Afghan torture allegations erupt in U.K.

Afghan detainees handed over by British troops to Afghan secret police were regularly beaten, hung from the ceiling and electrocuted, according to allegations in a London courtroom.

Detainees tell of 'electrocution, beating, whipping, stress positions'

Afghan detainees handed over by British troops to Afghan secret police were regularly beaten with weapons, hung from the ceiling and electrocuted, according to detailed allegations made public in a London courtroom on Tuesday.

The allegations of abuse, similar to Canada's detainee torture affair, came in the opening argument from Maya Evans, an anti-war activist seeking a judicial review of Britain's detainee transfer policy in Afghanistan. The statement was submitted Monday but released only Tuesday in full. 

British soldiers return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan on the Royal Navy warship HMS Albion. Allegations have now arisen that the U.K. military was complicit in torture of Afghan prisoners. ((Juan Manuel Serrano/Associated Press))

According to documents submitted to the court, a number of detainees outlined allegations of systematic abuse at the hands of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan secret service.

One detainee, identified as Prisoner A, said that between September and November 2008, he had been "beaten every other day for 2½ months whilst hung from the ceiling, often with a thick stick." He also said friends were beaten regularly and that the person who beat him with a stick was a "high-level NDS official."

Prisoner B alleged he was put in stress positions and deprived of sleep. Since he made those allegations, he "has never been seen again," according to the documents.

Another man, identified as Prisoner C, said that in September 2008 he was "beaten and electrocuted on his fingers, toes and palm of his feet by six men whilst hung from the ceiling."

Prisoner D said he was beaten twice with the butt of a rifle in Kandahar, hung from the ceiling and beaten in Kabul, and that he'd been electrocuted.

"Prisoner E said in 2007, he was beaten every night, including with a thin rubber cable with wires bound together" by a high-ranking NDS official. He claimed that the beatings were severe and on "each occasion he was struck from 50 to 100 times."

Prisoner G said he was beaten with steel rods on his back and legs for six consecutive nights and that he confessed for this reason.

"The court's going to hear very compelling evidence that British forces for a number of years now have received evidence that detainees arrested by British forces, held in British facilities and therefore under control of the British government, have been transferred to the Afghan secret police and have alleged torture in Afghan facilities,"  Daniel Carey, a human rights lawyer, told CBC News earlier.

Carey is one of a number of lawyers representing Evans in the bid for a judicial review. The lawyers have thousands of documents relating to allegations of abuse of Afghan prisoners in nine cases.

"We are alleging that they have been tortured using electrocution, beating, whipping, stress positions," Carey said. He said NATO's force in Afghanistan "didn’t grasp the nettle and has buried its head in the sand while torture has continued, and it's known about it."  

So far, much of the evidence being presented in court has been redacted, by request of Britain's Ministry of Defence.

Canadian interest

Carey said the case could bring to light a connection to allegations regarding Canadian officials' knowledge of torture.

"It stands to reason, does it not, that with Canada being in control in Kandahar province and the U.K. in Helmand province, and detainees being transferred between facilities in Afghanistan, as you would expect, that of course there's knowledge shared," Carey said.

"I'm sure the Canadian public will be interested in the evidence in this case."

Canadian opposition parties have been trying to get Stephen Harper's government to release documents pertaining to the handling of Afghan detainees without heavily blacked-out sections.

Diplomat Richard Colvin sparked a political firestorm last November when he told a Commons committee that all detainees transferred to Afghan prisons by Canadian soldiers were likely tortured by Afghan officials.

Colvin has alleged Canadian government and military officials were well aware of the problem.