U.S. State Department: Extensive human rights abuses in Afghanistan by U.S.-backed government

By Kenneth J. Theisen

 On February 25th, the U.S. State Department issued its annual human rights reports for countries around the world. These annual reports are issued and generally used as a political and propaganda tool to chastise other government such as China. I just finished reading the report for Afghanistan and would urge others to take a look at it too. (The report can be read at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/sca/119131.htm) The report is biased and attacks the Taliban and other forces that currently are fighting the U.S. in Afghanistan as violators of human rights. [The Taliban is a reactionary force and is guilty of many crimes against the people of Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan have no interest in supporting these reactionary forces.] But the State Department report also unintentionally indicts the U.S. puppet government of Hamid Karzai, even while the report tries to portray the Karzai government in the best light.
Both the Taliban and Karzai governments created a living hell
One of the alleged reasons often given to justify the continuing U.S. occupation of that war-torn nation is that the U.S. is there to protect the Afghan people from the Taliban which made daily life a living hell for most Afghans when it ruled the country. But after reading the report, it is clear the Afghan people also need protection from the puppet government installed by the U.S. after it invaded the country. Life is still a living hell for most of the population.
All the quotes in this article are from the State Department’s own document. I want to warn readers that much of what is reported is very upsetting.
Elections and perceptions
The beginning of the report mentions the election of President Hamid Karzai in 2004 and the elections for parliament the next year. To quote the State Department, “…the elections did not fully meet international standards for free and fair elections, [but] citizens perceived the outcomes as acceptable…”  The report further states, “Observers stated it did not meet international standards and noted irregularities, including pervasive intimidation of voters and candidates, especially women.”  But we are not supposed to worry about reality as long as the people are fooled into accepting the outcome. Karzai was hand-picked by his U.S. handlers and the parliament included warlords, drug lords, feudal landlords, and others that have been the cause of much of the suffering of the Afghan people over the last few decades. Even the State Department acknowledges that members of parliament include human rights abusers.
Without any proof, the State Department states that citizens accepted the outcome. Given the current state of the war there this seems doubtful, as many are actively fighting the government. The Karzai government’s actual rule is non-existent in much of the country. The report acknowledges this by stating, “…Taliban or factions operating outside government control exercised authority in some areas.”
Human rights record under Karzai “remained poor”
The second paragraph of the report deserves to be quoted in full: “The country's human rights record remained poor. Human rights problems included extrajudicial killings; torture; poor prison conditions; official impunity; prolonged pretrial detention; restrictions on freedom of the press; restrictions on freedom of religion; violence and societal discrimination against women; restrictions on religious conversions; abuses against minorities; sexual abuse of children; trafficking in persons; abuse of worker rights; and child labor.” Well there is a record that surely justifies the continuing war and occupation of the country. Of course much of that could also be said about the U.S. government’s human rights record so maybe these problems in Afghanistan do not really bother the U.S. State Department.
“Arbitrary or unlawful killings”
The report goes on to document some of the governmental abuses. “There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings…In May the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions visited the country and reported on many cases in which police killed civilians with impunity…His preliminary report dated May 29 stated that although there were no reliable figures on the numbers of such killings, the numbers of alleged killings were high enough to give Afghans, particularly in the south, some reason to support the Taliban. On May 10 in Nangarhar, police fired on protesters, killing two civilians, media outlets reported. In November the government executed 16 prisoners. At year's end, approximately 85 additional cases of prisoners sentenced to death were pending President Karzai's review. The EU, UN, and numerous human rights NGOs have condemned executions, noting the lack of due process in the judicial system did not guarantee a fair trial…There were no developments in the investigation of a May 2007 killing of 10 persons by police in Jowzjan Province or the October 2007 case of 15 prisoners executed at Pol-e-Charkhi prison under executive order amid allegations of lack of due process.”
“Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.” 
There is a section in the report entitled, “Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.” It makes particularly gruesome reading, but I will quote it extensively as it reveals what is being perpetrated by the U.S-supported government. “The constitution prohibits such practices; however, there were reports of abuses by government officials, local prison authorities, police chiefs, and tribal leaders. NGOs reported security forces continued to use excessive force, including beating and torturing civilians.”
“Human rights organizations reported local authorities tortured and abused detainees. Torture and abuse included pulling out fingernails and toenails, burning with hot oil, beatings, sexual humiliation, and sodomy. A February 21 UN Secretary-General report noted detainees continued to complain of torture by law enforcement officials.”
