Occupiers make violent criminal mayor of Marjah

This video is called NATO airstrike kills 12 in Marjah.

From Associated Press:

New Afghan chief in Marjah has criminal record


KABUL — The man chosen to be the fresh face of good Afghan governance in a town just seized from the Taliban has a violent criminal record in Germany, but Western officials said Saturday they are not pushing to oust him.

Court records and news reports in Germany show that Abdul Zahir, the man appointed as the new civilian chief in Marjah, served part of a more than four-year prison sentence for stabbing his stepson in 1998. A U.S. official confirmed that he did serve time in Germany, though Zahir himself denies he committed any crime.

“I was not a killer. I was not a smuggler. … I didn’t commit any crime,” Zahir told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday evening. He said allegations of a criminal record were “all a lie.”

Zahir’s integrity is an issue because his job is to convince residents of the town in Helmand province that the Afghan government can provide them with a better life than the Taliban, which were routed during a three-week offensive by thousands of U.S., NATO and Afghan troops. Marjah is the first major test of NATO’s counterinsurgency strategy since President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 new American troops to try to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

Adm. Gregory Smith, director of communications for NATO, said the international alliance strongly supports Helmand Gov. Gulab Mangal, who picked Zahir for the job. “Zahir, from our reporting, is doing good work down there,” Smith said Saturday, adding that NATO is not pushing Afghan officials to oust him.

Zahir said he lived in Germany for 15 years before returning in 2000. During his time in Germany, he said he worked in a hotel and at a laundry service. He said he took the job as civilian chief in Marjah because: “I love my country and my country needed me. My relatives, my tribe were here.”

Zahir said his adversaries in Afghanistan were trying to tarnish his reputation.

“This news is coming from those people who are against me,” he said. “They are against my relations with the foreigners. They want to sabotage me. They don’t want such a person to serve the people, who has good relations with Americans, British, and foreigners.” …

Zahir has been tasked with bringing good governance to Marjah and ensuring that the new police in the area are symbolic of a new breed of Afghan policeman that is honest and committed to bringing security to the country. …

Mangal said the new administration will have to prove it can bring development and security or “they will think they are better off under the Taliban.”

Court and news accounts from the late 1990s provide details of Zahir’s past.

Annette von Schmiedeberg, a spokeswoman for the Offenbach branch of the prosecutor’s office in Darmstadt in central Germany, said Friday that an Afghan citizen with the name Abdul Z. was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for attempted manslaughter by the county court in Darmstadt on Nov. 2, 1998. Von Schmiedeberg said that in accordance with German privacy laws she could give not the full name or details about the crime.

A person familiar with Zahir and the 1998 court sentencing in Germany identified him Friday for the AP after viewing a pair of photographs of him taken last month. He asked that his name not be published because he feared for his life.

An American official in Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, also confirmed that Zahir has a criminal record in Germany.

The newspaper Darmstaedter Echo provided three archived articles to the AP that confirmed a court hearing and sentencing of an Afghan citizen at the county court in Darmstadt on the same date, Nov. 2, 1998.

In an article from Nov. 3, 1998, it said the defendant from Afghanistan was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison because “he attempted to stab his 18-year-old son to death with a kitchen knife in the kitchen of his stepdaughter in Nieder-Roden on Dec. 15, 1997, around 4:45 p.m.” Nieder-Roden is part of the small town of Rodgau in the central German state of Hesse.

The newspaper reported that the defendant, who was 47 years old at the time of the sentencing, confessed to the allegations.

He was described as a father of 13 children and husband of two wives.

“The court’s chamber assesses that the attack, in which the young man received life-threatening injuries to his liver, was a deliberate attempt of manslaughter and it is therefore sentencing the accused to four years and nine months,” the Darmstaedter Echo said.

According to the newspaper’s account of the proceeding, the accused said he had been persecuted by the Taliban in Afghanistan and moved with his family to Rodgau in 1989. The court said the man could not cope with the fact that three of his stepchildren, among them two twin sons, turned away from him and moved into their own apartment in the fall of 1996, it reported.

