Tag Archives: Afghanistan torture

How to Break the Rules without Breaking the Law

In 2009,  coalition casualties in Afghanistan had as much as doubled in the space of a year. Civilian casualties climbed to 2412. It was 2009. Coalition forces had been there since 2001 with no end and, to this point, no real campaign plan in sight…

Chris Masters, who was the only journalist to have been embedded with Australian special forces soldiers (SASR) in Afghanistan, believes a desensitisation occurred within the forces that allegedly allowed a “kill count mentality to develop”…SASR’s sabre squadrons are the tips of a trident of land, air and water operators, with the “wateries” an elite within an elite. And like their US counterparts, the Navy SEALs, unquestionable ability can come tinged with arrogance. In SASR, their rock-star persona did not sit easily with everyone when modesty was supposed to be a core value…

The most prominent allegation is traced to an assault on a compound codenamed Whiskey 108 at Kakarak in Oruzgan on Easter Sunday 2009…As shooting erupted, one operator remembers thinking: “I am going to die today.” Instead, methodically, they closed in on the remaining enemy, killing them one by one.  At this time Australian weapons were again heard firing and soldiers entering the compound saw something hurled from a window. It was an older man with a prosthetic leg, shot and now lying dead. The prosthetic leg was souvenired and returned to Perth to be fashioned into a drinking vessel.  What troubled a range of witnesses was not so much the killing of the men, who whether armed or unarmed were considered Taliban. It was more that the grim task of pulling the trigger had been pushed onto a “rookie”. As one operator told me: “If s— needs to be done, do it yourself.”

In rotations to come, the concept of blooding became well known. What became more disturbing was a suspicion the practise was not only about a first kill but also executing prisoners. ..What was not thought through was how many of the “blooded rookies” would be haunted well into the future by what was done…Soldiers began to refer to some of their members having gone “up the Congo”, into the moral wilderness of novelist Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Numerous witnesses have spoken of one SASR team posting a kill board on their door. The patrol commander was heard talking about needing more kills and subsequently of the goal being met….

As the mission wore on, further alleged breaches of the rules of armed conflict began to emerge, conspicuously contained to Special Forces and most particularly to SASR. The “Who Dares Wins” ethos of the regiment encourages the testing of boundaries. As they often tell themselves, “you break the rules but not the law”.

Exceprts from Chris Masters, Australia’s ugly turn in Afghanistan, Sydney Morning Herald, June 8, 2018

The Use of Torture in Afghanistan

Construction_in_Tarin_Kowt. Image from wikipedia

Military police at Australia’s detention centre in Afghanistan were pressured to make prisoners more “pliable” by gagging them, depriving them of sleep and denying them exercise.Sources with first-hand knowledge of the detention centre at Tarin Kowt have said that senior officers from Australia’s special forces, as well as the “force exploitation team” – defence intelligence – and the mentoring taskforce, pressed the detention management team to “condition” suspected insurgents before interrogation.A source said the pressure was “strongly resisted” by the detention management team and the gagging and other techniques were not carried out. The account by multiple sources is among a number of claims that contrast with assurances this week from Defence Minister Stephen Smith that Australia “approaches its responsibility for treating detainees with dignity and respect with the utmost seriousness”.

A young male detainee who was deaf mute and possibly intellectually disabled was held in the centre because of pressure from the Special Operations Task Group, despite concerns from medical staff that he was not fit to be detained.  A senior Afghan intelligence officer, a Colonel Hanif, complained vigorously that detainees were being transferred from Australian to Afghan custody on scant evidence that they were insurgents.  The Defence Force denied a teenage boy access to his dying father, a suspected insurgent who had been shot in a battle with Australians. The boy was allegedly turned over to US interrogators, though the ADF denies this.

The claims relate to 2010 and 2011, after Australia took responsibility for managing detainees in Oruzgan province from the withdrawn Dutch troops…..But Fairfax Media has been told that in the first year Australia was running the detention system, tensions flared between the military police who managed the detainees and the forces who captured and interrogated them.  One source said: “We had two very conflicting sets of guidelines: one was to treat them humanely but the other was the pressure from the SOTG [Australian Special Operations Task Group]*** and intelligence guys who wanted us to condition them in such a way as to make them more pliable … so their state of mind was conducive to interrogation. “They wanted us to gag and hood the detainees to stop them from talking to each other.

Excerpt, David Wroe, Deborah Snow,Military police pressured to make prisoners more ‘pliable’,  Sydney Morning Herald, May 18, 2013

***Special Operations Task Group (SOTG)  The Australian Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) is deployed to Southern Afghanistan to conduct population-centric, security and counter-network operations. At around 300 personnel, the SOTG is one of the largest, most potent Special Forces units in Afghanistan. The SOTG is primarily based in Multi-National Base Tarin Kot but has command and liaison elements in Kandahar and Kabul. It consists of approximately 300 personnel from the 1st and 2nd Commando Regiments, the Special Air Service Regiment, the Special Operations Engineer Regiment, the Special Operations Logistic Squadron, and various other services, units and commands around Australia.  The SOTG trains, mentors and partners with Afghan National Police officers from the Uruzgan Provincial Response Company (PRC) and other branches of the Afghan National Security Forces, in order to build their capacity and capability to establish and maintain security and stability in the region.SOTG operations are Afghan Police led in order to build confidence in the ANSF and improve the connection between the local people and the Afghan Government.  The Task Group also works closely with the co-located CT-U providing Special Forces support to operations in Uruzgan province.

Source: http://www.defence.gov.au/op/afghanistan/info/factsheet.htm

Torture in Afghanistan: following the master

Image from wikipedia

The UN report (2013), titled “Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghan Custody,” offered a grim tour of Afghanistan’s detention facilities, where even adolescents have reported abuse like beatings with hoses and pipes and threats of sodomy.

In the case of the intelligence service, the United Nations reported a lower incidence of torture. But it was not clear whether that finding reflected improved behavior as much as it did a decrease in the number of detainees handed over to the intelligence service by the international military coalition. And some detainees have alluded to new secret interrogation centers.

The Afghan government rejected the report’s specific allegations but said that there were some abuses, and that it had taken numerous steps to improve the treatment of detainees. The government gave United Nations officials access to those held in all but one detention facility.Among the questions raised by the report is whether the pervasiveness of torture will make it difficult for the American military to hand over those being held in the Parwan Detention Facility, also known as Bagram Prison, as required under the agreement reached last week in Washington between President Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.  The United Nations did not look at the Parwan Detention Facility, in part because it is not yet wholly under Afghan control….

After a United Nations report on torture in 2011, the international coalition suspended transfers of battlefield detainees to 16 Afghan detention sites. ISAF resumed transfers to most of those centers after certifying that they were complying with human rights protocols. Then, in October 2012, the coalition received new reports of torture and abuse and halted some of the transfers that it had restarted only months before, the United Nations report said. The United Nations has briefed ISAF at several points in the course of its research, which included interviews with more than 600 detainees as well as employees of the Afghan intelligence service, the Afghan police, judges and prosecutors….The Afghan government’s 20-page response, which is included in the United Nations report, rejected all specific allegations, including “beating with rubber pipes or water pipes, forced confession, suspension, twisting of the detainees’ penises and wrenching of the detainees’ testicles, death threats, sexual abuse and child abuse.”

ALISSA J. RUBIN, Anti-Torture Efforts in Afghanistan Failed, U.N. Says, NY Times, Jan. 20, 2012

See also Convention against Torture