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2004 | HRW - “Enduring Freedom”: Abuses by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan

This report focuses on the United States (U.S.) system of arrest and detention in Afghanistan. Based on research conducted in southeast and eastern Afghanistan in 2003 and early 2004, HRW contends that the U.S. arrest and detention tactics in the country violate international human rights law (IHRL) and international humanitarian law (IHL).  

Section III details numerous abuses by U.S. forces, including cases of (i) excessive use force during arrests, (ii) arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention, and (iii) mistreatment of detainees. The report describes how U.S. personnel routinely uses military and deadly force during arrest operations in residential areas, in disregard of the requirements of IHL. This results in unnecessary civilian casualties and destruction of properties. The report further postulates that US forces often carry out arrests based on poor or faulty intelligence. Many individuals, indeed, appear to have been taken into custody for being found in the vicinity of an operation and to have been held for weeks or months incommunicado before being released. Finally, it is argued that for several men arrest is the start of an ordeal in which they may be beaten or otherwise mistreated in detention. HRW has received credible and consistent information on the use sleep deprivation, movement restriction, humiliation, violence, and cold isolation cells. These complaints are consistent with other allegations received by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and numerous international journalists.  

Section IV, then, raises serious concerns about the legal deficiencies of the U.S.-administered detention system in Afghanistan, which operates almost entirely outside of the rule of law. The United States treats all individuals captured in Afghanistan as “unlawful combatants” and considers them to not be entitled to the full protections of the Geneva Conventions or of human rights law. In this respect, detainees in custody are deprived of prisoner of war status or other protection status under the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Furthermore, they have no way of challenge their arrest nor access to legal counsel. The report records only two instances of verbal apologies being offered and compensation being promised by an officer to the detainees (though not forthcoming in one of the cases). 

A list of recommendations to the U.S. and the Afghan governmenbegins on page 51. The U.S. are responsible for the protecting the rights of the individuals detained at U.S. detention facilities in the country and investigate allegations of mistreatment. Similarly, they have a responsibility to abide to their obligations under IHRL and IHL. On its part, the Afghan government has obligations to protect the rights of persons within its borders. As such, it should ensure that U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan uphold IHL and IHRL