In August 1997, he lured them back to Afghanistan saying he wanted them to attend a wedding there, the newspaper said. But once they arrived in Afghanistan, he took away their passports and plane tickets and abandoned them, it said.

In early December, the sons returned to Germany with financial help from somebody else, the newspaper said.

Back in Rodgau, the convicted man told other Afghans that his children had been kidnapped by an “archenemy in Afghanistan,” the newspaper said. However, when one of his wives told him on Dec. 15 that his sons had returned to Germany, he beat her, it said.

One of his sons consequently confronted him about the beating, and he reacted by stabbing his son with an eight-inch (21-centimeter) kitchen knife, it said.

After the incident, the accused fled via the Netherlands and the Czech Republic to the German-Polish border where he was arrested on Jan. 7, 1998, near the German town of Goerlitz, it said.

In an earlier article about the ongoing court trial in Darmstadt, the Darmstaedter Echo reported on Oct. 15, 1998, that the accused was a driver for the defense minister in his homeland and also worked as a salesman.

Grieshaber reported from Berlin. Associated Press writers Kathy Gannon and Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.

See also here. Even Rupert Murdoch’s Wall War Street Journal of today confirms Mr Zahir’s criminal record.

Afghan officials vowed at the weekend to probe the violent criminal record of the man that the Western-backed Karzai regime has appointed civilian chief of Marjah: here.

U.S., Allies Responsible for Most Marjah Civilian Casualties: here.

USA: Literally: We Can’t Afford Afghanistan or Our Military Industrial Complex, If We Want to Advance as a Nation: here.

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is concerned about possible misconduct in Afghanistan by the private security firm formerly known as Blackwater and has promised to review the issue, the Pentagon said: here.

Progressive US legislators have branded Washington’s military presence in Afghanistan an unconstitutional “foreign occupation” and warned that “history shows all empires end because they expand too far”: here.

15 thoughts on “Occupiers make violent criminal mayor of Marjah

  1. CSIS played critical role in Afghan prisoner interrogations: documents, sources

    March 7, 2010 |Murray Brewster And Jim Bronskill, THE CANADIAN PRESS

    – A suspected pro-Taliban fighter sits on steps in the provincial jail in Pul-e-Khumri, Baghlan province of Afghanistan, Sunday, July 12, 2009. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Bela Szandelszky) –

    OTTAWA – Officers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service have played a crucial and long-standing role as interrogators of a vast swath of captured Taliban fighters, The Canadian Press has learned.

    The spies began working side-by-side with a unit of military police intelligence officers as the Afghan war spiralled out of control in 2006, according to heavily censored witness transcripts filed with the Military Police Complaints Commission.

    The spy agency’s previously unknown role in questioning detainees adds a new dimension to the controversy about the handling and possible torture of prisoners by Afghan security forces.

    It also raises more questions about the critical early years in Kandahar when the Canadian military found itself mired in a guerrilla war it had not expected to fight.

    CSIS acknowledged in 2006 that its members gathered intelligence in Afghanistan, but the spy service’s precise role has remained in the shadows until now.

    Maj. Kevin Rowcliffe, former staff adviser to Canada’s overseas operations commander, told investigators with the complaints commission there were questions about how much experience the army’s intelligence officers had in grilling prisoners.

    “There was a lot of discussion in my headquarters about who was qualified to do interrogations, because we’re not talking the normal police interview, we’re talking interrogations, which (censored) were doing, not (military police),” says an edited transcript of the Dec. 6, 2007, interview.

    A copy of the document was obtained by The Canadian Press.

    Military police “were involved in that, but they weren’t necessarily involved in interviewing or interrogation related issues; that would be (censored) or some other parade that had special training in interrogation.”

    Sources familiar with the unedited version say the blanked out references are to CSIS.

    Intelligence expert Wesley Wark says the revelations are disturbing, partly because CSIS would have had no specialized knowledge of how to elicit information from Afghan prisoners.

    “I find that stunning,” said Wark, a historian at the University of Toronto.

