Two recent agreements between the US and Afghan governments suggest that US/UK ‘withdrawal’ (actually, thousands of US troops will remain and ‘continue to participate in combat missions’, according to White House spokesperson Jay Carney) will be accompanied by increased use of Afghan proxies to torture, imprison and assassinate
The first, signed 9 March, transferred the ‘management’ of the US prison complex at Bagram to an Afghan general. Full responsibility will be transferred no later than 8 September.
An investigation by US newspaper group McClatchy found that Bagram, sometimes referred to as ‘the other Guantanamo’, became ‘a center of systematic brutality for at least 20 months’ following the 2001 invasion. Under Obama, the number of detainees has mushroomed from 600 to 3,000.
The new agreement commits the US to expanding Bagram and a second detention facility at Pul-e-Charkhi to hold another 4,000 detainees between them.
Detention without trial
Previously, while the US detained thousands of Afghans without trial, those held by the Afghan authorities were subject to ordinary criminal law, and received a trial – albeit rarely a fair one. Under the new agreement, Afghanistan will create its own system of detention without trial.
As Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network notes, this means the drawdown of US troops ‘will not just entail an inheritance of military bases, a swollen Afghan army and police and the militia forces of the Afghan local police, but, also... the continuing of a detention regime which many Afghans see as embodying some of the worst aspects of the US military presence in their country.’
A March report by the Afghanistan independent human rights commission (AIHRC), based on over 100 interviews between February 2011 and January 2012, found credible evidence of torture – including beatings, suspension from the ceiling, electric shocks and sexual abuse – at nine detention facilities run by the Afghan secret police (NDS), and several run by the Afghan national police (ANP).
The AIHRC also found cases of detainees who had been transferred by the US to the NDS facility in Kandahar after all such transfers were supposed to have been suspended because of concerns regarding torture.
In Kandahar, where the ANP police have been working closely with US-led forces in major operations, the AIHRC found that they ‘not only engage in torture of detainees but have done so at as many as five sites… in some cases for multiple days at a time.’
The head of the ANP in Kandahar, general Abdul Raziq – one of the new generation of NATO-funded Afghan warlords – has received millions of dollars’ worth of US training and equipment despite involvement in corruption, drug smuggling and major human rights abuses.
A second agreement, signed 8 April, stipulates that all future ‘special operations’ expected to lead to detentions or house searches must conform to Afghan law and ‘only Afghan forces should search residential houses.’
According to Clark, this means a judge must issue a warrant – though this can take place after the raid has happened.
House raids – and what are in effect US-led death squads (see PN 2540-41) – have long been a major source of popular anger in Afghanistan, and Afghan president Hamid Karzai made this deal a precondition for agreeing a long-term US presence.
However, while a significant concession by the US, the agreement does not appear to cover airstrikes, may not cover CIA operations, and appears to be consistent with existing US plans ‘to place more emphasis on drones, special forces and local proxies’ (see PN 2543).
Indeed, the agreement commits the US to developing a ‘platoon-sized’ strike force to carry out such operations.