISAF military forces stopped transferring detainees to NDS and ANP authorities in Dai Kundi, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul based on reports of a consistent practice of torture and mistreatment of detainees in NDS and ANP detention facilities in those areas.  In early September 2011, in response to the findings in this report, ISAF stated that it stopped transferring detainees to certain NDS and ANP installations as a precautionary measure.

The footnote reads:

….ISAF officers informed UNAMA that in early September ISAF stopped transferring detainees to 16 installations that UNAMA identified as facilities where UNAMA found compelling evidence of torture and ill-treatment by NDS and ANP officials as follows:  NDS national Counter-Terrorism  Department 90/124 in Kabul; NDS provincial facilities in Herat, Kandahar, Kapisa, Khost, Laghman and Takhar; and Kandahar District 2 NDS office; ANP district facilities in Kandahar including Daman, Arghandab, District 9 and Zhari; ANP headquarters in Khost, Kunduz and Uruzgan; and the ANP district facility in Dasht-e-Archi, Kunduz.

So torture and ill-treatment are still the norm at the ANP headquarters in Uruzgan.

Minister Stephen Smith concedes that this is a “facility of concern” but asserts that Afghan detainees have not been transferred to this particular facility by the ADF. That may be the case, but will the ADF or Minister Smith or the Prime Minister guarantee that ADF detainees handed over to the NDS were not transferred to the ANP facility in Uruzgan, or transferred between provinces to other suspect facilities? How far are the headquarters from Australia’s military base? Have we visited?

Minister Smith has previously said:

Not only is Australia committed to holding our own personnel to the highest standards on detainee management, if ADF personnel become aware of concerns regarding the treatment of detainees by our International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) or Afghan partners, we also treat this with the utmost seriousness.

He asserts that Australian-apprehended detainees have not been and are not transferred to ANP facilities in Uruzgan. Australian-apprehended detainees? What about detainees apprehended by the Afghan National Security Forces operating alongside us in Uruzgan?

In February this year Minister Smith confirmed that Australian soldiers witnessed an incident during an Afghan detention operation in Uruzgan Province and that Australia raised the matter with the Afghan Government and ISAF and asked that the matter be fully investigated. ISAF Joint Command was to participate in an investigation led by the Afghan National Security Forces.  What was the incident and what was the outcome?

We’re told Australia’s detainee monitoring teams monitor the welfare and detention conditions of ADF-apprehended detainees while they are in US or Afghan custody, until they’re either released or sentenced, and that the monitoring team visits each ADF-apprehended detainee shortly after transfer and approximately every four weeks afterwards. What has that monitoring revealed about the psychological and physical wellbeing of the 80 detainees we transferred to Afghan or US authorities?

What about the Australian Federal Police (AFP) Officers deployed in Afghanistan? They have been working in Afghanistan since 2007, mentoring and training both Afghan and international personnel who are rebuilding and retraining the Afghan National Police. We are told that the AFP has 28 members in two operations at Kabul, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Tarin Kowt, with more officers being deployed to Oruzgan Province in 2010. The 2010 budget allocated an additional $32.1 million over two years to support the AFP’s work in Afghanistan. What have the AFP officers seen or heard?

From April 1, 2006 to August 31, 2008 Australia contributed $1,550,388 to The Law & Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan (LOFTA). Established in 2002, it’s a key intervention to cover in sequential phases all reasonable costs associated with the start-up and operational needs of the police force in Afghanistan by remunerating the Afghan National Police and reimbursing and funding police-related activities aimed at returning to law and order across the country. That’s okay, but otherwise the level and type of donor assistance and support for NDS personnel and activities regarding detention, intelligence gathering and interrogation is not publicly reported or available. Several embassies advised UNAMA that coordination mechanisms existed among international donors to track assistance to NDS but donors have not shared that information despite numerous requests. What information does our government have, and what have we been told about it?

Should we seek comfort from bland assurances that the use of torture is not directed or ordered by the highest levels of the NDS or leadership of the Government, when we were told similar things about Abu Ghraib?

What comfort is there in us having made significant financial and training contributions to the Afghan National Security Forces when the reports suggest that systematic torture in Afghan prisons has been an open secret in the country for the last decade?

Will we all act surprised when the tortured take up arms with anti-government forces?

And what comfort will there be when the only option when foreign troops leave is to hand detainees over to the Afghan authorities who have done nothing in response to the many reports outlining systemic torture in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan’s fingernail factories will remain open for business – unchecked.

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