NEW DELHI: Human Rights organisation Amnesty International has hit out at the United States military justice system in a new report, titled, “Failures of accountability for civilian casualties caused by international military operations in Afghanistan.”

This report examines the record of accountability for civilian deaths caused by international military operations in the five-year period from 2009 to 2013. As US forces have comprised the large majority of international forces in Afghanistan, and have been implicated in the large majority of incidents involving civilian casualties, the report focuses, in particular, on the performance of the US government in investigating possible war crimes and in prosecuting those suspected of criminal responsibility for such crimes. The “overall finding is that the record is poor,” the report says.

“Amnesty International has identified important structural flaws in the US military justice system that hinder the investigation and prosecution of crimes against civilians. Most importantly, the military justice system is “commander-driven” and, to a large extent, relies on soldiers’ own accounts of their actions in assessing the legality of a given operation,” the report says.

"Thousands of Afghans have been killed or injured by U.S. forces since the invasion, but the victims and their families have little chance of redress. The U.S. military justice system almost always fails to hold its soldiers accountable for unlawful killings and other abuses," said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director.

According to the report, existing mechanisms for transparency are clearly insufficient. The US Government’s freedom of information system, meant to ensure transparency when government bodies fail to provide information, does not function effectively when civilian casualties are at issue. Responses to requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for information about civilian casualties are often extremely slow and/or non-existent. For example, journalist Robert Dreyfuss of The Nation magazine filed a broad FOIA request with the US Department of Defense in September 2011 for information on civilian casualties in Afghanistan; as of July 2014, more than two-and-a-half years later, he had not received a single document in response. “Leaving Afghan families in the dark about the full circumstances and legality of their relatives’ deaths should not be an option,” the report concludes. “If the cases are not brought forward, the military should inform the families and provide them with an explanation as to why.

The conflict’s human cost should not be compounded by injustice.” The report follows a new survey released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in Afghanistan points to the “disturbing upward spiral” in the number of civilians killed and wounded in the troubled country. From January 1 to June 30, 2014, UNAMA documented 4,853 civilian casualties, up 24 per cent over the same period in 2013, which may make 2014 the worst year since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.