Exactly one year ago today, I posted on the agreement in principle that would hand over the Detention Facility in Parwan, located near Bagram Air Base, to full Afghan control. I noted at the time however, that the “agreement” depended heavily on semantics and that the US was in fact doing its best retain as much control as possible:
The agreement appears to use semantics to say that the prisons are being handed over today, but with the reality being that there will be a gradual process taking six months. From the New York Times:
The memorandum of understanding would officially hand over control of detainees to an Afghan official as of Friday, but would also allow for a six-month period of transition to full Afghan control of the American-held detainees, American officials said.
As a practical matter, American officials are expected to maintain day-to-day control over the 3,200 detainees, most of them suspected Taliban insurgents.
During the six months, custody of the American-held prisoners would gradually transfer to Afghan authority, with the first 500 prisoners to be transferred within 45 days, according to American military and diplomatic officials who spoke on condition of anonymity as a matter of policy.
The move is a major concession to the Afghans, but the Americans will retain ultimate veto authority over releases of any insurgent detainees as long as American troops are in Afghanistan, and will continue to monitor humane treatment of the prisoners, the American officials said.
With the US maintaining veto power over release of any prisoners, perhaps Senator Graham will have to hold off on throwing his next tantrum, as his major objection to the handover had been that the Afghans would release prisoners who would immediately attack US troops. It’s not clear how the US will be monitoring humane treatment of the prisoners, since it is US training that put the torture methods in place to begin with.
The six month gradual handover phase has now been a full year, during which we have seen many rough patches. At the six month mark, I noted that the US balked on finalizing the handover because the Afghans refused to put into place a system for indefinite detention without trial. But throughout this process, the key really has been that the agreement itself has been a sham (just as with most of our agreements with Afghanistan) primarily because the US continues to maintain that it has final veto power on Afghan decisions to release prisoners.
On Wednesday of this week, the dispute over prisoner release came to a head, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced to the Afghan parliament that the final handover of Parwan would take place today and that he would immediately release a number of prisoners he said are innocent. Unsurprisingly, the US today unilaterally cancelled the final handover ceremony, throwing the whole agreement into disarray. From the New York Times: Continue reading
Back in October of 2011, I wrote about a report prepared by the UN (pdf) in which it was found that torture is widespread in detention facilities administered by Afghanistan. The primary point of my post was that the US, and especially JSOC, had no credibility in their denials of responsibility for torture in Afghan prisons because the entire Afghan detention system had been established and its personnel trained by JSOC.
The US response to that report was not a huge surprise. It consisted of a doubling down on the one thing ISAF claims as its savior–training. After all, it is training of the ANSF that is intended to provide cover for the eventual withdrawal of combat forces by the end of next year, so why can’t training save the detention system, too? A follow-up report was issued yesterday (pdf), and it serves as a complete slap-down to the US response.
The report finds that this training approach was a dismal failure, as torture has not abated:
Using internationally accepted methodology, standards and best practices, UNAMA’s detention observation from October 2011 to October 2012 found that despite Government and international efforts to address torture and ill-treatment of conflict related detainees, torture persists and remains a serious concern in numerous detention facilities across Afghanistan.
UNAMA found sufficiently credible and reliable evidence that more than half of 635 detainees interviewed (326 detainees) experienced torture and ill-treatment in numerous facilities of the Afghan National Police (ANP), National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan Local Police (ALP) between October 2011 and October 2012 This finding is similar to UNAMA’s findings for October 2010-11 which determined that almost half of the detainees interviewed who had been held in NDS facilities and one third of detainees interviewed who had been held in ANP facilities experienced torture or ill-treatment at the hands of ANP or NDS officials.
And here is the UN concluding in the report that training alone won’t stop torture. Instead, real accountability is what is needed:
Similar to previous findings, UNAMA found a persistent lack of accountability for perpetrators of torture with few investigations and no prosecutions or loss of jobs for those responsible for torture or ill-treatment. The findings in this report highlight that torture cannot be addressed by training, inspections and directives alone but requires sound accountability measures to stop and prevent its use. Without effective deterrents and disincentives to use torture, including a robust, independent investigation process or criminal prosecutions, Afghan officials have no incentive to stop torture. A way forward is clear.
This seems like a particularly important message to take into consideration on the day that Barack Obama is involved in the pomp and circumstance of starting his second term in office. He gained the support of many progressives during the Democratic primaries in 2008 by issuing a strong call for torture accountability and then famously turned his back on it by expressing his desire to “look forward, not backward”. With this report, the UN shows the moral bankruptcy of such an approach and seems in fact to even be taunting him with the final “A way forward is clear.”