Moral Low Ground


UN: Widespread Torture by Afghan Security Forces; ‘Credible and Reliable’ Reports of US Detainee Torture

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein (UN photo)

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein (UN photo)

A newly-released United Nations report on detainee torture in Afghanistan details widespread serious abuses committed by Afghan security forces, and multiple “credible and reliable” reports of recent torture by US forces.

The UN Assistance Mission and High Commissioner for Human Rights released the report, which focuses mostly on abuses perpetrated by US-backed Afghan security forces against prisoners in their custody. Among the torture techniques detailed in the report:

  • Ripping out finger and toe nails
  • Whipping or beating with rubber hoses, pipes, cables and sticks
  • Twisting genitals in a wrench-like device
  • Electric shocks
  • Hanging
  • Suffocation leading to loss of consciousness
  • Jumping on detainees’ bodies
  • Excruciating stress positions and prolonged standing
  • Exposure to extreme temperatures
  • Threats of execution and sexual assault

The report also briefly mentions “credible and reliable” reports of relatively recent torture of two detainees imprisoned at an American facility at Maydan Wardak in September 2013, as well as at a US Special Forces base at Baghlan in April 2013.

“Torture is a very serious crime, for which there can be no justification,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said in a statement. “The international prohibition is absolute. We have seen many examples showing how its use undermines national security and proves counterproductive.”

During the George W. Bush administration, torture was widespread at US facilities around the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Barack Obama vowed to end torture, and while abuses have dramatically declined, there have been reports of US torture in Afghanistan during Obama’s tenure, as well as widespread torture of detainees handed over to Afghan authorities.

Two months ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a long-awaited report, held up by various opposing forces including the Obama White House, detailing CIA torture of detainees in the war against terrorism.

Among the most damning information released in the report were revelations of extreme—and in at least one case, deadly—torture perpetrated by agency operatives. Detainees were interrogated for days on end, kept awake for up to 180 hours, forced to stand on broken legs and feet, had objects forced up their rectums, and were exposed to lethally extreme cold.

In November 2002, a detainee who was stripped nearly naked and chained to a floor died of apparent hypothermia. This death was separate from the well-publicized death of Gul Rahman, a suspected Afghan militant who died while shackled to a wall in near-freezing temperatures at the notorious CIA ‘Salt Pit’ clandestine prison north of Kabul.

These are but two of the scores of detainees who have died during interrogation or imprisonment by US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, the cause of death listed as ‘homicide’ on dozens of official US autopsy reports.

High-ranking Bush administration officials approved many torture techniques, including waterboarding, sleep, sensory and food deprivation, shackling in excruciating ‘stress positions,’ the use of loud music and dogs to torment detainees, slamming into walls, solitary confinement, exposure to extreme heat or cold, and sexual humiliation. All of these methods are illegalunder both US and international law.

In addition to the approved ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques, US military and intelligence personnel subjected terrorism detainees—many of them innocent men, women and children—to additional abuses, including homicide, rape, imprisonment of innocent female relatives as bargaining chips, exposure to sometimes lethally extreme temperatures, and brutal beatings.

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