Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 6 News List

US probing more abuse allegations in Afghanistan jails

AP , KABUL

Military investigators are looking into another allegation of abuse in a network of secretive US jails where at least four prisoners have died, the military said Saturday.

Meanwhile, a rights group said that an Afghan man claimed he was burned and beaten so badly last year by militiamen guarding a US base that he needed surgery.

The cases add to concern about reported prisoner abuse in Afghanistan stretching back to the war that ousted the Taliban in late 2001 -- reports that have received attention since the scandal broke over detainee mistreatment in Iraq.

The US military recently opened at least two new investigations after former Afghan prisoners said they were beaten and sexually abused.

US military spokesman Major Jon Siepmann would not give details of the probe, including when or where the alleged abuse took place, whether it involved any deaths or who was accused.

Siepmann said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service was investigating, which suggests that Marines might have been implicated. The Marines are a separate service within the Department of the Navy. Navy special forces have also served in Afghanistan.

"The allegation is characterized as detainee abuse," Siepmann told reporters. He said "appropriate action" would be taken based on the outcome of the investigation.

"It's the same old story," said Nader Nadery of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "They never share information, and we just don't know what's going on in these detention centers."

This month, Lieutenant General David Barno, the top US commander in Afghanistan, is to announce the results of a review of a network of 20 jails across the country.

Officials say the prison program has already been altered as a result of the review, carried out since late May by a brigadier general under Barno's command.

Rights activists are also concerned about the behavior of Afghan militias working with the 20,000 US-led troops here.

Nadery said the commission recently interviewed a man who said he was arrested and tortured by the same militiamen relatives have accused of killing his cousin near a US base in southern Helmand province last November.

The man, Abdul Haleem, filed a complaint that the Afghan soldiers beat his feet and body and set fire to pieces of plastic laid on his skin during a four-day ordeal that began Nov. 3.

US soldiers visited the guard post outside their base in Girishk during the four days and saw his bloodied state but made no effort to intervene, according to Haleem's account.

The Afghan soldiers were trying to extract a confession to crimes which Haleem didn't specify, Nadery said.

Relatives said in late June that Haleem was arrested at the same time as his cousin, Abdul Wahid, who the US military says died in their custody on Nov. 6.

Abdul Wahid's father blamed Afghan forces for his death, which is the subject of a US Army investigation.

Nadery said commission officials had been seeking a meeting with the US military to present their concerns and a dossier including photos of scars on Haleem's body -- some from burns, others from surgery he underwent in Pakistan for abuse-related abdominal injuries.

A US military spokeswoman said she was unaware of Haleem's case.

"They should at least make sure that these things don't happen," Nadery said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross regularly visits prisoners at the main jail at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, and last week began visiting the next-largest jail in the southern city of Kandahar.

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