Nato stops Afghan prisoner transfers over torture fears
General said to have ordered suspension of transfers ahead of UN report expected to tell of beatings and electric shocks
Nato has suspended the transfer of detainees to some Afghan jails after fears they were being subjected to systematic torture, British defence officials have said.
The directive, issued this week, comes ahead of the imminent release of a UN report into detainees that is expected to be highly critical of the Afghan police, who process many of the detainees through the fledgling justice system.
The report is understood to outline how prisoners are routinely beaten, given electric shocks and subjected to other human rights violations, some within private jails run by police commanders.
The order from the head of the Nato-led mission, General John Allen, is understood to have directed with immediate effect that prisoners not be transferred to nine locations, including one in Kabul, where the abuse was reportedly the worst.
"With appropriate caution, ISAF [Nato's International Security Assistant Force] has taken the prudent measure to suspend detainee transfer to certain facilities," a Nato official said.
However, the defence officials said the warnings did not apply to Helmand province, where most British troops are based. The province's northern neighbour, Uruzgan, is thought to be where abuse is most common.
An Uruzgan tribal elder has provided the Guardian with mobile phone footage of a man being stripped naked in front of a few dozen other men who, amid laughter from the onlookers, is then briefly chased with a stick that they threaten to sodomise him with.
The elder, Mohammad Dawood Khan, said the perpetrators were all Uruzgan police and while none were wearing uniforms, a police truck is parked next to the group.
Separate research by human rights observers has uncovered medieval-like torture systems, including a stretching rack, and reports of a juvenile detention centre head who together with his son raped teenage inmates.
It appears money is often the motivation for the mistreatment of detainees. A former district governor in Uruzgan, Haji Salari, explained how it was usually perpetrated. "When the police arrest someone from the villages or the bazaar, as soon as they take them inside the jail they ask the prisoner for 2000 rupees or afghanis (£28)," he said. This was considered an "entry fee" for the prison, which equates to about 20% of a regular policeman's monthly salary.
"Inside the prison they put pressure on the prisoners by beating them. There's no power for electric shocks so they use wood on the soles of the feet and on the ass."
After the prisoner had been abused, Haji Salari said, they would be allowed to have family members visit. "When the visitors come, the prisoner will explain the situation to his family and plead with them to get them out. Then they have to find money to give to the police chief, or police officer [for their release]."
The head of the Uruzgan Ulema Council, Maulawi Hamidullah Akhund, said he had continually warned authorities of torture inside the province's jails. "Many, many times I have heard from prisoners that they have been beaten in the jail," he said.
He claimed he convinced the Ministry of Justice to send a delegation to Uruzgan eight months ago but after their visit, nothing changed.
The high court in London last year imposed strict conditions on the transfer by British forces of suspected insurgents to Afghan detention centres, after hearing evidence of "horrible abuse" in breach of international law.
However the court said then that the transfer of suspects to National Directorate of Security (NDS) prisons in Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, should be allowed provided existing safeguards were "strengthened by observance of specified conditions". The court insisted that safeguards must include the right of British monitors to get regular access to the detainees.
A researcher for Human Rights Watch Afghanistan, Heather Barr, said she had not seen the UN report but its contents were not surprising: "But we are glad to see ISAF responding to it even through it's overdue. We hope it's not temporary until the bad press passes."
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