    The spy agency is legally permitted to gather intelligence anywhere in the world concerning threats to the security of Canada, and has increasingly operated abroad in recent years.

    In Kandahar, CSIS officers conducted what’s known as tactical field questioning, essentially the first interrogations of suspects, said another source familiar with the process.

    They tried to sort out who was a bona fide insurgent commander – or a simple field soldier.

    The spies would sometimes make recommendations on which Taliban prisoners to hand over to the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s notorious intelligence service, the sources said.

    The final say on whether to transfer always rested with the military task force commander.

    The Military Police Complaints Commission asked questions about the CSIS role in Kandahar, but abandoned the angle when it became bogged down in legal challenges about its authority to investigate Ottawa’s overall prisoner transfer policy.

    Diplomat-whistleblower Richard Colvin testified before a special House of Commons committee last November that the majority of prisoners Canada handed over to the Afghan intelligence service were tortured – a claim the Conservative government and military commanders, past and present, angrily denied.

    Rowcliffe’s interview transcript prompts questions about whether the military and CSIS officers had enough time to conduct proper interrogations early in the war, when newly arrived troops had little intelligence on the threats they were facing.

    The military has 96 hours after capture to decided whether to hand over a prisoner to Afghan authorities, but Rowcliffe said there was pressure to turn them over sooner.

    He said he took up the concerns with the commander of overseas operations, saying: “I understand the time sensitiveness of this issue to the Government of Canada, but we may have Osama bin Laden, yet you are trying to get me to give him over as quickly as possible.”

    But the answer was often “no.” His boss, Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, indicated his hands were tied and told Rowcliffe that the federal government’s policy was firm.

    Yet the concerns persisted.

    “I said, we need to take the time to do a proper investigation, interview, interrogation, whatever you want to call it to confirm who we have and what has this guy done or gal done,” Rowcliffe said in his statement.

    He was asked by police commission investigators where he thought the intelligence would come from if the instructions were to get rid of detainees right away.

    “My impression was they didn’t seem to care about that,” said Rowcliffe, who’s retired from the military.

    “I don’t know if they didn’t grasp the importance of it, or just that it was not important because the pressure was . . . to get rid of them because of the Government of Canada.”

    He said he wasn’t sure whether there was pressure from the defence minister and the chief of defence staff.

    “I have no idea, but I know from Gen. Gauthier’s position that (it was): Get rid of them as quickly as you can and what’s taking so long? That’s the kind of questions I’d get.”

    Security expert Wark said it begs the question why Ottawa was so eager to transfer prisoners out of the controlled confines of Kandahar Airfield, where they are brought for initial interrogation.

    It will likely fuel human-rights groups’ fears that interrogation was being outsourced to the Afghans, he said.

    Canada went into Kandahar thinking the Taliban and al-Qaida were simply “a nuisance” and there was a “ferocious under-estimation” of the kind of resistance troops would face, he said.

    “The military simply had no expertise. It had been decades since they had to interrogate prisoners of war,” Wark added. “And if the military lacked that expertise, you can be sure, CSIS lacked it in spades.”

    Moreover, Wark said, some hard questions need to be asked about how much knowledge CSIS had in 2006 of Afghanistan and its complex network of competing tribes.

    “The answer would be very little,” he said. “They didn’t have a trained body of people with the language skills, knowledge of the country, knowledge of the tribal situation, who was in charge of which warlord group, what was the nature of the Taliban. Those are all issues they had to develop an expertise on after 2006.”

    In response to questions, CSIS spokeswoman Isabelle Scott said the agency does not discuss operations.

    “We do have a presence in Afghanistan, and we’ve had one for the past few years. And we continue to provide security intelligence in Afghanistan in support of the safety and security of Canadian and allied forces on the ground,” Scott said.

    “And we also continue to gather intelligence in Afghanistan in order to mitigate potential security threats to Canada which have a nexus on that country. However, we don’t publicly discuss the specific issues linked to operational activities of the service.”

    The activities in Kandahar caught the attention of the spy agency’s inspector general, who investigated “policy gaps and inconsistencies.”