“In November 2007 Amnesty International (AI) reported prisoners consistently were subject to torture once transferred to local authorities. The report documented specific cases of torture and noted AI received repeated reports from both individuals and international organizations of torture and ill-treatment by the National Directorate of Security (NDS). The government rejected the report's assertions… The Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA) and NGOs reported police frequently raped female detainees and prisoners… According to a June 25 Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) report, approximately half of the children in detention centers and orphanages were exposed to physical abuse. One 13-year-old boy told AIHRC police beat him with the barrel of a gun until he confessed. According to a UN Security Council report, cases of authorities threatening and mistreating juvenile detainees occurred throughout the year.”
Prison conditions are inhumane
As if the above is not bad enough, look at the report’s statements about prisons and prison conditions: “Prison conditions remained poor. Most were decrepit, severely overcrowded, unsanitary, and fell well short of international standards. The AIHRC continued to report that inadequate food and water, poor sanitation facilities, insufficient blankets, and infectious diseases were common conditions in the country's prisons. Infirmaries, where they existed, were underequipped. Contagious and mentally ill prisoners were rarely separated from other prisoners.”
“The government reported 34 provincial prisons and 203 district detention centers. The government also reported 30 active rehabilitation centers for juveniles. Twenty-two provincial prisons and four district detention centers reported housing female inmates at year's end.”
“Children whose mothers had been convicted of a crime often lived in prison with their mothers, particularly if they had no other family. Prisons did not separate prisoners and lacked adequate separate housing for women, accompanying children, and juveniles.” Given the fact that the Pentagon also runs hellholes for detainees captured in the so-caller “war on terror” it seems somewhat ironic that the U.S. State Department would have the nerve to report on other countries’ prisons. In U.S.-run prisons, torture and death are also commonplace.
Just because people are held in these prisons does not mean they are guilty of any crimes. According to the report, “The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention; however, both remained serious problems… Official impunity remained pervasive. Illegal border checkpoints, some reportedly manned by tribal leaders and low-level members of insurgent groups, extorted bribes. Human rights groups and detainees reported local police extorted bribes from civilians in exchange for release from prison or to avoid arrest.”
Protecting women by jailing them
Before and after the invasion of the country we constantly heard Bush regime propaganda condemning the Taliban for it treatment of women. It is true that the Taliban did abuse women and its rule was especially brutal toward women. But read this from the report about the current government’s attitude toward women, “Police often detained women at the request of family members for "zina," a term used broadly to refer to actions that include defying the family's wishes on the choice of a spouse, running away from home, fleeing domestic violence, eloping, or other offenses such as adultery or premarital sex. Authorities imprisoned an unknown number of women for reporting crimes perpetrated against them or to serve as substitutes for their husbands or male relatives convicted of crimes. Some women were placed in protective custody to prevent violent retaliation by family members.” This last sentence must be of great comfort to women. The government imprisons them to “protect” them instead of dealing with those who threaten the women.
Legal rights are illusions
The new Afghan constitution and penal code gives certain legal rights to those arrested, but the report makes clear that these rights are often only illusions. According to the report, “Authorities did not respect limits on length of pretrial detention, and lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem in part because the legal system was unable to guarantee a speedy trial…The Interim Criminal Procedure Code sets limits on pretrial detention. In many cases courts did not meet these deadlines. NGOs continued to report that prison authorities detained individuals for several months without charging them. There were credible reports during the year that police in Kabul continued to detain prisoners after they were found innocent.” [But this should not bother the U.S. government as prisoners at GITMO have also been held after they were found to be innocent.]
“The law provides for an independent judiciary, but in practice the judiciary was often underfunded, understaffed, and subject to political influence and pervasive corruption. Pressure from public officials, tribal leaders, families of accused persons, and individuals associated with the insurgency, as well as bribery and corruption, threatened judicial impartiality.”
In much of Afghanistan there is no real formal legal system. According to the report, “Due to the undeveloped formal legal system, in rural areas local elders and shuras were the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes; they also allegedly levied unsanctioned punishments. Some estimates suggested 80 percent of all cases went through shuras, which did not adhere to the constitutional rights of citizens and often violated the rights of women and minorities.”
