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Detainees in Afghanistan still being tortured, U.N. reports

More than half of the 635 suspected insurgents questioned by investigators said they had been ill-treated or tortured, U.N. mission says.

January 20, 2013|By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times
  • A file photo of a prison inmate in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
A file photo of a prison inmate in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Allauddin Khan, Associated…)

KABUL, Afghanistan — Suspected insurgents continue to be tortured at numerous Afghan detention facilities, the United Nations reported Sunday.

More than half of the 635 detainees questioned by U.N. investigators in the 12 months ending in October were ill-treated or tortured, including being subjected to severe beatings or electric shocks, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said.

The allegations, which the Afghan government calls "exaggerated," are likely to complicate discussions about the handling of detainees, a source of debate between the United States and Afghanistan as the countries prepare for the departure of most foreign troops next year.

Many of the suspected fighters who end up in Afghan custody are captured by U.S. and allied troops. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led force said it has suspended the transfer of detainees to the facilities identified in the U.N. report and is working with Afghan authorities to address abuses.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has frequently maintained that the handling of detainees is a question of national sovereignty. During discussions with President Obama this month, he reiterated his demand that all Afghan prisoners be turned over to Afghan authorities.

In a written response accompanying the U.N. report, the Afghan government said it had taken steps to ensure the lawful treatment of detainees, including issuing policy directives, increasing training and monitoring, and reassigning personnel.

Though it conceded that some abuses were possible, the government said insurgents were coached to say they had been mistreated if captured.

Jan Kubis, who heads the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, acknowledged Afghan government efforts, which he said had yielded some positive results. "But the system isn't robust enough to eliminate ill-treatment of detainees," Kubis said in a statement. "Clearly more needs to be done to end and prevent torture."

The U.N. said allegations of torture decreased at some facilities after it issued a report in 2011 alleging widespread abuses in the Afghan detention system. The decrease corresponded with the suspension of NATO transfers to some facilities and increased monitoring, including by the NATO force, the new report said. But when foreign troops resumed transfers to those facilities and reduced monitoring, a resumption of abuses was observed.

Abuses appeared particularly prevalent at 34 facilities operated by the Afghan National Police, the border police and the National Directorate of Security, the country's intelligence agency, the study said.

Investigators found that the number of detainees in police custody who had been subjected to torture or ill-treatment increased from 35% in 2011 to 43% last year, while the prevalence of abuse at intelligence facilities dropped from 46% to 34%.

In all, 14 methods of abuse were documented. The report said evidence of torture occurred most frequently at facilities in the southern province of Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban insurgency.

U.N. investigators received what they described as credible reports about the disappearance of 81 people who were arrested by Kandahar police between September 2011 and October 2012. They were also told about the reported existence of several unofficial detention sites and said some detainees held by intelligence officials were hidden from international observers — allegations denied by the intelligence agency.

alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

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