    The declassified version of Eva Plunkett’s 2007 certificate, a top secret report card on CSIS prepared for the public safety minister, contained no suggestion that the spy service had done anything wrong – or illegal, for that matter.

    She noted that Afghanistan was “a fundamental intelligence priority” and commended the spy service for impressive work “in an extremely challenging environment.” But Plunkett warned that CSIS and National Defence lacked clear policies that would “guide future (censored) activities in this theatre.”

    Agreements between the spy service and military were out of date, said the annual certificate, made public in May 2008. “I do believe that those who serve in this environment deserve to be equipped with the policy framework to guide their work.”

    In May 2006, Jack Hooper, then CSIS deputy director of operations, said the spy service’s efforts to help Canadian troops in Afghanistan were principally focused on acquiring intelligence to help soldiers defend themselves against attacks.

    “This intelligence is known to have saved lives, uncovered weapons and arms caches, and disrupted planned terrorist attacks.”

    But he did not elaborate as to exactly how CSIS obtained the valuable information.

    The Security Intelligence Review Committee, a CSIS watchdog that reports to Parliament, raised concerns about the intelligence service’s interaction with detainees in foreign jurisdictions in its review of the Omar Khadr file.

    It said last year that when CSIS interviewed Khadr at Guantanamo Bay in 2003, there was policy governing the spy service’s investigative activities outside Canada, including operational interviews abroad.

    Prior to undertaking such activities, CSIS employees were required to submit a request for approval – to whom, exactly, remains classified.

    The review committee found briefing notes that had been submitted prior to each visit to Guantanamo Bay, but these requests fell short of meeting the requirements outlined in policy.


  2. MoD to curtail Afghanistan reports

    12:26am Monday 8th March 2010

    © Press Association 2010 »

    British journalists’ access to military operations in Afghanistan is to be restricted during the general election campaign in order to avoid accusations that the armed forces are being used for political purposes, it has been confirmed.

    The Daily Telegraph reported that journalists would be barred from being “embedded” with troops on the front line, while senior officers would not be allowed to give public speeches or talk to reporters for the duration of the campaign.

    Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said the Ministry of Defence was imposing a “truth blackout” at a time when UK troops were involved in Operation Moshtarak against the Taliban insurgents.

    Dr Fox said he would table an emergency question in Parliament demanding an explanation.

    “There is clearly one rule for Gordon Brown, when he wants to use the armed forces as political props, and another for reporters who want to tell the public what is being done in their name,” he said.

    A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “During the period between an election being called and taking place, communications activity across government is restricted in order to be fair to all political parties.

    “Rules are issued by the Cabinet Secretary and this has been the case for many years.

    “It is acceptable during purdah to continue to provide factual information. The MoD recognises that it is vital to continue to tell the public about the efforts and achievements of our forces in Afghanistan during this period and has agreed principles with the Cabinet Office that allow this.

    “These principles are set out in a document that has been sent to MoD staff and will be issued formally once the election is called. These principles are being briefed to defence correspondents at a meeting next week.”


  3. Mar 6, 2010

    No school for half of children

    KABUL – ALMOST half of school-age children in Afghanistan do not have access to education, President Hamid Karzai said Saturday as he inaugurated the new school year.

    Despite a seven-fold increase in the number of children going to school in the eight years since the repressive Taliban regime was overthrown, 42 per cent still do not attend or have access to schools, Karzai said.

    ‘Five million school-age children in our country do not go to school, some because of war or because their schools have been closed by the Taliban or others, some because they do not have the ability to go to schools,’ he said.

    In early 2002, fewer than one million children – only boys – attended 3,400 schools across the country, taught by 20,000 male teachers, said education minister Mohammad Farooq Wardak. By contrast, seven million students – 37 percent of them girls – attend 12,500 schools, where 30 per cent of the teachers, or 175,000, are women.

    ‘We are still facing a series of serious challenges,’ Wardak told a ceremony at a secondary school adjacent to the Presidential Palace. ‘Forty-two percent of school-age children do not have access to schools and another 11 million of our compatriots are illiterate,’ he said.

