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Afghanistan: Women Dying and Torture Run Amuck

Tuesday, 19 January 2010 10:54 By Jeffrey Kaye, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed | name.

Afghanistan: Women Dying and Torture Run Amuck
(Photo: isafmedia / Flickr)

Two reports coming out of Afghanistan illustrate the depth of hypocrisy and subterfuge characterizing the US/NATO intervention in that country. One could cite a myriad of such examples, so immoral and wrong is the US war there.

In the first report, a 2009 human rights assessment prepared by Canada's Foreign Affairs Department, obtained by The Canadian Press and reported at CBC News, revealed a skyrocketing suicide rate among Afghan women:

"Self-immolation is being used by increasing numbers of Afghan women to escape their dire circumstances and women constitute the majority of Afghan suicides," said the report, completed in November 2009....

The director of a burn unit at a hospital in the relatively peaceful province of Herat reported that in 2008 more than 80 women attempted suicide by setting themselves on fire, many of them in the early 20s.

It's not as if the plight of Afghan women under the US-backed Karzai government hasn't gotten some attention. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) recorded 184 cases of self-immolation by Afghani women in 2007, versus 106 in 2006. In Herat alone, in the first six months of 2008, 47 women, desperate from an escape from a life of domestic servitude, violence, rape, injustice, and other crimes, set themselves on fire and ended up in the emergency room of the local hospital. Ninety percent died from their serious burns.

The police and judiciary do not launch any formal investigations to determine the causes and motivations of suicide and self-burning by women, according to the AIHRC.

As a result, men who force and provoke women to self-immolation and other forms of suicide remain immune from all legal and penal repercussions.

To delve into the statistics only reveals a more doleful picture: almost 90 percent (!) of Afghan women have been victims of violence, 60 percent of all marriages are forced. The US-backed regime has made some token moves to assist women, such as creating police task forces staffed by women officers. But the female officers aren't allowed to do any outreach. Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai infamously supported a law that allows for spousal rape. (Afghanistan is not alone in this, however, as Bahrain, too, "offers women no protection from spousal rape.")

US/NATO-Backed Afghan Regime Practices Torture

As the US plans to transfer administrative control of its Bagram detention facility to the Afghanistan government, a separate scandal links the Afghan government to the torture and murder of a prisoner in its custody. According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Afghan citizen Abdul Basir was tortured while in custody of Afghani security forces last December, and killed when he was pushed or thrown out a window. His family was told he committed suicide. But HRW has posted pictures of the tortured marks on Basir's body.

It wasn't easy to try and get an investigation of Basir's death in Afghanistan - from this brave new government ("elected" by massive fraud) that has guaranteed justice and due process to the Bagram prisoners, once they get their hands on them. According to HRW's report on Basir's death:

An NDS official told family members that Basir's father, Zalmai, signed a statement confirming that Basir had committed suicide and that an autopsy was not required. The family told Human Rights Watch that NDS officials told them that if they buried the body, Basir's brothers and father would be released.

However, concerned that the marks on Basir's body may have been signs of torture, the family took the body to the Forensic Department of the Health Ministry where an autopsy was carried out. The findings have not been made public. The family reported that security agency officials later came to the house where the body was held and gave them a message to bury the body. When the family tried to take the body to parliament, they said, agency vehicles blocked their way.

While the Afghan defense ministry assures the world press that "all international conventions on prisoners' rights would be implemented" once it gets control of Bagram, the many reports of arbitrary arrest, torture, and other ill-treatment by Afghan security forces suggest otherwise. In fact, there is nothing very trustworthy about either the Afghan government or its US/NATO backers, who have averted their eyes from anything that would besmirch the credentials of their war purposes in Afghanistan.

This leads the leaders of the Western alliance to some pretty strange places. Take Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Talking to interviewers for the French-language television network TVA about the many reports that prisoners captured by Canadian forces and turned over to Afghani authorities were tortured, even killed, Harper said:

"We are speaking here of a problem among Afghans. It's not a problem between Canadians and Afghans. We're speaking of problems between the government of Afghanistan and the situation in Afghanistan. We are trying to do what's possible to improve that situation, but it's not in our control."

For Harper, the system of transferring prisoners to the Afghans "works very well," though he admits there are "problems from time to time." As an example of some of these problems, read the over 40 redacted emails (PDF) sent from former Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin to then-Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay alleging the torture of detainees transferred by Canadians to Afghan prisons.

While trumpeted as a blow against the idea of turning Bagram into a second Guantanamo, the likelihood is that things will not get any better for the 700 plus prisoners at the US facility there. Nor does it speak to the ongoing management by Special Operations forces of a black site prison, also on the Bagram Air Base. US Special Operations forces are granted special privileges to hold prisoners in indefinite detention. Evidence of torture at the SO black site prison, published in both The New York Times and The Washington Post last November, has not produced any follow-up in terms of Congressional hearings or further investigations. Instead, the handover of the Department of Defense's primary Bagram detention site appears likely to even further reduce oversight and investigation into the plight of prisoners there, once under Afghan jurisdiction, as the promises of the Afghanistan government are not to be trusted.

Meanwhile, the propaganda from Washington continues unabated. "Surge turning tide against Taliban, says McChrystal," blared ABC news on Monday. But no amount of propaganda is going to fill up the moral bog that is the US war in Afghanistan. Whether its targeted assassinations, leading to rounds and never-ending rounds of assassination and bombings, as at Khost, or the counterinsurgency attacks that target school-age children, as at Ghazi Khan, the campaign in Afghanistan has nowhere to go but down.

Even its vaunted aim of improving the lives of Afghan women is proven to be a lie. As a statement by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) reported recently:

The US "War on terrorism" removed the Taliban regime in October 2001, but it has not removed religious fundamentalism which is the main cause of all our miseries. In fact, by reinstalling the warlords in power in Afghanistan, the US administration is replacing one fundamentalist regime with another. The US government and Mr. Karzai mostly rely on Northern Alliance criminal leaders who are as brutal and misogynist as the Taliban....

Last month, Malalai Joya, a former member of the Afghan parliament, told Michelle Goldberg of the Daily Beast that the situation for Afghan women is every bit as bad under Karzai as it was under the Taliban. Joya is also concerned that civilian casualties are fueling popular support for the Taliban.

Thus far, no significant antiwar movement has emerged to seriously challenge the Obama administration's prosecution of the Afghanistan war. Meanwhile, the administration has clearly expanded its military operations to Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. But support by the US electorate of this war policy appears shaky at best, as the population suffers under an unemployment rate approaching 20 percent, and an array of service cutbacks in many US states.

Whether protests against the economy will be linked to the bellicose policies of the Obama administration in its own version of Bush's "war on terror" remains to be seen. But one doesn't have to look very far to see that the premises of prosecuting a democratic, human rights war is no more tenable under Obama than it was under Bush.

Last modified on Sunday, 24 January 2010 17:55