Amnesty International has released a report, "Left in the Dark." The report details a failure of accountability for civilian deaths caused by international military operations in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2013.
The report has ten case studies of civilian deaths. Some of the cases have received publicity, such as an 2009 airstrike, killing villagers offloading fuel from two hijacked tanker trucks stuck in the Kunduz river.
The basic circumstances of the incident have been widely reported. On the day of 3 September 2009, Taliban militants commandeered two fuel tankers on the main road leading into Afghanistan from Tajikistan, killing one of the drivers. While driving the tankers to a place where the cargo could be offloaded, they tried to cross the Kunduz River, near the village of Omar Kheil, but the hijacked vehicles got stuck in the mud and sand. Rather than abandon the vehicles, the militants opened the tanks to siphon off the fuel. They also encouraged local villagers to take away free fuel.Most of the cases are less well known.
Left in the Dark, Amnesty International
Here is some press coverage of the Amnesty International report.
A toughly-worded report by the group focused on 10 incidents between 2009 and 2013 that it said saw 140 civilians killed during U.S. military operations. Amnesty said the vast majority of family members it interviewed said they had never been interviewed by U.S. military investigators.
Most of the incidents involved airstrikes and night raids carried out by U.S. forces. Both tactics have sparked heated criticism from Afghan civilians and the government who say the U.S. doesn't take enough care to prevent civilian deaths.
Two of the cases — one in Paktia province in 2010 and another in Wardak province from November 2012 to February 2013 — involved "abundant and compelling evidence of war crimes," the report said.
Richard Bennett, Amnesty’s Asia Pacific director, said: “The US military justice system almost always fails to hold its soldiers accountable for unlawful killings and other abuses. None of the cases we looked into were prosecuted by the US military. Evidence of possible war crimes and unlawful killings has seemingly been ignored.”
Amnesty said it had interviewed 125 witnesses and family members in connection with the Afghan cases, many of which involved operations by US special forces.
The AI paper comes at a critical time in Afghanistan's history. While the country is still plunged in a crisis following a contested presidential election, foreign aid is dwindling and the international community is winding down its combat mission, making it more difficult for any troops accused of crimes to potentially stand trial. At the same time, there is the increasing threat of a resurgent Taliban militancy in the country.
Focusing primarily on air strikes and night raids carried out mainly by US forces, the authors of the 84-page document argue that apparent war crimes have gone uninvestigated and unpunished. "In numerous cases in which there is credible evidence of unlawful killings of civilians, the military has failed to conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations," the report states.
Agreements signed between the Afghan government and foreign governments, particularly the United States, prevent foreign soldiers from being brought before Afghan courts.
Amnesty also details initial denials of wrongdoing from foreign officials, both military and civilian, as well as official statements that Amnesty said misrepresented the facts of the incidents.
Relatives recounted to Amnesty not only encountering obstacles in trying to see the guilty parties punished but having in some instances to bring the bodies of their slain kin to the offices of local officials before international forces admitted there had been wrongful deaths.
Amnesty Says No Justice For Afghan Civilian Deaths In U.S.-NATO Attacks, Radio Free Europe
The human rights organization alleges that the U.S. military has routinely failed to properly investigate reports of criminal behavior and, in some instances, tampered with evidence to conceal wrongdoing. On the rare occasions when servicemen are held to account, the report found that the compromised military justice system seldom secured justice for the victims of enforced disappearances, killings, and abuse that included torture.
“President Obama has admitted that ‘we tortured’ people in the past—but this is not the Bush administration, this is torture happening under Obama,” said Joanne Mariner, the author of the report.
Karzai, who will step down when his successor is chosen after an ongoing dispute about election results, welcomed the report after inviting Amnesty representatives to the presidential palace on Sunday.
“I’m very happy that you have focused on something that is the main point of disagreement between Afghanistan and the US,” he said, according to a palace statement.