    Afghanistan has been suffering some sort of armed conflict for the past 30 years, starting with the Soviet invasion of 1979, through civil war and, from 1996-2001, rule by the Islamist Taliban who banned girls from education. This has left a huge knowledge gap that the international community has been trying to fill, with billions of dollars of aid pouring in since the Taliban were pushed out in a US-led invasion. — AFP


  4. Gates to raise assault allegations over Afghan mayor

    9 hours 29 mins ago

    US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in Kabul for talks on Monday, said he would raise allegations that an Afghan administrator at the heart of efforts to rid a town of the Taliban had a criminal record. Skip related content

    Asked on the plane travelling to Afghanistan about reports suggesting that Abdul Zahir served jail time in Germany for a serious assault, Gates told reporters he would ask about the case during his visit.

    “The question is if the guy committed a crime and served the time, does that automatically rule him out? I mean I just don’t know the answer to the question,” Gates said.

    Zahir has been appointed administrator for Marjah, the focus of a major US-led offensive in southern Afghanistan to clear out the Taliban in the first major test of a new US-led surge in troop numbers to end the war.

    The Wall Street Journal said coalition officials were told Zahir served four years in a German prison for assault, and that behind closed doors Western officials have been pressing Afghan officials to remove him.

    In western Germany, a prosecution spokesman in Offenbach district told AFP that a man named Abdul Zahir, born in January 1951, was sentenced to four years, nine months in prison in 1998 for the attempted murder of his stepson.

    Zahir insisted that he had lived in Germany legally for around 15 years, working in a laundry factory and a hotel.

    “I was residing with proper documents there with a passport and came back legally,” he told reporters.

    “These are all baseless reports to defame me. I am liked by my community and by my people. I serve my people with honesty,” he said, while not outright denying that he raised a hand against his stepson.

    “Who has not had fights at home with his wife and children? But no one asks that and it’s a personal issue. Why is this being held against me?” he said.

    “I want to raise my son in the right way. I may have slapped him but as a means of educating him to the right path.”


  5. Former diplomat says she warned of Afghan torture in 2005

    Eillen Olexiuk says her advice was ignored by Paul Martin’s Liberal government.

    Toronto — The Canadian Press Published on Wednesday, Mar. 10, 2010 6:18AM EST

    A Canadian diplomat with extensive experience in Afghanistan says she raised the possibility that detainees transferred from Canadian to Afghan custody were at risk of torture back in 2005.

    But Eillen Olexiuk says her concerns were ignored.

    She tells the CBC she arrived in Afghanistan in 2002 and was second in command at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul.

    Ms. Olexiuk says she told the Liberal government in power at the time that the transfer agreement didn’t do enough to protect detainees.

    She said Canadian officials didn’t monitor detainees after the transfer, and that left detainees vulnerable once they were in Afghan hands.

    Ms. Olexiuk, who met with torture victims during her three years in Afghanistan, says she documented her concerns in human rights reports prepared for the Department of Foreign Affairs She says she stressed that Canadians should have been visiting the detainees regularly after transfers and making records of detainees who were still being held and those who had been released.

    But Ms. Olexiuk says her advice was ignored by Paul Martin’s government.

    “I don’t think anybody really cared, quite frankly,” she said.

    It was only in 2007 that allegations of torture arose in the media, with reports of transferred detainees being beaten, whipped, starved, frozen, choked and shocked.



  6. “Afghan women lawmakers hamstrung by warlords”



    WASHINGTON – Afghan women may hold a quarter of the seats in their country’s parliament but many are mere mouthpieces for warlords, who continue to set the legislative agenda, an Afghan women’s rights activist said.

    “Today we have 68 women in the parliament, 25 percent… We have a group of women high in quantity, but low in quality,” Voice of Women director Suraya Pakzad told a meeting in the US Congress to mark International Women’s Day.

    Many of the women lawmakers in Afghanistan were elected with “the support of warlords” and now have to answer to those warlords, Pakzad said.

