Jeremy Kelly in Kabul
guardian.co.uk, Monday 10 October 2011 09.26 EDT
Afghan security police officers stand guard in front of the Pul-e Charkhi prison's gate in Kabul. Photograph: Musadeq Sadeq/AP
Prisoners have been systematically tortured while in the custody of Afghan security officials, according to a UN report which described abuse including ripping detainees' toenails out and twisting their genitals.
Nearly half of prisoners interviewed by Afghanistan's intelligence agency said they had been tortured while a third of those arrested by Afghan police reported abuse.
The report, based on interviews with 379 randomly selected prisoners including teenage boys, says torture was systematic at five locations around the country and was designed to obtain confessions, which are often the only form of evidence against a suspect.
Abuse had occurred in 47 facilities across 24 of the country's 34 provinces, although it was not "institutional or government policy", the 74-page report says.
Detainees told UN investigators that tortures included: being hung by wrists to walls and ceilings; beatings, usually with rubber hoses and electric cables; twisting and wrenching of genitals; removing of toenails; threats of sexual abuse; and electric shocks. It said blindfolding and hooding of detainees was common as well as the denial of medical care.
Some of the worst and most common allegations of torture were at the national directorate of security's Kabul facility, known as department 90. "There is so much beating at 90 that people call it 'hell'," one interviewee told the UN.
Another told of how NDS officers escalated the torture the longer he refused to confess to an association with the Taliban. "They took off my clothes, and one of them held my penis in his hand and twisted it severely until I passed out," said the man, who like all other interviewees is not identified by name. "After I woke up, I had to confess because I could not stand the pain, and I did not want that to happen to me again and suffer the same severe and unbearable pain."
Detainees said they were denied water for ablutions, required before prayers. "I asked the NDS official to give me water for ablution, and I said to him 'for Allah's sake and for Qur'an's sake give me water', and he said 'there is no Allah or Qur'an here'."
Five out of six teenage boys held in department 90 and interviewed by the UN said that they were abused, including having been beaten, suspended on walls and one having been sexually assaulted. At an NDS facility in Kandahar, one detainee reported he was threatened with having a wooden stick with chili powder stuck up his rectum.
The chief of investigations at the NDS in Kandahar told the UN that normal methods to extract confessions did not work there. "If we know the detainee is an insurgent we punish them," he said. He was aware of the law prohibiting such conduct: "Everyone wants to carry out his job according to law but Kandahar is specific. The situation here is different than other places."
Only one of the interviewees said he had access to a defence lawyer, which is a right under Afghan law for all stages of the legal process.
The UN said it found compelling evidence that 22 of 89 of the interviewees that were transferred from the custody of foreign military forces had been the victims of torture. Nato recently stopped such transfers and is in the process of remedying the situation before they re-commence, the report says.
It said Afghan authorities had also taken steps to stop the abuse. The authorities "have stated clearly they have an action plan to address these concerns, started investigations, reassigned personnel in the case of the national directorate of security, and have further indicated that responsible individuals will be suspended from their positions and in serious cases, prosecuted", the report said.