The United Nations reported Wednesday that it had uncovered two credible accounts of torture at U.S. military facilities in Afghanistan in recent years during an investigation into the treatment of detainees.
The report, which was devoted primarily to mistreatment of prisoners held in Afghan custody, said the “credible and reliable” accounts came from two detainees who’d been held “in a U.S. facility in Maydan Wardak,” a province whose capital of Maidan Shar lies about 20 miles west of Kabul, and “a U.S. special forces facility at Baghlan,” a province that lies north of the Afghan capital.
The report quoted the prisoners as saying the mistreatment in Baghlan occurred in April 2013 and at Maydan Wardak in September 2013.
Torture as part of the U.S. war on terror has been a controversial issue. A recent report by the Senate Intelligence Committee outlined 20 cases of mistreatment of suspected terrorists held in secret CIA prisons, and U.S. soldiers have been accused of torturing Afghan prisoners, with the most notorious case being the death of Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver who died after he was hung from the ceiling of his cell by his wrists and beaten in 2002.
But there have been few verified reports in more recent years, though Afghan authorities have accused Americans of abusing prisoners.
The report said that U.N. investigators brought the allegations to the attention of U.S. military officials during a meeting Sunday and were told that “they were investigated.” But the report does not say what the investigation had found or whether anyone was punished in the cases. A letter dated Sunday from Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which was included in the report, said that “it has been, and remains, the firm policy . . . to hold any individual involved in abuse of detainees personally accountable.”
The bulk of the report was devoted to complaints of abuse by prisoners while they were in Afghan government custody and was based on interviews at 221 detention centers in 28 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. The report found that “torture of conflict-related detainees persists in spite of government efforts over 2013-14 to address it.”
Of the 790 detainees interviewed, the U.N. assessed that 278 gave “credible and reliable” accounts of ill treatment.
The report also detailed 16 interrogation techniques used by Afghan authorities that constituted torture prohibited by international law. They included beatings by cables, pipes, hoses or wooden sticks, jumping on the detainee’s body, twisting of genitals including with a wrench-like device, and threats of execution and sexual assault.
Other methods included suspension in the air, electric shock, stress positions, prolonged standing and exposure to extremely hot or cold conditions. Several prisoners reported having their finger and toe nails forcibly removed or plastic bags stuffed into their mouths. The report also described what it called “waterboarding without the water,” a technique where a detainee’s nose was held while he was chocked, causing him to lose consciousness.
“Torture is a very serious crime, for which there can be no justification,” U.N. 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.”
The Afghan government said in a statement that it “accepts some of the allegations and concerns . . . but does not agree in many cases with the contents of the report.”