Cruel limbo – Prisoners pay for UK failures in Afghanistan

Published time: May 30, 2013 05:11

AFP Photo / Poll / Stefan Wermuth

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With 90 Afghan prisoners being held without charge for a year, the UK’s Afghan jail is being compared to Guantanamo by some, amid political bickering between the two countries and outrage from the detainees’ lawyers, demanding answers.

International Affairs Commentator Jonathan Steele, from Britain’s
Guardian newspaper told RT that while Britain’s concern for the
prisoners’ human rights is understandable, the country’s
treatment of the Afghan conflict as a whole is really to blame.
Twelve years after the invasion, the atmosphere of negligence and
a failure to instill any adequate conditions — political or
otherwise — is causing all manner of problems.

RT: MP Barry Gardner has said the detainees have been
held for 14 months because of paperwork. Is that true?

Jonathan Steele: It’s a problem because they don’t want to hand
them over to the Afghans because it’s well known that in Afghan
detention facilities — whether they’re run by the Afghan police
or by the intelligence agencies — people are tortured:
electrocuted, hung upside-down, blindfolded and so on. And
Britain doesn’t want to collude with that. That’s a real issue.
They shouldn’t be held, on the other hand, they shouldn’t be
transferred. So, the only option is to release them, which is
what the lawyers are demanding. But the Afghan authorities and
the British think that there’s some reason to believe that these
are people, who are involved in insurgency and they don’t want to
put them back on the battlefield, as they say.

RT: So what spurred that move right now? 


AFP Photo / Poll / Stefan Wermuth

JS: Well, the lawyers for the detainees. I mean there have
been previous cases before and the British High Court has gone
the other way. They’ve argued that prisoners shouldn’t be handed
over to the Afghan authorities because of the risk of torture.
Now were getting a court case where the demand is that they
should be released by the British, but not handed over to the
Afghan authorities.  

RT: We’ve heard lawyers compare Camp Bastion to
Guantanamo. Why do you think the two are fundamentally

JS: I think that there are two differences, actually. In
the case of Guantanamo they should be released, the people in
Guantanamo, but nobody really wants to take them — except in the
case of Yemen that’s been agreed to about 20 or 30 people, who
are Yemenites. But nobody else wants to take these people back.
In this case, the Afghan government wants to take these people
back. They say it’s a question of sovereignty; we should be
holding detainees instead of foreign troops to be holding our own
citizens in prisons and detention facilities. That’s one

The other difference is that we haven’t yet had credible
allegations that the British are using torture in Afghanistan
themselves. We know that they were using it in Iraq. During the
Iraq war there’s been plenty of cases of that, but nothing yet
credible on Afghanistan whereas it’s the Afghans, who are using
torturing. So there’s another big difference, I think. The
one similarity is the lack of access to lawyers, the lack of
information, the indefinite detention. Whatever the conditions
are like, even if they’re not being tortured by the British, they
are being held in total limbo, with no access to lawyers, family
or anybody.  


RT: How justifiable is that?

JS: It’s not justifiable at all and they ought to be
charged or released because under the rules of engagement of the
British in Afghanistan — after 96 hours people have to released
or charged.

RT: British MPs learned about the number of detainees
from the news. Why weren’t they kept in the loop?

JS: I think that’s probably not correct. Because as I said
there’s been a big high Court case here about three years ago on
the same issue. The British tried to get assurances from the
Afghan authorities that there wouldn’t be torture; they would
have access to the Afghan prisons to check on all this. Then the
Afghans rejected British efforts to go to the prisons and etc.
So, it has been known about. There have been previous court
cases. It may not have been known exactly how many people were
being held and exactly, in which place in Afghanistan they were
being held.

David Cameron (AFP Photo / Leon Neal)

RT: Just to clarify again — why do you think that many
of these prisoners were held without legal representation?

JS: I don’t know. I think that it’s a disgrace. And it’s
also very bad that the United Nations, which has been able to
probe in all the Afghan police stations and detention facilities
and has issued various reports on the mishandling of detainees —
the UN does not have access to British, or indeed American
detention facilities. The only outsiders who do are the Red
Cross. And as you know, they have a policy of not talking
publicly about individual cases. So whatever they’ve found,
they’ve kept to themselves…well, they’ve discussed it with the
British government, but not with the wider public.

RT: Prime Minister David Cameron has hailed the
Afghanistan mission a big success. How does that fit in with what
we are hearing now about Camp Bastion being used now as a
detention facility?

JS: It obviously isn’t a success, because Britain’s been
involved for 12 years in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the
Taliban, and one of the pretexts they gave for being there was
“We’re trying to modernize Afghanistan, bring it into the 21st
century: to improve governance, improve health, education, the
police, the prison arrangements. And after 12 years there’s still
widespread torture. It’s a disgrace. The United Nations
interviewed 635 detainees and 326 of them — that’s more than half
— say they have been tortured by the Afghan authorities. If after
12 years you’ve been trying to bring Afghanistan up to better
standards, they’ve clearly failed, if torture’s so widespread.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

This article originally appeared on: RT