Afghan prisoners in UK torture claim

The BBC reports that the High Court has heard claims that suspected insurgents were seized by UK troops and handed over to the Afghan authorities, who then tortured them.

At least eight men transferred by the Army to the Afghan Security Service, the NDS, say they were mistreated.

One claims he was told he would be shot if he did not sign a confession; others say they were given electric shocks and were beaten with cables and sticks.

The UK Government has denied there is evidence of widespread abuse.

Between July 2006 – when they entered Helmand province – and September 2009, the British Army transferred more than 300 suspected insurgents to the NDS. This policy is unlawful, according to lawyers for the claimant – a peace activist from Sussex – who have called for transfers to the NDS to cease.

Michael Fordham QC said this is “a very troubling picture of a clutch of cases from those who feel able to speak”.

One man, known as Prisoner X, claimed he was told he would be shot if he did not sign a confession. He alleges he was given electric shocks and beaten with cables.

Lawyers for the Ministry of Defence said the credibility of these allegations was “unreliable”.

Likewise they said there were no signs of mistreatment of Prisoner E, a convicted criminal who says he was beaten unconscious by the NDS in 2007. He also claims another detainee was raped by an NDS official.

The UK Government accepts that several allegations of serious mistreatment at an NDS facility in Kabul known as Department 17 “may have substance”. These include claims that one man, Prisoner A, was beaten every other day for more than two months; another, Prisoner C, says he was beaten and electrocuted “on his fingers, toes and palms of his feet by six men whilst hung from the ceiling”.

The head of the investigations unit at Department 17 was sacked but Mr Fordham told the court no-one has been prosecuted in relation to the abuse claims.

Earlier Mr Fordham said allegations of abuse by the NDS were investigated by the NDS itself, a situation he described as “quite extraordinary”.

The court heard that torture by the NDS was ingrained into its practices and that “its primary method of obtaining convictions is by obtaining confessions”.

But lawyers for the MoD say the “experience of UK forces does not suggest that torture is used routinely to extract confessions”.

In a skeleton legal argument presented by the claimant, a 2007 report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was cited, which said “reports of the use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment by the NDS are frequent”.

An Amnesty International report in the same year expressed concern that “the NDS’s acute lack of transparency is a contributing factor in the impunity enjoyed by its operatives”. It called for a moratorium on detainee transfers.

The UK Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Afghanistan in 2006. This obliges the Afghan authorities to “protect against torture” but lawyers for the claimant say the “protections that it supposedly provided had completely evaporated and its terms were being openly flouted”.

Lawyers for the MoD acknowledge “there is much work to be done in Afghanistan to improve the respect for the rule of law” but say that “operations against insurgents have to happen in parallel with reform”.

They point out that “a vital element of fulfilling this UN mission is the capture of persons who threaten the security of Afghanistan”. The MoD denies that the NDS is a “shadowy or unaccountable organisation”.

A judgement is expected in a few weeks’ time.

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