Often tribal leaders totally ignore the courts and run their own private prisons. The State department states, “There were reports that a number of tribal leaders, sometimes affiliated with the government, held prisoners and detainees. There were no reliable estimates of the numbers involved.” What happens to these prisoners was not discussed in the report.
Where courts do operate the trial procedures are often arbitrary and inadequate. The report stated, “Trial procedures rarely met internationally accepted standards. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. Under the law all citizens are entitled to a presumption of innocence. In practice the courts reportedly convicted defendants after sessions that lasted only a few minutes. Defendants have the right to be present and to appeal; however, these rights were not always applied. Trials were usually public, and juries were not used. Defendants also have the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense when resources allowed. This right was inconsistently applied. Defendants frequently were not allowed to confront or question witnesses. Citizens were often unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys were entitled to examine the documents related to their case and the physical evidence before trial; however, NGOs noted that in practice court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial.”
Women and girls used as property
For women the legal system is often a nightmare and young girls are treated as property. Reading the report confirms this, “In cases lacking a clearly defined legal statute, or cases in which judges, prosecutors, or elders were simply unaware of the law, courts and informal shuras enforced customary law; this practice often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women. This included the practice of ordering the defendant to provide compensation in the form of a young girl to be married to a man whose family the defendant had wronged.” Women and girls often pay for other family members’ wrongs. “There were reports that officials arrested and sentenced individuals, often women, for crimes other family members committed,” according to the report. 
Freedom of the press and free speech?
Freedom of the press and speech are often violated by the government. In one case, even a member of parliament was punished. The report details this, “In 2007 the parliament voted to suspend MP Malalai Joya for the remainder of her term for comments she had made criticizing her fellow MPs during a televised interview. She remained suspended at year's end.”
The report goes on to state, “The freedom of speech law covered foreign media; however, they were restricted from commenting negatively on Islam and from publishing materials considered a threat to the president. During the year, various insurgents, government officials, and Taliban subjected members of the press to harassment, intimidation, and violence. According to independent media and observers, government repression and armed groups prevented the media from operating freely...NDS [Afghanistan's intelligence service] agents detained numerous journalists for expressing views critical of government officials. According to Nai Media, the government was responsible for at least 23 of the 45 reported incidents of intimidation, violence, or arrest of journalists between May 2007 and May 2008.”
Some of these incidents are detailed in the report. “On July 28, the NDS arrested Muhammed Naseer Fayez, news anchor and host of the political program "Haqeeqat" (The Truth) broadcast on Ariana Television…He was released after several days of questioning and stated the NDS told him to stop working in the media. Although the program remained on the air, Fayez has not returned to the show and media sources report he was seeking asylum outside the country.”
Apparently political satire is not acceptable to the government. “In 2006 authorities for the Office of the Attorney General detained satirist Dr. Khalil Narmgoi after he authored an article titled, "Who is the President-–Hamid Karzai or Farooq Wardak?" criticizing the influence of President Karzai's then-Minister of Parliamentary Affairs. Narmgoi issued a public apology several days later, and authorities released him after 10 days. On June 20, NDS authorities rearrested Narmgoi in relation to the same incident.”
Speaking up for women’s rights can be dangerous too. In an incident that garnered much international attention, “In October 2007, police arrested Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a student at Balkh University and a journalist for Jahan-e Naw (New World) daily, after he downloaded and distributed information from the Internet regarding the role of women in Islamic societies. On January 22, Balkh primary court sentenced Kambakhsh to death for "insolence to the Holy Prophet." Kambakhsh appealed, and the Supreme Court transferred the case to a Kabul appeals court. On October 21, the appeals court commuted Kambakhsh's death sentence to 20 years in prison. Kambakhsh appealed to the Supreme Court, and he remained incarcerated at year's end.”
The legislature has done its part to reign in the free press as reported by the State Department, “The parliament passed a media law in September that contained a number of content restrictions. Under Article 45 of the law, the following are prohibited: works and materials that are contrary to the principles of Islam; works and materials offensive to other religions and sects; works and materials humiliating and offensive to real or legal persons; works and materials considered libelous to real and legal persons and that may cause damage to their personality and credibility, works and materials affecting the stability, national security, and territorial integrity of the country; false literary works, materials and reports disrupting the public's mind; propagation of religions other than Islam; disclosure of identity and pictures of victims of violence and rape in a manner that damages their social prestige, and articles and topics that harm the physical, spiritual, and moral well-being of people, especially children and adolescents.” These restrictions would seem to cover most political speech, as well as most other areas.
