When Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded last week that the U.S. cede control of the detention facilities at Bagram airbase, it was ironic, in a cynical way. Came forth the opportunity to pit Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama against the leader of one of the most corrupt and abusive governments in the world; the latter was teaching the former about human rights, the narrative went. A few days later, an Afghan investigative commission accused the American military of abusing detainees in the Bagram prison facilities and reiterated President Hamid Karzai’s demand that the U.S. turn the detainees over to Afghan custody.
Karzai’s statement cited reports of human rights abuse at the facility and said U.S. control of the prison and indefinite detention of Afghan citizens violated the Afghan Constitution as well as international covenants. And he was right. There are now about 3,000 detainees in Bagram, up from 1,700 since June and five times the amount there when Barack Obama took office. Most of them have not been charged, have seen no evidence against them, and do not have the right to be represented by a lawyer. Attorney for Human Rights First Daphne Eviatar said in a recent CBS interview that “It’s worse than Guantanamo, because there are fewer rights.” There is also strong evidence of serious abuse and torture in black cites near Bagram.
But Karzai isn’t any more on the side of human rights as Obama is. Less than a month ago, Karzai signed a decree which would transfer control of Afghan prisons from the Justice Ministry to the Interior Ministry, starting today, January 10, 2012. Not a good sign. The Interior Ministry operates the Afghan National Police, a gang of thugs implicated in a long and ugly list of torture and other ill treatment. “Criminal justice in Afghanistan will not be improved by giving the police free rein of the prisons,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Greater police involvement in jails is likely to lead to more torture, not less.”
Back in October, the United Nations released a report which found that detainees in Afghan-controlled prisons are hung from the ceilings by their wrists, severely beaten with cables and wooden sticks, have their toenails torn off, are treated with electric shock, and even have their genitals twisted until they lose consciousness. The study, which covered 47 facilities sites in 22 provinces, found “a compelling pattern and practice of systematic torture and ill-treatment” during interrogation by U.S.-supported Afghan authorities. And they weren’t all alone: both U.S. and NATO military trainers and counterparts have been working closely with these authorities, consistently supervising the detention facilities and funding their operations.
The U.S. and their lavishly supported thuggish Afghan counterparts are apparently equivalent in their administration of torture and disregard for human rights. The issue is not whether to let the Americans do it or let the Afghans. The issue is to provide due justice for the people we have caged all over Afghanistan. “Too difficult to prosecute, too dangerous to release” doesn’t cut it.