WikiLeaked

Red Cross: India tortured detainees in Kashmir

Of all the shoes we’ve been waiting to see drop in as the cables slowly — slowly — trickle out of the WikiLeaks vault, few seemed as inevitable as India. Considering the country’s intractable standoff with Pakistan, domestic and border conflicts, politically sensitive (for the United States, at least) economic rise, and place in Asia’s ...

TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images
TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images

Of all the shoes we’ve been waiting to see drop in as the cables slowly — slowly — trickle out of the WikiLeaks vault, few seemed as inevitable as India. Considering the country’s intractable standoff with Pakistan, domestic and border conflicts, politically sensitive (for the United States, at least) economic rise, and place in Asia’s delicate new balance of power, the odds of someone in the New Delhi embassy writing something headline-worthy seemed to be — oh, about 100 percent.

And surprise surprise, someone did:

US officials had evidence of widespread torture by Indian police and security forces and were secretly briefed by Red Cross staff about the systematic abuse of detainees in Kashmir, according to leaked diplomatic cables released tonight.

That’s the lede on today’s Guardian story parsing a handful of newly released State Department documents out of Delhi. (As has been the case over recent days, WikiLeaks itself has been slow and erratic in actually posting the material on which the newspapers entrusted with the whole stash are reporting, but the new ones are available here, here, and here on the Guardian site.) The worst of them concerns a briefing given to embassy officials in April 2005 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in which the (unnamed) Red Cross representative lays out in appalling detail the acts of torture committed by Indian security forces in their prosecution of the quarter-century-long conflict in Kashmir.

Following 1,491 interviews with Kashmiris who had been detained at Indian government facilities in Kashmir from 2002 to 2004, the cable says, “The continued ill-treatment of detainees, despite longstanding ICRC-[government of India] dialogue, have led the ICRC to conclude that … New Delhi condones torture.”

In 852 cases, detainees reported what ICRC refers to as “IT” (ill-treatment): 171 persons were beaten, the remaining 681 subjected to one or more of six forms of torture: electricity (498 cases), suspension from ceiling (381), “roller” (a round metal object put on the thighs of sitting person, which prison personnel then sit on, crushing muscles — 294); stretching (legs split 180 degrees — 181), water (various forms — 234), or sexual (302). Numbers add up to more than 681, as many detainees were subjected to more than one form of IT. ICRC stressed that all the branches of the security forces used these forms of IT and torture. 

The Red Cross representative calls this a “representative sample,” but he also makes clear that the organization hadn’t had access to all of the Indian detention facilities. The cable notes that this kind of briefing from the Red Cross was uncommon, and reflected the organization’s sense of desperation in dealing with the Indian government — as well as the hope, if not an outright request, that the embassy might bring some pressure to bear.

(A poignant footnote here is that, according to the 2007 Red Cross report on the CIA’s own horrific treatment of detainees in the war on terrorism that was leaked to the New York Review of Books last year, the Red Cross had filed its first report on the United States’ own detention program five months before the Delhi briefing detailed in the cable — meaning that at least someone in the organization was aware that the country to which the Red Cross was appealing for support in Kashmir was complicit in similar activities elsewhere in the world.)

There is certainly other documentation of similar crimes in Kashmir out there, even if it doesn’t carry the same weight as the Red Cross’s condemnation. In 1993, Physicians for Human Rights released a report on torture of detainees by the Indian government in Kashmir; the 2005 cable notes that “officials have maintained that the human rights situation in Kashmir is ‘much better than it was in the 1990s,’ a view [the Red Cross briefer] also agreed with.” But there have been no shortage of accusations leveled at the Indian government (and, in fact, the Red Cross) in more recent years, as well as the occasional news report. Another cable, signed a year after the Red Cross dispatch by the same author, Charge d’Affaires Robert Blake, matter-of-factly notes that India’s “terrorism investigations and court cases tend to rely upon confessions, many of which are obtained under duress if not beatings, threats, or, in some cases, torture. These factors, along with a creaky and corrupt judiciary, contribute to cases lingering in the courts for years.”

The Guardian teases a few more tidbits in yet-to-be-released India cables, most notably that “Rahul Gandhi, the crown prince of Indian politics, believes Hindu extremists pose a greater threat to his country than Muslim militants, according to the American ambassador to India.” Given Gandhi’s family name and relationship with India’s National Congress Party — whose efforts to play religious politics have gotten a gimlet-eyed treatment from the U.S. embassy in Delhi elsewhere in the WikiLeaks files — that one ought to be good.

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