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Legal action stops Afghan torture transfers

Even as Afghanistan introduces its own system of internment – and the UK seeks to circumvent high court restrictions aimed at preventing the torture of detainees – activists and lawyers in the UK have succeeded in temporarily halting the transfer of prisoners from British forces to the Afghan secret police.

On 15 May, lawyers from Leigh Day & Co and Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) – the latter acting on behalf of well-known peace activist Maya Evans – won the right to a further judicial review of the transfer of prisoners from British to Afghan forces.

As a consequence, the UK announced that all British transfers to the Afghan authorities in Kabul, Kandahar and Lashkar Gah would be stopped – and the court made clear that it expected this moratorium to be observed until the review has taken place.

Central to the proceedings was the case of Afghan farmer Serdar Mohammed, 24, who was detained by British forces shortly after a June 2010 high court ruling – also the result of an action brought by Maya – that banned transfers to the Afghan secret police (NDS) facility in Kabul, and imposed a series of ‘safeguards’ and monitoring arrangements on all future transfers.

‘Endemic’ torture

After two months in UK detention he was transferred to Afghan forces (first to the NDS facilitity in Lashkar Gah, and then on to Kabul) at whose hands he was beaten, suspended by one hand, and shackled in excruciating positions for prolonged periods.

According to his lawyers, ‘On one occasion, his torturers wrenched and twisted his testicles so hard that blood came out of his penis’.

Eventually he ‘confessed’ to being a member of the Taliban, and was sentenced to 16 years in prison after a 15-minute trial in a language he did not understand.

Earlier this year the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission reported ‘credible allegations’ of torture at the NDS facilitity in Lashkar Gah in 2011, and reported the claim of one detainee that an ‘underground room’ was being used to conceal torture victims from external monitors.

At present, British forces can only hold detainees for 30 days – and then only with UK ministerial authorisation – but evidence has emerged that UK forces have been inviting the NDS to take over interrogations at British facilities ‘around the 24th day’ (Guardian) if they have not obtained the desired information.

‘Such close co-operation with known torturers is morally unsettling and legally questionable’, PIL’s Daniel Carey notes, and will also form part of the review.

Summarising her reasons for pursuing the case, Maya stated: ‘These prisoner handovers can no longer continue. Written assurances and prisoner monitoring do not change the fact that torture within the Afghan intelligence services is endemic. How many more NGO reports and how many more tortured prisoners will it take before the UK changes course?’

Afghan face, US control

In our last issue we reported how the Afghan government was introducing internment at the behest of the US (see PN2545), and the Afghan government has since begun ruling on the internment of its own citizens.

In March, media outlets reported that ‘full control’ of Bagram prison – where thousands of Afghans are currently being held without trial – would be transferred to the Afghan authorities no later than September 2012.

However, according to the Afghanistan Analysts Network’s Kate Clark, ‘It now seems likely that for each new person detained, the US could retain control of him for a maximum of six months before he is transferred to the Afghan authorities’.

In conjunction with the US veto over releases, this will leave a detention regime with an ‘Afghan face’ but ‘still largely controlled by the US military’.

Gabriel Carlyle is the PN promotions worker. 

Topics: Afghanistan