    “Those women don’t have voices, they don’t have the right to raise their voices. They have to have their mobile phone and call the warlord who supported them… and ask them whom they should vote for or not vote for,” she said.

    “We need quality women in parliament. We don’t need 68 women who just sit in parliament. We would be better with 10 women who have strong voices there,” she added.

    Having a presence in parliament was one sign that Afghan women have come a long way since the fall of the repressive Taliban regime in 2001, Pakzad said.

    But there was still a lot of ground to cover to ensure that all Afghan women enjoy basic human rights, she said.

    The three million Afghan women who were widowed by 30 years of war need jobs to support their families, child marriage must be stopped, and there should be no more public floggings like two weeks ago, Pakzad said, when warlords had two women whipped for running away from abusive husbands.

    Under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, Afghan women were routinely beaten in public and even stoned to death for perceived breaches of Islamic law.

    They were excluded from all public activities, including school, and could only leave home accompanied by a male relative.

    Pakzad repeated a call for women to be included in any dialogue with the Taliban, whom President Hamid Karzai has said he wants to include in negotiations to bring peace to Afghanistan, which has been at war for most of the past three decades.

    Pakzad set up Voices of Women in Afghanistan in 1998, teaching women to read under the noses of the Taliban.


  7. 11 March 2010

    Complaints persist as US frees Afghan detainees

    Associated Press Writer

    CAMP DUBS, Afghanistan — The Pashtun tribal leaders picked at the chocolate cake and fruit laid out for them at the conference table. Politely, they listened to speeches touting a new program to release detainees from Afghanistan’s largest U.S.-run military prison if community leaders vouch for them.

    Then, one of the elders from the eastern province of Logar stood up and started asking questions.

    Why were the four men who were being released detained for months at the facility outside Bagram Air Field with no evidence? Why do American soldiers still raid homes without consulting local leaders?

    “The Afghan people are hearing a lot of talk,” said Walir Wakil, a community leader who wore a yellow turban and a suit jacket over his traditional robes. Where, he asked, is the proof of President Barack Obama’s stated policy of foreign troops working more closely with local government?

    The ceremony for a new community-release program established for the 600 suspected Taliban supporters held at Bagram prison led to pointed criticism that cut to the heart of the dilemma facing the NATO-led mission’s strategy in Afghanistan.

    Since U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal took over as the military alliance’s commander last year, he’s made it a priority to consult local representatives as part of a counterinsurgency policy to win hearts and minds away from the Taliban insurgency. But often, events held to build goodwill end up airing years’ worth of pent-up grievance – such as during the prisoner release ceremony Wednesday at Camp Dubs, an Afghan army camp on Kabul’s outskirts.

    Under a program started in January, local Afghan leaders can petition for and win release of Bagram prisoners not deemed a threat if area chiefs pledge to monitor them for signs they are aiding the insurgency. The policy is part of a transition for the Afghan government to take control of the controversial detention facility within a year.

    The Bagram prison is a particularly sensitive issue in Afghanistan, where one of the population’s chief complaints has been foreign troops raiding homes at night and taking people away with little explanation.

    Navy Capt. Patrick McCarthy, representing the U.S. military at the Bagram release ceremony, offered no defense of American actions – only a plea for patience that has become familiar in the war’s ninth year.

    “We are changing the way we do business so that Afghans and Americans are partners shoulder-to-shoulder,” McCarthy said. “It takes some time to get it all the way correctly.”

    The U.S. military has in the past quietly freed Bagram detainees it deems no longer a threat. However, this week’s release was a formal event – billed as a “shura,” the Afghan term for a gathering of elders – involving the provincial governor and dozens of local elders brought in from Logar, the province immediately south of Kabul that is a hotbed of Taliban activity.

    One of the men freed Wednesday, Haji Katel, insisted he had been unfairly held.

    “We didn’t do anything wrong, and they arrested us,” Katel, 67, said of himself and three other men, in their 30s, who were released.

    Katel was greeted like an elder statesman on his release, embraced with deference by the several dozen Logar officials who had signed a petition vouching for his character as a respected village figure who had been rounded up by mistake.

