The Rolling Stone‘s Matthieu Aikins, who reported on alleged U.S. war crimes of torture, executions, and disappearances in Afghanistan, has posted another short piece and a video depicting U.S. soldiers standing by as Afghan forces whip a detainee.
The scene depicted in the video, and similar allegations of torture that were made to Rolling Stone in the investigation, fit with a general pattern of recurring abuse in U.S. and Afghan custody that has been documented by the UN, Congress, and human rights groups in Afghanistan since 2001. While the main detention facilities in Afghanistan have technically been transferred to Afghan control, American military units are allowed to hold detainees for “tactical questioning” for up to two weeks. On an isolated firebase occupied by a tightly-knit special forces team, that means the detainees are at the mercy of their enemies. “If an ODA member was killed or critically injured then I can see tactical questioning getting way out of hand,” the former Green Beret tells me. For special forces and the interpreters, there is little sympathy for the men who want kill them. “Unless you’ve been in combat and had people who want to shoot you in the face, you can’t understand what it’s like,” one special forces officer told me. “There’s a reason that they say that war is hell. Because it is hell.”
An even bigger problem is U.S. complicity in the abusive methods used by its Afghan allies. As one military intelligence soldier told me in Kandahar in 2011, they would often take a “smoke break” when interrogating recalcitrant detainees, stepping outside and leaving the prisoner alone with Afghan police or soldiers. And despite over a decade and billions of dollars spent training the Afghan security forces, torture and abuse remain endemic in Afghan prisons. As I reported in the investigation, ISAF has halted transferring detainees to some of the worst locations, but the CIA has not — a discrepancy that led to a temporary breakdown in joint military operations under the OMEGA program last year.
The UN has repeatedly found there to be rampant torture in Afghan prisons, but U.S. complicity in the abuse is pretty well known too. An Afghan commission last year accused the U.S. military of abuse of Afghan prisoners, including holding them in freezing cold cells, forced nudity, extended isolation, and other physical abuse, in addition to being held without due process. See here for a round-up of recent torture issues in Afghanistan.