U.N.: Afghan Detention Facilities Must Curb Torture

For the second year in a row, a U.N. study has found widespread abuse and torture of prisoners in Afghan detention facilities. Despite efforts by the Afghan government and NATO to rein in torture, some sites saw an increase over the previous year. As a result of the findings, NATO is suspending the transfer of detainees to certain Afghan facilities.

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For the second year in a row, the United Nations says it has evidence of widespread torture committed by a U.S. ally. The ally is Afghanistan, and the abuses took place in Afghan detention facilities. Last year, the Afghan government ordered reforms, yet the report claims that at some detention centers torture increased. NPR's Sean Carberry reports from Kabul.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: The findings are not pretty. Between October 2011 and 2012, the U.N. interviewed more than 600 detainees in facilities run by the Afghan police and intelligence service. Half provided what the U.N. considered credible evidence of torture or other abuse. In most cases, the detainees were tortured to obtain confessions.

They said they were hung by their wrists, beaten with pipes or hoses, punched, kicked, or threatened with execution. The initial response to the U.N. report from the Afghan government was defiant.

SEDIQ SEDIQI: We do not agree with the accusations as systematic torture in the detention centers of the Afghan National Police.

CARBERRY: Sediq Sediqi is spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, which oversees the Afghan police.

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SEDIQI: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: At a hastily organized press conference he and other officials argued the report exaggerates the claims of abuse. They said it does not give enough credit to the government for training police and security officials in human rights practices and for creating a human rights office within the Afghan National Police.

But the rates of torture found in this year's U.N. report are similar to the previous year's findings.

GEORGETTE GAGNON: Training, inspections only go so far.

CARBERRY: Georgette Gagnon is director of human rights for the U.N. Mission in Afghanistan. She does give the Afghan government credit for taking steps to reduce the amount of detainee abuse.

GAGNON: But without accountability or actual prosecution of perpetrators of torture, very little has actually changed.

MOHAMMED MUSA MAHMODI: That's unfortunately a result of a longtime issue of weakness of rule of law in the country, and also continuation of a culture of impunity.

CARBERRY: Mohammed Musa Mahmodi is the executive director of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission. He says his office has made recommendations similar to those of the U.N.: creation of an independent monitoring board, more human rights training and giving inspectors open access to detention facilities. But, he says there are a number of barriers to changing the practices.

MAHMODI: The perpetrators of torture in some of these areas are very powerful people.

CARBERRY: Mahmodi says that in Afghanistan torture has been a standard approach for generations. Gagnon says that many Afghans don't even consider the abuses listed in the report as torture.

GAGNON: The other element of this is that courts here accept confessions gained through torture even though they are not supposed to.

CARBERRY: Gagnon says that if the Afghan government doesn't take more aggressive action to curb torture, the international community will have to. For example, NATO has suspended detainee transfers to a number of Afghan facilities identified in the report.

GAGNON: The international donors have a huge role to play because they can condition funding and support on certain efforts being taken.

CARBERRY: Despite his criticism of the U.N. report, spokesman Sediq Sediqi says the government does take the issue seriously.

SEDIQI: We are ready to work together if there are evidence and documents that can show a torture in one of the detention centers.

CARBERRY: President Karzai has now assigned a task force to fully investigate the claims of torture in the report. It will have two weeks to research and verify what the U.N. found in its yearlong investigation. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

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