Security contractors at the giant US Embassy in Kabul were accused yesterday of fostering a "Lord of the Flies environment" built on abuse and humiliating initiation rituals.
The allegations, made by the independent Project On Government Oversight, are contained in a report submitted to Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State. The State Department said that it was treating the allegations "very seriously".
The report is based on e-mails, some of which describe the alleged abuse of Afghan nationals. Among those implicated are Britons employed by ArmorGroup North America, the contractor providing security at the embassy, where nearly 1,000 diplomats and support staff work.
The report quotes an e-mail from a guard currently working for the contractor, describing scenes of guards and supervisors "peeing on people, eating potato chips out of [buttock] cracks" and drinking "vodka shots out of [buttock] cracks".
In another incident, a male Afghan caterer complained last month of being grabbed by a supervisor and told: "You are very good for f***ing." The supervisor, who was in only his underwear, also brandished bottles of alcohol.
"We've been investigating this organisation for some time now," Ian Kelly, a State Department spokesman, said. "We've pointed out to them some of the deficiencies [but] I can't answer right now what they have done in response."
The evidence of abuse was passed on to the Office of the Inspector-General at the State Department, which ordered an investigation.
The allegations at the Kabul embassy come in the wake of scandals surrounding Blackwater, another security contractor, in Afghanistan and Iraq, where it has been accused of fraud, abuse and involvement in civilian deaths. The report, which speaks of a breakdown in morale that has compromised security, has the potential to poison US relations with Afghans.