Islam as the law
Before and after the invasion of Afghanistan the U.S. government was highly critical of the Taliban’s enforcement of their version of Islamic law. But the report indicates that the current Afghan government also restricts freedom of religion and expression. “The constitution proclaims Islam is the ‘religion of the state’ but allows non-Muslim citizens the freedom to perform their rituals within the limits determined by laws for public decency and peace. This right was not respected in practice. The constitution also declares no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of Islam. For matters on which the constitution and penal code are silent--such as conversion and blasphemy--the courts defer to Shari'a. Family courts are governed by a Sunni Hanafi school-based civil code, regardless of whether the parties involved are Shi'a or Sunni. This civil code also applies to non-Muslims.”
The report goes on to state, “In practice non-Muslims faced harassment and social persecution and opted to practice their faith discreetly. According to Islamic law, conversion from Islam is punishable by death…On September 11, a Kabul court sentenced former journalist Ahmed Ghous Zalmai and Mullah Qari Mushtaq to 20 years in prison for publishing a Dari translation of the Koran that allegedly contained errors and did not have an Arabic version published alongside the Dari for comparison. Zalmai and Mushtaq appealed their sentences to the Kabul Public Security Court. Proceedings were ongoing at year's end. Demonstrations calling for Zalmai's punishment were held in various towns, including a gathering in November 2007 in Jalalabad of reportedly more than 1,000 university students who demanded the death penalty for Zalmai.”
What are conditions for Christians in Afghanistan? “Due to societal pressure, Christians were forced to remain underground, not openly practicing their religion or revealing their identity…Members of the government called for the execution of Christian converts,” according to the report.
While there are no laws against proselytizing, the report states “authorities viewed proselytizing as contrary to the beliefs of Islam, and authorities could punish blasphemy and apostasy with death under Shari'a.” 
And you may remember how the Taliban were criticized for requiring women wear burqas. There is now no law that requires this in Afghanistan, but many “women felt compelled to wear one due to societal or familial pressure. Cases of local authorities policing aspects of women's appearance to conform to a conservative interpretation of Islam did occur,” according to the State Department.
Government corruption
The State Department report indicates that government corruption in Afghanistan remains a problem. The Department reported, “The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not always implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. In March, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime released a statement urging the government to crack down on major smugglers--some linked to government officials—and stated drug lords and corrupt government officials operated with impunity…Observers alleged governors with reported involvement in the drug trade or past records of human rights violations nevertheless received executive appointments and served with relative impunity.”
Women still subject to systemic abuse – domestic violence, rape, forced marriage, child brides, honor killings, immolation
The lack of human rights for women is particularly a problem in Afghanistan. I have already quoted from the report about different forms of abuse regarding women, but the report also has a special section on women which further details problems for women, including sexual assault, honor killings, domestic abuse, etc. Afghan law criminalizes rape, but this does not include spousal rape.  According to the report, “Under Shari'a, a rape case requires a woman to produce multiple witnesses to the incident, while the man need simply claim it was consensual sex, often leading to an adultery conviction of the victim. Adultery is defined in the Penal Code and designated a crime; premarital sex is not designated a crime, but local officials often considered it a "moral" offense.”
The report further states, “Rapes were difficult to document due to social stigma. Female victims faced stringent societal reprisal from being deemed unfit for marriage to being imprisoned. According to NGOs jail authorities frequently raped women imprisoned overnight in jail.”
The penal code criminalizes assault against women, but the State Department reports, “…hundreds of thousands of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, armed individuals, parallel legal systems, and institutions of state such as the police and justice system. Many elements of society tolerated and practiced violence against women…Authorities rarely prosecuted abusers and only occasionally investigated complaints of violent attacks, rape, or killings, or suicides of women. If cases came to court, the accused were often exonerated or punished lightly.”
Life for women under the Taliban was hell, but under the Karzai government the report indicates that not much has changed for millions of Afghan women. “Societal discrimination against women persisted, including domestic abuse, rape, forced marriages, exchange of girls to settle disputes, kidnappings, and honor killings. In some rural areas, particularly in the south, women were forbidden to leave the home except in the company of a male relative.”
The State Department noted a report by Womankind which claimed “87 percent of women complained they were victims of violence, half of it sexual. According to the report, more than 60 percent of marriages were forced and, despite laws banning the practice, 57 percent of brides were under the legal marriage age of 16. The report stated many of these girls were offered as restitution for a crime or as debt settlement.”
