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Australian military halts all prisoner transfers amid torture concerns in Afghanistan

Published time: June 03, 2013 10:47
Edited time: June 03, 2013 11:20
AFP Photo / Massoud Hossaini

AFP Photo / Massoud Hossaini

Australia is refusing to hand over captured prisoners to Afghan authorities, citing reports of detainee torture. The UK has also been holding on to its Afghan prisoners amid similar concerns, with critics dubbing the action a ‘British Guantanamo’.

All prisoner transfers to Afghan forces have been halted until the safety of those detainees can be guaranteed, announced Australia’s Defense Minister Stephen Smith during his visit to the country’s main base in Uruzgan, Afghanistan, on Sunday.

The decision was reportedly made after reports that individuals within the Afghans’ spy agency mistreated a detainee who was transferred by Australian forces.

The details of the incident remain unknown, but Smith stated that Afghan officials are investigating the allegations and even arrested several members of Afghanistan’s spy agency.

"We've been informally advised by the Afghan authorities that they are in the process of laying charges against Afghan officials as a result of ill treatment of detainees at the National Directorate of Security Detention Centre," the Australian Broadcasting Corporation quotes Smith as saying.

Currently there is only one detainee being held in Australia’s custody at Tarin Kowt base, as the country’s operations in Afghanistan are winding down and Australian troops are set to leave Uruzgan by the end of the year.

Regulations require Australia to hand over detainees to the Afghan authorities within 96 hours.

Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard meets members of the Australian Army 1st Mentoring Task Force during her visit to Multinational Base Tarin Kowt in southern Afghanistan October 2, 2010 (Reuters / Department of Defence / Handout)

The highest-ranked Australian officer at the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, General Gus McLachlan, explained that no more prisoners will be transferred until individuals involved in torture allegations are removed.

"Any individual who may be involved is then removed in cooperation with the Afghan government, and then once we were confident that things were back in place then those actions would resume,” he said.

Earlier, it was revealed that UK has been holding off from transferring prisoners to Afghan forces for at least a year, citing torture concerns if detainees were handed over.

British troops in Afghanistan are holding 80 to 90 people, some for up to 14 months, without charges. Lawyers acting for eight of the men say some of the prisoners have been held without charge for up to 14 months, arguing that it could amount to unlawful detention.

Critics of detention without charge dubbed UK’s decision as a British Gitmo. There is enough ground to compare the secret British prison in Afghanistan to the infamous US Guantanamo Bay detention facility, as the UK is holding people they consider dangerous in custody without having any legal grounds to do so, Jim Brann of the Stop the War Coalition told RT.

In November last year, UK’s Secretary of Defense Philip Hammond issued a temporary ban on transfer of prisoners to Afghan detention after a farmer claimed that he had been tortured in a prison after being captured by UK troops and handed over to Afghan officials.

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