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U.S. Forces Transferred Afghanistan Detainees To Facility Known For Torture Despite Ban: Report

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A handcuffed Afghan detainee is escorted by a US Marine at a US military camp in Musa Qala district in Helmand province on December 21, 2010. The number of international troops killed in Afghanistan this year, already by far the deadliest in the nine-year campaign against the Taliban, has passed 700, an independent website said December 21. AFP PHOTO/Massoud HOSSAINI
A handcuffed Afghan detainee is escorted by a US Marine at a US military camp in Musa Qala district in Helmand province on December 21, 2010. The number of international troops killed in Afghanistan this year, already by far the deadliest in the nine-year campaign against the Taliban, has passed 700, an independent website said December 21. AFP PHOTO/Massoud HOSSAINI

A new report finds that U.S. forces have transferred Afghan detainees to facilities where evidence of torture was found, in violation of a ban against such transfers.

The report, conducted by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission with assistance from the Open Society Foundations, found 11 “credible cases” of U.S. forces transferring individuals to NDS Kandahar in violation of a July 2011 order suspending such transfers. Four of them reported being tortured in NDS custody. The commission is an organization consisting of a group appointed by the government but independent by law.

Others reported being tortured at a facility called "Mullah Omar's House," a residence of the former Taliban leader which was taken over by Special Forces soldiers and renamed Firebase Maholic. One man claimed he had been taken there and abused by Afghan forces. After sitting in the camp for several hours, he said, "suddenly lashes of cable struck my head and back very hard from behind, they beat me for one hour. They wanted me to tell them who I had relations with. They were all Afghans beating me, though the beating took place in the presence of Americans."

The AIRHC said this was the only case in which a detainee had reported the presence of Americans during torture, and that the group could not verify the claim. The report also mentioned that, "some detainees report being treated well while in U.S. custody for 1-2 nights, before being transferred to NDS Kandahar."

But the torture at Firebase Maholic was reported by another man, who told the AIRHC that he "was beaten and tortured badly by Afghan soldiers and officials" there before being transferred to the NDS. "They beat me on the feet, legs and back by something like a cable. The beating continued for a few hours until I felt numb in my back and legs, and it burned with pain on my feet and on the soles of my feet," he said.

The report found “credible evidence of torture” at nine facilities of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, and “several” Afghan National Police facilities.

Researchers found 10 cases of detainees transferred from custody of U.S. forces to NDS facilities, where they were subsequently tortured. In four cases, the individuals were held in a facility at or near Bagram Air Base, transferred to NDS custody, held in detention without charge and subsequently tortured. At NDS facilities, the individuals reported being tortured, including “ beating, suspension, and electric shock.” No detainees reported being tortured while in U.S. custody.

However, two detainees said that they were told at U.S. facilities that they would be released and were subsequently transferred to NDS custody, where they were tortured. “The interpreter came in and said we have good news for you, the investigation is over and you will be released. I asked if this was a joke, and he said, no, the U.S. does not joke about these things,” said one detainee. The detainee was subsequently transferred to an NDS facility where he was “repeatedly suspended upside-down from the ceiling and beaten with electric cables, wooden sticks, and metal rods,” according to the report.

The detainees described the soldiers as Americans, though the report notes that "Americans" is sometimes used more generally to describe coalition forces. "However, several factors substantiate the detainees' claims that the forces involved were Americans, including the fact that English was spoken by the forces involved, that detainees report being held at "Bagram" in conditions consistent with the JSOC-run temporary detention facility near Bagram, and that they were detained in areas of responsibility assigned to U.S. forces," notes the report.

The report comes at a critical time for Afghanistan, as U.S. forces are drawing down troops in preparation for full Afghan control. U.S. troops are scheduled to draw down from 90,000 to 68,000 by September, and most combat troops will leave by the end of 2014.

Even the troops that remain in Afghanistan until then will see their combat roles diminish, with Afghan troops now scheduled to take the lead role for the country's security in 2013. The handover was accelerated by President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron during Cameron's visit to Washington last week. The decision followed the news that Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales killed 16 Afghan civilians in an unprovoked shooting rampage near Kandahar on March 11. In criticizing the American handling of Bales, who was flown back to the United States to await trial, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that the shooting was "by all means the end of the rope here." Coming less than two weeks after the incident, the AIHRC's report represents another public relations blow for the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan.

U.S. military officials denied that the disallowed transfers took place in response to queries from the AIHRC, stating that there are “no ISAF or USFOR-A forces transferring detainees to NDS Kandahar” adding that the suspension to remains in effect.

The NDS said that investigations are ongoing about individuals implicated in detainee abuse but declined to provide specific information to researchers about the individuals or if any action had taken place.

The practice is reminiscent of past actions by American intelligence services, in which detainees were sent to countries where they could be interrogated or tortured by local officials. These "extraordinary renditions," carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency in the early years of the War on Terror, were reportedly stopped after the practice -- along with the existence of facilities in Europe that made it possible -- was revealed in the media in 2005.

The report mentioned particular concerns about American special operations forces and intelligence services, who AIHRC said "are believed to maintain a relationship with NDS officials." While confirming that no Americans have been directly implicated in torture, the group stressed that "close cooperation between U.S. and Afghan intelligence officials, particularly at NDS Department 90/124, would raise serious concerns that U.S. officials could be complicit in torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by Afghan intelligence officials."

The AIHRC's report recommended numerous steps to end the alleged torture, many of which focused on improving the group's ability to monitor detainees. The report requested "full, unfettered access" to detainees as well as swifter notification of arrests, better access for defense lawyers, and improved funding for the NDS' Human Rights Unit. AIHRC also demanded greater accountability for Afghan officials and security officers, a difficult task in a country where corruption is pervasive.

Read the full report here: Torture, Transfers and Denial Of Due Process

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