For Immediate Release: October 31, 2011
Washington, DC – Human Rights First today voiced concern about reports that the United States had long been transferring detainees captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan to the Afghan intelligence agency, the NDS, which has a well-documented history of torture and other forms of detainee abuse. These reports are a signal that – despite repeated assurances to the contrary – the United States remained complicit in the illegal practice of torture after it knew or should have known of abuses in the Afghan facilities to which detainees were sent.
“Numerous times in my conversations with Pentagon and civilian officials in Afghanistan and Washington, I was assured that the United States does not transfer detainees to the NDS where there is a substantial risk of torture,” said Human Rights First’s Gabor Rona. “Those assurances were apparently false.”
According to Human Rights First, the transfer of anyone to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subject to torture is a violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party. U.S. funding and support for Afghan security services known to engage in torture is also a violation of the Leahy amendment, a measure that requires the U.S. Departments of Defense and State to ensure recipients of U.S. security assistance are not engaged in torture or other human rights abuses.
The news that Special Operations forces transferred detainees captured by the U.S. military to Afghan intelligence services also underscores the dangers that result from the secrecy that shrouds U.S. detention operations in Afghanistan. As Human Rights First detailed in its May 2011 report, Detained and Denied in Afghanistan: How to Make U.S. Detention Comply with the Law, the U.S. government has refused to make public many aspects of its detainee policy, including the identities of those who are being detained and the reasoning behind their detention.
Department of Defense officials have consistently maintained that U.S. soldiers were not transferring detainees to Afghan authorities for interrogation, but were first interrogating them at U.S.-run classified “screening facilities” and then at the Parwan detention facility located on the US-run Bagram Air Base. The Afghan intelligence service has long been notorious for its use of torture. Just last month, a United Nations report again revealed the NDS’s use of ”systematic torture.”
Official U.S. claims of having properly responded to detainee abuse and of having taken corrective action are simply not credible in light of evidence that it continued to transfer detainees to the Afghan facility even after credible allegations of systematic abuses became known.
“The United States not only funded this NDS center, but it continued to transfer detainees to it.” Rona noted. “These events are troubling in and of themselves, but they are also part of a larger problem – the lack of transparency and accountability, especially within the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) of the military, and of course, of the CIA.”
As the principle funder, trainer and beneficiary of intelligence from Afghan security forces, the United States knew or should have known about the torture. The failure to have a monitoring plan in place, in sharp contrast with U.S. allies, is a serious lapse in oversight. Before the U.S. continues funding of the Afghan intelligence agency and its facilities, those who have engaged in torture should be held accountable, and the U.S. should make public whatever monitoring system it has in place so that American taxpayers can be judge for themselves whether they are continuing to fund torture.