According to the State Department report, “Local officials occasionally imprisoned women at the request of family members for opposing the family's choice of a marriage partner or being charged with adultery or bigamy. Women also faced bigamy charges from husbands who had deserted them and then reappeared after the woman had remarried. Local officials imprisoned women in place of a family member who had committed a crime but could not be located. Some women resided in detention facilities because they had run away from home due to domestic violence or the prospect of forced marriage. Several girls between the ages of 17 and 21 remained detained in Pol-e-Charkhi prison having been captured after fleeing abusive forced marriages.” Marriage of young girls is a pervasive problem. The State Department reports, “International and local observers estimated 60 percent of girls were married before 16…Article 99 of the Law on Marriage states marriage of a minor may be conducted by a guardian.”
Honor killings where women are killed for allegedly besmirching the family honor are still a pervasive problem. “The AIHRC documented a total of 76 honor killings throughout the year; however, the unreported number was believed to be much higher.”
Women are often forced to resort to self-immolation when they feel there is no other escape from their abusive situations. During 2008 “the AIHRC documented 72 cases of self-immolation, in contrast to 110 cases in 2007. Other organizations reported an overall increase during the past two years. According to the AIHRC, almost all the women had doused themselves with gasoline and set themselves alight. In Herat Province, during the first six months of the year, the Herat city hospital alone recorded 47 cases of self-immolation, of whom 40 died. There have also been reports of relatives setting women on fire to create the appearance of self-immolation,” according to the State Department. Many of these were really honor killings.
Child abuse
Education for female children is absent in much of the country. According to the report, “…nearly one-third of districts and several provinces had no schools for girls. Girls' enrollment was as low as 15 percent in some areas. Even in secure areas such as Kabul, where access to schools was not an issue, some male family members did not allow girls to attend school.”
The plight of children in Afghanistan is dismal according to the State Department report. “Child abuse was endemic throughout the country, ranging from general neglect, physical abuse, abandonment, and confinement to working to pay off family debts. The Ministry of Work and Social Affairs stated that child labor and police beatings frequently occurred and more than five million children lived in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. During the year drought and food shortages across the country forced many families to send their children onto the streets to beg for food and money. According to an AIHRC report during the year, police regularly beat children they took off the streets and incarcerated them. Detention centers for "young offenders" deprived children of the right to an education, the report stated. In a statement commenting on the AIHRC report, UNICEF reported a punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice predominated throughout the country. Although it is against the law, corporal punishment in schools remained common.”
State Department finds no problems with U.S. Occupation forces?
It is interesting that in its report of human rights abuses in Afghanistan, that the State Department fails to report abuses perpetrated by U.S. occupation forces and those of it allies. These include the abuse and deaths of prisoners held in U.S-run prisons, as well as those killed and wounded as a result of so-called collateral damage in the U.S. war of terror. But then I would be naïve to think that the State Department would document these crimes. Apparently attacking wedding parties with U.S. air strikes is okay.
What the report does show is more than enough to bother anyone with a conscience. Keep in mind this is the State Department’s report and even it has to reveal some of the gruesome reality in Afghanistan, despite its efforts to paint a picture of progress under the U.S. puppet government. Life under U.S. occupation in Afghanistan is not the freedom and democracy and an improved standard of living promoted in its propaganda by the Bush regime. Women still face an unbearable life seven years after the U.S. invasion. More U.S. troops sent by our new president will not improve life there for the average Afghan.
Demand U.S. withdrawal now
The current escalation of the war undertaken by Obama will only prolong the suffering in Afghanistan and defer the day when the Afghan people will get rid of not only the U.S. occupiers, but also reactionaries such as the Taliban. Currently, U.S. imperialism and the reactionary Islamic forces, while opposing each other, also strengthen one another. Many people are choosing to support one side or the other in order to survive. But they, and we, do not have to choose which reactionary and outmoded system to support. Both imperialism and fundamentalism have existed far too long. We who live in the heart of the imperialist beast must demand the withdrawal of all U.S. and allied forces from Afghanistan. The people of that country can then deal with the Taliban and other feudal reactionary forces in their own way.


Main Torture U.S. State Department: Extensive human rights abuses in Afghanistan by U.S.-backed government


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