Detainees’ Abuse Scandal Reflects Poorly on Karzai Government

The shockwave produced by the abuses committed by American military personnel on Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib has allowed other silent victims to come forward and make the international public aware of the abuses they had been victim of, not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan.

Almost immediately following the American intervention in Afghanistan in October 2001, human rights watchdogs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and even the United Nations Commission on Human Rights started expressing concerns regarding the jurisdictional cloud under which the United States was covering the status of the prisoners, refusing to allow any clarification regarding the basis for their detention, be it in Guantanamo, Bagram or elsewhere!

Several Afghan detainees have so far died in detention in Bagram, main US base in Afghanistan. There is also strong evidence that hundreds of prisoners in the hands of General Dostum, a US ally and an adviser to the US-backed interim president Karzai, have been executed in the early days and hours following the collapse of the Taliban. So far, no reprimand or official inquiry into this case has been launched by Mr Karzai’s Government, nor did the US express its concern regarding such a large scale crime committed on prisoners by one of its official allies in the "war against terror"!

It is estimated that in the Bagram base alone, American military is holding captive about three hundred Afghans. The culpability and the reason for their detention has not been established and certainly not made public. The US occupation forces backing Mr. Karzai do not deem necessary to respond to any request made by the families, advocating secrecy in the name of the one-size-fits-all "war against terror"! Other high-value targets have also been held on board of US military ships cruising in the Arabian Sea.

Whether it is in regard to Afghan nationals detained by the US in Afghanistan, on a ship or at the Guantanamo base, the Karzai Government is silent and shows absolutely no concern as to the treatment of its nationals held prisoner, be they guilty of any wrong-doing or not. International legal standards, as applied in the US judicial system and as reinstated in the Afghan Constitution approved just months ago, clearly state that until charges have been officially filed and the accused have been proven guilty, the detainees are not much more than suspects entitled to legal representation.

The Bush Administration thought it clever to try to outsmart international laws and conventions by using a piece of Cuban territory to detain about 600 hundred suspected terrorists with alleged links to Al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. Unfortunately for them, every day brings new elements that make it clear that this was a lame attempt and that it largely discredited the international standing of the United Sates as a law-oriented, principled, country that has been advocating higher international standards since at least the end of WWI.

The question that I would like to ask here is quid of the Afghan nationals detained inside Afghanistan and at sea? For what we are told, the United States recognizes the Government it has helped to put in place (euphemism) and therefore recognizes its sovereignty over its constituents, its nationals. Based on this very simple logic, what is then the legal basis for the American military to detain Afghan Nationals on Afghan soil, substituting itself to the authority of the Afghan Administration? What legitimacy can the Karzai Government claim if not only can it not perform the duties it was supposedly elected for but, in addition, it doesn’t even have the slightest sense of responsibility to inquire about its nationals held captive indefinitely, without legal justification, on its own territory, let alone outside?

The silence and apathy of Mr. Karzai and its interim cabinet on the abuses of prisoners, similar in this matter to the Interim Iraqi Council, speaks volumes about its independence of action and its credibility inside and outside of Afghanistan.