    The assembled dignitaries also signed a pledge at the ceremony, taking responsibility that Katel would cause no trouble in the future, a condition he said he’ll have no trouble fulfilling.

    “Now I’m free. I don’t care,” Katel said. “I didn’t do anything against the government before and I won’t do anything now.”

    Neither Katel nor the U.S. military would discuss the circumstances of his arrest. He said he was not mistreated during his detention, which American officials said lasted less than a year.

    Some Bagram detainees have been there for several years without any formal charge or evidence, and the deaths of two Afghan prisoners in 2002 led to prison abuse charges against several American troops. The secrecy under which prisoners have been held and their inability to challenge their detention has drawn condemnations from the U.N. and human rights groups.

    The Obama administration has made some changes at the prison. Last year, the Pentagon assigned all detainees a U.S. military official as a personal representative and set up new military review board to hear arguments for release. All the prisoners were moved last year into a new, $60 million facility next to the air field.

    “There has been some significant improvement,” said Nora Niland, a human rights expert for the United Nations in Afghanistan. “The type of torture stories we were hearing about a few years ago, no longer exist in terms of Bagram.”

    Still, critics say prisoners at Bagram should have more legal rights. Obama’s administration still backs the Bush-era stance that the Bagram detainees – who number 645, according to a list submitted in January in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union – should not be allowed to challenge their indefinite detentions in U.S. courts as Guantanamo prisoners have done, arguing that Afghanistan is an active war zone with special dangers.

    More changes are coming for the U.S.-run Afghan prison. Last month, American forces started procedures to turn over responsibility for the facility to the Afghan government, a process a military spokesman says will take about a year.

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said indefinite detentions are turning ordinary Afghans against U.S. and NATO forces and, by extension, his government. Karzai has called for steps to free Bagram prisoners being held without evidence, raising the possibility for the pace of releases to accelerate next year.


  8. Drug abuse is problem among Afghan police recruits

    By Sue Pleming

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010; 4:29 PM

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Drug abuse is a big problem in Afghanistan’s police force, with four of every 10 recruits testing positive for illicit substances in some areas, said a report by the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress.

    The Government Accountability Office said the illicit drug trade posed a major challenge to the U.S.-led counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan, which produces 90 percent of the world’s opium.

    The Obama administration has switched previous emphasis away from eradication — which was seen as alienating farmers — to going directly after traffickers and drug labs.

    Financial incentives for those who eradicate crops voluntarily is another focus, as well as help for farmers who switch from planting illegal poppy to legitimate crops such as fruit or wheat.

    But the GAO report, released this week, said the police force had its own problems with illegal drugs and addiction.

    U.S. State Department officials cited in the report said 12 to 41 percent of police recruits in regional training centers tested positive for illicit drugs and that the percentage likely was higher as opiates leave the system quickly.

    “Many recruits who tested negative for drugs have shown opium withdrawal symptoms later in their training,” said the report.

    Deficiencies in counternarcotics police training resulted in “inconsistent” crime scene investigations, poor evidence gathering and weakened cases, the report said of efforts to track down drug traffickers.

    High illiteracy rates among the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan, a specialist force under the interior ministry, added to poorly documented drug cases.

    U.S. officials found police were not generally arresting high-level traffickers. The lack of a U.S.-Afghan extradition treaty to include drug offenses removed a “valuable channel” for prosecuting high-level offenders, the report said.

    Drug-related corruption was “pervasive” at the local and district levels of government and police officials and prosecutors were often easy targets for bribery because they were frequently poorly paid, it said.

    The United States has allocated about $2.5 billion since 2005 to stem production, consumption and trafficking of illicit drugs in Afghanistan, where the narcotics industry equals about one-third of the legal economy and is a big source of funding for the insurgency.

    Last year, most opium poppy was cultivated in the southern and western regions, which are also the most insecure areas with active insurgent elements.

    The GAO report is available at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10291.pdf

    (Editing by John O’Callaghan)


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