This month has seen two reports on the history of human rights abuses in Afghanistan: “Blood Stained Hands” by Human Rights Watch (see my earlier post), and now “Casting Shadows: War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, 1978-2001” by the Afghanistan Justice Project. The AJP report is probably the most comprehensive of its kind, describing the violations committed from the Soviet invasion to the US invasion, and beyond. It is probably one of the most important reports on Afghanistan to come out in a long time, particularly for its final four pages (of 168), “Lessons Not Yet Learned,” which place current and past US actions in their proper context.
The AJP is staffed by “primarily Afghan volunteers and legal experts,” with an advisory committee that “includes international and Afghan human rights experts, academics and journalists with long experience in Afghanistan.”
The AJP shows its integrity by going outside the nominal scope of their investigation (1978 to 2001) and covering the 2002-2005 period, placing the crimes of the US and its allies in the “war on terror” in the context of almost 30 years of violations. According to the report,
U.S. forces have committed grave abuses many of the them of the same sort used by their counterparts in the communist, mujahidin and Taliban regimes that preceded them, crude and brutal methods of torture that have sometimes led to death, and the use of secret detention facilities that facilitate torture; and unacknowledged detentions that are tantamount to “disappearances.”
In its treatment of prisoners, the AJP report emphasizes, “the U.S. has replicated some of the same practices that characterized the PDPA and Soviet regime it opposed in the 1980s, as well as some of the brutal tactics employed by the feuding commanders during the early 1990s.”
The AJP concludes:
In replicating the same patterns of abuse that have marked the different phases of the conflict in Afghanistan, and allying themselves for the sake of political expediency with local commanders who have done the same, U.S. forces have jeopardized prospects for establishing a stable and accountable institutions in Afghanistan, have undermined the security of the Afghan people (as well as their own), and have reinforced a pattern of impunity that undermines the legitimacy of the political process.
This will unfortunately probably get the report ignored in the US media. The report acknowledges that Washington is not exactly interested in full disclosure:
the U.S. has been strenuous in its opposition to any investigations to uncover the truth about violations and war crimes past or present in Afghanistan.. In early 2005, the U.S. blocked the renewal of the U.N. Independent Expert’s mandate in Afghanistan because of his repeated efforts to gain access to detention facilities in Afghanistan.
Thus far the only US media outlet that has covered the report’s critique of US actions is the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press ignores the US part, saying only that the report “accuses dozens of officials” in the current Afghan government as well as “Karzai’s former defense minister, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, and renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,” but doesn’t mention that they both received substantial US aid in the past.
By not counting the United States government among the guilty, this ensures that the lessons remain “not yet learned.”