By Miles Amoore and David Leppard
THE British Army is facing allegations that at least 10 Taliban suspects were beaten and given electric shocks after being handed over to local security forces in Afghanistan.
The Afghan detainees have told British investigators that they were also whipped with cables and suffered sleep deprivation in prisons in Kabul and Sangin in the southern province of Helmand.
The jails are run by the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS), which has a reputation for mistreating prisoners handed over to it by western forces.
The men are among several hundred suspected Taliban insurgents captured by British troops on the battlefield since 2002.
Their case, which will be heard by the High Court next month, is the latest blow to ministers already hit by claims that MI5 and MI6 colluded in the torture of up to 25 British men caught up in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” programme for terror suspects.
The new development is particularly sensitive because Britain’s strategy in Afghanistan is focused on winning the hearts and minds of the population.
British forces are not accused of direct involvement in the alleged mistreatment. However, transferring a prisoner into the hands of another state when there is a real risk that they could be tortured or mistreated is a direct breach of the Geneva conventions. British officers could therefore face possible war crime charges if the claims can be proven.
The legal challenge follows investigations carried out early last year by the Royal Military Police (RMP) into four detainees who were captured by British troops and handed over to the NDS. RMP officers visited Pul-e-Charkhi jail in Kabul after the inmates complained about abuse.
One detainee said he was punched and repeatedly hit over the head, and a second prisoner said he was subjected to stress positions and sleep deprivation. Two others said they suffered electric shocks and were beaten with a cable.
Their case has been brought in the British courts by Maya Evans, an anti-war campaigner. She issued proceedings against the Ministry of Defence in 2008 and the High Court has now agreed to hear a judicial review of the matter.
Lawyers say that since the original four cases were raised, the number of detainees alleging torture has more than doubled.
Last week The Sunday Times spoke by telephone to an Afghan man who claimed he had been abused. The 29-year-old, who declined to give his name, said he was arrested by British forces six months ago and was held by the NDS in a darkened cell. “I was beaten with fists and feet,” he said. “They kicked and punched me. They hit me with a belt. They hung me upside down from the ceiling by my feet and gave me electric shocks to my chest.”
Two other prisoners, who were captured by Dutch forces, gave a separate account of the culture of abuse. They said they had been given electric shocks and had had their testicles kicked and twisted until they collapsed in pain.
Sometimes they were forced to stand on one leg for days on end with their hands cuffed to the ceiling, they claimed.
The claims cannot be independently verified, but they echo allegations made in a report by the human rights group Amnesty International.
The High Court agreed to hear the case after government lawyers said the allegations were so serious that they should be the subject of a full hearing. The case is scheduled to start on April 19.
A spokesman for the MoD said: “We take all allegations of mistreatment extremely seriously. In a small number of cases, detainees captured by UK forces and handed to the Afghan authorities have alleged mistreatment by the Afghan authorities. Whenever we have received allegations of mistreatment, we ensure that the Afghan authorities, the International Red Cross and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission are informed, as long as individuals have given their consent.