“I believe that civilian casualties should never happen. Together with you, we should stop them.”
Amnesty emphasised in its report that the “vast majority” of civilian deaths are caused by the Taliban and other armed groups in Afghanistan, which remains in the grip of a fierce Islamist insurgency.
One of the better-covered cases is the 2012/2013 torture, killings, and disappearances at a U.S. Special Operations base in Wardak province. Matt Aikins had reported on this in considerable detail last November, for Rolling Stone.
The Amnesty International report has much more detail still, including about torture methods used.
The torture he described was horrific:
First they took off my clothes. Then they tied a thin plastic cord around my
penis so I couldn’t pee. Then they forced me to lie down face down on the floor. Four people beat me with cables. They tied my legs together and beat the soles of my feet with a wooden stick. They punched me in the face and kicked me. They hit my head on the floor. They tied laces around my neck to strangle me.
During the day they’d leave me in the cell with my arms pulled out to the side, stretched out. During the night, they’d hang me from the ceiling from my hands. I have scars on my hands. My feet would be tied together. They’d barely touch the ground. My eyes were blindfolded. They’d pour cold water over my head. They’d do this from about 9 pm until 10 or 11 pm.
They did this for 4 nights in a row.
They were questioning me all the time. Whenever they tortured me, they had someone with a pen and notebook. They’d ask, “Where are the weapons? Where are you hiding them?” I’d tell them that I worked as a cashier for the Ministry of Culture: “Ask them about me,” I’d say. They left the string around my penis for 4 days. My abdomen was bulging. I wasn’t able to pee for those 4 days.
Another form of torture he described was similar to techniques used at CIA “black sites”:
They would dunk me in a large barrel of water. The tank was made of metal and was round; it was a fuel barrel. It was about one-and-a-half metres tall and a half metre across. They’d dunk me in the tank head first, with just my legs and feet sticking out of the water. My feet would be tied together, and my arms would be tied to my side. They would hold me there until I was unconscious. I’d breathe in water. They did that to me two times, on about the seventh or eighth night I was held. The Americans gave the orders and the Afghans did it.
Agha told Amnesty International that he witnessed the death of one of the men he was held with:In July 2013, Reuters reported that U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command had opened an investigation.One of the prisoners was killed in front of my eyes. His name was Sayed Muhammed. He was beaten to death. Only one guy beat him, an American. It happened in the afternoon during prayer time. I don’t remember what day it was, but it was sometime between the 18th and 45th day of my captivity. I don’t know the name of the American who did it: he was a big guy with a big, bushy red beard, and green eyes. Big strong arms. He wasn’t young—probably middle-aged, about 40.Agha said that he heard the others get killed; he didn’t see it happen. “They were beaten to death, all of them, with cables and sticks.”
The U.S. Army has launched an investigation into claims that its special forces abducted and killed Afghan civilians, allegations Washington has denied, a NATO spokeswoman said on Tuesday.But the U.S. investigation of the multiple torture, killings, mutilations, and disappearances, does not seem very serious.
The spokeswoman, U.S. Colonel Jane Crichton, said the commander of ISAF, the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, U.S. General Joseph Dunford, had ordered the investigation after an Afghan translator accused the U.S. soldiers had worked with.
Under pressure from the UN and others, the US military finally opened its own criminal investigation into the killings in July. Yet it is far from clear whether the investigation is serious. Numerous witnesses and family members said that, as of November 2013, they had not been interviewed. Nor had the mil itary interviewed journalist Matthieu Aikins, who spend five months gathering evidence about the killings for his Rolling Stone article. As of March 2014, only two of the ten eyewitnesses and former detainees whom Amnesty International spoke to had been interviewed by US military investigators. One former detainee, who was interviewed in approximately late January 2014, said that the interviewer “wrote down what I said, and at the end gave me a thumbs up and said goodbye ... I haven’t heard from her since.”
Left in the Dark, Amnesty International