Sorry about that, it is my culture

“Sorry about that, it is my culture”, that is what our terps and Afghan soldiers we used to work with always said when we questioned something they did. Sometimes it was men walking holding hands, sometimes it was them smoking hash on guard duty. Other times it was when we were conducting military operations and the Afghan soldiers would beat the crap out of people we detained. Sometimes we detained them to question them based on intelligence we received or for probable cause. They could have been 100% innocent and many times they were. That didn’t matter to the Afghan army though. As soon as a person has flex-cuffs on them, it might as well have been a unanimous guilty verdict. I saw things that would make the ACLU vomit with disgust, sometimes only standing a few feet away. 

These detainees or PUCs (Person under control) were teenage kids, but that did not matter. That didn’t stop the butt-stocks, or spiked, fingerless gloves or boots from impacting their bodies. That was the way things are done in Afghanistan, cause Afghanistan is not America. Their way of life, what motivates them, and how they discipline people is not anywhere near our standards, nor does it follow our moral compass. 

After a while serving as an advisor and mentor to the Afghans every day, I, like so many others because used to it. It was their country, their army, their people. All we could do was advise and hope they did not kill someone, because that would mean a whole bunch of paperwork for us. As cruel as that sounds, that was the reality on the ground. I am not saying all of this to justify the actions I did or didn’t take or to seek forgiveness. If you weren’t there, then you don’t know and will never understand. It is what it is. 

However I wrote all of that to cast some light on the reasoning that ISAF has for slowing down detainee transfers to the Afghans.

Interior Minister Besmillah Mohammadi and Rahmatullah Nabil, head of the Afghan intelligence service, described the decision to suspend detainee transfers as politically motivated and aimed at slowing down the transition of security responsibilities to the Afghan government.

Afghanistan is gradually taking over responsibility for the country’s security from the U.S.-led military coalition as foreign forces aim to withdraw all their combat troops by the end of 2014.

The Afghan government “believes that any move to halt the transfer of prisoners under any false excuses is a serious blow to the transition process,” Mohammadi and Nabil said.

Not that I think ISAF is right, because if they are really on track to hand over most of the combat operations to the Government of Afghanistan by 2014, then they can’t be playing these kind of games. What we would call “harsh interrogations” or “torture” in our country is considered business as usual in places like Afghanistan and many other 3rd world countries. ISAF needs to learn to accept it and quit trying to put western standards on a country that will never be like the US or any other modern country. 

The transfer of authority, if it is really going to happen by 2014 has to be happening now. These people have been living for this way for longer than any of us could imagine, so they aren’t really going to change in the next three years. Again, I am not justifying but just stating it is what it is. If Afghan people are being tortured (as we would classify it) in an Afghan prison, by a fellow Afghan, well “sorry about that, it is their culture”.


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