The plight of the Afghan people under US occupation is no better, and in many instances much worse, than it was under the Soviet occupation in the nineteen-eighties, despite US drum-beating about bringing democracy to the country, a recent report concludes. Human rights abuses include murder, rape of women and children, and secret prison-camps run by Americans or their hired contractors, in which torture is rampant: all this is covered in a 168-page report released on July 17 by the US-based Afghanistan Justice Project. The three-year research-project, led by one Patricia Gossman, has focused mainly on abuses during the era but also draws comparisons between the US military's current tactics against detainees and what the Russians did during their occupation of Afghanistan. There are many disturbing parallels between them, which the reports duly points out.
"The US has replicated some of the same practices that characterized the … Soviet regime it opposed in the late 1980s, as well as some of the brutal tactics employed by the feuding commanders during the early 1990s," says the report. Chaining detainees to the floor, holding them in secret facilities, depriving them of access to family, lawyers and medical care, and subjecting them to extreme temperatures and vicious beatings are some of the tactics used by the American forces against suspected Taliban and al-Qa'ida supporters. Many of these people are picked up at random from villages where American forces have come under fire, or are picked up at random in areas where an explosion has occurred.
The Afghanistan Justice Project's findings are very similar to those of Cherif Bassiouni, the independent UN human rights monitor, a respected professor of constitutional law at De Paul University in Chicago, who was appointed a year earlier by UN secretary general Kofi Annan to investigate charges of abuse by American forces and by American-trained Afghans. In his report submitted to the UN on April 21, Professor Bassiouni says that American military forces and contractors in Afghanistan have been acting above the law "by engaging in arbitrary arrests and detentions and committing abusive practices, including torture." His report also criticizes the Afghan police and security forces for similar practices. In particular, he raises concern about the cases of eight prisoners who died while in American custody in Afghanistan, and says that their deaths should be investigated immediately.
Far from addressing the concerns raised by Professor Bassiouni or even discussing them, the UN immediately relieved him of his responsibilities. It was done very crudely: instead of contacting him directly, a letter was faxed to his office advising him that his services were no longer needed. Although this letter was signed by Kofi Annan, it was almost certainly issued under pressure from the US. Bassiouni's report covers most aspects of human-rights violations in Afghanistan, detailing concerns about inequities against women, abduction and trafficking of children, illegal seizure of property, lack of due process, and social and economic abuses against minorities, displaced people, the poor and the disabled. He finds "pressing human rights issues" stemming from the actions of warlords, Afghan police and security forces, and American-led coalition forces, as well as private American contractors. He says that he has communicated these concerns to American and Afghan government officials as well. The report includes a list of abusive acts perpetrated against detainees, ranging from forced nudity, hooding and sensory deprivation to "sexual abuse, beatings, torture and use of force resulting in death."
Professor Bassiouni was not allowed to visit any of the prisons, known or secret, in Afghanistan, so he calls for human-rights organizations and the UN to be allowed access to these places. In particular, he singles out those run by the US and its contractors, to which even the International Committee of the Red Cross has been denied access. He states emphatically that detention conditions are below standards set by the Geneva Conventions and the UN.
US officials never tire of telling the world what a wonderful job they are doing in Afghanistan, bringing freedom, democracy and other "good things" of life to the Afghans. The reality is very different, yet even the UN has caved in to US pressure and dismissed its own human-rights monitor, instead of making the US address the problems brought into the light in his report. Hamid Karzai, the US-installed Afghan puppet, is a frequent visitor to world capitals, begging for aid and constantly boasting about how much the situation in Afghanistan has improved. For the people of Afghanistan the reality is utterly different; they have to face the brutality and crudity of American and other Western forces daily.
The atrocious behaviour of the US has turned most Afghans against the Americans, as well as against Karzai and those working with him, who are now regarded as collaborators. Resistance to the US occupation has intensified, as the shooting down of a US Chinook helicopter on June 28, killing all 16 American soldiers on board, shows. The helicopter was sent to rescue a navy seal mission that was operating in Kunar province against the resistance. The Americans were ambushed; two were killed and one captured; an injured soldier managed to escape. The Americans then went berserk, firing missiles into a village in Kunar, killing more than 17 people in one house, all of them civilians, on July 1. Typically, the American military at first denied any knowledge of the incident, then later claimed to be investigating it, but added that the house was used by mid-level "terrorists" (meaning resistance fighters). This is a standard US excuse, advanced whenever Americans kill Afghans; not once have their claims of killing "terrorists" been proved.
In addition to US atrocities, the US media also ignore or downplay reports of human-rights violations published by the UN and various independent human-rights groups. As a result ordinary Americans are generally abysmally ignorant of the antics of their government and armed forces. Yet this kind of behaviour has intensified hatred against US policies worldwide, and is continuing to do so. The Americans are indeed laying rods in pickle for their own backs.