Probe accuses US of Afghan detainee abuse

Inmates at facility in Bagram tell investigating commission they were tortured and held without evidence by authorities.

Afghan prison bagram
The commission said that hundreds of the facility’s detainees were beind held without formal charges [GALLO/GETTY]

Detainees at the largest prison run by the US in Afghanistan say that they were tortured and held without evidence by authorities, a government commission has heard.

The findings come just days after Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, called for the facility inside the US-run Bagram airfield, just north of Kabul, to be handed over to Afghan control.

“During our visit to Bagram some of the prisoners talked of misconduct, some alleged they had been tortured,” the commission’s head, Gul Rahman Qazi, told a news conference in the Afghan capital on Saturday.

Qazi said prisoners had complained of abuse including beatings, humiliating body cavity searches and being exposed to extreme cold.

He cited the case of Abdul Jabar, 71, who said he was kept in a pitch-black room and lost a tooth after being punched.

Another man told the team he was arrested after coalition forces found a cache of ammunition buried about 400m away from his home and blamed him. He said the bullets did not belong to him, but he could not convince anyone.

The commission reported that it had found no evidence of torture on the bodies of detainees held at the facility. 

“There was no evidence of torture on prisoners’ bodies but they claimed that they had been tortured,” Qazi said. 

A spokesman for the US embassy in Kabul said they had received a copy of the commission’s report and would “study it closely”.

Major stumbling block

Control over Afghans captured by US forces has been a major stumbling block in negotiations between Afghan and US authorities over a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries.

Another point of contention are night-time raids carried out by US forces on Afghan homes.

The agreement would define the terms of any US military presence after a planned NATO withdrawal in 2014.

Karzai set up the commission to probe affairs at the prison on January 5, after demanding that the prison be transferred to local control within a month.

He asserted the need for Afghan sovereignty, asking that all Afghan prisoners who were held by the US at any facilities be handed over to Afghan custody. Qazi repeated that demand.

“Foreign troops are not allowed to keep prisons in Afghanistan, which is sovereign and has its own constitution,” he told the news conference.

Washington has long said that it intends to comply with that demand, but has so far not issued a specific timeline for handing over control.

Hundreds ‘held without charge’

The US embassy in Kabul said that the allegations would be examined.

“We take seriously and investigate all allegations of detainee abuse,” Gavin Sundwall, a spokesman, told the Reuters news agency in Kabul.

He said the US was committed to a joint plan to hand over detainees to the Afghan government “in a responsible manner”, but did not specify what timeframe would be considered “responsible”.

Qazi said US prison officials had told the commission that there were legal cases against only 300 of about 3,000 detainees at Bagram.

The rest were suspected Taliban members and some were caught using intelligence that would not stand up in court, the commission said.

“The coalition forces do not provide sufficient [evidence] to try an individual,” Qazi said.

He said that some prisoners were beind held without any trial, or after they had either already been acquitted or finished serving their sentences.

On Friday, the Taliban issued a statement mocking Karzai for his stance on issues of national sovereignty.

“Ostensibly, he speaks of national sovereignty and of the welfare of people but practically, we see that there are thousands of Afghan detainees who have been suffering in the Bagram Air Base and other American bases now for years, and without a trial,” the statement said.

Source: News Agencies