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Monday, July 05, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Abuse by Afghan militias reported

The Associated Press

Amanullah, 75, tells of the arrest of his son by Afghan forces.
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PARCHAR SHIELA, Afghanistan — When Afghan militiamen raided a home in this remote southern village in November, they found no weapons but dragged away a 28-year-old father of four and accused him of being a terrorist.

Two months later, the family got Abdul Wahid's body back, with little explanation. The U.S. military says Wahid died in American custody — one of four such cases under criminal investigation in Afghanistan — but the man's father blames the Afghan militia, not U.S. forces.

"I think the Afghan forces have beaten my son very badly and killed him," Amanullah said at his baked-mud house in Helmand province.

Amanullah, who uses only one name, said a cousin of Wahid's, Abdul Haleem, 35, was arrested with him but released four days later. He told the family they had been severely beaten in separate rooms at a militia post about 300 yards from a U.S. base in the province's Grieshk district.

Haleem, who could not be reached for comment, told the family he was held only by Afghan forces, not the Americans. He subsequently underwent two months of medical treatment for a stomach injury.

The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command confirmed the probe into Wahid's death but refused to comment before the investigation was complete.

A spokesman for Afghanistan's defense minister, Mohammed Zahir Azimi, said he had not heard any report about the detainee's case.

While no independent confirmation of the family's account could be obtained, the father's suspicions about how his son died highlight concerns over the conduct of the U.S. military's Afghan allies.

"There's so much attention right now on abuses by U.S. personnel that we have forgotten there's fundamental problems of abuses by Afghan forces," said John Sifton, a researcher on Afghanistan for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

He said beatings, lootings and extortion by Afghan militia have been reported across the east and south, including cases last year in Kandahar and Uruzgan provinces of civilians threatened with being handed over to the U.S. military and detained at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, unless they paid a bribe.

"There's consistent and credible evidence that Afghan forces as a regular matter mistreat detainees under their control, whether they are arrested as criminals or Taliban combatants," Sifton said.
According to a death certificate released by the Pentagon in May, Wahid's death was a homicide caused by multiple blunt-force injuries complicated by a muscle condition — although his father said Wahid had no major health problems. It said he died in an American-controlled facility Nov. 6, 2003.

Wahid is survived by three sons, a daughter and a wife.

Amanullah said Wahid was arrested late on Nov. 3 by militiamen, who accused him of planting land mines against Afghan soldiers. The following day, the family heard rumors Afghan forces had tortured and killed him. A delegation of tribal elders went to investigate and was told Wahid had been handed over to the U.S. military.

Two months later, a local police chief informed Amanullah his son had died, and the body — scarred with heavy bruising and stitching over the stomach, chest and hands, apparently from an autopsy — was returned with a letter from the U.S. military.

Amanullah, who cannot read English, says he buried the letter with his son, but he showed the AP a body tag with his son's name and "Bagram" on it for the U.S. military base in a village north of Kabul.

He said the letter — which a local doctor translated for him — expressed regret over the death but said Wahid had died before the United States had "got him." The U.S. military could not verify this information.

"We are not angry with the Americans, only with the Afghan forces. Why should I be angry at the Americans?" Amanullah said. "The Afghan forces arrest local people and beat them, accusing them of being Taliban and al-Qaida, when they are just villagers."

Slow progress in training a disciplined national army — which still numbers just 10,000 men, compared with a target of 70,000 — has left the U.S. military often reliant on militia forces that are more subordinate to local commanders than the central government.

Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali acknowledged recently that there had been abuses by Afghan militia forces. "Unfortunately, we have this problem in Afghanistan, especially some of the militias who are helping with coalition forces. In some cases they looted poor villages," he said.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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