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In Afghanistan: Opium Production Up; Prisoners Reportedly Tortured

<p>June, 2011: U.S. Marines patrol with Afghan forces through a harvested poppy field in Afghanistan's Helmand province.</p>
David Gilkey

June, 2011: U.S. Marines patrol with Afghan forces through a harvested poppy field in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The seemingly intractable nature of the problems plaguing Afghanistan are being underscored yet again with two new reports from the United Nations:

-- Torture. Interviews of 273 detainees who were held at Afghan-government facilities in recent years show that at least 125 were tortured by authorities during interrogations, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says.

"Torture is practiced systematically in a number of ... detention facilities throughout Afghanistan," UNAMA concludes. Detainees "described experiencing torture in the form of suspension (being hung by the wrists from chains or other devices attached to the wall, ceiling, iron bars or other fixtures for lengthy periods) and beatings, especially with rubber hoses, electric cables or wires or wooden sticks and most frequently on the soles of the feet."

In addition "electric shock, twisting and wrenching of detainees' genitals, stress positions including forced standing, removal of toenails and threatened sexual abuse were among other forms of torture that detainees reported."

The Washington Postadds that:

"George Little, a Pentagon spokesman, said the United States is reviewing the "serious allegations' in the U.N. report. The Afghan government challenged the findings, saying that some depictions were 'not close to reality,' but it also pledged to investigate the allegations of torture and abuse."

-- Opium. "Opium poppy-crop cultivation in Afghanistan reached 131,000 hectares in 2011, 7 per cent higher than in 2010, due to insecurity and high prices," says the Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MCN) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

One positive note: "While still the largest opium poppy grower accounting for about half of the country's cultivation, Helmand province saw a fall in farming thanks to a combination of strong political will exerted by the Governor and targeted international aid. This year cultivation decreased by 3 per cent. In contrast, cultivation in neighboring Kandahar went up 5 per cent."

Afghanistan remains the world's largest producer of opium.

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